February 28, 2013

Horse 1444 - Third Man

I think I've found possibly a worse position on the cricket field than Fine Leg, a position so horrible that even captains are loathed to use it - Third Man.

I don't know why he's the Third Man, presumably the captain is at First Slip standing next to the Wicket Keeper and that's two men, so maybe it is given that title of honour because it is so horrid.
Third Man to Third Man duties are equally as arduous when it comes to the change of over because like Fine Leg to Fine Leg duties, the fielder has to run the longest chord of the ground. Unlike Fine Leg (see Horse 1409) though, the Third Man is expected solve problems.

Fine Leg is usually where a captain will put either the worst fielder or perhaps a bowler who they'd like to rest between overs. Fine Leg is known in advance to be either a bad fielder or someone resting and so captains don't tend to give Fine Legs all that bad a time.
In contrast, Third Man is assumed to be at least half way competent and it is therefore completely justifiable to give them a display of anger if they make even the most minute of mistakes.

Third Man is placed deep behind where the slip cordon would usually go but so far back, that just like Fine Leg, they're expected to cover an area comparable to a sheep station in Queensland where distances are measured in hours rather than miles. A ball is almost never consciously played to Third Man; usually it involves the batsman slashing wide and high and then getting a thickish edge. So unlike Fine Leg where balls are directed, clicked, glided even, at Third Man the fielder has to do their best to diffuse a hand grenade and if they don't, they can expect a volley of abuse to come their way.

Not being content with requiring a Third Man to have springy legs and the hands of a bomb disposal expert, the captain also needs them to stay awake.
Fielders at Cover or Mid-Wicket can generally keep their brain ticking over due to the constant threat of being struck by a full blooded drive, or a bash directed at Cow Corner but the poor old Third Man is so far away from any action, that the whole match takes place 'out there' somewhere.
A fielder at Third Man has so much time to let their brain wander whilst waiting for anything to happen out there that in the mean time, great books and ideas can be composed; great writers like Arthur Conan Doyle, Earnest Rutherford, Isaac Newton and even Frederich Engels were all known fielders at Third Man and dare I suggest composed their literary work out there. Isaac Newton the inventor of gravity, of course, never fielded at Third Man; the story of him being struck on the head by "an apple" (this is obviously a metaphor; we might call it a "cherry" today) took place at Deep Mid-Wicket and he reported as a side note to his book of optics that he was looking into the sun at the time and just lost it. His mistake cost Essex the match as Surrey would cruise to 784-9 dec. and even the plucky batting of Essex's Nos. 8 & 9, Marks and Spencer wasn't enough to save them.

Third Man might start to come into prominence as the Ramp shot in Twenty 20 cricket begins to take hold but that goes along with a whole raft of new developments, like fielders at Leg Slip and Deep Extra Cow Corner.
For the moment if you are asked to field there, accept the job in deference to the captain but remember to take a microphone and a sound recorder so that you can dictate notes to turn into a Pulitzer Prize winning novel later. It'll be worth it.

February 26, 2013

Horse 1443 - An Indian Summer

India 986-1 dec. defeated Australia 14 & 22. An innings and 950 runs.

I'm sure that that's not the result of the first cricket test between India and  Australia but it may as well be. Thanks to the Board Of Control For Cricket in India who seem determined to beat everyone who does not pay them lots of money, with their "board of control", the result is as relevant to me as the Farnarkling match between Titan and Europa.
The BCCI have decided in their wisdom that cricket isn't really a sport anymore but a multi-million-lakh DollarPoundRupee business, and because they're benevolently hosting the series that they have the right to charge beyond what free-to-air radio will bear because their pay TV subscribers will more than compensate for the shortfall.
The thing is that Cricket Australia and the players who continue to play in the IPL, are complicit in this because they too want their cut of the gloriously tasty pie on offer.

The escalating costs of broadcasting rights, audience demands to return to normal programming and the need to keep the airwaves open for emergency broadcasting contributed to the ABC's decision not to send a commentary team to India.
- Statement on ABC cricket coverage of Indian tour, 12th Feb 2012.

I just don't buy the ABC's statement about keeping the airwaves "open for emergency broadcasting" because in the age of digital radio, they can open an emergency radio station in a matter of minutes; I know this because this has already happened with various cultural festivals. This is purely about money as further evidenced by this funny little statement:

2013 India Test series
Due to restrictions on media accreditation imposed by the BCCI, we will be unable to provide photos from the four-Test series between India and Australia.

Further to this the Sydney Morning Herald has also found it difficult to obtain photo accreditation and quite rightly I think, has decided to ridicule the BCCI on its pages:

- Sydney Morning Herald (Print Edition), 26th Feb 2012

I do find it a little amusing though, that rather than trying to bash an independent voice as Christopher Martin-Jenkins tried to last year and as I later reported on in Horse 1394, the ABC have decided to embrace the independent voice of Test Match Sofa. Their website is here: http://testmatchsofa.com/

Last week, as the Australian cricket tour of India was gearing up for the first Test, the realisation dawned on many cricket fans that short of having access to Pay TV, there's no live broadcast of the series available in Australia.  Well, that turns out to be not quite true.  Provided you're happy to listen to an unofficial cricket broadcaster that has developed quite a cult following on the Internet.
- Chris Coleman, ABC 702 Sydney, 25th Feb 2012.

