March 31, 2016

Horse 2093 - A Brief, Incomplete and Mostly Wrong, History and Future of Income Tax In Australia

Before we begin, here is a brief history lesson on Income Tax in relation to Australia.
In 1770, Captain James Cook sailed around the world, looking at the transit of Venus across the sun, and stealing countries through the cunning use of flags. Terra Australis, the great southern land, was declared empty even though there were people obviously living in it but because they didn't have a flag, the "Rule Britannia" was invoked where "Britannia rules the waves" and "no flag, no country, you can't have one" were enforced.

In 1773, the Americans decided that they'd had enough of British rule and despite paying less than 2% in levies for goods like tea and corn, they had a war with Britain to throw off their colonial masters. Fast forward six years and Britain realised that it had nowhere to dump its knaves, rogues and ne'r-do-wells and decided to dump them all in Australia; which was out of sight and pretty well much out of mind.
In 1779, Britain found itself embroiled in a war with France and so imposed it's first income tax. This remained in place until 1812, was reintroduced in 1813 and ended again after it had ended its war with Napoleonic France.

The first "modem" Income Tax was imposed in 1842 under the premiership of Sir Robert Peel, from whom we get two nicknames for policemen "Bobbies" and "Peelers", when government and society generally was asked to do things in the name of "improvement". Innovations such as postage, actual proper sewerage, and public institutions such as the fire brigade and the police, began to be provided by the government. Peel's government needed a way to pay for it all and the income tax which was first imposed in 1842 was levied at 7d./£ for incomes over £150 (which is less than 3%).
From the 1850s onwards and after the discovery of payable gold in New South Wales, the six colonies in Australia were each granted responsible government of their own and they each imposed their own Income Tax. People in Australia were subject to both the Income Tax from Britain as well as their own colonial Income Tax and this remained in place until just after federation. The British Government charged the six states for residual services until the end of the tax year ending 5th April 1902.

The Australian Federal Government found that it had to fight every year to collect it's income from the states, from 1901 until 1936 when it passed the Income Tax Assessment Act, and for a brief period of time, citizens of Australia were again subject to two sets of Income taxes but from 1942, during the height of the Second World War, the states agreed to let the Federal Government be the only collector of Income Tax in Australia and that arrangement has been in place ever since.
Since 1942, there has been an annual bunfght at the Council of Australian Governments meeting (COAG), where the state governments have whinge that some states get more from the Commonwealth in services than their citizens pay and get gypped because of it.

This week, Treasurer Scott Morrison has put forward the totally unoriginal idea that the states should be allowed to again impose and collect their own Income Tax. This would have  the net effect of removing costs from the Federal budget; which fits in nicely with the Liberal/National Party's narrative of reducing the size of government.
The problem in principle with this is that the only people who would actually like this idea are the Federal Government, the State Government, businesses which cross borders and who would be able to find arbitrage and other opportunities to spin a profit because of differences in state Income Tax and people like accountants, auditors and financial advisors, planners, knaves, rogues and ne'r-do-wells. The vast majority of people for whom lodging tax returns of any sort is already about as much fun as haemorrhoids, would hate the idea of having to lodge a second Income Tax Return because the state governments are both crying poor and can't work together.

I personally think that the underlying driver behind Mr Morrison's hint that the states should impose their own Income Tax is ultimately about lowering tax rates and eroding government services.
Income Tax and in particular a progressive income tax is hated by business and the rich generally because they increasingly find the idea that government should fund things that they don't immediately benefit from, an anathema. Lower class people tend to derive most of  their income from wages but as you move upwards in Income, more income is derived from rent, dividends, interest and wages which come from financial and managerial employment; so as less to do with producing actual real work. Progressive Income Tax mostly has the effect on taxing income which has come from other people's work. The resentment arises mainly because of transfer payments to poorer people who they deem as not worthy recipients. The biggest item in the 2015 Federal Budget was Social Security and Welfare at $154bn and most of those payments were direct transfer payments; mainly to old people.

Actually, when it comes to general assistance to the States and Territories in terms of revenues paid to them, it only amounts to $57.7bn or just 13.2% of all Commonwealth outlays. This figure is almost identical to the revenues collected by the Commonwealth through GST receipts; so really if the states want to get together and have a giant collective whinge, they may find themselves being asked to take care of a few things that the Federal Government does, in return for their ability to take in their own Income Taxes.

Ultimately I think that the meal served up by Treasurer Scott Morrison to the states is unpalatable and I would be surprised if if wasn't spat out almost immediately. It seems like a bitter thing for the states to swallow as none of them are particularly well equipped to handle the administration required to collect such a thing. If the idea survives beyond the end of budget season, I will be well surprised.

March 30, 2016

Horse 2092 - Kruse Control Advances Australia

Australia 5 - Jordan 1
Cahill 25'
Mooy 39'
Cahill 44'
Rogic 53'
Luongo 69'
Deeb 89'

Australia moved one step closer to World Cup Qualification with a resounding 5-1 win over Jordan last night; which kept them atop Group B and means that they will be a seeded team going into the next round.
The opening goal came in the 25th minute when Robbie Kruse penetrated deep into Jordanian territory, cut a pass through the back four and Tim Cahill tapped the ball into the goal from just outside the six yard box.
Fourteen minutes later, Kruse again supplied a ball for Aaron Mooy by running through the defence and turning it outwards to Mooy with what appeared to be an unsighted pass. Mooy duly took one step, looked up, gave himself another step and shot the ball past the keeper, from the left hand side to just inside the opposite post.
One minute before the end of regulation time in the first half, Kruse again became the provider when he made run down the left hand side of the pitch and turned in a lofted cross, which Tim Cahill headed into the goal.
After the half time break, the one way traffic resumed and as Australia continued to push, there was a defensive log jam and Tom Rogic virtually passed the ball into the goal from eight yards away.

