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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – The Complete Review

15 December 2016

Rebellions are built on hope, and so are Star Wars movies that deviate from the broader Star Wars narrative and its familiar characters. With this being the first of its type, Rogue One managed to succeed with a brilliant and emotional finale, after a somewhat chaotic and meandering start. It had a tough task considering its primary objective of detailing the Rebellion’s acquisition of the Imperial Death Star plans was not only one solitary event of many in Star Wars history, it had a known outcome. To broaden the scope of the movie, the formation of the Rogue One squad became a prominent event, which, without the Star Wars setting, would not have been that interesting. Within the group, there was no major character arc like with Rey from The Force Awakens. This was merely about two people and a droid randomly gathering a bunch of outcasts to eventually become Rogue One.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - The On-Fleek Review

Jyn Erso, the main character, didn’t benefit from any great development either. While she was impressive, comparing against Ray again, her arc was flat. We knew she was rebellious and fierce from the start, and that’s how she finished. Whereas Rey, the nondescript scavenger became the future hope of the galaxy. Without a strong character to pull you deep into the movie, the plot and, particularly, the action were left to hold attention, and that’s where the movie excelled.

Supporting characters were barely memorable. Captain Andor Cassian, who led the mission, lacked any hint of charisma. The new droid, K-2SO, whose introduction scene portended greatness, proved a disappointment. His humour was too smug to be funny, his moving eyeballs looked creepy, and ultimately he provided few memorable moments. The rest of the cast, outcasts as they were, were limited in their scope. Because of their nature, banter between them wasn’t as free flowing or natural as we’ve come to expect, unlike with Han Solo and Chewbacca from TFA. Where they provided natural comedy, there wasn’t any of that in Rogue One. The movie’s tactic was to revert to action scenes to bond these characters. The planet Jedha was a prime example, where Jyn and Cassian engaged in some anti-Stormtrooper shenanigans and picked up a few extras for their eventual rogue group.

As to the action itself, it was interstellar! It’s probably the best ever. The fire-fights and combat on the ground, the space battles – it was all peerless in its choreography, execution and technically perfect. You may quibble about the CGI used to reprise Governor Tarkin, that it didn’t look quite right. It won’t next to live actors. As much as CGI can recreate almost everything in reality, eyes looked too glassy and body movement was a bit stilted. Personally, Tarkin is not such a major character that a lookalike actor could not have served just as well. Also a highlight was seeing the nascent Rebellion in action. This was no well organised, cohesive force as seen in the original trilogy. There were several splinter groups within it, each with their own ways and limits to rebel, which no doubt enhanced the rogue capabilities of the rebellion itself, and even making the entire Rogue One operation possible.

It’s not a new Star Wars movie without nostalgia. While there were no great great flow of emotional moments like seeing Han and Chewie, and Leia and Luke Skywalker, in TFA, there were plenty of nods to bit players. Noting that Rogue One directly precedes Episode 4: A New Hope, several Rebel fighters were reprised from the attack on the Death Star, and they and their banter will put a grin on your face, while familiar droids, aliens and Imperial senior officers also appear (keep up your visual scanning). The filmmakers struck the balance right by not pimping out the iconic characters like Darth Vader. While he appears, it’s totally appropriate, and not at all gratuitous. If there’s something even remotely critical about Darth in Rogue One it’s the actor playing him had too much hip movement. Darth’s initial scene he struts out a bit like a catwalk model.

Rogue One is not the conventional Star Wars movie, rich in character exploration and Force mythology, as you expect. It doesn’t even want to pretend it’s Star Wars as you don’t see “Star Wars” mentioned anywhere the film. Certainly not in the opening. Other than learning the design flaw in the Death Star was intentional (apologies to the Empire for believing all those years you were inept), there’s no real revelations either. It’s firmly a movie about plot; the telling of a particular event. Most of the characters aren’t memorable, not that you’ll need to remember them. Early on, it swings all over the galaxy so fast, visiting new planets and introducing new characters, that it makes it difficult to keep track – particularly of the characters and their importance, and even their link to each other. Eventually you get there. Most of all it’s that wonderful finale to savour and remember. It could not have finished more perfectly and provides the greatest surprise itself.

When Rogue One is released for the home market, no doubt repeat views will be to start from that mesmerising final hour. In a sense Rogue One’s closest similarity to other Star Wars films is with Return Of The Jedi. Both do as they need at the start to get going, and then finish in a blaze of glory. History is likely to sit Rogue One and ROTJ next to each other as comparable. That’s certainly my view of it.

Star Wars: The Force Awakens – Review
Ranking the Star Wars Movies – Episodes 1 to 6

 

16 December 2016
Second View and Spoiler Section

Rogue One was far more emotional the second time. There were tears, and I might need to even elevate it above ROTJ one day. A bit more of the plot came to life, particularly the conflicting objectives Cassian had to deal with – the orders from the Rebels and Jyn’s mission to find her father. The group of rogues began to become quite loveable, mostly because they were so brave.

All the name-dropping made sense, the plot aligned, and knowing Jyn’s father from the start really helped. The trailers made me presume Director Krennic was Jyn’s father, so watched the film with that as a firm preconception. I thought the young Jyn was kept hidden from her father, either adopted or with special guardians, much like the case with Luke Skywalker. I never realised it was papa Erso there in those opening scenes. The holographic message Jyn saw on Jedha was the first trigger that her father wasn’t Krennic, before confirmation with the attack on the rainy planet of Eadu. Interestingly, my sister found the movie intriguing all the way. Maybe I let my inner Star Wars geek over-think things. Speaking of geeks, much of the laughter at K-2SO at the midnight session was forced. For this second view, on a late Thursday afternoon with a mainstream audience, barely a laugh heard. I’m reconciled to believe K-2SO isn’t meant to be funny, nor is Rogue One meant to be a funny movie. It was about a deadly serious movie about a deadly serious mission.

Many scenes in the trailers, even iconic scenes, never made it to the movie. Notably Jyn’s “I rebel” line and the scene where she’s confronted by a Tie Fighter on a platform. While watching I was waiting for the “I rebel” moment, expecting Jyn would return to the Rebel base after her successful mission to explain herself going rogue. Maybe showing such scenes to keep the audience guessing was all part of the plan?

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story - one of the missing scenes

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – one of the missing scenes

Mysteries. Rarely do you leave a Star Wars movie without questions circulating in your head. Given the nature of this movie and its settled conclusion, there’s nothing. Maybe you could ask why did the Empire destroy the their base on Scarif. Was it a last ditch insurance against the plans being stolen? Also curious was that the Rebels could rebuild their fleet as seen in Episodes 5 and 6 after so many familiar ones, like the medical frigate and the flagship, were either destroyed or captured in Rogue One. The number of capital ships seemed about the same in both movies, suggesting you couldn’t acquire them easily, otherwise the Rebellion would have far more for the attack on the second Death Star. Probably ships were added as more systems joined the Rebellion. The success of the Rogue One operation certainly would have inspired others.

Thank you that Jyn and Cassian never kissed!

 

29 December 2016
Third View – Hyper Critical

After 13 days without Rogue One, there’s only so long you can meditate, so it was to time to medicate by returning to the cinema. This would be the first in 2D as, except for IMAX, the 3D sessions had already disappeared. Don’t worry, I’ll deal with IMAX soon enough – in 10 days to be precise. Fear. Fear of losing that extra dimension would not be enough to stop me going this week.

It turned out the film was perfectly fine in 2D. Partially that is because the 3D didn’t pop like you normally expect, the cinema was brand new with a super big screen and Dolby Atmos sound, and it’s Star Wars, so it’s good on anything. The only difference I really noted is that Krennic’s tunic didn’t seem as wrinkled and Governor Tarkin looked more natural.

Nothing much felt different with the pacing of the film. It’s still meandering at times, and it’s only less chaotic at the start because you are now fully aware of how everything is connected. Drastic improvements could be made by cutting some of the opening scenes. No need for the market place scene where Cassian learnt about the defecting Imperial pilot. While its purpose was to show Cassian had a ruthless streak, this aspect of his character (actually, an aspect of most rebels at this stage of the Rebellion) was never explored further so it became irrelevant. Same deal with the scene on Jedha when the Imperial pilot was taken to Saw Gerrera. It added nothing. To be really bold, the opening scene can go, as the fate of the Ersos is told later during the hologram scene and through Jyn’s flashbacks. The film would therefore start with the rescue of Jyn. You could easily work in the ubiquitous Star Wars opening spaceship scene by showing the rescue force arriving on the planet where Jyn was held. If you want to preserve the approach to the beautiful Ring of Kafrene from the market place scene, then put Jyn there to be rescued, rather than drab Wobani.

Speaking of Jyn, a key aspect of her character was incomplete. What was the big deal about her having a blaster? Why would she shoot Cassian? K-2SO said the chances of that were high – very high. For some reason, Rebel command didn’t quite trust her. Either add an appropriate scene to show she’s a problem, or cut the scene inferring she’s a problem. Trust goes both ways.

The real clumsy area of the movie involves the fate of Galen Erso. The Rebels rescue Jyn to get to her father, just so they could kill him. It made little sense. Why kill him when the Death Star was already built and apparently the mission was also to learn about it? It seemed like petty revenge. This scene on rainy Eadu served mostly to galvanise the rogue group – and add a gratuitous X-Wing vs Tie Fighter battle scene, and to steal an Imperial shuttle. Surely it would have been better if Galen was on Scarif where the Death Star plans were stored, and somehow his rescue is intertwined with stealing the plans.

Dialogue, while not crucial in this film, needed tweaks. The most obvious is the designation of Rogue One itself. We’re supposed to believe it came from the spontaneity of the bumbling Imperial pilot flying the rogues to Scarif? Surely, “rogue” needed to be mentioned earlier, preferably by Jyn. Something like “So I’ve acquired a bunch of rogues, have I?” when certain rebels splintered from the decision not to attack Scarif. Then on the shuttle, you have that connection, like a confirmation of “rogue” by the Imperial pilot with Jyn before he adds the “one”.

It’s settled with K-2SO. He’s not funny! Barely any laughter during this almost full house. The only scenes of genuine laughter were “Cassian said I had to” when he told Jyn he’s joining her rogue group, and on Jedha when Jyn shot an identical Imperial droid just in front of K-2SO and he said “did you know that wasn’t me”. The real flaw with him is that he’s too humanised. Not only using his eyes moving to convey emotion, his neck is overly dexterous too. Droids should be droids.

Unlike most Star Wars movies, memorable lines are very few. The only one I’ve caught myself saying is “light it up”. “Rebellions are built on hope” is the basis of the film and that could be borrowed, while “I’m one with the force and the force is with me” is too hokey to be useful. The line I currently use often was cut from the film: “I rebel”. “Are you with me”, the key line in the August trailer, is sadly missing. I really wanted to yell out, “hell yeah”.

Even though I carefully listened, the exchange near the end between Mon Mothma and Bail Organa is incomplete. She mentions his hidden Jedi friend, and he responds about being served well by him in the Clone Wars, and then adds “I would trust her with my life”. Her? Somehow it skipped from Obi-Wan to Princess Leia. Even though this dialogue helps set the foundation for Leia’s future role, it was superfluous to the film other for a minor nostalgia effect.

The most interesting lines I picked up were the references to Red Five during the final battle. While immediate reaction is to think “OMG, that’s Luke Skywalker!”, remember he was still bullseyeing wamp rats in his T-16 back home at this stage. It would have been fun had there been a line in the film, “Oh, we’ve lost Red Five” – just to jolt our conscience.

I’m still not comfortable with the way the shield protecting Scarif was destroyed. Why was there the need to push the stricken Star Destroyer into a capable one nearby? Why didn’t the capable one fly away? Why not simply push the stricken Star Destroyer into the shield gate? That alone would have been enough. If that couldn’t be done or wasn’t enough, sacrifice one of the rebel cruisers!

What’s the time frame between the end of Rogue One and Episode 4? With escape pods readied and alarms sounding, it seems only minutes. I wanted to believe the corvette escaped and the Rebels had time to celebrate and regroup. Or maybe it’s not so immediate? Consider they’re still over Scarif, not Tatooine, R2-D2 and C-3PO were no where to be seen, the ship clearly wasn’t on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan, and Leia spoke of hope. There’s not too much hope if Darth is still on your tail.

Speaking of Darth Vader, his final scene is still so mesmerising. We’ve never seen Darth (as Darth, not Anakin) before at full power, so it was a brilliant addition to the film. With Rogue One being the first true sequel to the original trilogy – as it was set in the same time frame – it’s potential moments like these that made the anticipation for this film so high. Then with all the other references – the Rebellion, the Empire, Stormtroopers, the Death Star, X-Wings, Tie Fighters, AT-ATs and, most important of all, Princess Leia herself – it hit all the marks.

Most memorable with this film, especially the more you see it, is it becomes so much more emotional. It tugs at you like no other Star Wars film does. That’s because those once nondescript Rogues become far more attached each time you relive their heroics. As each one gets popped off, it becomes sadder and sadder. Even K-2SO, you begin to feel for him. As for the final scene with Jyn and Cassian, it’s almost unwatchable. It’s a tear-jerker way before it happens. Then you leave with that one word planted in your head: Hope. That’s the true legacy of this movie.

I wouldn’t change the original rating of this film – about the same level as Return Of The Jedi. Sometimes on reflection our feelings magnify, believing it’s better than we initially felt. With those initial feelings there was ambivalence, particularly during it. It was those final few sequences that seem to sweep everything else prior away. I also look to applause, particularly the geek-infested midnight sessions. The odd smattering, that’s it. The Force Awakens had quite a bit more, while the modern Star Wars sequel that had the biggest applause remains Episode 2: Attack Of The Clones.

With Carrie Fisher dying this week, it’s poetic Princess Leia had the very last word in Rogue One. Ironically, the news of Carrie’s death was the same day of this trek to see Rogue One. Then her mother, Debbie Reynolds, dies the following day, today. One can’t be sad. Both had great lives, and now Debbie won’t suffer the greatest pain of all is avoided: losing her daughter. She and Carrie are quickly reunited again. May the force be with you, both.

 

8 January 2017
Fourth View – IMAX

This was the most satisfying Rogue One experience yet. From the first scene to the last, I was engrossed. It wasn’t just because of the mind-blowing IMAX 3D experience either, it’s the fact of seeing a Star Wars film multiple times. They grow on you. All of them. I seem to recall it was the fourth view with the previous ones, certainly with The Force Awakens, that proved the best experience too. Every scene becomes pivotal. Every word means something. Every emotion feels real. It becomes the complete experience as always intended.

