April 24, 2012

Horse 1323 - The "Six Point" Fixture

Part A:

Monday's Manchester derby either has the potential to be one of a greatest matches ever played in the Premier League or a resounding disappointment. These sorts of matched are sometimes called (and I think wrongly) "Six Point" matches because the potential for one team to draw six points clear of another exists.

This then is the situation:
Utd. Pd: 35 GD: +54 Pts: 83
City Pd: 35 GD: +60 Pts: 80

If United win, they go to 86 points which given that there'd be only two matches for both of them in the season, the only possible way for them to lose the title would be to lose both fixtures AND for City to win both of theirs.

If City though the situation changes. Assuming City win by only a single goal, then table would look like this:
City Pd: 36 GD: +61 Pts: 83
Utd. Pd: 36 GD: +53 Pts: 83

If City were to beat United, then potentially the title race could still run down to the last few minutes of the season. If that were to happen then I think that most neutral fans (if such a thing exists) would be quite pleased to see a Man City win.

Part B:
Of course I can't leave this discussion without first making mention of what I think was the greatest match of league football ever played.

On 26th May 1989, Arsenal travelled to Anfield to play Liverpool in what would be the title decider. Originally the match had been slated for St George's Day (Apr 23) but only a week earlier, 96 Liverpool fans had been killed in the Hillsborough Disaster.

As it stood:

Liv'pol Pd: 37 GD: +39 Pts: 76
Arsenal Pd: 37 GD: +35 Pts: 73

Arsenal needed to win by two clear goals. If they were able to do that they would have been level on point and level on goal difference and would have won the title only on the number of goals scored for the season.
The problem was that no side had actually beaten Liverpool at Anfield in 1988-9 by two goals and Arsenal had not won at all at Anfield for 15 years previous going back to 1974. Liverpool themselves were on track to claim the League and FA Cup Double and would have been the first side in English history to have won it twice (having done so in 1986)

When Alan Smith scored in the 52nd minute The Kop fell silent; for the next agonising 39 minutes they remained subdued, for they knew that if Arsenal scored again the season, title and double was over.
This ten minute video gives a good idea of the events of that day:
If you don't want to watch the video (or can't), read on:

In the last minute of extra-time Michael Thomas collected a Steve Nicol mistake and scored the vital goal with 25 seconds to go.

Afterwards the table looked like this:
Arsenal Pd: 38 GD: +37 Pts: 76
Liv'pol Pd: 38 GD: +37 Pts: 76

Thomas would eventually be signed by Liverpool for the 1991-2 season and even score for Liverpool in the 1992 FA Cup Final, but he will go down in history for scoring the single most important goal which has ever been scored in English Football history.

Not only in the context of that season but for every season to follow. BSkyB would buy up the TV rights and steal from the public what they used to be able to see for free; stands would go from terraces to all-seaters following the Taylor Report and the fans themselves were reamitted to the human race after the riots and hooliganism of the 70s and 80s (and would eventually be priced out of the stadia they used to stand in).

The City v United match on 30th Apr 2012 will be important in the context of one season: the Liverpool v Arsenal match on 26th May 1989 was important in the context of all seasons evermore.

April 23, 2012

Horse 1322 - The A-League's Own Goal

I know that Football Australia are probably keen to suggest that the A-League is going from strength to strength but is it? Yesterday the Brisbane Roar downed Perth glory 1-0 after a truly horrid moment of refereeing. It's the sort of thing which should go down in the legend and the annals of the game in this country, but who actually knew about it?

Not actually being on free-to-air television the final (as indeed the whole A-League) was only broadcast on Foxtel. I'm not a subscriber myself and so I was forced to listen to the match on ABC Grandstand Digital (thank you Aunty). For a casual fan, or perhaps someone who only has a passing interest in the game, they will have had zero access to it, unless they had Foxtel and been subscribed to a sports package.

Today's newspapers fared not much better. You'd think a national football final would be splashed all over the back pages of at least one newspaper but it wasn't. The Daily Telegraph had it buried six pages inwards and the Sydney Morning Herald had their coverage eight pages from the back. It's hardly the sort of thing to sell football as a brand or product now is it?
Clearly the way I've seen it, both Fairfax and News Ltd who control the print media have turned their backs on football. Sure they're perfectly happy to sing the praises of the national team when there's a World Cup on but during the regular season, they're more than happy to label the fans with everything they can possibly think of and even jeer when billionaires carry on like a pork chop. Unless Clive Palmer or Nathan Tinkler make noises, the print media almost virtually refused to acknowledge even the existence of football in Australia. Do they hate it for some reason?

The thing is that I can understand in an age where playing players, hiring grounds and organising air time is all big business but you'd think that for the final at least, someone could have brokered a deal to stick it on free-to-air telly?
It seems that Foxtel and indeed Football Australia itself are perfectly content to wring the necks of the existing fans base for cash in pursuit of maximising every dollar but to chase new fans is altogether too hard.

I look to the FA Cup Final in England coming up on the 5th of May. It has been moved from its traditional date of the third Saturday in May to allow for space for the European Championships in June. The FA Cup Final is proof that if you put something on telly, people will watch it. The Cup Final in England not only draws the casual fans in England but also around the world.
The last Saturday in September is the date for the Australian Rules Grand Final. Apart from the Bathurst 1000 it is the largest annual television audience and has been since 1961.
The point is that if the A-League Final had been out on telly, there would have been more interest in it and perhaps the sport. If Football Australia was actually serious about growing the pie, then they would have made arrangements with either the ABC or SBS to show it on telly.