At 4-0 down and with no real hope of getting anything from the match, Jordan ceased to maintain their discipline and their defence descended into farce. Perhaps in response to Kruse supplying the passes for the first three goals, in the 65th minute, Rawashdeh Yousef made a challenge on Kruse that can at best be called cynical and at worst assault. Yousef went in with both legs airborne into the calves of Kruse; and I think that it would be hard to argue that his intent was anything other than a deliberate attempt to hurt Kruse. There was certainly zero likelihood that he'd win the ball in the challenge. If I'd been the referee, I'd had given Yousef his marching orders but the referee could only find a yellow card.

Australia found a new sense of urgency and following a short period of camping inside the 18 yard box, they were awarded a throw in. On the end of a confused and frantic couple of seconds, Massimo Luongo who had only recently come on as a substitute, scored Australia's fifth goal in the 69th minute.

From here on in tiredness gradually began to take over and even though Baha' Faisal brought down Tim Cahill in the 77th minute, Bailey Wright took out Mustafa Baha in the 80th minute and both incidents saw yellow cards being issued, the free kicks which followed, provided no goals.
Yousef again became the villain when he tripped up Chris Ikonomidis but even though this probably should have been adjudicated to be his second cardable offence, he got away with only conceding a free kick.

Tom Rogic went flailing into Ibrahim Al-Zawahreh with a clumsy challenge in the 89th minute which should have made him see yellow as well but again the referee was reluctant to pull out a card of any colour.
Jordan did finally get a consolation goal in the 89th minute when Abdallah Deeb fired a brilliant strike past the goal keeper Matt Ryan; which marked the first time in almost 400 minutes of football when an Australian keeper was even required to make a save and the first time that anyone had scored a goal against Australia since October last year.

With a result of 5-1, Australia can't really say that they were tested all that much but there are still things which can be learned from this.
Firstly that Australia plays better when it pushes forward. One of the simplest things to keep track of as a fan who is watching from the other side of a television screen is how many times the ball enters the 18 yard box. Australia dominated on this statistic by 51-18. Now admittedly it doesn't say how efficient the play is, or even what a side does with the ball once they get it up there but it does give an indication of how aggressive a team actually is, as well as the obvious information about where the ball spent most of its time.

One thing that I didn't like about the Australian attack last night was the lack of variety of attack. It was almost as if there was some sort of operations and procedures manual which dictated that the ball should be taken to the edges of the 18 yard box and turned in from about 12 yards away from the goal line. The 5-1 score disguises the fact that this can be tactically worked out and if a system becomes regular enough, then any manager who is looking at match footage from previous fixtures, should be able to design a set of defensive strategies to counter it.
Australia which played a 4-3-3 formation, looked strong while pressing but also looked somewhat vulnerable at the back once the midfield had been cleared. Even though Australia topped Group B with seven wins from eight matches, their resolve and skill will be more thoroughly tested in the next round when they meet stiffer opposition like South Korea, Japan and surprise package Thailand who topped their group.

March 29, 2016

Horse 2091 - ISIS and Ireland - 100 Years But Not Poles Apart

One of the things that we've been hearing a lot of in the news of late is not only the hundredth anniversary of the Easter Rising in what would eventually become the Republic of Ireland but how that is to be reinterpreted in a modern context. Unlike other conflicts such as the First World War, where the past is in the past, the "troubles" in Ireland still extended deep into the then future. There were still bombings by the IRA even in my lifetime.

I make mention of the Irish Question because the answer (which still hasn't been adequately resolved in my opinion) is at its heart, a question about power: who has it and how should it be exercised? The current disaster, tragedy, conflict and whole sort of general storm of cussedness which is being waged across Syria and Iraq; between more sides than one can keep track of and where there are really no "goodies" and everyone are "baddies" (as if this was even a morally clear cut conflict), also has at its heart that same question; the question about power: who has it and how should it be exercised? The problem is that the question is being answered as though power were the means and ends to itself; while the vast majority of people suffer under it. Essentially, the refugee crisis which has followed the trail of destruction wrought by the Assad regime, ISIS et al, is normal people's response to the answer of how power is being used. Fleeing a situation where you are powerless to respond and where the exercise of power has left physical destruction, to the point where what has been left behind is rubble and rubbish, is a perfectly rational response in my opinion and if I was given that set of circumstances, I would respond identically.

As far as I can make out, the intent of ISIS is to establish a caliphate and rule the country that they have carved out. The word caliph presumably comes from the Arabic "kalif" which means a successor. The problem that I see with that, based on my limited reading of the Quran, is that the one who they intend to be a successor of (Mohammed), didn't really intend to establish a physical country at all. The idea of jihad, that is the idea of a struggle, seems to me to be more of an internal one, where individuals struggle against their own nature in order to please Allah.
The establishment of a caliphate, seems to me to be the taking of power for its own end and then using religion as the justification after the event. This is identical to a regime change where a dictatorship is established. One does not establish a dictatorship in order to take power, power is taken and then a dictatorship is established after the event in order to keep and maintain it for its own sake.

