Crikey Subscription

Yes folks it’s on again.

The Annual Crikey Group Subscription. It’s from this modest beginning that we funded Troppo’s now world renowned garage of vehicles from the famed “Dave Sorenson” Mercedes Benz Sports which seems to spend more time at the panel beaters than on the road but which Troppodillians have always flown first class to join, to Rooter, the Troppo FJ hot rod which seems to have been making an appearance Campbell Newman’s electorate in Brisbane this week. Where will it be seen next week when further details of the subscription will emerge?

Don’t email me yet, I just thought you’d want to know.

Domestic Violence

Domestic violence is constantly in the news these days which can lead to the impression that the problem is increasing. To the extent that scrutiny and public discussion shines light in dark places, we might have expected the real underlying rates to be tapering.

So I was more than surprised when The Age reported figures from Victorian Police Family Violence statistics in the left section of the table below, along with the headline “Family Violence Epidemic.” They specifically highlighted the increases from 2011-2012 to 2012-2013. (Warning; This is a long post so set aside some time!)

table 1

Victorian Totals are taken from Police Crime Statistics.

Continue reading

Ratings on Airbnb

As readers will know, I’ve been a fan of the way in which the internet generates reputational information which greatly improves the efficiency of markets. Still it’s surprising how tricky these things are, something I’ve been pondering while using Airbnb for quite a few stays in Europe.  There are several major problems with Airbnb’s rating system, which are enough to have me much less keen to use it.

Firstly it seems that there’s a happy clappy vibe in collaborative consumption. Perhaps once people have met others they don’t want to reflect on them invidiously. Perhaps they are hyping the vibe of collaborative consumption and how luvvie duvvie it can be. Or perhaps they’re thinking of the incentives. I don’t like leaving bad reviews because when I’m seeking to rent a place, hosts can look up my previous reviews, and if they’re lower than others, they mightn’t want me to so review their place. Perhaps this drives grade inflation on the system.

And perhaps to prevent that, Airbnb do separate out streams of feedback including feedback for all, private feedback for the host and private feedback to Airbnb.

But there’s another problem. Airbnb’s survey is the kind of survey that irritates me when I get one from a hotel. It asks for five stars in various categories which make logical sense.

Accuracy, Communication, Cleanliness, Location, Check In, Value. The thing is, it remains quite possible to have a flat that is more or less uninhabitable whilst retaining a four and a half star rating. How do I know? Because I’v been staying in such a place in Barcelona. It gets four or more stars in all categories and a four and a half star rating overall. About half of the reviews are very positive. So on a quick squiz we booked. Four and a half stars overall? What could go wrong?  Here’s a not untypical review from the remaining reviews.

Jordi met us, and gave us a lot of great information about the neighborhood and the city. The location and price are excellent.

However… I must mention that this is the noisiest place I have ever stayed. The apartment is upstairs from Bar Mariatchi, which is open until at least 3am EVERY DAY, and which has loud music that you will hear through the walls, making sleep nearly impossible, even with earplugs. Plus, you can count on street noise–talking and yelling–until the wee hours EVERY DAY. The noise factor derailed our rest, pushed our sleeping to the “quiet” times (7am-noon), and thus rather derailed our daily sightseeing plans.

If it weren’t for this excessive noise factor, I would recommend this apartment wholeheartedly. As it is, I can only recommend it to those who plan to party into the wee hours every night and sleep the days away.

Note how people are at pains to be nice, even if their time has been effectively ruined. Yet the place keeps getting it’s four and a half plus ratings. Enough to swing my preferences back towards hotels I’m afraid.

Contraception and the ‘underclass’ debate: from Keith Joseph to Gary Johns

Sir Sheath - Private Eye

When The Australian published Gary Johns’ opinion piece ‘No contraception, no dole‘ nobody should have been surprised by what happened next. On 7′s Sunrise program commentators described Johns’ proposal as "off the planet" and "outrageous and backwards" while One Nation founder Pauline Hanson called it “ridiculous”. On Channel 9′s A Current Affair one vox-pop interviewee described it as "Nazism." Even The Australian‘s Victoria editor Patricia Karvelas tweeted "I think the piece is mad".

Johns responded by insisting that contraception is a reasonable mutual obligation requirement that will reduce the number of children born into families that are unable to care for them properly. He says he’s not challenging people’s right to have children, only their right to receive income support without having to meet reasonable conditions.

But any proposal that makes it the government’s job to decide who should and shouldn’t have children is bound to run into controversy. There’s a long history of such proposals and good reasons why so many people in countries like Australia, the UK and the US oppose them. Johns’ proposal is also controversial because of its effect on remote Indigenous communities with few job opportunities.

