Monday, February 25, 2008

The Finger Points Outwards - No.9

The Australian Fair Pay Commission released its first Economic and Social Indicators - Monitoring Report today. (Perhaps, in future, when people ask what I do for a living, I can point them to this.)

Monday, February 18, 2008

AFL Preview 2008

AFL previews usually dissect the specifics of each team, analyzing their strengths and weaknesses, and coming up with a considered view of their prospects. This is not one of those previews. Let’s face it, Collingwood could have Gary Ablett, Wayne Carey and Tony Lockett on their forward line, and you’d still swear they were a bunch of no-talent, umpire-baiting, black and white maggots. AFL is not about appreciating how good a team is, it’s about how much you can stand to see them winning (or, in other words, how little you hate their guts). In the end, the only team that should win is yours, but in the event that does not occur, here is a rundown of those other mobs:


Superstar Mark Ricciuto has retired from the Crows, to be replaced as captain by Simon Goodwin. Which seems appropriate, since while there was only one Ricciuto, there are Goodwin clones running all over AAMI Stadium. Only ardent Crow supporters could get excited by the prospect of Defensive Goodwin chipping sideways to Midfield Goodwin, who will then Goodwin it down the Goodwin corridor to help the Crows to a Goodwin.

Time was, you wanted to swat Darren Jarman as he kicked his fifth final-quarter goal over his head, dig your knuckles into Nigel Smart’s cranium when he swept the ball from defence, and tell Tony Modra to get a haircut as he soared over half your backline. Nowadays, having an objection to Adelaide is like having an objection to your toaster. Sure, it makes them less hated, but at what cost?

Premiership Odds: $15
Likability: 5/10


Even as they were winning three consecutive premierships, Jonathan Brown knew the other shoe would one day drop, and now it has. Where once he had Alastair Lynch and company to beat up on the opposition, he is now the mountain-like chief to a forward line full of pygmies. Yet the Lions did well enough over the second half of the season last year to suggest that they could have caused some damage in the finals if they had made it. At the least, they can usually be counted on to have a crack at winning the game. That may lead to some hidings but they should dish out their share as well, particularly at home.

Premiership Odds: $21
Likability: 6/10


With Chris Judd and No.1 draft pick Matthew Kreuzer joining Carlton, there hasn’t been this level of enthusiasm at Princes Park since Denis Pagan came on board. And Carlton supporters know how that turned out. But fortunately for the league’s bluebloods the socialistic aspect of the AFL should kick in any time now, and Carlton’s swag of high draft picks will pull them up the ladder again. (New coach Brett Ratten might even win a game.)

After six years in the football scrapheap, one could almost feel sorry for the Blues. Almost. But then there’s the possibility that, for once in his life, Chris Judd will find something a hard slog, and suddenly there’s a new reason to see them in the doldrums. Besides, Judd didn’t pick your team, did he?

Premiership Odds: $26
Likability: 4/10


Collingwood appears to finally have a young team worthy of their fans’ arrogance, with gun midfielders Scott Pendlebury and Dale Thomas, and promising forwards Travis Cloke and Sean Rusling. The departures of Nathan Buckley and James Clement shouldn’t hurt too much; Buckley was a non-factor in last season’s campaign and Heath Shaw admirably marshaled the backline when Clement was absent. As individuals, there isn’t really as much to loathe about the Maggies anymore (with one notable exception… step forward Alan Didak). But the fact that Eddie McGuire’s still president, they’re media darlings, they always get a favourable draw, and they have the highest prick-to-supporter ratio in the land all means that there would be little sweeter than watching them lose a major final by less than a kick yet again.

Premiership Odds: $11
Likability: 3/10


Once the evil empire of the AFL, Essendon are in danger of slipping into irrelevancy. Their best and most recognizable players – Matthew Lloyd, Scott Lucas and Dustin Fletcher – are also some of their eldest. And they no longer have Kevin Sheedy around to make every young player seem like the next Leigh Matthews or every game seem as significant as the Second Coming. (Check the record books: the Bombers did not in fact win every premiership in the past twenty-five years.)

Sheeds may be gone, but his shadow still lingers; either you thought he was a twit and you want the Dons to go well without him, or you thought he was a genius and you hope that, after the board pushed him out, his former club falls in a heap. Personally, I hope new coach Matthew Knights does OK, but I’d still like to see the Bombers’ army suffer for their smugness in 2000 a bit longer yet (where’s your dynasty now, hey?) Plus, if they go too well, the shouts of ‘Baby Bombers: Mark III’ will be deafening.

