December 31, 2014

Horse 1811 - How and Why "Monopoly" Works

The game of Monopoly has its origins back in 1903 when an Illinois lady, Elizabeth Magie, first published "The Landlords' Game" to teach "a practical demonstration of the present system of land-grabbing with all its usual outcomes and consequences."¹
Monopoly went through a few changes before Parker Brothers published the game in 1935 but from that date has remained largely the same. For the purposes of this post, I will refer to the British Edition with street names from London.

At the beginning of the game, each player receives £1500 to start with. Assuming that no-one ever bought any property, never landed on Chance or Community Chest, never landed on Income Tax or Super Tax and never went to jail², then the economy would grow initially at 13.33% as people passed Go and collected a salary. As each £200 from passing Go is added to the total economy, then the economy's total capital would grow but there is zero growth in salaries. This means to suggest that in Monopoly, peak salaries occur right at the beginning of the game and that wages is something of an illusory effect.
That 13.33% is perhaps the single most important reason why the game of Monopoly works and that in the long run (unless a state of equilibrium is reached) that the game will have an outcome.

Monopoly (which calls itself a 'Property Trading Board Game' on the box), begins to start to be interesting only after property is bought and sold.
The rate of return on capital for all properties on the board in unimproved states is less than initial salaries growth. Even the most expensive property Mayfair, which boasts an unimproved rent of £50, still only returns 12.50% on £400.

Due to the fact that all rents are doubled if one owns all of a colour group (and which is the first condition to improve property), 19 of the 22 improvable properties will achieve better than the 13.33% return as salaries. This might sound insignificant but cuts right to the heart of why the game works.
If the return on capital outstrips the return from salaries, then in the long run, the game should have an inbuilt process of capital condensation and it does. The average return on capital in the game of Monopoly for all circumstances is 58.17% which is more than four times that on salaries.
Find properties and conditions that do better than a 58.17% return on capital and provided you can weather all storms, you should have a good chance of winning.

I should point something out here. The Utilities and the Railways are rubbish properties to own. Even if you owned all four Railways, the return on capital is still only 20.00% and the two Utilities aren't much better at 23.33% in the long run.
For an outlay of £1000, the return on the railways is 20.00%. For £970, you could own all of the sky blue group (The Angel, Euston Rd and Pentonville Rd) and the worst rate of return of those three is 157.14%. Even just one house on the sky blue group will return 20.00% at worst.
For the record, the greatest rate of return on outlay is Pentonville Rd at 162.16% whilst Mayfair with a hotel will only return 142.86% (Vine St on the opposite corner is practically identical in terms of rates of return).

I had a look at Chance and Community Chest cards and whilst they might seem like fun, they contribute practically nothing to the overall economy of the game. Except for being assessed for street repairs (which are both leakages from the economy), the net effect of both Chance and Community Chest is only an identical injection of £8.75 for both cases.
Most of the Chance and Community Chest cards have the effect of shifting minor amounts of capital around the board to different players, with the biggest possible effect being a windfall of £350 being collected for Opera Tickets if eight people are playing (the net effect to the overall economy is still nil though).

The basic reason why the game of Monopoly works is simple though. The game reaches a tipping point when the amount of new capital being added to the game is less than the rate of return on capital. That point happens very quickly once properties are formed into groups and accelerates once houses and hotels are built on them.
Except for the case of equilibrium where a small players have roughly the same amount of capital and aren't willing to solidify their capital into assets, the game should run to that point where capital returns outstrip salary returns pretty quickly.

Moreover, Elizabeth Magie's "The Landlords' Game" actually does work in the real world to some degree. If the rate of capital accumulation outstrips wages growth, then wealth condensation will happen. Apart from some major calamity where mass physical destruction of capital takes place, like Two World Wars for instance, then the game of Monopoly isn't a game any more. It's real.

² despite 'gaol' being the preferred spelling across the Commonwealth

December 30, 2014

Colt 1810.1
I have consistently said, if you think we're not going to rule out never not being some kind of blank stamp or a rubber cheque for this government's broken lies and their smelly bag of fish budget...then you need to move into a house with mirrors and have a look at yourself - because a crocodile wouldn't swallow that.
- Bill Shorten, as quoted SMH, 2nd

Wait, what? What is this? I don't even.

December 29, 2014

Horse 1810 - Davidtron: The Chihuahua Shaped Particle

A During my final two years of high school, in Physics classes, I sat next to a frightfully witty and dare I say super-intelligent chap called David Kang (if you are reading this somehow, think of it as a very long dormant piece of praise).
In those days, the number of chemical elements that had been invented on the periodic table was about 104; so the table ended at Rutherfordium and possibly Hafnium. As you do in high school when you're not taking things seriously on occasion, we were suggesting additions for the table such as Vacuumium (chemical element number 0 - which has zero protons, electrons and neutrons) when David suggested the idea of Davidtron.
Apart from the slightly egoistic name, Davidtron remained memorable because Davidtron is unlike any other particle known to physics or chemistry.

Davidtron is an invisible, unobservable chihuahua shaped particle, which exists everywhere that isn't being looked at. The instant that someone looks at a thing, it converts from Davidtron back into whatever other stuff that thing was made from and the instant that a thing ceases to be looked at, it turns back into Davidtron.
As I type this, there is no-one in the back room. As a result, everything that was in the back room is now composed of Davidtron. The thing about Davidtron because it is an invisible and  unobservable chihuahua shaped particle, is that it is also impossible to say how big it is. There might be billions of teeny little chihuahuas or one giant super-massive one - we just don't know; that's the thing about an invisible, unobservable chihuahua shaped particle, it's unobservable.

Bear in mind that Davidtron is not like Bertrand Russell's teapot. Russell used the illustration of a teapot, which was flying in space; somewhere between the orbit of Mars and Jupiter, which could not be observed.
Russell's teapot is an illustration of something which can not be disproven to exist. Russell's teapot was his invention to shift the philosophic burden of proof onto a person making unfalsifiable claims rather than others (specifically in the case of religion).
Davidtron makes up things which are known to exist. The back room isn't some invention like Russell's teapot because Russell openly admitted inventing the teapot. The back room did exist at some point in the past, it does exist now and will exist at some point in the future.
Davidtron shares that aspect with Russell's teapot in that it is both unfalsifiable and unobservable and so Bertrand Russell would probably be ripping his hair out at the thought (which because he is both dead and currently not being looked at, is composed of Davidtron).

Davidtron is more like a strange case of solipsism, in which nothing is said to exist beyond one's self or mental state. Irish philosopher George Berkeley suggested that things only exist when someone is around to perceive them. That tree falling in the woods when no-one was around to hear it - did it make a sound? According to Berkeley, 'no'. There wasn't even a tree in the first place without anyone to perceive it. Berkeley took this as proof of the existence of God; since things exist because God is omnipotent and can perceive everything.

So why even bring up Davidtron? Because on The Great British Bake-Off on the telly last night, someone said that because no one had seen their total cake failure, them it didn't really happen. Immediately I thought of George Berkeley, Russell's teapot and Davidtron. Who knew that watching year-old re-runs on telly could bring up theories of immaterialism?
Or could it be that it's just really hard to forget something as memorable as a invisible, unobservable chihuahua shaped particle?

December 28, 2014

Horse 1809 - We Fixed Ozone, Didn't We?
Finally, some good news about the environment: The giant hole in Earth’s ozone layer is shrinking.
It was in the 1970s that scientists first realized chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) had worn the ozone layer thin above Antarctica. Studies have shown that, left unchecked, ozone destruction could cause higher rates of skin cancer, disrupt plant growth and destabilize the aquatic food chain thanks to an increase in harmful ultraviolet rays.
Fortunately, the world’s policymakers were proactive about environmental problems back then. Leaders agreed in 1987 to the Montreal Protocol, which phased out CFCs.
- Washington-Post, 11th Sep 2014

This is something for you to think about.

