August 22, 2017

Horse 2312 - Hats On!

In the space of less than a week, I have had two conversations with strangers and one with a friend about my hat. I will readily admit that coolness and I are not​ the greatest of friends, so for me to assert that my hat is cool, is a futile exercise. Nevertheless, people will like what they like and I make no apologies for liking hats. I don't​ mean baseball caps either, for while they are of an entirely different tradition and almost exclusively used for the express purpose of branding, I think that they qualify as being a different thing. Having said that, the ubiquitous New York Yankees hat is quite rightly and unequivocally​ an icon in its own right, and has traveled far broader and wider than just to the heads of New York Yankees fans. I don't think it would be difficult to find someone wearing a Yankees hat on the other side of the world from the Big Apple and who doesn't​ even remotely like baseball. I digress though. The hat that I most often wear is a black cheesecutter, which I bought from a shop called the Headwear Depot on D Street in San Diego. There's nothing inherently special or remarkable about the hat at all and that is probably its greatest strength. Precisely because it has no obvious identity, I've worn it with suit jackets, my big black scary Crombie coat, football shirts, button down shirts &c. and it doesn't look out of place with anything. It is of itself, completely neutral but being something which is uncommon, distinctive. I like that. It might not be cool but I think that it is classy and if not classy, then timeless. The thing about the cheesecutter as opposed to its cousin the flat cap, is that for some​ reason the cheesecutter is classless while the flat cap is very much working class. The flat cap is perhaps most associated with the working classes across the northern part of England and in particular the mining communities of Lancashire and Yorkshire. The cheesecutter on the other hand, can be found in London, New York, Chicago, Melbourne, Tokyo... practically any major urban centre in the world. Trendy versions are made by Kangol, Burberry, UniQlo, The Gap, Zara, as well as in cheap variety stores. You could pay $5 for a cheap cheesecutter and while you're not going to have a name brand under the brim, nobody really cares or knows anyway. The cheesecutter is possibly the most democratic of hats without even trying. Mine though, has no trendy branding on the outside of it and as such, it retains that classless quality. Especially in the winter, I have seen cheesecutters on quite a number of people. It along with the beanie, could very well be the unofficial uniform of commuters who are standing in the cold, while their blood retreats from their extremities. Admittedly there are more people who wear hoodies but almost none of those people ever put the hood up, for fear of looking like a petty thief or other nefarious knave. Also, due to the kind of flat nature of the top of the cheesecutter, it is easy to wear a set of big can headphones over the top. The cheesecutter isn't the only hat isn't the only hat that I have. It isn't the cheapest and it isn't the most expensive hat that I have either. It is the one that I will wear most often though. One of the hats that I found in a clearance bin at a surf shop, is a kind of grey trilby. I have no idea of what kind of hat it was supposed to be and it had been marked down quite a lot because apparently you can't sell trilbys to surfer and skaters types. It did require me turning down the brim at the front but I quite like it because it sits at a jaunty angle and has kind of an Inspector Gadget sort of look to it. This grey trilby is in that gritty tradition of Dick Tracy, Lt Tragg and Phillip Marlowe. It is the kind of hat that one would wear if they were investigating a hideous crime and encountered a dead body. To that end, I was wearing it while walking down to the bank one day and out of nowhere an old lady asked me if I was a detective. That set of events says several things all at once, including that old people reach a point where they simply don't care what they say anymore, that I work in a suburb where the average age of the population means that they can probably still remember gold rush, and that both of us are probably the sorts of people who expect that on television, a murder in a small village will be solved by a TV detective in 90 minutes or less. I also happen to own a black bowler hat. The bowler hat is very much aware of its place in the whole class structure. It is a hat worn by someone working in an office but not necessarily by someone who wants to be seen​ to be seen. People like lawyers and industrialists, managers and socialites, get to wear top hats or in the case of Isambard Kingdom Brunel a stovepipe hat. I on the other hand, know that I am an operative and a member of the grand class of technocrats and bean counters. I know that a top hat would be mostly too lofty for me​ despite the fact that I would wear one if given the chance. Quite frankly I have long suspected that I was caught in a hideous rip in space and time and ended up being born about 80 years too late in history. When I look at Poirot, I see the 1930s with the telephone and radio but not television or the internet, and tweed, bakelite, art deco and jazz, to be kind of a good idea. Poirot can wear a bowler hat but for him that is a step downwards; whereas for me, it is a step made with all exactitude. I have bucket hats, various baseball caps, and​ a pork pie hat which is a shade too small for my head and sits up there like a chicken on top of a rockmelon and yet despite being spoiled for choice, I will naturally gravitate towards a hat which is brandless, classless, and clever. Broadly speaking, I think that too many people are wearing not enough hats and that not enough people are wearing too many hats. I look at old photographs of railway stations, sporting fixtures, public events &c. and see a sea of hats which once were commonplace an now are not. If I am the last man wearing a hat in a hatless future, then so be it. It will be a cheesecutter, too.

August 21, 2017

Horse 2311: Be Here Now - 20 Years Then

I have heard it said that what ever music was number one on the charts when you were seventeen is the most likely to stick with you. I don't have a good explanation for this except to say that there must be something particular about hormonal teenage brain chemistry that burns deeper than at any time in a person's life. Indeed popular culture gives these years a sort of overly romantic saccharide, which I think is the cultural equivalent of diabetes.
Having said that, the music that did top the charts when I was seventeen was immediately post grunge and during the middle of a Britrock explosion. Blur, Soundgarden, Supergrass and Oasis for a very short period of time and this is what I stepped into. The thing is that as a fan of Oasis, I still thought that Liam Gallagher was a wingnut and as I have gotten older and have heard more songs written by Noel Gallagher where Liam isn't around, especially in the High Flying Birds, the more that I have thought that Noel really never needed Liam.

