June 26, 2017

Horse 2290 - Goods And Sexism Tax

Speaking as a man, I am eminently unqualified to write about the vast majority of issues pertaining to women's health. As the possessor of mismatched chromosomes, I can not speak about the lived experience of fifty percent of the population and to do so would be the height of affrontery. However, as someone who lives in the world of numbers and taxation, there is one particular issue upon which not only do I think that my opinion is valid but I feel so strongly about it that if you disagree with me, I will declare you to be completely wrong.

Last week, the 76 august servants​ in the red chamber of our parliament turned down amendments to the Goods And Services Taxation (A New Tax System) Act 2000, which would have exempted feminine hygiene products such as tampons and sanitary pads from GST. The set of amendments proposed by Greens senator Larissa Waters was opposed by both of the two major parties 33-15; which basically stopped the changes dead.
In a week which saw the first speech in the Senate by a woman while breastfeeding her baby, that same chamber struck down the amendments which would have moved all of those items into the same category as fresh food, water, and medical products, and removed the 10% GST which they currently attract.
And 'why?' do I not hear you ask because this is written text and I've just placed these words in your head. The reason given by several balding men in suits, is that they aren't 'essential' and that as such, placing them into that same exemption from GST in the legislation is a category error.
Now I don't know about you but having lived with three of these apparently mysterious creatures to the minds of those in the Senate, I can tell you that as an outside observer, that in my lived experience, that the events which necessitate the use of such products is not voluntary. What I find particularly galling is that Finance minister Mathias Cormann made a statement that tampons should be included at GSTable items because they are 'luxury' items. I don't know what world be lives in but a natural and unpleasant bodily function doesn't sound like very much of a 'luxury' to me. If he is able to verify this through personal experience then maybe I'm prepared to believe him but if not, I think that he is as eminently unqualified to speak on the issue as I am.
As far as I can tell, the GST on these products collects only a minimal amount of GST and serves no real purpose other than to be a de facto tax on women.

In principle I hate consumption based taxation because by definition it falls most squarely upon those people who spend a higher proportion of their income. The actual burden of consumption taxes falls most heavily upon poorer people who spend more of their income in the simple act of living than richer people and the elderly who have retired and are in that stage of life of dissaving. When you combine this the fact that women are on the whole likely to be earning a lower income than men at every stage of life, more likely to outlive their partners and that 100% of the burden of this component of GST falls on women, then the only possible conclusion that I can draw is that the GST on tampons and other feminine hygiene products is both cruel and discriminatory. I'm adamant that my opinion is correct and I don't even have to pay the tax because as a man, I just walk right on past that section of the supermarket aisle.

What infuriates me about this series of amendments failing in the Senate is this needed to be brought up at all. When they were standing around in both houses of the parliament seventeen years ago and arguing about what should and shouldn't be included under the umbrella of the GST, this should have been a no brainer. Instead, it passed the eyeballs of 226 people (mostly men) and then the Governor General and still wasn't picked up. Legislation is all about making rules and then writing exemptions to those rules and I think that it is either an act of wilful negligence or outright culpability that the parliament who could have acted deliberately chose not to.
The fact that this was introduced in the Senate and still failed, means that it won't be referred to the House and the blatantly obvious mistake still remains, except now it is no longer a mistake but the result of an active choice. What do I know about this subject though? Speaking as a man, I am eminently unqualified to write about the vast majority of issues pertaining to women's health. Speaking as an accountant? Yeah. Parliament is wrong.

June 21, 2017

Horse 2289 - Forget Mere Hospitality, We Have Obligations To Refugees

In case you missed it, yesterday was World Refugee Day; the day which was proclaimed by the United Nations in 2001 to commemorate the day that the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees¹ was passed.
In the Senate, two motions were rejected. The first was put forward by Pauline Hanson and Cory Bernardi to withdraw Australia from the refugee convention and this was defeated 6-50, the second was a motion by Greens Senator Nick McKim to close the tropical gulags that Australia keeps on Manus Island and Nauru and bring every man, woman and child to Australia and this was defeated 9-43.
The only motion on the subject of refugees which passed was a feel good fluffy non-binding resolution which asked the parliament to take a "reasoned, principled and facts–based approach to the issue of asylum seekers and refugees" and for an increase to the number of refugees that Australia would take in to 27,000 by the year 2025; which is beyond the term of everyone currently sitting in the Senate.

- This is what voting to retain cruelty looks like. 

I have to admit that everything about this rubs me the wrong way. I already find practically everything that Ms Hanson says to be either malfeasant, cruel or just plain idiotic, and the fact that Mr Bernardi tabled the motion to unbind Australia from any and all obligations that the country might have under the refugee convention, has just converted me into an angry political adversary. What I find even more horrible about this is that his Australian Conservatives party has absorbed the Family First Party and has just strengthened a disturbing trend in something that claims to be the Christian right but clearly stands opposed to scripture.
Notwithstanding the fact that Joseph was forced to flee the province of Iudea with Mary amd Jesus to Egypt, because of the decree that all male children in Bethlehem and its vicinity under the age of two years were to be killed, this seems to deny the fact that Bible is pretty clear that the poor and the vulnerable should be treated with respect and dignity.

To be clear though, perhaps it's worth looking at what the  Australian Conservatives have to say about themselves:
https://www.conservatives.org.au/principles
The values, customs, conventions, and norms of the Judeo-Christian tradition are the foundation for western culture and provide the appropriate framework to inform and guide a free society. Without adherence to these enduring structures and an associated rejection of moral relativism, society induces its decay.
- Australian Conservatives website, retrieved on 21st Jun 2017

If you want to invoke the "values, customs, conventions, and norms of the Judeo-Christian tradition" then it might be an idea to look in the Bible because presumably, that should specify what they are.

Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited.
- Romans 12:13-16 (NIV)²

I might be accused of taking this out of context, but when you consider that Paul goes on to write that people should feed their enemy, give them something to drink if they are thirsty, not to repay evil for evil and to overcome evil for good, I think that I'm fair safe ground.
Admittedly my grasp of Koine Greek which this was written in isn't brilliant but there's one word here which I find particularly interesting because English is absolutely incapable of grasping the full definition of the word. In this passage it is rendered as "hospitality" but in the Greek it is φιλοξενία or "philoxenia".

Philoxenia is made up of two roots, "philo" which means "brother" and "xenia" which is usually rendered as hospitality but the concept doesn't translate well. A more correct rendering would probably be closer to "guest friendship" and involves a whole bunch of conventions. Xenia almost always implies an obligation on the part of the person whose home it is because to refuse to extend guest friendship might inadvertently raise the ire of the stranger, who might be someone important. Indeed the Trojan War was supposed to have been started because of a violation of the rules of Xenia. An abduction of the host's wife further complicates the issue but the point is still that Xenia is about the following of the rules of obligation and not mere hospitality.

Now the reason I make mention of this is that the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees is also not the extension of mere hospitality but is a policy document replete with the obligations which the nations who sign up to it voluntarily bind themselves.
I think that it is pretty obvious that someone who has crossed the seas and had placed themselves in great peril, hasn't done so because the conditions back home, if indeed there is a home to go back to, are all that brilliant. Granted there probably is a case to be made that some people are trying to migrate illegally but we live in a nation where the rule of law exists and the default position should always be to test cases before judgement is passed.
At any rate, if someone is fleeing persecution and/or war, they're hardly our enemy and even if they are, the "values, customs, conventions, and norms of the Judeo-Christian tradition" explicitly state that we should feed them, give them a drink if they are thirsty and overcome evil with good. Mere hospitality seems to me like an entirely inadequate thing if we've signed up to something which demands a full case of philoxenia. That might include the friendly and generous reception of strangers who have fled peril but it certainly does not include leaving people in inhumane conditions with no real hope.