I find it interesting, especially considering that it is the Easter weekend, that Christians celebrate not only the death and resurrection of Christ but the beginning of his kingdom. This kingdom actually doesn't talk about the taking of power at all; indeed Paul wrote to the church in Rome, that they were to submit themselves to the authority of their government, knowing full well just how brutal the Romans could be.
This idea that the church and the state should be utterly disentangled and separate was well established in the Christian and existing Jewish tradition. Christ himself when quizzed, asked people to give to Caesar what is Caesar's and to give to God what is God's and long before that, Jewish Law as laidd out in the Torah specified that the Priesthood and the administration of the state were kept separate and distinct. Kings couldn't be priests and priests couldn't be kings.

I know that this is going to sound incredibly insensitive but if you remove the emotional Aspen of the situation, then what I'm about to say sounds reasonably logical. The troubles in Ireland of a century ago, are in essence the same troubles of Syria today. Although the Irish Question is painted over with the colours of Protestants and Catholics, in reality it had nothing to do with religion at all. Those colours may have provided hues and tints with which to paint the conflict but at no stage was either side actually concerned with the spiritual well-being of then citizenship. Strip back the painted veneer of religion and all that you're left with is a naked grab for power. One hundred years later and the conflict between the Assad regime, ISIS, et al, is another naked grab for power, however either side chooses to paint over it. Not once have I heard of even a single instance where ISIS has built a mosque, or established a masjid; so it's little worse that I think that their name of the "Islamic" State is an outright lie. I also think that it's brutally unfair to blame Islamic leaders and followers on the other side of the world for the actions of people they are unconnected with.

When ISIS attacked and vandalised the ancient city of Palmyra, it did so, not because it found the religion of a nation which had functionally been dead for 1600 years offensive but because it wanted to give a giant one fingered salute to the world, through a display of power. When shots were fired in Dublin in 1916, it wasn't really because the Irish people had decided they they didn't like Protestantism but because they wanted Home Rule of Ireland and ultimately to be an independent Republic, which was free from the rule of London.
The biggest difference between Ireland and ISIS is that the Irish had a pretty good idea of what would be done with power once they got it; ISIS seems to exist only to acquire power and keep it for its own sake.

March 26, 2016

Horse 2090 - I Love The Interstate

One of the things that I found immensely enjoyable about being in the United States recently, was doing something which practically everyone seemed to hate because they had been inoculated against it; that something was driving on the freeway. Be they California state highways or the Interstate, driving on an American freeway is an immensely pleasurable and satisfying experience.
I could state the well worn and hackneyed phrases to do with freedom and or speed and what not but I know that the reason why I love America's freeways is something far more mundane than that. It isn't the wide ten lanes of disciplined and orderly traffic and it isn't the very gentle curves which mankind has willed upon the landscape. No. The biggest reason why I love America's freeways, is its road furniture.

I love Britain's blue motorway signs and it's brown signs which tell you when something of historical import is close by. I love the blue signs of the German autobahn, upon which  they and indeed the rest of Europe's motorway signs were based. America's freeway signs are something else entirely though; they are boldly and assuredly different.

The Interstate Shield is itself an icon. Maybe it drew inspiration from the existing US Highway Shields which began to appear before the Second World War but even if it did, it stamped its authority down with confidence.
The  Dwight D. Eisenhower National System of Interstate and Defense Highways came into the world in 1956; in a unique period of history when two superpowers were entwined in a strange dance which involved an arms race for nuclear weapons. Both countries possessed enough power to blow civilisation off the planet and kill every single living thing within hours.
With dreams of rockets and the jet age whizzing through people's heads, in an act which borders outright corruption, the ex-President of General Motors, Charles Erwin Wilson, was able to convince President Eisenhower that America needed a system of interstate freeways to move troops and supplies around in a hurry, just in case either the Russians or even themselves should be the bringer of nuclear fire upon the world. Eisenhower agreed and Congress approved the construction of the single biggest public works program in the history of humanity. Don't like socialism? Well right there - bam! More socialism than the world has ever seen.
In branding their new multi billion dollar baby, the Interstate was given a very American red, blue and white shield. This gives the Interstate an almost patriotic look about it. If is an American thing to do, to be driving down the Interstate.

There's a second and more practical reason why I love American freeways and that is that they are properly signposted. For every exit, there are ample warnings before it comes up. There are also arrows which inform you of how many lanes there are available.
The latter of this is absolutely unheard of in Australia. Instances where there might be two whole lanes for an exit, are rarer than hen's teeth. In America though, having two lanes is common and even three is not unheard of. Not even on the Light Horse Interchange in Sydney's west which connects the M4 and the M7 and which is the largest motorway interchange in the southern hemisphere, are there anything other than single lane slip roads to connect the two motorways.
On top of this, there are signs which indicate which direction you are going on an expressway. Signs will actually display useful information like 163-South, 5-North, 94-East and 54-West. Again, nothing like this exists at all in Australia. If you do happen to approach a freeway on ramp in Australia, there will be a sign which has the route number and where its going and that will be it. Hard luck to you if you know you need to be heading North but the sign only says "Richmond".

Interstates generally are well signposted across America. A really helpful thing about the Interstate system is that the north-south highways are all odd numbered and east-west highways are all even numbered, and that spurs off of highways are numbered with a prefix number. Interstate 805 in the picture above is a spur of Interstate 05 (all interstates for the purposes of the act are two digits).
In addition to this, there are trailblazer signs and route confirmation markers everywhere. This means that someone could use the Interstate and know with confidence where they were going, even if they'd been on a plane for 19 hours.