Be that as it may be, Oasis Sat nicely in my music collection next to Blur and the Beatles and in my car stereo, Oasis was more likely to appear on mixtapes than either of those two. I suppose that while the kids in my grade at school were enamoured with bands like Nirvana, the noise which was coming out of Northern England was far more interesting to me.

On the 21st of August 1997 (it was 20 years ago today), Be Here Now was released and at the time it was the biggest selling album on pre-release in history. What we got upon hearing for the first time was unlike the angry sound of Definitely Maybe or the wall of sound where every level was turned up to eleven with What's The Story? (Morning Glory), and this cocaine riddled, overdriven soundscape of noise and confusion that revelled in its own self importance. If viewed as a prog rock album, then it's fine but by any other filter, it's about half an hour too long. Songs that go beyond seven minutes in length had better pretty spectacular because if they aren't, they fail miserably.
Of the Oasis catalogue, Be Here Now was destined to live at the bottom of most people's lists of favourite albums. If you're on a road trip, the sheer scale of it blends into the miles and it is only then that you really appreciate just how massive the album actually is. Imagine then my surprise when I heard this coming out of the speakers and through the floor, from the hairdressers' shop below our offices at work; which makes a vast difference to the usual cavalcade of Disney tunes from Frozen and now Moana. Objectively, the fact that I am in my late thirties and I know all the words to Libireé Delivreé (Let It Go) in French, is not something that I would have wished for.

Some might say that music has a way of transporting us back to a point from long ago but I must have missed that memo. I'm simply not chained to the places I never wished to stay. For me although every one of these songs is familiar, they are at the same time brand new and I think that's mainly because I don't hear the voice of Liam Gallagher.
-  Be Here Now Full Album - Mustique Demos

In these demos which were apparently recorded in Johnny Depp's studios, Liam is delightfully absent. Instead, the only voices we are those of Noel Gallagher and here, as indeed as always, the elder of the brothers Gallagher just sounds warmer. This is the voice of a musician who is working away at his craft, rather than the Mancunian whine of someone who wants to be a rock star but isn't prepared to work for it.
It's not like any voice track is perfect either. Being a set of demos, the lyrics still aren't sorted and the sounds of guitars still haven't been mixed to any standard that you'd find on a proper studio album but with what little equalizer ability that I have on my tablet, I can still climb around a lot of the technical deficiencies of the recording. In fact the version of the recording that I'm currently listening to on my tablet is unique to me, in that I passed it through a pop and click filter and then a hiss filter. It still isn't approaching studio quality but if the album had been released in 1997 and it was more in the spirit of this, it would have been a thousand times better than the version which was actually sold to the public.
It makes me wonder if Liam had never been part of the band, would there really have been that much of a difference? I think not.

So what do we have here? All songs that were on the album are present except for the All Around The World Reprise, which by its inclusion on the final album was obviously trying to ape the reprise at the end of Seargent Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club. They're all here but in a different order.

Be Here Now
With the exception of What's The Story (Morning Glory), Oasis albums have names which either don't appear as lyrics anywhere on the album or even further to that, don't appear as names of songs either. The lyrics for this song are still in flux but the sound of the cheap woodwind instrument is present here.

I Hope, I Think, I Know
In the first batch of CDs for Australian release, this track had a manufacturing defect and if you took the CD back to the store they'd replace it for another copy. As a result, the first time that I heard this song in its entirety was about a week after the rest of the album. This version sounds mostly the same as the final version but the most immediate thing that I've noticed is that all of the guitar fills and solos are different. Noel Gallagher remarked on BBC Radio 4's Desert Island Discs that he didn't really need to take any discs on the desert island because if he had a guitar, then he would try to play everything from memory. He also admitted that he can't read music and so that means that it stands to reason that every single time he plays a song that it will be different because he's either had to play it from memory or make it up on the spot.

Don't Go Away
The final version of this song was supposed to be one of the sweeter tracks on the album but is tortured by Liam's whine. In this outing, the guitars aren't driven as hard and the voice of an acoustic guitar is more to the front. Now that this is being sung by Noel in a lower register than Liam did, the song is closer what it was supposed to achieve.

Stand By Me
The problem about having these two tracks side by side is that it becomes really apparent really quickly that they they share the same DNA. The punchline in this song as is also the case in the final version is that sequence of chords which counts out the beat in the chorus. Apart from this it sort of lumbers along and either this or the previous track could have been left out entirely and no one would have minded. Noel sounds sweeter in version of the song than Liam could have ever done and yet it is still a hulking slow thing that doesn't achieve what it's supposed to.

D'Ya Know What I Mean?
Conspicuous by its absence is the album's opening of a Spitfire taking off. On the album, this was one of the few songs which benefitted from having everything turned up to eleven. This version strays into synth pop and almost sounds like a 1970s advert for Fanta. I still think that the lines:
"I met my maker; I made him cry.
And on my shoulder he asked me why,
His people won't fly through the storm,
I said 'Hey listen up, man. They don't even know you're born.'"
Are some of the best in the whole Oasis catalogue.
The opening phrases of this song are supposed to remind you of Wonderwall which was published in 1995 and served to help as the opening to final version of the album but it seems strangely unnecessary here. As the fifth track in this set, it sounds like it should be the theme tune to some Danish crime drama which comes on at 11pm.

Stay Young
There is something about this song which no matter how many times I've heard it, gives me one of those AMSR responses. The most obvious thing that is missing is the mellotron. In its place, the drum track which sounds as though someone has affixed a tambourine to the drum stand is a nice touch.