This might sound like sour grapes on my part (which it is) but I completely understand the mentality. Professional sports players, coaches, grounds, trainers, coaches and managers, now command such high salaries in all sorts of sports, that monetising and squeezing the wallets of the fans ever harder and harder is the only way to go.
Sure you might end up with a situation as with the Australian summer of cricket where spectators have been priced out of the grounds and crowds begin to dwindle to the point of embarrassment but that doesn't matter when you have more than a billion people across the globe who can potentially pay for it through a pay TV subscription.

Cricket is a weird game by nature. At provincial level across the world, you could lower the price of admission to zero and because most people go to work for five days a week, even then the only people who'd show up are uni students and retired people, or exactly the same crowds as now. One only needs to look at any Sheffield Shield match to realise that of the nine paying spectators, three have knighthoods, three are trying to sneak alcopops into the ground and one is a dog called Kevin.
Move up to international level though and series like the Ashes and whoever is playing for the number one world ranking, have sell out crowds and often a scramble to even get tickets. That however only applies to a few select nations, other test playing nations find it a little more difficult to attract spectators to the ground.
India vs New Zealand for example, probably isn't likely to have an incredibly large demand but India vs Australia is such that the BCCI figures that they can charge billions. Consequently organisations like the ABC and the BBC have been priced out, for the BCCI honestly couldn't give a rip if other nations' taxpayers have to fit the bill for their greed.
Honestly, I think that the BCCI are playing the long game here. With the 50 over One Day International dying on its feet, if the BCCI can successfully finally kill off test cricket, then all those professional players will come and play in their shiny; glittery; "whatever it is" cup. It was the cricket world's fault for not milking the game for all it was worth earlier.

I'm sitting here completely surrounded by NO cricket!

The fact that the test series is not on the radio, even when technology exists to broadcast all sorts of things on digital radio simultaneously, is the ultimate expression of the fact that the game of cricket is no longer for the people but for those prepared to pay.
The BCCI after trying to lock out the BBC on the England tour, have now successfully done so with the ABC on the Australia tour. Once looks churlish; twice looks downright mean. The rest of us just have to accept a world where the BCCI is trying to destroy Test Cricket.
There is a strange irony that it was possible to listen to a test series from the newly independent India in 1951 on ABC Radio but impossible more than 60 years later. Oh look how far technology has come.

I congratulate India on its 17-nil Test Series win; well done to the BCCI. Maybe in a few years' time once the state of cricket has been completely tainted, the BCCI will apply to leave the ICC... we can only hope.

Horse Meat Scandal - Official Notice

Although this blog is called "The Horse", it is not connected to the kerfuffle currently surrounding British supermarkets nor Swedish furniture company IKEA.

When I consider that a piece of toast bearing the face of the Vurgin Mary can sell for thousands of dollars, or that the share price of Berkshire Hathaway is affected every time that Anne Hathaway is mentioned in the newspaper, nothing really surprises me any more.
All that is really left for me to say is "thank you" to the more than two dozen people who have emailed me and the one person who left a curious comment; if I ever find out what "posoinong" (sic) is, I'll let you know.

February 18, 2013

Horse 1442 - On The Right To Privacy

“The right to privacy has blossomed in recent decades, to the point where it has developed into an enforceable legal right in many countries. The existence of a right to privacy has been assumed, but not proven and no one has rigorously analysed whether privacy is desirable, until now.”
“The current legal focus and level of discussion concerning the right to privacy is an illustration of the human propensity to lose perspective,” 
Professor Mirko Bagaric, 6th Feb, 2013

Professor Mirko Bagaric, dean and head of the faculty of law at Deakin University has argued in an essay published in "Future Proofing Australia: The Right Answers For Our Future" that in an age of increased social media, that the right to privacy is either becoming so irrelevant as not to exist or that it never truly existed in the first place.
It is an interesting concept to be sure and I can sort of understand that given that people are prone to publish so many details about themselves, which is the distinct opposite of anonymity, why the Professor would draw such conclusions.
Is it a worthwhile suggestion to make though? By inference, would he be prepared to perform the experiment with his own personal details and effects? I wonder how quickly Mr Bagaric would be to claim his own right to privacy once his itself had been violated. How would he feel if where he lived, his date of birth, tax file number and/or medical records were published for all and sundry to see without his permission? Would he then claim a right which he currently argues does not exist?

One of the most obvious things for me when it comes to the use of social media, is the question of whether or not something has been proffered for publication or not. The internet generally sort of acts like a giant newsstand on the street corner, except that the barriers which used to exist when it came to publication (printing costs, access to space on the newsstand etc) are vastly reduced to the point of almost zero. Although the very point and aim of the internet was the fast dissemination of information, the very act of publishing something still implies that consent has been given to publish that thing which has been published.