Scientists during the 1970s did some studies and worked out that the ozone layer, which protects the earth from a lot of ultraviolet rays, was being destroyed due to the release of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs) acting as a catalyst which converted O3 (ozone) into O2 (oxygen).
The way that the ozone layer works is that ultraviolet light which is of a higher energy level than other parts of the electromagnetic spectrum, strikes ozone and converts it into oxygen. This is useful because instead of UV light hitting the earth and causing damage to plants' and animals' cells, it doesn't usually get any further than the upper atmosphere. CFCs in acting as a catalyst, sped up that process and made it more efficient, with means that more UV light will strike the earth to do said damage.
In this case, the science was perfectly understood and so we sent up some satellites monitor the problem. By about 1985, we'd released that it was really really serious and so legislation was passed all over the world in response to the Montreal Protocol of 1987, to ban CFC production.
The Washington-Post's article basically tells us that the decisions taken almost thirty years ago have had some effect. Mind you, it's taken thirty years for that to happen. Let me re-state that - THIRTY years.

Consider this:
In the mid 1960s the pesticide dichlorodiphenyltrichloroethane (DDT) was found to be a cancer causing agent and a threat to bird life and livestock and so in the 1970s, legislation was passed all over the world to ban the production of DDT.

In response to London's Great Smog of 1952, which probably directly caused the deaths of about 8000 people and which brought the transport network to a halt, the UK Government passed the Clean Air Act 1956 which introduced 'smoke control areas' and caused the closure of some coal fired power stations in the centre of metropolitan areas.

CFCs, DDT; smog. These are obvious examples of where environmental damage has either been reversed or repaired as a direct result of legislation being passed. Governments through punitive measures, change the behaviour of people and firms, to produce better environmental outcomes.

Now consider this:
In the fourth paragraph of Wilson's article, he quoted Abbott as saying, "The argument is absolute crap. However, the politics of this are tough for us. Eighty per cent of people believe climate change is a real and present danger."
- The Australian, 12th Dec 2009

The President of the World Bank Jim Yong Kim has issued a warning on the impact of climate change, the United Nations’ Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change has warned that the course we are headed on is close to being irreversible; yet the current Liberal/National Government, made its first priority upon being elected to abolish the carbon tax.
Mr Abbott once said that it was pointless that Australia do anything about climate change unless China did something. In the meantime, China has set up world’s second-largest carbon trading network and now trades emissions permits equivalent to 1.1 billion tonnes of carbon per year. Even if it proves difficult to change Chinese business attitudes when it comes to carbon emissions, the fact that Xi Jinping's government has been pushing a national emissions trading scheme as hard as it can, means that if and when change does come, it will come like a silent wind.

Curiously the reason why anyone even cares about CO2 emissions is largely because of the Soviet Union's unmanned Venera probes which were launched in the 1960s and 1970s, were sent to measure things like temperatures and pressures on Venus. It wasn't until we sent probes to another world that we realised that CO2 and other greenhouse gases might be a problem on our own world but again, here we are thirty years later without very much being done to fix the problem.
The "greenhouse effect" had been postulated as early as 1824 by French scientist Joseph Fourier and in 1896, Swedish scientist Svante Arrhenius calculated the effect of a doubling atmospheric carbon dioxide would have the effect of increasing surface temperatures on Earth by about 5° or 6°C.
I can't verify this but as early as 1917, Alexander Graham Bell¹ (the inventor of the telephone) wrote that the "unchecked burning of fossil fuels would lead to a 'sort of greenhouse effect' and global warming".

If climate change and global warming (which has been looked at scientifically not for more than a century) is in fact the "the great moral challenge of our generation" then the only real way to make amoral organisations address the issue is through legislation.
If we passed legislation concerning issues like ozone, CFCs, DDT and smog, then why is it beyond us to address climate change and global warming?
Maybe it is because the time frame required to see real change is thirty years and legislatures are only thinking in lots of three.


December 22, 2014

Horse 1808 - Psalm 22

Yesterday (Sunday 21st) our Pastor mentioned that at the beginning of John 1, John deliberately invokes a literary style similar to that found in the beginning of Genesis, to establish that Christ is God and the various theological foundation points which follow on from that.
Yet again proving that you shouldn't leave me alone with an idea because I tend to want to pull it to pieces, I then wandered to Matthew's gospel and Jesus quote invoking Psalm 22:

About three in the afternoon Jesus cried out in a loud voice, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” (which means “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”)
- Matthew 27:46

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from my cries of anguish?
- Psalm 22:1

On the face of it, this looks like a cry of utter despair but if you bother to read through the entire of Psalm 22, instead of a cry of despair it is a cry of mocking triumph over death.

(Link: via Bible Gateway)

In the Jewish literary and rabbinical tradition, if you quote the beginning of a piece of scripture it is supposed to bring to mind the rest of the section. One of our clients, who is a Rabbi at a synagogue in eastern Sydney, has on multiple occasions stated that quoting the beginning of a piece of scripture is also supposed to especially bring to mind the end of that piece. He explained that its like if you only told the beginning of a joke - everyone is expected to know the punchline. This makes a fair degree of sense in context when you have a class of academia who handle massive pieces of text, which  they've all spent considerable amount of time to painfully remember. This makes even more sense when you consider that Jesus was a Jew and a Rabbi and Matthew who wrote the gospel is also a Jew and his first audience was also Jewish.

Psalm 22 contains a considerable amount of what could be Messianic text. Verses 14 to 21 very much talk about the "here and now" given the situation Jesus was enduring at the time:

Dogs surround me,
a pack of villains encircles me;
they pierce my hands and my feet.
All my bones are on display;
people stare and gloat over me.
They divide my clothes among them
and cast lots for my garment.
- Psalm 22:16-18

It is the end of the Psalm though, where we find the punchline. It is also here where I've read needless disagreement from scholars on what Jesus' last words actually were that Friday.
If we compare the account in chapter 19 of John's gospel, he states that Jesus' last words are "it is finished". Compared this with the end of Psalm 22.

Posterity will serve him;
future generations will be told about the Lord.
They will proclaim his righteousness,
declaring to a people yet unborn:
He has done it!
- Psalm 22:30-31

Why the discrepancy? What if the most rational explanation is that Jesus spoke the whole of Psalm 22? If that is true then we're not necessarily looking at a discrepancy but a difference in writing purpose. Jewish people might be expected at this point to remember the whole of Psalm 22 but John who writes for an audience which includes Gentiles, can not expect that level of rigour from people not trained nor brought up with that tradition - John cuts straight to the punchline.

So what's the point of all of this; especially now during the Christmas season? Because I think that the Christmas season itself echoes something of that literary and rabbinical tradition. Consider those lines from Charles Wesley's Carol "Hark! The Herald Angels Sing":

Mild He lays His glory by
Born that man no more may die
Born to raise the sons of earth
Born to give them second birth
Hark! The Herald Angels Sing, Charles Wesley, 1739

The message of Christmas means nothing without Easter because thousands of Jewish kids were born in the Roman Empire. Even Good Friday means nothing without Easter Sunday because thousands of people were executed on Roman crosses. Easter Sunday, Resurrection Sunday, marks the high point of the Christian year.

The Christmas season is like quoting the beginning of Psalm 22 and expecting people to know how the story ends, except that Christmas is not a case of "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" but Immanuel - "God is with us".

December 20, 2014

Horse 1807 - Could Inspectors Japp and Lestrade Have Met?

In a recent episode of Poirot, Inspector Japp said that he'd been working for Scotland Yard for more than thirty years and had never seen a case quite like this. Later on in the same episode as Poirot, Hastings and Japp were looking on as a coffin was being lowered into a grave, I noticed that the date of death of this poor soul was 1936.
Assuming that Japp joined Scotland Yard exactly thirty years and one day previous, then the latest date which he could have joined the Yard was 1906.
We know from the Sherlock Holmes canon that Inspector Lestrade was still at Scotland Yard as late as 1902 but the books were still being written as late as 1924. This at least hints at the possibility that Japp and Lestrade were both working for Scotland Yard at the same time.

