October 29, 2013

Horse 1563 - Is Australia Stupid and Deluded?

What follows is not the bleating of a protectionist: I am in favour of free trade. I am also in favour of not being stupid or deluded.
Yesterday, Toyota Australia announced 100 redundancies because exports are falling. Australia's car manufacturing industry is on the brink of collapse. Ford has announced its closure; Holden and Toyota will soon follow without further cash subsidies from taxpayers, and negotiations are underway with the new Government to agree on the amount.
- Alan Kohler, ABC's The Drum, 16th October 2013.

Yes Mr Kohler, why should we subsidise what amounts to a sunset industry? Perhaps not surprisingly, Ford have announced the closure of Australian manufacturing by 2016 and it would appear that Holden are perhaps about to do likewise with a possible announcement that their Ute will also cease production.

THE homegrown Holden ute is about to be retired forever, after clocking up almost 65 years on Australian roads. The Aussie icon has had its sales - and hopes - crushed by a flood of pick-ups imported from Thailand.
One in five of all new vehicles sold so far this year comes from Thailand, second only to Japan.

Australian-made cars now account for less than one in 10 of all new vehicle deliveries; local production is at its lowest level since 1957.
Enthusiast buyers have less than three years to decide if they want a new Holden ute before it is relegated to the history books alongside arch rival Ford's Falcon ute by the end of 2016.
- Joshua Dowling, Daily Telegraph, 27th Oct 2013.

Of course this raises an interesting point, if it's too expensive to produce elaborately transformed manufactures like motor cars, why should Australia produce anything at all?
It's really telling that the ASX200 doesn't contain a single corporation that describes itself as a manufacturer. The last reliable World Bank report that I could find, indicates that less than 10% of Australia's GDP comes from manufacturing.
It's also really telling that there is no longer an S&P/ASX200 index for manufacturing on the boards because it was deemed insignificant.

In fact so dire is Australia's manufacturing sector that I did a survey of my house to try and find out exactly what I owned that even was produced in Australia. I found that none of my clothing was produced in Australia. None of the consumer goods such as TVs, computers and mobile phones were made in Australia, our washing machine was made in Thailand, the kitchen sink was made in China and our car was made in France.
Really the only things which actually were made in Australia were some of the food in the pantry, some books, our two cats and myself.

If the ASX200 is anything to go by, Australia has only three main purposes, to borrow from and lend each other money, to sell and rent each other buildings and to dig stuff out of the ground which magically gets turned into everything else we have in a magical place called "overseas".

You could look at all of this and suggest that the reason why manufacturing costs are so high in Australia are because wages are too. Ideally, to bring manufacturing back to Australia, firms would love to lower their input costs and pay workers less. The problem with this is that there are underlying issues with the cost of housing being ridiculously expensive and the double whammy that that pushes wage earners to demand higher wages, which drives input costs even higher.

I hold the opinion that with proper economic incentives, you can design an economy to produce any outcome you like; it's just that it takes at least a generation to get there. Here we are 20 odd years after the introduction of compulsory superannuation and people by inference demand investment choices that are stable and will provide stable incomes in their retirement; thus Australia went from a nation where we used to be able to make... things... to a nation of landlords. We could have chosen to invest in education and manufacturing incentives but no, we did not.

Of course it could be argued that Western Society generally has always been about lowering input costs. Once upon a time, the vehicle for doing that was slavery, then machinery was employed, then children working on machinery because paying adults was too expensive, and now the search for ever cheaper labour and other input costs means that a factory worker in places like Bangladesh or Laos can be paid even less than total input costs of keeping slaves in the 1860s. I find it quite insulting that a shop in Sydney would want to charge me $60 for a shirt, which a factory worker was paid $4/week to produce and yet even at those prices, the same shop can not afford to keep enough sales staff around.

It's not only Australia's car industry which has an insurmountable cost barrier but rather Australia's everything industry. Even places like Woolworths and Coles which are some of the very few companies on the ASX200 who don't move money about, dig stuff out of the ground or expect us to pay through the nose for the privildge of living in our houses, don't bother to pay staff when they can replace 5 staff with machines.

It's okay for Mr Kohler not to be "stupid or deluded" because quite frankly he's right. We shouldn't bemoan the loss of a few car manufacturers because that's just the sunset of a 30 year program of economic re-engineering. Arguably it's also alright because the loss of Australian manufacturing can just as easily be spun to suggest that it's really an aid program - that is, the export of manufacturing jobs from Australia, improves the lot of some people in places like Vietnam and Thailand.

What I find really disappointing about Mr Kohler's opinion is that he is one of Australia's most experienced commentators and journalists. This means that his opinions carry a lot of weight and do their part to shape public opinion and policy more than an average person. If he suggests that we should abandon manufacturing and the jobs that go with it, then people and policymakers are more likely to respond to his opinions. For my money, that just further validates the position that Australia should abandon manufacturing; truth be told, I used to hold higher hopes for this country.

Once upon a time, someone of great import said that "No longer content to be just the lucky country, Australia must become the clever country". Well, seeing as we've decided by economic design to be a nation who merely digs stuff out of the ground instead of bothering to manufacture things and innovate new products, we aren't the lucky county, we are very much the stupid and delusional county. Perhaps I should just lower my expectations and hope that China just buys us.
They know how to manufacture things.

October 27, 2013

Horse 1562 - Barad-dûr (Sauron's Tower)

"You wonder if Sauron ever worried about his tower rusting or suffering water damage. Maybe you could make it out of snakes... what? I meant stainless steel, though you could make it out of snakes"
- Vi Hart, Doodling in Math Class: Dragon Dungeons, 18th Oct 2013
Video Link: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsvLLKQCxeA

Apparently in Sindarin, the name of Sauron's Tower was "Barad-dûr" which meant "Dark Tower". Obviously this is rather confusing as JS Pachelbel's "Kanon D-dur" means "Canon in D Minor" but I digress. The question and the point here is what Sauron's Tower was actually built from.

