May 26, 2017

Horse 2278 - Standardise The Stade. Νενικήκαμεν!

One of the problems that always crops up when reading any ancient document is that nobody can agree on how far away anything is. Unlike today where the standard mile or kilometre are pretty well agreed by everyone, in the ancient world even though you had vast imperial powers sitting over the top of everything, the standard unit of large distances which is the "stade" or "stadium" is more like a serving suggestion.
This problem affects the Iliad, the Odyssey, histories by Livy, Pliny or Herodotus, the Bible, Plutarch's accounts, the list just goes on and on.

I've had enough of this. I am hereby appointing myself as Proconsul Lictor Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else, Rollo Furious Spurious. The judgement that I shall hand down shall be final and although correspondence shall be entered into, the judgement shall only be subject to change if the reason and logic is absolutely phenomenal.

Get it? Got it? Good!
Are you sitting comfortably? Then we'll begin.

In the wars between Greece and Persia, which notably featured King Xerxes who was in charge of 127 provinces (127 provinces) and was madder than Mad Jack McMad (the winner of the Mister Mad Man competition) and who had the ocean flogged and whipped because his floating pontoon bridges didn't work, the Greeks somehow managed to win the Battle of Marathon (or the battle of Snickers if you are reading this after 1990).
The Persians under King Darius and specifically under the command of the General Datis, hideously underestimated the Greeks who had recently mastered the phalanx and proper use of shields. Instead of acting afraid, the Greeks entered full on super saiyan mode and the Persians turned tail and ran away; not coming back for about a decade.

Now according to Herodotus, an Athenian runner named Pheidippides (as opposed to the Athenian tailor Euripides Eumenedes) ran about 140 miles from Athens to Sparta to ask for help but by the time that the Spartans showed up, the Athenian army was already back in town sipping ouzo, veno and metho.
Somewhere down the barrel of history though, probably due to people who take things way to seriously, the actual story of the run to Sparta and the match of the army from Marathon got fused; with some accounts having Pheidippides yell "νενικήκαμεν!" (nenikēkamen) which means "we've won!", before dying of exhaustion.
It stands to reason that this is blatantly idiotic because as anyone who has been to any major sporting fixture knows, when you win something there's a lot of people who all just mill around and begin celebrating. Any runner who was sent with such a message would almost invariably be stopped at every opportunity with people wanting to toast their good health with ouzo, vino and metho.

If we set all that aside, then my judgment which should hopefully make history conform with common sense, is thus:
In the version of events which Herodotus tells us, the army marched 250 stadion from Marathon to Athens. Google maps tells us that the distance from Marathon to Athens is 26.34 miles. 26.34 miles is 46358 yards or as near enough to be 46360 to be good enough and when you divide that by 250 you get 185.44 yards.
I'm willing to accept 185 yards as a standardised standard because going back the other way puts the the distance from Marathon to Athens as 26.27 miles.

Incidentally, the Modern Olympic Marathon is run over 26 miles 385 yards, which is 26.219 miles and the early history of the Olympic Marathon as a sport includes people given strychnine, someone running the wrong way round the Olympic stadium, someone being chased through a field by feral dogs, someone riding in a horse-drawn carriage, and even someone
riding in a car.

I Proconsul Lictor Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else, Rollo Furious Spurious have spoken.
185 yards is your standardised standard Stade. 

May 25, 2017

Horse 2277 - Liverpool Makes Sydney FC See Red And Feel Blue

Liverpool 3 def Sydney FC 0

What do you get when you cross the A-League champions with club that finished fourth in the English Premier League? You get the premise for an unfunny joke and a horribly one sided affair. What you also get is a barometer for how the A-League is going in terms of quality.
A touch over 70,000 people braved a cold night in Sydney to see the recently crowned national champions and a side which has claimed a record for impregnability, be torn asunder by a side which frequently looked patchy in England. It didn't help that Sydney FC have been on holiday for three weeks and that Liverpool came off the back of an equally brutal 3-0 win against Middlesbrough on Sunday.

Both sides are reasonably well known for their defensive prowess and what we saw was a fairly timid 4-3-3 formation from both of them. For most of the match, both sides would send their front three on exploratory runs and keep seven held back. This mainly tells the story of the evening, with Liverpool able to sit higher up the park because they could wrest posession from Sydney; which meant that Sydney were constantly chasing the ball.

Almost in the opening minute, Steven Gerrard who had retired two years ago but has taken over the youth squad, proved that he would still be capable of playing in many sides. His opening shot from about 30 yards was not wildly off target and announced that Liverpool were not​ treating this match lightly. Even on an end of season tour, they were playing to win.
It was Sturridge who opened the account for Liverpool after 6 minutes on the end of a pass from Woodburn who had stolen the ball from Brilliante in Sydney's own 18 yard box. Sydney haven't been used to this sort of audacity for quite some time and the back four looked somewhat stunned at having their defensive line broken so easily. Coach Graeme Arnold did his best impression of a beetroot as he thundered about inside his technical area as though a cat had just pooped in his shoe.

After the initial period of slight uncertainty, Liverpool asserted their dominance in the centre of the park by collectively pushing forward and crowding out the centre circle. Sydney who were forced to play within their own third simply weren't​ able to press forward if they did happen to win the ball and found that their passes were cut off because Liverpool had the numbers.
It was this push forward that allowed Firminho to lazily chip over Sydney's back four, to find Mourinho on the end; who duly doubled the lead in the 17th minute. By this stage Graeme Arnold was emitting clouds of steam and fury as he beckoned Sydney to fight back.

Perhaps the match could have been more even if just one of Sydney's roll of the dice had come up favourably. David Carney who had spent more minutes off the park than on, in the regular season, was able to find his way deep into the corners and his 24th minute cross to Alex Brosque might have put Sydney on the score sheet if Brosque had been more accurate.
Three minutes later when Sydney were able to break out of the centre, Brosque was able to evade Liverpool's defence but was smothered by Sturridge who had run the best part of 80 yards to cut him off. Carney kept on playing as this were an audition for first team football and his strike after a period of counter attack from a Gerrard corner at the other end of the park, found the woodwork. He had another attempt off of a Wilkinson cross that amounted to nothing and he would also supply a well placed chip to Zullo which also amounted to nothing.
Almost immediately after this passage of play, Liverpool who had sat back for a while, suddenly pushed forward again and Sturridge broke Sydney's defence again by dinking one player before passing it back to Firminho inside the 6 yard box for Liverpool's third goal.

Just before the end of the half, Liverpool veteran Jamie Carragher who had also formally retired but had still been as solid as ever in defence, proved that at the age of 39, that he is still made of iron, by taking out
George Blackwood.

After going into the break at 3-nil up, Liverpool appeared to quieten the whole tempo of the game. Apart from the odd strike from Alexander-Arnold, Randall and Sturridge, the second half kind of dribbled out. Matt Simon had a half chance for Sydney but​ this was mowed down by Daniel Agger who comprehensively​ wiped him out and was nowhere near making a challenge for the ball. His cries for a free kick went undrewarded by the referee who let play continue.
There could have very easily been a fourth for Liverpool as Alexander-Arnold had a shot during a mostly dead passage of play, from 35 yards away. Danny Vukovic had done his best to try and deal with the shot but ultimately he would have needed​ to be about three feet taller and the ball appeared destined to find the back of the​ net but it found the crossbar instead. Sixty seconds later, the fixture came to an end.