Much of this extra level of enjoyment simply revolves around familiarity. The words matter because the characters and the plot are now fully exposed and understood. Therefore you make the smallest connections whereas the initial views many scenes and dialogue seemed superfluous. One example is Red Five. In the previous view I mentioned finally hearing the designation. During this view I realised he was the pudgy pilot, not an unseen one left open for speculation that it might be Luke. No, Red Five is there, and he calls for help before being zapped.

Finally I’m picking up, or at least remembering, some more lines. The best in this movie is from Darth to Krennic: “Don’t choke on your aspirations.” I’ll be using that in everyday language. “Single reactor ignition” about Death Star’s laser is informative as well as useful, and “Light it up”, as mentioned in an earlier view, I’ve already used. Jyn wasn’t sure whether it was “alliance” or “rebels” when talking to Saw, and I noticed she had the exact same hairstyle as papa Erso. After Jyn, the next best character is Baze (long haired Asian guy). The worst is the Imperial pilot. Clearly they were clueless about the sort of character he should be.

With the finale, I noticed the Tantive IV did jump into hyperspace, so they could easily be at another star system (Tatooine) when next caught by Vader. While that fixes one hole in the plot that Episode 4 proceeded minutes after Rogue One, there’s still the problem that Leia was clearly not on a diplomatic mission to Alderaan. She’d need to be on drugs to expect Vader to believe that. The best case scenario is at some point earlier she was on the way there to meet Bail Organa, before being diverted to help at Scarif. Let’s also give credit again for the outstanding finale itself. In the trailers Jyn was seen running with the Death Star plans along the beach and obviously she made it off the planet. Then what – killed by Darth? That would have been unjust. Jyn and Cassian were such gallant and worthy heroes that they deserved the dignified ending they got. As did all of Rogue One.

Do I increase the rating of the film? Noting I had it about the same level as Return Of The Jedi, which I ranked fifth best overall of the 6 released at that time (see link above), yes, it’s definitely better. In fact, I raise it above Revenge Of The Sith. Not that that assuages the flaws that do exist with Rogue One – particularly the patchy first half. After all, it should not be a requirement see a movie four times to gain a full appreciation of it. The ambivalence on the initial view was real and relevant, and must be considered overall when ranking the movie in the Star Wars pantheon. With all these sequels, the balance between mainstream appeal and satisfying rabid fans is always tough. Risk boring one or leave the other unfulfilled? They’ve leant to the side of the fans, and wisely so, to deliver the most authentic Star Wars movie since the original trilogy.

Rogue One Viewing

00:01 15 Dec 2016 – 3D
17:30 15 Dec 2016 – 3D
15:20 28 Dec 2016 – 2D
18:00 07 Jan 2017 – 3D IMAX

Star Wars Ranking 

1) Ep5: The Empire Strikes Back
2) Ep2: Attack Of The Clones
3) Ep4: A New Hope
4) Ep7: The Force Awakens
5) Rogue One
6) Ep4: Revenge Of The Sith
7) Ep6: Return Of The Jedi
8) Ep1: The Phantom Menace

 

Donald Trump is President – What the heck just happened?

13 November 2016

He was described as a buffoon, a racist, a sexist, a misogynist, a bigot, a xenophobe, a homophobe, an islamaphobe, an arachnophobe, a gymnophobe and probably a coulrophobe (aren’t we all these days). He boasted about not paying federal taxes, using bankruptcy laws for several of his companies, he could stand in Fifth Avenue and shoot someone without losing a voter (other than presumably the person he shot), and groping women by the pussy. Against him was the political elite, the media elite, the cultural elite, the socialist elite, the celebrity elite and the Republican elite. His campaign was unconventional by relying on free media, went through three campaign managers, barely prepared for the debates and, with the exception of caps, was clearly out-spent and under-resourced. So how the heck did Donald Trump win the presidency? In simple terms, Trump trumped elitism.

As Trump said in his victory speech, he was speaking to those long forgotten. He was also speaking to those that for so long felt disrespected and dismissed by a politically class that had become out of touch and out of control. It didn’t matter that Trump was crass and divisive. As Chris Wallace on Fox News aptly put it, Trump’s strength was the message, not so much the messenger. People were sick of the condescension, sick of identity politics, and sick of seeing their country going in the wrong direction. Basically, they were sick of not being heard. In all probability, Trump’s recalcitrance and disobedience only made him more likeable. For every media pundit that turned against him, for every endorsement that went against him, for every celebrity that got on a stage with Hillary Clinton, that meant more votes for Trump. His message of destroying the political establishment and draining the swamp worked. So too did the feud against the media, virtually all of whom were totally against him and often openly cheering for Clinton. Even though I’d have voted for Clinton, I was happy the people rebelled against the tyranny and oppression and brought this momentous change. It was a victory for the true believers.

Sydney's Daily Telegraph summed up Donald Trump's election as president perfectly.

Sydney’s Daily Telegraph summed up Donald Trump’s election as president perfectly.

Even separating the personalities from the fight, this was a remarkable election. With Trump needing the key swing seats of Florida, North Carolina and Ohio simply to stay in the contest, it wasn’t looking good early. While FL was looking good, he was behind in NC and Ohio. At 2130 USA Eastern Time (1230 Wednesday Australian Eastern Time) I tweeted it looked over. Then suddenly the figures in NC and Ohio began to reverse. No doubt the early figures were from pre-polls, which largely favoured Democrats. Ohio looked a lock and NC very likely. Also crucial was Iowa, in which Trump was leading in the polls and had to win. With that now likely, he was notionally on 259 and needed 11 votes to go.

Getting the final 11 votes was always the difficult task and required a Democratic state to be flipped. Curiously he was doing well in Virginia, which led to Chris Wallace (again) being the first to see a possibility for Trump to win (note, Wallace was also the first I saw, probably just after the New Hampshire primary, to see a possibility of Trump being the nominee). While peeling of Virginia might be a tough ask, the fact he was doing well there was a great portent for other states. In my Idiot’s Guide to the election I ruled out Path A of picking up Pennsylvania, which was looking tough. Trump also boasted about picking up other similar states, like Michigan and Wisconsin. It was Wisconsin that emerged with Trump several percentage points in front, and staying in front as votes kept rolling in. At 2200 (1400 AET) betting odds had him a 70% chance to win the presidency. By 2230 (0230 AET), with about 70% counted in Wisconsin, that was enough for me. Trump was president and, strangely, a tiny tear began to form. I was emotional, and excited, at this insane upset. Trump only need hold onto traditional Republican states for 269-269 tie in electoral votes. Without a candidate at 270, the house (almost certain to remain Republican) would decide. It was over.

Curiously, the networks held out. Fox News didn’t call Wisconsin until 1130 while we’re still waiting for CNN to do so. Everyone at the candidates’ venues were restless too, demanding some network take the plunge and call the damn thing. The New York Times were the first major media I heard to do so, at 0150 (1750 AET). Ten minutes later, at 0200, Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta announced to the crowd to go home, there’s plenty of votes still to be counted. This was totally absurd, and it was really the Democrats’ way of saying Clinton would not appear on stage this night. Given she was such the hot favourite and had worked so long and hard for this moment, she’d have been too distraught. Only she could get away with it too. Imagine the hysteria if roles were reversed and Trump didn’t appear? At 0240 (1840 AET) Fox News would call Pennsylvania to officially push Trump over the line. Not long later news came through that Clinton called Trump and conceded, which filtered through to CNN for them to finally declare the election.

While I understand the networks need to be cautious and probably want to retain viewers for as long as possible, when the hours reach into the early morning like this it becomes ridiculous. What looked obvious to most people at 2230 took another four hours for a network to call it. At the very least, they should declare some scenarios and provide a likelihood of outcome when it gets this late. I believe the Associated Press called Pennsylvania about the same time as the New York Times, which effectively made Trump president. I guess that could show the print media’s desire of being first with the news. Even so, they did wait for Pennsylvania to push Trump over the line rather than accept 269-269 as the point much earlier in the night, which they could have announced was contingent on the house almost certainly deciding.

Despite much of the hysteria about the “white vote” that the racist, bigoted Trump was allegedly targeting, the white vote he received was 1% point lower than 2012 – 58% to 59%. Trump also increased his percentage of the latino and black vote by 2% points and 1% point respectively. Overall, his total vote was lower than the 2004 re-election of George W Bush (albeit a high turn-out election itself), and overall 4 million fewer people voted in this election than 2012. Percentage-wise, it was 55.4% of eligible voters, which is the lowest since 53.5% in 2004. Other years were 60% in 2012, 63.7% in 2008, 62.1% in 2004 and 56.6% in 2000. So it showed there was no mass energisation of a racist, white supremacist vote. It was all about those forgotten people – white, working class, and no doubt disenchanted former Democrats, that have seen their jobs shipped overseas. Many of whom had voted for Barack Obama twice too. Now they had a new voice. The theory that those votes would be offset by women going to Clinton proved false. Those college educated and often married women did not succumb to Clinton’s identity politics. They stayed at home.

The identity politics that worked so well for President Obama failed for Clinton. It wasn’t just those that didn’t fall into one of the cherished identities that took a stand against the disgusting paradigm. Those that did fall into it like blacks, latinos and women, many of them recoiled at their vote being taken for granted just because of their skin colour or gender, and stayed at home too. While we’re only talking a few percentage points in these cases, it, along with the increase in the white working class vote, proved crucial. Remember, Trump was supposed to have the record lowest return from these groups, not increase them from 2012 levels. White college educated women were particular scathing, showing that their education status does matter. To think they could be one group to fall for identity politics really overestimated the reach such a tactic and underestimated the character of these women.

The polls, what the heck happened there too? While John King on CNN said there was not a “hidden vote” for Trump, and some pollsters said the overall popular result was quite close to predicted and within the margin of error, King is looking at the white vote in total, and the big errors were within states. There was a hidden, or secret, vote for Trump. The reason it didn’t show in the total white vote is it was offset by white college educated women not voting. Even the overall popular vote, a margin of error is only relevant in an isolated poll, not a long trend. Consistently it showed Clinton up around 3% to 4% ahead, depending on the poll. At the time of writing, the election finished 47.8 to 47.3 for Clinton.

Within the key states, Wisconsin was 7.5% off polling averages, Ohio 5.1% off, Michigan 3.7% off and Pennsylvania 3% off. Wisconsin was the big shock. Through the long campaign, I can’t recall it ever mentioned, and Clinton snubbed it totally during her campaign. Probably the biggest clue something was up in those supposedly safe Democratic heartland was Clinton campaigning in Michigan in the final few days. It was reminiscent of Mitt Romney rushing to Florida in 2012 when all along it seemed he had that state in control. It seems there are good pollsters about. They work within the campaigns, that’s all.

Another indication that should prove useful in future analysis of raw polling data is looking at the reaction in the popular vote to many of Trump’s faux pas along the trail. While his figures would dip, Clinton’s would never rise, with Trump’s eventually recovering to their previous point. It showed she had a ceiling of about 46%, with much of the rest up for grabs, and Trump’s transgressions quickly forgotten, or ignored, for the bigger picture. Often the undecided vote swings big against the incumbent (which was Clinton as the Democrat running as Obama’s third term) because people typically have their opinion formed about them. So their decision is whether to vote for the opponent, or not vote at all.

The only notable poll that predicted the race was the USC Dornsife/LA Times tracking poll. It interviewed the same 3000 people all the time, rather than a new random bunch that is the system elsewhere. Interviewing the same people all the time meant they were comfortable expressing their views. While it was still technically wrong by showing Trump clear ahead (as much as 6% on occasions and 3% in its final poll), it was correct in showing there was a strong movement for Trump and enough of it to win the election. The primaries themselves were also a good predictor, with Republicans attending in record numbers and way above the Democrats, particularly significant in those rust-belt states like Michigan. Trump accumulated the most number of raw votes across all the primaries for a Republican candidate ever. Not bad considering he had 16 opponents initially, and four into Super Tuesday.

A quick note on the popular vote. It’s irrelevant that Clinton won it. If the popular vote was the system, candidates would campaign totally differently. They would camp in big population centres like California, New York, Florida and Texas. They would visit their respective friendly areas in those states to rally as many raw numbers as possible. The reason the electoral college system was devised was so election results would not be decided by those on the north east coast (as was the time). Smaller states like Nevada, Iowa, New Hampshire, Arizona and North Carolina would never get a look otherwise. You could entirely forget rural America too.

Exit polls were also a disaster. Clearly this “shy vote” for Trump was in force again, whereby people would lie or not even participate. It begs the question: What sort of a society do we live in that people are afraid to declare their voting habits? It’s this expression “political bigotry” that I often use whereby you are judged, even suffer discrimination, for your political views. Even if those views are benign that you voted for Trump simply for a change, you are apparently a bigot. Remember, this is a democracy, and you can’t have a vibrant one unless people can freely express their views and debate can be civilly engaged. It’s the modern day form of McCarthyism. Particularly nasty are the accusations and slurs against character, and the repression of certain political views. It’s an absolute disgrace and is now the new “in the closet”. Once to “come out” meant you were gay; now it’s you’re a Republican or conservative. Here’s hoping this election, along with the likes of Brexit, facilitates an end to this disgusting gag on our freedom of speech and political discourse.

Let’s not forget there were key issues at play in this election. The likes of the Affordable Healthcare Act (Obamacare), was an example of the politically elite establishment at work. A whopping big law of over 2000 pages merely to get the remaining 16% of the public insured down to the current 8.6%. Despite promises to the vast majority already covered of keeping existing plans, keeping existing doctors and that premiums would reduce, the exact opposite happened. Premiums have doubled in some states, and it was announced two weeks before the election they’ll be increasing again. Deductibles are way up, which meant you could pay $5000 out of pocket before insurance would kick in. To be eligible for the government exchanges, insurance plans needed to be comprehensive, which meant old, basic plans had to go for these new expensive premium ones. This was all intentional despite Obama’s constant promises. Businesses of a certain size and with employees working a certain number of hours per week were compelled to offer these same plans too. To avoid that, businesses would cap number of employees or their hours. Too often these people earned just a little too much to get subsidies in the exchanges. No wonder Bill Clinton, during the campaign, described Obamacare as “the craziest thing in the world”.

There are elements of the ACA that are good, like not denying people with preexisting conditions and allowing children to stay on their parents’ plans until age 26. No doubt Trump will keep some of these things, while trying to untangle the regulation mess everywhere else. Typically Americans were happy to have cheap “catastrophic” plans with low deductibles for things like cancer, and used health savings accounts or paid out of pocket for minor expenses. Returning this flexibility to the market will be one of the key objectives of the Trump administration.