I am happy to see that the Senate voted to turn down Ms Hanson and Mr Bernardi's motion to pull Australia out of the Refugee Convention because that deserved to be quashed. I am equally disappointed and annoyed that the same the Senate voted to then fart all over the Convention that they'd just voted in favour for by effusion to close the facilities on Manus Island and Nauru. If that's representative of who we are as a nation, then we're a malfeasant, cruel and just plain idiotic one.
There's another lovely Greek word which describes all of this - Hypocrite.

¹1951 Refugee Convention - http://www.unhcr.org/protect/PROTECTION/3b66c2aa10.pdf
²Romans 12 - https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=Romans+12

June 20, 2017

Horse 2288 - Will No-one Rid Us Of This Meddlesome Charlatan?

As it stands​ there are at least two lawsuits claiming that President Donald Trump has broken the amoluments clause of the US Constitution, separate House and Senate investigations going on into the interference of Russia in the Presidential campaign and connections to the Trump team, and former Director of the FBI James Comey and Attorney General Jeff Sessions have also testified before the Senate into actions of President Trump. Clearly what's going on is an absolute horrorshow but this kind of thing is likely to repeat itself over and over again until the next Presidential Election or the incredibly unlikely event of Trump's impeachment. The former is more or less guaranteed if someone runs against Trump in the 2020 Republican Primaries and the latter is unlikely because in impeaching the President, the members of Congress face their own electoral wipeout in the 2018 House Election; the portion of the people who voted for "President Trump" would most likely see his removal as a betrayal of justice and they'd respond accordingly through the ballot box.
And yet there was an interesting contrast across the Atlantic in the fallout from the British General Election. Almost immediately after the election, when the Tory party lost a great deal of its advantage in the House Of Commons, it immediately had to start thinking about making a deal with the DUP to retain power, people were calling for Prime Minister Theresa May to be removed from Number Ten and someone else given the job.

I have been reading through the Federalist Papers which were written by Thomas Jefferson, John Jay, and Alexander Hamilton, and the overwhelming tone that I get from them is that while the framers of the US Constitution wanted to keep the boundaries of power in check, they also wanted to retain a military style of command with someone like a General in charge of the day to day running of the administration of government. I suppose that this made complete sense when you consider that they probably had George Washington in mind when they wrote the Constitution and it probably worked incredibly well when he ran for President unopposed. Mind you, in 1800 the political infighting almost instantly turned into a horrorshow of its own once Washington decided that he'd had enough and wanted to go home.
Meanwhile across the sea in merry old England, the mother of all parliaments at Westminster already had been through a difficult time and had been reborn after England's own Civil War and the Glorious Revolution. Its solution to the question of how you remove someone who is sitting in the seat of power is not only simple but as Westminster's children have proven, is sometimes necessary.

The procedure for removing the President of the United States is both protracted and arcane. To date, not one President has been successfully impeached, though a few have come close. Andrew Johnson's impeachment was put to a vote in the Senate which failed, Nixon resigned before he could be impeached and there simply wasn't the wood to get Clinton impeached and that attempt also failed. In my lifetime, in Australia, there have been no fewer than four Prime Ministers who have been removed from office and replaced mid-stream by the parties that put them there. One of Tony Benn's questions to ask power was "How can we get rid of you?"¹ and I think that the Westminster System of parliamentary government consistently answers this question eloquently.

The United States Federal Government vests the entire of the responsibility of the executive in a single pair of hands who lives outside the Congress. Ostensibly this is supposed to ensure a separation of powers but owing to the fact that to pass budgets, the President needs approval from Congress if it originates from them or the Congress needs approval from the President if it originates from them, it is like both ringmasters of government in this three ring circus are pointing Smith And Wessons at each other.
Meanwhile in a Westminster​ parliament, the executive​ is vested in the cabinet which sits inside the parliament. Unlike the United States where the President can literally select anyone they like, irrespective of how brilliant or rubbish they might be and for any cabinet position, the entire cabinet which also includes the Prime Minister must come from the elected members. There is literally nothing in the Australian Constitution which says that there even has to be a Prime Minister and it isn't impossible to conceive of a situation where there isn't one, or a situation where the Prime Minister is from the Senate and not the House Of Representatives, and likewise there is also no specified way of getting rid of them if they turn out to be total muppets or tyrants.

The Prime Minister or Premier in a Westminster parliament is the leader of the cabinet and by convention is the leader of the majority party on the floor of the House Of Representatives, House of Commons, or whatever the lower house happens to be called. If America had a Westminster System of government, then the Prime Minister would be current house leader Kevin McCarthy and his opposite number as the Leader Of The Opposition would be Nancy Pelosi. Donald Trump would be the Governor General and although he would still be the commander in chief of the armed forces, he wouldn't be appointing a cabinet, he wouldn't have any executive power at all and his role of the history of Westminster parliaments around the world is anything to go by, his position would be mostly symbolic except for exceptional circumstances. In Australia you might know who the Governor General is but you'd be hard pressed to think of anything that any Govenor General has ever done in 117 years outside of dismissing a government and sitting Prime Minister more than 41 years ago.
If we assume for a second that America did have a Westminster System of government and through a series of equally as bizarre events, Donald Trump did somehow get to be Prime Minister of the United States, then I bet by now that there would have been a spill motion and his party would have dumped him like a plate of cold cuts at the National Vegetarian Convention. Australia has shown Prime Ministers the exit door in 40 days, in 7 days and in the case of Billy Hughes in one very confused morning in 1940, three hours.

There is no way in comprehension that Donald J Trump would have made it this far as Prime Minister had the United States been a Westminster parliament because the culture and expectation that bad leadership can and should be ejected, would have been part of the system. Nixon knew that his welcome had been worn out and he resigned. Entire arguments can be made against what James K Polk did but he got stuff done and then went home. Mr Trump thinks that he's doing a great job and will not resign and the Congress will more than likely not impeach him either for fear of losing their own jobs in the 2018 midterms.
Unless cases to do with the emoluments clause of the Constitution are successful then the only way that Trump will be leaving the White House is by the same way he entered it, through the power of the ballot box. Arguably this shows both the strengths and weaknesses of both presidential and parliamentary forms of executive government. A President who is outside of the system might have able to rise above the petty squabbles of the parliament and that probably has happened in the past if you consider Presidents like George Washington and Franklin D Roosevelt but even​ Washington despite being President before the age of political parties was still somewhat tied to the faction of Adams and Hamilton. At its worst, the President is as partisan as the rest of the whole shouting match and as Donald Trump has demonstrated, that leads to ever increasingly exclusionary politics rather than government by the most talented.
A cabinet inside the parliament is always going to face the opposition on the floor of the parliament and so the result will always be adversarial but at least the government is internally stable. Yes, it might be able​ to depose and replace the leader of the government in great haste but that's ultimately better than a Congress and President who are in constant war and can't get anything done.

If America had had a Westminster System of government, then Trump would have been out on his ear by now and this current period of chaos would have been over. There still would have been a great deal of antagonism and angst but it would have been a different and more stable form of angst. Stable government where everyone is feeling pain is easier to cope with than three and a half more years of complete and utter horrowshow insanity.

¹Tony Benn's five essential questions of democracy:
- What power have you got?
- Where did you get it from?
- In whose interests do you use it?
- To whom are you accountable?
- How do we get rid of you?

June 17, 2017

Horse 2287 - The 2017 Holden Astras: Yes, That's Plural

General Motors Holden as from 17th October 2017 is a brand only. With the end of the J300 Cruze production already halted forever and the last "Commodore" to roll out of the factory later this year (I don't care what they choose to slap the nameplate on, we both know that it ain't a Commodore), the General apparently feels as though they can stick whatever badge on whatever and the Australian public won't notice.