Confident, informative, helpful, patriotic: these are words which describe the road furniture of the American Interstate Highway System. I think that its one of the icons of America; even though most Americans and especially if they are stuck in slow moving traffic, are oblivious to.

March 25, 2016

Horse 2089 - Side Effects May Include Death

The reason for the lack of communication on this blog for the past few weeks is because I went to my sister-in-law's wedding, in the land of the free and the home of the brave. For a week and a bit, I saw not Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II looking to the right on the back of the coins but people like Jefferson, Washington and Lincoln. I also saw freeways with adequate signposting, prices as though everything was permanently on special and bizarrely, a multitude of advertising for various drugs.

One of the fun things about visiting a foreign country and even one which isn't really that foreign like the United States is that you can see things which are similar but oh so slightly different. Television, the drug of the nation, in the United States, is already really similar to what we have in Australia because we import so much programming from that country. What we do not import, are the advertisements and other media furniture like interstitials and title cards (though admittedly, Channel 7 does use NBC's news fanfare "The Mission" for its news programs). Advertising though, is not imported into Australia for multitude of reasons.

Australia like the vast majority of the industrialised world has a universal health care system in the vehicle of Medicare. Even though general practices are privately owned and many specialist medical services (and even a few hospitals) are also privately owned, the fact that the state owns the majority of hospitals and furnishes the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme means that government is able to negotiate far better prices for drugs and medical procedures due to factors such as economies of scale and greater bargaining power.
The United States however, doesn't really have a universal health care system to speak of and because the system is largely private and profit driven, the actors within the system need to compete for business. In consequence, adverts for health insurance companies, health management organisations (HMOs) which run hospitals and clinics, and the drug companies themselves, appeal directly to the public in the search for business. And how they search!
At least in San Diego where we stayed, the three most common business sectors touting for business on television were the Auto Manufacturers, Insurance Companies and Drug Companies; in that order.

A typical drug advert will start out with a sad looking person who has some sort of disease and then gives a short testimonial about how the drug being advertised changed their life. Invariably there will be the phrase "Ask your health care professional if Example Drug is right for you" before a list of side effects is reeled off. This is where we enter the realm of the strange and pass through a rather broken looking glass.
The list of side effects listed in a lot of drug adverts make you wonder if the cure is worse than the disease. A list of side effects might include things like:
Irritability, change in mood, suicidal thoughts, dry mouth, bad breath, increased appetite, decreased appetite, weight gain, weight loss, involuntary limb movement, decreased limb movement, skin discolouration, sneezing, runny nose, inflammation of the sinuses, decreased liver function, decreased kidney function, increased urination, loss of bladder control, insomnia, blurred vision, hearing loss, rectal bleeding and death...

... yeah "and death". Like that sounds like a side-effect that isn't really going to affect you. Remember, death isn't the handicap it used to be in the olden days, right?

What's also rather sadly prevalent, are adverts asking people to join class actions against drug companies because of the side effects of various drugs. It only happened once but I saw an advertisement for one particular drug and the very next advertisement was for a class action against that very same drug.

In Australia we see very few advertisements for prescription only medicine because when you have the state itself as the biggest customer, then the pharmaceutical companies just deal directly with them. Companies who do business directly with the state put more effort into winning tenders for supply than wasting money on advertising.
In America though, where you have drug companies selling their wares on a more direct basis to the general public and to HMOs, then the advertising dollar seems like the path of lesser resistance to achieve the same ends; which is profits.

I personally think that there's something a bit scurrilous about turning a profit on the basis of exploiting the sick, especially when I consider that the chap who invented the polio vaccine (X), released that into the world and deliberately made it public domain. Whilst I do think that in principle that business should be allowed to chase profit because that does encourage innovation and development, that doesn't mean that the unfettered chasing of profits is necessarily best for society.

Drug adverts on television in the United States seem strange and weird to me because they actually are strange and weird. I'm thankful that for the moment that here in Australia we don't really have them on television. The fact that they are so common and prevalent in the United States is symptomatic of a system which is diseased and needs to swallow its own bitter pill or else risk killing the patient.

March 24, 2016

Horse 2088 - Col-gate: The Savicol Scandal

I went to the doctor earlier this week to see if I could do something about treating extra-oral halitosis due to post-nasal drip. The suggested treatment which my doctor suggested was a course of Zyrtec which is a second-generation antihistamine and a product by Colgate called Savacol antiseptic mouth and throat rinse.
Mrs Rollo has reported that my breath has turned to a neutral smell but that has come at a cost - complete and utter Ageusia. To put that into regular English: I have lost 100% of my sense of taste. It is awful.

After the initial burning sensation which I experienced after the initial use, because the active ingredient is chlorhexidine gluconate which binds to the same receptors which give quinine that bitter sort of taste, with continued use that sensation went away.

According to Colgate's website:
Chlorohexidine gluconate interacts with the bacterial cell wall, inhibiting dental plaque formation. It can also help treat halitosis.¹

I feel however that the cure is worse than the ill. The bottle states that one of the side effects which can occur is "Alteration in Taste Perception"; however I think that there's a distinct difference between an alteration in taste perception as opposed to a total loss therein.

Eating food that you can not taste is not fun. Mechanically it is identical but it has effectively rendered my tongue to that of being just an eleventh finger. I can still detect things like how wet something is, or what something feels like but that is exercising the sense of touch; not taste.