The only conclusion I can draw is that Football Australia like the rest of the Australian media, hates football. It seems to me that the only way forward for the game is to just completely sell-out and look to people who don't have green passports to run the game. If the Central Coast Mariners and the Newcastle Jets are any indication, within five years people from Qatar or Bahrain will own the clubs anyway.

April 18, 2012

Horse 1321 - We are all doomed Mr Mainwaring!

Great cries of consternation and whelps of dread arose over the weekend as the ANZ announced last week that it will increase interest rates for variable mortgages and small business lending by 0.06 per cent or 6 basis points on April 20th. The sting of this announcement is that people will pay more in interest on their mortgages; on a mortgage of $300,000 it works out at about $14 extra a fortnight.

If you look at where is puts them in relation to everyone else the movement doesn't seem quite so horrid:
7.31% - NAB
7.36% - ANZ (old)
7.41% - CBA
7.42% - ANZ (new)
7.46% - WBC

The big difference I suppose is that the ANZ made it official policy to move its interest rates independently of the Reserve Bank in a regular meeting on the second Friday of each month a while back, whereas the other banks do so on a purely ad-hoc basis. What the official policy itself though says, is that the ANZ is prepared to take a gamble on funding every month in the hope of increasing its profits.

The official reason for the ANZ's rate rise was given in Friday's SMH:
"The funding environment changed quite dramatically in late 2011 as a result of the economic and financial crisis in Europe. This has seen wholesale funding costs rise and competition increase dramatically among  banks for deposits.
We accept our response to the new funding environment is difficult for some of our  customers - even though deposit customers have benefited from better rates.
Given this and the volatility we have seen in wholesale funding markets, we wanted to ensure these costs were sustained before we acted to pass them on. We also wanted to pace increases in a way that was manageable for our customers and ensured we were competitively positioned,"
- Phil Chronican, as quoted in the Sydney Morning Herald, 13th April 2012.

Put simply the ANZ bank is complaining (as indeed the other three majors are) about the increased costs of deposits and wholesale funding. The thing is though that given Australia's very large pool of superannuation savings, the biggest single cost driver on the price of money are term deposits.

If in fact the financial meltdown has had any effect at all on the price of money in Australia, it will be because the banks (in particular the ANZ) have found that due to falling credit ratings in Europe, the price at which people are prepared to lend governments money at has gone up; this of course makes perfect sense. Lending money to countries like Greece, Italy, Portugal, Spain etc. is a riskier proposition than it was even four years ago; increased default risk naturally carries with it a higher cost for those funds lended.

This means that the ANZ probably is facing larger costs than it did because those avenues of funding in Europe are now likely to be more expensive as the supply curve for those funds. Also, collectively as the banks search for alternate funding sources domestically, that has the effect of pushing the demand curve for domestic funds to the right and forcing the cost of funds upwards to a new equilibrium position.
This though is something of a vicious cycle because by increasing domestic lending rates, then buyers of credit are disincentivised and this puts downward pressure on profits. Downward pressure on profits leads to downward pressure on your credit rating which itself leads to a rise in the cost of wholesale credit; hence, interest charged on mortgages will rise to cover that cost.

All of this sounds perfectly reasonable until you realise the rather sober fact that money itself isn't real and that banks like the ANZ and indeed the whole financial sector are little more than coupon changers. When someone borrows money from a bank, they're completely aware that that money must be paid back with interest.
A lecturer I once had suggested that there are only two methods to make money: work or win. Of the four factors of production, only labour produces an award based on actual work; the other three are basically forms of winning. 
The problem is that that money is generated by producing real goods and services, whereas the bank doesn't really have to work at all to turn itself a profit. There is a "minor" amount of effort and skill at sourcing funds but the cost of money doesn't actually truly reflect the work generated by the bank to make those funds available. Meanwhile profits generated by banks and indeed the whole financial sector itself are little more than the difference between the cost of money borrowed (by the bank) and the rewards paid out to the people lending the money (investors). There is a truly hideous amount of cream skimming going on by the financial sector, but rather than face up to the fact that it's no morally better than a highwayman holding the economy up at knifepoint, people are prepared to throw ever higher salaries and wages at the knaves.

It can be very easily argued that the banks have a social responsibility to the economy and the nation by virtue of the fact that they're really the only sector apart from possibly the car industry basically underwritten by the government. During the height of the Global Financial Crisis, the big four banks even managed to swindle the government of the day into guaranteeing deposits held with them, which seems to me to patently unfair as no other business has such an ability.
Mind you, given that banks over the past 40 years have shifted from a respectable social position on the high street to a predatory one, I seriously doubt whether they even consider whether they even have any social responsibility . Mr Manwaring may have existed once upon a time, but he's been executed by the same knife wielding highwayman holding the economy to ransom.

Thomas Jefferson said that:
I believe that banking institutions are more dangerous to our liberties than standing armies. If the people ever allow private banks to control the issue of their currency, first by inflation, then by deflation, the banks and corporations that will grow up around [the banks] will deprive the people of all property until their children wake-up homeless on the continent their fathers conquered. The issuing power should be taken from the banks and restored to the people, to whom it properly belongs.
That is almost certainly true for the United States and increasingly becoming true for Australia. Largely because money itself isn't a real thing, banks by inference have the power to create the stuff via the credit creation process on a fiat basis. The costs of that money are ultimately born by mugginses who actually have to do real work for a living. We actually are all doomed Mr Mainwaring!

