Thursday, September 22, 2016

The Pointless Case of Andrew Bolt and the Potty-Keyboarded Adjunct Professor

You have to feel sorry for Andrew Bolt.

(Actually - no, you don't. At last count there were somewhere in excess of seven billion people on this planet more deserving of your sympathy than Andrew Bolt. But I digress...)

The poor little pet isn't allowed to vilify Indigenous people for not being black enough any more. So, he has turned his attention to random people using rude words (imagine that!) on Twitter (shock! horror!).
(Nope, no link. News Limited can get... its advertising revenue from somewhere other than this blog.)

Bolt then quotes some of Adjunct Prof. Tom's choicer tweets:

And so on.

It's absolutely terrible, of course, that someone could do what amounts to volunteer work at an educational institution - that's what 'Adjunct Professor' means - and in their spare time swear on the Internet! Someone like Andrew Bolt, who gets paid top dollar for writing divisive, inflammatory columns in one of Australia's leading birdcage-liners-of-tomorrow, is clearly on the moral high ground here. (For the benefit of any regular Bolt reader who may have stumbled upon this article: that's what's known as sarcasm.)

Still, I can't help wondering what Bolt's agenda is in this instance. If he's hoping to precipitate another Martin Hirst episode, he's likely to be disappointed. Adjunct-Professoring isn't Tom's main job. As I understand it, he makes a living as a consultant in the IT business. You know; with actual clients who pay him actual money for providing actual services. And I'm guessing that those clients either don't know or don't care (or both) about his tweeting on the prospect of Miranda Devine performing fellatio on Donald Trump.

Maybe it's just Bolt pandering to the knuckle-draggers who constitute his usual audience. "These clever academic types; their shit stinks too!" or something to that effect.

Or maybe it was just a slow news day in Bolt's sad little hate-and-fear-mongering world, and there was no better subject matter available for his first column of the day.

Saturday, March 19, 2016

The reforms to Senate voting, Part 1: "Unlucky Number 7"

Hot on the heels of the Senate finally managing to pass the reforms to the Senate voting system comes the news that Senators Day and Leyonhjelm are going to launch a High Court challenge to the new laws.

This is their key argument:
The basis for the challenge is that 3 million voters will be disenfranchised by the laws because their votes will no longer result in electing political candidates.
The poor darlings! Maybe the Senators haven't noticed what I call the Unlucky Number 7 Effect.

The quota for a Senate seat is 1/((the number of seats up for grabs) + 1). For the States in a half-Senate election, when six seats are to be filled, this is 1/7 or 14.3%. Votes are counted until six quotas have been reached. Then it stops.

A consequence of this is that there is always a seventh candidate who gets almost-but-not-quite a full quota. The ballots of the people who voted for them are effectively thrown in the bin. (It's even worse for the Territories, where there are only two Senate seats to be filled.)

Here is a list of those would-be Senators and the votes they received at the 2013 election:

State Candidate Party Votes Quota % of quota
NSW Faehrmann, C. GRN 555,073 625,164 88.8%
VIC Kroger, H. LP 437,894 483,076 90.6%
QLD Stone, A. GRN 312,505 374,209 83.5%
WA Pratt, L. ALP 166,551 187,183 89.0%
SA Griff, S. XEN 128,853 148,348 86.9%
TAS Chandler, S. LP 39,906 48,137 82.9%
ACT Sheikh, S. GRN 52,037 82,248 99.4%
ACT Bucknell, C. BTA 15,548 82,248
ACT Avery, D. ASXP 14,155 82,248
NT Te Awake, D. PUP 12,915 34,494 95.8%
NT Williams, W. GRN 11,549 34,494
NT Falzldeen, L. CLP 8,591 34,494

Total = 1,755,577

The figures come from the Distribution of Preferences PDFs on the AEC's website. As can be seen, this isn't a political-partisan issue. It affects parties across the political spectrum.