To wit:


The top of those two cars is the Chevrolet Cruze J400. The bottom of those cars is the Opel Astra K. Yet magically in Australia, they are both the new Holden Astra. They share a nameplate and that's it. They share no other component whatsoever.
The sedan has a longer and narrower wheelbase than the hatch and the engine in the sedan is the LE2 as opposed to the A16SHT in the hatchback. They share no similar body panels and this is evident with everything from fold lines, to where the window meets the A-pillar, to the light clusters. There hasn't even been much of an effort made to make the two cars share a common design language in the grille either. These two cars are about as similar as two completely dissimilar things in a pod.

Holden have been playing this kind of game with the Australian public for years though. The Astra nameplate has sat on:
- Nissan Pulsar N12
- Nissan Pulsar N13
- Opel Astra F
- Opel Astra G
- Opel Astra H
- Opel Astra J (but only as the OPC variant which was even more confusingly labelled GTC and VXR)
and now:
- Opel Astra K
- Chevrolet Cruze J400
These two cars which are both sold under the Astra nameplate, replace none other than two cars - the Astra and the Cruze.

On the Holden website, they are gloriously obfuscatory about the whole thing. Rather than admit that there are two very very different cars which share nothing but a name, they describe them as the "New Astra Family" and when you follow the links through you get the message:
Now available as a sedan or hatch, discover the right Astra for you.
This seems to imply that they are the same family of cars, when apart from the D2XX platform, they share little else. Probably and I don't know for certain, Australia's hatchback Astras will be coming from Ellesmere Port in the UK and the sedan will come from the Gunsun factory in South Korea. If that's a "family", then it's a family which doesn't talk to each other that much.

Compounding this is the issue that Adam Opel GmbH, which also owns Vauxhall, was bought by Groupe PSA which primarily makes Peugeot, Citroën and now DS as a stand alone brand. I suspect that what that means for Holden is that the Astra K has a limited life within the GM suite and that by about 2020 it won't be available. If that happens, then Holden will be left without a small hatchback between the Barina and... well they also won't have the NG Commodore either because by then, Opel will have been long gone.
Holden might be selling the "Astra" nameplate on a car in the future that will be once again not an Astra and once again the car that is actually an Astra will not be available here. That is if Holden manages to manage its transition from "Australia's Driving Future" to "Just another importer" after they've burnt all the goodwill they've built up in the blink of an eye.
I mean come on guys, you're not really trying any more, are you?

June 14, 2017

Horse 2286 - The Other Election 2017:Puerto Rico Statehood - Yeah But No.

Amidst the noise and confusion of the British General Election which has produced a hung parliament, there was another election taking place which has produced a decisive result but which will most likely be ignored. The people of Puerto Rico have voted 97.18% in favour of statehood but this along with the very government of the island faces some very real struggles.

One of the biggest problems that the island of Puerto Rico has is that it lives in the ambiguous part of US constitutional law which makes it an organised unincorporated territory. It is organised in the sense that it has a degree of self government but unincorporated in the sense that not all of the US Constitution applies. It is a US territory and has been since 1898 after the US went to war and won it off of Spain, but thanks to the passing of the Puerto Rican Federal Relations Act of 1917 which has basically left the island in a weird constitutional holding pen for a century, it still hasn't become a state.

Puerto Rico's​ government is currently​ going through something of a budgetary crisis. Play, crisis isn't exactly the word; on the verge of bankruptcy is closer to the mark. It if was a sovereign state, then it could implement some kind of policy, to do with bonds issues or perhaps revaluation of its currency to try and resolve this but because it is a territory of the United States, many of the options which are available to sovereign nations just aren't open to Puerto Rico. In applying for statehood it is hoped that a lot of the rights and privileges which flow as a result of that, would become available but this process faces one massive obstacle - the United States Congress.

The process for admitting new states into the union is fairly straightforward. All that the US Constitution has to say on the matter is contained within Article 3, Section 4, and like any other piece of legislation it requires the approval and consent of Congress. Although the process for admitting new states into the union is straightforward, the politics of doing so is not.
As a state of the union, Puerto Rico would be entitled to a number of House members in keeping with the size of its population as well as being entitled to two Senators because it would be a state. I figure that it would be entitled to roughly 5 House members on admission and it would instantly be more powerful on the floor of the House than 21 other states. Once you also factor in Puerto Rico's tendency to favour Democrats over Republicans, this also comes very much into play.

The bottom line is that unlike Alaska who had virtually nobody living in it and was (and still is) a mostly Republican state at the time of admission to a mostly Republican Congress, and Hawaii which also has a very small population, they were admitted into the union has states because they wouldn't dilute the power of the existing sitting members all that much. Admitting Puerto Rico into the union has the effect of diluting the power of every currently sitting member of the Congress and it would take someone very special indeed to consider the wishes of a few millions of people over their own political benefit. This represents a definite conflict of interest, with the same people who stand to lose the most being the ones who hold the power to make the decision.

What I suspect will happen is exactly what has always happened for one hundred years: precisely nothing. The United States' manifest destiny has only extended as far as acquiring territory; it has never really been concerned with the people who were there first. That goes for the Native Americans, the First Nations of Alaska, the Kingdom Of Hawaii which was annexed, and continues to other jurisdictions such as Puerto Rico, Guam, the Marshall Islands and American Samoa. I think that it is something of a betrayal of justice that the United States which prides itself as being a beacon of democracy, vehemently refuses to resolve issues of sovereignty within its borders.
The people of Puerto Rico don't even have the legal right to put it to the Congress for its decision. Although Puerto Rico sends one member to the House Of Representatives, that member may speak but has neither voting rights nor the power to introduce legislation. Depending on your point of view, that is either the best job in the world because it is a position with zero actual responsibility or the worst job in the world but it is a position with zero actual responsibility and power.
As such, I am doubtful that any bill which raises the question of the proposed statehood for Puerto Rico will be put forward at all.

June 13, 2017

Horse 2285 - Election 2017: The Fallout Keeps On Falling

The people of Britain have spoken. It's just that we don't know what they said.
- Lord Paddy Ashdown, 7th May 2010.

Seven years ago, the Great British people returned a hung parliament in which it was nominally impossible to guess who would be forming government. This time around, after a period of coalition, then the Brexit referendum,  Prime Minister Theresa May called for an election which nobody wanted, which produced a result which few predicted. It far more easy to guess who will form the next government but as at four days after the election, that still is not definite.
As election night wore on, it was increasingly apparent that the British public had delivered a message that it wasn't exactly happy with the direction that the country was headed in but also not sufficiently annoyed enough to kick out the government.

The final state of play is thus:
Con 318
Lab 262
SNP 35
Lib Dems 12
DUP 10
Other 13

The political pundits at the BBC, ITV and at Sky, all came to the conclusion that Teresa May's gamble had gone horribly wrong and I have heard everything from a suggestion that she should resign from parliament immediately, to negotiating with the Democratic Unionist Party of Northern Ireland and forming a coalition of sorts on matters of supply and confidence.
On the other side of the political divide, nobody expected for Labour to do this well, and Jeremy Corbyn is being hailed as hero in some quarters. This result will have sent a message to the ex-Blairite and ex-Brownite portions of the parliamentary Labour Party that he can deliver a result. Again, there have been calls for a massive Coalition Of Chaos with no brakes, picking up everyone and anyone who isn't a Tory, to depose the current resident of Number Ten and​ install a new one.
Although the SNP have suffered a loss of 21 seats and have fallen from 56 to 35, they have polled more votes than the other parties in Scotland combined and so Nicola Sturgeon was claiming that as a victory.