I wonder, would Japp and Lestrade have ever come across each other? Maybe. If that is true then I would expect that not only do Japp and Lestrade know each other but I suspect that Japp would have worked as Lestrade's offsider. Japp could have logically been Lestrade's apprentice. This would explain in part why the Yard thought it useful that he was the one who ends up tailing Poirot so often, having previously done so with Holmes.

There is a major problem though. Scotland Yard (as a metonym) is the headquarters of the Metropolitan Police Service which serves all of central London. By 1890, which is bang in the middle of the Sherlock Holmes canon, the Met had 13,000 officers and was such a large organisation that it had to move to New Scotland Yard; which are now the called the Norman Shaw Buildings on the Victoria Embankment and later housed among other things, the offices of the Offices of the Leader of the Opposition. It is quite possible that David Cameron and Ed Miliband have worked in an office that either Japp or Lestrade could have worked albeit incredibly unlikely.

Functionally Japp serves an identical purpose to Lestrade in the novels and even goes through the same process of metamorphosis of extreme distrust to gradual acceptance of their respective detectives.
Forget trying to publish a story with your hypothesis though because although Sherlock Holmes logically entered the public domain for copyright purposes in 2000, Poirot will not until 2046. The stories of Japp and Lestrade would by that stage, very much be historical fiction and well beyond the memories of anyone alive.
The question of whether or not Inspectors Japp and Lestrade could have met remains interesting but I fear that not even Holmes would be allowed to publish a monograph on the subject for a very long time.

December 19, 2014

Horse 1806 - Britain Should Symbolically Annexe Cuba
We are separated by 90 miles of water, but are brought together through shared relationships and the desire to promote a democratic, prosperous, and stable Cuba. President Obama is taking action to cut loose the anchor of failed policies of the past, and to chart a new course in U.S. relations with Cuba that will engage and empower the Cuban people.
- White House, 17th Dec 2014
Change is hard -- in our own lives, and in the lives of nations. And change is even harder when we carry the heavy weight of history on our shoulders. But today we are making these changes because it is the right thing to do. Today, America chooses to cut loose the shackles of the past so as to reach for a better future -- for the Cuban people, for the American people, for our entire hemisphere, and for the world.
- Barack Obama, 17th Dec 2014

With the announcement that the White House has formally decided to re-establish diplomatic relations with Cuba, there is only one course of action that I think must take place...


But not by the United States... By Britain.

I think that Britain should symbolically annexe Cuba for 1 day, 1 hour, 1 minute and 1 second; then hand back Cuba to the Cubans.

"Why?" I don't hear you ask because this is a device of rhetoric and it's a patently bonkers idea in the first place. Why indeed?

Because as a former British territory, Cuba might learn the ways of Cricket and Afternoon Tea and then hopefully would join the West Indies Cricket Board and the West Indies Cricket team.

Cuba is less than 200km from both The Bahamas on one side and Jamaica on the other. It always seemed strange to me that Cuba, Haiti and Puerto Rico are not part of the West Indies Cricket Board and therefore do not have players in the West Indies Cricket team.
Put it this way, Sint Maarten is a constituent country of the Netherlands and the Virgin Islands are insular area of the United States; so why not?

One of the things I love about West Indian cricket is that even if the mutil-national team is doing badly, the people who come out to watch are still joyous. The soundtrack of cricket and especially the multi-national team is one of more or less continual drumming and singing.

England has its Barmy Army (which by the way isn't really allowed to perform at home) and India in India has a following approaching demi-god status but no-one can even lay a patch on the sheer amount of joy that is shown when the West Indies are playing at home.

Given Cuba's past and its strange confederacy with the Soviet Union and the fact that it still remains as one of the world's last remaining Communist states, Cuba has been something of a pariah on the world stage.

Can anyone honestly think of a better way to bring Cuba in from the cold? Extending the hand of friendship is one thing but declaring war at 22 yards and 95mph is quite another. Just like I would love to see China become a full test playing nation (the Chinese Cricket Association hopes to achieve this by 2020) I would really love to see Cuba at the very least join the WICB and field a team in the President's Cup and domestic T20 tournament.
Ideally they'd have players in the West Indies Cricket team and host test matches in Cuba. Just think about that for a second - a Test Match in Havana would be a thing of joy. I want to hear Timba at a Test Match.

Britain annexing Cuba for 1 day, 1 hour, 1 minute and 1 second, is itself a giant wheeze. The only reason for doing so would be to introduce cricket because for some totally bizarre and unknowable reason, cricket is only played in former territories of the British Commonwealth.
I'd like to see cricket in Cuba because I think that bringing joy to peoples' is itself a good aim.

December 18, 2014

Horse 1805 - Sony Cancels The Interview

Sony Pictures made the announcement that it I'd withdrawing the film "The Interview" for theatrical release, following as it claims, threats of violence made against the company and theatre chains declining to show it on the basis that they might suffer a backlash.
The film apparently deals with a plot to assassinate the North Korean leader Kim-Jong-Un and from what understand, this story is dressed up as a comedy.
It stars James Franco and Seth Rogen, neither whom I've heard of and given that the film was given a rating of MA15+, and that I don't go to the cinema much anyway, it would be odd of me to write about a film I'd have no interest in except that media has turned this into something of a free speech issue.

Admittedly my initial reaction to this when I first read about it was that this was a publicity stunt. After hearing that Sony has been the subject of hackers though, I'm not so sure of that now but it still seems plausible to me. We are talking about a movie company here. Their stock and trade is to sell fiction and unless there was some external investigation, I wouldn't put it past a movie production house to write this story and release it as fact.
Suppose for argument's sake that at some point in the future, Sony Pictures either does release the movie in cinemas or it goes straight to DVD and download. Before even a frame has been seen by the public, it already has a place in history. Sony Pictures can now expect to shift more units than they otherwise would have done if the film was a flop.
If this is legitimate though, then this all comes off as being insanely 'Murican in character. The fact that this is being framed in this light and that the narrative being told by the media is that Sony Pictures shouldn't bow to terrorists, is itself the stuff that Hollywood likes to trade in.

Allow me for a second to paint a different narrative - the boring one which doesn't sell newspapers.
What if this movie was the result of a chain of bad business decisions? Now even I'll concede that parody has been around for a very long time - Chaplain's "The Great Dictator" was a veiled parody about Hitler - but what if it was only at the end of all this that Sony Pictures has discovered a little thing called tact? Anyone who publishes anything for public consumption would do well to remember that whilst the right to free speech exists, it isn't absolute. I'm not even talking about the classic example of yelling "Theatre!" in a crowded fire either. Yes, free speech is hedged in by laws such as sedition, discrimination and defamation etc. but it is also hedged in by unwritten rules of decency. If you go around writing or publishing something which is likely to cause offence, then there will be people who are likely to be offended. Whilst there is no right not to be offended at law, there is also no defence if the offence you have caused, causes people to become angry and lash out. What if someone at Sony Pictures finally woke up from their stupor of groupthink and said "guys, this is a bad idea after all"? I know that I've often written things which don't make it past my own internal filter.
What if the more sensible story is that Sony Pictures in choosing to voluntarily withdraw the movie, did so on the basis of purely commercial reasons? That narrative is boring.
The Homeland Security Department says there’s no reason to think there’s a credible plot to attack U.S. movie theaters on Christmas Day as a protest against the Sony movie “The Interview,” despite threats from the Sony hackers.
A DHS official, speaking on condition of background, said the department is aware of a threat made Tuesday by the group that hacked Sony.
Story Continued Below
“We are still analyzing the credibility of these statements, but at this time there is no credible intelligence to indicate an active plot against movie theaters within the United States,” the official said.
- Politico, 16th Dec 2014

Although the Department of Homeland Security doesn't seen to reason to think there’s a credible plot to attack movie theatres, perhaps the most scathing reason as to why the film is being pulled is that it's simply a bad movie:
North Korea can rest easy: America comes off looking at least as bad as the DPRK in “The Interview,” an alleged satire that’s about as funny as a communist food shortage, and just as protracted.
- Scott Foundas, Variety, 12th Dec 2014

It's comments like this despite how the narrative of this debacle is being portrayed in the media that maybe just maybe, The Interview is a film which should be credited to Alan Smithee. Maybe the problem is that when you have a film which reportedly cost US $44 million to make, it might be incredibly hard to undo all the publicity. Blaming hackers and threats might be the cheapest option.