JRR Tokien tells us that the tower took more than six hundred years to complete and was on so massive a scale, it was surreal. Okay, hardly anything to go by but we are told of Barad-dûr that "rising black, blacker and darker than the vast shades amid which it stood, the cruel pinnacles and iron crown of the topmost tower" and that Frodo Baggins perceived the immense tower as "wall upon wall, battlement upon battlement, black, immeasurably strong, mountain of iron, gate of steel, tower of adamant"
It seems then that Sauron's Tower was mainly built from Iron.
Would Sauron have worried about rust or water damage? Possibly not. Though I can think of one hazard which would have trouble him greatly and that is - fire.

I think of the The Crystal Palace which was built in 1851 to house the Great Exhibition and which Crystal Palace F.C (currently 0-0 with Arsenal as I type this) derives its name.
The Crystal Palace itself suffered its final fate by fire when on 30th November 1936 when an explosion of unknown cause, triggered the fire and by the next morning, the whole structure had been razed to the ground.

Fire of course would have been quite the problem from Sauron. Considering that he chose to build his monolithic tower Barad-dûr in Mordor, which has as its most dominant geographical landmark Mount Doom, which is itself a volcano, it leaves it open to damage by molten rock.
Iron itself although being harder to work than say bronze and having a melting point of 1538 °C (or 1811 Kelvins) is quite open to corrosion once it has been heated. Placing a tower made of iron next to a volcano is almost certainly a recipe for disaster and you'd think that someone like Sauron with that sort of intellect would have noticed just how silly it was but given that he still didn't after 600 years, perhaps all that power had just gone to his head.
As for stainless steel, it was German firm Krupp who finally produced it in 1908. Presumably Sauron wouldn't have had access to stainless steel or else he may have considered it.

Could you build a tower out of snakes though? Probably not. Snakes aren't exactly the best building material because as Medusa found out, you can't even build a decent wig out of them; let alone a massive tower that would take 600 years to construct. Virtually all of them would have died and rotting snake flesh again isn't exactly the best building material.

If I was Sauron, I would have considered building the tower from stone as that's quite fire and water resistant and many buildings like the Parthenon have outlived all sorts of buildings. Europe's great cathedrals are all stone buildings; so it seems that quite grand structures can be made from the stuff. Stone is therefore far more suited to the task.
Certainly not iron or snakes.

October 26, 2013

Horse 1561 - A-League 2023-24... from FIFA'04

Woolworths A-League P W D L For Against GD Pts
1 Sydney FC 38 28 7 3 73 35 38 91
2 Adelaide Utd 38 26 6 6 66 37 29 84
3 Western Syd Wanderers 38 21 11 6 70 34 36 74
4 Richmond 38 19 9 10 52 35 17 66
5 Melbourne Heart 38 17 12 9 49 32 17 63
6 Melbourne Victory 38 17 10 11 64 44 20 61
7 Brisbane Roar 38 18 7 13 61 47 14 61
8 Hawthorn 38 16 13 9 50 38 12 61
9 South Sydney 38 15 13 10 50 54 -4 58
10 Newcastle Jets 38 14 9 15 43 52 -9 51
11 Newcastle Knights 38 12 14 12 46 44 2 50
12 Adelaide Crows 38 11 10 17 35 50 -15 43
13 Melbourne Storm 38 12 7 19 40 57 -17 43
14 Perth Glory 38 10 11 17 55 70 -15 41
15 Carlton 38 10 10 18 48 61 -13 40
16 St George-Illawarra 38 8 14 16 42 60 -18 38
17 Sydney Swans 38 9 11 18 34 52 -18 38
18 Central Coast Mariners 38 8 11 19 33 58 -25 35
19 Brisbane Lions 38 6 6 26 38 57 -19 24
20 Bundaberg Spirit 38 5 5 28 39 71 -32 20
Woolworths A2-League P W D L For Against GD Pts
1 Geelong Cats 46 24 16 6 71 32 39 88
2 Melbourne Demons 46 23 15 8 83 58 25 84
3 Brisbane Broncos 46 24 8 14 69 42 27 80
4 Parramatta Eels 46 23 11 12 76 54 22 80
5 Canberra Raiders 46 20 17 9 77 51 26 77
6 NZ Warriors 46 20 15 11 69 50 19 75
7 Royal Hobart 46 19 15 12 81 70 11 72
8 North Melbourne 46 18 14 14 65 61 4 68
9 West Coast 46 18 13 15 62 48 14 67
10 Pride of The North FC 46 19 10 17 76 71 5 67
11 Sturt 46 16 17 13 52 51 1 65
12 Penrith Panthers 46 17 11 18 68 68 0 62
13 Wests Tigers 46 18 8 20 62 68 -6 62
14 Wollongong Wolves 46 16 13 17 77 71 6 61
15 Manly-Warringah 46 17 9 20 62 65 -3 60
16 GWS Giants 46 15 13 18 53 60 -7 58
17 Canberra United 46 14 14 18 55 66 -11 56
18 St Kilda 46 14 13 19 54 58 -4 55
19 Auckland Kingz 46 13 10 23 58 71 -13 49
20 Fremantle 46 12 12 22 44 69 -25 48
21 Port Adelaide 46 11 15 20 55 81 -26 48
22 Gold Coast Titans 46 10 12 24 54 79 -25 42
23 Collingwood 46 11 9 26 44 79 -35 42
24 Western Bulldogs 46 12 6 28 43 87 -44 42
Qantas A3-League P W D L For Against GD Pts
1 Casey Scorpions 46 26 12 8 85 41 44 90
2 Tamworth Guitars 46 22 17 7 80 45 35 83
3 Monaro Panthers 46 23 13 10 58 37 21 82
4 Swan Districts 46 22 11 13 64 43 21 77
5 Hobart Utd 46 20 13 13 74 58 16 73
6 Essendon 46 20 13 13 76 61 15 73
7 Adelaide Comets 46 21 10 15 73 63 10 73
8 Gold Coast Suns 46 17 16 13 59 56 3 67
9 Dubbo Elephants 46 17 15 14 56 51 5 66
10 Eastern Suburbs 46 17 15 14 69 66 3 66
11 Kalgoorlie Super Pit 46 17 13 16 52 56 -4 64
12 Wellington Phoenix 46 15 17 14 52 58 -6 62
13 Devonport 46 17 9 20 50 60 -10 60
14 Bendigo Gold 46 16 11 19 58 65 -7 59
15 Norwood 46 12 21 13 66 60 6 57
16 Logan United 46 13 14 19 48 64 -16 53
17 Wagga Wagga  46 14 11 21 52 69 -17 53
18 NE MetroStars 46 12 16 18 58 58 0 52
19 Hume City  46 11 19 16 62 70 -8 52
20 Claremont 46 12 15 19 49 71 -22 51
21 Darwin City 46 13 11 22 55 81 -26 50
22 Heidelberg United 46 13 9 24 60 74 -14 48
23 Glenelg 46 10 12 24 50 78 -28 42
24 North Qld Cowboys 46 6 19 21 50 75 -25 37
Qantas A4-League P W D L For Against GD Pts
1 Canterbury-Bankstown 46 29 9 8 92 38 54 96
2 Belconnen United 46 26 10 10 81 41 40 88
3 Redlands United 46 26 10 10 80 46 34 88
4 Preston Bullants 46 23 10 13 72 56 16 79
5 Ballarat 46 21 13 12 74 59 15 76
6 AFC Albany 46 22 10 14 71 64 7 76
7 Launceston 46 18 16 12 65 53 12 70
8 Capricorn Cougars 46 19 9 18 68 57 11 66
9 Cronulla Sharks 46 19 7 20 58 57 1 64
10 Whitsunday Miners 46 16 14 16 55 63 -8 62
11 Coburg Tigers 46 16 13 17 57 56 1 61
12 Peel Thunder 46 16 13 17 49 46 3 61
13 Nefarious FC 46 17 9 20 56 60 -4 60
14 Central District 46 14 14 18 53 56 -3 56
15 Armidale Scorpions 46 14 14 18 49 67 -18 56
16 Green Gully 46 14 13 19 57 71 -14 55
17 Orange Orange Oranges 46 12 16 18 55 70 -15 52
18 SPC Shepparton 46 13 13 20 54 64 -10 52
19 Wentworthville Uniting 46 13 12 21 50 72 -22 51
20 Wodonga-Albury 46 10 21 15 48 62 -14 51
21 Gippsland Electric 46 13 11 22 50 64 -14 50
22 Subiaco 46 13 10 23 52 71 -19 49
23 Nth Qld Razorbacks 46 11 16 19 48 69 -21 49
24 Figtree Albion 46 10 11 25 55 87 -32 41

