Sunday, March 30, 2014

AFL Power Rankings: Round 2 2014


After they finished 5th on the actual ladder in 2013, many observers thought that Port Adelaide would fall back down in 2014, and given where the Power were in my rankings, I agreed with them. But instead Port Adelaide has improved more than almost any other team so far, handily beating fellow middle-rung teams Carlton and Adelaide. As a result, the ranking system now rates them as a top eight team as well.


The Showdown result was less kind to Port’s cross-town rivals, the Adelaide Crows. The Crows’ nine goal loss has them dropping from 6th to 9th.


We now have a new #1 team in the Fremantle Dockers. The Dockers really picked up steam in the closing stages of 2013, and have continued that form into the early stages of 2014. We also have a new bottom-ranked team, with Melbourne taking over that position from the much-improved GWS Giants.

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Previewing the 2014 Annual Wage Review Decision

The Fair Work Commission has commenced its annual wage review for 2014, with a decision on how much Australia’s award/minimum wages will be adjusted likely to be made in June.  I’m now almost two years removed (!) from working specifically as a labour economist, but I was involved for six years with the minimum wage review, so like a long-term ex I’ll probably continue to take a bit of an interest in it and pontificate about it for a while yet.

I have said on this blog before that I think there is a reasonable case for increasing minimum wages by more or less average wage growth each year, as that keeps the ratio of minimum wages to average wages fairly constant over time (assuming that ratio is about ‘right’). Recently though average wage growth in Australia has been low – the Wage Price Index increased by only 2.6 per cent over 2013, the smallest rise since the index began in 1997. (The March quarter 2014 figure will come out before June, but it would take a strong quarterly result just to get the year-ended rate back over 3 per cent.) Other measures of earnings are growing at around 3 per cent on their most recent results. Thus, an increase in minimum wages similar to the increases of the past two years - 2.9 per cent in 2012, and 2.6 per cent in 2013 – is likely to keep the minimum wage/average wage ratio at about the same level.

I should point out here that, on the basis that I have suggested minimum wages should primarily be adjusted, one could argue that some ‘catch-up’ is also required, as the 2012 and 2013 increases probably mean that minimum wages fell further relative to average wages. However, I can’t see that happening, even if FWC did come to hold the view I’ve expressed, as it would require them to essentially conclude that those previous decisions had been ‘wrong’. (And hey, if they ever did happen to come across this blog, they could well argue that it is my view that is off the mark, or at least a bit reductionist.)

An increase in the high 2-low 3 per cent range would also compensate minimum wage employees for the increase in inflation. Over 2013, this was 2.7 per cent – again though, the March quarter 2014 figure will come out before June, and that might well push the year-ended figure a bit higher. Usually, increases in average wages are somewhat higher than the increases in prices, as wages growth also captures increases in the productivity of workers. However, wages growth has been about the same as inflation lately, despite increases in output per hours worked, which is often thought of as a measure of labour productivity. One possibility is that the decrease in the exchange rate is pushing up inflation through higher prices for imports at a faster-than-usual rate.

In short though, with inflation and wages growth around the high 2-low 3 per cent range, I expect FWC to award an increase to minimum wages in June 2014 of about that amount. Add to that there is still some caution about the Australian economy - in particular, around the unemployment rate - and it seems unlikely to me that the increase will be much higher or lower than that amount. Though I do hope that for the sake of the employees and employers involved, and the parties who do put a lot of effort into their submissions, this year’s review will not have as much a sense of going through the motions as I’ve probably just made it sound.

Sunday, March 23, 2014

AFL Power Rankings: Round 1 2014

Welcome to the AFL Power Rankings for 2014. For those new to the rankings, or who need a reminder, each AFL team’s ranking points are based on results over their past 22 games, adjusted for home ground advantage and the strength of the opposition, with more recent games weighted more highly (see here). For those who regularly follow the rankings, here is where we left off:

·         Hawthorn and Fremantle, last year’s grand finalists, had emerged by the end of September as the top two ranked teams;
·         North Melbourne, despite missing the finals, had through its form in the second half of 2013, moved into third spot;
·         Essendon, who won enough games to make the finals, had through its form towards the end of 2013, fallen into twelfth spot; and
·         Melbourne and GWS were rated as really, really terrible.
Not that there is any prize for being top of these rankings, or anything at all really. The rankings’ main purpose is to try and give a more accurate, longer-term picture of where teams are at than the actual ladder might, particularly early in the season … though not everyone will agree with the results. So what has happened after our first round for 2014?


While not gaining the most ranking points of any team this week, the Gold Coast Suns gained the most spots in the rankings this week, after beating the fifth-ranked Richmond. Can Gold Coast move into positive territory for the first time sometime during 2014?