Then there’s Hillary Clinton herself. Even before the late re-opening and quick closing by the FBI of her email scandal, her trust figures were horribly low. The damage was already done by the investigation itself and director James Comey’s conclusion. Even though he didn’t bring an indictment, his scathing findings that exposed a succession of Clinton lies were itself the indictment. While Trump often lied too, that spoke to his combative nature, not to being corrupt. Clinton rarely gave interviews other than to fluffball celebrities like Ellen DeGeneres. That just made Clinton seem even more aloof and elitist. Because she was so flawed, she can’t cite sexism as a reason for her loss either.

Finally, the “basket of deplorables” and “irredeemable” quote. That completed the narrative of a candidate and a party not only out of touch with much of America, also disdainful of it. While she apologised for it, her acolytes and supporters didn’t, preferring to continue the abusive tone. That she didn’t react was tacit approval of her comments. Even post election, Van Jones on CNN saying the election was a “white-lash” and kids will go to bed terrified, none of this has been condemned by either Clinton or Obama. If your kids are going to bed terrified, that’s an indictment on you, the parent, for telling them the wrong bedtime stories. Trump’s a president within a system of strict checks and balances, not a dictator, so it’s disgusting comments like that, including the ever-popular Hitler comparisons, that is the root of so much division. Still it continues, with violent anti-Democracy protests, abuse and the media in full tantrum mode. Keep it going, that only validates Trump’s victory further.

Clinton’s best moment came in her concession speech, where she asked people to accept Donald Trump as “our president” and keep an open mind. That was the second moment on this long election day and night (now after 3am in Australia!) a tear formed in my eye. I’ve always liked her and felt sorry for her. I know she’d have been tearing apart within. For the life of me I’ll never understand why she never handed over the email server to the FBI right from the start. Get the issue closed. Surely any potential secrets risked being exposed then rather than the issue dog her entire campaign. She really should have been president. In 2008, not 2016. That was her year. Unfortunately she was accosted by a celebrity candidate then too. That celebrity, Barack Obama, would have been better suited to 2016.

Newsweek prematurely declaring Hillary Clinton as Madam President

Newsweek prematurely declaring Hillary Clinton as Madam President

I love democracy. I love the United States. Americans were also asked to decide many initiatives down ballot. California had 17 at state level. Individual districts added more of their own. Yet here in pathetic Australia arguing over gay marriage plebiscite, just put it on the damn ballot at election time. Marijuana is the most common issue in recent times, with another 3 states legalising it for recreational use, a fourth still too close to call, and four legalising it for medical use. That’s now 29 that allow medical use and 8 (and Washington DC) allowing recreational use. Arizona rejected its measure for recreational use. California and Oklahoma kept their death penalty, while Nebraska restored theirs. Several states increased the minimum wage. Washington rejected a carbon tax – which would have been the first such tax in the USA. It would have start at $25 per ton and risen to $100 over 40 years. Colorado rejected universal government run healthcare! It shows you the resistance to such a scheme that Australians and Europeans have lived with for years. Americans are so skeptical of big government intrusion into their private lives, it’s that simple. Personally, it’s a wonderful trait. In California, there was also stiff resistance to the measure to force porn actors to wear condoms. It flopped.

Other than his politically incorrect and anti-establishment agenda, the wisest move from Trump was his stance on the Supreme Court and offering his probable nominations of justices should he be president. Christian America was very afraid of the court going left, and they rallied for Trump by over 80%. This was despite his flaws of multiple marriages and unsavoury antics like the Access Hollywood lewd tapes. As a group more under attack these days than forgotten, Christians, both Evangelical and Catholic, saw him as someone that would protect their traditions and specifically their right to religious expression. It helped the Republicans retain both houses of congress – the first time since 1928 they’ll hold all three levels of government. Specifically important was the senate, which was most at risk at being lost, and which confirms Supreme Court justices. President Obama said if Trump won it would be “a personal insult, an insult to my legacy”. Well, here we are. With 34 of 50 state governorships and a majority of state legislatures also in Republican hands, the Obama legacy is in tatters and orange is the new black. Welcome to Trumpmerica.

Hillary Clinton vs Donald Trump – An Idiot’s Guide

07 November 2016

Amazing that in a country as vast as the United States of America that you could end up two candidates as flawed and unpopular as Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. To think that Trump emerged from a field of 16 other candidates, of which many were successful governors and senators, while Clinton was so much her party’s anointed one that she scared all serious contenders away. Even worse than that, to finally win the nomination, they had to beat off even greater extremists – in Trump’s case it was the snarly ultra conservative Ted Cruz while for Clinton it was a little known socialist who wasn’t even a Democrat. It confirms the recent trend that while Americans get the president right, they don’t get the candidates right.

Part of the blame there is not only the primary system that favours extremists or establishment favourites, the protracted process means issues can change. You only need look to 2008 when both Barack Obama and John McCain were nominated primarily on their Iraq War stances. By the time the election came around, the Iraq War was mostly resolved and the issue became the economy. Both were clueless in this field, failing to even recognise the parlous situation. Yes, Clinton would have been the far better choice in 2008, with Obama more suited to 2016.

This time the blame for the sordid Clinton and Trump goes to the parties themselves. The Republican governors and senators were more eager to fight among themselves than go after Trump, believing his candidacy would only ever attract a fringe mob. The turning point in their primaries was the debate just before the New Hampshire primary where Chris Christie smashed Marco Rubio for being robotic. Rubio’s momentum out of Iowa collapsed and he never really recovered. With the Democrats, Bernie Sanders famously refused to grill Clinton over her email woes, nor even the unsavoury elements of the Clinton Foundation, preferring for the FBI investigation to handle the situation. Suffice to say had the Republicans attacked Trump and Sanders attacked Clinton right from the start, we’d have at least a different Republican – either Marco Rubio or John Kasich – standing for President of the USA today.

Republican vs Democrat

THE ISSUES

Immigration

Even though Trump created headlines with his talk of banning Muslims from entering the USA, his major cause was illegal immigration. He wants a wall and an end to “anchor babies”, or birthright citizenship (originally instituted to grant citizenship to slaves), while the Democrats want amnesty for the estimated 11 million people living illegally in the country. In truth, the Republicans are open to some sort of legal status for them too (refer to the “Gang of Eight” bill), with the exception that the border is secured first. This was the mistake made under the Ronald Reagan amnesty of 1986 and Republicans don’t want a repeat. Suffice to say the Democrats won’t have a bar of any secure border, much less a fence, so expect little action. In truth, both parties are probably happy with the status quo: Democrats get their open borders and Republicans get cheap cash-paid labour for their businesses and farms. Most of all, it’s such a popular wedge issue. Despite promises, Obama did nothing about immigration reform during the two years the Democrats had full control of congress. Little did he know such inaction would deliver Trump as the Democrats’ 2016 opponent. Both sides have also disgraced themselves with the wedge politics.

Trade

Trump’s other big issue. Much like illegal immigration, the constituency here is the traditional American worker that feels their country is leaving them behind. While Trump’s plan to renegotiate some deals has merit, the idea of reintroducing massive tariffs against countries “ripping America off” like China and Mexico is all bluster. Times have changed anyway, and those old industries won’t return. Sanders also agitated in this area, dragging Clinton to his and Trump’s position. Suffice to say the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), which involves Australia, is dead. In a philosophical sense, these massive multi-country deals are a mess and difficult to ensure every country plays fair. You saw some of this play out with Brexit, so look to a future of bilateral deals and less globalisation in general.

Rigged System

Trump and Sanders were all over this, and both were right. Sanders never had a chance because of the Super Delegate system in the Democratic Party, while Trump was constantly at odds with the Republican party for their lack of support. Lately Trump has targeted the media with claims of bias and unfair treatment. While there might be some validity there regarding the overwhelming negativity and the curious late release of the Access Hollywood lewd tapes, he’s quickly forgotten all the free media he received during the primaries.

Affordable Care Act (Obamacare)

Essentially it’s a law that subsidises private health insurance companies and individuals on a low income. It’s a messy law and probably designed to fail so the nirvana of a public healthcare option and then a nationwide single payer system like Australia’s Medicare starts. The ACA fails because for insurers to provide the coverage demanded to be in the government exchanges, they need everyone – particular the young and healthy – buying insurance. Too few have so that’s created a “death spiral” of higher premiums, more people dropping out, and more insurers leaving the exchanges. The fine (or “tax” as was the deciding vote in the Supreme Court over the law being constitutional) to force people to buy insurance is too small to have effect. Since insurers can’t deny those with a prior condition anymore, most people will pay the fine and buy insurance only when sick. If the fine is raised enough to make buying insurance almost compulsory, then you may as well have a public option anyway! The ACA is not much of a vote winner because the vast majority of people get their healthcare either through their employers, Medicare (the elderly) or Medicaid (the poor). The other problem is the Republicans don’t have an alternative anyway.

Supreme Court

The Republican Party has probably given up the presidency (even if Trump wins!) and their key concern is holding the senate. Defending 24 of the 34 seats up for grabs this cycle, they only have a buffer of five (or four if the Democrats win the presidency). The Democrats are almost certain to pick up 3 seats and are the slightest of favourites to regain control. With probably two, possibly up to four, Supreme Court justices going over the next four years, it’s a crucial time. Sadly, the court has become political, with many major decisions finishing 5/4 on party lines. There are exceptions like Obamacare and Gay Marriage where the two swing conservative justices helped those cases succeed. With Obamacare, the way out by Justice Roberts of calling a fine a “tax” was to absolve the court of a final decision and push the issue back onto the people for the 2012 election. With the current court 4/4 after the conservative Justice Scalia died earlier in the year, a Democratic president and senate will see the court go left. The fear for Republicans is that it will become even more activist in nature than its original intent of being guardians of the constitution. Note: the constitution can be changed by the states, has been done so many times before, and so should be the process in future.

Hillary Clinton’s Emails

All Clinton had to do was hand over the server. Instead she lied about its use, lied that she was given permission to set it up, lied that it was for convenience, lied that no confidential emails were sent through it, and lied that she handed over all the work-related emails to the FBI. Subsequently it’s been revealed she didn’t want some emails going public, particularly personal ones. One problem: these “personal ones” would include those associated with the Clinton Foundation and possible “pay to play” while Secretary of State, and these are the ones all along she wanted to keep hidden. Most people have factored this scandal into their decision, so the FBI’s reopening of the case just over a week ago and then closing it again this week won’t matter much. The only damage that can come now will be during a Clinton presidency if there’s discoveries of corruption within the Clinton Foundation.

The Presidency

Little do most people realise the role of the president is over-stated, with their role primarily being head of the executive branch of government and the commander-in-chief. Other than in foreign affairs and being a figurehead for their country and their party, they have little real influence. They can’t make laws; that’s the role of congress. They are there to sign or veto bills, and even if they veto a bill, congress can still pass it again with a veto-proof majority. As much as Obama whinged about congress being obstructionist, they can easily say he’s obstructionist. The house of representatives is the people’s house, and the senate is the house of revision for the states. It really is more a character test, and it’s this reason that both Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump should have no right to even be this close to the presidency.

THE RACE

The only way Trump will win is if there’s this much vaunted “shadow vote” out there. These are people that have never voted before, and provided false voting intentions to polling companies or were not polled at all. They are mostly white, male working class voters, and potentially many former Democrats. Otherwise, there’s no reason not to believe the polls. Things like margin of error and over-sampling certain demographics are irrelevant when looking at long term trends. Clinton has consistently been in front, particularly in the states that matter. Trump also must overcome a huge discrepancy in ground operations, advertising and positive media coverage. If he somehow wins, it will be one for the true believers. Personally, I’d probably laugh and look forward to the chaos. Imagine the Donald addressing the United Nations? The mischievous side of me is rooting for him. Of course, Hillary would be an interesting president too. I’ve always liked her and as the first woman she’d be a tangible change in the White House whereas Obama was only a symbolic one. Considering my main interest in US politics is it’s the best reality TV around, it’s been a fascinating election season and the result either way is a win.

usa1

This is the current state of the Electoral College. Under the US system, each state is worth a certain amount of electoral college votes based on their population. California has the most with 55 while the smallest states only have 3. There are 538 votes in total and it takes a majority, or 270, to win the presidency. If no candidate reaches 270 the house of representatives – likely to be retained by the Republicans – decide. Suffice to say, for Trump to have any hope of becoming president, he must hold all the states Mitt Romney won in 2012. The only state of concern is North Carolina, where he’s level or just behind. The close race between Trump and the independent in Utah doesn’t matter because if a loss there prevents Trump reaching 270, he will be elected by the house anyway.

Path A

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The simplest path for Trump is to win Florida (FL) in the south east, and Ohio (OH) and Pennsylvania (PA) in the mid-east. His problem is he’s never been close in PA. In FL, he’s currently 50/50 or just behind while in OH he’s just ahead.

Path B, Step 1

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While Trump looks unlikely to win Pennsylvania, he’s likely to win Iowa (IA). That only brings him to 259. The swiftest path to victory from there would be to pick up a state in the rust belt, or “The Blue Wall”, of Minnesota (MN), Wisconsin (WI) or Michigan (MI). MN or WI will take him to 269, while MI takes him to 275. He’s not polling well enough in any of those states, so he needs another option. Remember, a candidate needs 270 outright to win the presidency.

Path B, Step 2

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This is the more likely path and involves picking up Nevada (NV) in the mid-west for 6 electoral votes and New Hampshire (NH) in the upper north-east for 4 electoral votes. He’s an increasingly stronger chance in NV and is closing the gap in NH. At 269, he’s still one vote short of winning the presidency outright. If he misses either or both of those states, his last remaining hope would be Colorado’s (CO) 9 votes. That would push him over the line if losing either NV or NH, or leave him on 268 if losing both. Polls are showing CO is more likely Democratic.

Path B, Step 3

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Look to the bottom right corner of the map for a legend representing Maine (ME) and Nebraska (NE). These are the only two states that divide their electoral votes. With Nebraska safe Republican, the target here is Maine. They award one vote for each of their two congressional districts and two votes for winning statewide. While the Democrats will win statewide and one of the districts, Trump is after that loan vote in the southern district that borders with New Hampshire. He’s been campaigning heavily there and is a chance.

Remember, these paths only work if Trump holds all the Romney states. If he loses North Carolina, he must pick up one of the Blue Wall states as cover. If he loses Florida, it’s all over. He’d need 3 Blue Wall states as cover. The thing is, Florida is somewhat a predictor, so unless this election goes really crazy on the day (no surprise given everything that’s happened so far), if Trump is failing there he will fail in the remaining battleground states. Polls begin to close from 11am Wednesday Australian eastern time. Those polls include the Florida peninsula and, at 11.30, North Carolina and Ohio. If Trump is doing poorly in any of those states, conceivably by midday we’ll know if the election is heading towards a Clinton victory. Otherwise, hold on to your seats until 2pm when Nevada closes its polls. The election won’t be officially called until after 3pm when the west coast states close their polls.