The fact of the matter is that I don't think that Sydney played badly or that they could have done. A 3-0 result is not flattering but it isn't any worse than what was exacted upon half of the Premier League. The result also wasn't helped by the fact that three weeks off will tend to blunt the edge off of a football team.
I suspect that had this match been played as a regular season fixture or perhaps as an FA Cup tie, then a lot of the gulf in quality would disappear. Having said that, when you have a side like Sydney FC where the entire squad of 35 probably costs less in transfer costs that just Adam Lallana, then on paper you should expect Sydney to lose. The barometer that tells you how well the A-League is going as a whole, would suggest that based on this performance, the A-League is probably better than the English Championship as a whole. Sydney FC probably would have been promoted to Premier League or if they were already in the Premier League, avoided relegation. Liverpool on the other hand, actually are good enough to be in the European Champions League. For a league which has only been around for a decade, that's remarkable.

May 24, 2017

Horse 2276 - Manifestos Are Pointless, So Let's Have A Manifesto

With the Labour Party's manifesto leaking early, the Tories' manifesto being as dull as dishwater, the Lib Dems' manifesto as credible as firing a fifteen inch shell at a piece of tissue paper and it coming back and hitting you, and UKIP's manifesto being as sane as nineteen cats trapped in a hession sack, I wondered what the point of publishing them actually is.

In Australia, there generally isn't this phenomenon of publishing a distinct document which contains all of the policies upon which you intend to run on. The Australian Labor Party's 100 policies in the 2015 election counts as a manifesto and the Liberal Party famously said that they had a "plan" when what they really had was a grammatically terrible pamphlet. Due to many of these sorts of things over the years, the Australian public over many election cycles has been sufficiently trained by both major political parties that even if they were to have the Prime Minister stare down the camera on the eve of Election Night and make unequivocal statements, they will still be lies. We're also used to the fact that after spending six weeks critising the enemy, if they happen to win government, they will do exactly the thing which they've spent six weeks critising.
In the UK though, manifestos are actually still presented with sincerity and from the outside, that just looks plain daft. The tradition of publishing coherent manifestos by the political parties in the UK is definitely​ a thing.

In this election, Labour has been accused of publishing a manifesto which could have come right out of the 1970s, which includes renationalising the railways, and water companies and the electricity companies. I personally see a great deal of sense in there as ideas, considering that the largest electricity supplier in the UK is Électricité de France which is owned by the French Government and to be perfectly honest competition among the railways is a functional lie as the private companies basically have regional monopolies instead of a state owned national one.
The Tories on the other hand have walked backwards​ on previous promises and intend to extract the cost of care of the elderly from their estate, place a cap on energy prices whilst at the same time removing heating allowances, as well as removing the so called triple lock on pensions.
This comes after a series of Osbourne budgets have championed austerity.
Neither of the manifestos address any concrete plans for dealing with Brexit, because being handed a decision by the British people and as the result of a policy by a political party who has zero seats, by a Prime Minister who resigned, and with absolutely no idea as to how to go about it, renders making such plans impossible. Instead, the Tories are hoping that by repeating the words "strong and stable leadership" over and over again that they will fall over the line in a fait accompli as opposed to Labour who is too busy being in opposition to itself to provide any sort of resistance.
So why bother to produce a document which virtually nobody reads and which in this case is mostly like looking into a future which is as clear as the 1954 London Fog? Because manifestos aren't for the general public, they serve an entirely different purpose.

For a government which is being returned, the MPs already have a good idea of how the system of actual governance works. For them, the manifestos serve to provide a reminder of where they intend to be. For a newly installed government and especially one where the party hasn't had the benefit of the civil service to do their grunt work for them, it provides talking points and a list of objectives which are there to be chased.
In principle a manifesto says that "we intend to do this, that, this, some of that and less of that thing", and so looking at the numbers that are attached with a bunch of footnotes at the back is mostly bunk but that doesn't mean to say that they are useless. If a party has a political wish list on the other side of winning the election and government, then stands a better chance of properly writing the necessary legislation to make those things happen.

If you look through the history of manifestos, most of them tend to be incredibly timid, for having committed policy to publication there is the obvious outcome that a government will be held to it. An opposition party, even if it agrees with nothing in the newly elected government's manifesto always has the weapon of pointing out the supposed incompetence of the new government in not achieving what they intended to do despite the inherent hypocrisy of them actively trying to stop them from doing so. About the only memorable manifesto that ever made any lasting impact was the Labour Party's manifesto of 1945, which railed against the Conservatives in the inter-war period and intended to set out what they were going to do. Not that it made that much of a difference because it was, like any other manifesto, another piece of propaganda which was a wish list.
This election, like every other election since about 1992, has been about who intends to be a set of administrators of a slightly different flavour to the ones before them, set against a political climate where the Tories have ceased to be actually conservative and Labour has ceased to argue for the rights of labour.

You can go off and read the manifestos if you like but be prepared to be disappointed as they're not actually for the benefit of you. Unless there is an absolute major change in direction or outlook, as there was in 1979 when Ms Thatcher took the Tories to power, most manifestos are wish lists and tone documents. In this election there's nothing new to be gleaned.

May 23, 2017

Horse 2275 - Do Not Go Gentle Into That Digital Night

Last week, Mrs Rollo and I went to Port Stephens to do not very much, and I have to say that it was absolutely glorious. Port Stephens isn't exactly the most rural of places, what with a McDonald's at the end of the road, and the RAAF not very far away. I'd say that where we stayed in Lemon Tree Passage, was probably closer to the centre of Newcastle in a straight line, than our house in Western Sydney is to the centre of Sydney. Yet even if this is true, I found that the television reception was rubbish and that a picture was coming in only about half of the time. At home in Western Sydney, television reception is just as bad and we've found that online services such as ABC's iView and SBS OnDemand have been invaluable in being able to watch something which we could have already seen it it wasn't for the fact that it wasn't coming in because television reception is rubbish.

Herein lies one of the great disappointments of digital broadcasting. Due to the nature of the beast, that digital television is sent at higher frequencies and that the information contained is far greater, a break in reception doesn't result in fuzziness like old analogue television did, but complete loss of picture and continuity. One of the great technical limitations of digital broadcasting is that you need a direct line of sight to the transmission tower and that can be interrupted by something as simple as a hill of a raindrop in the way; if there happens to be a storm somewhere between you and the tower, which in our case is more than 35km away, or you happen to be unfortunate enough to live in a valley which is also true in our case, then digital television is mostly a complete failure.

This isn't the case for analogue broadcasting. On a cloudy day, even with a cheap quality radio, it is possible to pick up 4BC from Brisbane, 774 ABC Melbourne, 5AA from Adelaide, or perhaps NZFM which I assume is coming from Auckland. AM Radio with its longer wavelengths in particular, was able to exploit this fact brilliantly, when in the days before commercial radio was allowed in the UK, pirate radio stations broadcasted from ships which were outside the statutory limit, and Radio Luxembourg's​ biggest audience was the UK.