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Two films to see, one to miss

On any trip one takes in a bunch of movies, at least on the plane. I’ve seen two that I heartily recommend. Belle dramatises (meladramatises?) the true story of a girl who was the product of a British military seaman in the 18th century and a black west indian woman. Before he dies he extracts from a relative the promise to look after his illegitimate daughter that is the product of this union. The resulting dark skinned girl receives a lady’s upbringing and the film portrays all this in a way that was convincing (for me anyway). She ends up marrying an opponent of the slave trade and so the films’ producers have turned this into a Jane Austen style story in which the drama of romance (including the wider family drama) becomes the vehicle in which virtue discovers itself in the world. An difficult thing to try, but well brought off I reckon.

Magic in the Moonlight is Woody Allen’s latest. It’s everything a good Woody Allen movie is. It’s funny and built on a conceit that generates a nice, neat plot through which Allen explores some of his themes. Colin Firth delivers the humour well, though his character is rather too didactically drawn as is Allen’s way. But a very enjoyable movie, if not must see viewing.

The final movie is Russell Crowe’s “The Water Diviner”. I would have steered clear of it from the trailer alone – which allows the viewer to gorge himself on Crowe’s non-acting – but for one thing. It was opening in Istanbul and the film is largely set in Istanbul. It’s the story of an Aussie, Aussie, Aussie who, visits Gallipoli after WWI to find his three dead sons. There in the aftermath of the war he finds Australian and British soldiers going about their moustachioed business of identifying and burying the war dead. They haven’t been able to identify his sons, but hey, Aussie, Aussie Aussie is a water diviner, so he tells them where to dig. And there they are! The characters consist of Aussies (salt of the earth – with the exceptions of the moustaches which are pretty obviously stuck on), Poms (whining and stuck up), Turks, who really can wear a moustache (tough but civilised and with a heart of gold).

But the best is kept till last. Russell ends up in Anatolia where there is major unrest between the muslim and Greek Christian population. Here the Greeks are Bad. As in About As Bad As You Can Get. They’re made up in near blackface from boot-polish and their main pass-time appears to be machine gunning turks. Russell manages to save a Turkish buddy from trouble by whacking a Greek Baddie with a cricket bat with which he’s been teaching the Turks to play cricket - I am not making them up. This was the obvious place for an “oy, oy, oy” but owing to the understated tone of the movie, we are spared. Anyway, I was puzzled at this as it made little sense to me that the Greek minority in the middle of the country would suddenly become uppity – as it was so against their interests. So I looked it up in Wikipedia. There was some aggression from the Greek nation supported by its coalition allies from WWI which landed at Smyrna inflaming racial tensions in the region. the Greeks also had designs on areas in Anatolia in central Turkey where Greeks were a majority. The upshot was vast Turkish massacres of Greeks known as the Greek genocide. It accounts for the massacre of hundreds of thousands of Greeks with some accounts giving it a similar scale to the Armenian genocide. You wouldn’t have guessed it from the film.  Still I wouldn’t’ avoid the film for that reason. Avoid it for its vacuity masquerading as profundity, it’s non-acting masquerading as acting.

Being me

I meant to put this up earlier, but it’s sat in ‘drafts’ for a month or more.

Now it can be a new year’s present to yourself. If you missed it last year, make this Four Corners doco on transgender kids the first doco you watch this year. The kids, and one adult interviewed are remarkable people with a straightforwardness and clarity born of the simple courage of having to admit to themselves who they are, and confronting the inevitable pain and fear it causes them and those closest to them.

Testament of youth: Breaking free of the boilerplate

There comes a terrible moment to many souls when the great movements of the world, the larger destinies of mankind, which have lain aloof in newspapers and other neglected reading, enter like an earthquake into their own lives — where the slow urgency of growing generations turns into the tread of an invading army or the dire clash of civil war, and gray fathers know nothing to seek for but the corpses of their blooming sons, and girls forgot all vanity to make lint and bandages which may serve for the shattered limbs of their betrothed husbands.

Vera Brittain quotes this magnificent passage from George Elliott’s Daniel Deronda in her own great work, Testimony of Youth. It is of course the story of her generation and the catastrophe of the Great War visited upon them after a century of peace (if you ignore the horrors of colonialism at the periphery). She also says this in the book.

There is still, I think, not enough recognition by teachers of the fact that the desire to think – which is fundamentally a moral problem – must be induced before the power is developed. Most people, whether men or women, wish above all else to be comfortable, and thought is a pre-eminently uncomfortable process.