CNN or FOX?

Despite being so maligned in this country (no doubt primarily by people that never watch it), Fox News does provide a professional, slick and comprehensive news coverage and analysis. You only need look at Chris Wallace moderating the third presidential debate as evidence, and I can confirm he’s as tough and fair like that on his weekly show. There’s also Megyn Kelly, who might even be more tougher, and made headlines over her public stoush with Trump. It’s Fox’s opinion shows that skew right, particularly the morning show Fox & Friends and Hannity, the active Republican party supporter, at 10pm. Despite Trump labelling CNN the Clinton News Network, they play it straight too, and have the excellent Anderson Cooper. Australia gets CNN International so the only opinion/talk shows generally seen are Fareed Zakaria GPS and Amanpour, which do skew left. I’m an avid viewer of both channels and generally flick between both during elections. If history is a guide, CNN will have a better presentation and graphics, while Fox has better analysts. CNN has too many analysts to begin with, and their guests are often too shrill or partisan. While you do need a biased perspective from both sides, it should not be at the expense of rational thought.

MY VOTE

I have warmed to Trump’s political incorrectness. His crap about banning Muslims was effective in the fact he was prepared to say such things, not that it was a rational or realistic policy. Frequent readers of this blog or my twitter will know I’m sick of elitists telling us how to behave, act and even think, with particular emphasis on our egregious nanny state. Trump’s big disqualifier was the third debate when he wouldn’t commit to accepting the election result if he lost. As a firm believer in democracy, that shut the door. If I was American and could vote, it would be Clinton. Call me sexist, I’d vote Clinton partly to be part of history (much like Julia Gillard here), and also that I believe she’ll make a decent president. She won’t be partisan like Obama and will be prepared to work with congress. As for down the ticket, I’d go Republican. That’s primarily because the nation needs another four years to sort itself out and that neither party, after their recent miserable records, deserve to be rewarded with unfettered power. I’ve come to accept these days that government gridlock is better than government action.

Melbourne Cup 2016 – The Verdict

31 October 2016

Preview (scroll down for the Review)

For anyone that’s read my Melbourne Cup preview for the past few years, they’d probably think “this guy is clueless”. In a sense that’s true, because for the few years this blog has been running the predictions have been poor. While last year can be forgiven considering a 100/1 shot won, which would have been missed by anyone using rational thought, and Admire Rakti was beset by a heart problem during the 2014 race that Protectionist won, Sea Moon was a poor pick in 2013 when comparing its form against the eventual winner Fiorente, and 2012 (Green Moon) was wipeout. Before that it was hit with Dunaden (2011) and Americain (2010).

About last year’s Cup, it was a slowly run race, which not only helped Prince Of Penzance win, it hurt the chances so many others, including Fame Game from Japan, the favourite. For some trainers and even one horse, 2016 is a year of redemption.

To repeat my usual guidelines:
1) Look for horses with form at, or near, the distance of 3200m
2) Look for horses in recent form
3) Look for horses with enough class
4) Look for horses that have, or are likely to, run well  in Australia
5) Ignore horses that have failed in the Cup before

Eight horses are back from the 2015 Cup, which is an unusually high number. Theoretically, if you follow rule 5, a third of the field is disqualified.

There’s also another rule, or trend, developing: The Caulfield Cup is a rubbish form reference. No Melbourne Cup winner has come through it since Delta Blue’s third in 2006, and the last Caulfield Cup winner to win the Melbourne Cup was Ethereal in 2001. Before that was Let’s Elope in 1991. Incidentally, both were mares with a light weight. It’s become so poor because many horses either skip the race, leaving it for lower grade horses or those using it as a hit out. Only four from this year’s race will even contest the Melbourne Cup.

Melbourne Cup field of 2016

Melbourne Cup field of 2016

I’ll award each horse Yes, Maybe or No for their chance to win. (I) denotes an international visitor, (R) denotes a return runner.

01 Big Orange $14 (IR)

The best credentialled international visitor, and  fifth last year. The connections rued the slow pace last year, which is ironic considering Big Orange made the pace. They admit the error of going too slow, which saw them out-sprinted at the end. There won’t be the same mistake this year. Big Orange is a grinder so he needs a fast pace and keep sticking on. I imagine the race pattern could be similar to 2006 when Delta Blues ran ahead off a strong pace and was unable to be caught. Yes

02 Our Ivanhowe $51 (R)

Form not good enough. No.

03 Curren Mirotic $34 (I)

The only Japanese horse this year. No 9yo has ever won it (9yo by Australian measure, 8.5 in actuality) and so inconsistent with his form. At his best can win. Came a narrow second in super fast over the 3200m of Tenno Sho three starts back. Then returned an 11th and 9th in his next two starts. Will most likely lead as the unofficial pacemaker for Big Orange. (Reluctantly) Maybe.

04 Bondi Beach $9 (IR)

Ran poorly last year, so that should disqualify him. He’s been set specifically, and is a year more mature after racing last year as a 3yo. Would not be so short if not for the trainer, jockey and owner, Aiden O’Brian, Ryan Moore and Lloyd Williams, respectively. Also add a few points for the iconic Australian name itself. He’s been specifically set for the race and while many experts rate him a good chance, for me it’s a reluctant Maybe.

05 Exospheric $20 (I)

In the hands of the Freedman’s now, he’s only a recent arrival so I still class as an international in terms of analysing for this race. While he was OK in the Caulfield Cup, that race’s form history is now poor and, of course, the winner was far more impressive. No.

06 Hartnell $5 (R)

The favourite, and the best horse in terms of class and form in the race. His issue is the distance, especially that he flopped in last year’s Cup. While, like stated prior, that was an odd race being run so slowly, he’s improved vastly since then anyway. Has the look of the 2013 winner, Fiorente, who also came through the WFA races and finished second in the Cox Plate. In the 2000m Turnbull Stakes prior to that, Hartnell destroyed the eventual Caulfied Cup winner. Yes.

07 Who Shot Thebarman $34 (R)

Third two years ago was his shot at it. Class never there, and form not as good either. No.

08 Wicklow Brave $15 (I)

Trainer Willie Mullins has a knack of travelling horses here and getting them to perform. Also has Frankie Dettori on board. Arguably the pair should have won last year with Max Dynamite. Won the Irish St Leger at his last start over Order Of St George. One of the top hopes. Yes.

09 Almoonqith $21 (R)

Ran 18th last year and doubt he’s ever had the last class, and this year form not as good. No.

10 Gallante $51

Sydney Cup winner so will run the distance. Class is the issue, and recent form average. No.

11 Grand Marshal $41 (R)

Another Sydney stayer. Winning the Moonee Valley Cup last start shows his form is solid. Class the problem. No.

12 Jameka $8.50

Devastating winner of the Caulfield Cup. Like the last two horses that did the Caulfield-Melbourne Cup double, is a mare with a light weight. It’s these reasons that I rate her among the top chances. Note she’s the only Australian bred horse in the field too. Named after Serena Jameka Williams, apparently because they share similarly big bums. Yes.

13 Heartbreak City $17 (I)

Last start won the Ebor Handicap, the closest Britain has to our Melbourne Cup. It’s a race not of the same standard, it hasn’t been a great form reference, and horse was well weighted. Won its previous two starts too, albeit hurdle races. Has it acclimatised too? You won’t know until the day. No.

14 Sir John Hawkwood $81

Won the Metropolitan in Sydney, which has as much relevance to the Melbourne Cup as the Bathurst 1000. Last start 10th in the Caulfield Cup. No.

15 Excess Knowledge $71 (R)

Ran OK last year to finish 7th. Form poor this year. No.

16 Beautiful Romance $81 (I)

Always skeptical of international mares (none have performed well that I can recall), and form barely average. No.

17 Almandin $11

Last two runs have been wins in local staying races. Question the class of those fields, and therefore the horse. The lightweight is responsible for his shortish odds. (Reluctant) No.

18 Assign $61

Similar form around Almandin, except was beaten convincingly by Almandin, hence the far juicier odds. No.

19 Grey Lion $51 (I)

Second in the Geelong Cup. It depends whether that’s a form reference this year. Other than the occasional hits – 2002 (Media Puzzle), 2010 (Americain) and 2011 (Dunaden) – it’s a hindrance more than a help. If you like the Geelong Cup, there’s two other horses drawing a bigger spotlight anyway. An international that will remain in Australia. (Only because it’s a grey) Maybe.

20 Oceanographer $8 (I)

Superb winner on Saturday to qualify for the Melbourne Cup after a close third in the Geelong Cup. That wasn’t the plan for this international visitor, so the big issue is whether he can run three big races in 13 days. Maybe.

21 Secret Number $31 (I)

The form looks superb with the last 5 starts being 1, 2, 1, 2 and 1. The problem is that it’s over 3 years! He’s only run one other race this year, with the previous race being the second place on the Queens Cup at last year’s Spring Carnival in Melbourne. Very tricky to place. Need to go on trust the stable can produce him on the day and, if so, especially down in the weights, a strong chance. Yes.

22 Pentathlon $126

Class and form queries. The price says it all. No

23 Qewy $26 (I)

The Geelong Cup winner, so if you fancy Oceanographer, you must fancy this. Maybe.

24 Rose Of Virgina $101

Never heard of it until I saw the Melbourne Cup field. It’s really a $201 chance. There must be sympathy money on it. No.

Summary

Five horses marked Yes: Big Orange, Hartnell, Wicklow Brave, Jameka and Secret Number.

Five horses marked Maybe: Curren Mirotic, Bondi Beach, Grey Lion, Oceanographer and Qewy.

Hartnell is the clear favourite with the public at $5, with Oceanographer ($8) and Jameka ($8.50) next. Oceanographer is exaggerated because of that big win on Saturday. For value (and that possible distance doubt), I’ll prefer Jameka over Hartnell, and hope it’s a return to form for the Caulfield Cup as a form reference. Otherwise, I’m writing it off forever! Again for value and also Big Orange already had a go last year, I’ll prefer Wicklow Brave over Big Orange for my second bet. I’ll also take small pot shots at Secret Number and Grey Lion.

The five “Yes” horses will go into my 5-horse boxed trifecta, while I’ll exclude Secret Number for my boxed First 4.

Remember, it’s only gambling if you lose!

 

Review

Final Results

01 Almandin
02 Heartbreak City
03 Hartnell
04 Qewy
05 Who Shot Thebarman
06 Almoonqith
07 Beautiful Romance
08 Exopheric
09 Pentathlon
10 Big Orange
11 Grand Marshal
12 Oceanographer
13 Bondi Beach
14 Grey Lion
15 Jameka
16 Excess Knowledge
17 Our Ivanhowe
18 Sir John Hawkwood
19 Assign
20 Gallante
21 Wicklow Brave
22 Curren Mirotic
23 Secret Number
24 Rose Of Virginia

I ended up changing from Jameka to Hartnell. The odds improved and the doubts about Jameka grew larger. It didn’t matter ultimately, as Hartnell finished a well defeated third. It was a good race for him, with the 4kg difference in weights proving the decisive factor between him and the winner, Almandin. The race was exciting itself with Almandin and Heartbreak City duelling to the finish line.

To continue my poor run of predictions, I had both Almandin and Heartbreak City a “No”. The class was always the issue, which means it’s the second year in a row a low weight overcame a class deficiency. In some ways, it’s a return to the Melbourne Cup of old, where horses would try and beat the handicapper to get into the Cup with a light weight and peak on the day. Does that mean we should begin to revise our guidelines for picking winners? Maybe. If a horse has won decisively at its last start, then that’s form you can trust.

Some rules were reinforced, particularly previous runners. All ran to their past performance, if not worse. While Hartnell in third, Almoonqith in fourth and Who Shot Thebarman in fifth were good, Big Orange was poor in 10th and let’s not mention Bondi Beach, Grand Marshal, Excess Knowledge and Our Ivanhowe. Hartnell is probably the exception anyway in that he clearly improved in form since the last Cup. He was a super horse in comparison and was unlucky that two sneaks produced on the day.

Horses that haven’t run in Australia before, again, it’s wise to ignore them. While they’ve come close like Heartbreak City today and Red Cadeaux in 2011, they mostly fail: Bondi Beach, Beautiful Romance, Secret Number, Wicklow Brave and Curren Mirotic. Even if one wins one day, that will be a rare exception you cop. After all, these rules are more guidelines, and horses aren’t machines.

The Geelong Cup, again, was a poor reference. While Qewy was good in fourth, Grey Lion and Oceanographer failed. The latter also only had 3 days to recover from Saturday’s win, which is alien to European horses. Much like the situation with Almandin’s and Heartbreak City’s recent wins, winners in Geelong need to dominate it, or be highly credentialled horses.

Distance: Most of them don’t run it out. Arguably even Hartnell you could say didn’t quite stay. The likes of Jameka, especially, if you have doubts, leave them out.

Class: Reinforced again with the likes of Who Shot Thebarman, Pentathlon and Grand Marshal. While they can run 3200, they can’t run it fast enough. Also be wary of plodders, or horses without a sprint. For all Big Orange’s ability to run a solid 3200, it’s pointless if several horses sprint past him in the straight. Curiously, Big Orange’s jockey blamed the pace. Last year it was blamed for being too slow when finishing fifth. This year it seemed fast enough and they only managed tenth. Excuses. Maybe he’s not good enough.

The Caulfield Cup: Yep, time to write it off as any sort of form reference.

The Japanese: It might be time to write them off too. Since the 1-2 in 2006, they’ve been a disaster.

Other than Hartnell in third, my picks were a wipeout. Wicklow Brave ran wide all the way, with Frankie Dettori saying the horse felt “flat”. More likely Frankie “flattened” him. To think he and Heartbreak City were in the widest barriers together, yet the latter ended up beautifully just off the fence midfield, while the latter was running 10 wide out of the straight the first time. A debacle of a ride. My outsider of Secret Number proved that: a secret, and just a number. Took the lead around the home bend and folded. It really is the last time I get seduced by an international horse without a run in Australia first.

I’m not the only stooge either. Only one of Channel 7’s “experts” on the day picked Almandin to win. Bruce McAvaney picked Almandin on the Sunday preview show. Several of the panel on ABC’s Offsiders had Almandin second or third, with the combined tally being Hartnell, Jameka and Almandin. On Sky Racing only Glenn Munsie from TAB had Almandin to win, while Ron Dufficy had it third. The other three panelists ignored it. Racing.com was similar with only one of the six experts selecting it to win, with one for third. Across those four media outlets, only a handful slotted Heartbreak City for a place, while Hartnell was the overwhelming top pick for most. It means the horses are far more reliable than the experts.