April 17, 2012

Horse 1320 - More Than A "Slip" Of The Pen

http://www.smh.com.au/national/just-a-slip-of-the-pen-and-ahah-the-plot-thickens-20111018-1lymn.html What possible benefit would news organisations gain by duping their readers, listeners and viewers? Most base their whole ethos on their integrity, and the trust and faith placed in them. That integrity is the basis upon which they have built their reputations - not to mention their income and their future. Trust is the core of their business. - Judy Prisk, Sydney Morning Herald, October 19, 2011

What possible benefit would news organisations gain by duping their readers, listeners and viewers? A monetary one.
Newspapers have from time to time deliberately lied to their readers. It's even better if you can find a broader and wider target which can't defend itself, because that way there are even any legal ramifications either such as any possible defamation or calumny cases which might follow. I mention this today on the anniversary of a day of infamy in journalism. Part of the articles are reproduced below:
"Drunken Liverpool fans viciously attacked rescue workers as they tried to revive victims of the Hillsborough soccer disaster, it was revealed last night. Police officers, firemen and ambulance crew were punched, kicked and urinated upon by a hooligan element in the crowd.
Some thugs rifled the pockets of injured fans as they were stretched out unconscious on the pitch. Sheffield MP Irvine Patnick revealed that in one shameful episode a gang of Liverpool fans noticed that the blouse of a girl trampled to death had risen above her breasts. As a policeman struggled in vain to revive her, the mob jeered: ‘Throw her up here and we will **** her’

‘As we struggled in appalling conditions to save lives, fans standing further up the terrace were openly urinating on us and the bodies of the dead.” The fans were just acting like animals. My men faced a double hell – the disaster and the fury of the fans who attacked us."
- The Sun, 16th April 1989.

All of the above was completely baseless. The whole thing was made up purely to sell newspapers. By demonising the fans of a football club, the Sun probably sold a few more million copies that day. http://www.guardian.co.uk/football/2012/apr/12/hillsborough-battle-orgreave
The media, most notoriously the Sun, carried smears against the supporters, citing senior police sources, which Taylor later ruled to be without foundation.
- David Conn, The Guardian, 12th April 2012

I do happen to have a copy of the Taylor Report and indeed The Sun's article is reproduced in full. Most of the report talk about stadium design, but some of it does have to do with establishing why it happened at all. It would appear that South Yorkshire Police were hopelessly under trained in how to deal with this sort of thing and the Taylor Report does suggest negligence on their part, but mysteriously the CCTV footage which would have been crucial in proving this, went missing on the night of the disaster.
Also it would appear that The Sun was probably fed leaks from within both the South Yorkshire Police and the then Thatcher Government. Either way, the Sun's editor in chief Kelvin MacKenzie went to print anyway in spite of actual evidence.

"As MacKenzie’s layout was seen by more and more people, a collective shudder ran through the office (but) MacKenzie’s dominance was so total there was nobody left in the organisation who could rein him in except Murdoch. (Everyone in the office) seemed paralysed, “looking like rabbits in the headlights”, as one hack described them. The error staring them in the face was too glaring. It obviously wasn’t a silly mistake; nor was it a simple oversight. Nobody really had any comment on it—they just took one look and went away shaking their heads in wonder at the enormity of it. It was a “classic smear”."
- Stick It Up Your Punter, Peter Chippendale & Chris Horrie, Heinemann, 1990

The Sun did officially apologise but only on the 7th of July 2004, some fifteen years later and even then the editor in chief Kelvin MacKenzie refused to show any remorse whatsoever: http://icliverpool.icnetwork.co.uk/0100news/0100regionalnews/tm_headline=ex-sun-editor--i-was-right-on-hillsborough&method=full&objectid=18190784&siteid=50061-name_page.html
"I went on the World at One the next day and apologised. I only did that because Rupert Murdoch told me to. I wasn't sorry then and I'm not sorry now because we told the truth."
-  Kelvin MacKenzie as quoted in the Liverpool Daily Post, 1st Dec 2006 http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/uk_news/england/merseyside/6254767.stm
"I'm not saying I was wrong, I'm saying I don't have to say I'm sorry"
Kelvin MacKenzie on BBC1's "Question Time", 12th Jan 2007

People's memories run deep though and before the FA Cup Semi-Final between Liverpool and Everton, posters were held up for the "Don't Buy The Sun" campaign. It would appear that ultimately, that telling lies has possibly resulted in almost a quarter of a century of lost revenue.

In fact as comedian Alexei Sayle showed in his documentary "Alexei Sayle's Liverpool", the city's loathing of the newspaper is such that you can't even give the newspaper away in Liverpool for free:
Ms Prisk's opening statement that integrity and trust is the basis upon which newspapers build their their reputations, income and future, but the example of The Sun shows that if a journalist gets a bent and is blatantly unrepentant for what they write, then truth, integrity and trust may as well be like a chasing of the wind.
What possible benefit would news organisations gain by duping their readers, listeners and viewers? A monetary one. Writing lies if you can do it properly, sells media and advert space; ethics can go jump. Justice in the interim, dies.

April 15, 2012

Horse 1319 - Everton Sees Red - Liverpool 2 - Everton 1

Liverpool 2 - Everton 1

Jelavic - 24' (EVE)
Suárez - 62' (LIV)
Carroll - 87' (LIV)

Only three teams have ever taken a domestic cup double in England and one of them was Liverpool. Today's victory against Everton has booked them a place in the final to give them a chance at doing it again. The win though was not pretty, not easy and I think not very impressive either.