One-and-three-quarter-million people! According the AEC, 13,822,161 people voted in 2013.So, roughly one in eight voters had their wishes ignored.

This isn't a whinge on my part. I accept it as being the consequence of the system as it stands. My point is that what Day and Leyonhjelm are complaining about is already happening.

Their objection seems to be that, with the new reforms, the smaller parties' candidates are more likely to end up in the Unlucky Number 7 position (and below) than the larger ones'. As can be seen in the table above, it is mostly the larger parties who lose out under the current system.

The answer for the smaller parties is simple: follow the example of Nick Xenophon. Get out there, make your policies known to the voters, and campaign hard on them. He went from getting 2.9% of the vote in the South Australian Legislative Council in 1997 to getting 24.9% in the Senate election in 2013.

Do it! End of rant.

Sunday, January 25, 2015

Joe Hockey is worried about bracket creep. Seriously?

So, I stumble out of bed on Sunday morning, fire up the computer and go online. I was semi-consciously doing the rounds of the news sites when I came upon this: Hockey: income tax burden to increase if Labor keeps blocking savings measures
We have been warning about bracket creep and we want to deliver tax cuts, but the Labor controlled Senate continues to block savings measures that would help pay for those tax cuts," Mr Hockey told Fairfax Media.
("Bracket creep" refers to the increase in average tax that occurs when incomes rise while tax rates and brackets stay the same.)

Seriously? Bracket creep is a problem when wage growth is barely ahead of inflation? (In the September 2014 quarter, wages grew at an annual rate of 2.6% while inflation was 2.3%.)

My usual "suppository of all wisdom" in these matters is the Australian Bureau of Statistics, specifically  6306.0 - Employee Earnings and Hours, Australia, May 2014. I constructed a pair of hypothetical employees/taxpayers who I'll call Ms Median and Mr Top Decile.

Ms Median's pay sits at the boundary where half of all employees earn less than her and half earn more, or $1339 per week as of the survey at that last link. Mr Top Decile, on the other hand, earns more than 90% of all employees, or $2548 per week. (If you think that's sexist, check the ABS's tables. Female average weekly cash earnings are 65.8% of males'.)

From there it only remained to break out the calculator and work out what would happen if their pays increased by 2% and 3% respectively.

According to the ABS's press release linked above, Ms Median's annual earnings are $69628 from which $15569 in tax would be deducted (including the 2% Medicare levy). So her average tax rate is 22.4%. Give her a sub-inflation-rate pay rise of 2% (because, ya know, times are tough) and her pay becomes $71021. Her tax deduction rises to $16049 for an average tax rate of 22.6%. Her tax has increased by $480, or 3.1%.

Mr Top Decile's annual earnings are $132496 from which $39620 in tax would be deducted. So his average tax rate is 29.9%. Give him a better-than-inflation pay rise of 3% (because, ya know, higher-income-earners are worth it, otherwise why would we pay them so much?) and his pay becomes $136471. His tax deduction rises to $41171 for an average tax rate of 30.2%. His tax has increased by $1551, or 3.9%.

Their average tax rates increased by 0.2% and 0.3% respectively. In the current low-inflation environment, to paraphrase Jay-Z, Mr Hockey has 99 problems but bracket creep ain't one.

So why bring it up? It's not as though we're over-taxed. As of 2010, we were the fifth-lowest-taxed country in the OECD.

As far as I can tell, it's just more of the same 'small gummint good, taxes bad' recycled American conservative rhetoric. Mr Hockey's quote above gives the game away. To paraphrase: 'if ya want tax cuts, cop less services'.

In other words, he and his colleagues are still trying to ram a failed ideology down our throats while appealing to our greed.

On the subject of greed, Black Flag said it best:
Gimmie gimmie gimmie
I need some more
Gimmie gimmie gimmie
Don't ask what for

Saturday, March 1, 2014

An Immodest Proposal (or two)

Richard Flanagan's article in the Grand Opening Edition of The Saturday Paper makes an extreme suggestion for a solution to Australia's asylum-seeker problem. To wit: "bomb the boats and kill all the illegals."