Although there are some people saying that Ms May making deals with the DUP is a bad idea, since government is made of a majority of members on the floor of the House Of Commons, she doesn't really have a choice in the matter. Actually, if Jeremy Corbyn wanted to form a coalition of chaos in a grand "everyone but the Tories" coalition, without the DUP they'd still only have 322 seats; which is four seats short of being able to form government, and such a beast would also include Sinn Fein who don't normally send their members to parliament.
Already the DUP have made murmurs that amidst their list of demands in return for their support on the floor of the House Of Commons is a return to the days when Orange marches were allowed. Even Blind Paddy Maguire can see that this is an absolutely terrible idea and that if this was allowed to go on, then the tenuous peace in Northern Ireland could be in very real and present danger; the scary thing is that the press had the temerity to accuse Jeremy Corbyn of wanting to take Britain back to the 1970s but this policy would dump Britain back in the middle of the dark days of The Troubles all over again.

At this exact moment in time, it will more than likely be Teresa May in the capacity of the office of the Prime Minister who will be answering when the Queen gives her speech in the next State Opening of Parliament but don't count on it. From now until then, there will be meetings up and down Whitehall between all sorts of people.
All we know at this point in time is that we don't know what the heck is going on. At this point there is no real masterplan and apart from the lesson of history from 2010, 1974 and Australia in 2010, we've might as well just throw all the balls in the air and see where they land.
At the moment the DUP haven't made any rumblings that anything solid has been put forward and they will probably want to negotiate for a lot of money to be poured into the Northern Irish economy. Rumour has it that the chief government whip flew to Belfast for a series of talks but as yet there isn't any formal agreement about those two most basic and crucial of things, confidence and supply. If that confidence and supply is not secured then with only 318 seats on the floor then if you remove Sinn Fein from the calculations then there's potentially 322 seats to pass a motion of no confidence. If that happens then just like 1974, this could be a year of two elections and given that Labour has already made massive ingrounds on Tory votes, Ms May's decision to roll the dice and call an election which nobody expected nor wanted might very well just come up snake eyes. If that happens then we will definitely know what the British public have said.

June 08, 2017

Horse 2284 - Election 2017: The Predictioning

When the earth turns a little bit further today, Britons will be going to their local polling station to begrudgingly fulfill their democratic right to put an X in a box and be ignored by whoever becomes their local MP for five years. This is an election which has been called when nobody needs an election, to reset the parliamentary clock, following a referendum which should have never have happened, over an issue which the majority of people who voted in favour of, don't have to beat the consequences. This is been given an added bonus twist with a sitting Prime Minister who refused to take part in any debates, following a fortnight of mayhem and destruction which might not have ever have happened if the police hadn't had their funding cut under her term as Home Secretary, and with an Opposition Leader who until the point of becoming head of the Shadow Cabinet, had never held a Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet position.
The amount of mental gymnastics required to think through all of this would probably get you a spot on Team GB for the Tokyo Olympics of 2020. The people who sell Snickers bars and fruit cakes, are all applying to the Department Of Health to get their goods reclassified because their products aren't as nutty as all of this and their worried about potential breaches under the Trade Descriptions Act.

At the end of the 2017 Festival Of Democracy, the BBC will once again wheel out a freshly defrosted Dimbleby and the inevitable parade of political hopefuls and practical jokers (sometimes it's honestly difficult to tell who's who) before everyone makes the painfully slow count towards 326.
Pitted head to head to be the next occupant of Number Ten Downing Street are two people who look like supply teachers for an English literature class and conveniently they both got their respective jobs following the tantrums and mic drop from their predecessors. Teresa May replaced David Cameron who pulled the trigger on the Brexit gun and then didn't want to help clean up the mess after the collective heads of the Great British public exploded; presumably he is currently ensconced in Castle Doom with an adequate supply of the tears of poor people and the young, distilled in oak for 2 years. Likewise​ Jeremy Corbyn got his job after being redder than Red Ed Miliband, after Ed sort of wandered off and was last seen talking to a sheep in a field outside of Kettering.

Policy wise, Teresa May hasn't really had anything outside of repeating "strong and stable leadership" over and over until the former operators of numbers stations on the dismal side of the Iron Curtain started wondering if there's some sort of hidden message that should be decrypted. Jeremy Corbyn on​ the other hand has been labelled by The Sun, The Times, The Grauniad, and The Daily Mail as the spawn of Trotsky, Lenin and Stalin all combined and wanting to nationalise everything and take Britain back to the 1970s: notwithstanding the fact that during the 1970s, the Post Office and British Rail actually did work properly and the various electricity companies were still owned by Britain instead of the biggest electricity provider in the UK being Électricité de France (De? Des? I don't know. I think that it's nonsensical that electricity is either a girl or a boy).

At any rate, trying to predict this horrorshow has been like trying to apply well formed logic on a brick. The brick won't understand and will probably end up asleep (have you ever seen an awake brick?). Following the polls as we learned in 2016 with the Festival Of Democracy in the United States which gave the world an angry satsuma as a President, is a pointless exercise. Nevertheless I have applied the latest results from YouGov into a swing calculator and determined the following results which are as reliable as an angry satsuma as a President.

Con 331 (outright win)
Lab 233
SNP 56
Lib Dem 8
P Cymru 3
UKIP 1
Green 1
DUP 8
Sinn Fein 4
UUP 2
SDLP 3

Normally I would have said that unless something extraordinary happens between now and when the polls close but given that not everyone even two terrorist attacks in the space of a fortnight did much to shift polling intentions, then the Tories will be returned to power and Ms May will again be greeted by Larry and Freya, the two Mousers Of The Cabinet Office, at Number Ten. Sensibly they will be oblivious to the fuss and will continue to ignore the progress of democracy, as all cats do. Instead they will wonder where their​ dinner is and​ go back to the important cat business of having a nap.... which is what everyone should have done in the first place.

Book now for Election 2022 when a digitally accurate version of Benjamin Disraeli will be loaded into a Siemens Democutron 9000 cyborg and will be pitted against the reanimated James Callaghan who has been cryogenically frozen and held in the Post Office Tower since 1979, to become the next next Prime Minister; now you know why it was deemed not to exist under the Official Public Secrets Act. Or better yet, don't. I have access to time travel and I can tell you that the European Champions League Final between AFC Wimbledon and Real Madrid at the San Siro is an absolute corker of a match.

June 07, 2017

Horse 2283 - Second Level Papercut.

There are many things in this world which can only be classified as papercuts. These are those little tiny things which are annoying but so petty that it's not as if the world is made significantly worse bythem. You know the sort of thing: like when someone on the train decides to have their seat face backwards despite being able to flip it over and have it face in the direction of travel, or that although hotdogs come in packets of eight the buns come in sixes, or even that corned beef and spam still comes in a can with the key and the potential to cut your fingers despite there being ring pull technology available. These things abound because the world is a complex place and full of people who are like me and are definitely fallible.

Let me add to the pettiest of petty things that annoyed me this week with what I saw in the back window of someone's car. There was a little red diamond sign which read:
"Child in car."
This is surely a second level papercut because it isn't just one corruption of a naff little sign but it has gone one step further and corrupted a corruption.

The original phrase, which after much hunting defies to reveal an origin story, is "Baby On Board". I have not been able to determine where it came from but my best guess is that it was probably from a company which makes fold up prams which are stowed away in the back of people's cars. "Baby On Board" conveys the message that the driver is possibly addled because children can be terrible little monsters who are prone to chucking tantrums and the driver is hoping for a little bit of kindness on the road; this is a noble purpose.
"Baby On Board" is an unobtrusive wee little message but most importantly it is alliterative. In most cases it is on a little yellow diamond which is supposed to invoke the memory of an advisory road sign, of the type that you're already going to see in that environment. As a piece of alliteration, it is a fun thing to say and there's even the hint of the kind of noises that a baby makes anyway. Whoever originally designed this little sign should be given a design award and a skippy badge. This deserves two thumbs up.