All three goals came from either a mistake or a dead ball situation. Nikica Jelavic's 24th minute opener as a result of Jamie Carragher's blunder and rebound off Tim Cahill, Luis Suárez' 62nd minute effort by a lapse in concentration from the defence, and Andy Carroll only headed in a free-kick from Craig Bellamy in the 87th minute after having more shots than a gunfight in Merrylands and missing all of them.
Really all that Liverpool can hope to take away from this match is that they gritted their way through 90 minutes and came out the other side. Whilst this works somewhat well in Cup Ties, their current 8th position definitely says that they're not really fit for Champions League football, let alone hoping for a tilt at the league title itself. Based on today's performance, they are worth no better than that 8th place suggests.

One of the basic things to master as a player in the game of football is to pass the ball to someone in the same coloured shirt as you; there was precious little of that from either side today. Liverpool especially seems to have reverted to an ancient King Kenny Dalglish tactic of firing the ball up the centre of the park on Route 1, finding a big player and shuffling it onto a little player. That's fine and dandy if the year happens to be 1971 but the passing of 40 years has long since made this sort o thing hideously outdated and Everton were consistently able to prize the Liverpool defence apart, coming back the other way on the counter-attack, like opening a walnut.

Defensively Liverpool are probably fine but the problem is at the other end. Liverpool in the league have only managed to score 40 goals. Relegation placed Blackburn Rovers (19th) have managed to score 45. Andy Carroll himself who was bought for a Liverpool record of £35m has only scored 4. Four. To put this in perspective, Cristiano "Poo Boots" Ronaldo scored 40 goals in 2010-11. That means to say that last year Ronaldo single handedly scored as many goals as the entire Liverpool squad has done this season.
I hope that Liverpool comes out to play against which ever London club they happen to draw in the Cup Final but based on this performance, they won't be good enough to even score let alone win.

April 12, 2012

Horse 1318 - Long Live The Galactic Empire

Episode IV
It is a period of civil war. Rebel spaceships, striking from a hidden base, have won their first victory against the evil Galactic Empire.
During the battle, Rebel spies managed to steal secret plans to the Empire's ultimate weapon, the DEATH STAR, an armored space station with enough power to destroy an entire planet.

Pursued by the Empire's sinister agents, Princess Leia races home aboard her starship, custodian of the stolen plans that can save her people and restore freedom to the galaxy....

Reading this as a small child (I was born one year after Star Wars Episode 4 came out, in 1978), the lines about who the viewer should support in this film are heavy-handedly and explicitly stated right at the beginning. These are the bad guys, these are the good guys; there you go; and everyone is supposed to be happy about it.
Looking back on this now, I think that this opening blurb and indeed the whole Star Wars saga is little more than revisionist propaganda. The Empire itself is described in so called "official media" as one based on "tyranny, hatred of nonhumans, brutal and lethal force, and, above all else, constant fear." Is this truly the case though?

The Galactic Empire was born out of the conflict between the Old Republic and the Confederacy of Independent Systems. As the Republic decends into what amounts into anarchy, Chancellor Palpatine is given a set of emergency powers which in due time he does not return to the Senate.
It should be noted that although the Old Republic and indeed the Senate is democratic, it would appear that it is tied up in so many layers of bureaucracy as to render it totally incapable of being fit for purpose; hence the reason why the Civil War breaks out in the first place.

Largely due to the fact that the "Star Wars" saga is told through the eyes of an unreliable narrator, they only seem to focus on attempts to destroy the Empire and not on the Empire's feats in civil construction, sciences, the arts et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. The problem of how to communicate across distances of light-years for instance, must have been solved in this period but even a small thing like this is passe and unremarkable in this universe.

The mere existence of a vast fleet of spaceships indicates that the metals and other raw materials which are used to make them are being mined, smelted and refined; this would indicate an equally vast chain of mining, manufacturing, services industries required to produce such things, however this is never touched upon. Also I can't imagine that the entire population of the Empire is all currently serving in the military. Assuming that military personnel account for only a small portion of the Emipre's population, then there must be a multitude of people living within its territory; not once throughout the Star Wars saga do we ever hear anything about issues of overcrowding, poverty, healthcare or education. If these subjects are never touched upon then are we to assume that it's simply not an issue and that the Empire is for the most part a largely civil "country"? If it was a problem, then I'd assume that a party which is interested in painting the Empire as horrid place would do so for all it's worth but this never happens; instead the Empire is shown up in the films as a rather egalitarian society with trade between all sectors and places under its protection.
Coruscant itself is described by Pollux Hax as a "An incandescent organ of life, visibly vibrating with the pulses of billions"; indeed the population of Coruscant and the Core Worlds is said to be more than 1 trillion permanent ground residents. It also seems to have solved its problems of recycling, and waste disposal because it recycles most packaging and clothing, reclaiming oils and greases and incinerates the rest in its sun.

Under the rule of Emporer Palpatine, within the The Galactic Empire there is effective governance and it also appears that there is effective and efficient taxation and industry. However when I sent a  tweet to the ATO to establish their position they replied in decidedly non-standard English which is one of the hallmarks of one of the co-conspirators in this, Yoda:
Admittedly Sol III or what we call "Earth" is a somewhat backwards planet orbiting an equally pathetic G2V class yellow dwarf, upon which humanoids haven't even developed anything much more beyond chemcial-based rocketry; so I'd expect that it should be relatively easy to fool the population through entertainments like moving pictures.