He is careful to drop in a reference to Jonathan Swift's A Modest Proposal to indicate that this suggestion is satire. But why should it be?

Look, the underlying problem is that there are too many people in the world. And this was as as true in Adam & Eve's time as it is today. (Or Mr and Mrs Homo erectus's time, for all you evolution-believing smartypants.)

It's time to start culling the herd. For a start, I modestly propose a program of voluntary euthanasia for people who are feeling crowded-out by all those dayum furriners coming here with their incomprehensible babble and stinky food.

All it needs to get people interested is a snappy slogan. I modestly propose an adaptation of Samuel Johnson's famous phrase: "when you are tired of Australia, you are tired of life". This will resonate with a lot of people. I know that I, for one, am tired of listening to people whinge about "Fuck off, we're full".

How the actual procedure is carried out is for future debate. Kurt Vonnegut's story Welcome To The Monkey House could be a starting point, though the details may need some updating. These days there might be some market resistance to being put to sleep by a six-foot female virgin wearing some sort of Go-Go-Dancer-from-Hell uniform. From women, especially.

While that might persuade a lot of people to exit this world, it might not be enough. So, we need to extend Flanagan's modestly proposed bombing campaign to the Australian mainland. All that is needed is to pass legislation that would make all immigration after World War II retrospectively illegal. Then, using Census data, we could identify the suburbs and towns with the highest concentrations of these people and their descendants and send in the RAAF.

Yes, it's brutal and indiscriminate - but so is life. And it would have the desirable side-effect of ridding us of our current Prime Minister, who was born in the United Kingdom.

Disclaimer: if you are wondering about my 'ethnic-sounding' surname I should point out that while my father was an 'illegal boat departure', so to type, he had the sense to be one before World War II. Also, I was raised by my maternal grandparents - this is my grandfather - and my mother's ancestors arrived in Australia in the sixty-year period between the First Fleet and the Irish potato famine. So, I'm all right Jack - though I could be tempted by one of those women in the purple body stockings and black leather boots...

Saturday, January 25, 2014

No country has ever Rush-Limbaugh-quoted its way to prosperity.

A long time ago, on a planet far (but not far enough) away, an American shock-jock intoned:

"No nation has ever taxed itself into prosperity."
Rush Limbaugh, radio broadcast, 18th February 1994

Over the years, this line became a favourite of American conservatives who wanted to demonstrate how they could combine their love of simplistic one-liners with their economic ignorance.

Eighteen years later, an Australian politician with a love of simplistic one-liners decided to revive it (with minor modifications). But it was no longer a shock-jock's zinger. Oh no, it was now the iron law of economics:

"The government has completely failed to appreciate the iron law of economics that no country has ever taxed its way to prosperity."
Tony Abbott, address to the National Press Club, 31st January 2012 (2:26 to 2:38 in the video below.)

Nearly two years later, after the Australian electorate had expressed its preference for simplistic one-liners over well-thought-through policy by electing a government led by Mr Abbott, we got this from our new Treasurer:

"One thing is for sure, no country has ever taxed its way to prosperity."
Joe Hockey, address to the National Press Club, 17th December 2013. Video here. (Go to 7:15.)

Same line, different bobblehead.

It's a great line, isn't it? So great, in fact, that our beloathed Prime Minister had to share it, re-paraphrased, with the world:

"No country has ever taxed or subsidised its way to prosperity."
Tony Abbott, address to the World Economic Forum, 23rd January 2014. (5:05 to 5:13 in the video
at this link.)

So, Tony Abbott paraphrased some nonsense spouted by an American radio demagogue twenty years ago. He has 'borrowed' glib one-liners at other times. (Remember "axe the tax" from the 2013 election campaign? That was 'borrowed' from the Canadian New Democratic Party's campaign during the British Columbia provincial election in 2009.) What's the problem? Well, there are two that instantly spring to mind.