To stop the technical problems with analogue radio, the national radio networks like the BBC were allocated blocks of broadcasting frequencies, such as Radio 1 taking up the space between 97-99 FM and Radio 4 from 92-94 FM. In time, when RDS or the Radio Data Service was broadcast alongside the radio content itself, car radios could find a frequency and then automatically retune themselves if they found another stronger frequency. The thing is that there are lots of towns and cities in the UK, so when digital broadcasting came along, digital television already had loads of towers that they could use and digital radios could use a similar system to retune themselves to find the nearest and or strongest signal.
Australia though, isn't the UK.
Australia is a vast unwieldy place where distances aren't measured in kilometres but hours and days. Digital broadcasting from dinky little towers just doesn't work for the vast majority of the country; that explains why I got rubbish reception in Port Stephens and why in the middle of Western Sydney, why I just happen to live in a hole where trying to receive digital broadcast signals is mostly a waste of time.

This is why I hope that the Federal Government decides to dither as long as possible when it comes to finally making the decision to switch off analogue broadcasting in Australia. Digital television already proves itself to be useless in a lot of places. Rather to be more accurate, the system would work perfectly fine if it had been implemented as it had been done in the UK where there are lots of repeater towers but because it is broadcasters themselves who own their towers, there is no economic incentive to do so. A city as big as Sydney needs as few as seven sets of broadcasting towers but we only have the big stacks in the eastern suburbs and a few regional towers which surround the greater metropolitan area.
If radio makes the switch to digital only, then massive areas of the country will be plunged into broadcasting darkness and eventually​ within the cities, if you happen to be unlucky enough to live in a valley, or behind a big hill, or perhaps a brand new block of flats, then you can kiss radio goodbye as well.

I have mostly gotten used to the fact that I can't watch the ABC, SBS, Channel 9, or 10 at all, and only get Channel 7 some of the time but if the radio also goes digital only and doesn't work most of the time as well, I will not only be annoyed but annoyed in glorious digital stereo silence.

May 20, 2017

Horse 2274 - Election 2017: A Result Too Easy To Predict

I have spent the last few hours busily plugging numbers into various swing calculators with the results of current polling for the upcoming General Election on June 8 in the UK. Under all possible scenarios except for one, I have the Conservative Party being returned to power with either a vastly increased majority or with the worst possible outcome, returning to the mayhem of a hung parliament as happened in 2010.

Currently the parties have the following seat counts:

Con - 330
Lab - 229
SNP - 54
Lib Dem - 9
Other - 10
N.Ireland - 18

I'm including Northern Ireland as a thing because although the members of those seats come from a strange sort of mish-mash, they remain as sensible as a sack full of wet mice.

If we assume the current polling data; taken on a nationwide basis, then the following happens:

Con - 365 (+35)
Lab - 200 (-29)
SNP - 55 (+1)
Lib Dem - 7 (-2)
Other - 5 (-5)
N.Ireland - 18 (0)

This is exactly why Teresa May called the election in the first place. If this election is supposed to be a doubling down sort of second referendum on Brexit, then although Ms May has some members of her party which are probably against the whole idea of pulling out of Europe, for the most part the Tories have pulled seats away from the Lib Dems who are still on the path to oblivion but more importantly away from Labour who have been as much in opposition against themselves as they have been against the Tories.

Something incredibly strange happens when you plug the exactly the same nationwide polling data into the swing calculators on a region by region basis:

Con - 318 (-12)
Lab - 230 (+1)
SNP - 59 (+5)
Lib Dem - 15 (+6)
Other - 10 (0)
N.Ireland - 18 (0)

This has the Tories losing seats around the northern fringes of London and Birmingham, the Lib Dems clawing back some of the seats that they lost in Devon and Cornwall, and most mysterious of all the SNP actually winning seats south of Hadrian's Wall.

If such a scenario, however unlikely were to pan out then we'd have an immensely strange set of circumstances. Because 326 is the number of seats required to form government, either the Tories would have to negotiate with someone with the Lib Dems being the most likely option, or you'd end up with some massively insane set of negotiations taking place for Labour to hold government. If somehow Labour and the SNP were to form a shotgun coalition, they need all of the Lib Dems and all of the others which includes indies and Plaid Cymru, and then they'd still need to negotiate with the insensible sack full of wet mice which are Northern Irish members of the Commons. Jeremy Corbyn has enough trouble trying to hold together his own party; so tying to hold together a coalition as wild as that scenario would require, is the way of insanity.

I know that this is going to sound incredibly naive but I don't think that the release of the party manifestos, be they deliberate or by early leaks, has really made a lick of difference to people's voting intentions. The truth is that Labour still controls what's left of the working class north, the SNP still has a strangehold in Scotland and the whole difference comes about because of those seats in the West Midlands which flipped in 2010, except now they're reverting to the Tories rather than this weird sort of flirting with the Lib Dems and UKIP. On UKIP in particular, as a one issue party who have only won a single seat in the House of Commons (in the Clacton by-election of 2014), they've achieved what they wanted and I think that that will more or less cease to be a thing and those voters will have largely joined the ranks of Tory voters.

It doesn't matter which way I play with the numbers, or which set of figures that I use, I see no real way for Labour to take government. William Hill currently have the Tories sitting at 1-33 while Labour is all the way out at 17-1. To put that in perspective, the absolute longest odds that Donald Trump was put at winning the Presidency was only 7-1. 

I have a horrible record when it comes to predicting political results (I've gotten two presidential results wrong in a row) but this is so ridiculously one sided that even Blind Freddy can see that the Tories will walk over in the election and that Teresa May need not bother to pre-book the moving van because on June 9, she'll still be the resident of that rambling house with the most famous black door in the world. 
I'm going to predict that Teresa May will remain as British Prime Minister and that the final result will look something like:

Conservatives 345 def. Labour 233.

May 19, 2017

Horse 2273 - Christians And Arms: Or, Trying To Make 23 Greek Words Say More Than They Do

There is an incident described in all four gospels, which speaks of the moment when Judas comes with the servants of the chief priests of the temple, to arrest Jesus and put him on trial for blasphemy. Of the four gospels, only John records that the one who struck and cut off the ear of the high priest's servant Malchus was Peter, and both Matthew and John both record that Jesus rebuked Peter for lashing out in violence.

Of these four records though, only Luke records a small exchange which has apparently become the basis for the justification as to why Christians should be armed. I however don't think that this stands up to scrutiny and that people are trying to make 23 words in Greek do far more than they were ever intended to do.

He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one.
- Luke 22:36

For a start this comes in a far broader passage of scripture. As with reading any document, it is simply idiotic to read one line of something and then say that you've reached a conclusion. Context as always is everything.

Immediately before this, Peter expresses a hasty claim that he was ready to go with Jesus, both to prison and to death; Jesus then issues the fateful warning that by the end of the morning, Peter will have denied ever knowing him; thrice.
To put this back into context, the whole exchange is given below:

But he replied, “Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death.”
Jesus answered, “I tell you, Peter, before the rooster crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.”
Then Jesus asked them, “When I sent you without purse, bag or sandals, did you lack anything?”
“Nothing,” they answered.
He said to them, “But now if you have a purse, take it, and also a bag; and if you don’t have a sword, sell your cloak and buy one. It is written: ‘And he was numbered with the transgressors’; and I tell you that this must be fulfilled in me. Yes, what is written about me is reaching its fulfillment.”
The disciples said, “See, Lord, here are two swords.”
“That’s enough!” he replied.
- Luke 22:33-38

An astute reader should recall a comparison back to chapter 9 when Jesus sent out the twelve to preach the good news of the impending kingdom and God and to heal the sick. Presumably the comparison is given to suggest that a future task is going to be more difficult and on the face of it, having weapons for one's defence seems prudent.