I have been playing FIFA '04 now for almost a decade. In that space of time, I've been able to get all sorts of neat editors for it which include the ability to create new kits, new stadia and entire leagues. The problem is that if you let me loose at something long enough, reall strange things start to happen.

Not being content with merely the A-League, I created an entire Australian league system based on the A-League, AFL, NRL; included some clubs from the VFL, SANFL, WAFL, state leagues and leaving out clubs with obvious ethnic ties, I found that I had two more spots left over and so added Wentworthville Uniting who I play for and Nefarious FC which is made up of some of history's greatest monsters (Idi Amin by the way, is a better goalkeeper than you'd think - but still rubbish).

The set of league tables above, are from the 20th season and that point FIFA'04 simply can't take it anymore and just completely freezes. 2023/24 is a vastly different sort of place from 2003/04 in this game. The richest club in the entire league system is Collingwood; yet the in-game news keeps on telling us about management disputes there - is in-game Eddie Maguire disruptive or something?
I've spent 20 seasons playing as Wentworthville Uniting and the best that I've ever been able to achieve is 7th in the league; which still isn't good enough for a play-off spot. Records tell me that the worst defeat that we ever had was in the 2008-09 Johnny Warren League Cup when Brisbane Roar ripped us 16-0. Mind you, it's kind of difficult when your in-game namesake is an equal worst player in the whole game rated paltry 9 and a proper football genius like Del Piero in 2004 was rated 99.

Of course being a computer game it doesn't have to deal with real world issues, like the fact that it's technically impossible to have Brisbane Roar, Brisbane Lions and Brisbane Broncos all play home games at Lang Park at exactly the same time.
I also have had a fair amount of fun copying elements from some grounds to create new ones too. Like the Zoo Stadium where the Dubbo Elephants play which has no grandstands whatsoever, the giant factory towers at all four corners of the ground of SPC Shepparton, the ridiculously orange stadium of the Orange Orange Oranges and the Stadium of Fire where Nefarious FC play, which is exactly as it sounds, a stadium which is made out of fire.
Some teams I had to move out of their existing stadia, like the Western Sydney Wanderers who now play out of the 85,000 seat Bogandome along with GWS Giants; Sydney FC now fills its own 70,000 seat stadium the Stadio Alessandro Del Piero which presumable is also in Moore Park and Hawthorn and St Kilda now play back at the 120,000 seat VFL Park.

At the end of 20 seasons, Sydney FC had won 7, Brisbane Roar 5, Melbourne Victory 5, Adelaide Utd 2 and South Sydney 1. I'd been fired from the management position at Wentworthville Uniting four times and actually had to put up with the computer selecting players in the starting 11 and deciding on the formation and one of the real surprise packets was Central Coast Mariners who after starting in the A-League in season 1, have bounced around through all four leagues at various stages.

If only...

October 25, 2013

Horse 1560 - Postecoglou Post-Haste

Melbourne Victory 1 - Brisbane Roar 0
Troisi 56'

When people suggest that 0-0 or 1-0 scoreline is somehow boring, they to miss the rather obvious fact that matches like this tend to swing on the smallest of points. Quite unlike the question of how many angels can dance on the head of a pin, we sometimes see the finest of differences settle the argument.
This is what we saw at Docklands tonight.

Both Postecoglou's Victory and his former club, the Brisbane Roar as led by Mike Mulvey, played a fairly standard 4-4-2 which would swing into 4-2-4 or 2-4-4 depending on how the run of play went. Both sides had players which would move forwards up the flanks to cover the holes left by others. As far as a system goes, it works perfectly fine but does mean that it you encounter a side running exactly the same system, then the whole thing can come grinding to a giant halt; this is precisely what we saw for most of 90 minutes.
In defence we saw forwards with nowhere to go, wingers who would run deep into the corners to find that their deliveries were intercepted and cleared and play when running up the lines, found sideline after sideline.
Not to take anything away from Mike Mulvey but three rounds in to season 2013-14 and this match had all the hallmarks of a Postecoglou v Postecoglou fixture.