December 17, 2014

Horse 1804 - These Are A Few Of My Favorite Things - 2014 Edition

I'm all too aware that my default position in writing is one of immense annoyance. I've never been particularly positive a person and I find that the greatest energy to write comes from an irritant. Like an oyster which hurts itself trying to expel a piece of grit, the thing that is finally produced is a pearl, though whether it is a pearl of wisdom or not is entirely up for debate.
This post then, is an incredibly hard one for me to write, as I send the oxen in to plough the field of happiness and instead of pearls of wisdom, dig up potatoes of joy.
These are a few of my favourite things from 2014 in no particular order.

1. The World Cup
Seeing England fail yet again was inevitable. Watching Brazil lose 7-1 to Germany was amusing. Beholding Germany outplay everyone was a thing of joy.
Germany's fourth World Cup win was the result of a ten year program In which they basically rebuilt everything from the academy level upwards. They sent scouts to observe English tactics and learnt from the lightning and idiotically frantic pace of the English game, they watched Spain and particularly clubs like Barcelona whose once sextuple side invented the mechanics for twenty-first century tika-taka, and they looked at the methodic purpose and structure of the Italian game and then by reinforcing the stereotype of ruthless German efficiency, worked them all into an eleven of Weltmeisteren.
Watching Germany play football was like watching Liverpool in the 1980s, Manchester United in the late 1990s and Milan in the middle 00s. They were sometimes vulnerable but still held the talent and the composure to beat all comers. Before the tournament I'd predicted a Brazil-Germany final as an outcome but with Brazil's implosion, it was more or less a fate accompli.

€. Psalm 38
One thing we do quite often in the church that I go to is have a reading of a Psalm. Usually they are of the type which tries to glorify God. Whilst there's very much a place for this, I suspect that Psalm 38 will never be read out in that capacity.
I suspect that anyone who looks at God's Word hard enough, will eventually draw the conclusion that they are sinful and that in comparison to a holy and perfect standard, they failed so utterly miserably that the message of the cross becomes all too obvious.
Suffice to say that Psalm 38 is not a happy one. Depending on how you approach it and the mindset that you happen to be in, it can appear to be melodramatic but it's only when you take an honest case of self reflection, that you realise just how much truth is contained therein.
Check it out (link - Psalm 38). I warn you, it is not encouraging but it is honest.

A. Mayonnaise & Chilli Sauce
Toasted sandwiches are immensely yummy. Melted gruyère and turkey, tomato and basil, peanut butter and golden syrup - obviously not all at the same time - that'd be disgusting. The best condiments for most savoury toasted sandwiches though are Hellman's Whole Egg Mayonnaise and ABC Sweet Chilli Sauce.
Neither of them by themselves occupy positions in the all-time super-offical top five of condiments in my underpaid opinion. Those spots go to things like kebab sauce and capers and French's mustard. Hellman's Whole Egg Mayonnaise and ABC Sweet Chilli Sauce are this strange buddy comedy double act which by themselves are all right but together they are a knock it out of the park; over the Vic Richardson Gates for six, kind of pair. They are a Richardson and Haynes, Yorke and Cole, Morecambe and Wise, Washington and Adams, sort of pair.
The creaminess of the mayonnaise and the tang of the chilli sauce.

@ Hello Internet
I don't understand why CGP Grey and Brady Haran work so well as a podcast pair but they do.
Their podcast is essentially nothing more than the "two dudes talking" format but Grey's pessimism and impatience coupled with Brady's insane optimism dovetail together so nicely.
I was listening to one episode coming back up the hill from The Spit back to work, when I was reminded of one of Grey's fantastic laments "it's not that I'm right, it's that humans are fundamentally stupid".
For 2015 I can imagine that there will be even more discussions about Star Wars, about Grey's apathy to the sport of cricket and ever more of Brady's amusement in trying to find names for minutiae.

¶. Opal Card
Okay, initially when the system was introduced and there weren't any card readers on buses and you couldn't use the system without a credit card, it had my freckles, schmeckles, heckles and hackels up. After the system was properly rolled out and it now appears on buses and trains, the whole system gets two thumbs up from me.
I love the idea that after the eighth trip, the rest is free. In a system which is capped at $3 less than the old MyMulti system which I used to abuse the life out of, abusing Opal Card in the name of finding "savings" is now one giant game.
I'm taking short trips that I don't even need to now, just to rack up the eight trips. Even just within the postcode of 2088, I've seen more of the suburb than in the nine years' previous. Instead of having to walk out and back, I can just take a bus back, knowing that it counts as a trip. What used to be $63 a week can now with blatant gaming of the system, be commuted to less than $30. That's a result.

¶ Chips And Gravy
There is a chicken shop in Woodcroft which I don't know the name of and I've never bought chicken from there but their chips and gravy are the stuff that dreams are made of.
French Fries which were invented in Belgium are sold in their home and native land, in a paper cone and with mayonnaise. If you're able to get a nice glass of Leffe Brun to accompany it at midday; whilst reading a novel, then do so.
The gravy that they make in store at this chicken shop in Woodcroft which I don't know the name of, has its base in the tailings from the chicken cooking process. I'm sure that there's a secret mix of spices in there which we're better off not knowing about (because what you don't know can't hurt you) which makes this particular chips and gravy far better than any chips and gravy has a right to be.

? Weird Thing To See
On one rather rainy sort of grey morning in November, where the wind is to lazy to go round and just cuts you in two, there was a Royal Caribbean cruise ship at the International Shipping Terminal (nothing strange about that). It was raining so heavily that from my position on the Harbour Bridge (on the M30 bus) that I could see neither the Opera House nor the pylon at the other end of the bridge; yet on the big screen on the ship which was overlooking a swimming pool, "Star Wars - A New Hope" was playing and I could see maybe forty umbrellas of people watching the movie.
Fair play to them for watching a movie which is 37 years old but in the rain and on a cruise ship? They were truly on the ship to Bonkers Land; stopping at Insensible Cove on the voyage. How I wanted to join them so.

December 15, 2014

Horse 1803 - The Sydney Siege

What was the point of the siege today? Moreover, what is the actual point of most situations like this?
In a normal hold-up, thieves will use force to take money and or goods; whilst that is hardly a way to conduct yourself, there is still a definable and obvious reason for the action. With an act of aggression or a siege like this, I'm afraid that I just don't make any connection between the act and what the intended outcome is; if indeed there is one.
The message that you're trying to convey, whatever it possibly may be, will instantly be lost in the face of a million irate people, whose day you've just disrupted. If you disrupt people as they go about their business under most circumstances, they get annoyed; if you decide to take people hostage and cause half the CBD to go into lockdown then instead of just creating an annoyance, you've probably created enemies out of the general public - you've certainly created enemies out of the scared individuals you've taken hostage.
Again, I just don't understand what exactly is achieved here.

The phrase being bandied about on talkback radio this afternoon as though it was some kernel of wisdom was "we can't let the terrorists win". The problem with that phrase is that it assumes that there's something which can actually be won. What? What is the thing that the terrorists win? It doesn't even need to be a tangible thing, I just want to know what possible thing is the intended outcome.
Where are the terrorists anyway? This is a siege in a cafe. No bullets have been fired, no property has been destroyed that we know of and no explosive devices have been discharged. Despite what the graphics on Channels 7, 9 and 10 suggest, this fails every legal definition of terrorism.

If you were trying to win the fame and ovation of the people forever, then wouldn't it make more sense to do something nice for people? I'm sure that if I had a very big message that I wanted to put out to a lot of people, I'd do so by being kind to them - it is far easier to catch flies with a honey pot. Give everyone a cool drink on their way home. Maybe give everyone a free train trip home.