Mr Bagaric has this to say:
“Facebook has more than 800 million users of which more than 50 Per cent log on every day. Users select the amount and type of data they upload and commonly it includes photographs, often of a revealing nature, relationship status, work and study activity, likes and dislikes and intimate personal details.
Nothing it seems is out of bounds in terms of the information people share about themselves.”

Whilst I agree that nothing is necessarily out of bounds in terms of what people publish, which also sort of goes hand in hand with the right to free speech, it still nevertheless requires a willful act to publish something.
For instance, when I write a blog post, i am in fact required to press a button marked publish before it appears for general consumption. My permission is granted at that point if you will, by the willful act of pressing the button and consenting to publish. That is quite different to an invasion of privacy which is the publication of something without any consent to publication being granted.
Perhaps Twitter and Facebook are far more ethereal. In some respects they're like speaking in that whatever is communicated is done so more or less instantly but unlike the mere act of speaking, those words and pictures form a record which can be traced. Even then though, they still require someone at some point to consent to the thing to be published.
Some dispute though exists when Facebook in particular claims that everything posted and every detail which is offered to it, is its property. Facebook tries to claim in its Terms Of Service that because it offers a voluntary service that it has the right to on sell details given to it. I suppose that that's fair enough provided that that is what people signed up to but when a major corporation unilaterally decides to change how it deals with the public and by inference steal information from them which they thought they offered under different terms, no wonder they're not happy.

As with so many things there is a material test of intent which can be applied. If in surrendering details about one's self, what does the individual expect that the person to whom those details have been surrendered, will do with them? If you give details such as your address when you fill in a form to win some competition, they will generally tell you up front that they will then use those details to send you advert material. If though, you give details to someone in which there is a degree of professional trust, like a doctor or your child's school, you would hope that they would keep them confidential.
The most obvious reason for wanting personal details kept private is that of theft; theft of physical property, direct theft of money if banking details are obtained and perhaps the theft and violation of one's reputation and good character. I have heard of instances of prospective employers trawling Facebook and not hiring someone because they'd been prejudiced against them because of photographs which had been published; sometimes not even by them but by other people who had tagged them as being in photographs.

“Modern technology underlines the irrelevance of arguments for the need for more privacy. People are more likely to seek attention rather than anonymity.”

I would argue that technological advancements do no such thing. The invention of the telephone for instance did not instantly remove any right to privacy that people have when having a discussion. The Surveillance Device Act 2007 at least implies through the "prohibition on use, communication or publication of protected information" in Section 40 that a right in theory must exist, or else there wouldn't have been the need for legislative protection.
Modern technology does not underline the irrelevance of arguments for the need for more privacy at all; far from it and quite the opposite. Information can now be shared so quickly and easily that even something which consent was never given for can escape into the world with alarming speed and swiftness. If anything modern technology underlines the urgency of arguments for the need for more privacy. 

Presumably as head of the faculty of law at Deakin University, Mr Bagaric must have come across the United Nations' Universal Declaration of Human Rights at some point. The point is moot whether or not the rights contained in the document already existed or whether member states have decided to voluntarily embrace them but it seems somewhat strange to me that the brightest minds of a generation who had at the time recently witnessed some of the most gruesome horrors that the world has ever produced, would be wrong in including as Article 12.

Article 12.
No one shall be subjected to arbitrary interference with his privacy, family, home or correspondence, nor to attacks upon his honour and reputation. Everyone has the right to the protection of the law against such interference or attacks.

Does Mr Bagaric mean to suggest that either the inclusion of this in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is wrong, or that the codifying of any human rights is wrong, or that the very concept that people as a result of their inherent dignity do not possess any human rights at all? It is a very slippery slope indeed.
It appears that Mr Bagaric seems to think so, judging from other things he has written:

First, no right or interest is absolute. Secondly, rights must always yield to consequences, which are the ultimate criteria upon which the soundness of a decision is gauged. Lost lives hurt a lot more than bent principles.
Mirko Bagaric, from The Age 16th Dec 2005

No right or interest is absolute? Again I'd like to quote the preamble to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
Not good enough? Perhaps we should quote "one of the best-known sentences in the English language"?
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
Actually I'd like to hear from Professor Bagaric. It would be interesting to find out on what basis he thinks that his opinion is stronger, than the weight of thought and ideas which grew out of some of the bloodiest conflicts the world has ever seen.

February 15, 2013

Horse 1441 - The Most Un-Australia Day of all is Australia Day


Australia has moved closer towards constitutional recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples with the Act of Recognition passing the House of Representatives today.
The Prime Minister was joined in the House by Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander and community leaders to mark this significant step towards a referendum.
The Bill recognises the unique and special place of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples.
This reflects wording suggested by the Expert Panel on Constitutional Recognition of Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, whose significant report has put in place the foundations to enable us to progress constitutional recognition.
Today also marks the fifth anniversary of the National Apology.
On 13 February 2008, we said sorry to Indigenous Australians, in particular the Stolen Generations, for past wrongs. We apologised for the pain and suffering and hurt that successive policies had inflicted on Indigenous Australians for more than two centuries.
This was the first step in building a reconciled Australia with relationships based on mutual respect and understanding.
- except from the Media Release, Prime Minister's Office, 13th February 2013.