I also have distinct problems with the reportage of the destruction of Alderaan. Firstly Emporer Palpatine expresses deep regret for its destruction which seems out of character for someone who supposedly does not care.
Secondly, Ben Kenobe says that he "felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror and were suddenly silenced." This poses a distinct problem. We are told elsewhere that Alderaan has more than 2 billion inhabitants and that most of them were "evacuated". This sounds to me as though the planet had been scheduled for renovation and that proper planning and an environmental impact studies had been made. However, only Kenobe ever reports this and again, why should be believe a propagandist as reliable; especially when he's not even a witness?
Thirdly, Govenor Tarkin reports that "The regional governors now have direct control over their territories" which at very least suggests a more decentralised government, which is not what you'd expect for a supposedly totalitarian society.
Actually I suspect that Alderaan was subject to a demolition order for mining purposes and that all the planning charts and demolition orders were on display at the local planning department in Cloud City, Bespin; so in all honesty they probably had plenty of time to lodge any formal complaints and it was far too late to start making a fuss about it after the event.
Alderaan even went so far as to "persuade" the weapons inspectors of the Galactic Republic to ignore the arming of their one-time cargo craft, through bribery.
Given this right at the beginning of Episode IV which isn't even the first episode and even that suggests retroactive continuity rewrites, I just don't think that the events as depicted in "Star Wars" are accurate.

Besides which, the Empire has better looking uniforms and a more rigorous discipline code. Granted that the training to teach Stormtroopers how to shoot straight probably isn't up to par but that's a relatively minor concern. The Empire also has the best national anthem... ever. The "Imperial March" makes "God Save the Queen" seem dreary and "La Marseillaise" quiver in its majesty. I'd be happy to walk into an Olympic Stadium with that going, wouldn't you?

Horse 1317 - You Say Potato I Say Potato

You say eether and I say eyether,
You say neether and I say nyther;
Eether, eyether, neether, nyther,
Let's call the whole thing off!
You like potato and I like potahto,
You like tomato and I like tomahto;
Potato, potahto, tomato, tomahto!
Let's call the whole thing off!
- From "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off", by George and Ira Gershwin, 1937.

How does one pronounce the word "potato"? Actually the proper pronunciation was given in that three part documentary series "The Lord Of The Rings" by those two famed Theoretical Lexicographers, Sam Gamgee and Sméagol Gollum:
Sam: What we need is a few good taters.
Gollum: What's taters, precious? What's taters, eh?
Sam: Po-tay-toes! Boil 'em, mash 'em, stick 'em in a stew...

The key to pronouncing the word Potatoes lies in their history in relation to the UK.
Potatoes were brought back from the new world in 1592 by Walter Raleigh. Almost immediately a great craze followed and people started smoking them, building houses out of them and it wasn't long before people even started eating them.

Because of the fame of Raleigh who was knighted for his services and became Sir Walter Raleigh, potatoes themselves in England at least they were called "Raleighs" right up until 1835.
The Gaelic word for "Raleigh" or rather a "Rally" or journey is "Tayto", and this is still evident in the name of Ireland's biggest crisp manufacturer. http://www.taytocrisps.ie/

The word "Potato" derives from Edgar Allan Poe's poem "The Tayto" which was published in 1835 and was accused of being blasphemous and bawdy. Because of this the word changed to "Poetayto" and supplanted the orginal word almost entirely within 10 years. The modern spelling was finally codified with the arrival of the OED in 1895.

It would seem that the song by George and Ira Gershwin in 1937, either recalls this dispute of a pre to early Victorian era, or it could be dealing with a genuine mistake. Either way, it is an idea to "Call the Whole Thing Off" because convention after 117 holds that "Po-tay-toes" is the correct way to say the word.

April 09, 2012

Horse 1316 - A Useless Greek Mindset?

QandA tommorrow night on ABC1 is being touted as a showdown between the Catholic Archbishop of Sydney, George Pell, and evangelistic atheist and author Richard Dawkins. I assume that if any debate is had, neither side will give an inch and that any serious discussion will be stifled.
I actually think that both Pell and Dawkins illustrate something quite fundamental about the mindset in which we find ourselves living in in the 21st Century; that is one which is very much Greek in nature.

Fundamentally our mindset in the West is cast by a very Greek way of thinking; that is that evidence reveals the conclusions that you are looking for. Science is predicated on the the idea of observing something and producing a theory to fit the evidence observed or making a prediction and then testing the hypothesis. Even Christianity itself is influenced by the thought that creation reveals the creator through the act of observance; this I suspect is largely because the New Testament itself was written in Greek which was the lingua franca at the time and this more than likely influenced the way of thinking of its early followers.

Dawkins however likes to lie to people. Just to emphasise the fact, I'll say this again: Dawkins likes to lie to people.
I think that a key proof of this is something which he oft repeats. This is an example:
"What's wrong with believing in a god, regardless of who that god is?"
"I think it's false. I think it's a matter of belief without evidence and as a scientist and an educator, I like the idea that we belive things because there's evidence."
- Dawkins, The Hour from CBC Canada.

If you haven't read "The God Delusion" then I can suggest that you do because it illustrates something which is both unfair and a logical fallacy. You can not base an argument destroying something from a particular standpoint and then use that exact same standpoint to prove an equal argument which you have just denounced.
The biggest problem that I have with Dawkins though is that little thing in science called "Reification". Science is about building models or explanations. A model and an explanation is fine but the model itself is not reality

“If I were to suggest that between the Earth and Mars there is a china teapot revolving around the sun in a elliptical orbit, nobody would be able to disprove my assertion provided I were careful to add that the teapot is too small to be revealed even by out most powerful telescopes.  But if I were to go on and say that, since my assertion cannot be disproved, it is an intolerable presumption on the part of human reason to doubt it.  I should rightly be thought of talking nonsense.  If, however, the existence of such a teapot were affirmed in ancient books, taught as the sacred truth every Sunday, and instilled into the minds of children at school, hesitation to believe in its existence would become a mark of eccentricity and entitle the doubter to the attentions of the psychiatrist in an enlightened age or of the Inquisitor in an earlier time.”
- Richard Dawkins, The God Delusion (p52) 2006.