The first problem can be summarised in two words: Tea Party. Specifically, I'm concerned about their small-government-for-small-government's-sake thinking that is creeping into Australian politics.

Limbaugh is a favourite of theirs. So are the American climate-change-denier politicians Jim Sensenbrenner and James Inhofe. Senator Bernardi consulted with them in 2009, looking for strategy ideas for his campaign against Australia's carbon-pricing scheme. (And now, the "tax" is due to be "axed"...)

More recently in 2011, Senator Cormann, who is now our Finance Minister, met with representatives of FreedomWorks, the Tea Party "grassroots" organisation founded by one of the Koch brothers. His brief for the trip was to ''explore United States economic, fiscal and monetary policy". (And not with a view to convincing himself to run away as fast as possible from the American madness which demands that big-government services be financed by small-government taxes, it seems.)

The second problem is: it's simply not true.

You take a car trip on a well-constructed road without having to stop every couple of hours to pay a toll. You pack your kids off to school without first paying $10,000 per head to the school for their tuition. You get seriously ill, go to hospital for several months, and don't come home to a bill which will bankrupt you.

Every time one of these things doesn't happen, it's a reminder that you are living in a country which has taxed its way to prosperity. (Note to any foreigners who may stumble upon this article: I'm talking specifically about Australia.)

The point to note is that our government didn't provide these things because it's Santa Claus. It provided them because it was economically efficient to do so. This is so obvious that at least one high-profile American politician understands it:

"Ask for the wealthy to pay a little bit more." In a sane world that would trump "no nation has ever taxed itself into prosperity" every time. But not in Tony Abbott's world, apparently.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Things Americans Do Badly: Remakes and Re-Imaginings of Films and TV Series

Last night I was up past my bedtime watching Let The Right One In on SBS2. It's a Swedish film about the friendship between two twelve-year-olds, one a bullying victim and the other a vampire. (It's a silly premise, but a surprisingly good film.) My main reason for watching it was because the previous night SBSONE had screened Let Me In, the American remake. Apart from relocating the setting from the suburbs of Stockholm to Los Alamos in northern New Mexico, the plot was pretty-much identical.

At the end I returned my TV to its default setting, ABC1. They were showing The Magnificent Seven, which is a remake of Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. Again, apart from relocating the setting from 16th-century Japan to the 19th-century Wild West (with the necessary technological adjustments, of course), they're essentially the same film.

So the question arose: why does the American film and television industry do so many remakes?

You could make the case that where a story is so good it deserves to be retold every decade or so. There's Leo Tolstoy's novel Anna Karenina. So many film adaptations of it have been done that "she throws herself under a train" doesn't need to be prefaced with "spoiler alert". Over the years Greta Garbo, Vivien Leigh, Tatiana Samoilova, Jacqueline Bisset, Sophie Marceau and Keira Knightley have starred in the title role. But it's a literary classic, not some hack screenplay.

One possible explanation proposed by Sofie Gråbøl, star of the Danish TV series Forbrydelsen, is that the American audience won’t read subtitles. Which is why her show had to be relocated from Denmark to the Pacific Northwest of the U.S. and remade as The Killing. And why Stephen Soderbergh felt the need to do a pale imitation of Andrei Tarkovsky's masterpiece Solaris, I guess. ("But it's got George Clooney in it!", I hear you whine.) And I'll throw in the remake of The Girl With The Dragon Tattoo, which apart from Daniel Craig's star-power and a couple of minor plot variations added nothing to the original.

Another possible explanation, related but worse, is that Americans can't cope with stories that don't involve their own culture. Moving more into re-imagining territory now, there's the Australian man-in-a-dog-suit yarn Wilfred. The American version starred Elijah Wood and had much higher production values, but it completely lost the charm of the original.