A good Melbourne Cup overall. You like to see a good race, a relatively popular winner and a nice story. We got a bit of all of that. Almandin was around fifth most popular in the betting and paying $11.80, the race was close to the end, and who can knock Lloyd Williams winning his fifth Cup? He has put so much money into the industry for approximately 40 years, that he deserves it. Nice to see he was trackside too for a change. He must have known something, the wily old bugger.

Living under a mandatory bicycle helmet law regime

23 October 2016

One of the biggest gripes when the subject of mandatory helmet laws for bicycles is discussed is that the mandatory helmet law is not discussed at all. Too often the debate morphs into the effectiveness of helmets themselves, or to helmet advocacy. If you can be prised away from that, you might discuss more relevant points about freedom, perception of danger that helmets cause and the deterrent factor to cycling itself. Rarely discussed is the basic principle of the law – to make an activity illegal and to use the full brunt of the law and legal system to ensure citizens comply.

Mandatory helmet law poster - Victoria

The dawn of the oppressive and disastrous mandatory helmet regime

Four weeks ago, a nice sunny, spring day, I thought I’d ride into town – helmet free of course. There’s nothing that provides as much pleasure as cruising about on bicycle, enjoying the weather, meeting with associates, and then enjoying the ride home. My home city of Melbourne actually has decent paths, albeit often shared with pedestrians, connecting with the CDB. The Beach Road bike path is 100% for cyclists so is my favourite. Despite this great pleasure, such an excursion was only the second of two I’d done in six years. Why? The helmet law.

It wasn’t always the case. When Australia enacted helmet laws in the early 1990s, I considered it a joke. Surely the police will have better things to do. After about a year I learnt this was wrong when ambushed by a motorbike cop on the Beach Road bike path. When the officer asked why I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I promptly told him it’s a road rule and I wasn’t on the road. I figured that was a quite legitimate response too. He kindly informed me the law applies everywhere. The $20 fine wasn’t a great burden then so, along with the rarity of being caught, I considered it irrelevant, and that was despite already owning two helmets.

Even before the law started, helmets were becoming popular, and my first was a white Rosebank Stackhat. These were hardshell helmets with small vents and quite hot. I had taken it on the 1986 Great Victorian Bike Ride – a 9 day organised ride across the state – and it spent most of its time tied to the back rack of my 12 speed Raleigh bike bought at K-Mart a year or two earlier. That bike appealed because of the Raleigh brand, even though it was probably a generic Taiwan special. It had a few nice extras like like alloy crankset, gooseneck and brakes to justify the extra $70 over the normal $200 of K-Mart bikes. Eventually I bought mudguards and added toe-clips for it as it became my bike for everything and anything.

Before the Raleigh, as a kid I had a Hallmark 24 inch flat-bar single speed with a foot-brake, and later a 3-speed 27 inch with BMX style handlebars. That was bought for $50 from a cousin, while the 24 inch was a Christmas present when 9 years old. Suffice to say I loved riding about, and used both bikes on my newspaper route and for general transport. There was nothing I wouldn’t carry on either of these bikes, including a 60x30x30cm aquarium! I carried that under the arm and rode one-handed. Even the Raleigh bike, that was brought home wheeled beside me as I rode one handed.

For the 1987 GVBR, I didn’t take the Stackhat at all. Also, becoming inspired by Tour de France footage on TV and becoming more interested in bicycles in general, I acquired another bike – a racing bike built from a Reynolds 531c frame I bought secondhand for $190 and various parts I had spare or bought. This bike lasted for nearly 30 years, using it for school and then to work, and became my pride and joy. Now out of school, I didn’t do the next few GVBRs. The helmet law would then kill any ideas of doing another as an adult. I felt the idea of sitting on the bike for several hours a day in a hot, suffocating helmet intolerable.

With my red Reynolds 531c bike, I started to do triathlons, as this was the easiest way to live my TDF inspirations . I bought clip-on Scott DH aero bars for $120, which had become all the rage at the time. I also bought a Bell V1 Pro helmet for the mandatory helmet requirements of these races, primarily because of the large vents. It was still a hard shell, as was the standard of the time. I rarely wore it at other times, which was mostly riding the 5km to work and the occasional training ride along Beach Road. Typically that would be to Brighton Baths and back to Port Melbourne – about 20km. Later I’d work in Brighton and would always race home for “training”, with my fastest ever time for the 10km to Station Pier being 12:52 for a 47kph average speed. Typically my time was 15 minutes, depending on wind conditions. Suffice to say my best triathlon distances were the sprint types under an hour. I never trained for the other disciplines, other than doing a few casual runs in the week of a race to loosen the running muscles. I was happy to finish the swim leg in the lower 20% and then blitz the field on the bike and hold my place on the run to finish in the top third overall. I was happy to wear the helmet too. Races were held in the cool early morning and I could pour cold water over my head if required.

The triathlons lasted a few seasons until I was retrenched and stopped riding totally. I didn’t work for 2 years and eventually went back to school. Only occasionally I’d get the old girl out for nostalgia, usually along the bike path adjacent to Beach Road. Always I had the nagging thought of an encounter with the police, so if I was waning on motivation to ride, the helmet law would make the decision for me.

Mandatory helmet laws in action - punishing people with huge fines

The mandatory helmet regime in action – punishing people with huge fines for merely going about their daily business. Image: Daily Telegraph

It wasn’t until the late 1990s that, after becoming a blob and gaining so much weight, I began regularly riding again – to work. This was in the eastern suburbs of Melbourne, from Mitcham to Hawthorn. I had no qualms about wearing the Bell V1 Pro, especially since some of the route involved busy Whitehorse Road and I would race trams, sometimes at speeds over 60kph, on the downhill going home. My dream was to get ticketed – for speeding! I wouldn’t wear the helmet on a warm day despite my belief the fine would have increased from $20 in the 8 years since the last one, nor would I ride so recklessly on such days.

My first encounter with police after resuming my riding took about 6 months. It was a glorious April day with temperatures in the high 20s. A motorbike cop was already parked behind Box Hill hospital and waved me over. No trouble, because I was proud to exercise my basic rights to ride as I felt. When he asked why I wasn’t wearing a helmet, I proudly said, “Because I choose not to wear one!”. If you’ve ever seen the Seinfeld episode, The Race, when Jerry proclaimed “I choose not to race”, this was the context I made my stand. Stunned at this response, the officer inquired further. I told him it’s too hot. He said he had to wear one. I told him he wasn’t peddling that thing. I also explained that I was a safe rider, using this back street and I always wore it at other times or, if it was too hot, I would not ride at all. He let me go.

That fact of being a safe rider really was the key. Despite loathe to wear a helmet, and even with sports cycling mentality, I was very safety conscious, particularly to the environment, and rode defensively. I avoided busy roads where possible and was very observant. The times when I choose to ride like a lunatic, it was only when conditions warranted. Racing trams was only possible because of the clearway on Whitehorse Road, and even at high school along the freeway style section of Dandenong Road that goes under the St Kilda junction, there was an entire spare lane available. Mind you, a helmet might have come in handy the day a students lobbed D-cell batteries at me from the tram. I recall one hitting the wall and ricocheted clear of me. The worst crashes I had were hitting a dog and a rock. The dog incident badly bruised my hip and grazed an elbow, while the rock, which happened at night, was only a grazed elbow. Oh, I hit a mouse once. No injuries there, at least not to me.

It wasn’t long after the Box Hill incident that I moved to the Bentleigh area, in the south eastern suburbs. We were only in Mitcham out of necessity. I had acquaintance in SE Melbourne, saw the roads were quite pleasant, many with painted bike lanes, and about 11km, as distinct from 17km, the shorter commute meant I could do it every day. In Mitcham it was only 2 or 3 times per week. Not only did I move across town for safer and more frequent riding, I was now beginning work at 10.30am so to avoid all the crazy traffic! This is the part about helmet laws that really grate: I make far more import decisions about safety that merely strapping it on a foam hat. Arguably I’m safer than most commuters regardless of wearing a helmet. Australia seems to think safety is all about helmets. It’s only in recent years that it’s finally catching on that separation from is the key safety measure, not an inch of foam on your head.

Around 2005, on one stinking hot day, I was finally pulled again over for the heinous crime of riding without a helmet. I gave the same story as in Box Hill, albeit not as brashly. I explained the heat simply made helmets too hot, I knew the law, and accepted the punishment. Asked if I had ID, I falsely said no. Like I said, I accepted I broke the law, so gladly gave my name and address. After being issued the ticket, for some reason, the officer, a rookie, had second thoughts, and wanted to go through my saddle bag. He never said why. I told him to keep his hands clear. He opened it, felt in, and pulled out my underwear (remember, I’m on my red Reynolds complete with bike knicks and cleated shoes from my triathlon days). He spotted my wallet and wanted to go through it. I refused. The other cop then appeared, a senior one, to check on this sudden commotion, and gave me the spiel about identification. I told him I gave it and will pay the fine right now. He said without proof of identity, they’ll need to take me to the police station until I can prove myself. Fine by me, I said. Shocked at this he then suggested if there was someone to ring now. I told him my boss. They confirmed my identity and off I went. It was quite an experience. The fine was now $50, which I figured if I can keep to one per year was fair enough for a “helmet choice tax”.

Several years of carefree cycling continued. While I often saw police cars, they didn’t pull me over. I’d ride everyday to work with a helmet, except if it was hot. Hot was sort of anything above 30 and might have only equated to 10 days per year that I’d leave it home. Even on warmish days, I’d remove it for the last km or, hang it on the handlebars, so to cool down. I figured it’s better to hang it than not bring it at all, because police would be more tolerant. True enough, the occasional one overtaking would yell to put the helmet on. That I did, before removing it once it became irritating again.

During winter I would wear the helmet all the time, primarily for warmth. If I had to wear something, why not a helmet? Besides, I’m not an idiot to think it would never help. It’s the same reason I bought a Stackhat all those years ago. Committed to daily commuting now, I also swallowed my pride and added mudguards to the Reynolds. I was becoming more pragmatic about riding and less focused about image. The mudguards were the detachable type, with the rear one extended by using a second set and permanently fixed and the front one attached only if raining. My only other riding now was the odd shopping or errand on the Raleigh, and the very rare weekend ride along the beach – because I simply refused to destroy the joy of these rides by wearing a helmet. The Raleigh had lost the mudguards by now, spare alloy wheels were added, and was reduced to a six-speed and the toe-clips removed to make it more utility type. I wouldn’t wear a helmet while shopping because it was such a hassle to hang or lock it, and I certainly didn’t want to be a dork and wear it while walking around as is a popular cultural phenomenon in this backwards country. The old 3-speed was long gone, except for the Sturmey Archer hub. I had ideas about building a new bike around it in the future. The Hallmark from my childhood? I still own.

Raleigh 12-speed bicycle

My original Raleigh 12-speed bicycle – in its final form

The year of 2010 was pivotal. Riding merely 500 metres to the local shops on the Raleigh, coming home I spotted a cop car waiting to turn left as I crossed the road. Panicked, I rode onto the footpath thinking, with it much safer there than the road, it might diminish the seriousness of the crime. No chance. In fact, the police kindly informed me being on the footpath was illegal. I asked the fine for the helmet crime, expecting around $50 still. When it was announced as $156, I exclaimed “WHAT!”, and the officer said the fines all recently went up. I was fuming. $156 for merely riding to the shops. Ridiculous!

Even though I was an entrenched Labor voter, I vowed to never vote for them again at state level for their disgraceful actions. I had seen the news about fines increased, with the Premier all smug that cyclists would be treated as seriously as all “vehicles”. I thought that was for serious offences like blasting through a red light or pedestrian crossing. With a state election imminent too, a few weeks later a candidate stopped me at the supermarket to discuss it. I checked her sign, saw Liberal, and told her not to worry, she has my vote and I’m never voting Labor again. She was a nurse so was a bit bemused by my stance on helmet crime. She was happy at least to get my vote. I was over-joyed that Labor were booted out in a minor upset, with my seat won by a whisker and it one of the crucial swing seats to fall. Even though the helmet law was irrelevant to the government’s demise, my conscience felt vindicated. Four years later I sort of broke my anti-Labor vow. With the Liberal government achieving nothing, I voted informal.

Within a year, I got my next fine. This time within a kilometre from work. Still with the trusty Bell V1 Pro, it was hanging on my handlebars after it became intolerable on the warm, humid day. The cops were highway patrol – in flashy, fancy marked cars – and I quickly learnt these guys were no mercy. Despite it obvious the helmet was extensively worn and I was showing signs of being affected by the heat, I got a ticket. In fact, they argued that if motorists can tolerate seatbelts and professional road racers can manage helmets, so could I. As if! A seatbelt doesn’t compare to an oppressive foam hat strapped to your head, and since when am I a professional athlete with support vehicles following to pour water over my head? I contested the fine by writing a letter, citing my close proximity to work meant I wouldn’t remove it unless it was necessary. It was refused so I paid it. I was now thinking $156 might be the “helmet choice tax” and one per year would still be acceptable.

With those two ridiculous fines, the big change now was the termination of my recreational weekend riding and any riding for errands. I was restricted to the short commute to work. I tried one weekend to ride along the beach path south as far as it went, saw a cop car going the other way, so veered down one of the beach access paths in a minor panic. I didn’t need the stress. Now needing to rely on a car more, the old Sigma I owned had to go. I bought a secondhand 1999 Lancer in its place and began to use that for shopping and errands and visiting associates.

Despite the trauma of these fines, I still felt that if it was a hot day I could ride to work without a helmet – that the police would be sympathetic. Wrong! It wasn’t long until the next altercation. This time the officer seemed to sympathise, and let me go on my way. Then about 2 months later I got a “reminder” in the mail for a fine not paid. Apparently the officer still issued the fine once back at the station, and probably mailed it. I never got it. I wrote to explain that if you’re to issue a reminder, at least issue a fine in the first place. Upon rejection I wrote again to reaffirm the situation, and to at least issue the original fine. I got the next stage of a court order, complete with more costs. I again wrote that I was never issued a fine in the first place and there’s no way I’ll pay anything with extra costs. They sent another court order before I finally ticked the box to hear it at court.

At court, I told the police prosecutors my story, who then repeated it to the magistrate, while saying they accepted my complaint about the fine. The magistrate banged his hammer and dismissed the case. I never even said a word as I planned to contest the validity of the fine. I sensed the magistrate didn’t understand the police only agreed the extra costs should be wiped, not the entire fine. I didn’t care. I was elated – especially that the officer on the day used his discretion and let me go. He even said “don’t let me see you riding away”. I never felt it a fair fine, even if there’s such a thing as fair helmet fine.