Eating chocolate with no sense of taste is a deeply unpleasant experience. When all you can sense is textures, eating chocolate is like putting something hard in your mouth; which over time, gradually turns into grease. In all honesty, would could give me a bucket of Pennzoil 707L Red Wheel Bearing Grease to eat and it may as well be exactly the same.

I tried tasting wine last night, which was pointless because without a sense of taste it would have been functionally identical to water except that there was an alcohol burn afterwards. I recreated that similar effect by placing a drop of Dettol on the tip of my tongue.

The act of eating a bowl of Kellogs Nutri-Grain, which I usually enjoy because of its malty flavour, was a strangely interesting act of minor torture. It combined the absence of sensation of taste with the sense of touch. In this case it was like rubbing sandpaper across your tongue but with the feeling of wetness.

Most of the time when I'm not eating or drinking anything, there is a sort of default taste which I can only assume is due to that centre of my brain being left with nothing to do, having unused computing power and just making stuff up. I can only describe it as the taste of what I imagine Domestos flavoured bubblegum might be like; it is like a chemical that I cannot identify and feels kind of like an aftertaste of sorts except that you can't then wash it out with water.

Worst of all, my ability to taste tea and coffee is gone. I like having a nice cup of tea but thanks to my current state of Ageusia, there is no point at all because tea and coffee now taste exactly the same as water; that is to say like nothing whatsoever. The only advantage to this was that I boiled a kettle of water and felt no need to add anything to it because it wasn't like I was going to taste anything anyway.

March 04, 2016

Horse 2087 - Day 4 - The Weather (March Photo Hunt)

One of the facts that conjurers an magicians exploit is that we essentially live inside a lie which has been constructed by our senses. For this reason, illusionists are able to misdirect people's attention and implant suggestions of things that were never there. The same is true for our own senses. Basically we sense things and then our brain reconstructs reality about a tenth of a second later. The most obvious example of this is the exploitation of persistence of vision where twenty-four still pictures are strung together by our brains to create moving pictures.
The other noteworthy thing is that lenses lie. Our eyes are able to bring things incredibly close despite having only a very short focal length. Colours are often manipulated in our brain and even the effects of parallax are played with, which is why we only see one picture of the world despite having two optical inputs.

When I saw today's prompt several days ago, I thought of lots of ideas around the idea of the subject matter of "the weather", including a trip to Sydney Observatory but all of these plans came to naught. Today's picture, is the exploitation of a lie; trying to make best use of the rather horrid little camera on my phone (I say horrid but really it's a piece of engineering genius).
The dominating colour in England, provided the sunshine is out, in the middle of summer is a glorious viridian. Across the border in the vanquished Principality of Wales and although it has a similar shade of green when the sun is out, the colour that I remember most is grey. In a place like California which is drenched in saffron, they like to peddle the myth that it is the "Golden State" but for most of Southern California, everything is washed on and bleached and blues aren't as blue as they should be and gold becomes lemon.

The colour temperatures in the city of Sydney (that I live in) are such that most of the time, everything does appear washed out and bleached like California but with the exception that skies are bluer because we're further south than SoCal is north. What Sydney does do excellently though, is sunrises and sunsets. Sydney's sunsets especially are gorgeous and we don't think that Sydneysiders realise how blessed we are to see the myriad of colours lazily dribbled across the sky, every evening from September to May. Only artists with a hyper real set of colours are able to begin to paint with the same palette that the sky uses each an every evening, for even the best cameras can not.
Even on a camera which has a lens which is literally smaller than my fingernail, I am able to get neat things like lens flare but I still can not approach the level of loveliness that my eyes already give me (and I am red-green colourblind). The camera lies to you because it as an unthinking and undeceiving machine, can only give you the objective view of what its single limited sense can produce.
The truth is that Sydney's weather spews forth evening after evening after evening of sheer gorgeousness and beauty that it is only after Sydneysiders leave the confines of this conurbation of four millions that we realise what we have here.

The weather, the generator of those skies, is actually pretty predictable in Sydney. Sydney's weather is the result of either a high pressure or low pressure system wandering eastwards across the continent of Australia and depending on the relative position of those pressure systems, winds either blow from the continent dry, or from the oceans moist. Occasionally a tropical cyclone will meander south and turn into a rain depression but that's it. The changing of the seasons only really changes the operative parts of weather such as dew points and condensation temperature but other than that, the weather in winter works by the same mechanics as it does in summer, in Sydney.
This photograph could have been taken in any of the four seasons but the time would have been different. Except for the long tendrils of sunset, the view an hour or so before the sun thinks about going away, is practically the same. I honestly think that someone would be hard pressed to tell the difference between a 24° day on July 7 or December 18 at the point where the sun hangs at exactly the same point in the sky.

Many of us who are stuck in traffic which stretches on for miles, are often too grumpy to look the 30° upwards to see the masterpiece being painted for us, writ large each and every evening across the vast canvas of the skies. People in Sydney who's job it is to produce nothing expect moving numbers around and extracting profits because the value of housing went up again, will often spend vast sums of money to buy views of the harbour and then waste the effort by not looking at it. In Sydney, a house which is 55km away from the CBD and costs a tenth of some of those properties, still has that fantastic masterpiece, forever changing and forever new, rolled across the easel of the sky, for free.