I don't object to the derivatives of this such as "Brat On Board", "Little Princess On Board", or as I saw once "Beast On Board". These signs convey a playful sense of fun, which comes about because we already know what the original sign was.
Now to my papercut. "Child On Board" which is the first derivative of the little yellow sign isn't fun. Although it is truthful, it is prosaically dull. To come up with this, either you had someone who doesn't speak English who is unfamiliar with the language and thought that this was an equivalent, or you had someone who does speak English and lacks any sense of rhythm or fun. This is the sign of an actuary, an insurance comptroller or a constitutional lawyer. "Child On Board" is like giving your children kale for dessert.
One step further down the path of function over form is "Child In Car". This is 100% practical and 0% fun. This is like arriving at an international comedy festival and having someone read the ingredients list on a packet of cornflakes in monotone as an act. The red diamond on the back of this car I would take to be as informative as the Flammable Liquid 3 sign that you see on the side of aerosol cans - it tells you exactly what to expect, that the contents are volatile and that there is no fun to be found here. There is no sugar and spice and all things nice, no slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails, but only Dioxyribol-mesabutane-6benzol3-ethanapate.

To tell you the truth, I have more sympathy for someone with a "Baby On Board" sign than someone with a "Child In Car" sign, even though they fulfil exactly the same function. Someone with a "Child In Car" sign in the back window of their car has actively gone out of their way to put it there. They have actively ignored a sense of fun and have chosen to obey their inner actuary rather than their inner child.
There is a helpful benefit to the "Child In Car" sign; it instantly conveys to other motorists that this is a bad driver. In the same way that a Southern Cross sticker tells other motorists that the driver is overly aggressive and a There are many things in this world which can only be classified as papercuts. These are those little tiny things which are annoying but so petty that it's not as if the world is made significantly worse bythem. You know the sort of thing: like when someone on the train decides to have their seat face backwards despite being able to flip it over and have it face in the direction of travel, or that although hotdogs come in packets of eight the buns come in sixes, or even that corned beef and spam still comes in a can with the key and the potential to cut your fingers despite there being ring pull technology available. These things abound because the world is a complex place and full of people who are like me and are definitely fallible.

Let me add to the pettiest of petty things that annoyed me this week with what I saw in the back window of someone's car. There was a little red diamond sign which read:
"Child in car."
This is surely a second level papercut because it isn't just one corruption of a naff little sign but it has gone one step further and corrupted a corruption.

The original phrase, which after much hunting defies to reveal an origin story, is "Baby On Board". I have not been able to determine where it came from but my best guess is that it was probably from a company which makes fold up prams which are stowed away in the back of people's cars. "Baby On Board" conveys the message that the driver is possibly addled because children can be terrible little monsters who are prone to chucking tantrums and the driver is hoping for a little bit of kindness on the road; this is a noble purpose.
"Baby On Board" is an unobtrusive wee little message but most importantly it is alliterative. In most cases it is on a little yellow diamond which is supposed to invoke the memory of an advisory road sign, of the type that you're already going to see in that environment. As a piece of alliteration, it is a fun thing to say and there's even the hint of the kind of noises that a baby makes anyway. Whoever originally designed this little sign should be given a design award and a skippy badge. This deserves two thumbs up.

I don't object to the derivatives of this such as "Brat On Board", "Little Princess On Board", or as I saw once "Beast On Board". These signs convey a playful sense of fun, which comes about because we already know what the original sign was.
Now to my papercut. "Child On Board" which is the first derivative of the little yellow sign isn't fun. Although it is truthful, it is prosaically dull. To come up with this, either you had someone who doesn't speak English who is unfamiliar with the language and thought that this was an equivalent, or you had someone who does speak English and lacks any sense of rhythm or fun. This is the sign of an actuary, an insurance comptroller or a constitutional lawyer. "Child On Board" is like giving your children kale for dessert.
One step further down the path of function over form is "Child In Car". This is 100% practical and 0% fun. This is like arriving at an international comedy festival and having someone read the ingredients list on a packet of cornflakes in monotone as an act. The red diamond on the back of this car I would take to be as informative as the Flammable Liquid 3 sign that you see on the side of aerosol cans - it tells you exactly what to expect, that the contents are volatile and that there is no fun to be found here. There is no sugar and spice and all things nice, no slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails, but only Dioxyribol-mesabutane-6benzol3-ethanapate.

To tell you the truth, I have more sympathy for someone with a "Baby On Board" sign than someone with a "Child In Car" sign, even though they fulfil exactly the same function. Someone with a "Child In Car" sign in the back window of their car has actively gone out of their way to put it there. They have actively ignored a sense of fun and have chosen to obey their inner actuary rather than their inner child.
There is a helpful benefit to the "Child In Car" sign; it instantly conveys to other motorists that this is a bad driver. In the same way that a Southern Cross sticker tells other motorists that the driver is overly aggressive and a There are many things in this world which can only be classified as papercuts. These are those little tiny things which are annoying but so petty that it's not as if the world is made significantly worse bythem. You know the sort of thing: like when someone on the train decides to have their seat face backwards despite being able to flip it over and have it face in the direction of travel, or that although hotdogs come in packets of eight the buns come in sixes, or even that corned beef and spam still comes in a can with the key and the potential to cut your fingers despite there being ring pull technology available. These things abound because the world is a complex place and full of people who are like me and are definitely fallible.

Let me add to the pettiest of petty things that annoyed me this week with what I saw in the back window of someone's car. There was a little red diamond sign which read:
"Child in car."
This is surely a second level papercut because it isn't just one corruption of a naff little sign but it has gone one step further and corrupted a corruption.

The original phrase, which after much hunting defies to reveal an origin story, is "Baby On Board". I have not been able to determine where it came from but my best guess is that it was probably from a company which makes fold up prams which are stowed away in the back of people's cars. "Baby On Board" conveys the message that the driver is possibly addled because children can be terrible little monsters who are prone to chucking tantrums and the driver is hoping for a little bit of kindness on the road; this is a noble purpose.
"Baby On Board" is an unobtrusive wee little message but most importantly it is alliterative. In most cases it is on a little yellow diamond which is supposed to invoke the memory of an advisory road sign, of the type that you're already going to see in that environment. As a piece of alliteration, it is a fun thing to say and there's even the hint of the kind of noises that a baby makes anyway. Whoever originally designed this little sign should be given a design award and a skippy badge. This deserves two thumbs up.

I don't object to the derivatives of this such as "Brat On Board", "Little Princess On Board", or as I saw once "Beast On Board". These signs convey a playful sense of fun, which comes about because we already know what the original sign was.
Now to my papercut. "Child On Board" which is the first derivative of the little yellow sign isn't fun. Although it is truthful, it is prosaically dull. To come up with this, either you had someone who doesn't speak English who is unfamiliar with the language and thought that this was an equivalent, or you had someone who does speak English and lacks any sense of rhythm or fun. This is the sign of an actuary, an insurance comptroller or a constitutional lawyer. "Child On Board" is like giving your children kale for dessert.
One step further down the path of function over form is "Child In Car". This is 100% practical and 0% fun. This is like arriving at an international comedy festival and having someone read the ingredients list on a packet of cornflakes in monotone as an act. The red diamond on the back of this car I would take to be as informative as the Flammable Liquid 3 sign that you see on the side of aerosol cans - it tells you exactly what to expect, that the contents are volatile and that there is no fun to be found here. There is no sugar and spice and all things nice, no slugs and snails and puppy dog's tails, but only Dioxyribol-mesabutane-6benzol3-ethanapate.