So then, what were the points which spun so many angels around on the head of a pin?
Kwame Yeboah for the Roar, fired in a pounder from 9 yards which was dealt with more than adequately by Victory keeper Nathan Coe, some 3 minutes before the half-time break. Less than a minute later, Jack Hingert's effort from about 15 yards away but on the other side was equally dealt with.
After the break, Mitch Nichols and Archie Thompson for the Victory looked like a couple of ravenous sharks, looking to bite at anything but nothing came. Thompson probably holds an A-League record tonight for straying off-side the most number of times in a match - I counted 12 but I could be wrong.

No, the result of this fixture spun on just three touches of the ball.
The first was Archie Thompson's first touch and control, the second was his pass through to release James Troisi in the 56th minute and the third was Troisi's "shot" which was more of a threaded pass through the eye of a needle, between Ivan Franjic and the post and through the legs of the flailing keeper Michael Theo.
Troisi's shot can't have been from anymore than about two yards away from the goal line but cut such a fine angle that it struck the base of the goal post on the other side, some 19 yards away.
Those are the sorts of points which swing such a finely balanced match.

Brisbane again proved my theory that a short corner is entirely pointless and Franjic even had a go at firing a bullet which would have gone in had it not hit Mark Milligan square in the face. Thomas Broich and Franjic tried deep into extra-time to buy an equaliser but they may as well have been trying to buy a battleship with a button, for their efforts were enitrely in vain.

1-0 to the Victory. Ange Postecoglou can walk away from this match knowing that he's left his mark on the domestic game and that perhaps he can do something for the national side. Time will yet see though if he can make angels can dance on the head of a pin at international level.

Horse 1559 - Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You

2013 marks the 50th Anniversary of the assassination of the American President, John F. Kennedy. To mark this, SBS commissioned a documentary, entitled "JFK: The Smoking Gun" which will be shown in November. The promos for this have included a rather famous piece of chiasmus from JFK's Innaugural Address.

"ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country."
- John F. Kennedy, Jan 20 1961.

Mainly because I'd seen the promo so many times, I was again reminded of it whilst I was reading through the Herald-Sun this morning. Specifically Andrew Bolt's column in which he was in interview with the Prime Minister Tony Abbott:


PM: If the ABC were to come to us, this government, seeking more money to do things that took it into competition with the private sector, we'd say no.

AB: Talking about things that government is funding that perhaps it shouldn't. Your Commission of Audit is going to look into exactly that. Have you got a "for instance"?

PM: I'm just not going to pre-empt the work that it does, Andrew, but I would be amazed if, for argument's sake, we need as many public servants in the areas of health and education, for instance, that we have at the moment, given that we don't run schools, we don't run universities, we don't run hospitals, we don't run medical practices or pharmacies...
- Andrew Bolt, Herald-Sun, 25th Oct 2013

Leaving aside the end of the piece of chiasmus above, we're left with the clause "ask not what your country can do for you". If you play with this idea with what both Andrew Bolt and Tony Abbott are getting at "that government is funding (things) that perhaps it shouldn't". This paints a very bleak picture indeed.

Ask not what your country can do for you because increasingly, it's policy is to do nothing. Don't expect that government is capable of doing anything anymore.

Don't expect for instance to speak to someone within an hour about your telephone service because the government sold that off in 1997. Also, don't expect to ever see the National Broadband Network up and running because that too will be dismantled and sold off before its finished.

Don't expect that electricity prices are likely to fall. Although the government likes to blame the Carbon Tax, in NSW and Victoria, the real reason for in some cases 300% increases in the price of electricity is simply the fact that the electricity companies have been sold off and that they are more free to let the price of electricity reach equilibrium more "efficiently" and by inference charge more for it if they can get away with it.

Don't expect that the health care system will work at all in 20 years. Mr Abbott has already signalled his intent to sell off Medibank Private; which is precisely the same sort of road map that the United States went down in 1971 and they now have 45 million people who have no medical insurance at all. It's only a short drive down the road from selling off Medibank Private to defunding Medicare entirely - watch as Britain destroys its NHS for the heads up.

Don't expect that the postal service is likely to work properly either. Again Mr Abbott has hinted at selling that off too and again if we look to the experience of the US and UK, the level of service has fallen off the cliff.

Don't expect the public will be able to make informed decisions about anything. Once the newspapers cease to become economically viable and end publication at about circa 2016 and after the ABC and SBS is sold off, their source of reliable and informative news will dry up. At the same time though they won't notice because the general public is becoming more stupid as education funding is backed off. HECS for instance is being considered for sale as well.

Also, be reminded that some of Australia's most profitable businesses which used to provide dividends to consolidated revenue were all sold off. Those foregone dividends from Qantas, the Commonwealth Bank, Telstra, the Commonwealth Serum Laboratories and Sydney Airports Corporation were worth collectively $2.9tn to date. Even if you don't allow for inflation, that's still more than 11 times more than the total of gross Australian federal debt.

I always thought that a "Commonwealth" was term for a political community founded for the common good. I just don't see that about Australia any more. Ask then "what you can do for your country"? Well how about a new question... why bother?
Even the business community in Australia has already concluded that not bothering about Australians is the way to go. According for Forbes Magazine of the 40 biggest companies in Australia by market capitalisation, only 3 aren't either financial institutions or mining companies and those three are 2 supermarkets and an airline.
So yes, "ask not what your country can do for you" because your country is less likely to do anything for you in future. Get used to the idea.

October 24, 2013

Horse 1558 - This Is Why The People Of The West Can't Have Nice Trains

The imaginatively named "Sydney Trains" (see Horse 1522 for more on this) for a very long time gave the Richmond Line K sets which date from 1981, C sets which date from 1986 and T sets (Tangaras) from 1988 onwards. After months and indeed years of watching M Sets (Millenium Trains) and H Sets (OSCARs) pass through Wynyard.
Of an afternoon, standing on platform 3 at Wynyard, I would see OSCARs on their way through to Epping and Hornsby but even when it was 39°C outside, un-air-conditioned K Sets would rattle their way out west, whilst the people inside would give off aromas as though they were being slow cooked in their own juices.
To be honest,  I was beginning to assume that they would not give the west anything new because bogans can not be trusted.
However, as of this week, and which Sydney Trains have been trumpeting as the biggest timetable change in a generation (starting from October 20), I've actually started to see A Sets, yes Waratahs, on the Richmond line in the morning.
What is going on here? Have we entered some brave new world? I tell you, everything is going crazy!