The grand list can be found here:
This is how to play along:

March 03, 2016

Horse 2086 - Day 3 - Art (March Photo Hunt)

The broadest possible definition of "art" is a piece of work which demonstrates creative skill.
We usually think of the visual arts like painting, sculpture, photography, computer graphics but equally the theatre, film, television, dance, music, architecture, radio are also good things to include in that broad of the arts.

On the lower floor of our offices at work, hangs this picture which was painted by someone of whom I have no idea who they are. Apart from the painting "Defeat of the Spanish Armada, 8 August 1588" by Philippe-Jacques de Loutherbourg, I think that this painting in our offices is one of my most favourite paintings in the whole world.
It isn't as grand or as technically brilliant as a Dutch master but I really love its slap dash approach and the playfulness about it.

Having worked in the rarefied air of the Commonwealth Law Courts, I have seen many judges and barristers of this ilk. These are wizened and weather-beaten gentlemen who have seen the worst of all life's ne'er-do-wells and knaves, pass before them; in wood panelled rooms where the law and justice is dispensed.
Sometimes they spend years listening to tales of horror and woe and sometimes they are troubled by the perpetual serpent twisting of law and into infinite boredom. It is little wonder that they are seen as out of touch with society; yet in actual fact have probably stared at the very worst that society has produced at eight yards.

It is unclear if these two gentlemen, seen poring over the bound copy of a text from a Royal Commission (which intriguingly has the title on the wrong cover), with arthritic knuckles, collars, cuffs and wigs, are sneering with glee or disdain for the text in front of them. We don't know what this Royal Commission would be looking into but we can guess that must be of great importance to warrant calling for one and we can guess that it must be howling of controversy.

Even though the chap on the left is sans moustache, they very much remind me of those famous hecklers from The Muppet Show, Statler and Waldorf. I can imagine that this picture had it been a photograph, might have been taken in the private lounge; on the other side of the wood panelling where the public never treads and where the smells of sherry, whisky and hundred year old cigar smoke fill the air. Perhaps they are recalling old cases like  Jarndyce and Jarndyce, or the utter tediousness of similar cases like Barstone, Carstone, Darstone and Farstone.

Their wigs are dirty and unwashed and the vagueness of the background gives a timelessness to this, which means that it could be in 1811, 1911 or even 2011. They are so interchangeable with the legal heroes of the past, that even in the present they are indistinguishable.

There is another painting downstairs in the office of a beach scene but the perspective is rubbish and it just looks like the sort of painting that you put in an office so that the walls aren't bare. This painting though, is just ace because even though there are loads and loads of paintings that I've seen (even at Mosman Art Gallery) which leave this behind in the dust in terms of technique and execution, not many do as well as capturing that cheeky spark which this one throws to the world in buckets.

I know virtually nothing about art. I can't tell you what's good, bad or indifferent and maybe my taste in art is like McDonald's is to cuisine, but if a piece of art makes me think something or feel something about it, then it's done its job; and I think that this painting has done precisely that.

The grand list can be found here:
This is how to play along:

March 02, 2016

Horse 2085 - Day 2 - Good (March Photo Hunt)

Good, Better, Best. We will never rest.
'Til our good is better, and our better, best.

I am not entirely sure where this rhyming couplet comes from but for some reason I am tempted to think that it is what was cast into the end plates of Furphy & Sons' water carts; as used by the Australian Infantry Forces at Gallipoli and the like. I may have misremembered this entirely and I could very well be speaking a complete furphy but if I am correct then the following photograph represents today's prompt excellently.
Today's Photo Hunt challenge is "Good".

This is Boronia House in Mosman. Usually I find that Mosman with its trappings of wealth, finds ways to display that wealth that are vulgar and ugly. I admit that I don't like the Audi Q7s and BMW X5s that slowly Bob around the suburb, ferrying children to school and then idle chattering people to the overpriced coffee houses that litter suburb but when Mosman does find ways to beautify itself, it does pretty well (money helps). Money doesn't spontaneously buy taste and class but occasionally, it does renovate it.

I have no idea what Boronia House used to be. I have no idea of its history, or who owned it, if it was the estate house of some large landholding, if it was a hotel: I know nothing. What I do know is that its current function of being a tea house and a high tea house at that, is an apt function that befits its grandeur.
I like the wrought iron filigree work, I like the columns and their capitals, I like the finials and I like that the tables have clean linen tablecloths and that there are superfluous and abundant flowers. Someone has taken due care and diligence and shown the building the respect and love it deserves. It is a joy to look at.

Naturally if we're talking about a tea house, then at some point the subject of tea seems appropriate. I am convinced that one of the reasons that Britain simply had to go into the world and carve out an empire, through the process of stealing countries with the cunning use of flags, is that Britain is a dreary dreary island. Had the British won the lottery of geography and started out on the Mediterranean Sea, then there would have been no need for any of it. But because Britain was a rainy little tin top island which was only mildly protected from the Atlantic by Ireland, then the impetus to become a seafaring band of ruffians was baked into the very dough of Britishness.
Naturally, after having acquired India with its lovely spices, Britain simply had to make tea time a very British thing and thanks to historical accident, I live in the shadow after the passing of empire and tea time is still a thing.

There are few things in this world that are as good as a lovely cup of tea. America having ceremonially dumped its tea in Boston Harbor, forged itself as a coffee nation and while coffee is the drink of industry, the enlightenment and business, tea is the drink of calm, peace and serenity (so much serenity).
You can have 'nice' cups of coffee and there are coffee snobs who want single origin artisan coffee but only a cup of tea can be described in the way that Mrs Rollo has suggested: 'magical'. I like to say that it's always time for tea time and truth be told, even if it's overly strong builder's tea, I could drink loads of the stuff.
It is only tea that comes with a full set of paraphernalia it is only tea that we name not one but two breaks during the day after - it is Morning Tea and Afternoon Tea. Morning Coffee merely sounds like that thing that people have before they stare at the 156 emails that have arrived since last night.