The Girl In The Dirty Shirt
The problem with not having Liam in these demos is that you don't get Noel singing highlights to accompany him. Instead we get Noel double tracked and accompanying himself, which doesn't produce as nice a contrast. Also, the absence of the piano is kind of a let down but that's the sort of thing to expect from a demo.

It's Getting Better (Man)
This song still sounds as big and as brash as it always did. There's a weird thing where Noel ends all of the lines in the verses by moving upwards to flat but if this was played back, then this would have made itself apparent; hence the final album track. Most of the second half of this song always sounds like it's just Noel and whoever was in the room just sort of faffing about; that aspect remains and it's still fun.

My Big Mouth
I don't know how many times I've heard this song over the years and apart from the fact that it sound like someone's opened a fresh can of rock, it's been given a side dish to of word salad. This song benefits from being pared back to the shorter length here. Of all the songs on the album, this is the one which has the biggest boots and kicks the hardest.

All Around The World
The film clip for this song was some sort of Yellow Submarine thing and only helped to underscore the fact that the final version of this album was overdone in its sense of self importance and grandiosity. I once saw a very small portion of this song used in an advert for a mobile phone company which has to be about the ultimate insult. At 5'26" it still too long but it's got nothing of the nine minute behemoth which appeared on the final album.

Magic Pie (not here)
Conspicuous by its absence is Magic Pie. The album track was a mad rush of guitar solos and someone pumping away at a mellotron and fitted perfectly with the rest of the album. For it not to make an appearance here though, fills me with a little bit of sadness; as though one of your toys has gone missing.

Therein lies the heart of the matter for me. This collection of demos without Liam's voice, transports me back to a past which never existed and with a sense of misplaced nostalgia for a thing that never was. This album is like something which has fallen through a crack in the space time continuum from a 1997 which I didn't get to live through. I wonder if in a 2017A, if there's another me who is pondering a similar problem but with a version of the album that does have Liam's voice. Somehow I suspect, that I got the better part of the deal.

August 18, 2017

Horse 2310: Pauline Hanson - An Object Lesson In The Law

Yesterday in parliament, isolationist, nativist, racist, and islamaphobe, Queensland Senator Pauline Hanson, sat in the floor of the chamber of the Senate, while wearing a burqa. For what reason she did this, I don't know because neither her website, nor anything she said, gives the reason. At best guess, I can only assume that it was to prove something about security but even then, she passed through security clearances on her way to enter the building; so if anything, all it proves is that the security protocols an practices employed by Parliament House are working properly.

This was set against a background of a number of parliamentarians questioning and being questioned about their eligibility to sit in parliament, subject to citizenship requirements of Section 44 of the Constitution. Looking at the broader global context, this also comes amidst a week which saw neo-facists, Neo-Nazis, and other Ku Klux Klan like elements protesting in Charlottesville Virginia, over the removal of statues of Confederate General Robert E Lee, and the use of a motor car as a weapon in a terrorist attack against a counter protest, killing at least one person and injuring others.
With those things in mind, it makes​ the motives for why Senator Hanson would choose to wear a burqa in parliament, harder to ascertain. It does however provide a specific object lesson on two points of law. One which defends Senator Hanson's actions, which incidentally might have also made them self defeating, and the other which very much proves that if she intends to take any action because of the religion that she dislikes, that it is doomed to failure.

Under the doctrine of reception, there are specific rules which determine which laws passed in the United Kingdom and England, previous to new laws in Australia either replacing or repealing them, will apply in Australia. One of these is the Bill Of Rights Act 1689, which was passed under the reign of William and Mary, immediately after the Glorious Revolution. The Bill Of Rights Act 1689 does a number of things, but the part which is important and relevant here, is Section 9.
That the freedom of speech and debates or proceedings in Parliament ought not to be impeached or questioned in any court or place out of Parliament.
- Section 9, Bill Of Rights Act 1689

If Senator Hanson wanted to prove some point by being ejected from the Senate Chamber because she was wearing a burqa, then she will have failed on that notion because of Section 9. The right to free speech and by extension the right to free expression, allows for Senator Hanson to make statements and dress how she wants. In the past, and especially immediately after lunch, there have been times in both chambers where members of both the House and Senate have worn gym clothes in the chamber, because they'd been for a run at lunchtime. The rules of parliament don't care what someone is wearing at all.
Given that Senator Hanson is perfectly allowed to wear a burqa in the Senate chamber in absolutely impunity, the responses to Ms Hanson were not framed with reference to the law. There were two speeches given to Senator Hanson; one by Tasmanian Senator Jackie Lambie and the other by the Attorney General George Brandis. Both of these speeches spoke to the decency and the deeper moral question of what Senator Hanson had done, rather than the legality of it.

The other object lesson which was ironically delivered by Senator Hanson, was to do with the Consideration itself. Presumably in her extreme dislike of Islam, Ms Hanson would want to bring about a change of law to do something about it. Section 116 of the Constitution prevents this though.
Commonwealth not to legislate in respect of religion
The Commonwealth shall not make any law for establishing any religion, or for imposing any religious observance, or for prohibiting the free exercise of any religion, and no religious test shall be required as a qualification for any office or public trust under the Commonwealth.
 - Commonwealth of Australia Constitution Act, 1900 (UK)

If Senator Hanson wants to bring about a change of law which bans the wearing of the burqa in Australia, she will very quickly find out that the Constitution itself prevents such a law from being passed. If parliamentarians had bothered to read the Constitution (available from the parliamentary shop in the front lobby of the building for only $5), then they would have seen this. It would be the duty of the President of the Senate to stop the passage of such a bill, before a division was ever called for. If in the absolute crazy series of events that meant that the parliament disobeyed the Constitution, held a division on the subject and it passed, the bill would be handed back down to the House Of Representatives and it would be the duty of the Speaker to stop the passage of the bill, before a division was ever called for.