Before all of this starts to sound a bit trainspottery or anoraky, I'd like to point out that I'm not one of those people who obsesses over spotting every single class of train or anything, I just happen to take notice of what sort of trains I get in the morning and afternoon commute; the reasons for this are entirely selfish.
If I'm standing on the platform in the mornings in the middle of winter, I rather like the idea of not travelling to work in the sorts of conditions that the Findus Group would like their products to be transported in; conversely in the middle of summer, it's not nice for commuters to be treated like Wicked Witches of the West and progressively start melting into the upholstery.
So as I'm standing on the platform, drawing what could be perceived as an illusory correlation caused by cognitive bias, of course I'm going to notice what sort of trains rattle through and where they're going. My reason for caring about the sorts of trains we get is entirely practical.
The thing is though, if day after day you see "nice" trains heading to Epping and Hornsby but "not nice" trains heading to Richmond, Penrith and Emu Plains, you start to wonder if there is anything in the thought that Sydney Trains just doesn't trust bogans with nice things.

The problem that Sydney Trains faces is that the North Shore and Western Lines are connected via Wynyard, Town Hall, Central and Redfern. They all pass through platform 16 & 18 at Central, 3 & 2 at Town Hall and 4 & 3 at Wynyard.
Unlike the Inner West and Southern Lines which connect bogans to more bogans, the Bankstown Line which runs around the City Circle and back onto itself connecting bogans to more bogans, the Eastern Suburbs and Illawarra line which runs forth and back and connects silvertails to more silvertails, the North Shore and Western Lines connect silvertails to bogans and that is simply horrible (for the silvertails).

The thought that people on the North Shore should share trains and especially K Sets with the people on the Western Line is downright disgusting. They don't mind that they share Tangaras, Millenium and OSCARs with the people on the Northern Line but the fact that they even see 30 year old K Sets is quite worrying for them.
At the other end, I'm quite confused that Sydney Trains would even stoop to putting A Set Waratahs on the Richmond Line. Admittedly they do turn it into an express service of sorts, stopping at Blacktown, Parramatta, Strathfield and then Redfern, which means that they get to deny all sorts of bogans from getting on them but they still stop from all stations up to and including Blacktown.
I think that it really offends the current NSW Minister for Transport Gladys Berejiklian, that the good and proper people of her constituency of Willoughby (which includes the North Shore Line stations of Artarmon) should have to share trains with people whose incomes are on average less than half of theirs.

The reason for this post was a comment that I overheard before stepping onto the train yesterday - it was comedy gold. I think it sums up accurately why I'm surprised that we're getting Waratahs:
"The people out west don't deserve good trains. They'll probably just rip up all the seats anyway."
Yeah, I can agree with that sentiment; I guess that Sydney Trains nominally believe in it too. If you treat people like scum, they'll behave like scum. It's just that Sydney Trains can't entangle the Western Line from the North Shore Line... yet. When they do, it'll be bye-bye Waratah.

October 23, 2013

Horse 1557 - The 2013 Rugby League World Cup - What's The Point?

The Rugby League World Cup is held every five years; so I want you to cast your minds back to 2008. New Zealand beat Australian 34–20 in what was generally regarded as an upset. How about 5 years before that? Do you remember the 2003 Rugby League World Cup? Of course not - there wasn't any.

Rugby League at international level is a strange sort of thing. In between stop-starts of Tri-Nations and Four-Nations tournaments, the Rugby League World Cup is really a half-thought-out affair. The main reason for this is that the only three nations who stand any real chance at winning are Australia and New Zealand and maybe England. Of those three, in Australia the national side isn't the highest level of the game (State of Origin probably is) and New Zealand and England don't really care about Rugby League at international level - for them Rugby is far more important.

Compare this with the football World Cup. Admittedly since 1930 only 8 nations have ever won it. This still doesn't change the fact that for most of the world, people care about qualifying for the next one as far away in time as three years. If Iceland qualifies for the 2014 edition in Brazil, it will probably induce scenes of rejoicing on the streets of Reykjavík. If Brazil don't win the 2014 tournament, I'm willing to suggest that unfortunately, either some of the players or managers will be killed. Heck even in Australia, we've fired the national manager on the back of just two poor performances, even though he'd got the national side to qualify.
The point I'm making is that, does even the Australian Rugby League Commission really care about the Rugby League World Cup? Granted that the smaller nations do because it gives their players something to work towards but if the Rugby League World Cup did not occur for some reason, would they miss it? The experience of 2003 suggests otherwise to me.

Really from an economic perspective it makes little to no sense to have two codes competing for the same space. Arguably there is a lot of merit in simply abandoning the Rugby Leagues and Unions and amalgamating them into one. You'd still end up with only four teams who have a realistic chance of winning any world cup but they'd also include South Africa.
At a state level, the provincial sides are already represented and if the State of Origin is really that important, then it could held as an aside to the regular season.

As far as the supporters go, then they support clubs rather than the game itself. The most obvious evidence for this is South Sydney and St George fans who like to tell you of their "glory days" despite them playing what amounts to a different set of rules.
I also point to the success of South Sydney in clawing their way back into the competition and compare that to the total and utter alienation of North Sydney fans once they'd been kicked out. Where does their place today?
What about at national level?

If Sonny Bill Williams is anything to go by, I'm sure that his two Bledisloe Cup wins and the 2011 Rugby World Cup win with the All Blacks, would easily hold far more prestige than the 2013 NRL Premiership with the Roosters or even the 2013 Rugby League World Cup would.
Likewise, if Israel Folau thought that playing for Queensland in  Rugby League was such an honour, why is he now playing for the New South Wales Waratahs in Rugby? Obviously if playing for the state was the be all and end all, then shouldn't he be playing for the Queensland Reds? Also and more importantly, I want to know from his perspective which is more valuable, a Kangaroo or Wallaby jersey? I suspect that the relative worth of the jersey should by inference tell us the relative worth of the respective world cup.