Even the flag which the mad men used was unhelpful. Granted that a black flag with Arabic writing on, is used by IS but the problem is that because we happen to live in a mostly English speaking nation,  most of the population can't even read that sign. If you are trying to convey some message, then what's the point if most people can't understand it?
The flag appears to be a variation on the Shahada which says something similar to  "There is no god but the God, Muhammad is the messenger of the God". This message appears on flag of Saudi Arabia and was used for a while on flag of the Taliban in Afghanistan. The problem with this is that it is a vague sort of message used by jihadists as well as the vast majority of perfectly peaceful Muslims alike.
Various Imams and Islamic leaders have come out to condemn this action and quite rightly so but they shouldn't need to. The acts of one or two mad men are not reflective of the community as a whole.

If the point was to deliberately try and disrupt peoples' day, then that for the most part, failed spectacularly. Quite a number of places shutdown and for those people, you've just awarded them an early mark. When I got on the bus at 05:05pm, the trip across the bridge was quick and the trains weren't crowded at all because everyone had gone home.
In the case of one of the the most "first world problems" in the world, the only two things that I suffered was a rescheduling of a meeting and I was unable to send a text message to Mrs Rollo because the phone system had collapsed under the weight of more than sixty million SMSs being sent.

Something we did see were the hashtags on Twitter of #sydneysiege#illridewithyou and most encouraging #PrayForSydney. What most of haven't heard though are the conversations that have been had by the people inside and various media outlets like radio and television stations.
Quite rightly the media outlets themselves are keeping quiet about what's been said to them by the gunman even though they probably don't need to but more importantly, they haven't disclosed the locations of police units.
So what was actually achieved today in all honesty? The ire of the people of Sydney? Early marks for lots of office workers? A spot on the six o'clock news? The infamy and condemnation of the world?

I think that the best thing that can come out of this is that eventually that the hostage takers get bored and let everyone go home. I find it comforting that in various places around Sydney, Islamic leaders, Christian leaders and even Jewish leaders have all been calling for prayer. 
That would truly be the most radical reaction of all, wouldn't it? Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you?

December 10, 2014

Horse 1802 - A Recipe For Success... Would That Recipe Be Copyrightable?

I remember that once upon a time in high school; back before even the days of Eternal September on the internet and you actually had to look stuff up in books and newspapers, coming across an article in probably the New York Times on microfiche, which published those "11 secret herbs and spices" and remember that it was like striking the gold of Ophir.
This week whilst listening to the BBC World Service, I heard someone made the comment that things like recipes and instructions in DIY manuals are incredibly difficult to copyright because although you can copyright text, video and audio, ingredients and proportions aren't something which necessarily can be. If you published a recipe for caramel slice for instance, the ingredients like sweetened condensed milk, eggs and sugar, are readily available and therefore can not be said to be unique; neither can the process of mixing and cooking ingredients, and besides which an egg isn't the sort of thing that you can put a patent on.
Closely related is the fact that you can't copyright an idea. You couldn't for instance write a new Poirot novel without permission from the estate of Agatha Christie but the idea of a Belgian detective is not something which can be blanket copyrighted. You are perfectly free to write the story of an orange cat, provided it doesn't share the same name as a particular bearded president of the United States.

Recipes then, are quite difficult to copyright because if we take our example of our caramel slice, even if you wholesale pinched the whole recipe from another cookbook, if you changed some of the elements slightly, you'd have what would effectively amount to being a new recipe. If you copied the whole recipe verbatim, then the text might be copyrightable but the caramel slice at the end, might not be.
Think about this, the Dynamic Ribbon Device, the particular script and the colour scheme of a particular cola drink all carry copyright notices but I don't think that the brown liquid itself does.
One particular chocolatier has managed to copyright one pantone shade of purple but the deliciously delectable brown bairn of Bourneville is not.

The real credence of a cook book then, is not to be found in the text but whether or not the recipes actually work. As much as I enjoyed reading Mrs Beeton's Book of Household Management, for the sheer impossibility that anyone could be expected to produce any of the dishes therein, the actual recipes probably wouldn't be copyrightable (quite apart from the fact that it was published in 1861 and so is in the public domain anyway).
This might sound utterly bonkers but Jamie Oliver, Nigella Lawson, Ainsley Harriot and Manu Fidel, have marketable books, not because of the recipes that they have written but because of the rest of the accompanying text and photographs. If I were to change a few of the recipes in Jamie Oliver's books, I could have my very own publishing career. It wouldn't be a very good one because I don't have the celebrity pulling power to sell very many copies. Then there's the rather obvious problem that if I stole Jamie Oliver's recipes, it's very much like stealing the moral low ground.

The Australian Copyright Council has this to say in its fact sheet:
You will not infringe copyright if you watch someone prepare a dish and then you write down
the ingredients and method in your own words. 
Copyright does NOT protect:
• ideas (such as the idea of using blue cheese to make ice-cream);
• information (such as the list of ingredients and quantities used in chocolate chilli mud cake); or
• styles, methods or techniques (such as a method of preparing chicken and casserole).
Therefore, if you watched someone preparing a dish they had created and then wrote down in your
own words the ingredients and method, you would not have infringed copyright even if they had not

granted permission.
- Information Sheet G019V09, Australian Copyright Council, Feb 2012

So then Jamie Oliver... I'm stealing the moral low-ground; safe in the knowledge that because I've changed some of the text, I'm not infringing on copyright.

300g Self-Raising Flour
175g Butter
50g Sugar
400g Tin of Sweetened Condensed Milk (a tin)
100g Butter
2 Tablespoons of Golden Syrup
100g brown sugar
150g Milk Chocolate

1. Steal recipe from Jamie Oliver's cook book; being careful to change some of the words so that the recipe is no longer distinctive and then publish.
2. Go to your local bakery and buy caramel slice.
3. Sit back in complete impunity; safe in the knowledge that a recipe is mostly uncopyrightable.

The bonus with this is that at the end... you have caramel slice.

December 09, 2014

Horse 1801 - Death Of Medicare By A Thousand Paper Efficiency Dividends (they're not cuts).
The $7 Medicare co-payment measure announced in the 2014-15 Budget will no longer proceed.
The Government will instead implement a package of measures that will strengthen Medicare and help make it sustainable, ensuring Australians will continue to have access to affordable, world-class health care.
The Government has listened to the views of the community.
Medicare rebates for common GP consultations will be reduced by $5 for non-concessional patients aged 16 and over from 1 July 2015.
Doctors may choose to recoup the $5 rebate reduction through an optional co-payment or continue to bulk bill non-concessional patients over the age of 16.
Doctors will be under no obligation to charge the co-payment and this decision will be entirely at their discretion.
- A strong and sustainable Medicare, Office of Prime Minister Tony Abbbott, 9th Dec 2014

In this brave new world where the words 'efficiency dividend' can now be used as a verb to replace the word 'cut', PM Tony Abbott has scrapped the proposed $7 co-payment to GPs by 'efficiency dividending' the amount that they'll be paid by the Federal Government per patient by $5.
This is a master stroke in barbarism. Instead of a straight cut to health, this is being used as a bludgeon to beat the Medicare system with. Instead of the government needing to wear the blame for this, this has been now been dressed up as something which is 'optional' for doctors to charge and since the general public will tend to blame their doctor, the Health Minister and Prime Minister can walk away from this in a white coat made of Teflon.
Ahah (I don't hear you ask because text is a silent medium), but where has the other $2 for the Medical Research Fund gone? That too has been 'efficiency dividended' away, like an ice cube in a frying pan.