One of side effects of the law is vigilantes trying to tell you to wear a helmet. I had one yell at me once, which would always get a vociferous “mind your own business” in return. Often it was a monotone “helmet” as they pass by, or they’d point to their head or even shake their head. I try and yell no or give a thumbs down if there’s enough time. Often the “helmet” call is after they pass, the cowards. Anyone without a helmet these days I give a thumbs up. Once, when waiting at traffic lights, one vigilante enlightened me that modern helmets were apparently cooler than going bare. I figured I should try. Cost is the real issue, with top helmets well over $300 (US$250). I settled to spend $100 on an Adura, primarily because it had channels right to the brim. I figured less padding touching the head the better. While it was cooler, particularly having front vents so low, it was still hot and uncomfortable in heat.

The other problem is I get quite warm, even in winter you’ll rarely see me in more than an extra t-shirt, and my head sweats a lot, so the helmet only creates more sweat and, worse, it cascades into the eyes. Bare headed it blows over the top. They also become very itchy, especially around the padding and areas where the foam is very close to the skin. It wasn’t long before I gouged deeper channels into the foam of the Adura, especially at the brim, and removed the side padding. Particularly without side padding, I felt a better rush of air around the head. The deeper channel didn’t do much other than eventually cause a minute fracture. Oh well. Avoiding a fine is its primary purpose. It’s also worn quite loosely. No ultra tightening of the harness that’s recommended. That is really uncomfortable. Wearing it as I did, the protective capacity was much reduced. Apparently loose fitting is a 50% drop in the maximum impact it can take – down from the 20kph design standard to 10kph.

By now, the poor old Raleigh rarely left the house. It’s only action were the two occasions the Reynolds was in for repairs to the frame. Otherwise it would only be moved to inflate the tyres and rotate the wheels. Occasionally, on a hot day, I’d take the risk and ride the 5km to the beach for a swim. It’s a unique experience living under such a regime. Fear would dissipate over time and you’d build courage and become adventurous. Then once out, the constant vigilance for police, which in turn distracts you from riding, it’s so stressful and you realise it’s simply not worth it.

Becoming frustrated and missing my glorious weekend recreational rides, and gaining weight again, I figured I had to make my work ride longer. On favourable days (tail or zero wind), I’d ride to the Beach Road beach path and take that all the way to Port Melbourne, and then the trails through the city and the MCG, through Richmond, for a ride of over 27km and just over an hour. I figured police would be unlikely to loiter during these times of the week. Wrong was I. Two bicycle cops were on the path one day. Thankfully it was a cold day so the helmet was still on. Normally on the bike path, it’s off immediately to enjoy the beautiful sensation of the wind through the hair.

Another occasion on this long commute I spotted a police car cruising the promenade at St Kilda beach so skipped onto the road, put the helmet on and sped off. Another time I was pulled over by a female officer in South Melbourne. I told her sweat ran into my eyes, showed the helmet was well used, and she sympathised and said I need to do something. I told her I was on the path, not the road, so it was safe. She was content with that and I said thanks for understanding. She might have been in a rush anyway. Other times I’d spot police at a breath-test station and whack the helmet on in plenty of time. Near the office one day, police did a u-turn to apprehend me. I’d already put the helmet back on. Same answer as I gave to the female cop. They saw it was true, I showed my sweaty sleeve that I used to wipe my brow. One more time the police came from behind. You hear them slow down, so I immediately wipe my brow. They said to get off the road to do that. Which I did, and they move on.

All these little altercations showed one key trend: the police were far more energised, if not excited, to apprehend cyclists. Even though helmet wearing seemed to have a near 100% compliance, raising the fines obviously made it worthwhile for police to persecute cyclists. True enough, raising the fines had nothing to do with compliance – particularly relating to safety. Dead and injured cyclists were overwhelmingly wearing helmets. The genesis of this overhaul, which stupidly included new offences for bicycles like passing a stationary tram, was about “equality” on the roads and earning “respect” from motorists. Bicycle Network of Victoria was behind this, with spokesmen Garry Brennan saying cyclists must be “prepared to cop equivalent fines to other road users if it means we are accorded the full rights we are entitled to under the law”. What a sell out.

Six years on and there’s still no respect. In fact, the state of NSW recently increased helmet fines by 500% and is about to enact ID laws. Again, nothing to do with solving a problem; only about appeasing motorists. On the back of that, NSW police regularly set up stings to ping cyclists for the most frivolous and pedantic of offences – like no bell on the bike. Brennan said NSW’s “mean-spirited move is more like punishment than encouragement” and it’s unfair “hammering them (cyclists) with the threat of huge fines and with oppressive regulations about carrying identity cards”. Is this guy serious? The hypocrisy in his stance and the temerity to even say it is outrageous when his mob were the ones at the forefront of the “punishment regime”.

The transition from encouragement to punishment really is the key. When the helmet laws started, the imposition on freedom was seen as minimal that you might consider the imposition was more about the fine than wearing the helmet itself. The thinking was to encourage cyclists to wear a helmet, not to seriously force them, and certainly not to plaster them all over newspapers as vile criminals. How wrong it’s proved to be, and it’s not over yet, as the laws are constantly used as leverage to justify other measures. We already see motorists spiteful and jealous against anything done for bicycles, whinging “when will they start obeying the road rules”. Bicycle groups like BN are also ferocious about supporting the helmet regime so to keep their state government funding, while the only “win” from the NSW anti-cycling measures was the sordid “1 metre law”. These lobby groups don’t realise that for a bicycle to “share the roads” and be treated like a “vehicle” is sheer insanity. Bicycles are their own unique and distinct class of transport and should be treated that way. Laws should be relevant and sanctions appropriate, not based on some sort of ridiculous quid pro quo with motorists and feckless bicycle lobby groups.

A second trend that emerged from all those altercations with police is that sweat in the eyes, which was legitimate problem by impairing vision, seemed an acceptable excuse. I was also aware I wouldn’t be so lucky to escape fines forever. So I bought a “summer helmet” – a cheap helmet from Target that I severely modified to create more airflow. It was almost like wearing nothing. While it was obviously illegal, police don’t check helmets, only the helmetless. I also attached a loop on it for more secure hanging on the handlebars. I could cope with the longer commute via the beach to work now, especially those final sections along the road through Richmond and Hawthorn. So it came to be the helmet regime pushed me into wearing a useless helmet all the time when on the roads in the warmer months rather than a good one some of the time.

Crashes? Thanks to my sensible and defensive riding, I’ve never had even a close call with a car. Ironically, the decision for that longer commute eventually led to my first serious crash. I soon realised I could link up with the Yarra trail to go through Richmond, which also meant more helmet-free riding. Yeah! Then I began to consider how far that trail went. I’d occasionally see other commuters pop out of side streets as I rode home on the roads, so figured they must be using a trail. One day in May of 2013, for the ride home I went back to the Yarra trail, which, by this point, had split into Gardiners Creek Trail, and decided to see far it could take me.

It was quite dark in sections, so my flicking front light didn’t provide much illumination. Solar lights on the ground were of some guide on parts of the path; under bridges they were obviously not installed, and that’s when disaster struck. Going through the winding section under High Street in Malvern, it was hope and pray. Then I could see the lights resume on the other side, and immediately figured to steer right a little to line up with them. Just as I thought that I found myself riding down an embankment and somersaulting over, with the helmet taking a knock in the somersault. My first thought was “wow, the damn thing proved useful”. Not really because my right shoulder and left arm took most of the force. Then I heard a tyre go flat and my second thought was whether I could fix it being injured. Before I could linger on that thought, my body went into shock from the pain so I lay on my stomach to recover. All this happened in a matter of seconds.

Gardiners Creek Trail under the High Street Bridge

Gardiners Creek Trail under the High Street Bridge. So dark at night that I rode straight off the side and down a 6-foot embankment.

About 5 minutes later I was helped up by other riders, and they called an ambulance, which took almost an hour to arrive. I had to reassure the paramedics I didn’t land on my head. They checked the helmet and saw no damage. The end result was a broken right collarbone and a broken left wrist. In an indictment on our hospital system, the wrist took 6 weeks to eventually diagnose. Suffice to say, as soon as my arm was out of a sling for the collar bone, my wrist was in a cast for the next 16 weeks – 8 weeks longer than normal because of the botched diagnosis. I chuckle today at the irony that to avoid the dangerous roads, I ended up with a dreadful crash. Still today, and despite my complaint, the authorities have not installed lighting in that area. At least the delicious bacon and egg toasted sandwiches from the cafe made the regular visits to the Alfred Hospital appealing.

Both wheels of the Reynolds were wrecked in that crash, so instead of replacing them, I decided on a new bike. Parts were also becoming difficult to find. Despite my heart set on a similar racing bike, I was talked into a hybrid cyclo-cross type. Stronger wheels, fatter tyres, more comfortable frame angles and disc brakes – and still with drop bars. I needed to fit mudguards too, and modern racing bikes simply don’t have the room. I wanted 30 years out of it like I did the Reynolds, hence the recommendation for a Trek Crossrip Elite. It felt a tad nippier than the Reynolds anyway, and was way more comfortable. The only immediate problem was the aero bars I still had on the Reynolds were often used to carry stuff and could not be fitted to the Crossrip. I figured I could add a pack rack if required. I bought the Crossrip during the final weeks of the cast, and because the bike also had small brake levers on the tops, I could actually start riding immediately.

Reynolds 531c bike after the Gardiners Creek crash

Reynolds 531c bike after the Gardiners Creek crash

I resumed my commute, using the Gardiners Creek Trail (GCT) to and from work. This trail seemed cursed, because it wasn’t long until I fell again. After leaving it for the final road section home, I rode through a car wash to avoid the lights and then fell straight onto my elbow as I turned back onto the road. Some super-suds must have attached to the wheel because I went down so fast. Other than a nasty gash and a tetanus shot, all OK. I had the summer helmet on, not that it was required. In January of 2015 another crash. On a damp day to work, the rear wheel slid out on the painted line on a corner of the GCT as I overtook a pedestrian. Down I went on my hip, back and right elbow. I was badly winded and later the hip would seize up. For nearly 3 days I could barely walk and to get around at home I’d roll myself on my computer chair. It was probably 1 month until I was at full walking pace again, and 3 months before I could run. Riding wasn’t a problem. The summer helmet was on the bars this time, not that it was required.

By this time I was emboldened by the freedom my summer helmet gave me. I began my weekend rides again, riding the Crossrip one way on the beach bike path and then the other way along the Yarra and GCT. On these rides it spent 80% of the time hanging on the handlebars. Even though that’s potentially dangerous in itself, it was worth it. Then on a mild May day 2015, on such a ride, another crash, this time cutting through a service station on the way to the GCT. I clipped the lip of the driveway at such an acute angle and at such a speed, and probably leaning into it slightly too, that I went down before I knew it. The summer helmet took some of the force as I slid along the ground and possibly prevented a graze (can’t be certain because the bulk of a helmet makes your head a bigger target for impact). Mostly, I was furious at such a careless crash, particularly that I used this shortcut for years on the regular road route to the office. I got up contemplating whether to continue, as I wasn’t that far from home.

I sat down with a passer-by, and next thing I knew several people were hovering over me after I fainted. I’m a chronic fainter – particularly after any sort of adrenaline rush and not fully dehydrated. Even a blood test after fasting I’ve fainted twice, and I knew I was on the dehydrated side before I left home for this ride. To my annoyance an ambulance had been called. I had to reassure the passers-by I was fine. Once the ambulance arrived, they confirmed I fainted. They still wanted to take me to hospital. I refused because I knew I didn’t want to waste hours there only to be sent home. They were also obsessed about head injuries, really checking the helmet. Needless to say the paramedic didn’t quite approve of the modifications. I told her it’s the only I could wear the thing. By this time my shoulder began to get sore. They did a few checks and it only hurt when stretched out wide. I figured it’s a muscle strain and promised them I’d go to a doctor on Monday if required. They took me home. End result was torn ligaments in the AC joint. That meant my first ever operation (which was fun), two weeks off work and six weeks off the bike.

Trek Crossrip Elite - 2014 edition

Trek Crossrip – replaced the Reynolds as the commuter bike. It’s filthy after a wet winter.

One thing I noticed from his sudden spate of crashes is the hysteria about head injuries. Even if it’s clear there was no impact, passers-by especially would thoroughly check the helmet. It happened on the GCT for the January crash, and happened for this one through the service station. This is the climate we’ve created that cycling really is perceived as so dangerous that a head impact is almost guaranteed in any sort of crash. The paramedics you can accept them as being thorough because that’s their job – especially if someone fainted. On the way home that day I cheekily asked the officer the typical injuries cyclists get. She said to the arms. When I asked about motorists, she said everything. They also note in their reports if a helmet is worn, so now I wonder if that becomes a statistic of a helmet wearer avoiding a head injury?

By now I was getting nostalgic for the bikes I had as a kid. The Raleigh wasn’t suitable for utility riding. While the drop bars were bad enough, the frame geometry meant a really hunched position – even worse than modern racing frames, which are more elongated to reduce the weight supported by the shoulders. It was a tired, clunky bike made with bits and pieces, including 700cc wheels on a 27in frame. While I did poke around on various websites looking at appropriate bikes, and still considered building a new bike out of my old 3-speed hub, it wasn’t until I checked Reid Cycles – a brand I was seeing more and more on the streets – and presto, I found the Reid Blacktop. It was a mix of my flatbar Hallmark and my 3-speed, and was so stylish too. It was perfect. In December of 2015 I visited the store in Windsor, they already had one in the correct size on the floor, and I was done. I soon added a rear rack and my first ever set of pannier bags. As I kid, I’d simply strap everything down with octopus straps.

The Blacktop was such a joy to ride that I began using it more and more, and the car less and less. I had to carefully plan new routes to avoid police, which involved using back streets as much as possible. After taking some photos of the Raleigh and stripping a few of the parts, it was thrown out. Its wheels went onto the Reynolds, making it rideable. The plan is to sell it, sans those $120 aero bars of course! I don’t need 3 bikes.

Reid Blacktop

Reid Blacktop – replaced the Raleigh as the utility bike

Of course, some things didn’t change, and they were the altercations with police. On the longer commute via the beach, I was ambushed at the St Kilda Marina with my summer helmet hanging on the bars. This is a common place for police to loiter, and I really should have whacked it on just prior. The problem is you do get complacent over time, and a weekday morning was unusual time for them to be there too. Explaining about the sweat in the eyes worked again, and I whacked it on and went. The officer noticed the modifications and I told him my flat head meant I had no choice. I demonstrated it provided full coverage, and he was fine with it. Despite these more frequent confrontations, I still found them stressful and would rather avoid them. Something new this time was a spiel from the officer about being “sick of attending cyclists on the road”.