Therein lies the reason why I just don't understand why the Rugby League World Cup needs to be held at all. If it's not the highest level of the game, then it is by definition, not the best that the game has to offer. If the Rugby World Cup is the highest level of the game, then that suggests to me that there is a lot of scope to dovetail the two codes and end the 118 year split. If the players themselves aren't bothered and the fans either don't bother or wouldn't terribly be bothered, then why bother at all?
What is the point of the Rugby League World Cup? I'm afraid, I just don't see it.

October 19, 2013

Horse 1556 - Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding vs Hidden "Australia Tax" Pricetags

For some time now, consumers have been aware of a so-called "Australia Tax" on certain products. Partly because Australia is roughly three miles away from Mordor and a million miles from everywhere else, retailers know very well that we can't just pop over to the next country and but the same product as easily as you could in say Europe. Consequently we pay more for Shoes, Clothing, Computer Software, Motor Cars etc for no discernable reason... EXCEPT NOW!


Heston - Christmas Pudding Hidden Orange
Recipe created by Heston Blumenthal - 1.2kg
- from Coles


Heston from Waitrose hidden orange Christmas pudding 1.2kg
- from Waitrose

One of the consequences of only having two major supermarket chains, apart from them having a market duopoly and short-changing farmers and annoying Bob Katter, is that they haven't separated and diversified along the lines of class. Britain has a well-defined class system and so supermarkets like Lidl and Tesco cater for the lower and middle classes whereas supermarket chains like Sainsbury's and Waitrose aim at a higher end of the market.

It's hardly surprising then that Waitrose should want three-Michelin-starred chef Heston Blumenthal to produce a Christmas Pudding for them. They know that their consumer base are more likely to be trendy and foodie than someone shopping at Tesco who thinks that Chicken Nugget Parmis are "a bit posh innit".

I suppose then, I have absolutely no problem with Coles selling a slightly posh product from a three-Michelin-starred chef because it makes commercial sense for them to want to differentiate themselves from their major competitor.
What I don't understand though is how they can ship a product around the world and sell it for 23% cheaper than they can in the country that made it.
Mr Blumenthal's Hidden Orange Christmas Pudding sells for £14 in the UK which works out to be $23.39; yet Coles can sell it for $18 which is $5.39 less expensive.

My problem isn't therefore with Coles. Clearly they've worked out their price points and have worked out how much they can sell a product for. My problem is with the retailers of Shoes, Clothing, Computer Software, Motor Cars etc who have now had the "Australia Tax" shown up for what it is. This is especially irksome for products like Computer Software where Australians pay a higher rate for the same program even though the actual product is downloaded and is "shipped" more or less instantly.

Mr Blumenthal can hide an orange in a Christmas Pudding; I don't see why retailers should be able to hide an "Australia Tax" in a pricetag.

October 18, 2013

Horse 1555 - Victory Is Fleeting

The seeds of death are sown at conception.

Adelaide United 2 - Melbourne Victory 2
Cirio 22' (pen)
Neumann 25'
Guilherme 79'
Troisi 93'

When you buy a murder mystery novel, you're pretty well assured of two things before you begin: a) that there will be a murder and b) that someone will solve the case. Sometimes this isn't the case but most of the time you can be reasonably sure that that's what will happen.
When you watch a football match where two sides begin with identical formations, you can be reasonably assured that the two sides will tend to cancel each other out. What we saw tonight at Hindmarsh Stadium also ran pretty well true to type but didn't start out that way.

Adelaide appeared to start the match with a 3-5-2 whereas Melbourne Victory began with a pretty orthodox 4-4-2. Initially this meant that Adelaide were able to play far higher up the park than Melbourne did and for a great deal of the match, were constantly able to trap the Victory offside. I expect that up until about the 70th minute mark, the number of offsides will appears something in the order of 10:1 in favour of Adelaide.
Largely because Adelaide had a wee bit of an overlap, they were able to play a higher line than Melbourne and whilst Cirio's opener did come from a penalty, it was Jeronimo Neumann's strike in the 25th minute which proved the effectiveness of playing more positive football.

The problem with playing so far up the park is that in those times that coming back to defend is a requirement, it opens up the space at the back and Adelaide got progressively leakier as the second half wore on.
Reverting to a 4-4-2 at about the hour mark, Adelaide soon found that Geria, Milligan and Troisi were able to slice deep into the corners. In fact there were passages of play late into the second half where it was only the work of Adelaide's keeper Eugene Galekovic and their central defender Tarek Elrich which stopped the ship from sinking. Galekovic in particular was constantly having to bail out the mistakes and leaks that his back four were letting through.

Sometimes two sides will cancel each other out. Adelaide will be ruing the fact that they squandered a two goal cushion and Melbourne will be livid that they didn't kill off a side who towards the end appeared to be dead on their feet. Melbourne spent the bast part of 9 minutes camped in and around the 18 yard box but could find no openings.

With Archie Thomspon looking dangerous (and at one point hitting the crossbar from a shot within 10 yards), Melbourne finally found an opening with a cutback and the strike of Guilherme, 11 minutes from time off a corner.
But it was James Troisi's burner across the deck which finally gave Melbourne the equaliser. I'm pretty sure that poor old Galekovic would have had no time at all to sight the shot after it had passed under and in between at least 5 sets of legs.
Adelaide scrambled at the death to win a string of corners but time had simply escaped. 2-2 was all that was left in the match and both sides will come out of this, pretty disappointed at taking home only a single point each.

October 16, 2013

Horse 1554 - I Don't Believe In Mandates

“We are confident that the public pressure on the Labor Party will be such that they will not defy the mandate of the Australian people”
- PM Tony Abbott, 15th Oct 2013

"He has a mandate to form a government of Australia, but there is nothing in Australian democracy that says that Labor has to be a rubber stamp for every Coalition proposition,"
- Bill Shorten, 15th Oct 2013

Isn't it funny now that Tony Abbott has become Prime Minister, he's started to use words that his old master John Howard taught him, like "mandate". 
A mandate according to the OED3 is "the authority which is presumed to given by electors to a government". I like that word "presumed" because is suggests that something is to be taken for granted. That might be fine and dandy for an incoming government but it overlooks the rather obvious label which is given to the other side of politics, the "Opposition".