Collingwood’s ranking points take a big hit after their first-up thrashing in Melbourne at the hands of the Fremantle Dockers. But the biggest drop for the week goes to the Sydney Swans, who lose almost ten ranking points due to being defeated comfortably by the really, really terrible GWS Giants. Or is this a sign that the Giants are not so terrible now?


Fremantle has closed the gap between them and the top-ranked Hawthorn to less than three points, and if not for resting a large chunk of their side against the Saints in the final home and away round of 2013, may well have taken the top spot.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Album Review: Impersonator – Majical Cloudz

I first heard of Majical Cloudz’s ‘Impersonator’ when it showed up at #8 on Pitchfork’s Best Albums of 2013 list, and it became my favourite album to listen to over the New Year holidays and into the first days of 2014. I found it held my attention in a way that most records did not, and while I’ve struggled to express why, I think AllMusic has captured it when they say the songs exist in a ‘state of suspended animation’. Indeed, other reviewers seem to have had far more profound thoughts and been much better listeners of this album (particularly the lyrics) than I (the cokemachineglow review is especially insightful) that I wonder what I can add to them. So why say anything at all? Well, because I like the tunes, and wanted to point out on the internet that I like them …

Actually, another way of putting why I like the songs on this album is that they work for me in the same way that the songs of Joy Division and the Velvet Underground work. And while you might be wondering why someone is making yet another comparison of a band to Joy Division and the VU, particularly one that really doesn’t sound all that much like them, what I mean is that those are also records that are put together in a relatively simple way, and hook the listener in through having its own special atmosphere. In that sense, it seems more like a throwback to an earlier era than most modern, more complex-sounding (though not necessarily more complex) records, and may mean that it has a better chance of lasting than some more heralded releases.

Favourite tunes: the first three tracks of ‘Impersonator’, ‘This Is Magic’ and ‘Childhood’s End’ essentially set the tone of the record – direct, downbeat, and with a haunting beauty, particularly ‘Childhood’s End’, with its tale of a father shot down (bad listener that I am, I only realised this when a review pointed it out to me). My favourite two tracks come later in the album though. ‘Silver Rings’ has the largest sound of anything on the record, and is pretty much the only time singer Devon Welsh hits the really high notes, which might be why it suckers me in. It is like a version of every ‘80s power ballad heard on the radio driving home late at night done perfectly right. My other favourite is ‘Bugs Don’t Buzz’, which has a beautiful chord progression (F, Am, C, F apparently), and the most heartbreaking lyric on the album – ‘The cheesiest songs all end with a smile/This won’t end with a smile, my love’ – dooming the lovers in the song from the beginning, even though subsequent lines seem to try and backtrack on that sentiment. (It also has one of the weirdest lyrics – ‘We’ll be just like the roaches …’) Every track is listenable though, which is what all the strongest albums should be like.

P.S. Majical Cloudz were also the subject of one of my more circulated tweets – I pointed out that the ‘z’ in the name annoyed me, but strangely enough I didn’t mind the ‘j’.

Monday, March 10, 2014

DVD Review: Motor City Madness

‘Motor City Madness’ is an 11-disc set that has all the action from the Detroit Pistons’ final two playoff series from their first ever NBA championship season in 1988-89, plus a championship recap disc.  Obviously you are probably only ever going to purchase it if you are a Detroit fan (as I am), or just really like basketball, but for those who might want to consider borrowing it or watching it at a friend’s house, it is an enjoyable encapsulation of the latter end of the NBA’s greatest era (i.e. the early ‘80s to early ‘90s).  Detroit’s ‘Bad Boys’ were a tough, defensively-orientated group, who were generally disliked (except by their own fans) for their rough-and-tumble tactics, and in ‘Motor City Madness’ you can watch them try and curb two of the NBA’s greatest-ever offensive talents, Michael Jordan of the Chicago Bulls, and then Magic Johnson of the Los Angeles Lakers. It isn’t always pretty, and you may find yourself booing the Detroit frontcourt at times, but really, is that any worse than watching the current Miami Heat team? Here’s a review of each of the set’s two series:   

Eastern Conference Finals: Detroit v Chicago

This was the second of four play-off match-ups between Michael Jordan’s young, skinny, long-limbed Bulls team, and the broad-shouldered Bad Boys from Detroit. The Pistons had dispatched Chicago 4-1 in their first playoff match-up the year before, but this series was (as one commentator notes) much more of a ‘dog fight’. This was particularly so after Chicago took Game 1 in Detroit, and again after they won Game 3 in Chicago in the final seconds when Detroit looked like they had the game in their keeping for most of the night. Otherwise though, the pattern tended to be the other way, with the Bulls often getting out to an early lead and threatening to upset the Pistons, before Detroit would slowly grind them down and eke out a win in the second half. For fans of early Jordan, you get to see two fine performances from him in Games 1 and 3, although those who have criticized LeBron James for his playoff ‘meltdowns’ should watch Game 5, and see how Joe Dumars, Dennis Rodman and co. badger MJ into an uncharacteristic level of passiveness.  But while the highlight of this series is Jordan, some great team defence from Detroit, coupled with some explosive scoring passages from their backcourt - particularly team leader Isiah Thomas - got them over the line.    