To tell you the truth, I have more sympathy for someone with a "Baby On Board" sign than someone with a "Child In Car" sign, even though they fulfil exactly the same function. Someone with a "Child In Car" sign in the back window of their car has actively gone out of their way to put it there. They have actively ignored a sense of fun and have chosen to obey their inner actuary rather than their inner child.
There is a helpful benefit to the "Child In Car" sign; it instantly conveys to other motorists that this is a bad driver. In the same way that a Southern Cross sticker tells other motorists that the driver is overly aggressive and a Frangipani sticker tells other motorists that the driver is blissfully unaware of other road users, the "Child In Car" sign says that the driver is uncaring. I can live with the My Family stick figure signs, far too many Western Suburbs Magpies stickers to be sensible, Triple M Rocks Narwee stickers, Ferrari stickers on a Volvo, and even one sign that I saw in the back window of a car which read "I Am Awful" but putting a "Child In Car" sign in your car is like putting a banana in a bread roll and calling it a Vegetarian Hot Dog - you can but why would you?

"Child In Car": it isn't wrong but you still shouldn't do it. It is a second level papercut.
sticker tells other motorists that the driver is blissfully unaware of other road users, the "Child In Car" sign says that the driver is uncaring. I can live with the My Family stick figure signs, far too many Western Suburbs Magpies stickers to be sensible, Triple M Rocks Narwee stickers, Ferrari stickers on a Volvo, and evenone sign that I saw in the back window of a car which read "I Am Awful" but putting a "Child In Car" sign in your car is like putting a banana in a bread roll and calling it a Vegetarian Hot Dog - you can but why would you?

"Child In Car": it isn't wrong but you still shouldn't do it. It is a second level papercut.
sticker tells other motorists that the driver is blissfully unaware of other road users, the "Child In Car" sign says that the driver is uncaring. I can live with the My Family stick figure signs, far too many Western Suburbs Magpies stickers to be sensible, Triple M Rocks Narwee stickers, Ferrari stickers on a Volvo, and evenone sign that I saw in the back window of a car which read "I Am Awful" but putting a "Child In Car" sign in your car is like putting a banana in a bread roll and calling it a Vegetarian Hot Dog - you can but why would you?

"Child In Car": it isn't wrong but you still shouldn't do it. It is a second level papercut.

June 06, 2017

Horse 2282 - 2001: A Redemption Of The Space Odyssey

At the weekend, Mrs Rollo and I saw Stanley Kubrick's 1968 cinematic masterpiece "2001: A Space Odyssey" and had two vastly different reactions. Whereas I see it as a cinematic masterpiece and therefore a deeply flawed film that warrants skipping through various parts because it is objectively terrible, she probably would have described it as a hot mess of garbage.
This was later followed up by the 1983 movie "2010: The Year We Make Contact" which is a far more straightforward movie and hasn't been tainted by the hands of Stanley Kubrick. 2010 is nowhere near as stark in its storytelling and isn't quite as brave in its futurism and although 2001 came out fifteen years earlier, it manages to still look as though it was set further into the future. 2010 does suffer from being trapped within its own time and is a world of bad 1980s haircuts and fashion. It does bother to explain what the heck is going on and even why HAL flipped out in first film, and despite Mrs Rollo telling me that she thought that this redeemed 2001, I am not so forgiving; I think that if you can't tell your story properly, then you have ultimately made a bad movie.

"I know what you are trying to do Mr Kubrick.
And I'm afraid that's something I cannot allow to happen."

I rather like the 1960's aesthetic of futurism of 2001 and had we been living in a twenty-first century that looked like this, I would have found that to be perfectly acceptable. I like the passages that show spacecraft spinning around to the soundtrack of the Blue Danube and I sort of like the tension generated by the use of the sound of breathing but it is alarms which are used throughout the film which made Mrs Rollo truly annoyed. That and the fact that instead of a logical narrative that develops through the film, Kubrick employs a "show and don't tell" approach which means that even the basic things that you need to hold a story together, such as the exposition of motive, is completely obliterated. The novels by Arthur C Clarke do a far better job at explaining HAL's internal conflict, whereas the movie does such a terrible job at explaining why anything happens at all, makes it difficult to follow.
Even I will admit that 2001 is a plodding film which is self absorbed in its own aggrandisement to the point of ridiculousness. In all seriousness, the best things about the film are the various connecting shots where you see internals of spaceships rotating and that is a function of the elaborate rigs which were use to film it. It is a technically brilliant movie with a terrible horrible very bad no good narrative. Actually, the story itself isn't all that bad, it's the way that it's told. This brings me nicely to my next thought and if you'll kindly rotate your mind through 540°, then we'll begin.

There are four books in Arthur C Clarke's Odyssey series. Given Hollywood's penchant for remaking movies, then I might suggest doing a remake of 2001. To be fair, a properly thought out remake would be an excellent idea except that there are four books and as "The Hobbit: The Infestation Of Glög", "Harry Potter And The Cash Register Of Diazepam", and "Star Wars: Episode 0 - An Unknown Enemy But It's Probably Jar Jar Binks" proves, although you can make multi movie epic series, throwing a bunch of money at the wall doesn't necessarily produce memorable cinema (or maybe it does, I haven't seen either the Hobbitses or Harry Potters). No, a proper remake of 2001 in my not very well paid opinion, would be made for television and instead of just being one movie would be all four books.

The books themselves are rather straightforward things with enough content to get two hour long episodes per book. Obviously for 2001 I'd get rid of the monkeys and the sound and light show which takes up far too much time in the film to be sensible but a lot of the basic structure of the movie would remain and I'd apply the spanners to the rest of it and tighten up the flow of the narrative. Nobody needed to sit through that in 1968 and not quite fifty years later, they still don't need to.
I'd keep loads of the look and style of the 1968 movie because in 2017 it would be cool to see a retro future which was set in a past which never happened. There is a distinct amount of fridge blindness going on in 2001, typified by the fact that although the use of tablet computers was predicted, there are still physical push button switches all over everything. I like that the computer displays were mostly in a strange squarish variation of Helvetica Bold, given that in 1968 computers would have never been able to display that for the most part; to achieve that required the use of video tape being sent through television screens and even the tablet computers themselves required big chunky CRT screens to be embedded within the sets. A 2017 remake would invariably make use of modern technology but I'd still have it display the clunkiness of the past's future; especially the 4-bit graphics that the computers use to show things like radar and landing approaches.
Because 2061 and 3001 are set in a future that hasn't yet happened and will probably happen after I have died (your mileage may vary), there is still plenty of scope for crazy go nuts time. I imagine that the sequence when future Frank Poole gets revived after floating in space for a thousand years and fitted with a braincap in 3001, could be made to sound really creepy as various drills burrow through his skull and electrodes work their way into his brain. There is also the added boon of there not being any preexisting movies of 2061 or 3001 and so they wouldn't be eclipsed by the shadow of the former films' reputations.

Functionally I'd have each of the four books filmed as two hour long episodes, with room for advertising. Nobody needs nine minutes of spaceships flying through the void and television shows like Star Trek (which by the way had already been shot, edited, played on television and finished within the time frame that it took for 2001 to be completed), Doctor Who, and even Red Dwarf, have all proven that you can say exactly what you need to in only a few model shots and still produce something iconic. There are plenty of writers and directors who already know how to make television and I think that they could do a better job than someone who wanted to turn the thing into an epic because that's where Kubrick went wrong in the first place.
Have it star someone who had never been heard of before, play it straight if you want someone to be genuinely terrified by what's going on or go entirely the other way and cast someone utterly bombastic like Will Seaward to play Dave Bowman. If the telly series was gloriously self aware of itself, then that has to be more fun than the 1968 cinematic masterpiece that is genius as a piece of art but hopeless as a movie and better than 2010 which I think is better at being a movie but a worse as a piece of art.