That spiel would repeat in January of 2016 on a warm, humid ride home, when riding at walking pace through a pathway at a local train station. In the carpark was a police car. Again, helmet on the bars as I really was taking a break to cool down and clear the sweat. I rode calmly up to him and explained myself, including showing my sweaty t-shirt sleeves that I used to wipe my brow. No. Not only did I get the spiel, almost verbatim, about being “sick of attending cyclists on the road”, I also got the one about the impact on state accident insurance. If I knock my head, apparently it will destroy the fabric of the system, forcing everyone to pay more and leaving them in financial ruin! That was the tone of it anyway. I looked around in disbelief at a carpark almost totally devoid of cars. Come on! I’m about to die here? He said a car could jump from anywhere. It was absurd. He said a fine would arrive in the mail.

Withing a few days, the fine arrived. I wrote a letter stating it was outrageous, that this fine is the not the spirit of the law, and if it’s so dangerous, why are pedestrians free to walk around? I ticked the box for a court case and said to refer it if the fine is not withdrawn. In May I got a whole bunch of papers in the mail about the case from the officer. No date of any hearing among it. To date, still nothing. It’s so unusual. Normally you get a summons, and that’s it. I’m presuming he withdrew it and sent the papers as a taunt. The lesson here is to always refer the fine to court because it forces the police into so much paperwork. Even pleading guilty, you can still plea for a reduction in the fine or even a warning.

With that fine hanging over my head, I stopped the longer commute and all recreational riding, and began holding the helmet in one arm whenever I needed to remove it on my commutes. At least in one arm it looks temporary, as no one would ride that way for long distances. It’s ridiculous that’s the lengths we need to go for our basic freedoms. I still kept my local riding on the Blacktop going. I had an armoury of excuses prepared if I ever get pulled over. If I’m at a major intersection, I’d actually dismount just in case a cop car comes past. That’s when you’re most vulnerable. So far, I’ve been able to beat the helmet regime on the Blacktop.

Now into September 2016, with the warmer weather approaching and still nothing about that January fine, I began to think about resuming my recreational riding. I also began thinking about using the Blacktop because it was more conducive to this sort of riding. Wearing normal shoes also meant I could walk around at the destination to make it more of an excursion. Needing to meet associates in town one day, I thought, damn it, I’m riding in on the Blacktop. I still wore cycling knicks for comfort, as it’s a 35km round trip, and brought normal shorts to wear over the top once there. Also, I didn’t bring any helmet either. Bonus! Circumstances meant I used the Yarra Trail both ways, rather than one way and the beach bike path the other. The beach is far more exposed to the road and the police menace in general, so the real test of my mettle about leaving the helmet at home altogether would not occur until I rode the beach bike path.

Ironically that day, I also picked up a helmet at Reid Cycles. I thought for a few years to try my luck again, that I could find something better than the Adura. With plenty of vents and at $60, it was a good price. While it is a bit cooler and fits a bit better, the full padding around the brow and sides does make it irritate more once it gets hot. I’m happy enough with it to not modify it at all, and I’ve been using it instead of the Adura since.

Helmets through the years - Bell V1 Pro, Adura Sprint and Reid Aero

Helmets through the years – Bell V1 Pro, Adura Sprint and Reid Aero

D-Day was four weeks ago. Even getting to the beach path, particularly from the CDB, you are far more exposed to persecution. Helping to offset that, heading south, the traffic is going the opposite way, so police are unlikely to spot you early enough to stop and pull you over. It’s a 5km section between Port Melbourne and St Kilda, and it wasn’t long until I had one idiot point to his helmet. Get stuffed, I thought. That was at South Melbourne. At Albert Park I spotted a police car and, in a panic, immediately swerved off the bike path towards the walking area in hopes I’d not been seen. I then increased the speed to get far away as possible.

At St Kilda, around the back of the Catani Gardens, the road was blocked with a sign advising cyclists to dismount onto the footpath. A festival or something was on. I could see ahead most cyclists kept riding anyway. Then bang, a cop car going the other way stopped and began to do a u-turn. I stopped anyway and moved to the kerb to prepare for the chat. They didn’t anticipate this and drove past me. Once they stopped, it was panic mode again. I had a choice to wait or escape. I chose escape. I looked over the sea wall to possibly hide. It was 2 metre drop to the sand. I lowered the Blacktop as far as I could then dropped it. Then I followed, sat back and had a drink. If apprehended, my intention was to pretend I was taking a rest, not doing any sort of a runner. I looked up and saw a guy standing on the sea wall, seemingly trying to connect the commotion of a returning police car and me jumping over the wall. After 20 minutes, I figured it was safe to move on. Realising there’s most like police nearby, I elected to walk 100 metres to the shoreline and walk the 500 or so metres past the Catani Gardens to St Kilda beach. I could see police cars everyone near the Gardens, obviously for crowd control. Once at St Kilda beach I remounted and rode on.

I was still wary of more police, particularly at the Marina. I’d have dismounted had I seen anything. Then approaching Elwood beach, a cop car, a highway patrol, just reversed from a parking spot and was about to drive off until he spotted me. It’s quite possible he was sent there to wait for me, or even ping other riders. Just before the Catani Gardens, I’d overtaken two people going helmet free on bikeshare bikes. I remain curious if they were pinged. Whatever, I wasn’t prepared to be caught so kept riding. Elwood is almost the last section you can be easily ambushed, so I was both proud and relieved to get through unscathed. Of course, I was also furious that a simple exercise of riding a bike could create such fear and anxiety. What sort of country is this?

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The day that will live in infamy in my fight against the mandatory helmet regime

Once I was home, that was it. I reconciled the fact that after more than 3 decades of harmless and safe riding, I’m banned from my beloved Beach Road bike path. Never again will I put myself through that harrowing experience. To think my only crime is the fundamental human right to pursue happiness without harming other people, and this absurd country has instituted a vigorous and vicious police state to try and stop me. It’s staggering to believe that the law sees me as much as a menace to society as a motorist speeding through a school zone. The fines are the same, and the vilification even worse. It’s the craziest thing in the world. You can’t make this stuff up even if you try.

It’s not like I’m asking for much either. It’s merely the right to choose when I want to strap a foam hat to my head to ride a bike. Currently it ranges from 60% during the warmer months to 90% in the cooler months. The bizarre thing is, without the helmet law, my helmet habits would unlikely change. While the summer helmet would go, it would be replaced by the proper helmet and worn occasionally, particularly on the commute when I’m in a more serious and faster mode of riding. In cooler months, nothing changes, because it provides warmth, and I like the security of it when riding in the dark. In fact, I might wear it even more. Local streets near work and home it’s off. There’s no real reason for this, other than to rebel. Recreational and utility riding, I rarely wear it anyway, and often my motives are to rebel. Such civil disobedience is satisfying in the war against the helmet regime.

With other cyclists, nothing much would change either after a repeal. People have been scared senseless by the helmet hysteria anyway that it would take an entire generation to undo the damage. A study from the University of Sydney found almost half would never ride without a helmet. The same study also found more than 20% would ride more if a helmet wasn’t mandatory. The main difference you would see post repeal is numbers slowly increase in safer riding environments, like paths and local streets. Non-riders will begin to see that looks fun, safe and convenient, and start to ride. On the roads? Most cyclists can see that is dangerous so would keep wearing helmets. This is already evident outside Australia, particularly in countries like USA and Britain where helmet fear-mongering is almost as bad and cycling rates similarly as low. Even in Stockholm, where I visited in May, 60% to 70% of cyclists wore helmets. So you don’t need fascist laws to advocate helmets. Authorities here seem to think it’s only their precious laws that are keeping helmets on people’s heads. It’s absurd and typical of politicians thinking they know better than everyone else.

Let’s not think this is about one person whinging about a few incidents either. People have criminal convictions trying to defend their right to ride a bicycle. People that have refused to pay fines have either had bikes confiscated or served time in jail. Incidences of helmet fines, including 1098 alone in NSW in March and April of 2016 after they strengthened their anti-cycling laws, shows there’s a constituency of many, many thousands of people each year that do at times ride without a helmet. Again, why are we so obsessed about stopping them? Remember, these are only the ones caught. You can easily multiply that by 10 for the real number of people riding without helmets, so we could be around hundreds of thousands every year. Compare that to motorcyclists, where no one goes without a helmet. That’s an example of an accepted law.

Next time you think “helmet law”, actually consider the real consequences of it: “I want any cyclist not wearing a helmet to be severely punished and dragged through the courts if necessary”. As you see in Australia, what turned out to be a law with good intentions and a trivial penalty, has become a rabid police state of huge penalties, strict enforcement and a vigilante mob rule. As much as Australia is immature about cycling, it’s fully mature when it comes to the impact of mandatory helmet laws. Twenty five years of oppression has seen a repressed and resented culture created, an activity that is not any safer and perceived as suicidal, and a group of people marginalised and frequent recipients of discrimination and abuse. As a case study, it’s a damning indictment, especially when the alternative is merely allowing the freedom to ride our bikes with dignity. Don’t let it happen to your country. Resist it, fight it, squash it. You’ve been warned.

Lessons from the 2016 Australian Federal Election

10 July 2016

After a week of counting, the Liberal and National Party coalition will hold onto power, mostly likely with 76 of the 150 lower house seats, or a slim chance of 77. The senate retains its structure of minor parties and independents holding power. It proved a far more interesting election than expected, and provided some interesting lessons.

election-issues2

1) 1, 2, 3, Yawn

Why does it take so long to count ballots? It was bizarre late on election night, with counting “completed”, most seats had only 75% of the votes in, with some as few as 65%. In this day and age, it’s ridiculous that we need to wait for over a week. Having watched much of the US primary season, they get to almost 100% counted on the night. While our preferential system complicates the matter, the US has pre-poll voting, and that is all counted on the night. For some reason, Australia  doesn’t even unpack it until the day after the election, and resumes counting two days after that. The US also have electronic voting, while many countries are moving to online voting. Meanwhile, backward Australia is stuck with people manually sorting and counting ballot papers on school tables. If it isn’t slow enough in the lower house, the senate won’t be done until early August!

2) Exit Polls

Much of the election coverage on the various TV channels was speculation about voting habits of the day. Here’s an idea: run exit polls! This is another feature of American elections. Who knows, maybe asking people about their vote is illegal in Australia. While our preferential system won’t allow an accurate forecast of results from exit polls, those polls are still full of useful information. By the end of the week, private polling companies were able to provide some answers. They showed that Medicare was the most important issue for 38% of people, with 23% of people making their mind up on the day.

3) Preferred Prime Minister

Is there a more irrelevant statistic in election campaigns? Former PM Tony Abbott was able to destroy Labor to win the 2013 election in a landslide, and he was never popular. Likewise, current PM Malcolm Turnbull was always wildly more popular than Bill Shorten and nearly lost.

4) Scare Campaigns Work

As much as the Liberals can whinge about the disgusting lie from Labor that the Liberals would privatise Medicare, such campaigns work. They especially work in a country with compulsory voting, which forces imbeciles to vote. These clueless, detached people, roughly 30-40% of the population, roll up on polling day like zombies and are easily persuaded on even the most superficial or irrational grounds. They see a sign with “Save Medicare”, bang, you’ve captured the imbecile vote – particularly effective in marginal seats. It’s certainly more persuasive than “Jobs and Growth” from the Liberals! That’s the inherent weakness of the compulsory system. Ordinarily such people would have no incentive to vote and would need something tangible to persuade them. They’d then be far more invested, and even if they heard or read about the lie, they’d see the other side countering it, so would arrive the polling booth far more informed.

5) Negative Campaigns Work

The most bizarre situation of this election was that lack of negativity from the Liberals. Where were they smashing Labor as wreckers of the economy, irresponsible on borders and irrational on emissions? Labor even admitted their budget deficits would be bigger, their border policy was not unanimous, and another carbon tax was on the way. These issues were all the reasons Labor were smashed in 2013. The Liberals also ignored attacks over Labor’s cosseted relationship with unions. This double dissolution election was even triggered on the issue after two ABCC bills were blocked twice by the senate. You also had chaos in Victoria with the dictatorial premier aiding a takeover of the volunteer Country Firefighting Authority by the firefighter’s union. That was effectively its own self-fulfilling negative campaign, which saw Labor receive 3% less swing in Victoria compared to nationally and losing one seat instead of winning up to three.

6) The Liberal Party are Wimps!

Defend your policies! Even if Labor wildly extrapolated a few minor budget issues as a case for privatising Medicare, rebound by saying you are SAVING Medicare. Rebound by saying the country is going broke. Rebound by saying that if wealthy doctors can’t absorb $1 or $2 off their $70 basic charge then they need to go to Labor’s school of “fairness”. Instead, the Liberals were lured into Labor’s fairness game, where Labor dragged them to their level and beat them with more experience. The Liberals trying to appear fair by making retrospective changes to superannuation contributions only infuriated their base without gaining votes elsewhere. So play to your strengths. Say you are the economically responsible ones. Explain that the nation is currently blowing $1b every single month on interest on our debt. Explain if Labor get back in power, watch that $1b interest bill grow as the debt increases and, possibly, Australia’s credit rating is downgraded.

7) Stay In Touch

Liberals went to the election with the spurious “jobs and growth” mantra – complete with a $50b company tax cut over 10 years. What! $50b? Over 10 years? How does this help the average person in the street? They won’t comprehend the rationale for such a policy, and all it does is leave you open for attack. Bang! The Liberals were hammered in the socially conservative and average working western Sydney and Tasmania. Even though big corporations would only benefit in 10 years, that’s four elections away. These days people can barely look 5 minutes into the future and want everything now, if not sooner. This left Turnbull appearing elitist and seriously out of touch. Those are especially dangerous traits these days.

8) Advertising Blackout

Banned from electronic or print advertising in the final 3 days of the campaign, yet allowed to inundate people with fraudulent and unsolicited text messages and robo-calls, that’s backwards Australia! The ban must be lifted, while ALL forms of political advertising must be subject to disclosures revealing their source. The Liberals’ big peeve about the Medicare lie was the text messages inferred “Medicare” was the source, while the robo-calls were similarly misleading about their nature. If electronic and print advertising must include disclosures, so should all other forms of advertising. An independent body to monitor advertising fraud would be a step too far, with limits difficult to set. While Medicare is obviously easy to nab at the high end of fraud, what about the lower end like the Liberals price scare about Labor’s carbon tax in 2010? One difference is the carbon tax was actual policy, whereas privatising Medicare was a total fabricating. Transparency in political advertising should suffice. By transparent that means an opening and closing statement or comment “Authorised by whoever”.