You can not suggest that the burden of proof lies on a theist to prove the existence of god by assuming that yours is the only possible view of the world and then to demand proof on that basis if you've already rejected evidence which may have been submitted. All that really proves is that both an atheist and a theist interprets with world through an a priori filter.

Setting this aside for a second, I'd like to present a short film:

I have a few interesting questions for Mr Dawkins. Firstly, if we assume that God is being which lives in a dimension beyond the sixth, then how are we even supposed to observe him directly? Just like a two-dimensional flat-lander living with their perception inside the second dimension but who might through their actions exist in the third, if God operates by manipulating the sixth, seventh or eight dimensions, then how exactly do you design an experiment to disprove that? Again I instantly realise that I've shifted the burden of proof back onto the theist which is unfair but given that we're both interpreting with world through an a priori filter, what else do you expect?
Secondly, what would happen if God did in fact decide to provide proof of his existence but you have rejected it outright because of your a priori filtering? If you deliberately choose to reject evidence, then that isn't actually science but something which moves into the realm of faith, which Dawkins accuses others of having without base.

Jesus not only claimed to be God, but then attempted to provide proof of that. People can choose to either accept or reject his claims, it's up to them. Given that we have four independent accounts of his death and resurrection in the Gospels, three other direct accounts in the epistles, nevermind the fact that Josephus, Tacitus and even the prefect Marcellus wrote of the existence of Jesus' (and in Marcellus' case his death and resurrection), if you presented ten witnesses to something in a court of law, then the ratio decendii of that thing happening would be enough to take it as fact, but I digress.

Getting back to the original subject of having a Greek mindset, Christians view nature itself as proof that God exists; Dawkins rejects this outright.
According to  Hebrew tradition though, God is not in nature or a part of nature but outside of nature. Interestingly, Hebrew thinking says that God is not revealed in nature but hidden away from it. Hebrew tradition very much states that God can not be found in nature but can only be found in words.
Hebrew tradition also starts from an a priori standpoint but makes no claims that if you study nature you will find proof positive of negative of the existence or non-existence of God. From a Hebrew mindset, the evidence does not reveal the conclusion that you are looking for; science can not help you.

I think I rather like this idea. If God isn't part of nature, he certainly is not going to be observable inside it. That poses an even bigger problem for someone whose trying to prove or disprove his existence, which is what virtually everyone with a Greek mindset tries to do.

April 06, 2012

Horse 1315 - Mark Webber: Future Champion?

Mark Webber is yet to secure his place at Red Bull for the 2013 season.
Team boss Christian Horner said the Australian has a "spring in his step" after a strong winter following Sebastian Vettel's dominance last year.
But as for the future, he said that will only be discussed "in the summer".

"We've extended his contract on a year by year basis, I think that's something that Mark and the team agreed was the right way forward," Horner told Sky Sports.
"His motivation is high at the moment, he's still delivering and undoubtedly will sit down later in the summer to discuss the future."

The biggest threats to 35-year-old Webber's place are rookie team Toro Rosso's new signings, Daniel Ricciardo and Jean-Eric Vergne.
- Autoblog, 8th March 2012

Firstly I'd like to say that I don't think that Mark Webber is a terrible driver. Obviously someone who has won seven Grands Prix is far far far better than I and to consistently retain a seat in Formula One for 10 years means that he is easily one of the world's 20 best drivers. The problem is that whilst he is certainly in the top 20 and possibly in the top ten, to be World Champion you need to be somewhere in the top three and then be in a car good enough to carry you and I just don't think that Webber is that good.
Sebastian Vettel, Lewis Hamilton, Jensen Button, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen dare I suggest Kamui Kobayashi, Nico Rosberg and even Sébastien Loeb, Tom Kristensen and Frank Biela are probably all better than Mark Webber.

So then, given that Webber probably isn't likely to win a Formula One World Championship and that Red Bull in F1 are being incredibly cagey about Webber's future, I think that Webber possibly sits on a chance to do something special.

Nissan Motor Co. and Red Bull have entered into some sort of alliance. The Red Bull F1 cars use Renault engines but Nissan's luxury brand Infiniti features more heavily on the livery than Renault does. There were also announcements made earlier this year that Kelly Racing in the V8Supercars championship would be running Nissans in the 2013 season.
I've had a fiddle with some pictures I've found on the web and have come up with this:

If you were Nissan and wanted to expose your new team with as much hype as you possibly could, it would make perfect sense to hire the driver with the greatest ability who would be available at the time.

Couple Mark Webber and Greg Murphy in the same car at Bathurst for the 1000k race and to be totally honest, I'd expect that even if the car wasn't quite up to top-line status in the V8Supercar series, that Webber would be able to climb around the problem with sheer ability, and that Murphy is sufficiently a good enough driver to complement him perfectly. Murphy certainly has the experience and is a four time winner.

If Webber were to move to V8Supercars he would go from being a reasonably big fish in a pond of other big fish, to being a big fish in a smaller pond. He'd easily be the most talented driver in the field and I'd expet that he'd be wearing the No.1 plate in 2014.