If you bother to read verse 38, two swords among eleven people, against an incoming mob of people armed with swords and clubs seems woefully inadequate. On the face of it, either Jesus is an absolute idiot or perhaps a more sensible reading of this would suggest that this is meant as a metaphor. That would make logical sense considering he's spent a great deal of his ministry speaking in parables and word pictures.

Also, Matthew's account records Jesus' rebuke of Peter:
“Put your sword back in its place,” Jesus said to him, “for all who draw the sword will die by the sword. 
- Matthew 26:52

Again, probably everyone in the ancient world would have been quite familiar with this pithy proverb, having remembered this as Agamemnon's closing words in Homer's Oddessy, after having returned from Troy as the victor and then being murdered by Aegisthus, the lover of his wife, Clytemnestra. If that's really how you'd like to be remembered, as someone who was interminably violent and finally murdered, then you might want to rethink your choices.
The Greek word μάχαιρα which is used for "sword" throughout the New Testament is a generic catch all word for swords and knives which might have included anything from basic kitchenware right up to a standard Roman gladius.

Go back and reread that passage. Verse 38 which contains those words "That's enough!" almost seems like a hint of exasperation or annoyance rather than an acknowledgment of pleasure. It's the sort of thing that someone's mum yells when she's finally fed up with her ankle biters getting out of hand.
At any rate, I just don't think that it makes sense to stretch out what could be a metaphor, to an instruction; in the light of the rest of the New Testament and especially what has been previously written as direct instructions by Jesus:

But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. Do to others as you would have them do to you.
- Luke 6:27-31

Unless someone can specifically make the case that Jesus actually instructed that his followers to come be armed, then I'm going to write it off as bunk.

When it comes to the issue of whether or not Christians are allowed to have arms, the New Testament is respectfully silent. Outside of the gospels, there are no instances of any followers of Christ actually bearing any arms and when it comes to actual directives on the matter, there are none.
Paul writes twice in his first letter to the Corinthians that "everything​ is permissible but not everything is beneficial" and although that's not a discussion either way, it certainly provides direction.

At the end of chapter 12 in his letter to the Romans he writes:
Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone. 18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone. Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge; I will repay,”says the Lord. On the contrary:
“If your enemy is hungry, feed him;
if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.
In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.
- Romans 12:17-21

And later in that same letter he goes on to write:
Whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”Love does no harm to a neighbor. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law.
- Romans 13:9-10

Now I don't know about you but I just don't see the ownership of arms as compatible with the aim either loving or doing good to one's enemies. I don't see how it is conducive to instilling a spirit of peace either.

Invariably someone will raise an objection that someone might want arms for the purposes of going hunting or perhaps in a sporting context. There might very well be justification here but those are very different grounds than what is usually postulated. Besides which, in an urban environment where the incidence of wild animals roaming around is minimal, the only thing which people are likely to be hunting is other people, and again, I just don't see that as compatible with the aim of either loving or doing good to one's enemies.
Either way, in most cases, the justification is still bunk.

May 18, 2017

Horse 2272 - The Minister On The Bus Goes Cut, Cut; Cut

The bus drivers of the Tempe, Burwood, Randwick and other southern Sydney bus depots have gone on strike for 24 hours today because the NSW Rail And Bus Union wants to protest as loudly as possible, their objection to the Berejiklian Government's plans to privatise NSW's buses and then hold a franchise process for the provision of bus services. Last night, the Transport Minister Andrew Constance was adamant that the government would not change it's position and that it wouldn't be strong armed by the union.
To the Transport Minister Andrew Constance and the Premier Of New South Wales Gladys Berejiklian, I have this to say: Please resign immediately. If you do not want to run the government of New South Wales, then please get out immediately.
When Frances De Groot of the New Guard upstaged the then Premier Jack Lang, and slashed the ribbon at the opening ceremony for the Sydney Harbour Bridge, with a sword and on horseback, he did so "in the name of the decent and respectable people of New South Wales". To be perfectly honest, I can't think of a more visible display of brilliance in this state's history. Right at the opening ceremony for one of Sydney's two most iconic landmarks, we had a protest which should serve as a permanent warning to every government who wants to live at Macquarie Street, that they should be subject to the people of New South Wales and that those same people of New South Wales don't like to be dictated to by someone in an office block.

There has been talk of recycling capital by this government, which as far as I can tell means that their intent is to flog off every single asset owned by the people of New South Wales, to their friends, who will then jack up the prices for the services which are provided whilst at the same time providing a worse quality of service.
Specifically the excuse put forward by the Transport Minister Andrew Constance that there has been an increase in the number of complaints about travel times and late running services, is a reflection that there has been a chronic shortage in the provision of Infrastructure for the past forty years and that this should be taken as a signal to properly fund infrastructure and build more; not sell off what already exists. The fact that Sydney had the world's second largest tram network in the world, and tore it up and still hasn't replaced it, should be seen as a filthy black stain on the NSW State Government and all governments from Cahill onwards have been criminally culpable in their refusal to put back that which was stolen. The subsequent privatisation of the various utility companies, should also be seen as direct theft from the decent and respectable people of New South Wales and I personally would like to see several former state government ministers and premiers brought before the courts for prosecution of corruption and larceny at a grand level. This intent as announced by the Transport Minister Andrew Constance, is no different to any of those former instances of thievery.

If we assume for a second that the bus networks are making a loss, then that should be seen as a public good. The whole point of a public service is that it provides a service to the public. A public loss making entity such as this, provides a service many times that of the losses incurred because of the value of the goods and services which are produced as a result of people going to work. As for the notion that there might be obvious loss making bus routes, there is the fact that they happen to pass through places where people rely on them.
If we assume for a second that the bus networks are making a profit, then that should also be seen as a public good. Public services which return revenue to the state government in terms of profits, help to defray the cost of government.
On either side of the economic argument, the provision of a public good should be seen as something which is good for the public. Placing something which should be the responsibility of the government into private hands, instantly makes that thing subject to the demands of the market, which prunes those things which are unprofitable. It should never be forgotten that the market is only capable of determining one thing and one thing only: price. The market can not and does not understand or care about the usefulness and goodness of anything unless there is a dollar amount attached. If this is the basis by which the usefulness and goodness of the bus networks has been determined then this only serves to prove that the current Transport Minister Andrew Constance knows the price of his portfolio and knows nothing about its value. It is exceptionally rare that a cabinet minister retains same portfolio for more than a decade, but the decisions that a cabinet minister can make can have effects that rattle on for many decades. Long after Andrew Constance's tenure as Transport Minister has expired and been forgotten, the ramifications of a decision like this will continue to affect the lives of ordinary people.

There is also the rather annoying problem that the state government doesn't expect any savings from the sale of the bus networks as private contractors are still paid statutory amounts from providing a service. The only goal as far as I can see is that privatisation is an attempt to break up the union and in doing so weaken the opposition Labor Party's voting base. There doesn't seem to be any changes predicted to immediate bus service levels caused by this change, merely the company and conditions that the driver work for.

This is why I am absolutely 100% behind the decision of the NSW Rail And Bus Union to go on strike. The drivers haven't necessarily gone on strike because they want more money but because the very viability of the bus network itself is at stake. As far as I'm concerned, not only should they be on strike but they should be parking a whole bunch of buses right down Macquarie Street and blocking the street entirely. If possible the entire public gallery should be filled with bus drivers. Strike action mostly only happens when one party refuses to yield; in this case, the state government has simply made an announcement without warning and it's not just a slap in the face to the union but a boot to the head of the "decent and respectable people of New South Wales".