Hollywood wasn't finished with Australia there. No, they had to do re-imaginings of Rake and The Slap. These are, respectively, such archetypal Sydney and Melbourne stories that it's hard to envisage them not losing almost everything in translation. But that hasn't stopped Hollywood before. Two words (and an ampersand): Kath & Kim.

The Brits have been subjected to the same indignity. The accents, slang and customs of a Manchester housing estate were apparently so hard for Americans to deal with that Shameless had to be relocated to Chicago. I haven't seen the U.S. version and hold some hope for it because of the presence of William H. Macy as the central character Frank Gallagher. He's good at playing men in hopeless situations, such as Jerry Lundegaard in Fargo and Donnie Smith in Magnolia. (Now there are a couple of well-made, original American films. More, please!)

Then there was the U.S. version of the British series Skins, which got canned after one season because it included sex scenes involving under-18s and was thus, by American standards, child pornography. Geezus, Yanks: teenagers root - like rabbits, given half a chance. Get over it!

But the Americans saved the very worst for the Germans. In what can only be interpreted as an act of revenge for the Battle of the Bulge, they took the Wim Wenders classic Wings Of Desire and re-imagined it, possibly with the aid of strong illegal drugs, into City Of Angels. (And by "re-imagined" I mean "utterly and irreparably mangled".) Visually it's spectacular - bright, sunny L.A. ("City of the Angels" - get it?) versus the grey, overcast Berlin of the original - but, like the city in which it's set, it tries to compensate for what it lacks in soul with tear-jerking fake emotion.

Finally: one thing at which Americans are particularly poor, is pretending to be non-Americans. Witness Steve Martin's attempt at "rebooting" the Pink Panther "franchise". (I'm quoting from the Wikipedia page.) By the time he'd made the same mistake twice it was more like a kicking-to-death than a "rebooting". Or maybe an act of stamping on Peter Sellers's grave.

Speaking of whom:

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Fact-Checking The Fact-Checkers, Part 2

There's a popular saying in the poultry industry (and elsewhere): "don't count your chickens before they're hatched". Andrew Robb, shadow Finance spokesman, and PolitiFact didn't follow that advice, with the inevitable result: egg all over their counting fingers.

PolitiFact bravely asserts: Government revenues are "up 7 per cent" despite the budget deficit. This refers to an email newsletter sent by Robb on 7th May 2013, a week before the Budget. The figures in the email were based on the data contained in the 2012-13 Budget Papers, specifically Statement 10: Historical Australian Government Data (Table 2).

This stated that taxation receipts were estimated to be $309.7 billion in 2011-12 and $343.1 billion in 2012-13, in other words an increase of 10.8%. (Or "around 11%", according to their decimal-place-hating calculator.) PolitiFact then adjusted the latter figure downward by $12 billion to take into account the then-current guesstimate of the revenue shortfall.

So they got a revised figure $331.1 billion, which represents a 6.9% increase. (Near enough to 7%, I guess. What's 0.1% here or there? About $300 million in this context, but hey - it's not real money!)

The problem was that as of 7th May 2013, the date of Robb's newsletter, he was working with old figures: the estimates from the 2012-13 Budget delivered on 8th May 2012. And some plucked-from-whichever-orifice guess at how much the revenue shortfall had been in the meantime.

So... fast-forward a week to yer actual 2013-14 Budget delivered last night, 14th May 2013. This year's model of Statement 10: Historical Australian Government Data (Table 2) is presented. It shows that actual taxation receipts in 2011-12 were $309.9 billion, and they were estimated to be $326.3 billion in 2012-13.

That's a 5.3% increase - and a shortfall of $16.8 billion compared to the 2012-13 Budget estimate. In other words, 40% more than the $12 billion pick-a-number-any-number.

When you're a week out from the Budget, why not just wait until the actual numbers are right in front of you? It saves cleaning up all that messy yolk afterwards.

5.3/7.0 = 75.7%, so I rate PolitiFact's article "75.7% true".