Sunday, February 26, 2012

Julia Gillard v Kevin Rudd: The Trade-Off Between Today and Tomorrow

Realistically, it looks like this week's federal leadership vote in the Australian Labor Party will be an anti-climax; the numbers that have been reported suggest that Julia Gillard will easily retain the leadership. It's a moot point as to which person the people would vote for now if given the opportunity; the ALP can choose whoever they want as leader and as long as they retain the confidence of the Parliament that person will be Prime Minister.

But, from their perspective, are Labor MPs making the right choice? Let's be completely reductive and assume that the leadership choice boils down to two things: who the MPs think is the best leader while they are in government, and who they think is the leader who is most likely to keep them in government.

In terms of who Labor MPs think is the best leader while they are in government, the evidence suggests Gillard, and by a considerable margin. The article by Kevin Rudd's former speechwriter in yesterday's Age is far from the first bit of anecdotal evidence of Rudd's unpopularity amongst his staffers and colleagues. The next election is in 21 months - despite the leadership changes to date, you would expect that whoever wins the leadership vote this week would be leader for most of those months; that is, there is a very strong chance that if the ALP vote for Kevin Rudd he will be leader for the next 21 months, and similarly if they vote for Gillard. Anecdotal evidence suggests that Labor MPs would put a large negative value on the first outcome.

The case for Rudd then rests on two things: the first of these being that he potentially gives the ALP a better chance of winning the next election and remaining in government. That may be true, although polls suggest that even with Rudd as leader the Coalition would still be considered more likely to win the next election. Also, the next election is 21 months away! - to put this in perspective it's been less time since the last election, and one can see how much the figures have changed since then. Of course things could get worse for the ALP over that time, but really that would likely only have an impact on the ALP's chance of winning elections even further away than the next one.

So, again keeping in mind that we're being totally reductive here, the choice of Rudd v Gillard for Labor MPs seems to boil down to the trade-off between the relative negative impact on Labor MPs (in their opinion) of having Rudd as their leader while they are in government compared to the increase in probability of winning future elections if Rudd is the leader. The first impact, being closer and more within the MPs control, is more certain to them than the second, and that could be seen as swaying them to retain Gillard as leader.

But wait... there's the second thing, which is that Rudd may resign his seat if he loses the vote, therefore bringing down the minority government, whereas Gillard will likely go to the backbench if she loses. Depending on how likely it is that Labor MPs think that Rudd will resign, this possibility could dramatically erode the certainty of having a Labor Prime Minister for the next 21 months. That is, it may be better for them to pick Rudd primarily based on the expectation that if he loses, a chain of events will occur whereby the government loses office. Well, it doesn't look like that's having a large influence on the expected numbers, but it's a good reminder of the power of "credible threats" (though to be fair not a threat that Rudd has made, to my knowledge) to change the outcome.

Sunday, February 19, 2012

The Baggy Blue And The Baggy Green

David Hookes famously once said: “When they give out the baggy blue cap in New South Wales, they give you a baggy green one in a brown paper bag as well to save making two presentations.” With this quote in mind, I was all prepared to write a post on whether New South Wales’ players are over-represented in the Australian cricket team, and had collated the data that I needed on it. However, then I found that a post had been written on this topic last April! This is particularly annoying because I had the idea two years ago but didn’t do anything about it. On the other hand, it means I don’t have to type as much in this post.

So to summarise the results of that post:

• New South Wales has had the highest representation of any state since 1982/83;

• However, NSW has also won the most Sheffield Shields (the domestic first-class state competition) during that time and has the largest state population - when you take these factors into account NSW does not appear to have been over-represented.

• Based on state population, Victoria has been under-represented.

But all is not lost - from doing my analysis, I do have some things to add to these conclusions. Note that my analysis was only done for players picked since 1990, but most of the main conclusions still hold.

The author of the aforementioned post says that they don’t particularly like the ‘state population’ method for determining over-representation because people move around states to seek better opportunities. I noticed that the larger states (NSW, Vic, Qld) tended to be under-represented, and the smaller states (WA, SA, Tas) tended to be over-represented. I figured this might be because each state has different populations but only 11 spots each in their state side. So I had a look at Test representation by state of birth. Once you do that, Victoria is less under-represented than they are based on which team the player was in at the time they were picked for the Test side (although Queensland became even more under-represented), while the smaller states became less over-represented. So a relative lack of opportunity for selection in your state side if you are born in the larger states compared to if you are born in the smaller states appears to explain part of the results by state population.