June 05, 2017

Horse 2281 - Duverger's Law Strikes Again In The Future

One of the almost immutable laws of politics is Duverger's Law which says that single member constituencies tend towards two party politics. The reason for this is rather obvious if you ponder it for more than a minute. Put simply, there are only two states that a politician can find themselves​ in: in or out. A politician who is in, has a seat and wants to retain it and a politician who is out, does not have a seat and wants to attain it. Multiply this by a few hundred times and with single member constituencies, you've just built yourself a parliament which is subject to those exact same conditions. There are only two states that a party can find themselves in: in or out. When this experiment is repeated several times over through the process of many election cycles, then forces tend to coagulate until there is a major shift in the entire political climate.

In Britain, the first two major political parties were the Tories and the Liberals. This only changed after the massive shift in eligibility of the franchise, when working class men and then finally women got the vote. The Liberal Democrats were the big losers out of this and the Labour Party replaced them as the other major party opposed to the Tories. They made some inroads in 2010 but after they formed a coalition with the Tories and then proceeded to show a complete lack of any spine whatsoever, they effectively committed political suicide and will probably only be relevant again in the event of hung parliaments and they end up being king makers.

2017 poses an interesting problem. The Tories are expected to wipe the floor again and form government in their own right again but given the recent events in Manchester, the polls have tightened considerably and the possibility of a hung parliament with the Tories falling marginally short of winning the necessary 325 of 650 seats, the question of who can actually get the required number of seats on the floor of the House Of Commons is again pulled into sharp focus.

If we assume that the Tories get say 317 seats, Labour gets 235, the SNP 59 and the rabble of Northern Ireland accounts for 24, then that only leaves 15 seats in the squabble for the parties to court. Labour and the SNP together only make 294 seats and if by some massive insane turn of events a "everyone hate the Tories" coalition is formed, then we have to consider the daunting prospect of opening the Schrodinger-Pandora Box that is Northern Ireland and negotiating with the rabble.
Of course the SNP could form a coalition with the Tories and provided they show more spine than the Liberal Democrats did, then that's the end of it. The clock is then reset and an election like 2015 would play out in 2022 except with the SNP in place of the Tories. The thing to remember here though is that the SNP have done a fairly successful job of planting themselves in the place of the Tories in domestic politics north of the border and I'm not sure if they really want form any coalition with the Tories. This seems to me like a marriage of inconvenience and if that were to happen, then Jeremy Corbyn could very well be the next Prime Minister by virtue of not really saying anything, after 2022.

We could also face the very real prospect of strong and stable leadership by total absence of anyone at the wheel. If we assume that the Tories fall short of being able to form Government and literally nobody wants to join them, then a situation as happened in Belgium might emerge where there was no Government at all for more than 500 days. Admittedly by all accounts the country continued to bumble along as normal, with the civil service merrily doing its job without the interference of politics; so that might not be a bad thing. Or it might be a very bad thing if you consider that someone probably needs to be around during the negotiations with the EU surrounding Brexit. If that were to happen then precedent exists and the Crown would probably appoint the Tories as the Government as we the case in the 1920s when the Governor General forcibly held a government to remain in power during the King-Byng Affair. Although this is a slightly different circumstance to both the King-Byng Affair in Canada and The Dismissal in Australia, both prove that the Crown and by extension the monarch, has the power to both appoint and remove governments if necessary and Britain which has no written Constitution would look to those examples and be perfectly fine with doing something similar because noise and confusion is preferable to actual anarchy.

All of this assumes that the Tories are going to fall short of the required number of seats needed to form government. All of this collapses if they get to 326 seats because then a government is formed and Duverger's Law again holds because you will have one party in, and all the others out. When 2022 rolls around, it will be all on again.

June 02, 2017

Horse 2280 - Is A Hot Dog A Sandwich?

I arrived at work on Tuesday to find an envelope with the following letter on the other side of the door. My boss hadn't seen it; so it must have been delivered some time after about 8am. As there was no other correspondence attached, I found this really amusing and clearly it demanded an answer.

Dear Andrew,

You have often looked into things for us on matters of taxation and the answers that you have given are always well researched and well thought out. I have read your blog for many years and have always thought it to be as equally as well researched and thought out as the advice that you give us. 
A buddy of mine and I are having a dispute over whether or not a hot dog is a sandwich. He contends that because it is meat inside bread that it is a sandwich and I say that it is its own thing. Which one of is right? Is a hot dog a sandwich or not a sandwich? Please give reasons and evidence.

Thanks,
Stephen.

A person much wiser than I once said that there nothing new under the sun, and I am absolutely sure that this is one of those hoary old topics that gets argued and reargued on internet because as an issue that doesn't really matter, it matters more intensely than a thousand suns burning out simultaneously and exploding in a flash of brilliance. This is the sort of intractable topic that gets raged over and across many internet forums, bulletin boards, the pages of Facebook, Twitter, Blogger, WordPress, MySpace &c. and which making a judgement on ism like peeing into an ocean of urine. One pronouncement makes near enough zero difference as to be negligible.
Nevertheless, this is sort of thing over which coffee, pints of beer, fivers, and kudos, are won and​ so for me not to answer this would be like tearing the fabric of space time itself.

In answering this question, one has to begin with the ontological question of what is the nature of the beast itself. What is and is not a sandwich and is a hot dog in one of these states?

Firstly though, I need to clarify what is meant by a hot dog. Now obviously it could just refer to the suspicious meat tube thing but if someone gave you one of those if you'd ordered a hot dog, you'd quite rightly wave that thing around in their face like the wobbly thing it is. A hot dog is a frankfurt in a bun, with additional toppings which include sauce, mustard, relish, chilli, cheese and what not. Get it? Got it? Good.
What is a sandwich, though?

The apocryphal tale of John Montague the 4th Earl of Sandwich, says that the inveterate gambler asked for his servants to bring him some meat between two pieces of bread so that he could continue his inveterate gambling. I think it utterly impossible that at no point in history, nobody ever thought of this before. That sounds exactly like when the British "discovered" things like rivers and mountains in places they'd invaded but were too poxy to ask the locals what they called them.
If this is the prototypical model of the sandwich that we're working toward, then logic demands that we actively try to break the model to find out what a sandwich is not.

A sandwich is not merely something surrounded by bread. If this was the case, then we should by rights include, the kebab, which is things inside a rolled up piece of bread, the tortilla, which is similar in spirit, and the burger, which has many sandwich like qualities but is still not really a sandwich.
We also need to consider the dilemma that a submarine sandwich and all its regional names such as the grinder, slider and hoagie are sandwiches. They to have hinged buns, or in the case of Subway subs the "U cut", and not normal slices of bread. They do demonstrate something which I think is fundamental to the sandwichiness of sandwiches and that is that if you can cut the thing into a several smaller pieces, which you can do with a foot long sandwich by cutting it into 6 and 3 inch bits, and you still don't alter what the thing is, then you have a sandwich.
Demonstrably you can cut sandwiches into little triangles and those smaller pieces are still sandwiches. You can cut a foot long sub into smaller pieces and they are still sandwiches. You can not cut a hot dog in half because then you have half a hot dog. You can not cut a burger in half because then you have half a burger. You can not cut a kebab in half because then you have half a kebab.