It seems to me that the most goodest things are often the simplest; there's very little that's more gooder than a nice cup of tea. Sometimes a nice cup of tea can be improved by serving it in fine china, with jam and scones; on a sunny afternoon, in a pleasant tea house.

"It is a mark of insincerity of purpose to spend one's time in looking for the sacred emperor in the low class tea shops."
- The Wallet of Kai Lung, Ernest Bramah Smith (1900)

I question why one would even bother looking for the sacred emperor in the low class tea shops. I question why one would even bother looking for anything other than tea in the low class tea shops. Tea shops are for tea.
A good cup of tea is about the goodest thing I can think of; I can't think of much more gooder.

The grand list can be found here:
This is how to play along:

Horse 2084 - I Am Old (But Not Old Old)

As I was standing on the 243 bus to Neutral Bay this on Friday afternoon (Friday 26th), a lady who looked far too young to be having children, told her son to get up so that a man could have the seat. I was expecting to see some chap with a walking stick and didn't find anyone and it immediately became apparent that the man that she was giving her seat up for, was me.

Now apart from the fact that even at the age of 37 (I had to calculate that because it's so irrelevant to me) I still find being called a "man" somewhat jarring, the fact that I was considered old enough for someone to consider giving up their seat for is nothing short of mind blowing. Seriously; like wow man, what is going on?
Mathematically speaking, I were to die at exactly twice the age I am now (which would be 74 years old), then nobody in particular is going to think that would be some great tragedy. A 74 year old man who dies is utterly normal. Furthermore if you were to triple 37, you get 111 (I know this because of the game Dive¹). Someone aged 111 is well old; therefore I’m definitely into that middle third.

Okay, time's pesky little urchins have arrived and have spray painted my temples in grey, my close up eyesight is on the verge of fading out to a blurry mess and hæmorroids have come to visit but I honestly didn't think that I was 'old'. If the average life expectancy is 84, then that means that I technically entered the middle third of my life as many as seven years ago and am thus 'middle aged',  so that can only mean that I've been living in the county of Denial for a long time. That just means that I have a more complete mailing address for my terrace house on Pedant Corner, Grumpy Towers, Dunny-On-The-Wold (what is a Wold² anyway?).

I've already found that modern music has berm annoying for quite some time, my radio mainly stays on ABC News Radio, Radio National and 702 ABC Sydney, I would rather go somewhere quiet than a place full of noise and it is true that tweed is starting to look interesting to me but surely I can't be that far down the line, can I?
The fact that I left high school almost twenty years ago, that I've been waiting for Liverpool to win the league for twenty-six years, that I can remember the days before the internet, before the GST, and that I've started to use phrases like "I can remember" and "kids today", aught to have been enough to give me the idea that I'm old but maybe I'm just adding forgetfulness and stupidity together to get senility.
By your powers combined, I am Captain Old Git. Even my cultural references are old hat and withering on the vine.

I've already done that thing where you walk into a room and forget why you walked in there. Kinder people would suggest that this is to do with efficiencies in the brain; dumping old information as the head that it is contained in, passes across a threshold an across a memory horizon. There's probably some fancy pants pseudo-scientific name for it but really it can be described with those three little words "sad old git".
I'm not so old that I need to know where the nearest lavatory is at all times but I do like the idea of having adequate reading material on hand before one does enter the smallest room in the building and become enthroned upon the Royal Doulton. On that front, I like the works of Quentin Letts, Jeremy Clarkson, George Orwell or Seneca because in a weird sort of way, I like to be reminded of melancholia whilst performing what should be a serene action. It's also worth remembering that Mama Cass and Elvis Presley dies whilst on the lav. History records that they probably died of a heart attack but the most logical explanation that I can think of is that someone must've walked in on them. Ten Thousand Thundering Typhoons, what d'ya think you're doin', man?

I will admit to watching television and conveniently having darkness descend as I am watching, then waking up two minutes before the end and wonder what the point of staying out on the couch was. I'll also admit to lying awake in the middle of the night, worrying about the results of a football match that I can't watch and running around the four walls of my mind like some confined beast. How is it that I'm able to invent the most fantastic devices and designs in my head, only to have them all flit away at the first remembrance. Also, can someone tell me the point of waking up at 02:27am to remember a thing from five weeks ago that I couldn't recall at the time? What's the point of that?

Fair enough, this whole blog post has been something of a ramble where I've forgotten half way through what the point was; so maybe that does prove that I'm probably closer to grave than what I thought but does that mean that I'm so old that someone thinks it worthy enough to give their seat on the bus? Actually... I'm old enough that I could have been her dad. In her mind, maybe I am old enough. That's just scary.

¹Dive – a pretty neat game
²A Wold is a woodland – as in the Cotswolds or Stow-on-the-Wold

March 01, 2016

Horse 2083 - Day 1 - Green (March Photo Hunt)

I only remembered about this late in the day; when I realised that BJD would more than likely attempt another go at compiling a set of photographs for the month of March. I followed the links to last year's set and lo and behold I found that a list for 2016 had been compiled¹.
Maybe B will post his photos to the website this year and hopefully, get beyond Day 9² like in 2015.