May 11, 2017

Horse 2271 - What A Bunch Of Bankers We Are

There is a strange sort of hypocrisy in the world and it is most evident in commercial media and especially among rich people. One of the popular narratives which is frequently told, seemingly without question, is that everybody who receives any form of welfare payments from the government is a bludger and a parasite. The inference that we're all supposed to draw from this is that the government should stop time funding these people and get them off of welfare because they are unproductive.
The latest barrage of attack the war on welfare has to do with drug testing for recipients of unemployment benefits and other disability payments. While I agree that the government has the right to make sure that the money is being spent prudently and wisely, the people who turn to drugs as a pitiful form of self medication, usually do so because their lives are otherwise awful. However, instead of treating this as a public health problem, spending on treatments and health care to sort this out is being cut at the same time; which means that the propensity for someone on drugs to find help and get off them is reduced. If this be the case, they are more likely to turn to drugs to self medicate. This is obviously a cruel cycle and the government wants to wash its hands of it.

The phrase which is often bandied about is that the government should be more careful when it spends "other people's money". To be honest I agree with that with one proviso, that the people who say this and consider government spending as spending "other people's money" should all be forced to leave this country immediately. I believe that as a nation there is no "other people's money" and there is "our money" and if people are so resentful of the idea of the commonwealth of nationhood, they should leave. Curiously though, there is one sector of the economy which derives its entire income and all of its profits from "other people's money" and yet it isn't criticised at all but rather it is praised; that sector is the financial sector.

I want you to imagine a very very small bank; I mean really really small. This bank is run by a ten year old boy named Will and operates on a table out the front of his house. This goes right back to the beginning of banking, where even the word "bank" itself is derived from the old Italian "banca" which also means a table or bench. If it helps, think of something like Lucy Van Pelt's booth from the Peanuts comic strip.

This very very small bank collects the kids' money from the local neighbourhood and in return promises to hold it in safe keeping. For every dollar that they give Will, if they keep it with him for a month, he gives them 3 cents in addition to their dollar. However, Will also lends money to other kids in the neighbourhood. What they do with it is of no concern to him as long as at the end of the month they pay him back the money plus 6 cents for every dollar that they have borrowed. Provided that Will can return money back to the kids who want it back and provided that he can collect more back from the kids who have borrowed from him than those that have given him their money, Will can make a profit.
The only difference in principle between the Bank Of Will and a big bank like the Commonwealth Bank, Westpac, the National Australia Bank and ANZ, is a difference in scale. The other thing of note is that Will doesn't really have to work to make a profit. He doesn't sell anything like lemonade or psychiatric advice but the kids who have borrowed money from him have to do real work out in the real world to pay him back the money plus 6 cents for every dollar that they have borrowed. They might mow people's lawns, or sweep someone's driveway, or maybe do chores around the house, whatever, it is of no concern to Will.
Will's entire business model lives in the gap between having to pay back kids' money plus 3 cents for every dollar, and collecting money that other kids have borrowed plus 6 cents for every dollar that they have borrowed. If Will could only find some way to automate the system so that he didn't have to sit out the front of his house at the table, he would be laughing.

If we scale this up by a factor of literally billions, then although we might have said that Will is a little punk who doesn't really work to make a profit, we're perfectly fine with the concept that banks pay us back not 3 cents for every dollar that we have given them for safe keeping but 3 cents for every thousand dollars that we have given them. We're lucky to get 3 cents back. Worse, if you're like most people, the banks will charge you what amounts​ to rent for having your money live with them. They are still perfectly fine with making other people pay back 6 cents plus every dollar that they have borrowed; maybe 20 cents or more if they have borrowed money through the magic of credit cards.
It seems that we're also perfectly fine as a society for the entire financial system to live in the gap between the difference between the rates of what they give us for keeping our money for safe keeping and collecting more from the people who have borrowed from them.
Essentially the entire financial system doesn't produce anything of actual value but lives in the gap between the charge out and charge in rates of interest. Just like the very very small Bank Of Will, big banks mostly don't care about what borrowers do with the money as long as they are able to pay it back plus however many cents plus every dollar that they have borrowed. Also just like the Bank Of Will, that money is paid back by people having to do real work in the real world. Now tell me who the bludgers and the parasites are.

If all of the economy was being run as a single business entity, in one massive shopfront. If we believe the narrative that people on welfare payments are bludgers and parasites, then we should perhaps immediately not include people who are paid the old age pension: after all, these people have already put in a lifetime of work. If you also not include those people who have genuine disabilities and who are unable to work, then the actual number of proper bludgers and parasites is about 2% at an overly stated estimate. A shop that has theft of 2% would find that troubling but not necessarily outrageous. If you look at the ASX200 and see what proportion of the economy is made up of an entire sector of bludgers and parasites, who in essence live in the gap between the charge out and charge in rates, then apparently that doesn't seem to trouble us and yet that is an entire sector who not only lives off of the proceeds of "other people's money" but "other people's work".
But as long as we keep punching down on those people who turn to drugs as a way of self medication, instead of treating the problem as a public health issue, then that's fine. What a bunch of bankers we all are.

May 10, 2017

Horse 2270 - Budget 2017: The Morrisoning

When the parliament sits with a slightly different set of protocols, which is what happened last night, when you have one speaker who is able to speak uninterrupted, they are then able to sound remarkably sane. When Scott Morrison delivered the introductory speech for the Appropriation Bill No.1 (2017), he did so as one who sounded as though he had proper authority, rather than someone trying in desperation to be heard.
What was also notable about the delivery of the first budget bill was the absence of the Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. Instead we had the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce sitting behind the Treasure and on the left, and on the right was the Minister for Education Christopher Pyne. Julie Bishop was relegated to the bench immediately behind them and also in shot was Peter Dutton. Depending on your point of view, this would have looked like everything right with this country or everything wrong with this country, in one picture.
A Budget delivery speech is primarily about marketing and the image that the government is trying to project. In that regard, the overall tone of Mr Morrison's speech was one that could have come out of the mouth of practically every Treasurer since federation. This was not an alarmist speech but something which was measured and provided you remove your partisan tinted glasses, actually rather a bit dull and that indeed was the point. This speech was about delivering the message that it is business as usual and one that firmly stepped out of the shadow of former Treasurer Joe Hockey's "budget emergency" speech of a few years ago. There were a few things of note and this is a summary of what stood out to me.

This budget is based on the key assumption that wages are likely to grow at about 2% over the long run. Although a few bones have been thrown the way of targeting tax evasion by large multinational corporations, there isn't really much in the way of increasing revenues via increased taxation except for that which happens naturally. This is mostly a sensible idea as it means that all of the headline rates of income tax remain the same and so for the vast majority of people, no change whatsoever is perfectly acceptable and predictable.
With regards small business, that is businesses with a turnover of less than $10m, the rate of company tax is set to fall slightly and the ability to write off assets which have a capital cost of $20,000 or less, within the tax year, remains. I personally find that having the small business company tax rate as a different rate to the normal rate, annoying. This means that when it comes to dividends which are paid by these businesses to their owners​, that the shortfall between company tax and their marginal rate of income tax widens. If they are both kept in concert at 30%, then back of the envelope calculations are easier and explaining things to small business owners is also easier.