There is nothing new about this sort of thing at all. This is a trick which Tony Abbott has pulled before. In the run up to the October election of 2004, he went on the ABC's program "Four Corners":
TICKY FULLERTON: Will this Government commit to keeping the Medicare-plus-safety-net as it is now in place after the election?
TICKY FULLERTON: That's a cast-iron commitment?
TONY ABBOTT: Cast-iron commitment. Absolutely.
TICKY FULLERTON: 80 per cent of out-of-pocket expenses rebatable over $300, over $700?
TONY ABBOTT: That is an absolutely rock solid, iron-clad commitment.
- Four Corners ABC 1, 6th Sep 2004

Just like the current policy, ten years later, an "absolutely rock solid, iron-clad commitment" disappeared to a wisp of smoke, the second after the election was over.

In the 2005 budget, Tony Abbott as Health Minister in the then Howard Government enacted policy which raised the Medicare Safety Net threshold amount from $300 to $500 for those on lower incomes and from $700 to $1000 for those on higher incomes; also in stark contrast to a promise made before an election.
This time around though, Mr Abbott doesn't have a strong character to hide behind like he did with John Howard. Maybe it's worth remembering that in the next election in 2007, the people of Mr Howard's electorate of Bennelong 'efficiency dividended' him at the ballot box and he became only second Prime Minister in Australian political history¹ to lose his own seat.

In the press conference this morning, Mr Abbott tried to defend the decision by saying that:
“For some time I’ve had backbenchers coming to me, I’ve had members of the community coming to me saying, ‘We support the idea of more price signals in the system, that’s an economic reform, but can’t it be better for children and for pensioners?’ That’s exactly what Peter Dutton and I are announcing today,
Who are these 'members of the community' who supposedly came to the Prime Minister? How is that possible? I work in Mosman which is in Mr Abbott's electorate and I can tell you that the last time that I saw him actually out in the community, was in the 2010 campaign.

Secondly, do members of the community actually use language like 'We support the idea of more price signals in the system'? Really? If so, who are these people? The only person who I know who might speak with such mefipulous³ verbosity like that is… well… me. Even then, apart from my terrace house on Pedant Corner, I also have a shopfront in Geektown²
No one in the world talks like that; so I seriously doubt that these people exist.

Look, this really isn't even about a co-payment and never was. Even if everyone in the country visited a doctor once a month, the whole scheme would have only collected $161m per year, which isn't really that much in the grand scheme of things.
It would be political suicide to dismantle Medicare but forcing it (and the public service generally) to suffer the death of a thousand paper 'efficiency dividends' will eventually weaken the system to the point of collapse.

The dismantling of Medicare, which I suspect is the intended end game here, will produce a more expensive health care system; the experience of the United States proves that most excellently. What it would do though, is shift expenditure from the public purse to private pockets and monetise profits. That's all good and fair provided you don't actually care about the health of the nation. If you are concerned with the pursuit of profits to the exclusion of all else, then this is an excellent aim; no doubt those entities which pay political parties (and who already pay minimal tax), would quite enjoy that.

Sir Winston Churchill once said that "The inherent vice of capitalism is the unequal sharing of blessings; the inherent virtue of socialism is the equal sharing of miseries" and yet he was the one who proposed Britain's NHS. He might be wrong though. In the twenty-first century which is very much beginning to resemble the later part of the nineteenth, we're seeing the beginning of both the unequal sharing of blessings and the unequal sharing of miseries.

¹The first being Stanley Bruce.
²Just up the A59 from Nerdsville.
³Mafipulation generally takes five minutes.

December 07, 2014

Horse 1800 - May We Please Have Some Proper Economic Modelling For Deregulating University Fees?

There is this model in economics called a "Production Possibility Frontier" or sometimes a curve; which looks at the ability of an economy to produce one of two items. The curve tries to graphically depict the opportunity cost of producing one things as opposed to another. The most famous example of this is asking the question of "butter versus guns"; which has been visited by people such as Thatcher, Eisenhower, Goebbels and Göring.
If this is presented as a dichotomy between one thing and another, does this apply to things like funding models and ownership models? The reason why I ask such a question is to do with Christopher Pyne's intention to deregulate higher education.
If higher education is deregulated, can this be presented as a production possibility frontier between private and public capital. If so, has anyone presented or even thought about the net benefit to the economy either way? I suspect not.

I suspect and I could be entirely wrong about this (because I have no data sets to back up my opinion) that public education is a more efficient delivery system than the private system. My general question is what does the production possibility frontier look like and where on that curve is investment of capital best served?
The reason for my suspicion has to to with the explosion of capital between about 1890 and 1970. Two World Wars got in the way; which changed the base line for economic growth (which is why the post war period usually looks so glorious) but my theory is that the beginning of widespread literacy in the beginning of the twentieth century is the major defining factor for the what the French call the "Trente Glorieuses" or the Glorious Thirty.
Widespread literacy could only occur if government steps into the education sector because private enterprise which has a mindset which is far shorter, can not, does not and will not invest in education unless it can spin a profit from it.

I think what they’re protesting about is the election of the Abbott government. They really don’t have the kinds of problems that they are protesting about that deserve the burning of effigies. We’re asking students to pay 50% of the cost of their education. We’re not asking for their left kidney to be donated. I think they need to get some perspective and proportion.
- Christopher Pyne, on The Bolt Report, 24th Aug 2014

The problem with education is that it has an exceptionally long lead time before results are produced. An individual might take many years before they have finished their formal education and an even longer period before they will make a return on the capital invested in them through higher wages. Governments would do well to remember that the working life of an individual, might be longer than fifty years; which is longer than 12 election cycles.
If all higher education was free at the point of delivery, it isn't like that level of investment just disappears. By investing in the human capital of the labour force, that initial investment is likely to be repaid several time over during an individual's working life.
Incidentally, you can hardly blame students for protesting against $100,000 degrees because if you actually do a bit of research and "get some perspective and proportion" if you look in the right places, you should be able to purchase a left kidney for less than $100,000. Monetarily, Pyne would be asking students for their left kidney to be donated if he could get the legislation through.
In the United States, that great bastion of free market capitalism, the average cost per year to study at an Ivy League university for 2014-15 was US$43,938 or AU$52,749. Over four years that's just under $211,000; so that remark about kidney donation is suddenly quite galling.

I wonder if Christopher Pyne as the Education Minister has ever produced a set of working models looking at the net benefits to the economy of one funding regime or another. If not, then upon what basis is the proposed deregulation of higher education based on? If it is based on the presumption of clearing expenses from current government expenditures, what will that do to a future economy in many election cycles' time and after he is no longer a cabinet minister?
Has anyone modeled the net efficiency of one public dollar as opposed to one private dollar spent in education? Is that even possible? Again, if we look at the United States which has the world's highest per capital health care costs, this might suggest that a free market isn't the best solution in determining outcomes. I don't know though if health care and education are necessarily congruous. I know that when it comes to a putting child through a government primary and secondary school, the total cost K-12 is about $65,000 but a through a private school it works out to be about $420,000. This suggests that the public system is roughly six and a bit times more efficient, despite what advocate groups like to tell you about the private schools system.
When it comes to university education, I don't even know what a set of metrics would look like but worse, I suspect that the Education Minister doesn't know either.

If Education Minister Christopher Pyne intends to deregulate higher education, could he please produce his modelling to show why such a system has a net benefit? Otherwise, could he just be honest about who is paying the piper? It'd be nice to know who was fleecing us whilst the wool was being pulled over our eyes.

December 06, 2014

Horse 1799 - "Are you a communist?"

"Are you a communist?"

I kid thee not dear reader. That was the question posed to me on the M30 bus, heading  home from Mosman; through Neutral Bay on Friday afternoon.

At first glance it makes no sense as to why this lady would even ask such a question. I was dressed in a white shirt and tie, with black trousers and I'm just not sure how that in particular suggests any predilection for being a communist. I suppose that I could be working as an undercover agent for the Stasi but that's surely got to be drawing a very long bow indeed.
Maybe if I'd been in my big black scary coat and maybe if I'd then chosen to wear badges of Mao, Trotsky and Lenin and maybe if it was 1968, then there might be a case to be made but otherwise, it's just a little bit weird.
Except if you take a look at the cover of the book I was reading:

The lady who asked me this was probably in her late 50s and after showing her the cover in more detail, she said that she quite liked Leigh Sales and that she watches 7.30 on ABC1 every night.
Proving yet again that symbols are important, if you hadn't figured it out yet, the reason that this lady asked if I was a communist is because I was reading a "little red book". From far away, I guess that I can understand the concern.