Premiership Odds: $41
Likability: 5/10


Every year the calls come: ‘Top four! Top four!’ And inevitably the Dockers finish about tenth. Although last season should be considered some sort of success in that they seemed to give away fewer stars to other clubs than usual. Only Jonathan Brown and Chris Judd are more important to their teams than Matthew Pavlich is to Fremantle, and until that situation changes it’s hard to see them winning it all. The laws of probability suggest that Docker fans should see some reward for their suffering any day now. But then again, who cares?

Premiership Odds: $11
Likability: 6/10


Alright, alright, the Cats deserved the flag last year. And for every dunderhead (Steve Johnson), borderline psychopath (Cameron Mooney), or puffcake (Brad Ottens, although as a rule you don’t call a ruckman a puffcake to his face), there’s also a modern marvel (Gary Ablett), a humble champ (Jimmy Bartel), or a shaggy-haired cult hero (Matthew Scarlett). Whether they are the new force in football or just a bunch of guys who played really, really well remains to be seen. I still suspect the latter, but this may again be enough in a comp where the old guard are crumbling and the new guard have yet to emerge.

Premiership Odds: $3.15
Likability: 6/10


Outside of Collingwood, the Hawks were the most over-hyped team last year, which made it fitting that their season ended at the hands of the league’s ‘ugly ducklings’ the Kangaroos. Still, provided they don’t get swollen heads they should be in the top half of the ladder for the next few years or so. They have a fairly efficient midfield and enough firepower up forward to do most teams in. I don’t know if I could ever really embrace them though since a) they’re thugs; b) there is too much ‘Buddy Love’ going around; and c) I’m a child (more or less) of the 1980s, and can remember Hawthorn thrashing everyone. A Buddy-led win in the finals followed by him kicking 1.17 the next week would be an appropriate outcome.

Premiership Odds: $11
Likability: 6/10


Given their decision to stick it up the AFL and remain in Melbourne, you would think that Victorians would be right behind a Kangaroos premiership, until you remember that it didn’t do them much good in the 1990s. Rarely has a team that finished third garnered less respect and rarely have so many people predicted them to collapse the next season. Still, it would be a triumph for the little guy if the cash-strapped Kangaroos could beat out all of the non-Victorian powerhouses. Add that to the fact that you’re unlikely to come across a gloating Roos supporter, and the flag going to Arden Street seems like not too bad an option after all.

Premiership Odds: $34
Likability: 8/10


Johnstone gone. Godfrey and Bizzell gone. Neitz going. Yze and White on their last legs. It’s fair to say that the Dees are in a rebuilding phase, which makes it hard to see how they will mount a serious challenge in the near future. Yet Melbourne teams have a history of doing surprisingly well with ‘no-names’ and crashing when they appear formidable, so who knows? Now owners of the second longest premiership drought, the football world would probably welcome the Dees winning the flag if they deserved it.

Premiership Odds: $51
Likability: 7/10

Port Adelaide

The warm, fuzzy glow of an unexpected Grand Final appearance was all but wiped out by getting obliterated by the Cats in the biggest Grand Final thumping ever. Supporters all over the land suddenly realized that the Cornes boys had done a better job carrying this lot than they had been given credit for.

There isn’t really a reason at all to like Port: they’re just as arrogant as Collingwood (perhaps even more so because they actually win premierships), their fans are half-hearted about turning up to finals, their theme song blows, they made entering the AFL look ridiculously easy, and David Koch supports them. About the only thing to get behind them for is their push to wear their old black-and-white jumper, thereby pissing off Collingwood. If they turn up on your TV, dive for the remote.

Premiership Odds: $12
Likability: 4/10


In 2006, they got lucky a few times and won 11 games. Last season, they couldn’t finish a game to save themselves and won three. Average those two figures out and you probably get a reasonable indication of where they are at. Unless games are decided by a mad, aimless 50-metre sprint, they are probably not going to improve their results in a hurry.

As a Tiger supporter myself, I want to say that everyone should get behind them this year, even if only for the possibility of seeing Richo drop the premiership cup. But… looking at this objectively, I can see why there may be reasons that people may not want Richmond to win. The goodwill surrounding Geelong’s breakthrough last year partly stemmed from the feeling that it was a reward for them getting so close so often in recent years. The closest Richmond have come over the past 25 years is to have their carcasses spread across the Gabba in the Preliminary Final of 2001. That, and the fact their premiership drought is not as long as some other clubs, knocks them down a few notches. All of which won’t stop me from going on a month-long bender if they do win the flag.

Premiership Odds: $67
Likability: 7/10

St. Kilda

Has the window of opportunity closed on the Sainters? Pessimists will argue that their perfect storm of talented youngsters and established stars fell apart when Sydney overran them in the 2005 PF. Optimists will counter that the current group could have a couple of premierships by now if they would stop populating the hospital ward.