This brings me to today's photograph - Green.

If the colour red can to be associated with labour politics at the end of the nineteenth century and then communist and socialist politics in the opening chapter of the twentieth century, then the colour green might occupy a similar sort of role as it has come to symbolise environmental politics at the end of the twentieth and beginning of the twenty-first century. Green Parties are found in most of the parliaments of the world's industrialised nations with the obvious exception of the United States.
It is through the efforts of green political parties that the environment is even remotely considered. From the actual inclusion of environmental legislation, to the protection of certain wilderness areas, to thinking about what mankind's impact is on the natural world,  the use of the colour green is a powerful symbol in the abstract of an entire set of policies.

Oh the layers of abstraction here.

If there was the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Iron Age, the Dark Ages, the Middle Ages and the Steam Age, the we are not living in the Space Age or even the Silicon Age but the Carbon Age.
Carbon chemistry underpinned the steam age as coal was burned in factories and steam trains but it has been the rise of the petrol and diesel combustion engines as well as the widespread use of plastics which has really come to define the last 100 years. The first proper plastics arrived in the 1930s and plastic is so ubiquitous, that it's hard to imagine what the world would look like without them.
Plastic though is not without its problems. There are the environmental issues surrounding its manufacture and another equally vexed set of problems when these goods finally come to the end of their useful life. Sure, some plastic can be recycled but because we're so good at the engineering that goes into creating plastic products, after they are thrown away, they tend to degrade very slowly indeed. The idea of a green plastic bag is tenuous at best and because plastic does survive for so very long, it's likely to still be in the environment well after its consumer has died.

The individual story of how this particular plastic bag came to be here is quite mundane. Presumably it was a carrier bag which came from a supermarket, and judging by the array of coffee cups and other wrappers which I could see in there, it was probably used as a bin liner in an office.
Thus, the short life of this plastic bag has come to its logical end. Having served two dull tasks, it now suffers an ignoble end and will become landfill in a rubbish dump. Although it has such phrases as "Return To Earth" and "Helping To Save Our Planet" printed on it, this somewhat remarkable product of long-chain hydrocarbon organic chemistry, has been cast aside. The technology to produce such a thing didn't even exist 80 years ago and yet here it is being cast aside as a piece of refuse.

There is something almost ironic about the fact that the colour green which is the colour of plant life, is itself sort of hijacked to make products which are demonstrably bad for the environment, seem nicer than they otherwise would be. I have seen leaves and plant badges on various motor cars to indicate the 'Eco' model. Nissan even goes so far as to call its electric car the Leaf; which although it doesn't have any tailpipe emissions, because of the cadmium in its batteries, presents an even more challenging disposal problem when they finally become unserviceable, than had it been a conventional car.

¹That list can be found here:
This is how to play along:
²BJD's website

Horse 2082 - Some Days That Did Not Exist, Weird Days That Do Exist.

Continuing my obsession with the calendar, there are some even stranger stories which need to be told.
Most people know about the fact that the Julian Calendar will slowly drift by one day every 128 years. This posed a problem for someone like Pope Gregory XIII; so he was able to convince the Catholic church to change its calendar to his eponymous system which is the one we currently use.

Add a leap day as February 29 on years that are divisible by four (like 2016)
Unless they are also divisible by 100 (like 1800 or 1900).
Unless unless they are also divisible by 400 (like 2000).
Hence the reason why 1900 didn't have a February 29 but why 2000 did.

This was all very nice until you realise that some countries like England who were not very Catholicy at all (owing to Henry VIII who was cranky all the time) and the countries who had Eastern Orthodox churches also didn't like the pope, all told Pope Gregory XIII in no uncertain terms that he was wrong.
Eventually though, these countries did fall into line; with England finally doing so in 1752, Russia in 1918 and Greece being the last in 1923.

In the case of England. New Year's Day used to be April 25 which was Lady Day, or rather the Feast of the Annunciation of the Virgin Mary. In 1752, the calendar was punted forward by 11 days and the Wednesday 2nd September 1752 would be followed by Thursday 14th September 1752.
One remaining vestige of this is that the tax year in the UK which used to begin and end on April 25, was also punted forward by 11 days to April 6.

Sweden who was still using the Julian Calendar and who was in the middle of a 21 year war called the "Great Northern War" with Russia, added two leap days in 1712 and thus the year 1712 in Sweden had both a 29th and a 30th of February.
Sweden would adopt the Gregorian Calendar in 1753, when the 16th of February was followed by 1st March.

Russia on the other hand was still happily using the Julian Calendar right through the First World War. After it did finally adopt the Gregorian Calendar in 1918, the first day in February 1918 was February 14th.
This caused its own silliness, with the October Revolution of 1917 which had begun on October 25, now being celebrated on November 7th.

One of the days which I found that didn't fit into anything described here is what the Chinese Government politely refers to as the political turmoil between the Spring and Summer of 1989. This event is more commonly known as the June Fourth Incident or more bluntly as the Tiananmen Square Massacre.
I have seen this referred to as the May 35th incident as a way of subverting internet censorship in China.

One of the accounting programs that I use does better than all of these. It uses 40 days in every month and 15 months in the year. Those extra days and months are there for you to throw through journal entries without upsetting individual months.
They are labelled Undecimber, Duodecember, Trescember which are confusingly named because they are the 13th, 14th and 15th months. The 37th of Trescember (37-15-2016) isn't a normal date for most people but in the accounting world, it's allowed.