Truth be told, I've never even seen an actual "little red book". The book "Quotations from Chairman Mao Tse-tung" is published in English but I suspect that it went out of favour with university students, firstly after the fall of communism in Europe in the 1990s and secondly after everyone started getting things like iDevices. It's probably really hard to rise up against those capitalist pig dogs and start chanting slogans for the Revolution to come whilst at the same time, tapping away at a tablet computer and wearing the latest designer sneakers.

Mind you, if we did want to start a revolution with Leigh Sales as the figurehead, would one of the central tenants of that revolution be to start asking investigative questions of people? If such a revolution were started though, apart from asking questions about government policy, it would have a soundtrack of Broadway show tunes.
Although, if Ms Sales' co-conspirator on the podcast "Chat 10 Looks 3"¹, Annabel Crabb were involved, then we could all start chanting "Little Red Cook Book, Little Red Cook Book" and taking delicious desserts round to politician's houses. I'd be up for that sort of revolution - Key Lime Pie with Malcolm Turnbull, Caramel Slice with Julie Bishop, Black Forest Cake with Ed Husic and Chocolate Coronets with Tanya Plibersek. It would be the tastiest revolution the world has ever seen.

One of the ironies about having the question asked "Are you a communist?" on the lower North Shore of Sydney is that although people who live in the area are more likely to have things like private health care and send their children to private schools, they're better serviced by public transport and are more likely to be listeners and viewers of the ABC.
"I suppose that I am a communist of sorts" I think to myself as we ride along in a publicly owned bus, across the publicly built Sydney Harbour Bridge which cost £6¼m more than 80 years ago. The bridge even got the nickname of "The Iron Lung" as it kept many workers employed as the depression began. Then as I get off the bus and get onto a publicly owned train, I also consider that had this been left to private enterprise to build, it would have never have been done.

More generally, I don't think that there are that many "self-made" people beyond those in small business and even they, they exist within a community. Society chooses to arrange itself in groups, cities, companies, families and nations because we all want to build and benefit from something which is bigger than ourselves. Immediately I think of Thomas Hobbes and that life in the 'state of nature' which he imagined is "solitary, poor, nasty, brutish and short"².

"Are you a communist?" To a degree. I think we all are; I think we always have been.

¹ Chat 10 Looks 3. Link:
²In such condition there is no place for industry, because the fruit thereof is uncertain, and consequently, not culture of the earth, no navigation, nor the use of commodities that may be imported by sea, no commodious building, no instruments of moving and removing such things as require much force, no knowledge of the face of the earth, no account of time, no arts, no letters, no society, and which is worst of all, continual fear and danger of violent death, and the life of man, solitary, poor, nasty, brutish, and short.
- Leviathan or The Matter, Forme and Power of a Common Wealth Ecclesiasticall and Civil, Thomas Hobbes (1651)

December 05, 2014

Horse 1798 - Why I Love Bad Customer Service

On Monday morning I had to venture into the city to deliver some paper work, when I was asked to visit Myer to pick up a book which had been on order for quite some time. Armed with the receipt and a card which told me where I could pick up the book, I met with a person in the shop who was disinterested in helping me, who was playing with their phone and had to ask someone with more authority to find the book which was being held.
I thought about this as I made my way back to the office on the bus. Was I annoyed that I'd been given poor customer service? Not really. In fact I sort of felt a little sorry for this person, who's more than likely doing a job which they're overqualified for and of they're not, which they're undereducated for.

The top wage rate for a "Retail Sales Assistant" or what used to be known as in the olden days as a Floorwalker, at Myer is $23.53/hr. If you were to work a 35 hour week (which you more than likely wouldn't be given), then you'd be paid $823.55 per week or $42,971 a year and quite frankly that's not fun.
You'd be on your feet all the live long day, dealing with the general public who can be snarky, irritable, irascible or just plain annoying and then you're telling me that you're expected to be all sweetness and light all the time? Someone who is perpetually happy in the face of all that is either deranged or else just happens to be blessed with a personality which has given them excellent coping mechanisms.

If you're in Myer or David Jones and you do happen to be buying something worth $500, the chances are that the person working at the counter who has just sold it to you, probably can not afford it themselves. An even more sombre thing top think about is that the $500 thing was probably made by someone who can afford it even less.
In Dickens' "A Christmas Carol", Bob Cratchit was paid "fifteen bob a week". Allowing for 4% inflation you arrive at a final figure of $90,802. The poor Retail Sales Assistant at Myer is on less than half of that. Before you start criticising Scrooge for being a curmudgeon, think about the causes of why a Retail Sales Assistant at Myer is on less than half of what what Bob Cratchit was. Who demands lower prices? How are those lower prices achieved? The blame dear shopper, rests on your shoulders. The cause, is you.

The disinterested person at Myer probably might be a heck of a lot more interested if they knew that their efforts were valued by the company and more highly paid. If someone has to pay the rent or electric bills as well as those university debts which mounted up and this is what life has thrown at them, I think that they have the right to be surly.
I don't think that we as a society have a right to demand sweetness when we tell people to suck eggs, give them lemons and pour salt into their wounds*. I think that it's hideously unfair to look down on someone because they happen to be less well paid. Often the less well paid jobs are the nastiest and that's kind of a double blow.
I think that the disinterested person at Myer has a right to be surly. I'm all for it.

*That recipe produces Hollandaise.

December 04, 2014

Horse 1797 - Bring Back The Roundels Please

On the eastern side of Sydney's CBD, the underground railway stations of Museum and St James are still almost 90 years later, the prettiest stations in the entire of the Sydney Trains network. Sydney Terminal with its imposing clock tower and cathedral of steel does scream grandeur from every brick and every piece of cut sandstone but it still is not as much of a joy to stand in as the two jewels of the east.
Museum and St James are designed to look like stations of the Edwardian period of the London Underground. Museum reminds me of the Circle Line platforms of Baker St and I must confess that I don't know what St James is based on. The point is though, that they were both designed to be aesthetically pleasing, and they are.

This brings me to Circular Quay, Wynyard and Town Hall. They were built within the same time period as Museum and St James but subsequent refits have either meant that their little details have long since given way to the stern pen of accountants. These three all lost their little details that they had when they opened and Wynyard in particular looks the saddest of all; its steel supports on platforms 3 & 4 being covered over in nothing but blue enamel.
This is why I was surprised to see something return to Town Hall recently; something which I think should never have ever gone away; something which was sorely needed - the roundels.
The last time I wrote about this was back in August of 2012 - maybe someone was reading this (see Horse 1345):

Presumably the roundels of the London Underground were copyrighted in the 1920s. They are so instantly recognisable that even in different colours, they can still convey their intended design language and quite deliberately so. The Underground's roundels are found at every station, on time tables and other paraphernalia and have now extended to buses, ferries, the l
docklands Light Railway as well as the Overground.
Sydney on the other hand has never really had any overarching corporate design language and it suffers from the fact that every time there is a change of management, it either gets a minor change of signage or an attempt to make sweeping changes to everything which then fails or falls short; Milsons Point is testament to this - its T1 branding appears nowhere else on the network.

The current Town Hall refit is interesting. It has acquired some roundels (which I hope get repeated throughout the whole station) but it has also acquired several orange station signs; of which that style only also appears in Burwood of all places. The grey tile work which appeared before the roundels did, reminds me of the inside of a toilet block. Down on platform 4 which used to be in the same 1970's style as the rest of the Eastern Suburbs Railway, has also been made to wear these grey tiles and orange signs. The only concession left that it was ever part of the ESR, are they roof housings for the fluorescent lights.