Percentages of test cricketers based on state playing for when first picked (since 1990) - percentage of males aged 19-39 in 2011 in brackets

NSW - 29% (33%)

WA - 18% (11%)

Vic - 15% (26%)

Qld - 15% (21%)

SA - 13% (7%)

Tas - 10% (2%)

Percentages of test cricketers based on state of birth (since 1990) - percentage of males aged 19-39 in 2011 in brackets

NSW - 37% (33%)

Vic - 23% (26%)

WA - 14% (11%)

Qld - 13% (21%)

SA - 8% (7%)

Tas - 6% (2%)

Still, cricketers in WA and Tassie have fared better in terms of selection than their representation in Australia’s population would suggest, and that may have something to do with their share of Shield victories. (Tassie cricketers fare even better when you take as the benchmark Tassie’s share of Australia’s males aged between 19 and 39.)

When you look at share of Tests played by state of birth, Victoria, Queensland and South Australia all do relatively poorly, but the results can be heavily influenced by a few players; for example, Ricky Ponting alone has far exceeded Tasmania’s predicted share of Tests.

So as much as it hurts to say for a Victorian, NSW’s degree of representation in the Test team over the years looks to have been fair enough.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

The Finger Points Outwards - No. 38

A report on Award reliance and differences in earnings by gender that I contributed to has been printed and posted today.

As a skeptic of AFL leadership groups, I quite liked this article by The Age's Greg Baum.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

Comic Books For Hipsters

Yes, when one thinks of comic books, one might imagine Sheldon Cooper from ‘The Big Bang Theory’ and his mylar-covered collections of ‘Flash’ and ‘Green Lantern’, but it needn’t be that way. There are plenty of alternative options for the hipster wanting to add some sequential pictorial storytelling to their sharehouse. Not too many of course... only about 20 or so, rather than making the mistake I did and hoarding 2,000, which makes visitors and girlfriends wonder if you have a huge stash of porn in all of those boxes. With this in mind, let’s run through some careful selections.

First, the obvious choice - you need ‘Scott Pilgrim’. If you don’t already know, here’s the premise: the eponymous Scott must defeat the seven evil exes of his love, the uber-hipster chick Ramona Flowers (who moves to Toronto from New York, naturally). In terms of comics, this is the mother lode of hipsterism: shitty punk bands, slackers, record stores, obsession with one’s age, t-shirts, chic outfits for the girls, parties, relationships, and old-school video games. Furthermore, whereas for all other series you should only have a couple of issues or volumes, preferably in non-sequential order to emphasise their randomness, it is acceptable to have all six of the ‘Scott Pilgrim’ books. This is because they’re small, hence making good beer coasters, and because you really need all six to get the full story. Also get a ratty second-hand copy of the DVD for good measure.

Next, make sure to pick up a graphic novel each by Daniel Clowes and by Chris Ware. Clowes has done a cover for ‘The New Yorker’ and wrote the ‘Ghost World’ screenplay (based on his graphic novel) for the film that starred Steve Buscemi and a pre-fame Scarlett Johansson. Based on this you might be tempted to pick up the ‘Ghost World’ volume, but a better choice is ‘Like A Velvet Glove Cast In Iron’, which has a cooler title, came out before ‘Ghost World’, and has a David Lynch-like plot involving a dominatrix and a woman who looks like a potato. Ware, meanwhile, guest-edited a volume of ‘McSweeney’s’, and you’d be well-advised to pick up an issue of his ‘Acme Novelty Library’ wherever you can find one (probably eBay, but don’t admit this). Each volume has its own distinct design and is never reprinted, making them rarer than a New Order 7-inch.

It might at first be considered compulsory to have a book by comics’ greatest writer, Alan Moore (UK), but this is a tricky case. While no-one who has read Moore’s original graphic novels—‘Watchmen’, ‘From Hell’, ‘V For Vendetta’, ‘The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen’, etc.—doubts their quality, they have been made into terrible, terrible movies. So it really depends: if you have friends that you think may be hip to Moore’s writing, keep a volume or two around, but otherwise be aware that you potentially open yourself up to ridicule. A safer bet may be a ‘Sandman’ volume by fellow Brit and Twitter superstar Neil Gaiman, in which one can’t help but look at the title character and think of The Cure’s Robert Smith.

Another Brit, Grant Morrison, also poses difficulty. Morrison is the closest thing that comics has to a “hipster laureate”; his book ‘Supergods’ is full of tales of punk rock, drugs, travels to Kathmandu, and sex with hipster chicks. But Morrison’s biggest successes have all been with superheroes: Superman, the Justice League and the X-Men. With this in mind, you may want to limit yourself to a couple of random issues. Perhaps an issue of ‘New X-Men’ with the cool reversible logo from around the middle of his run (preferably with art from his hipster-in-crime Frank Quitely), and the new Action Comics #1 (not the old one which sells for a kazillion dollars), which has an updated, working-class Superman in t-shirt and jeans, while keeping a 1930s-type backdrop. (This Superman has also been described as ‘hipster Superman’ - a ringing endorsement.)