One of the most iconic and haunting episodes of war, indeed of any time is the Christmas parties that broke out spontaneously – to the horror of the authorities – along substantial sections of the Western front in 1914. Those events stand for many things – most particularly the life-world, in all its fragility breaking out against the iron fist inside the velvet glove of civilisation – the organised forces of coercion and violence behind any successful mass social formation. Yet, by then it was too late. Any insight or inclination that those events stood for could not be turned to any material advantage to anyone and the soldiers were hounded back into the trenches.

I’ve been reading some of Ulysses S Grant’s autobiography and it’s notable how often he juxtaposes moral and physical courage giving the impression that they tend to substitute for one another: Lack of moral courage seems the norm, and it often exacts its price in the need for physical courage. In a world which is so often reduced to boilerplate prose, never less so than today when managers manage their brands, and their own personal ‘brands’, in which politicians of both sides gradually – nowadays rather quickly – disappear beneath the insincerity of their talking points, I loved this film for dramatising this dichotomy in our lives between life as the collection of the petty hypocrisies and insincerities that get us through a normal day and life as a creative and rational act.  Continue reading

Global roaming: Srsly, what gives?

Reliance Communications roaming plans

I have always assumed that the outrageous prices for global roaming on telcos is the problem of double marginalisation. Each of the monopolists takes their cut and here there’s your domestic carrier and then the others in the other market. Perhaps there are some other carriers along the way. But this doesn’t seem to me to explain more than a tiny bit of the extraordinary prices. And there are some very big telcos in the world with investments in many countries. They could span countries and overcome double-marginalisation.

It’s perhaps plausible that businesspeople pay the outrageous charges. Thus for instance one finds oneself paying a dollar or so per megabyte which is a markup of the cost you can get locally of ten thousand per cent or so. And tourists just don’t pay the prices – they get local SIMs. But in any event, it’s not a monopoly. So even if this is the profit maximising price, it should be easily undercut.

It’s not so bad in the US - you toss T-Mobile $60 odd and your right for a month with a gig or so of downloads and unlimited calls – including to a country of your choice for an additional $5 or so. But Europe? Well it’s more balkanised than banking it seems. And there’s a good reason for banking to have trouble as it’s all domestically regulated. Telecommunications is (I presume) also domestically regulated in Europe, but there’s no need to regulate it to so constrain the law of one price. Is there really regulation saying that Lebara in the UK can’t give its Oz customers access to Lebara’s network in the UK?

And there are plenty of merchants trying to arbitrage the market. So much so that Woolies is into it. But their prices hardly tempt one to let them do the arbitraging. They charge 45 cents a megabyte of data which makes 2 Gigs cost $900. Lebara will sell it to you for £12. Woolworths offering is pretty standard. After an hour of looking I found some that charged around 35 cents per megabyte.

Seriously does anyone know why this problem is so bad?


An MYEFO mystery: what’s with the resource tax?

It’s the time of the mid-year Economic Fiscal Outlook (MYEFO) and we’re told that we’re about 11 billion deeper in the red this financial year than we thought, with the treasurer blaming the dropping iron price and the reduced wage growth. I have gone over the MYEFO documents (which are an exercise in obfuscation if ever I saw one), found that wage growth and the dropped iron ore price would ‘only’ cost us 2.3 billion each in this financial year (2014-2015), noted that this was far short of the 11 billion headline, and thus went looking for the ‘real story’.

This threw up the mystery of the resource tax. Here is what it says on table 3.2:

Table 3.2: Impact of Senate on the Budget (underlying cash balance)
Estimates Projections
2014‑15 2015‑16 2016‑17 2017‑18 Total
$m $m $m $m $m
Impact of decision taken as part of Senate negotiations(a)
Repeal of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and related measures -1,684 -2,334 -1,670 -947 -6,634

which seems to means that the repeal of the minerals resource rent tax (and related measures) is costing us around 2 billion per year. Yet, in the ‘Overview Part’, the MYEFO says “The repeal of the Minerals Resource Rent Tax and other related measures will save the budget over $10 billion over the forward estimates and around $50 billion over the next decade.”.

What is going on?

Update (thanks Chris Lloyd): it seems to be a language issue. Part of the story seems to be that the MYEFO is counting the repeal of the mining tax, which was an election promise, as something the Senate inflicted on the budget, so the 2 billion a year is ‘revenue foregone’. So the MYEFO is blaming the Senate for the outcome of an election promise, using an odd formulation to say that the repeal will save us 50 billion when it seems to imply it would cost us 50 billion. Weird.