So there you have it. Two pieces of law in operation which both explain why Senator Hanson was allowed to do what she did but not allowed to do what presumably she wants to do. I think that both Ms Lambie's and Mr Brandis' response to Senator Hanson's​ act of tomfoolery and knavery were both perfect in execution. The right to free speech also comes with the ability for everyone else to judge that same free speech; in this case it was free but foolish.

August 17, 2017

Horse 2309 - I Wandered Lonely As A Cloud

In the opening two decades of the twenty-first​ century, we have gone from a place where the beginnings​ of the internet only really connected computers by text, to the point where it is possible to watch and send video in real time. The technology which powered the banking system and other dispersed institutions which required connected computing, has now come to us in the palm of his our hands but instead of just sending very small packets of data that might only contain a few characters, we're sending whole strings which are so long that entire libraries of text can be sent in mere minutes.
In conjunction with this and in an effort to drag ever more profit from the wallets of consumers, software companies have begun to change their selling model from one where you bought a product and could then just use it, to one where you need to pay a subscription for its ongoing use. The subscription model is obviously better for firms because they get both a higher profit margin and a more reliable revenue stream but there is still the pesky problem of the general public being able to use the product and then opt out of paying the subscription fee. Thankfully, in the minds of software companies, the invention of the cloud means that they can now change their programs to make them impossible to use unless the consumer is connected to the cloud. If they can handcuff users to the cloud then profit margins should increase even further because there is no means of escape unless consumers stop using the product.

I hate the cloud.

In many respects, the cloud is a little bit like a protection racket which works in tandem with people who are addicted to a thing. You might think it a bit extreme that I've likened the cloud to substance abuse but in the same way that a dealer might send someone around to your house to mess up your stuff if you neglect to pay them, software companies who distribute their product by the cloud now have the ability to shut someone out and damage their business if they too neglect to pay. That program which in the past, you happily used without worrying about much, is now connected to the servers of the company in a way that didn't happen before.

Maybe I've been a little bit harsh but there is a second and equally insidious reason why I hate the cloud. It is monumentally slow.
Even if you have the fastest internet connection in the world, the cloud is still far too slow for my liking. If you're streaming video, then the protocols of the internet work pretty well. If you are inputting individual and small points of data into a server, then it becomes very tedious very quickly. The round trip time for a transaction on an accounting program that I use and our server in the office is about as long as it takes to blink. That same program in the cloud, has a round trip time of about two seconds. If there are thirty points of data on a page, then that adds one minute to inputting everything on a page. That's fine if you only have a small amount of data to input but if you have sixty or seventy pages of stuff, suddenly there might be a whole hour in a day which you have to wait around doing nothing while the servers think about serving you. If you could compress that hour into a solid block, then you could think about doing something else while your data was being processed but it isn't and it is chopped into tiny little pieces and sprinkled throughout your day, like sprinkling little bits of paprika in a chocolate cake.

With respect to the actual accounting program that I use, the cloud hasn't added a shred of extra benefit other than allowing people to connect to it from anywhere. I understand that that could be extremely useful if you have multiple users at various sites but in general, and with accounting specifically, most people don't want to do the accounting; what they want to do is the business of doing business and that means generating invoices. Naturally if you've installed the ability to put many doors on a building, there are many ways to get inside and while encryption and password protection might save you from malicious outsiders, quite often it is the insiders who will do the most damage to a system. The biggest single problem with opening access to a data set, is not an attack from the enemy without but the enemy within and unless all passwords are changed, the second that someone leaves an organisation, you may as well have left the drawbridge down on the castle.

I suppose that one of my personal peeves with the cloud is the same problem that existed before it ever existed, and that is the indifference of other people. As stated above, people in business don't really want to do accounting and what they do want to do is the business of doing business. It used to be that someone would give us their stuff, sometimes literally a haphazard pile of stuff thrown in a shoebox, and we'd be asked to input the data from the sources given. It has happened on at least a dozen occasions now, where someone has said that they've given us access to their data but when you go on the cloud to actually look at it, they haven't inputted anything at all. From a workflow perspective, we still start at the same point in time but now we have the added hurdle of the cloud to contend with. I have had someone tell me that try thought that it was better that they have access to their data so that they could see what was going on, while completely oblivious to the fact that there is no data to look at until someone has been through the effort of inputting it. The difference now though, is that the cloud added unnecessary time to the process, when we used to just pass the complete file to them to look at, at the end.

Of course, this post wouldn't be complete without mentioning the terrible horrible annoyance of what happens when the cloud isn't working for whatever reason. The internet connection might be out, the company's​ servers might be out, lots of people might be trying to get on all at once and that slows the system down, there might be a malicious person somewhere outside who is doing a direct denial of service or some other kind of attack, the possibilities are myriad. In the dark dank donk days before the cloud, you would have just switched on your computer and used the program in question. If for some reason, the program won't work because of issues with the cloud, then you may as well run around in the jungle and eat bananas for all the difference it makes. If the network becomes a notwork then you don't do any work, and if IBM has taught us anything it is that people should think and machines should work; if they don't work, you don't do work, and that doesn't work for anyone.

