Friday, July 24, 2015

Hawthorn vs umpires

Hawthorn are totally on top of the umpires.  The umps are just plain scared to give free kicks against Hawthorn.  The Hawks senior players do things that would wind up as 50m penalties if lesser mortals did them.

I suppose the top teams always end up getting a good deal from the umps, but it is seriously time for the umpiring coach to explain to the umps that if Jordan Lewis tells you to your face that you are wrong, you are entitled to give a 50 m penalty.  And if you do it, the match will be easier to umpire.  Its like training a dog.  As long as they realise you are the boss, they are fine.  Right now Hawthorn think they are top dog, above even the umpires.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Increasing taxes

Australia is considering increasing our GST (goods & services tax).  We apparently need the money to pay for hospitals.

I reckon the reason for this is declining revenue from company tax, mainly from big companies that shift their profit to Singapore or Ireland or Luxemburg.  All the big companies do it.  I imagine we get cheaper iPhones, computers, books etc etc because of this.  Whooppee do.

And of course, the other factor is the backdown on the mining tax a few years ago.

Of course the tax evasion is done in the name of the company shareholders, but I suspect it is really driven by ambitious, competitive CEOs.

If the GST is raised, the pain will fall unduly on low income earners, who, to their shame, are probably a bit short of Apple and BHP shares.

Monday, July 20, 2015

GST increase

I had heard of Kate Carnell before.  She was chief minister of the ACT or some such thing.  Anyway, there she was, being interviewed on the radio, about the prospect of increasing the GST.

The GST is Australia's "Goods and Services Tax" that sees 10% tax added to the price of many things.  Fresh food and financial services are excluded, but its on most other stuff.  So when you buy a toothbrush for $2.20, $0.20 of that is going to the government.  Note that business does not pay GST, it is only paid by the end user.

Anyway, Mike Baird, the premier of New South Wales raised the idea of increasing the GST to 15%, basically to make up for money the Australian states aren't getting from the federal government - because all big companies now choose to pay their tax in Singapore and Ireland - so the federal government has no money.  Mike wants the money to pay for hospitals and schools.

And Kate was agreeing that we needed to look at this seriously.  But she seemed to think it would not be a good idea if it actually represented an increase in the total tax take.  But if its not an increase, how can you use it to pay for schools and hospitals?  If its not an increase, you are re-arranging the deck chairs on the Titanic.

It was then put to Kate that the GST increase would hit lower income earners harder than higher income earners, and she agreed that they would need some form of compensation.  Well, call me an idiot, but we have a progressive income tax system that already hits those who can afford it for more.  If we want more money, and we don't want it to come from the poor, just make a few small changes to the tax rates for high income earners and you are done.  No need to change the GST at all.

Needless to say Kate ran out the usual line of us being a highly taxed nation.  She didn't mention that the rate of income tax has fallen a long way in the past 40 years.  She certainly didn't mention that marginal interest rates in the US in the 50's were over 90 cents in the dollar.  You see, that would imply that high marginal income tax rates weren't necessarily a bad thing.  And I got the feeling that whoever Kate happens to be representing right now, would not want that known.

Bracket creep - good or evil?

Here in Australia some people are starting to go on about the evils of bracket creep.  What, you ask, is bracket creep?  Well if you earn $30,000 per year, you will pay a certain amount of income tax on the last dollar you earn.  But if you earn $100,000 per year, you will pay a higher rate of income tax on the last dollar you earn.  Over time, incomes rise, so people end up paying a greater fraction of their income as tax.  And the government collects more money. That is bracket creep.

The defenders of freedom, incentive, liberty and all things good and wonderful, they don't like bracket creep.  They are, however, wrong, and I will explain why.

We live in a democracy.  Every 4 years or so we have an election.  The political parties usually promise us tax cuts.  They can't help themselves - they want to get elected.  And when they get elected, they usually deliver on those tax cuts.  And the only reason they can do this is because of bracket creep.  Without bracket creep, tax cuts would inevitably lead to bigger budget deficits.  With bracket creep, politicians can promise tax cuts, knowing that they can deliver them, and still keep the budget balanced (well, all other things being equal, which they certainly aren't right now).  In delivering the tax cuts, the government can decide if there is a need for one income group to benefit more than another, and thus make subtle adjustments to the real income distribution.