 

As a firm believer in the will of the people, even in a flawed system like Australia’s compulsory voting system and compulsory preferential voting, the people got it right again. We don’t know the direction to head to fix our budget problems. Is it higher taxes or less middle class welfare? We’re still incredibly self-entitled and refuse to take the national debt seriously. We don’t want a cent taken from Medicare either. So we re-elected the government and stripped them of much of their mandate. We told Labor it’s way too early for you to return to govern and continued to dismiss the Greens as a fringe rabble. We elected a senate with a swag of populists as balance of power to ensure the major parties do not over extend themselves. In essence, we voted for stagnation and more butt scratching. Personally, I’m happy with that!

Australian Federal Election 2016 & Brexit

01 July 2016

If you want to know one of the major reasons Brexit was successful, you only need look to the aftermath. More accusations of hate and bigotry, more hysteria about potentially destroying Great Britain and, worst of all, petitions for another referendum! What don’t these clowns understand about democracy? You debate the issue, put it to a vote, and accept the verdict. It’s a disgrace, and typical of elitists and political bigots that essentially don’t like democracy.

Preceding this fallout from Brexit was the equally disgusting behaviour debating the issues. Instead of presenting the case, all the Remain campaign could do was abuse and insult people. Even though the Leave campaign was simply about national sovereignty, border control and economic accountability, the Remain campaign turned it into accusations of xenophobia and racism. Even if there’s a racist minority that indeed voted that way, it’s only a tiny proportion of the population, so it wasn’t enough to counter a serious case to stay if the Remain campaign could be bothered with one, nor does it tarnish everyone that chose Leave. It’s amazing that a Muslim can shoot up a nightclub and it’s a stampede to absolve the religion in which the terrorist proclaimed allegiance and duty, yet there’s no problem blaming an entire country as racist when their only proclamation is a greater say in democracy. When you consider almost the 100% endorsement of Remain by political leaders, elitists and the European Union itself, not to mention the politics of hate and division used to push the cause, that Britain chose to leave the EU is one of the great democratic triumphs of our times. The people said stuff you! In contrast, the Remain campaign has still yet to offer one compelling reason to stay.

It’s not like leaving the EU is that big a deal anyway. It’s only been around since 1993, and Britain prospered very well without it. As they would again, along with other successful, dare I say “racist and xenophobic”, countries like Switzerland and Norway that have stubbornly kept their own independence. Greece would also be better off out of the EU, and there wouldn’t be the resentment over the bailouts and loans for such irresponsible countries. Within a week the British stock market has recovered all its losses, the British pound has rebounded, and the world’s other major stock markets have recovered at least half of their losses. You also need to remember that many of these markets were at inflated levels because of predictions Remain would win, so the original losses were exaggerated anyway.

The best part of the Brexit success was the full exposure and defeat of the politics of hate that has blighted this era. By hate, I mean it coming in the form of abuse and insults from those that can’t or won’t debate an issue. Political correctness runs riot these days, and finally the people have had enough. You are seeing it in the USA with the rise of Donald Trump, and it’s creeping into Australian politics with the rise of several nationalistic minor parties and candidates. Australia might just be about the worst place in the world for political correctness already, where you can’t even tell a joke anymore. It seems if someone is offended, that’s cause to run a toxic vendetta in response, demanding apologies and even for them to resign their positions of power. The point is, I’m offended by this zealous offense taking! Many of these jokes are totally unoffensive to me. I want to hear them. I wan’t more political incorrectness. In the meantime, the truly disgusting speech – the politics of hate – is let go.

Australian Federal Election

The worst part of any election in Australia is the requirement to vote. Not only vote, under Australia’s compulsory preferential system, you must vote for parties you hate. Every party on a ballot must be numbered, which in effect means all votes flow to the two major parties, Liberal (currently in power) and Labor (in opposition). For people boasting about voting for a minor party or candidate, it’s nonsense. Those votes are all extinguished and the least worst of the major parties gets your vote. If you don’t vote at all, you will be prosecuted. Serious! It’s like North Korea. The only exemptions allowed is old age or being sick.

vote01

Australia’s electoral system has led to a dysfunctional parliamentary setup where your only chance to speak on issues is through the senate, meaning a chorus of minor parties and independents, with their own self interests, now hold power. For as much as the senate is an unnecessary and extravagant blot on the system and lost its original point of a house of review for the states, it must stay until the lower house is reformed. That would mean optional voting and optional preferential voting. Ballots also must be printed in various sequences of candidates to protect against the donkey vote. Donkey voting is voting number 1 to x down the ballot without thought. Needless to say, in a compulsory voting system, the candidate in first position always does well.

As a staunch Labor voter for most of my life, they currently still disgust me. I now call myself independent, and have been so for the past 4 cycles. That means I vote on independent issues important to me, not parties. I’ve alternated the past four cycles. Before 2007, every election I voted Labor. In 2007, despite hating John Howard, voted Liberal for the first time ever because of Kevin Rudd’s ridiculous hyperbole and condescension about global warming. In 2010 I went for Julia Gillard, mostly because she promised to not waste our time with a useless carbon tax, and I wanted to be part of history in voting for the first female Prime Minister ever (call me sexist!). In 2010, I voted Liberal solely to punish Labor for the being the worst government ever and Gillard for being an even worse PM.

The Issues

Budget

Democracy is slow and the Earth is patient. Remember the “budget emergency” from 2013? Finally both sides recognise the problem of our huge deficits and debt. In 2013 Labor acted like it was a Liberal scare campaign, while Liberals acted like it was carte blanche to bring in unpopular measures like the co-payment to see a doctor. In truth the “emergency” was to recognise it and begin to take measures. Both sides are not tackling it seriously enough. Part of that is the partisan nature of politics these days and the associated politics of hate. Even more disturbing is Labor promises to tax more and spend more over the next four years, and increase the debt more! They say in 10 years they’ll be in front compared to the Liberals’ plan. The problem is belief. Remember Wayne “the surplus years are here” Swan? More likely it will be a repeat of 2013 with Labor tossed out after six years of irresponsible fiscal management and their mess needing to be cleaned up by someone else. They can’t be trusted.

Borders

I was pleased to read on the Greens’ pamphlet that they propose a “fair and efficient” system for handling “asylum seekers”. I presume that means the Greens won’t favour people wealthy enough to pay a people smugglers $10,000 to enter Australia illegally, and will prefer to take genuine refugees from the 40 million or so holed up, sometimes for decades, in refugee camps? That would be most fair and efficient system. In truth, as is being discovered with the immigration debate in the USA and the Brexit decision, there’s two distinct ideologies really in process: open borders or closed borders. Socialists (Labor, Greens) want them open for free movement; Conservatives (Liberals) want them closed for controlled movement. That’s because Socialists don’t really believe in countries at all, whereas Conservatives are more focused on the individual level. After the debacle of the open borders policy under Labor and the Greens between 2007 and 2013, in which 50,000 people illegally arrived and 1200 drowned at sea, I’ll stick with the current controlled immigration process.

Nanny State

Along with oppressive laws like fines of up to $319 for daring to ride a bicycle without a helmet, lockout laws that have turned parts of Sydney into a ghost town, and bans on vaping, Australia is now looking at sin taxes to control people’s choices. Ironically Australia has no problem forcing all us irresponsible citizens to vote! Cigarettes already accumulate taxes far, far greater than the impact of smoking on our health system, and both major parties plan to double the tax hit. This will only punish the poor and subvert any pension and welfare increases. If Labor win with support of the Greens, sugary drinks will be the next target despite the alternative of water already costing nothing. Why not ensure free water is available in eateries and install more public water fountains? Sadly only libertarian Liberal Democrats and Sex Party have any interest in curbing the grotesque nanny state. All the rest, including the pro-cycling Greens, are control freaks.

Emissions

Forget the misleading and bloated metaphors like “climate change”, and the latest fad, “climate justice”. We are talking about CO2 emissions and the best way to reduce them. Since China has been allowed to increase emissions each year until 2034, it’s an absolute waste of time for Australia to be bringing in token measures like carbon taxes and emissions trading schemes. They are even worse considering much of the money from the last scheme was funnelled back as compensation to lower income people and “vulnerable industries”, with the rest used to buy dodgy “carbon credits” to offset emissions that the policy admitted the actual tax was ineffective at lowering. Both major parties are committed to throwing money around, with Labor planning to be the most ambitious. In the meantime, Australia has a $50b coal export business. Tax here, pollute there, it’s sheer nonsense, especially when China is adding an Australia each year to global emissions. If there’s a serious worldwide agreement then, sure, go for it.

Negative Gearing

Get rid of this rort! Since when can expenses from one income stream offset tax liability from another income stream? It favours the rich and it increases house prices. The only mistake Labor are making is not removing it fully. It’s staying for new homes only and only starting in mid 2017 for new purchases of old homes. Existing homes can remain negatively geared, which will force a mad rush on the housing market until mid 2017 (presuming Labor win). The Liberals are doing nothing about this legalised rort, saying it will harm house prices and push up rents. That’s not quite true, because low house prices means less people are renting, which means rent drops. Besides, in time, it will all balance out. You lose 10% of value on your home, you buy your next home at 10% less. Worst of all, for the Liberals to be talking so much about controlling expenditure, negative gearing is an expense. This is not letting people keep more of their money like a cut to personal income tax is. You are giving people money back that they never actually earned.

Company Tax Rate

Totally support cutting it for small business. Liberals propose giant corporations will also benefit – in 10 years. That’s four elections away, so irrelevant, despite Labor frothing that the Liberals plan is somehow immediate. Labor favour cuts for small businesses only, which is my preferred position. Business tax rates probably should have some scale if it can be done without making Australian companies uncompetitive on the global scene.

Medicare and Private Health Insurance

Labor back to lying just like the Gillard years! This has been the worst aspect of the campaign, which shows Labor has little else to offer. Lying that the Liberals plan to privatise Medicare. It won’t happen, it can never happen, who’d buy such a colossal loss maker anyway? It’s not a business like Telstra or Qantas. Labor have something right on rebates for private health insurance, planning to means test it. Personally, if you can afford private health, you can probably afford it without the rebate too. If Labor is committed to spending much more on public health, then why subsidise private at all? The Liberals view is the public health system can’t cope, which is partially true too. Needing a shoulder operation after crashing my bike, I got it done the next day following the MRI scan because I had private insurance. Without it, in the public system, I’d be living with a slightly bung shoulder because it’s a non-debilitating injury. Ostensibly, nothing really changes on this issue unless you believe Labor’s scare campaign.

Parent Leave

Another rort! Public servants can double dip. They get their industry parental leave, plus the government one. The government one was only ever set up for those unable to obtain parental leave from their employer, typically a small business. It was never meant as an extra supplement. Liberals plan to abolish this double-dipping. Good! It’s ironic that Labor constantly speaks of fairness yet allows a millionaire mother government welfare on top of their company one. Ridiculous.

Middle Class Welfare

My huge grievance! If you’re middle class, you don’t need welfare by definition. You don’t need a baby bonus, or school kid bonus, or family assistance, or child care allowance (if you are wealthy enough). Unfortunately MCW is so deeply woven into the fabric of society that it’s difficult to undo most of it. Before all these freebies, people would save to have children. Now they know that all these goodies will come, so they spend money on other stuff like more expensive homes, or cars, or holidays. Politicians and their pinhead supporters never understand the basic principle that hand-outs eventually infiltrate the entire economy, driving up prices, to the point everyone is back to square one asking for more money. There comes a point you can’t raise income tax any further, so what’s next? Consumption tax? Australia is at this crossroads now. We are like the Nordic countries will high welfare and high income taxes. Except we are still struggling. The difference? A 10% consumption tax in Australia; up to 25% in the Nordic region. It’s the only way such extravagance can be funded, and also the fairest because everyone pays at least something. Personally, attack the insidious middle class welfare.

Superannuation

To me this is really deferred income, so should be treated as such. That means you tax it on the way out, not the way in. If I want to put a million dollars away, I should – tax free. If I withdraw $50,000 each year during retirement, it is taxed at the income tax rate at the time. Interest earned on can be taxed too, means tested of course. Taxing it on the way in is wrong, and defeats the entire purpose of saving for retirement and not be a burden on the welfare system. Sadly all sides are focused on hitting it on the way in.

Gay Marriage

A great quote from Australian Marriage Equality: “Placing the rights of a minority group in the hands of the majority seems almost ludicrous.” That’s the paradox – who is the majority that owns marriage? Marriage is a product of human society, developed over hundreds of years, so surely that’s the majority, and it is their say? Except, government has hijacked this institution and conferred special rights on married people, causing inherent discrimination towards those that can’t get married. Ideally, the government should dissolve the marriage act and let the original meaning of marriage stand. Principally that is the ceremonial part in which the couple answers to their god or tribal elders, not a bureaucrat, and government classifies everyone under its “de facto” definition (this could renamed to domestic partnership, whatever). Since that won’t happen, the marriage act must be expanded.

The decision should also be by plebiscite as promised by the Liberals, not politicians. It’s amazing how they resent losing control! The cost of $100m (based on $67m for the 1999 Republic referendum) is minimal when the monthly interest on our debt is $1b. It would actually be a unifying step if the people decide, not a divisive one, and would be a nice entry in our nation’s history books. As we’ve seen with Brexit the only division and hate would come from politicians, their sycophants, and even lobbyists like the AME. They should lead by example. They need to stop calling people bigots and homophobes for merely acting on a centuries old tradition. Remember, people like Barack Obama were the same bigots and homophobes at one time, and were allowed to “evolve”. So why not confer this courtesy onto everyone else rather than being a political bigot?

Decision

Stuck in a safe Liberal seat, my vote in the lower house matters little, other than to make statement (like the biggest swing possible against Labor in 2013) or vote on an issue (a conscious vote). I’ll stick with the feckless Liberals for another term and hope they can be more courageous in pushing through their plans. Current Labor can’t be trusted at all on anything economic, and it’s simply not in their DNA to be strong on borders. I want the debt down and the most neediest and skilled people filling our immigration program. Even better, let’s talk about the real problem in Australia of rampant population growth. I want a policy of sustainable population. Therefore our immigration program should be there to meet the population criteria, not be a fight over raw numbers and slurs that a preference of, for example, 150,000 over 200,000 people makes you a racist.

In the senate I have a say, so it will be for the libertarian Liberal Democrats and probably Sex Party after that. Next will be the Australian Cyclists Party and then look for moderate Liberal and Labor candidates. Therefore I’ll vote below the line to have the most direct say.