Admittedly, I am not old enough to have worked in an environment where computers weren't connected to each other. I am old enough to have worked in a bank where the only data being sent forth and back was batches of transactions and only every so often. The interface at the terminals was in green monochrome and due to the fact that the policy was to keep separate sets of data separate, if you wanted to look at something that wasn't directly connected with transactional banking, you needed to go somewhere else. Bank servers weren't connected to the internet, and so online banking wasn't even remotely dreamed of as being a thing. Instead of millions of users, there were at most only about a few thousand and even back then, there were still connectivity issues.
The cloud hasn't really improved anything that much. What it has done, is turned you into the bank teller but you don't get paid a wage for doing the job. Higher profit margins for companies but not really an order of magnitude of increased benefits for customers - Welcome to the cloud.

August 16, 2017

Horse 2308 - The Nuclear Holocaust Will Be Televised

Some time in late 2016, someone somewhere must have wished a curse upon the world of the like the world has never seen before. It must have been said with such fire and fury that the cosmos has had to warp itself around the new paradigm. That curse, put simply was "may you live in interesting times"; we are now living in interesting times.
It takes a very special person who simultaneously achieves very little of substance while at the same time causes a tone of fear and chaos; yet that is precisely what we have seen in the person of Donald Trump. This is a chap who in just seven months, has managed to achieve even less of his administrative agenda than any previous administration with the successful passage of precisely zero pieces of legislation of worth, has at the equivalent point in time appointed less people to administrative and executive positions than any previous administration, and has caused diplomatic hostilities with allies, neighbours and in a stunning turn of events also yelled threats of nuclear war.
Given that within the last week, the imaginary doomsday clock has been moved closer to midnight, I thought that it might be fun to give you a handy guide to the forthcoming nuclear apocalypse. If in the event that I have already been annihilated by the time that you are reading this, then please consider this to be my parting words to a future that quite rightly I am glad to have avoided.

In the 1950s, during our last major period of the threat of nuclear annihilation, we were still living with the immediate memories of the Second World War. A hundred million people lay dead across Europe in that spate of unpleasantness and so the threat was considered to be very real and present.
In the light of this, people built Anderson shelters in the hope of having somewhere to hide from the fallout. Seventy years later, it is worth considering that sort of plan again. If you can, why not consider building a bunker. My suggestion is to use your existing in ground concrete swimming pool that you've already stopped using because you can't be bothered to clean the filters.
While you're hunkered down in your bunker, you might also want to think about downloading all of the podcasts and television shows that you can possibly think of because it will take approximately 24,000 years for the background radiation levels to return to normal, and you're going to want to have something to do down there.
That will mean that you need to bring some very big batteries down there with you; I assume that that is what the plan is of international scary person, Elon Musk, in South Australia.

Napoleon Bonaparte who was not blown apart, once said that an army marches along on its stomach. If only he had realised that soldiers actually use their feet because when he got to Russia, he discovered that they actually get cold feet and end up dying where they stand. In his defence though, he did think it a good idea to provide his soldiers' food with little metal armor defences and his armies were renowned for their diabolique cuisine un boitê (food in a can).
In the new world, you might not have access to reliable refrigeration and so you might want to think about stocking up on canned goods. Beans, chili, spaghetti, peaches, potato salad, creamed corn, hot dog franks, and many other kinds of completely underwhelming foods can be found in a can.
How might one cook said canned food? Don't worry, your new nuclear irradiated world itself provides the solution. Simply leave a can of Campbell's Cream Of Disappointment up on the surface for about three minutes and voila, your food will be cooked inside the can. Just remember that you probably don't want to spend too much time up there yourself, lest you end up cooking yourself as well.

Once you have watched all of the television shows and listened to all of the podcasts that you should have taken into your bunker, it won't take very long before you realise that if you confine humans in a very small space for extended periods of time, they all begin to resent each other. Small things become magnified and formerly endearing traits become grounds for justifiable homicide. Once all of your cultural references have been exhausted and all the jokes have been told, why not think about what they do currently in​ Scandinavian countries and Russia and write your own dense saga?
Great literature in Russia, Norway, Finland, Iceland and Sweden, was all born in the womb of nights that last six months and conditions so cold that the act of stepping outside is likely to freeze you to death. If your saga doesn't make sense, then claim that it's complex or surreal and then try to look profound. There is a lot of art which is considered to be thought provoking and wonderful, despite being a great steaming pile of pants. If nobody in your bunker likes your work, then claim to be misunderstood and that many other artists were far ahead of their time.

In order to keep morale up, why not try to be nice to people? If you're not nice to people then they will begin to look at your thighs as a potential source of steak or ham. You should take it as a given that unless you are nice to each other, then your mini society will devolve into a state of nature pretty quickly and will become brutal, nasty, and short.
If someone happens to bring a guitar into the bunker because they think it will be 'fun', then view them with suspicion. There are only so many times that a human can hear 'Kum By Yah' or the beginning of 'Smoke On The Water' before they flip out. Although you may have the urge to go all Hendrix on the guitar and smash it into a million pieces, please resist the urge. There just might be someone in an unforeseen future who can play the entire catalogue of Billy Joel, Noel Gallagher and Chuck Berry. If you smash up the guitar, you will miss that opportunity to hear good music again.
Also, learn how to write sonnets. It is a scientifically proven fact that thoughts and speeches recorded in iambic pentameter have a stronger chance of surviving into the future. If people do happen to stumble across your bunker in the year 26,017 then assuming that they can decipher English, then your words will outlive you when you're gone.

Remember not to lose heart. If the bombs start falling and the world starts to experience nuclear winter, then that should go some way to counteracting the global warming which we're currently inflicting on the planet. Global warming combined with nuclear winter equals a summer in Sydney of 22°C rather than 38°C and that's perfect for playing Test Match Cricket; so as far as I'm concerned that's not a bad thing. You have to take the good with the bad and if most of the world is either burned to a crisp or snap frozen like a packet of Colonel Birdseye's finest peas, as long as we still have cricket then it can't be all bad. If the impending nuclear winter causes the end of Test Match Cricket though, then my suggestion would be to leave your bunker and take a walk on the surface because a world without cricket would be simply unbearable.