When Kevin Rudd formally said 'sorry' to the Stolen Generation, it should have been the first of many steps towards proper reconciliation with the Indigenous peoples of this nation. The event of February 13, 2008 is one of many symbolic steps that can and should be taken. February 13 is also an excellent date because it has the potential to become so much more and I think that we can learn some valuable lessons from our cousins, our best enemies and closest of mates on the world stage, New Zealand.

February 6 in New Zealand marks Waitangi Day. Unlike January 26 in Australia where Australia Day pretty well marks the date of formal invasion of Australia, Waitangi Day marks the date when the Treaty of Waitangi was signed, which marked peace between the British and Maori peoples.
When you go to Wellington and Parliament in New Zealand, the first thing that strikes you is the direct representation of Maoris in the chamber. There are a certain number of seats allocated in parliament, which can only be taken by and also, only voted for, by Maoris.

The other peculiarity is that on key issues, the question is raised about legislation is keeping with the spirit of Waitangi. New Zealand has no formal constitution, rather like the British parliament in Westminster and although like Australia and Britain, debate in the chamber can get outright rude and sometimes degenerate into a slanging match, the question of outcomes for New Zealand's indigenous people isn't argued in the abstract but rather, because there are representatives in the room, direct responses are given. You would have trouble even finding an Aboriginal member of parliament in Australia and when they are appointed, debate isn't nearly as thoughtful as in New Zealand.

If I could wave a magic wand and change the constitution tomorrow, I'd place at least one Aboriginal representative from every state in the Senate, to be voted there by Aboriginal people only.
Although the idea of recognising Indigenous Australians in the Constitution sounds like a nice gesture, to me that's got less meat on it than a chicken nugget. Real change and real representation comes about by putting real voices on the floors of chambers. People generally have better outcomes when they speak for themselves and to be perfectly honest Australia as a nation has been pretty shameful in this regard. It took until 1967, or 66 years after federation for Aboriginals to get the vote and that's not even including the 113 years before that since the land was stolen after being wrongly declared 'Terra Nullius'. People prefer to speak for themselves than being spoken to and that is precisely what this country has done to entire groups of people for 225 years. It's a disgrace.

The other thing we can learn from New Zealand is the day that is celebrated as the national day. Waitangi Day is as close to a national day as New Zealand has. Australia Day neither commemorates the day that Australia became a separate nation (January 1, 1901), it doesn't celebrate the day that Cook sighted the Australian coast, nor does it celebrate the day that the First Fleet landed. They arrived 8 days earlier at Botany Bay but Governor Phillip decided to go round the corner and look for somewhere nicer. January 26 marks the day when Britain stole the Australian continent through the cunning use of flags. Sail round the world, stick a flag in, ignore the people who were already living there. No wonder January 26 (in my opinion quite rightly) is called Invasion Day by some people. I think Australia Day itself is un-Australian.

In the spirit of true reconciliation, along with the changes to the Senate, the public holiday and celebration of January 26 would be done away with.
Perhaps to add a touch of symbolism, the date of February 13 should be chosen as both the day that a proper treaty is signed with Indigenous Australians, the date when those new Senators would enter the chamber, and the date of the new public holiday while the old one is quietly forgotten forever.

February 14, 2013

Horse 1440 - Divine Dynamite Drug Debate

As the drugs and doping crisis engulfing Australia threatens to name and shame clubs, players, trainers, officials and coaches, one name that hasn't been mentioned in all of this is conspicuous by its absence and perhaps a little suspicious due to the timing of his resignation... that being Pope Benedict XVI.

Although as a 14 year old he was forcibly conscripted into the Hitler Youth, he was unenthusiastic and refused to attend many meetings. He saw out the Second World War in an Internment Camp after being taken prisoner as a POW. After the war he moved back to Munich, which is where the trouble really started.
Of course living in Munich, he would have seen the inception of the Bundesliga in 1963 and the rise of Bayern Munich who has subsequently gone on to win 22 national titles and 15 cups including the then  European Cup three times in a row from 1974-1976.

In the mid 00s after being elected to the position of Pope in 2005, Italy mysteriously won the 2006 FIFA World Cup after a penalty shoot-out against France in the final. Fabio Grosso at the time remarked that "divine intervention helped us to play above ourselves". Maybe this should have been seen as a confession that something was amiss.
It should have been obvious in 2007 when Pope Benedict XVI was bought for 770 lakhs rupees (A$1.38m) by the Chennai Super Kings in the Indian Premier League but politely declined. There were unconfirmed rumours that he was seen hanging around the clubhouse of the Melbourne Storm last year and we are pretty well much certain that he has enjoyed hooning it up in Lygon Street in the past.

Of course these sorts of scandals take years, sometimes decades to finally come out in the wash. During the 1986 World Cup, Diego Maradona famously in the post-game conference after the Quarter-final against England that his now famous goal was scored "a little with the head of Maradona and a little with the hand of God".  It took him until his 2005 autobiography to finally admit that he had cheated.