The other thing which needs mentioning is the case of the Oreo which styles itself as a "sandwich cookie". Here sandwich is perfectly acceptable because it is being used as an adjective. To sandwich something is to place it between two other things. It should be pointed out that although an Oreo might very well be a "sandwich cookie" it is not a sandwich because if you snap one in half then you have two halves of an Oreo and not two sandwiches.
This then is the underlying principle which defines what a sandwich is. If the thing divides into smaller pieces which are also sandwiches, then the thing is a sandwich; if it divides into things which of themselves are not sandwiches, then they too are not sandwiches. To wit, a salad roll in is not a sandwich because when divided it makes bits of a salad roll but those fillings on a piece of focaccia do become a sandwich because if you cut it up into smaller pieces, then you still get sandwiches. If you take the exact opposite scenario and place hotdogs between two pieces of bread, then although you might have a hotdog sandwich it certainly is not a hot dog.
While I am on this bakery induced bender, I have something to say to that fast food chain McDonald's. In some countries you refer to the Big Mac and McChicken as sandwiches. I can understand you trying to shoehorn your product into a classification but anyone who considers cutting a Big Mac in half, has clearly lost part of their mental faculties. Such an action is crazy bonkers and you should probably reconsider your literature.

As for the legal aspects of this subject, I don't think that there's any sort of mystical sandwich authority which I can refer to and even if there is it must be some secret society that has no website. As far as the law is concerned, there isn't any distinction between any of those things for GST purposes and neither is there any distinction in the relevant hospitality laws either.
So there you go Steve, a sandwich is a bready thing with fillings inside and which can be cut into smaller pieces and still be called a sandwich. A hot dog fails at this working definition and is therefore its own thing which is called a hot dog. A hot dog is NOT a sandwich.

June 01, 2017

Horse 2279 - Indigenous Recognition In The Constitution: Get On With It!

Deputy Prime Minister and world champion at putting his foot in his own mouth, Barnaby Joyce, has weighed in on the discussion of the Aboriginal constitutional convention which was being held at Uluru. Among other things, the convention recommended several things including an advisory body of some sort, which would present an Aboriginal perspective on legislation before the parliament, which is fine but there were calls for it to be included within the four corners of the Constitution. Mr Joyce said that this was overreach and that such a thing would never be agreed to by the Australian people and the it doesn't really belong in the Constitution anyway.

Naturally this caused all sorts of waves and sabre rattling, with many people suggesting everything from Mr Joyce not really have a handle on the issues facing Aboriginal people, to direct accusations of racism. The furore leaked across the pages of the Daily Telegraph, the Courier-Mail, the Herald-Sun, the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and The Australian; with many column inches devote to the apparent racism on both sides of the argument that is and isn't being displayed, whether real or imagined and​ Barnaby Joyce himself was questioned by TV and radio to clarify how thoughts but that hasn't made anything clearer at all.
In all of this, the actual issue of what should be done inside the Constitution if anything appears to have been lost entirely and while I think that there should be significant recognition, reparation and a plan to improve the lives of Aboriginal people who have faced systemic displacement and degradation from successive governments, what the Constitution is expected to do and should do is an entirely different issue.

This comes on the back of the fiftieth anniversary of the 1967 referendum which changed one status of Aboriginal populations within the Constitution and included them for the purposes of census and records keeping. The truth is that the 1967 referendum did not extend the franchise to Aboriginal people as they already had it in all states, it did not change their status from flora and fauna as many people at the time and today still mistakenly believe, and it did not improve the lives of Aboriginal people. Important issues such as land rights wouldn't be recognised until cases through the High Court like Wik and Mabo for another quarter of a century.
Although the only thing 1967 referendum did do in reality was change one minor clause in the Constitution, symbolically it stuck a post in the ground and drew a boundary line. With more than 90% of the vote nationwide, the 1967 referendum demonstrated a wish in good faith that the Australian people wanted to start to make amends for the mistakes of the past. Unfortunately, it wrote cheques that it couldn't cash and 50 years later, Australia remains the last nation within the Commonwealth which hasn't formally entered into any treaty arrangements with its first peoples.

I have previously expressed my opinion that there shouldn't be recognition of Aboriginal people in the preamble to the Constitution because I see that as merely a token that would short circuit any further dialogue. The preamble to the Constitution doesn't really have any weight of legislation because it only serves to set out what the Constitution is intended to do and doesn't bind the nation or the parliament to doing anything. Having said that, I will change my position on what should be included in the Constitution because I've seen plans for a framework which actually might start to make good on the promises of oh so long ago.
In 2010 the Gillard Goverment already held a consultation process and received thousands of submissions on this very subject. Why they weren't already put forward for adoption is totally beyond me and the fact that we did already go to the polls on Saturday just been, which coincided with the 50th anniversary of the 1967 referendum to adopt these changes, is totally beyond me and as far as I'm concerned a direct betrayal of good governement by both sides of the political divide:

There would have been three new inserted sections, thusly:

Section 51A Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples
Recognising that the continent and its islands now known as Australia were first occupied by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
Acknowledging the continuing relationship of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with their traditional lands and waters;
Respecting the continuing cultures, languages and heritage of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples; Acknowledging the need to secure the advancement of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples;
the Parliament shall, subject to this Constitution, have power to make laws for the peace, order and good government of the Commonwealth with respect to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.

Section 116A Prohibition of racial discrimination
(1) The Commonwealth, a State or a Territory shall not discriminate on the grounds of race, colour or ethnic or national origin.
(2) Subsection (1) does not preclude the making of laws or measures for the purpose of overcoming disadvantage, ameliorating the effects of past discrimination, or protecting the cultures, languages or heritage of any group.

Section 127A Recognition of languages
(1) The national language of the Commonwealth of Australia is English.
(2) The Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander languages are the original Australian languages, a part of our national heritage.

I also very much like the idea of a treaty with the first peoples of Australia. Many opponents to this will argue that a sovereign state can only enter into treaties with other sovereign states but I think that that is utter rot. When boiled down, a treaty is an agreement between two entities and in the case of Australia, those two entities are the nation state and its own people. In principle we already have one treaty between the nation state and its people and that is the Constitution itself. Under the Constitution, by very definition the government's​ and parliament is bound by a set of rules which defines what its legal scope actually is; to be honest, another set of rules and agreements isn't that conceptually different. In New Zealand, the idea of "the spirit of Waitangi" is often aired within its parliament and they've even gone one step better by including Maori voices inside the parliament.
I have written about this previously (see Horse 1534) but I can't see why a similar sort of mechanism can not be employed here. I like the idea of Aboriginal only seats in the Senate, not as a supplementary body but rather as a functional part of it. Part of the reason why I think that although Barnaby Joyce had all the tact and grace of a kangaroo with a chainsaw but was still at the kernel, absolutely correct, is that the Constitution at no point defines any statutory authority other than the Governor General, the Cabinet, the House Of Representatives and the Senate. Precisely zero government departments, councils, regulatory bodies and what not are ever defined and nor should they be. All of these things are created by and defined by the parliament. Not even the office of Prime Minister is defined and within the scope of the Constitution there doesn't really need to be one either. Barnaby Joyce is 100% correct that forcing the Constitution to define an Aboriginal council in whatever form it might take is overreach because that is not what the Constitution is supposed to do.

I think that there should be further dialogue from Aboriginal people about their own destiny and determination, there perhaps should be changes to the Constitution which make some changes to what the Constitution does and I personally think that there should be Aboriginal voices speaking into the parliament which are included but not separate from it. There should also absolutely be continuing dialogue and discussion because if this Aboriginal constitutional convention held at Uluru has proved anything, we've done a disgraceful job at listening the voices of our first peoples since the day that Captain James Cook stuck a flag in and called it British; that original injury remains as a scar across this nation and I think it's time we actually attempted to heal it.

Just Get On With It