Surely, there is enough talent left there to make a decent stab at the flag. Other teams’ supporters are probably more sympathetic to their cause now that the ever-tactless former coach Grant Thomas is devoting his energies to legal disputes. On the other hand, some may want them to spend some more time in purgatory for that horrible game with Hawthorn that they inflicted on the football populace last year. At least the Saints will still have the most popular suburb going around.

Premiership Odds: $9
Likability: 7/10


Sydney’s demise at the hands of Collingwood in the finals last year was generally seen as the end of the Swannies’ stint at the top. A lot of their leaders – Brett Kirk, Michael O’Loughlin, Leo Barry and Barry Hall – are moving towards the end of their careers, and they have the curse of Peter Everitt upon them. However, coach Paul Roos and his men are so chilled that one can’t help but wonder if it’s all part of some master plan and they have the rest of the league exactly where they want them. For the team that made us like Barry Hall, anything’s possible.

Premiership Odds: $17
Likability: 7/10

West Coast

Like a sun gone supernova, the Eagles’ star-studded midfield no more. Chris Judd has taken his talent and dodgy groin back east, Ben Cousins has taken his drug habit and inflated muscles to who knows where, although the Eagles may still have the best midfielder in the competition in Daniel Kerr. But their second half of last season was pretty average, and losing your past two captains and Brownlow medallists in the space of a few months has got to take some sort of toll.

Not that they are likely to find many people sympathetic to their plight. Since they joined the competition two decades ago the Eagles have had the most success of any team. And their string of bad behaviour over the past couple of years has endeared themselves to the football public about as much as bird poop on a duffle coat. Experience says they should unearth enough good players to make the finals, karma says that they should all come down with the avian flu.

Premiership Odds: $12
Likability: 3/10

Western Bulldogs

The Dogs began last season as prize greyhounds, knocking off eventual premiers Geelong, and ended it as three-legged mutts, losing six of their last seven games. The ability is there, but they will need a few of their young guns to take the next step. There isn’t really anything much to dislike about the Doggies. They are fun to watch when they are firing, they have the longest premiership drought of any team, and they’ve even severed contact with Tony Liberatore. OK, Akermanis will probably offend half the population before the year is out, but the guy’s such a parody of himself that it’s not too hard to ignore him. With Fitzroy gone, the Doggies are your second team.

Premiership Odds: $34
Likability: 8/10

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Know Your Mac

- Senator John McCain was born on August 29, 1936. If elected US President, he would be the oldest ever at the time of his first day in office. While that may cause more concern about his selection of running mate than usual, it’s worth noting that his mother is 96 years old.

- Both his father and grandfather were U.S. Navy Admirals. McCain didn’t take as well to authority and graduated from his class ranked 894 out of 899.

- As a naval aviator in the Vietnam War he spent five and a half years as a prisoner of war. After about a year he was offered a chance to return home early, but would only accept if every man taken before him was released as well. The injuries sustained during that time have left him unable to lift his arms above his head.

- McCain married his second and current wife, Cindy, in 1980. She is 17 years his junior.

- McCain and his family were the subject of one of the nastiest stunts in presidential campaign history, when during the 2000 race for the Republican nomination, a rumour was spread that their adopted daughter from Bangladesh was fathered by McCain out of wedlock. His response: ‘I believe that there is a special place in hell for people like those’.

- McCain joined the U.S. Senate in 1987, and from the mid-90s onwards has gained a reputation for being something of a ‘maverick’. The McCain-Feingold Act, which was enacted in 2002, reformed the regulations for campaign financing. In 2001, McCain voted against ‘the Bush tax cuts’, claiming that he could not support a tax cut which helped the most fortunate. McCain did vote for the Iraq war, but eight months after its commencement he was publicly questioning (former Secretary of Defense) Donald Rumsfeld’s performance. More recently, he has been a proponent of immigration reform, including allowing long-time illegal immigrants to gain citizenship, increasing the number of guest workers, and increasing border enforcement.

- He strongly supported the Iraq troop surge of 2007, which has been associated with reduced violence and stronger security in Iraq. The apparent success of the operation has been a boost for McCain’s current presidential campaign.

- He is close friends with Rudy Giuliani, despite the latter’s support for George W. Bush for the 2000 Republican nomination.

- In the 2004 presidential election, McCain was mentioned as being a possible running mate for fellow Vietnam War veteran and Democrat nominee John Kerry.

- President Bush has labeled McCain ‘a true conservative’. McCain’s lifetime American Conservative Union voting rating is 82 per cent (Barack Obama’s is 8 per cent and Hillary Rodham Clinton’s is 9 per cent), although it has dropped in recent years. The Gun Owners of America have been less enthusiastic, grading him as F-.

- He has sung ‘Bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb, bomb Iran’ to the tune of the Beach Boys’ ‘Barbara Ann’.

- Despite the chants of ‘Mac is back!’ early in the primaries, no-one can recall him ever being called ‘Mac’ before.