Mr Morrison outlined several funding packages for infrastructure spending which included improvements to the Bruce Highway in Queensland, expressway and road improvements in Western Australia, duplication of the railway line heading into Geelong in Victoria but the biggest ticket item was the announcement of the Melbourne to Brisbane Rail Project at a cost of $8.4bn, which is to be commenced in 2017/18 and completed by 2026/27.
The thing with major rail infrastructure announcements​ is that as a nation we have heard many over the years that have ultimately come to nothing. This one hasn't been floated in an airy fashion but by including it in the budget, there's a chance that it might actually happen. I find it interesting that if you look at the proposed route of the lines, they almost exclusively pass through electorates which are currently held by the National Party or by the LNP in Queensland; that also includes the electorate of New England which just happens to be the seat of the Deputy Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce. Go figure.
There was also an amount which has been allocated for the Western Sydney Airport which is to be built at Badgerys Creek. The cynic in me wants to say that this will be an excuse for the Liberal Party of the year 2031/32 to sell it off again. On that note, Mr Morrison also indicated that he wants the Federal Government to buy the Snowy Mountains Hydro Electric Scheme from the NSW State Government; which also makes me wonder if that will also be sold off by future governments.

There was some nice rhetoric surrounding the Medicare levy with that set to increase and perhaps more importantly, the freeze on the rates paid by the Federal Government to doctors and GPs has also been lifted. I find it a little worrying that a separate fund will be created to administer the Medicare levy because again, I can see such a thing being sold off by future governments.
When it comes to direct welfare payments, the government is still in damage control mode over the issue of automatic debt collection notices and depending on which​ side of the political divide you happen to sit on, the announcement that there is to be enforced drug testing of welfare recipients is either going to make you cheer or make your blood boil. Personally I think that it is prudent that the government would want to see that welfare payments are wisely spent and I hope that there are public and mental health services which are tied to this but equally I can see this being used punitively and a way of chucking people off of welfare and onto the garbage pile.

Lurking in the deep dark dank depths of this budget are increases to the amounts that we're paying to put asylum seekers and refugees into tropical gulags to hopefully rot, snips at the budget for the ABC, further swipes at the budgets for universities, and perhaps most worrying of amounts paid to the Australian Secret Intelligence Service are all labelled "nfp" or "not for publication", due to supposed national security concerns. I find it deeply disturbing that my tax dollars are spent on being deliberately cruel to some of the most vulnerable people in the world, I find it scary that the Liberal Party yields to the demands of its friends in business when it comes to the ABC and the sooner that Michelle Guthrie is removed the better, I find it unbelievably stupid and short sighted that instead of investing in both the labour capital and cultural capital of the country through the vehicle of further education that this government wants to kneecap the very thing which improves future taxation receipts, and I find it insulting that I am not allowed even to know what the number is that we spend on the dark art of spying.

I will of course need to spend several days looking into the minutiae of the budget because being such a hefty tome, it is often the picture painted by ten thousand words which is important rather than just the snapshots. On the face of it though, this is a mostly dull budget and deliberately so by design. If this budget had been presented by Anthony Albanese, then The Australian and the Daily Telegraph would have cried that it is death incarnate but as it has been presented by Treasurer Scott Morrison, then it will be given glowing reviews in today's newspapers. But it's still mostly dull.

May 06, 2017

Horse 2269 - Sydney FC v Melbourne Victory: The Stupidity of the A-League Finals Series

Please tell me why the Grand Final tomorrow is a thing.

I have never understood why in Australia, after you play a season which lasts for ten months why there is a need to play one more match to find out who the champion is. The regular season already has a league table; surely simple logic says that if you finish at the top of the league, then you should be the winner. How hard is that? The team with the most points at the end of the season wins. 

Yet for some reason which is still hitherto unknown to me, other than the possibility that the administrators of the various sporting codes in Australia think that the general public are more stupid than a cauliflower which has been left on a kitchen bench for six months, we still persist with the notion that the championship must be awarded a grand final.

Consider the regular season:
Sydney FC - Played 27. Won 20. Drew 6. Lost 1. Points 66.
Melbourne Victory - Played 27. Won 15. Drew 4. Lost 8. Points 49.

How hard is that?

Sydney FC, who has ended up with more points than any other team in A-League history, scored more goals than any other team in A-League history and conceded fewer goals than any other team in A-League history, is still forced to prove that it is the champion by playing another championship match. Suppose that Sydney FC does lose tomorrow. Then what? The team which led the entire season is not the champion because they lose one game which by rights should be happening in thfirst place? That's ludicrous.

I can totally understand in a Cup competition where you have teams being knocked out at every phase that you would end up with a final; such is the nature of the beast. A knockout cup where the loser of every match goes home must by definition have only two teams that make it through to the end. The World Cup is also essentially a knockout competition with a series of pools at the beginning.
I can also understand the case in the United State where in a competition like the NFL, where you have the winners of two conferences playing each other for the right to be called the champion. That's like having a a knockout competition with a complicated series of pools at the beginning.
For a league though, where everyone plays everyone else both home and away, then you shouldn't need a finals series. The end of the regular season already gives you a sufficient number of statistics to work with and in the case where two teams end up on the same number of points, you can dig deeper into goal difference or if that is equal, the number of goals scored, which is what happened in the 1988-89 First Division in English Football. A finals series is just plain idiotic beyond that point.

Perhaps it might have made sense when there was no Cup in Australia but now that the FFA Cup has been instituted, a finals series now just looks like a broken pencil - pointless. The FFA Cup should be allowed to take its place in the minds of the public and be allowed to grow in stature like other Cup competitions around the world.

To give you an idea of the level of disdain that I have for finals series, cast your minds back to the 28th of August last year. In the AFL, Fremantle beat the Western Bulldogs by 20 points, to condemn the Bulldogs to 7th on the AFL ladder; yet on the 1st of October, the Western Bulldogs won the Premisership by beating the Sydney Swans who had finished on top of the league ladder in the regular season. Now I don't particularly like the Swans but even I will admit that that is a horrendous travesty. A team which finished 7th does not and should not ever be called champions of anything.

During the 2016-17 regular season of the A-League, Sydney were never pushed out of the top spot of the ladder ever. Their only loss came on the 18th of February at the hands of the Western Sydney Wanderers; apart from that Sydney FC would have gone through the season undefeated. For that to be allowed to be thrown away in just one match, completely devalues the A-League. If Melbourne Victory wins tomorrow, then what in Big Blue blazes was the last eight months for? You may as well as a coach, deliberately try and finish 6th because the league is of zero consequence anyway.

If I was Grand Poobah and Lord High Everything Else, I'd end the A-League season at the end of the A-League season. As Australia gets three places in the AFC Champions League, two sport would be awarded to 1st and 2nd in the league and the other would be awarded to the winner of the FFA Cup.
That makes sense. The A-League should be the league, the FFA Cup should be the cup, and the current finals series should be confined to the dustbin of history like pointless piece of irrelevant stupidity that it is.