April 05, 2012

Horse 1314 - SY12X7/12: Work vs Wages (Divorced)


EXECUTIVE pay is a hot topic, but one of ANZ's most senior executives says he is mystified that Australians love hearing about the millions paid to athletes and movie stars, but slam the remuneration of corporate leaders.
''We seem happy and even proud when our sports people make it onto the list of the top 20 paid people, or similarly when our entertainers make it on Hollywood's best-paid list,'' ANZ Australia chief executive Phil Chronican told an American Chamber of Commerce in Australia lunch yesterday.
''Yet for some reason when people are managing large complex businesses it is seen as excessive.''
Mr Chronican said the issue was not whether an executive was paid $1 million, $3 million, $5 million or more, but why.
- Chris Zappone, Sydney Morning Herald, 5th Apr 2012

Phil Chronican's comments open up all sorts of issues. There are in fact so many that even tying them together is a laborious job. I'm going to try to attempt to.

Firstly, he can't understand why the general public seems to think that executive salary is excessive. Of course he can't, why should he? It's not like he actually rubs shoulders with the general public does he? Why would he want to do that?
People generally expect that there is a link between working hard and being paid more and that's perfectly reasonable but the problem is that that expectation is entirely false.

In a market economy, the price of goods and services is not in any way determined by the intrinsic "worth" of something but by the two opposing factors of supply and demand. Generally suppliers are willing to supply more of a good/service as the price goes up; inversely, buyers tend to buy more of a good/service as the price goes down. A pair of curves graphing price and quantity demanded and supplied for any good or service can be drawn thusly:

At the point where the quantity supplied of a good/service at a particular price and the quantity demanded of a good/service happens to meet at that same particular price, the market reaches an economic equilibrium of price and quantity and sales occur. The two forces of supply and demand are usually in constant battle which is why why we see movements in prices quoted on an almost daily basis for all sorts of things like oil, wheat, pork bellies, gold, tin, silver, wool and even the price of money and currencies themselves.

The price of labour is also a service which is bought and sold. Unlike most other goods or services, the price of labour is generally fixed for a given period of time (after wage negotiations have taken place) and instead of movements on a daily basis, the price of labour moves far more slowly.
The thing with senior executives and corporate leaders of very large corporations, is that their salaries and remuneration packages are not necesarily subject to as rigourous a fight between the two forces of supply and demand. The sorts of people who generally get to decide how much a senior executive should get are most likely to be other senior executives. If people wield that sort of power over both the supply and demand of the same service, then it's very much open to grift.

There is rather a distinct difference between the CEO of a bank and a sports person, actor in Hollywood or other entertainer. I could for instance go about my daily life (and usually do) without going to the cinema, or buying tickets to visit sports stadia. Sports People, Actors etc. are usually paid out of a percentage of gate takings/ticket sales or in the case of footballers, paid bonuses as a result of direct performance. A football club still receives it's income on a voluntary basis from paying customers. It would be incredibly difficult though to go about your daily life without a bank though.

My boss who is an accountant asked a rather pointed question: "If someone were to put a bullet between the eyes of Phil Chronican, would the ANZ suffer a direct loss in profits either equal or above his salary?" This question might be living in the land of hyperbole but it does ask the very worthwhile question of utility.

There are some very agreeable and beautiful talents of which the possession commands a certain sort of admiration; but of which the exercise for the sake of gain is considered, whether from reason or prejudice, as a sort of public prostitution. The pecuniary recompense, therefore, of those who exercise them in this manner must be sufficient, not only to pay for the time, labour, and expense of acquiring the talents, but for the discredit which attends the employment of them as the means of subsistence.
The exorbitant rewards of players, opera-singers, opera-dancers, etc., are founded upon those two principles; the rarity and beauty of the talents, and the discredit of employing them in this manner. It seems absurd at first sight that we should despise their persons and yet reward their talents with the most profuse liberality. While we do one, however, we must of necessity do the other. Should the public opinion or prejudice ever alter with regard to such occupations, their pecuniary recompense would quickly diminish. More people would apply to them, and the competition would quickly reduce the price of labour. Such talents, though far from being common, are by no means so rare as is imagined. Many people possess them in great perfection, who disdain to make this use of them; and many more are capable of acquiring them if anything could be made honourably by them.
-Adam Smith, "The Wealth Of Nations", 1776.

How disagreeable is it to be the CEO of a bank? Granted that you probably have to engage in heated negotations but I suspect that being compensated by means of travel, accomodation, meals etc would probably make up for it.
There is also probably a degree of paying a price for the premium demanded as a result of education and acquiring the talent to run a corporation but again my boss' question is quite pertinent. Could someone of lesser talent do the same job on a lower salary? How about if no-one did the job at all? Would the bank still run itself?

Competition for entry into the financial sector is fierce but unlike Adam Smith's suggestion that recompense would quickly diminish it hasn't seemed to at all.
In 1990, the typical CEO of a FTSE 100 company earned 25 times the pay of the average worker; in 2008 it was almost 120 times. Just two years later even after the Global Financial Crisis (which was caused entirely by a distinct lack of skill, talent and an abundance of grift) it rose to 145 times. According to The British High Pay Commission it is expected to rise to 214 times by 2020.
I don't know what the figures are for Australia but at $2.2 million Mr Chronican personally earns a little over 28 times that of someone in his bank; and yet he still wonders why the general public seems to think that executive salary is excessive.
The solution I suppose is to somehow limit executive salaries; this idea is not new. In 1898 John Pierpont Morgan, whose company is now part of JP Morgan Chase & Co., suggested that executives should earn no more than twenty times the pay of the lowest paid company employee and George Orwell wrote in "The Lion and The Unicorn" in 1941 that maybe something in the order of ten times was in order:

It has been shown over and over again that without some kind of money reward there is no incentive to undertake certain jobs. On the other hand the money reward need not be very large. In practice it is impossible that earnings should be limited quite as rigidly as I have suggested. There will always be anomalies and evasions. But there is no reason why ten to one should not be the maximum normal variation. And within those limits some sense of equality is possible. A man with £3 a week and a man with £1,500 a year can feel themselves fellow creatures, which the Duke of Westminster and the sleepers on the Embankment benches cannot.
- George Orwell, "The Lion and The Unicorn", 1941.