Rating: ****

·         Jordan dunking on Pistons’ center Bill Laimbeer in Game 2 … and Laimbeer, despite making a huge amount of contact, not being called for the foul
·         Jordan’s final quarter in Game 3, including his game-winning shot. Also, Pistons’ coach Chuck Daly’s expression when the refs call Laimbeer for an offensive foul on Jordan on the previous play. (And to all the Bulls fans whooping it up after the game, hope you enjoyed your last win of the season! – sincerely, Pistons fan)
·         Jordan saving the ball from going out of bounds on one end, and then going on a fast break that ends with him tossing the ball over his head to make the bucket
·         Detroit’s Mark Aguirre hurtling into and landing on top of Chuck Daly on the bench, and Daly then getting up brushing off his expensive suit without a hair out of place
·         The Pistons’ bench, particularly Vinnie ‘The Microwave’ Johnson, scoring almost all of the team’s points in the final quarter of the crucial Game 5
·         Bulls’ center Bill Cartwright’s free throw shooting, which looks like he’s first trying to expunge some object from himself horizontally, and then failing that, vertically
·         A younger, much thinner Horace Grant, sans goggles, partly reminding the viewer of Stringer Bell
·         Jordan’s infamous whipping boy at Chicago, the seven-foot Brad Sellers, playing like he is six-foot-three
·         Bulls coaching legend Phil Jackson, in his days as a lesser-paid assistant coach, patrolling the sidelines in sneakers
NBA Finals: Detroit v Los Angeles Lakers
While a historically important series for Pistons fans, the Pistons-Lakers finals series is less enthralling than the Pistons-Bulls series, with Detroit sweeping away LA 4-0. The Lakers’ chances are not helped by Byron Scott injuring his hamstring before the series, and Magic Johnson injuring his in the second half of Game 2, reducing their starting backcourt to subs Michael Cooper and the immortal Tony Campbell. Still, there is some entertaining basketball, particularly Game 2, where the Lakers fire their best shot at the Pistons before Magic exits and the Pistons charge home. Joe Dumars, who is named Finals MVP, is particularly good, nailing 26 first-half points in Game 2 while Isiah sits on the bench with foul trouble, and averaging 27.3 points per game for the series. Indeed, the whole Detroit backcourt – Dumars, Isiah, and Vinnie Johnson, take major advantage of the absences of the Lakers’ starting guards (and Magic’s lack of defence when he is on court), continually scoring the majority of the Pistons’ points. It may be a sweep, but the Pistons still have to work for it, and in the process you get to see one of the teams of the ‘80s, and possibly the deepest roster ever, at pretty much their best.
Rating: ***½  
·         Joe Dumars’ 26 first-half points in Game 2
·         Dumars jumping out of nowhere to block a potentially game-tying Lakers’ shot in the dying seconds of Game 3, and then saving the ball from going out of bounds
·         Long-time friends Magic, Isiah and Mark Aguirre kissing each other on the cheek before each game
·         Detroit enforcer Rick Mahorn and LA’s AC Green going at it under the basket, with Mahorn elbowing Green in the tooth, and the referee almost elbowing Green in the head soon after
·         a commentator calling Dennis Rodman a ‘likable player’ – innocent times
·         the Detroit fan trying to get 10,000 signatures for ex-Piston Adrian Dantley, who was traded mid-season, to get a ring
·         the Detroit fan with a periscope on her head
·         the Pistons’ bench chanting ‘Bad Boys’ in the last moments of the series-winning Game 4, and mega-extrovert John Salley celebrating during the post-game interviews
·         any shot of Detroit coach Chuck Daly, worrying until almost the very end

Saturday, March 8, 2014

The Wooden Finger Five – March 2014

Bombay Bicycle Club is a band that I have always liked but never really enough to purchase one of their albums, but their new LP ‘So Long, See You Tomorrow’ is my favourite album of the first couple of months of 2014. In keeping with their name, the band recently spent a month in Mumbai, and frontman Jack Steadman has said that he absorbed as much Indian culture and music as he could. The apex of this influence is on two of the album’s later tracks, ‘Feel’ and the marvellous ‘Come To’. Both have a warm, communal feel, and a decidedly different take on using Indian sounds to the mid-‘60s Beatles. Hopefully this album puts BBC into the big leagues.