The big problem that I have with any declared mandate in politics is the presumption that such authority even exists. Governments are elected not on specific policies but usually an entire raft of them. The electorate at no stage gets to decide or suggest which policies that they agree with or find repugnant. I think that it is incredibly cruel of any incoming government to just assume that they have the tacit support of the electorate for their polices.

If you just look at first preferences, then the current government only gained 45.55% of the popular vote (and if you then include informal voting, this drops to 42.51%). Does this mean to suggest that more than half the population don't give their tacit support to the government and its policies? If so, how then can any government simply assume that it has a mandate to necessarily do anything? 
It could have merely been that the previous government was sufficiently loathed enough to collectively dump it from office. 

"The danger as we go into the last hours of this campaign is people will dilly dally with independents and minor party candidates. Sure they might be fun, sure they might be different but they will damage our country and damage our government if they play the same role in the next parliament that they played in the last parliament"
- Tony Abbott, 7th Sep 2013

What role might that be? Is the role of checking legislation in the Senate, that is the Senate doing its job as a house of review, a bad thing? Should the Senate simply stand aside then at let legislation pass like it did the last time that a party had had control of both Houses of Parliament? That resulted in things like the sale of Telstra (which we can never get back now - gee, thanks for selling us all down the river and pushing our heads under until we drown) and things like Work Choices.

Would Mr Abbott have said just three years ago that “I am confident that the public pressure on the Liberal Party will be such that they will not defy the mandate of the Australian people”?
If he was to apply his own logic to his own time as Opposition Leader, does he mean to suggest that he and his party absolutely should not have opposed the introduction of a Carbon Tax? That's all a bit weird considering that it was him who initially proposed the policy in the first place.

- Tony Abbott, disagreeing with Tony Abbott

I don't think that a normal incoming government necessarily has a "mandate" on anything. It is incumbent on them to negotiate on legislation with the parliament; whatever its composition. In fact I would argue that any Opposition that doesn't oppose legislation and lays down and dies, is failing at its job.
The exception to this though is the first sitting of parliament following a double dissolution. Such a thing still isn't necessarily a mandate either but should a piece of legislation pass a joint sitting of parliament then I suppose that the mechanics have pretty much the same outcome.

Mr Shorten's comment that the Prime Minister "has a mandate to form a government of Australia" and that there is nothing in Australian democracy that says that an Opposition has to be a rubber stamp for every Government proposition, is a more general comment that applies to all incoming Governments and Oppositions. Mr Abbott would have agreed with that three years ago and the only reason that he suggesting otherwise now, is that his new postal address 1 National Circuit Barton - The Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet.


October 12, 2013

Horse 1553 - It Was All Your Fault (the real reason Holger Osieck had to go)

Yes, it was your fault - You. The Australian Public.

Australians do not handle losing well. Although Australians pride their idea of "a fair go" and "having a go", they truly can not hack losing. They just lose it completely.
From the 2003 World Cup Rugby loss against England - oh look, they only reason England won was because of Jonny Wilkinson, to the sacking of Mickey Arthur after being 2-0 in an Ashes cricket series, to the sacking of Robbie Deans after a demolition at the hands of the Lions rugby side, to the way Ricky Stuart was shown the door following the 2008 Rugby League World Cup Final loss to New Zealand, the truth remains that is Australia isn't magically world champions in everything, the media and administrators all collectively have a hissy fit and chuck their toys out of the pram.

The first point of notice is that the current chief executive officer of Football Federation Australia is David Gallop, the former head of the National Rugby League. This should have been taken as a point in the media but wasn't.
Scores like 1-0 and 0-0 probably confuse Gallop. For instance, how is it possible to have played out a grindingly tough game if no-one scored? How does that make sense? He might understand with real certainly, the mechanics of running a successful business but does he actually understand the nature and culture of the product that he's trying to sell? Somehow, I'm not entirely sure about this.
Holger Osieck comes from a very stoic line of German football coaches, having served as the assistant to Franz Beckenbauer in West Germany's 1990 World Cup triumph. He was in charge of Canada and took them to the title of 2000 CONCACAF Gold Cup and later as coach of the Urawa Red Diamonds
 he won the 2007 AFC Champions League. Clearly he must have some ability.

Secondly; yes it was bad that Australia should lose 6-0 against Brazil and then 6-0 against France but is that necessarily the coach's fault? There are eleven men on the pitch who are out there kicking a football and Holger Osieck was not one of them.
A coach and manager can yell until they are blue in the face and it aint going to make a lick of difference if the eleven players on the pitch are playing a game full of stodge.

Thirdly and most importantly, have we forgotten exactly who Australia was playing? France currently sit 28 places above Australia in the FIFA Rankings and I think could jump up another 5 by the end of the month. Brazil on the other hand is Brazil.
The 2014 World Cup will be held in Brazil and if Brazil do not win it at home, then quite frankly the Brazilian national coach had better be wearing full anti-tank armor because I can almost guarantee that he will be either stabbed to death or shot if he doesn't win it. For Brazil not to be world champions next year, will be a national disgrace.
In a match which effectively was the 1950 World Cup Final, Uruguay beat Brazil 2-0 at the Estádio do Maracanã in Rio and the match has forever since been called "Maracanazo" or "The Maracanã Blow". Brazil changed its home strip from white to yellow because it was then deemed to be unlucky and as far as I can make out, none of the players in that squad ever played for the national squad ever again.
Is it really too difficult to accept that both France and especially Brazil might be better than Australia? Forbid such a thought.

Of course the real reason why Australia lost against France and Brazil 6-0 is because of you. Yes, you Australia.
Buddy Franklin has moved from Hawthorn to Sydney in a move worth $10 million and if Israel Folau can move from Rugby League to Australian Rules football to Rugby Union, depending on who is throwing money at him, it says that you Australia haven't invested the sort of money in football that either Brazil or France has. If Franck Ribéry who opened the account for France, joined German club Bayern Munich for a then club-record fee of €25 million from Marseille, then that says that there was a lot more money invested in French football than there ever was in Australia. I suspect that he alone would be worth more than the entire Australian squad he faced.
If you want to see Australia do well in future world cups etc. the support the A-League and do not support the other football codes. In economics we call such things an opportunity cost when money in invested in one thing instead of another. Just don't be surprised if there happen to be better national sides in the world than Australia.