Perhaps Pope Benedict XVI won't admit immediately to being linked to the 'drugs in sport' crisis but it is curious that he is citing ill-health as the reason for his resignation. It is worth noting though that between 1987-1990, 18 Dutch and Belgian cyclists died suddenly and it was later found that they'd been using EPO. I'm not immediately suggesting that that is what's going on but the timing of Benedict's resignation is curious to say the least.

February 11, 2013

Horse 1439 - VF Commodore Breaks Cover

In Horse 1436 I posted photos of renderings of what the Chevrolet SS might look like and what the Chevrolet SS NASCAR finally does look like. The official launch over the weekend is of the Calais variant of the car is different to the front headlight and grille treatment that the V8 Supercars will be getting. The rear light clusters look the same, but the front of both the BOC and Garry Rogers Motorsport cars, looks more like the Chevrolet SS renderings.
What then are the V8 Supercars based on? Are they based on an upcoming SS version of the Commodore or perhaps they're of the base model Executive. HSV which likes to violently beat cars with the ugly stick, probably won't debut their variants of the VF until the Melbourne Motor Show in July.

The entire of the VF between the A and C pillars is identical to the VE. Holden have announced though that there is a complete difference in the trim and appointments but under the bonnet, the same engines carry over from VE. As expected the gills behind front wheel arches are there and the shape of the chin lamp holes is pretty well much as expected.
To be perfectly honest though, it's just not very awe inspiring; it's not offensive either. The VF will fit into traffic and just sort of blend in.

The very fact that this car follows the design trends laid down by both the Cruze (in the front and rear lights) and the Captiva (addition of gills), doesn't instill me with confidence despite the noises coming from Holden. Mike Devereux announced that the VF will be sold in South Africa, the Middle-East and the US (so it being the Chevrolet SS is more or less confirmed) but the fact that it won't be sold in Brazil where it currently is, is ominous by its silence. Even Devereux himself conceded that the Australian Dollar is working against the export opportunities of the Commodore, which again makes me think that the Commodore's days are numbered.

Maybe that's what the Holden Malibu is for: "a strong example of the exciting new generation of products coming from General Motors". It could be that the Commodore just isn't one of those new generation of products.

February 08, 2013

Horse 1438 - Drugs In Sport Crisis Deepens

Every so often I go off to play  Contract Bridge at the local Bridge Club, mainly with old ladies who have been playing the game longer than I have been alive. Bridge is very well known for the conventions and tells which build up inside the game and the sometimes dirty tactics which play out over the course of a tournament.
So then, with the current crisis rocking Australian sport, what could it possibly have to old ladies and cards? To put it simply, match fixing is rife in Bridge; cheating is rife in Bridge; drugs are rife in Bridge.

Drugs - Old ladies especially, love to tell you how old they are. They also love to openly tell you how many drugs they are taking. Liver pills, blood pressure pills, pills for their heart, or to regulate some hormone or iron, the list goes on, on and ever on. Hearing old people go on about the number of drugs they do is kind of like standing outside a nightclub on a Saturday night, when young people will tell you about go-ey, ecky or wacky.
The real drug of choice by card players though is caffeine. Endless cups of tea and coffee flow through the internal plumbing of old people. Caffeine has been known for ages to improve alertness and was probably the single leading cause of the "enlightenment" in the early eighteenth century when people switched from drinking gin to coffee in the UK. Playing at cards at coffee have gone together now for more than 300 years.

Cheating -  Contract Bridge at its highest levels is so subject to players cheating, that in international tournaments talking is outright banned and sometimes they use bidding cards, boxes and screens so that partners can't see each other. Even with silence and bidding cards, players still found ways of telling their partner what they had by even more subtle cues like the number of fingers placed on bidding cards etc.
We uncovered a cheating system where the ladies appeared to be telling rambling stories about their families but the names they were using, were covers and placeholders for distinct cards. "Phillip went down to see Julie at number 6 the other day" is an elaborate cover for "I have the King and Five Of Clubs with six clubs all up." They'd actually named each of the 52 cards in the pack and could tell no end of stories which on the face of it, were boring and went on with no purpose than gossip.

Match Fixing - Yes, match fixing happens in  Contract Bridge all the time. At a local level, people will deliberately lose rubbers to let their friends advance and/or so they they'll meet a particular group in the next round of the tournament. Officially it doesn't happen but because we're talking about old people, no-one dare police it for fear of everyone being caught out.

Match Fixing, Cheating and the use of Drugs in sport, probably extends to every sport there is and has probably been around as long as there's been sport. The great former manager of Liverpool FC, Bill Shankly once said that "If a player is not interfering with play or seeking to gain advantage, then he should be." In context, that would have applied to football but if not even Contract Bridge is exempt from cheating, then what hope is there for s

February 06, 2013

Horse 1437 - 9% to 12% ? Super.

There has been suggestion in some media outlets that increasing the superannuation rate from 9% to 12% is going to hurt job growth. I however prefer to maintain that it won't make even the slightest difference at all and that the reason that it was suggested was because the financial sector would like to fleece more management fees off the top.