May 04, 2017

Horse 2268 - Blackpool v Leyton Orient: It Isn't Football

This weekend, Blackpool FC will play its final game of the season against the absolutely dead last team on the league ladder, Leyton Orient. If Blackpool wins this last game of the season then it has pretty much secured seventh spot on the ladder; which is good enough to qualify for one of the places to play in the playoffs for promotion to the amusingly named third tier of English football, League One. Now obviously I'm happy at the prospect of picking up the easiest three points of the season but I don't at all feel happy about the treatment that Luton Town management has given its own members. Leyton Orient are guaranteed to drop out of the Football League proper and into the National League (formerly known as the Conference) and to heap insult upon injury upon misery, it is largely the fault of their management.

Leyton Orient haven't suffered the same sort of absurd fate as the old Wimbledon FC did but their management is equally as terrible and are as criminally inept. At the last home game of the season at Brisbane Road, fans staged a mass pitch invasion before they were all ejected and the rest of the match was played behind closed doors.
O’s supporters invaded the pitch at Brisbane Road with five minutes of their match with Colchester United remaining. The Orient fans refused to leave the field despite repeated requests and continued to chant for chairman Francesco Becchetti to leave. Eventually at 5.47pm the game was declared as abandoned, but just under an hour later it restarted again and finished close to 7pm.
- East London Advertiser, 3rd May 2017.

At Bloomfield Road this weekend, the Football League and Blackpool FC had threatened that there would be no away ticket allocation but they've subsequently come to their senses and have made a small selection of tickets available for those fans who bother to make the trek to the Lancashire coast. Already on the Blackpool forums and message boards, there are sentiments of solidarity as Blackpool fans have been through similar sorts of nonsense in the past.
Leyton Orient fans will be able to attend their team’s final match in the Football League at Blackpool after the EFL reversed a decision to suspend ticket sales to away supporters for the match at Bloomfield Road on Saturday.
The EFL initially approved Blackpool’s request but on Tuesday announced that a revised allocation of 1,000 tickets would be made available to Orient fans.
- The Guardian, 3rd May 2017

Yes I'm selfishly hoping that Blackpool wins this match but not because I don't like Leyton Orient. Truth be told I'm completely ambivalent towards them. To their fans though, I want to join in their sense of anger and frustration because this is about something far bigger than just a football team being relegated. This is about a community who have banded together and have been deeply let down by interests who are more concerned with money than the game.

Football as indeed all sport is intrinsically stupid. Whether its football teams or various kinds of races or tests of strength, sport is about asking who is the best at a thing and then having a go at finding out who is best at the thing. All of the fun, intrigue, interest and whatnot is built around the stories which are built up. The only reason that Liverpool and Everton hate each other is because they are next door. Holden and Ford have been locked in battle because they produce what is essentially the same product. The Olympics works as a thing because there are already stories built with interlocking rivalries because of that far more complicated story we call nationhood. Even if it is only a few dozen fans who follow a local parish team, their connection to the club and each other is as valuable and as important as when the national side plays.

This is what management does not understand at its most fundamental level. Running a football club like a business and trying to pull money out of it or saddle it with debt, is to betray the underlying story. When the management of Wimbledon FC upped roots and tried to replant the club in Milton Keynes, they failed to understand that a football club has connections to both place and the history of the place and people. Leyton Orient's problem was that in running the club as a business, they failed account for the people who make the thing what it is. Season ticket holders aren't customers, they're fans.
The FA should have also realised that shutting the fans out of an away game is going to solve nothing. Leyton Orient fans' beef is with the management of Leyton Orient and not necessarily the eleven players out on the pitch. As it is, many of the players who have turned out for them recently have been academy players, and it is nonsensical that Leyton Orient's fans would be angry with a bunch of kids who had nothing to do with the club's woes.

The only good thing that I can see coming out of this whole insanity for Leyton Orient is the blessing in disguise in the form of bankruptcy when the club gets relegated and the management loses interest. If the club goes bankrupt, then hopefully a phoenix club will rise out of the ashes of the old, with all debts forgiven and with the current management gone. If that were to happen then they'd probably suffer even more for going into administration but what would come out of it would be a new club owned by its fans through the Leyton Orient Fans Trust; which is what should have happened in the first place. If that happens, I hope that Leyton Orient becomes something better than what they are now.
I also hope that they come back as that new club, owned by the fans for the fans and not Francesco Becchetti.

May 03, 2017

Horse 2267 - Dare To Think The Unthinkable: PM Barnaby Joyce

"I don't know if Liberal governments always do a good job. I don't know if Labor governments always do a bad job. I do know that the National Party always tries to do its best for its constituents."
- Barnaby Joyce, on ABC Radio, 1st May 2017.

Barnaby Joyce is probably the current clown prince of Australian politics. He isn't exactly a political brawler and nor is he a grand statesman but given that he is a member of the National Party, he doesn't really to be. I get the distinct impression that the National Party and by extension Barnaby Joyce, occupies a sort of strange pragmatism in politics because federally they're almost guaranteed never to gain power in their own right and although there have been Country/National Party Prime Ministers, they've always come about because their coalition partners have undergone a political implosion.

The National Party itself is ironically named because it is not a unified national party. In four of six states, it runs as it always had done, in Queensland it has entered into formal union with the Liberal Party and in Western Australia the WA Nationals are struggling to remain in coalition with the rest of the party. Queensland is the exception but there's a very good reason for that.
As far as I'm aware, Queensland is the only state where the National Party has formed government in its own right without the Liberal Party. The Liberal Party really only represented a few inner city electorates and the during the premiership of Sir Joh Bjelke-Petersen, the National Party asserted itself and jettisoned the Liberals. Rather than remain as relevant as an Easter egg still left on the shelves in June, the Liberal Party more or less surrendered to the National Party in Queensland and they rebranded themselves as the Liberal National Party to take advantage of whatever political benefits that they could gain from the publicity by association with the federal parties.

This brings me to Barnaby Joyce himself. He used to be a Senator for the state of Queensland but moved downstairs to the House of Representatives and became the Member for New England as a National Party member and not a Liberal Party member. This says to me that Barnaby is more concerned with getting things done rather than wanting some tilt at the top job, because as a National Party member his chances of becoming Prime Minister are about as likely as Satan ice skating to work under normal circumstances.
If you look back through the list of Australian Prime Ministers, there have been two Country/National Party Prime Ministers and they were Sir Earle Page, Arthur Fadden and John McEwen. Earle Page was installed after the sudden death of Joseph Lyons, Arthur Fadden took the job after the forerunner to the Liberal Party, the United Australia Party, tore itself to pieces; and John McEwen got the job after Sir Robert Menzies retired from politics, Harold Holt wandered off into the sea and both the Liberal and Country parties also wandered around from side to side like brainless sheep. Unless Tony Abbott mounts a coup and deposes Malcolm Turnbull, or Turnbull decides that he's had enough and leaves, and the Liberal Party again implodes and finds itself bereft of sensible leadership, then just the sheer numbers within the coalition will always mean that there will be a Liberal Prime Minister over a National one.

I think that this is a pity. Precisely because the Liberal Party mostly represents people in the cities, and especially those people with connections to money, it is far too myopic to realise that Australia is a wide brown land. The Liberal Party was formed in 1945 by 80 members who met in the Sydney Town Hall and they included Sir Robert Menzies, the power brokers of the United Australia Party which had just recently ceased to be, people like Sir Keith Murdoch, and the IPA. Even just this week we had former Prime Minister Tony Abbott extolling the virtues of the IPA at one of its functions and then crowing about it all over social media. The National Party isn't beholden to forces like that and it has far broader concerns than just moving the great big pile of money from one place to another and taking a cut.