2.       Morning – Beck

Beck’s new album, ‘Morning Phase’ has been much ballyhooed as a kind of sequel to ‘Sea Change’, which given that was my favourite Beck album, sounded promising to me. And it is good, but I’m in a bit in two minds about the result, as evidenced by the second track (and the first main track ‘Morning’). It’s not the best track on the album – that honour goes to ‘Blue Moon’ – but it is in many ways a replica of my favourite Beck tune ‘The Golden Age’, with its slow, strummed guitar, simple lyrics, keyboards, and even the windswept ending. ‘The Golden Age’ though was like a cold blast to the face because it was so unexpected, now we have heard Beck do this sort of thing before it does not have quite the same impact. Still even recycled Beck is better than 80% of the music out there, so it’s worth a listen.

According to this Pitchfork article, the opening track of St Vincent’s latest album is about Annie Clark taking her clothes off while walking around her friend’s cattle ranch in order to get back to nature, and coming across … well, you can guess. The track though is somewhat more joyous than its subject matter would suggest, particularly when Clark launches into a ripping guitar solo that is reminiscent of anything but a hideous reptile slithering around on its belly. Does this indicate she secretly liked the slithering danger? Probably not … but at least she’s been able to use her fear for her art.

‘Wanderlust… it’s a feeling that I’ve come to trust’ sings Wild Beasts’ Hayden Thorpe on the single and opening track of their new album. But what is wanderlust anyway? Apparently it’s a strong desire to wander or travel the world. Which is not the type of feeling this song gives me at all – listening to it I thought ‘wanderlust’ meant to go into the back room with some stranger you fancy and read poetry or something. Although I suppose you could do that while travelling the world as well. Anyway, Thorpe’s voice aside – which will always sound like a 19th century dandy – this tune signals that, right or wrong, Wild Beasts have become a bit more ‘modern’ than on their previous efforts. 

5.       Mesmerize - Temples

Are English band Temples really Australian psychedelic rockers Tame Impala in disguise? Their names are similar, their sound is similar, their singers are similar, and their song ‘Mesmerize’ isn’t that far removed from Tame Impala’s ‘Solitude Is Bliss?’ Temples though have crafted an even more epic debut album in ‘Sun Structures’, in the sense that every time I thought the album was going to end it would go into another three minute guitar freak-out. This song, along with the album’s second track, ‘Shelter Song’ will likely be part of the soundtrack for young English stoners this summer.   

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Equality in the AFL Over Time

Over at The Footy Maths Institute recently, there was a guest post by Sean Ross about equalisation in the AFL. Sean argued that equalisation is the most important issue facing the AFL, and that without it the AFL risks having a wider gap between the ‘haves’ and the ‘have nots’. For example, the teams that Sean classified as ‘haves’ occupied six of the top seven on the ladder in 2013.

That got me to thinking: how equal has the AFL been – just in terms of results, not finances or memberships or whatever – over time? To determine this I used the Noll-Scully measure of competitive balance. (Don’t worry Melbourne fans, the measure has nothing to do with Tom Scully.) For a particular league, this measure compares the actual standard deviation of team’s winning percentages to the idealized standard deviation, where the idealized deviation depends upon the number of home-and-away/regular season games played. The lower the Noll-Scully ratio, the more equal results have been – for example, the National Basketball Association in the US historically has a high ratio, while the more even National Football League historically has a low ratio.

The graph above shows the Noll-Scully ratio in the AFL for each season. As you can see, the ratio jumps around from season to season, so the bold line, which is a moving average of this ratio, smooths out some of this volatility.

As Ross Booth has previously noted, the AFL became more even after 1985, with the introduction of the salary cap and then the draft (Figure 1, p. 65 in his article is essentially the same as my graph above). Backing up Sean’s argument is that inequality in results has ticked up in the past few years. However, most people would concede that is at least in part due to the introduction of historically bad new teams Gold Coast and Greater Western Sydney (there was also an uptick when new strugglers Footscray, Hawthorn, and North Melbourne entered the VFL in 1925).

Another part of Sean’s argument though is that there has either developed or there is a risk of developing a stronger positive association between a club’s financial/crowd-pulling power and its ladder position. The graph above doesn’t show whether that is true or not – it shows the level of inequality in results, but not what is causing it – but I guess we’ll see whether the big clubs, as they did in 2013, continue to make up most of the finals teams in the years ahead.