To wit:

It is 20X1.
Assume for instance that a wage earner is paid $80,000 a year. The total wage bill to the employer is $87,200 which is that amount plus 9%. From the employer's perspective, it really makes no difference at all if that $87,200 is made up of 9% super, or 22% super or even 0% super. The bottom line is that however it is made up, it is still a total expense of $87,200.

Take a trip to 20X2.
Our economy grows at roughly 4% and total wage packages are indexed at this.
$87,200 plus inflation is $90,688. If this is made of super at 9%, then the paid wage is $83,200. If however it was to be made up of super at 12% then the wages for 20X2 will be $80,971 and the super paid will be $9,717. The net result is still $90,688 so as far as the employer is concerned it is no difference at all. The employee will still be getting a monetary increase to their wage of $971 so as far as they're concerned, they still have to live with whatever the rules are.

The real difference is that under a 9% super system, the total collected by the super fund will be $7,488 as opposed to $9,717 under the 12% system. The difference to the super fund is $2,229 which they have to invest or about $44 in management fees for doing precisely nothing.
$44 by itself doesn't really seem like a lot but if you were to multiply that by the millions of wage earners paying into the superannuation system, that starts to add up to an awful lot of basically free money for doing diddly squat.

After doing tax returns for many self-managed super funds, I came to the conclusion a long time ago that people who managed their own money, even if they did worse overall than the retail funds, were still better off because they weren't paying management fees. In principle I understand why future governments don't like paying pensions and therefore why they'd like the responsibility to fall on people to pay for their own retirement, however management fees collected on the way through do nothing more than impose a tax by stealth on the poor and or stupid.
If you do have anymore than about half a million in super, then common sense suggests that you should set up your own Self Managed Super Fund. If you don't, then although you're still subject to the same law, you'll be paying tribute for no good reason at all.

As far as employers are concerned they'll still continue to look at the total cost of employing someone irrespective of how the component costs are made up. Total wage growth and employment costs will continue to follow the Golden Rule:
"Whoever has the gold, makes the rule"
Employees will just be fleeced a little more, it's just that some of us won't get the wool pulled over our eyes.
And Retail Super Funds? They're like Jason and the Argonauts chasing the golden fleece.

February 05, 2013

Horse 1436 - VF Commodore... The Final Curtain Call?

Holden ‏@holdennews
#VFCommodore is revealed Sunday but we'll be piecing it together online this week. Get involved! https://buildthecommodore.com.au/ 
- Holden, via Twitter, 4th Feb 2013

It is probably quite odd that I should get excited about the VF Commodore, considering that I'll never own one and more than likely never drive one but I suspect that it will be Holden's last hurrah. After final production of the Commodore, the General will want to build the Chevrolet SS in America and Commodores in their new $450m plant in Argentina. See Horse 1390
After the end of Commodore production, Holden's very reason for existence is brought into question and considering that the entire of the lineup except the Cruze hatchback would be built by Daewoo and sold everywhere else in the world as a Chevrolet, it makes sense to just ditch the brand altogether.

So then, the reason why I'm interested in the VF Commodore if it has nothing to do with driving it, is entirely different. I want to see just how close the Chevrolet SS which has already been spied testing in NASCAR will be to the Commodore in terms of styling.
NASCAR abandoned any resemblance to road going cars a long time ago but the stickers both front and rear are supposed to give a passing glance to what's on the road; the V8Supercars have also reached the point where the only common componentry between the race and road cars are the badges fore and aft, so really the VF itself is sort of an exercise in trying to pick what future Chevrolets (which will replace Holdens) will look like.

Will they be twins separated at birth?

There isn't a whole heap that can be done different in principle with the VF compared with the VE.
Maybe the 3L V6 will be standard and I suppose that there might be a difference with the 6.2L V8 but other than that, the rest of the differences will be subtle. Maybe Holden will fit progressive cylinder shut-down technology, which already exists on some Cadillacs or maybe Holden will finally introduce a diesel to the range. A diesel would increase the longetivity of the ute at least.
Things like ABS and IRS were standard a long time ago, so really apart from ESP there aren't a lot of completely new sweeping changes which even can be made. This means that VF will probably be more evolution than revolution.
The most boring things from a marketing perspective are perhaps the most critical to the wallets of owners over the life if the vehicle; that is the eternal race for increased fuel economy at the same time as increased power.

I sort of expected five years ago that Opel/Vauxhall and Holden/Chevrolet would have shared common cars by now but the  GFC which saw GM in America bailed out by the US Government and the semi sort of spin off of GM Europe put paid to that.
It's weird but you now have a situation where Opel dealers will try and sell you a Polish built Astra and claim that its better quality than an Australian built Cruze despite both of them sharing the same platform and engines which come out of the same factory in Elizabeth.
Actually the fact that Holden builds the Cruze at all sort of betrays the fact that the market moved on from large cars a long time ago. The highest selling cars on a month by month basis over the past few years have been the Mazda 3 and the Toyota Corolla. Occasionally the Cruze breaks into the top two but I don't think that it has claimed the top peg yet.
Australians are actually more likely to buy cars which are eligible for the British Touring Car Championship than they are for cars raced in V8Supercars. I read somewhere that the average age of a Commodore buyer was well over the age of fifty; that sort of suggests that the current average demographic are the same customers who were buying HT Kingswoods 35 years ago.