Finally, you need an issue of a current comic book series to make it look like you’re keeping up with the trends. My pick is ‘Batwoman’ - don’t laugh yet, I’ll explain... First, the current Batwoman is Kate Kane (which is close to a name of a vintage clothing store - truly), who sports a short red bob, was kicked out from the military for being gay, and whose sister dresses up as a super-villain based on ‘Alice in Wonderland’. Second, the art is by a penciller named J.H. Williams III, and it’s beautiful, with panel sequences routinely spreading over two pages, and often looking like something out of a fairly tale. With that in mind, you’re best advised to just leave a copy open on the coffee table so that visitors will be dazzled by the art before they realise it’s a ‘Batwoman’ comic, again potentially opening you up to ridicule. And for God’s sake don’t put it next to a ‘Green Lantern’ book.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Picking the 2012 NBA All-Stars

In the NBA, there’s about half a dozen or so superstars, and then on the next tier down there’s the All-Stars - players who are pretty damn good (for one season at least) but in all likelihood will never be the main guy on a championship team, and in 10 or 15 years may hardly be remembered at all. Really, if crowds were more realistic in their support of their favourite players, they would less often chant ‘M-V-P! M-V-P!’, and more often chant ‘All-Star Reserve! All-Star Reserve!’ Because for many players that’s really the pinnacle they have to aspire to.

Being named an All-Star reserve is an honour though, despite some dubious choices over the years, which is why so much column space is devoted to arguing who should and will be on the team. Even I have an opinion on it, and I’ve barely watched a second of basketball this season thanks to Channel One dropping the NBA from their TV schedule (fuck you, Channel One!), but I’m not going to let that stop me from reading and regurgitating other people’s views on who should make the game so as to come up with my own list.

First off, we know who the starters for the All-Star game are, and anyone with knowledge of YouTube clicks and American population densities could have predicted those before voting even began. For the East, we have Derrick Rose (Chicago) and Dwyane Wade (Miami) as the guards, LeBron James (Miami) and Carmelo Anthony (New York) as the forwards, and Dwight Howard (Orlando) as the center. For the West, we have Chris Paul (LA Clippers ) and Kobe Bryant (LA Lakers) as the guards, Kevin Durant (Oklahoma City) and Blake Griffin (LA Clippers) as the forwards, and Andrew Bynum (LA Lakers) as the center. All of those guys deserve to be there, with the possible exception of Anthony, but since every New York sports writer and countless others have pointed out that his former team is playing much better without him, I won’t repeat those arguments here.

First off, the West, where it’s easier to find deserving candidates. Everyone I’ve read seems to think that Kevin Love (Minnesota), LaMarcus Aldridge (Portland) and Russell Westbrook (Oklahoma City) are locks, and I’d have to agree. Finding a back-up center for both conferences is a bit of a stretch, given the lack of quality centers nowadays. Marc Gasol (Memphis) seems to be getting a lot of support, but Al Jefferson (Utah) is putting up similar numbers on a more successful team so I think he’ll get it. As for the other spots, we need two more guards - one of which has to be Tony Parker (San Antonio) given he is putting up impressive numbers on a good Spurs team, and the other of which I think will be James Harden (Oklahoma City). Kyle Lowry (Houston) and Steve Nash (Phoenix) are both a chance, but the Thunder has a really good record, and it looks a bit strange to me to pick three point guards on the bench. I’ll go for Danilo Gallinari (Denver) over Paul Millsap (Utah) for the final spot, so that another of the West’s Cinderella teams has a representative, but given Gallo’s recent injury Millsap would slot into the team in any case.

In the East... ugh... Chris Bosh (Miami) is having a good season (or so I’m told, Channel One!) and won’t have any questions about his selection this year. Andre Iggy should get his first call-up given Philadelphia’s success. (Sorry, I can never remember to spell Iggy’s surname and I can’t be bothered looking it up, and anyway, being known colloquially as ‘Iggy’ can only help his case.) Chicago sits atop the East, and so by the Grand Rules of Coaches’ All-Star Voting they need another representative, making Luol Deng the other forward. For the guards, Deron Williams (New Jersey) hasn’t set the world on fire but he remains one of the few top-shelf players in the East. I’m a bit dubious about Brandon Jennings’ (Milwaukee) All-Star credentials, but he’s scoring well, which always goes down well when it comes to voting, and he’ll get the credit for the Bucks not being horrendous despite Andrew Bogut’s injury woes. It’s a toss-up between Rajon Rondo (Boston) and rookie Kyrie Irving (Cleveland) for the last spot, but I think Rondo wins out through seniority. I’m omitting Joe Johnson (Atlanta), even if it does give three point guards on the bench, purely because I think the words ‘Joe Johnson, six-time All-Star’ should never be uttered. At the center position, someone made the case that the Knicks’ struggles are not Tyson Chandler’s fault, and if you look past the problems of his teammates he has clearly been the second-best center in the East. The guy is making 70 per cent of his shots! Good enough for me.