August 12, 2017

Horse 2307 - The Legality Of Giving Big Six Year Old Children Big Bricks

With the world's six year olds staring at each other in a game of global brinkmanship; where they can both engage in the equivalent of throwing very big bricks at each other; where they both have the capability of crying 'havoc' and letting slip the dogs of war, I thought it would be interesting to sort out why and how we got here.

Once upon a time, Korea, as in one single Korea, was ruled by Heungseon Daewongun. His government was overthrown by the Empress Myeongseong "Queen Min" and in the ensuing period of instability, Japan deployed literal gunboat diplomacy by deploying the gunboat Unyo. The Japan–Korea Treaty of 1876 was signed by representatives of Emperor Meiji and Emperor Gojong and eventually in 1910, Korea fell to being a complete puppet state of Japan.
Japan had designs of being an even greater empire and this worked out reasonably well for them, provided you completely disregard their effects on Korea, China, Thailand, Burma, Indonesia, The Philippines, Papua New Guinea... which all came to a sudden and abrupt halt in 1945 following four years of conflict with the United States and the dropping of two extinction balls.

Most of the affected nations of South East Asia went on to have complex and strange stories but China decided to have a civil war and then a communist revolution, but Korea was kind of in a weird place.
By applying the same sort of insane logic which didn't work in eastern Europe, the USSR and the United States drew a line in Korea along the 38th parallel, with the USSR in control of the north and the United States kind of administering the south. Neither side accepted the line as permanent and on the 25th of June 1950, forces from USSR backed north decided to cross the line and for 3 years a sort of war broke out out between the Communist back forces of the north and a United Nations supported force in the south which mostly consisted of the United States.
The war which was called a war by everyone except the United States government, ended in 1953 having achieved pushing the Communist back forces of the north back across the line and not much else. There is a demilitarised zone between the two forces (neither of them regard each other as legitimate) but 64 years later, a state of war nominally exists except for the United States where a state of war never actually started.
The Congress shall have power to...
To declare war, grant letters of marque and reprisal, and make rules concerning captures on land and water;
- Article I, Section 8, Clause 11, US Constitution, 4th Mar 1789

According to the US Constitution, it is the Congress who has the power to declare war and not the President. Because of this there has always been a legal question about whether or not President Harry S Truman ever had the authority to engage the forces of the United States in a war without congressional approval.
The President shall be commander in chief of the Army and Navy of the United States, and of the militia of the several states, when called into the actual service of the United States;
- Article I, Section 2, Clause 1, US Constitution, 4th Mar 1789

Article I, Section 2, Clause 1, US Constitution, vests the office of the commander in chief of the Army and Navy in the person of the President but to what extent the President has authority to use the military, when they don't have the approval of the congress, was mostly untested and unknown in 1950. Mostly because the Constitution is silent on the issue, opinions vary widely on what authority the President has. This was tempered with the War Powers Resolution of 1973, which gives the President the ability use force for 60 days without approval and then requires that that force be removed within 30 days; the most recent obvious example of this being used was by President Obama; following the 2012 Benghazi attack by the Islamic militant group Ansar al-Sharia.
In 1950 though, this Act did not exist and given that this was set against the backdrop of the Cold War, nobody really thought to challenge the legality of the operation.

In 2017, North Korea has finally found that it can threaten the United States and with Donald Trump as the commander in chief; who under the War Powers Resolution of 1973, can use military force for up to 60 days without congressional approval, this is where we find ourselves today.
Considering that North Korea has a string of artillery pieces very close to the 38th parallel, they could rain down a show of firepower in very very quick time indeed. If an exchange of artillery fire were to happen, then even the crappiest of missiles would be able to hit downtown Seoul in even less time than it would take for the President to react. If deployed, a North Korean Rodong-1 missile would take roughly 33 seconds to hit Seoul.
I don't think it particularly wise to let six year old children start throwing bricks at each other. I don't see anything different in principle between two six year old children and Kim Jong-un and Donald Trump, except that the bricks are far far larger. What is legal and what is sensible, are vastly different.

August 10, 2017

Horse 2306 - How Do You Solve A Problem Like Korea?

How do you solve a problem like Korea? How do you hold a snowflake in your hand?

The current maniac in chief who currently sits in the Oval Office chair, has insulted practically everyone that he can think of, on the grounds of race, religion, sexuality, socio economic status, size, and practically anything else that you can think of to the point where insanity is the new normal​ and perpetual outrage is the order of the day; every day.

We will balance the U.S.'s felonious crime against our country and our people with something thousands of times worse, and if the U.S. does not retract its attempts to crush us to death and behave prudently, we will be ready and not hesitate to take ultimate measures.
- North Korean Media, as quoted by NPR, 8th Aug 2017.

This week, we had an equally insane threat from an equally insane leader, when the leader of the Undemocratic Hermit Republic Of North Korea, Kim Jong Un, was reported as saying that he could launch a nuclear missile strike and hit the United States' territory of Guam. The 45th President of the United States responded in typical fashion to him (and in decidedly atypical fashion for the previous 44) by in a press conference, opening a fresh can of insanity; just when you thought that there wasn't any more (in case you were wondering,
insanity comes in 20oz (568g) cans in America).

"North Korea best not make any more threats to the United States.
They will be met with fire and fury like the world has never seen. He has been very threatening ... and as I said they will be met with fire, fury and frankly power, the likes of which this world has never seen before."
- President Donald Trump, 8th Aug 2017.