Holden might be allowed to live on a little longer if the American public see that the Australian built car is really quite good by world standards and if Holden is able to convince Detroit that the ute is a thing worth bringing back under the El Camino badge then it might be given another lifeline.
Unless the VF Commodore is absolutely and utterly exceptional, then I sort of think that this is the end of the road.  I know that Australians build cars which can be the best in the world but it's a real pity and crying shame that GM in Detroit doesn't see that too.
I wait expectantly for the launch of the VF Commodore on Sunday because sadly I suspect it will be the last to be built in Australia and probably also the last ever.

Holden's Motorsport division via Twitter on @HoldenMsport may have inadvertently spilled the beans on what the front of the VF will look like by showing spy shots of the Chevrolet SS undergoing testing before the 2013 NASCAR season:

February 04, 2013

Horse 1435 - Telstra's Bigpond Internot Disservices

Having recently moved, I've also had the fun fun task of letting all the utility companies know that I've moved. Electric, Gas, Telephone, Internet... Internet... Internet?!
Although Telstra or rather their cable broadband service Bigpond knows that I've moved, it's just that they're not exactly sure what to do about it.

After sending a chap round three days late to install the internet cable, another chap came the following day and was bemused and amused at why he was there at all. As a private contractor he admitted that Telstra weren't very good at communicating with either their internal staff or subcontractors as to the jobs that they are supposed to do.
When I try to connect to the internet, I end up at a capture window which asks for my user name and password, then congratulates me for doing so and promises that it has been registered and will be ready in an hour but never is.
So in the meantime, I've rung Technical Support, the Moving Team and the curiously named Activation Team. I remember from primary school English that Activation is a verb, which means it's a 'doing' word, but so far I've not really come across any real doing and the network is still a notwork.

When you call Telstra, you go via an automated phone system which I think is designed to deliberately send you to the wrong department because they know that most people will be ringing on mobile phones which have a higher charge rate.
Invariably you'll be sent to a call centre in either Malaysia or the Phillipines and speak to some staff who are under resourced to deal with your actual problem. The term 'escalate' will be bandied about as though that's supposed to mean something but in my recent experience, I've been escalated so many times, I've probably ended up on the roof's helipad.
Don't get me wrong here, I don't blame the staff at the call centre. I think we both know that they're probably only on a fraction of the wage that people in Australia are and so getting mad would seem to them like the act of a boorish westerner which would only add to the negative stereotype that they'd have of us. We also both know that by under resourcing both the technical staff and customer support staff, it reduces costs for the corporation so that managers in offices can go on nice holidays to the Bahamas.
So almost three weeks after lodging the initial phone call, my internet connection still asks for my user name and password, then congratulates me for doing so and promises that it has been registered and will be ready in an hour; so far after more than four hundred and thirty-two hours it still is not ready.

I suppose that it is my own fault really. I should have expected that Telstra isn't capable of delivering services in a timely fashion or even with any real sort of indication of when the problems will be sorted out. I should have realised this during the final sell-off of Telstra:

"We will see rising prices, we will see falling levels of service. That's the reality of today's bill, that's the reality that many hundreds of thousand of Australians will now face."
 -Stephen Conroy, 15 Sep 2005

"I feel about 65 per cent happy. You know you do the very best deal you can knowing the alternative to that is you get nothing. The real judgement will be in 18 months time. You've always got, you know, a feeling in the back of your head there could be problems in the future. On the balance of the information I've got and what I've got to lose, I think we're making the right decision and that's about it."
- Barnaby Joyce, 15 Sep 2005

"Government and regulators should give Telstra a fair go to invest in high-speed broadband, rather than subsidising foreign companies that send their profits and valuable jobs offshore"
- Telstra's Broadband Australia Campaign, 2007

Sending valuable jobs offshore? Hmm, looking back 6 years later it seems highly hypocritical that Telstra accused the government of wanting to send jobs offshore when its own practices have done precisely that. If Telstra hadn't been sold off at all, then more than likely I would have been speaking to an operator in Australia who would have spoken directly to a technical member of staff who would have sorted out the problem by now. I remember those hazy crazy days when you could phone Telstra at 9am and there'd be someone round that afternoon to have a look. Perhaps it is too much to ask of a corporation concerned with profits rather than delivering telephonic and communication services which it used to under its former government remit.