Anyway, we’ll find out later this week who made the cut. I’m hoping against hope that young Greg Monroe, despite the Pistons’ diabolical win-loss record, will still get a gig.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Album Review: Pretenders – Pretenders II (1981)

I've posted this album review over at the Guardian's website, but I thought I'd post it here as well.

Accepted critical opinion says that ‘Pretenders II’ is not in the same class as its predecessor, lacking that album’s freshness and originality. Accepted critical opinion is wrong. By the time their second Long Play turned up, the Pretenders were a much tighter band (at least in terms of their sound) and able to rock ’n’ roll as readily as anyone, as implied by the band shot on the back of the album sleeve. ‘Message Of Love’ is the standout track, with James Honeyman-Scott’s punchy guitar counterpointing Chrissie Hynde’s undulating vocals, but all the other songs shine in their own way. ‘Day After Day’ is almost as perfect a piece of pop, as both band and its Ohio-born singer take off with the soaring chorus lines of ‘Way up in the sky/ Over the city and Lake Erie’. Other, rougher tracks such as ‘The Adultress’, ‘Bad Boys Get Spanked’, ‘Jealous Dogs’ and ‘Louie Louie’ come on like a more accessible form of punk, potent in force yet leaving enough space for Chrissie’s confessions, double entendres, and wry musings (‘I’m convenient and I make good tea’). Balancing these out though are the slower, quieter tunes, including a cover of Ray Davies’ ‘I Go To Sleep’, ‘Birds Of Paradise’, and ‘The English Roses’, which preface some of the Pretenders’ later work, only with more compelling musicianship. And unlike the ubiquitous ‘Brass In Pocket’ on the first album, which felt strangely out of place amongst its lesser-known companion tracks, this album’s hit single ‘Talk Of The Town’ fits seamlessly into the mix. Honeyman-Scott and bassist Pete Farndon (who was fired for drug abuse) died not long after the release of this album and the Pretenders became decidedly less interesting; we’ll never know if, had they lived, ‘Pretenders II’ would have turned out to be their final burst of creativeness or a step on the road to even greater things. Over thirty years on though, it still sounds like the type of album any band going around today would be proud of.

Album Cover Review: Lana Del Rey – Born To Die [Deluxe Edition] (2012)

With the proliferation of images and clips of New York-born songstress Lana Del Rey over the web, the cover of her debut album, ‘Born To Die’ stands as one of the most highly anticipated album covers of the year. With that in mind, the cover itself seems a bit understated. Our artist merely stands looking front-on at the camera, in a way that is somewhat reminiscent of Andrew WK’s classic album cover to ‘I Get Wet’ (minus the blood on the face), her spaghetti-strap dress having been traded for a demure blouse. The expression on her face, depending on how you want to interpret it (and probably depending on what you think of her music) is either weary, defiant, vacant or inviting trouble, possibly all at once. In the background is a nondescript wooden barrier, possibly from some back or front yard somewhere in Hollywood, though perhaps it’s just the blue sky, excerpts from old movies, Lana’s ‘Hollywood’ t-shirt in previous press photos, and that whole ‘gangster Nancy Sinatra’ thing that has imprinted that idea in the brain.

But when you open up to the centre gatefold … hello! It’s the pout and head tilt that launched millions of YouTube clicks. Paragraphs could (and have) been written about those overflowing lips; in this case they are daring you in to listen to her smoulder, tease, and roll her eyes at you. We’re still no clearer as to what that nondescript wooden barrier is. Maybe behind it is a spa and champagne, and a party to rival those in ‘Boogie Nights’ or ‘Anchorman’. Maybe there isn’t, and it’s just the two of you. These are the ambiguities that modelling contracts are made of.

Tucked away in the back flap of the packaging is a thin, pink case with a disc inside. Give it a spin – it has the great torch song for the millennium ‘Video Games’, as well as a semi-anthemic title track, and a nice track called ‘National Anthem’ which is about as close to the ‘gangster Nancy Sinatra’ concept that she’s managed to this point. As for the rest, well, sometimes it’s best not to look behind those nondescript barriers.