The problem with trying to write articulate pieces about politics at the moment is that in a time where everything is going crazy all time, trying to speak words of calm is the act of a madman. In an age of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act. Yet despite this, I believe that from the ends of my fingers and in just a single blog post; in fact just a single sentence, I bet that I could solve most of the world's problems with the rogue rouge nation which lies to the north of the 38th parallel. Here goes:

Be nice to North Korea.

That's it. I have nothing else that I can add here. In the decades since hostilities sort of ended (because officially, they have not), I don't know if many governments around the world have bothered to think that the current status quo just doesn't seem to be working all that well, either in terms of solving any problems or in terms of making people's lives better. Demonstrably imposing further sanctions on a country which he been in the cold for so long that it doesn't even remember what warmth feels like, isn't going to achieve very much when the country has little if anything left to lose. At this point, the leaders and those people who have managed to work their way up the chain or command are doing well enough so that whatever happens doesn't really affect them any more. People at the bottom though, whose lives are probably pretty rubbish, are likely to accept more sanctions as just proof that the universe is horrible. Being not nice to North Korea doesn't appear to do very much at all.
Has anyone tried to be nice to North Korea?

Let's assume for a second that I am the President of the United States (which is never going to happen for many reasons; including not being a natural born citizen). I think that the most provocative act that could be done would be to hop into Air Force One, fly to Seoul and then announce that I was going to fly into Pyongyang. Just think of the absolute rain of confusion that would call from the skies. To shoot down Air Force One would be a direct act of war, which would bring down other sorts of rain. If the announcement was made that the trip was purely as an act of goodwill, then what sort of action would that illicit?
If it was then announced that the leader of North Korea would be made the guest of the United States and get to stay at the White House, then I bet that the entire direction of negotiations would change. If instead of being treated like a mad man, Kim Jong Un was treated like a respected businessman, would he continue to act like a mad man? Suppose that instead of being the President of a pariah nation with no hope of anything good happening to it ever, what would happen if he was treated like a responsible person?
Take him to a show on Broadway. Give him an audience in the Oval Office. Put him up in the state rooms at the White House with the fanciest room service that the nation has to offer. Take him to a restaurant to have that famous meat loaf which the President of the United States seems to like so much. It's probably really difficult to tell bad things when you are seated at the dinner table and have a mouth full of slow cooked lamb shanks.

Forgive me but doing the same thing again and again and expecting to get a different result, is the act of a mad man. If you want to trap a wasp, you don't use a stick and repeatedly hit the wasp's nest, you lay out some honey. If you want to remove the coat from a person standing out in the cold, yelling at them and turning on an industrial fan isn't likely to make them take it off; bringing them inside and offering them a cup of cocoa is.
I'd suggest sending in a C-17 Globemaster which was filled with Levi's jeans, McDonald's hamburgers, and Coca-Cola. I have a somewhat crazy theory that the single biggest contributor which finally brought down the Iron Curtain, wasn't the threat of nuclear annihilation but the sudden realisation by people on the dismal side of the Iron Curtain that cheez-wiz comes in a can, that you can put pineapple on a pizza, that Opels are decently made motor cars, that Madonna and Wham! had CDs and that you could listen to them on your own personal discman. I suspect that the three biggest weapons that can be dropped in North Korea, would be Wal-Mart, Aldi and IKEA.

I think that it's reasonably safe to assume that the stance that North Korea adopts to the rest of the world isn't based on religious fervour. There are definitely unresolved aspects in the tragedy of history that need to be discussed but continuing to leave the door closed and refusing to speak is never going to address them. What we have seen at international level is a lot of sabre rattling for a very long time and the only thing that appears to be changing is the size of the sabre.

I might not have any idea about the protocol for solving the world's problems but I do know that provocative statements like this from both sides of this brouhaha don't go any further to solving them either. If there is a tiny shred of truth in what Mr Trump has to say, then I sincerely do hope that there is a certain kind of fire and fury that the world has never seen before and that there is a piece of steak put on that fire. In my lifetime at least, the world has not seen anything like that before.

August 09, 2017

Horse 2305 - "Extra Grace Required": A Phrase Which Needs To Go

It doesn't matter what sort of field it is, be it the world of business, the medical world, highly technical fields, various fandoms, or even the sporting field, lots of idioms, pieces of slang, abbreviations and turns of phrase will be invented. Language isn't just the exchange of tokens of meaning which facilitate the flow of information but humans being social creatures, who have a need to be part of a group and to feel validated,  will also swap language which holds larger concepts and deeper meaning.
As a Christian, and someone who is fascinated with how language works, I am conscious that the interior language of this group can be baffling to outsiders. Organised Christianity has as much of a cant as the theatre, or technobabble of boffins and nerds, and has its own label "Christianese" which is used to describe it.
There is one phrase in particular that really rubs me the wrong way and gets my hackles, feckles and schmeckles up, and that is the phrase "Extra Grace Required".

It sounds harmless enough. The kind of person of whom it is said where Extra Grace is Required is someone who is difficult to deal with or is draining. I guess that the phrase is supposed to be a reminder that there are people who will require extra grace to deal with and that even though you might not like them, they are still worthy of respect and dignity. Of course there will be people who we don't get along with. Of course there are those who will almost always frustrate you. There are even those people whom it is best to take in as little dose as possible because they are just downright toxic; however that shouldn't excuse you from all politeness and calmness that you can muster and that is appropriate.
Used properly and correctly, this turn of phrase is cliched but useful. I don't mind that.