My question is who is responsible for the refit and why did they think that it was a good idea to put up a few roundels (which look pretty) but then tease us with a grey and orange arrangement, that even President  Douglas McDreary of the I Love Dishwater Society thinks is dull? Why can't we have nice things? Why do you have to taunt us so, by showing us that we could have nice things but we're not going to be given any?
People from around the world visit the London Underground because it is the London Underground. No one, visits Sydney Trains because it is Sydney Trains. 

The roundels are lovely. Please sir, I want some more. MORE?!

December 02, 2014

Horse 1796 - Australia's Prime Ministers - No 11 - Sir Earle Page

XI - Sir Earle Page

Earle Page was first elected to the seat of Cowper on the north coast of NSW in 1919. As a member of The Farmers and Settlers Association of New South Wales, he was one of the founding members of the Country Party (the forerunner of the current National Party) and was instrumental in getting Billy Hughes to resign in 1922 in support of the then Nationalist government.
Page as leader of the Country Party, wrangled the post of Treasurer for himself under the premiership of Stanley Bruce and after the so-called Bruce-Page government was defeated by Labor in 1929, Page swung the Country Party's support to the newly formed  United Australia Party, with Joseph Lyons as leader.

Before entering into politics, Earle Page qualified as a surgeon and set up a hospital in his home town of Grafton, and apart from establishing the then rural credit scheme, Page also devised an investment fund to finance the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, later the CSIRO. Page was knighted for his contribution to politics in 1938; and thus was firstly Dr Page and then Sir.

On 7th April 1939, Joseph Lyons died unexpectedly of a heart attack and Sir Earle Page was appointed as interim Prime Minister by the Govenor General Lord Gowrie.
Page would not last long as PM and not quite three weeks later after the UAP found a new leader in Robert Menzies, the UAP-Country coalition deposed Page; setting up Menzies as the new leader on the 26th,

Page and Menzies had a bitter dispute which played out in Melbourne's "The Herald" newspaper in which Page accused Menzies of cowardice with regards Menzies' stance on appeasement with Germany and Menzies' dispute with wharfies and dock workers who refused to load scrap iron on boats destined for Japan; the latter gained Menzies the moniker of "Pig Iron Bob".
When Menzies was sworn in as Prime Minister, Page launched into a personal attack on the floor of the parliament and withdrew the Country Party's support of the UAP; thus leaving Menzies with a minority government.

Page would never again be Prime Minister but would eventually patch up cordial relations with Menzies; serving as Minister for Commerce and eventually as Minister for Health in Menzies second and very long stint.
Page became the first chancellor of the University of New England, then Australia’s only rural university, in 1955 and he eventually retired in 1961 having been father of the house as well as the second longest ever serving federal parlimentarian in Australian history.

Three weeks as PM is hardly long enough to make a difference but his work in and around the idea of the centre-right coalition in Australia certainly is noteworthy.

December 01, 2014

Horse 1795 - MLC Saves Someone's Retirement - Their Own

Firstly, I'm not sure if this story is supposed to make us laugh or not. The message that MLC is trying to portray is that as it stands, people haven't saved enough for their retirement and should consider putting in a little bit more. Whilst there might be some merit in their sentiment, if you work through the mechanics of the law and the actual circumstances of history, this advert ends up being a giant slap in the face to a great deal many people.

Think about the older man. He says that retirement is something that people did when he was a boy. Even if you allow for the most generous of conditions, the earliest that he could have been born was the year 1983. The caption on the display case says "Early 21st century" and even his boyhood extended even one day into the twenty-first century, it means that the absolute earliest that he could have been born was 2nd January 1983, for if he had been born the day earlier, on the first day of the century, he would have been no longer a minor. I suspect though that he is supposed to be as old as the boy in the advert and if you assume that he is that old right now, his year of birth probably lies around the year 2004.
If this man was born in the year 2004, then his eventual retirement age is likely to be 75 because the statutory age will have been pushed back by the time he gets there. If this is true, then he will be retiring in the year 2079 and already we run into a massive problem.

What sensible person honestly thinks that the rules surrounding superannuation will even be remotely the same in 65 years' time? Even the Income Tax Assessment Act of 1936 only lasted 61 as an intact piece of legislation before the Income Tax Assessment Act of 1997 came along. To suggest that by the time this person reaches retirement age, the superannuation legislation will be the same is a nonsense. If we assume that the current Superannuation Industry (Supervision) Act 1993 has the same life expectancy as the ITAA 1936, then it will have been replaced by 2054.
Even in my lifetime (I was born in 1978) by the time I retire, I suspect that retirement age will already be 75; that would mean that my retirement will begin in the year 2053. Personally, I already think that retirement will have already been extinguished by the time I get there for reasons I will now expound upon.

Let's assume for a second that inflation is zero. The long term capital growth trend for the twenty-first century is likely to be about 1.9% (the 30 year postwar period was extraordinary). Immediately this poses a problem. As of today, the government takes 15% of contributions and most fund managers take 1%-2% per year of the total assets. Even if you allow for compound interest it still means that of a working productive life of 55 years, you can really only expect to have squirrled away about 4.5 years of you current salary. That's fine but 75 + 4.5 is only 79.5 which is still short of people's life expectancy of 84. Already, people are in trouble.
The even bigger problem is that the people who need to save the hardest for their retirement can least afford to do so. If you are a lower income earner, then your marginal propensity to consume will already be quite high because you're probably already pared back when it comes to your expenses anyway. If you are a woman and you decide to have children, then due to the compound effect, even one year out of the workforce will have major effects in 50 years' time.
Due to the concept of wealthy condensation, people who begin with a larger pile of money, will end up with an even bigger pile at the end of their lives. If you choose to be poorer or a woman (as if either of those are even choices that you even can make) then the superannuation system itself is one giant con.

The other big problem with the superannuation system is the fact that it exists.
Superannuation has the same problem as an insurance scheme in that it has to pay out money to people. Already as the Baby Boomers have begun to retire, there has been an increase in the number of people that the system is paying out to. The problem is that a point will be reached sometime in the next 30 years where the number of people that the system is paying out to will exceed the number of people paying into the system; this is further compounded by the fact that at the same time real wages are also falling.
Pension systems are already something of a Ponzi scheme and the only difference between a public system and a private one, such that the superannuation system is in Australia, is who controls the funds.
On that note, another problem that a private superannuation system has is that it pits various funds against each other and when you're dealing with both inflation and the 1%-2% that fund managers take, when overall growth is only expected to be in the order of 1.9% for the coming century, the only logical outcome is that most people can expect to lose in real terms.
This even assumes that fund managers actually do anything. The Observer did a study in 2012 which found that an ordinary house-cat could out perform professional fund managers.¹

Getting back to that little boy standing in front of the cabinet, if he is ten years old and his grandpa is 55 (I'm taking a guess) then this scene is at the earliest, in or about the year 2060. If this is true, then sadly this scene might be all too true. The question then is "what are MLC doing to save retirement?" Are they investing in education? Are they investing in university research? Are they investing materials development? Are they investing in sustainable technologies? Or are they investing in real estate and financial institutions as their PDSs would tell us?

Who are the couple behind the glass², in the MG? Are the MLC fund managers? Probably? The question then is one of whose retirement is MLC saving? The only conclusion that I can draw is that when MLC asks is to "Save Retirement" they actually mean for use to save theirs.

MLC will probably send a form reply, like this:
The Observer portfolio challenge pitted professionals Justin Urquhart Stewart of wealth managers Seven Investment Management, Paul Kavanagh of stockbrokers Killick & Co, and Schroders fund manager Andy Brough against students from John Warner School in Hoddesdon, Hertfordshire – and Orlando.
By the end of September the professionals had generated £497 of profit compared with £292 managed by Orlando. But an unexpected turnaround in the final quarter has resulted in the cat's portfolio increasing by an average of 4.2% to end the year at £5,542.60, compared with the professionals' £5,176.60.
- The Guardian, 13th Jan 2013

²To be fair, the chap reading the newspaper also won't be a thing in future. I suspect that Fairfax won't make it to 2017 and that daily newspapers won't be a thing by the end of the decade.