The National Party tends to care about things like infrastructure, health, and education etc. as means to improving the lives of people and in particular farmers and people living in rural areas. It likes the idea of reducing taxation and regulations insofar as much as this also achieves that same end. Of course it also tries to be nice to major primary producers and mining companies because it sees those entities as useful means of providing employment and driving the economy of the country; for this reason, the National Party often comes into conflict with its own members as it tries to play an internal balancing game. The Liberal Party in contrast doesn't seem to give a rip about those issues at all, as long as the coin keeps on rolling in.

Again we find ourselves back at Barnaby Joyce. I think that the National Party chose him as leader of the party because he is the most visible and memorable. The nearest political equivalent that I can think of would be if Boris Johnson was leader of the Liberal Democrats in the UK if they were still in coalition with the Tories. Boris Johnson would most likely make a terrible Prime Minister but he'd be the most famous in recent memory. Likewise, a Barnaby Joyce premiership would probably be equally as terrible but at very least it would all be a lark while the ship of state was on fire. As leader of the National Party, Barnaby has been placed somewhere where he can be seen but where he can not cause very much mayhem. Probably his most famous acts involved deporting Johnny Depp's two dogs Pistol and Boo; which by the way was exactly the proper thing to do, it's just that Barnaby had all the subtlety of playing croquet with a sledgehammer and an egg.

One of the unwritten and dangerously unthinkable things about Australian politics is that if the National Party wasn't so formally entangled with the Liberal Party and flew its own course as the WA Nationals do, then it potentially could be the perpetual kingmakers. Because Duverger's Law says that single member constituencies tend towards two party politics, then the National Party have aligned themselves forever on that side of the divide. Since government is formed from a majority of members on the floor of the parliament, then they could in theory decide to flip allegiance to the other side and depose the Liberal Party. A smart leader of a party like the Nationals could in theory threaten to cross the floor on matters of supply and then demand a greater say in the executive of the nation. Again that's not likely but given Barnaby's proven capacity for poise, grace and tact, it's not like there's anything to lose.
There's a thing which is imaginable and really really weird - Prime Minister Barnaby Joyce leading a National Labor coalition government. Of course it's not at all likely but given that 2017 has already shown that everything we know is wrong then thinking the unthinkable and watching the clown prince become king doesn't seem so impossibly impossible any more.

May 01, 2017

Horse 2266 - No FIFA, You Don't Get To Crow About This

In a week that saw FIFA facing legal action over bribery in US courts and further proof that the bidding process for the 2018 and 2022 World Cups were also open to corruption, FIFA's Twitter account was blissfully unaware of all of this and was busily spruiking the upcoming Confederations Cup in Russia. They are counting down their top 50 moments of tournaments past, as propaganda for the one to come; yet even here we find controversy.
No 49 on the list was from the 2001 Confederations Cup when minnows Australia beat the then World Cup champions France 1-0, thanks to a scrappy goal following a free kick, from Clayton Zane. Presumably FIFA wants to show that this is one of those rare pieces of magic that can only happen in sport: after all, Australia hadn't even qualified for the 1998 World Cup where France had become champions.

I'll admit that it was a nice bit of theatre but in the grand scheme of events that were happening at the time, the fact that this happened at all is utterly disgraceful.

Before 2006, Australia was in the Oceania Football Confederation. Apart from New Zealand and Fiji, the population of the all the nations in the confederation combined, is less than the population of the local council where I live in western Sydney. When the national champion of the Fijian Football Association has been teams like Suva Foodtown FC which is made up of employees from the supermarket in downtown Suva, that should speak volumes that perhaps the viability of the entire confederation should have been called into question. To this day I still think that Oceanian should play as a single combined team in the Asian Football Confederation and New Zealand as only nation that can stand up by itself should also join Asia, but all of this is an aside.
For the 1998 World Cup in France, Australia didn't qualify for the tournament because of a series of idiotic events.

The Oceania Qualifiers for the 1998 World Cup put the six teams of the confederation (6 of 14 who bothered to enter) into two groups. Australia was put into Group A along with the Solomon Islands and Tahiti; the winners of the two groups would play each other. The results of Group A were as follows:
Australia 13 - Solomon Islands 0
Australia 5 - Tahiti 0
Solomon Islands 2 - Australia 6
Tahiti 0 - Australia 2.
Australia: Played 4, won 4, goals scored 26, goals conceded 2.

Australia would then go on to play New Zealand away and home, for the right to play the fifth placed best side in Asia. Those two matches went:
New Zealand 0 - Australia 3
Australia 2 - New Zealand 0

The fifth best side in Asia was Iran. Iran like every other nation in the world was trying to qualify for the World Cup proper but given that they knew that Australia wouldn't be expecting the task to be easy, the pitch that the Iranian Football Association had prepared in Tehran was more akin to a concrete council car park than a football pitch. If a local under 12s team in Sydney had to play on such a horrible ground, there would be complaints made to the local council.

That match went:
Iran 1 - Australia 1.
The goals came from Leeds United striker Harry Kewell who singlehandedly was paid more than the entire Iranian team and Khodadad Azizi, who was already something of an Iranian legend of the game.

The return fixture in Australia was held on the MCG; which although was a horrid venue to play football on because of the ground being chopped up by Australian Rules football which was normally played there, it was still a world away from the previous fixture in Iran. That match went:
Australia 2 - Iran 2.
The goals came from Harry Kewell and Aurelio Vidmar, and Karimi Baghari and Khodadad Azizi.

Owing to the idiotic away goals rule, Iran qualified for the 1998 World Cup because it had scored two goals in Australia, as opposed to Australia only scoring one goal in Iran. This meant that Australia didn't​ qualify for the 1998 World Cup despite a record of:
Played 8, won 6, drew 2, goals scored 34, goals conceded 5, lost 0.
Let me just stress this - Australia despite winning the confederation and being the only undefeated side in the whole world in the qualifiers for the World Cup, still didn't qualify.

The whole absurdity of the existence of the Oceania Football Confederation was highlighted when during the qualifiers for the 2002 World Cup (which Australia also didn't qualify for), they defeated American Samoa 31 - 0. This remains the highest score and biggest margin in international football; which is ridiculous because it shouldn't have been allowed to take place.

I find this comment by FIFA, particularly galling.
Clayton Zane’s precise strike in the 60th minute handed Australia an unlikely victory, although the loss did not prevent the French from going on to win the tournament.
Unlikely? Rubbish!
The fact that Australia beat France 1 - 0 in one match should be seen as entirely unremarkable and I suspect that FIFA are trying to spin this as proof of their good management in fostering the game but the fact remains that they've basically been drowning Oceania Football in tropical sea of apathy by keeping their boot firmly on the neck of the confederation.
Football Australia aren't a whole lot better because after the 2006 World Cup (which Australia did qualify after beating the fifth best side in South America), they jumped ship out of Oceania and into Asia and have done nothing for the good of the confederation that they left behind.

If I was Grand Poohbah and Lord High Everything Else, then by all means Oceania would play an internal tournament but for them to even have a hope of playing on a bigger stage, they should be playing as a single team in the same way that the West Indies do in cricket, or the USSR used to in football.
And FIFA, you don't get to crow about this. It's your bad stewardship that meant that this stupidity of history occurred. It's a complete mockery of your slogan "For the good of the game."