All of this makes me think about the National Broadband Network (NBN). If the Liberal-National coalition wins the September election, they've promised to sell it off.
Now the reason why I'm having to ring call centres in Malaysia and the Phillipines in the first place is precisely because of an election promise and policy which was made and carried out 16 years ago.
Mr Howard sold off Telstra and with it, any chance that a functional NBN would be complete and if Mr Abbott repeats this you can pretty well much guarantee that it will happen again.
The 1996 Annual Report for Telstra (whilst it was still 100% government owned and still sensible) made mention of an Optic Fibre Network to be installed by 2002 which would carry future capacity to transmit video and audio to be built out of future profits at a cost of $8bn. ($14.8bn). We would have, nay should have had a fully built, fully costed NBN 11 years ago.
Now whilst Mr Turnbull speaks of other methods of delivery and that other technologies will be cheaper, it should be noted that selling off the NBN will result in exactly the same conditions as the privatisation of Telstra, that is complete market failure and a set of services which are incomplete.
It should also be noted that Mr Abbott was part of that government 16 years ago which voted for the privatisation of Telstra, which means that he personally is in part directly responsible for that market failure and selling the people of this country so very very short. It is a case of hyperbolic discounting on a massive scale and eleven years later the proof is $147bn in lost dividend profits that could have easily gone onto fund and upgrade the network.

As I sit on the phone to Telstra Bigpond I am more than aware that I'm still not going to be connected to a network which should have been finished and completed 11 years ago. I probably more than likely wouldn't be speaking to an under resourced and overworked call centre operator overseas either.

February 01, 2013

Horse 1434 - Any Questions?

If a Liberal-National coalition is elected with Tony Abbott as Prime Minister, he has promised substantial reforms to the way that Question Time is conducted. The way that I heard this being described on ABC Local Radio this morning is a specific allowance for backbenchers to "grill" the Prime Minister of the day with unscripted questions. I think that everyone knows that even if the wallpaper is changed, most of the operation of Question Time would remain identical.

Provisions currently exist for "questions without notice", that is, questions on the floor of the house which either haven't been placed on an official agenda or run sheet for that particular session.
The thing is though, any change affecting the operations on the floor of the house, can not extend beyond even the doors of that same house. Rules which affect the goings in inside, have no bearing at all outside and what goes on outside is completely unregulated.

If I was a strategist for any political party, I'd have a planning meeting before every single sitting of parliament. In this meeting, even if questions were supposed to be without notice and without prompting, I'd still have all of the questions written in advance and if the local rules suggested that a greater proportion of questions come from backbenchers, I'd have the required number of backbenchers primed beforehand to ask the questions.
The only real difference would be that in government, the relevant Ministers and the Prime Minister would be primed beforehand and those questions would still be known in advance but questions coming from the Opposition would not be known in advance; so presumably the strategists in the Government would also try to guess those questions and perhaps prepare possible answers.
Really the only difference that I can see is that questions are taken off the official agendas and distributed privately by party runners and party whips, outside the doors of the floor of the parliament.

Since the narrative of politics is reasonably predictable in a week, party strategists would gradually learn the skills necessary to preemptively answer questions. You'd assume that most of the questions would revolve around the immediate pieces of legislation and policies already in debate before the parliament, since that is what the business of the parliament is about.
So whilst Mr Abbott's idea is both an excellent one and probably would be in the best interests of the nation, the existing party machines are such that it simply wouldn't work out as intended.

The bottom line is that politics shares a lot in common with a very competitive sport like Formula One racing. You still have engineers and strategists who'd look at whatever rules were in play and then try to design an outcome within those rules which best leads to victory (though unlike Formula One where victory is obvious, in politics it amounts to no more than political point-scoring most of the time) . If the rules do not specifically mention something, then you can assume it's allowable and unless they expressly forbid something you can rest assured that people looking at the rules will examine them for any advantage possible.
Questions without notice would not be like changing the mechanics which make the thing move but changing the electronic management with drives them and then placing the whole thing under a shiny new slick cover.
Even Mr Abbott would concede that his own party would be complicit to such a thing. Maybe that's why he's even suggested it, to give the veneer of democratic process whilst applying more grease to the machinery undernearth.

The other major problem these days is that politicians are trained in and are highly skilled in the art of saying nothing. Even if a completely unknowable question somehow made its way through the doors and onto the floor of the parliament, there is still precisely zero guarantee that it would be answered as the questioner intended. Quite apart from the fact that most questions are either nothing more than prompts in order for the relevant minister to spruik policy, or snidey barbs designed to make the answerer look foolish, I just don't think that any difficult to answer question would be properly dealt with.
The chance for genuine curiosity about legislation or open questions to do with (forbid it) improving the course of review of legislation, would be stifled under the weight of spin.

Perhaps the all-time master of Question Time in a Westminster parliament was Nigel Lawson, the Chancellor of the Exchequer under Ms Thatcher. He often answered questions without notice with: "that's an interesting question but the real question is" before answering his own question. He probably helped to inspire the character of Jim Hacker and in a strange way life imitates art more often than is quite frankly necessary.
I can see a lot of this kind of thing going on under the proposed rule changes to Question Time as MPs struggle to stay "on message". In this age of pocket computers and instant fact checking, the old art of waffle, parliamentary theatre and outright admission that you don't know the answer simply doesn't fly in the 21st century.
It's a pity really. I'd like to see more admission that MPs don't immediately know the answer and that they'd be prepared to go out, do some research and then come back with their findings. That would mean that questions might actually be answered properly and real information might be conveyed on the floor of the parliament. What crazy; halcyon days those would be.