Yes, it was your fault Australia. Yours. Holger is a convenient scapegoat; that's why he had to go. Don't be surprised if he shows up to coach another nation, who is also better than Australia.

October 11, 2013

Horse 1552 - 2 To The Power of 10

Sydney FC 2 - Newcastle Jets 0
Del-Piero - 37'
Chianese - 60'

A win to open the account at the beginning of a season is always a good start. For a team like Sydney FC who finished 7th last year, it shows that they'd gone away and done a wee bit of homework. Still, at this stage of the season when match fitness is still not 100% across the league, it's far to early to predict a whole heap.
Often a dog who is wounded will bite hard when they get the chance to; if Sydney was a dog who was wounded last season, then it has gone away; licked its sores and comes back with teeth.

Sydney's back four of Ryall, Bojic, Petkovic and Warren looked at relative ease at containing Virgili and Taggart (to be honest, I'm not even sure if Burns even had a shot for Newcastle), who appeared to play far too high up the park to even be serviced.

In contrast, the 4-5-1 formation of Sydney allowed Abbas and Garcia to float back and forth where required; this giving Del-Piero freedom to move into unmarked space. Indeed unlike a lot of sides where it is the stopper or sweeper who direct play from the back, Del-Piero was able to rally his troops from the front; with his back to goal. That takes a lot of experience and I seriously doubt whether there can even be as many as a dozen players in the world who are up to that task.

The first goal came through a passage of camped play and Del-Piero seemed to just walk through the defence at extremely slow speeds. Obviously this comes with deft ball control.
Chianese's goal came off a thrusting cut at about the hour when Del-Piero dragged Newcastle's keeper Mark Birighitti, one way, before a lay off to Chianese who let the ball rip with a tremendous deal of power.

What has this match taught us? Firstly that a disciplined back four is often a key to winning solid victories. People often forget that although strikers do need to put the ball into the back of the net, it is defenders who also need to stop opposing strikers from doing likewise.
Secondly and more importantly, that football in Australia belongs on free-to-air telly. The A-League isn't likely to churn out lots of 0-0 draws because Australian coaches don't play that way. We like the idea of winning far more than the idea of not losing. That can only be good for the game.

Thirdly, that Alessandro Del-Piero himself is an incredibly hard worker. Unlike many prima donnae who swan about up front; expecting the ball to be delivered to them, he fights. He also comes back to defend if the situation calls for it. Beyond about the 70th minute when he saw that his back four were tiring, he would come back and sort of occupy a faux Right-Back-Wing sort of position to counter Jacob Pepper; for the most part it worked. Pepper did pull off a shot in about the 92nd minute but that found its way conveniently on a bus on its way to Randwick.

2-0, three points, a clean sheet for Janjetovic and top of the league. Not bad for 90 minutes work.

Horse 1551 - Tortious Tuesday?

- images have been changed to protect the innocent - except Brunel & Newton... they weren't innocent

When I saw this exchange on Twitter, I was sure that it was the beginning of a song and if it wasn't then it should be. With that in mind, perhaps someone can make a mega days-of-the-week-type song.
Here then are some thoughts from other days-of-the-week-type songs... including one of infamy.

Solomon Grundy - Born.
The Cure - Don't care if it's blue; you can fall apart; Don't care if Mondays black; you can hold your head.
Johnny Cash - I was arrested.
Tripod - Met my baby.
Mos Def - At summit talks you'll hear them speak; Negotiations breaking down.
The Bangles - Manic; wishing it was Sunday.
Flanders & Swann - The gas man came to call. He tore out all the skirting boards.
Happy Days - Happy Days.
The Beatles - A child has learned to tie his bootlace.
The Boomtown Rats - Need an explanation as to why they don't like it.
The Living End - Change of plans on a rainy day; a new lesson to be learnt today.

Solomon Grundy - Christened.
The Cure - Grey; break my heart. Heart attack; stay in bed.
Johnny Cash - They put me in a cell.
Tripod - Dumped the body.
Mos Def - Sitting taking lunch; the news will hit you like a punch.
Flanders & Swann - The carpenter came round. Nailed right through a cable and out went all the lights.
Happy Days - Happy Days.
The Beatles - The afternoon is never ending.

Solomon Grundy - Married.
The Cure - Grey; break my heart. Heart attack; stay in bed.
Johnny Cash - My trial was attested.
Tripod - Went to the movies.
Flanders & Swann - The electrician came. His foot went through a window.
Happy Days - Happy Days.
The Beatles - Morning papers didn't come.

Solomon Grundy - Took ill.
The Cure - Don't care about you; doesn't even start; never looking back; watch the walls instead.
Johnny Cash - They said 'Guilty' and the judge's gavel fell.
Tripod - Went to the movies.
Mos Def - You feel the shaking on the ground; a  million candles burn around.
Flanders & Swann - The glazier came round.
Happy Days - Happy Days.
The Beatles - Your stocking needed mending.

Solomon Grundy - Grew worse.
The Cure - I'm in love; never hesitate.
Tripod - Went to the movies.
Flanders & Swann - The painter made a start. He'd painted over the gas tap.
Happy Days - Happy Days.
The Beatles - Arrives without a suitcase. At nine o'clock 'she' is far away and meets a man from the motor trade.
Rebecca Black - We so excited, We gonna have a ball today.

Solomon Grundy - Died.
The Cure - Wait; wait.
Flanders & Swann - They do no work at all.
Happy Days - What a day.
Rebecca Black - Tomorrow.

Solomon Grundy - Buried.
The Cure - Always comes too late.
The Bangles - Fun day.
Flanders & Swann - They do no work at all.
Happy Days - Happy Days.
The Beatles - Creeping like a nun.
U2 - Can't believe the news today; can't close my eyes and make it go away.
Rebecca Black - Comes afterwards.

Of all the days of the week, Saturday has a touch of poignancy and melancholy about it:
Died. Wait, wait.. They do no work at all.
What a day....  Tomorrow.
Maybe we could give it to an emo or shoegaze band to do.

But seeing as today is Friday - we so excited, we gonna have a ball today.... seriously?!