JP Morgan and George Orwell's comments don't necessarily deal with either the economic mechanics of price or even the utility of price but the very strange concept of "fairness". Whether or not something is "fair" is a concept completely unknown to an economist. The perception of fairness very much relies on one's position or standpoint. I'm wondering if Mr Chronican's viewed isn't clouded by his position relative to the general public.

"The ANZ has signalled that as many as 10,000 positions could go in the banking sector over the next two years. That frank assessment came as the bank announced today it would be axing 1,000 jobs."
"The jobs will go from middle management, support and back office operations. The bank says senior executive salaries will remain fixed this financial year."
- Lateline, ABC1, 13th Feb 2012

I wonder for instance how someone like Phil Chronican compares against Henry Ford. Henry Ford in 1914 introduced a minimum wage to his factorys of $5 a day compared with the industry average of $2.40 a day. In response to the Wall St Journal who called it the "economic crime of the century" (15th Nov, 1914) he then increased wages towards $10. Ford even continued to pay his workers wages during the height of the depression despite it hurting his company. Do Ford's policies illustrate what he thought of fairness?
I suppose that there is a major difference between Phil Chronican and Henry Ford though. Ford owned his company and built it up from basically nothing, whereas Phil Chronican is essentially little more than a hired hand himself. His owners are his shareholders and for the most part don't care what the company does so long as they make a return on their investment.

There are a lot of issues wrapped up together within Phil Chronican's comments but the common thread which seems to run through all of them seems to be the perpetuation of this myth that the value of work and wages are connected. This seems to result in a disdain of management by common folk and a form of antipathy of those same ordinary people by people on very large salaries. One thing we an definitely say about the comments is that Mr Chronican doesn't understand the general public's opinion and has refused to do so.

April 02, 2012

Horse 1313 - Aggregate Schmaggregate


EMPLOYERS are trying to limit a pay rise for workers on the minimum wage on the grounds they will be "overcompensated" for the new carbon tax.
The Australian Industry Group has asked Fair Work Australia to restrict the next rise in the minimum wage to $14 a week, less than the rate of inflation.
The ACTU is demanding a $26-a-week pay rise, and has asked Fair Work Australia to "look through" the government's carbon tax compensation.
The AI Group argues that the compensation offered by the government to offset the impact of the tax is so generous that the lowest-paid workers should get only a 2.4 per cent pay rise - less than this year's 3.1 per cent increase in the cost of living.
- The Australian, 2nd April 2012

Assuming that you are one of the lowest paid workers in the country, you're on a wage of $589.30 a week, or $30,643.60 per year. Once you allow for Income Tax, the Low-Income Offset and the Medicare Levy into account, you end up with a figure of $27,692.81 per year or $530.73 per week.
I live in a fibro house, 35km away from the city and pay $320.00 a week for the "privilege" of renting.
This means to suggest that according to the Australian Industry Group that someone living in a house which is very much less than average, should have $210.73 a week to play with or $220.53 after the increase.
I don't know exactly what the average cost of groceries is in a week but yesterday I spent $68.48 and there are only two of us, so it's probably likely to be considerably more if you have a family. If you then take into account train fares, petrol, electricity costs, water usage, gas etc. is there even likely to be a single dollar left?

Let me put this in perspective. Someone on $530.73 a week is very likely to have an exceptionally large marginal propensity to consume, that is their chances of spending the next dollar which they'd receive is highly likely to be spent rather than saved. This means to suggest that people right down at the very bottom are highly unlikely to save very much at all, if anything.
What the Australian Industry Group has openly suggested is that that isn't enough. Such people's wages need to be restricted even further in real terms.

Consider the general equation for Aggregate Income in the Economy:

Aggregate Income = Private Consumption + Gross investment + Government Spending + Receipts from Sales on Exports - Savings - Taxation - Payments for Import Purchases

From an economic standpoint because money happens to follow a circular flow, then cutting the supply of real wages further is going to lead to a decrease in the ability of households to Consume goods and services (since at the bottom of the wage scales, their ability to save is practically nil).

Obviously if Private Consumption falls (because people's wages aren't even keeping place with inflation), then to maintain the same levels of Aggregate Income in the economy, then there would have to be a corresponding increase in either the level of Investment, Government Spending or Receipts from Sales on Exports.
Governments generally appear to be tightening spending as a result of the rising cost of debt, which itself was caused by a tightening of credit markets in the first place; leading to a reduction in Investment spending.

To be perfectly honest, the fact that manufacturing in Australia is dying, that really the only part of the economy which appears to be experiencing any growth at all is the mining sector and that at least on the east coast of Australia there is an actual shrinkage in the economy, then cutting wages to households in real terms is going to lead to a real decrease in Aggregate Income because the levels if Investment and Government Spending are not likely to make up the shortfall.

That's all fine if the desired outcome is nothing more than a case of applied social engineering (and a return to social Darwinism) but because of negative feedback loops and money multiplier effects, it just doesn't make any prudent economic sense.
Then again if you are the Australian Industry Group, the broad health of the economy isn't really an issue for you. The only thing that really matters is the bottom line on a Profit & Loss statement.

I suppose that my question to the Australian Industry Group is "how do you propose to increase Aggregate Income and improve the economy, if your suggested policies do precisely the opposite?" Again it's not really their concern.