My objection to the phrase Extra Grace Required is when it used as a label before any grace is applied at all. My hackles, feckles and schmeckles are raised when it becomes a tool of the unkind. To label someone as Extra Grace Required and then immediately withdraw or never extend any grace whatsoever, is to use it as a piece of doublespeak. It becomes an iron fist clothed in a velvet glove. It is like installing a door of wallpaper while a hungry lion sits on the other side. It is like have a friendly pillow fight where one of the pillows has a brick concealed inside.
thI don't like direct insults and abuse, though for comedic effect a withering put down can be employed hilariously, but it really makes me cringe inside when I hear the words "Extra Grace Required" by someone who purports to be held to a kinder standard.

Now I make mention of this because I heard an instance of this phrase being thrown about with the caution that is shown to a rugby ball, by a lady on a morning train who was having too personal a conversation at too high a volume. My schmeckles were already raised; that raised my hackles and feckles as well. If you're going to broadcast all of your personal details to a captive audience who can not escape, then you should probably expect that some of them will be listening in (if not through choice).

I have no idea who the subject of the gossip was but I bet that they would feel really terrible knowing that they were having their character mauled while they weren't present. Maybe they were genuinely horrible but that only serves to prove the original intent of the phrase that Extra Grace would be Required to deal with them. Granted that there some people who are just plain awful but that's just a consequence of living in a complex world where people are sometimes selfish (and rationally so if you believe economists): even then you should make an effort to deal kindly and calmly with them if for no other reason than to make the relevant transaction happen. Labelling people has the power to objectify them and when that happens and they become objects, they cease to be people.

I must admit that I like cliches, quotes, idioms, turns of phrase, slang and jargon, because they help to add colour to the language. The flower of English as she is spoke, is a vulture of a language that steals from everywhere, including its own nest. When though, language is weaponised and becomes an instrument of attack, especially a phrase which should have the kindest and most noble of purpose, then count me out.
Extra Grace isn't Required - a new phrase is and actual genuine kindness is. Perhaps those of us who are strong ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not please just ourselves. Maybe it would be helpful to please our neighbors for their good, to build them up, and not label them.

August 02, 2017

Horse 2304 - Book Review: Flora's Fancy

I want you to imagine one of those endless Brisbane summers of the 1970s, where the sun beat down relentlessly and before there was widespread use of air conditioning. Brisbane is renowned for its sauna like climate, where a great fug of moisture hangs over the city and where being the 1970s, the memory of a world before the metric system still lingers large and so the mercury sits in​the high nineties rather than the thirties. I want you to also imagine a flame haired girl, spending those lazy days day dreaming, as an escape from the drone of the cicadas and the summer heat which continues to beat down relentlessly.
This is the sort of environment that fostered the debut novel by TV presenter Leigh Sales, "Flora's Fancy', and which I am led to believe is the perfect environment to read it in.

The story is straightforward enough. A young girl named Flora Fenwick, who has been orphaned by her parents in a hideous motor accident, lives with her two despicable aunts in a great mansion house and spends most of the novel trying to escape their clutches and their various attempts to kill her so that they can inherit the house.
The story strays into the realm of cliché with pretty predictable and formulaic schemes by the two despicable aunts to bring about Flora's demise and her invariably successful attempts to thwart those schemes. One particular piece late in the novel involves the aunts setting up an elaborate Rube Goldberg type machine which fails in exactly the way that you expect, which if you were a ten year old child would be utterly hilarious. As someone who is decidedly not the target audience, it was still somewhat amusing to see it unfold, in the same way that you might watch an entertainer explain how their puppets are manipulated.
The novel contains the usual kind of tone and meter that you'd expect from a children's novel and the resolution is absolutely predictable, which is perfectly acceptable in a children's novel because you want a satisfying resolution.
What truly sets this novel apart though, is that it is utterly dripping with a sense of place.

One of the problems that seems to befall children in Australia when it comes to literature is that just like so many other facets of culture, Australia has developed a sense of embarrassment about itself. We're happy to read about quaint English villages from an imagined past that could never have been, we will lap up stories from America which speak of optimism and opportunity which was ironically denied to many of the children reading the novels, and we'll even read Canadian stories which spill over​ with politeness and a need for apology, but when it comes to our own stories we'd rather pretend as though we don't really exist. 'Flora's Fancy' though, positively drips with the awareness that it is an Australian book for Australian children.

The descriptions of the mansion house could have only been written by someone familiar with that kind of architecture to which Queensland lends its eponym. The word choice throughout the novel, which has been carefully selected, paints the picture of those endless summers which only seem to exist in Australia. The novel has a tendency to wax lyrical with descriptions of food and drink but it has a rhythm about it which could have only come about through years of practice, which Sales brings as a journalist and the host of 7.30 on the ABC. The only thing that I found confusing about the novel was the way that Flora refers to her backpack as a 'port'; which I have subsequently found out is a regionalism from south east Queensland and which further serves to add to this sense of place.

I don't know if 'Flora's Fancy' is destined to become an Australian children's classic because that happens through unexplainable forces which are unknown to all but I do know that it could very well be the kind of novel which ironically returns to those endless summers which nurtured the idea and helped it to bloom. The novel is sufficiently​ open ended enough that it could very easily become the first in a series, as well.

'Flora's Fancy' is published by Collins Publishing and is currently only available in hardback, costs $19.95 and is available at many independent bookstores and major stockists.

Except that all of this is a lie.

'Flora's Fancy' is the brainchild of 7.30's Leigh Sales but does not exist. It has been discussed on the podcast 'Chat 10 Looks 3*' which is hosted by Leigh Sales and fellow partner in crimes against sanity, Annabelle Crabb. It is a pity, really. The idea of this book has been discussed at length many times on the podcast. Maybe the illusion of its existence would make an interesting conceit; with the myth taking off and having a life of its own.