If there was no bracket creep, political parties would still promise tax cuts.  And most likely they would still deliver them.  And they would run ever increasing budget deficits to pay for them.  We'd end up like Greece.  It would be a disaster.

So bracket creep allows us the illusion of never ending tax cuts, while still balancing the budget.  It is a wonderful thing, and should be celebrated.

Its the system

When you buy an apple at a supermarket, do you care if it costs $1.00 or $1.03, or even $1.10?

No, I didn't think so.  If you knew that $0.02 on that apple would mean that the person who picked it led a happier, more comfortable life with greater opportunities, would you pay it?

There are jobs where the workers have no power.  These are usually jobs that the locals won't do.  So they are done by migrants, or people on temporary work visas.  These people typically don't have family to stick up for them.  If they complain, they may well be deported.  So they work for very little, in poor conditions.

Note that fruit picking is not a good job because it is seasonal, but people need income all year.  So most people prefer not to pick fruit, but to get more reliable work.  You also don't need a degree to pick fruit, and you get paid for how much you pick, rather than by the hour.

But if you do the calculations, you find that paying the person who picks your apples a good wage would hardly change the price of apples.  I suspect that if I knew any economics, I could probably show that it wouldn't change the price at all.

So why are these people treated so badly if it barely benefits us?  It must be the system.  The system whereby the big supermarkets will pay $0.20 a kilogram and not $0.21 a kilogram.  Its entirely sensible and logical for the supermarket to do that.  And yet it means that some poor worker suffers.

And it should be noted that if the supermarket employed the fruit picker themselves, they would probably treat them well, and pay them reasonably.  But they don't employ them.  There is a good chance that the farmer who grows the apples doesn't employ them either.  They may actually be employed by a labour hire company that you and I have never heard of, a company that behaves abominably - so that we save a cent on an apple.

And even then, its hard to be too judgemental about the labour hire company - they are only doing what they have to, to stay in business.

No, it is the system.  You need laws to stop exploitation.  You need a government with real guts to make sure it doesn't happen.    You need the directors of companies that break the law to go to jail, and to lose so much money that all their mates are scared.  You even need the supermarkets to be scared of what will happen to them if the people who pick their fruit, or drive their trucks, are treated badly.  Yes, that is tough, but unless some people of substance are scared of what might happen to them personally, they will continue to turn a blind eye to the sins committed on their behalf.

Where do you start?  Well that one is easy.  Start at the very bottom.  Fix the problem for the most exploited workers, and the benefits will ripple through the system, helping all workers near their level.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

My Dad

My Dad, died last Wednesday at about 6:30pm in Sir Charles Gardner Hospital in Perth.  He'd gone in with a chest infection in the early hours of Tuesday morning, and treatment had been ineffective.  But they managed to make him comfortable, and get him breathing easier, and he fell asleep some time on Tuesday and never woke up.  He was 86 years old.

Charles Harry Brookes was born in Pretoria, South Africa in 1929.  His father was Edgar Harry Brookes, who came to South Africa from England, and his father's father was Job Harry Brookes.  His mother was Heidi Bourquin, who was Swiss.  His early years were spent at Adams Mission Station with his older Brother Arthur, younger brother David, and younger sisters Rosemary and Heidi.  The school there went by the delightful name, "Adams Happy School".  Early photos of Charles show a bright, mischievous looking little boy.  Something you could still see in him near the end of his life.

Edgar's mother moved in with the family when Charles was young, and apparently caused great disharmony.

He attended Michaelhouse, a prestigious South African school as a border.  I don't think it is a secret that Dad found his time there difficult, what with beatings by sadistic prefects, icy showers, and learning to swim in a rough ocean pool.  He did like cross country running, and when I was in high school he expressed his surprise at our school's lack of "school spirit".  Many years later, Dad much enjoyed the Michaelhouse old boys community in Perth, and was somewhat surprised by the respect he got from the far younger Michaelhouse old boys in Perth.

Dad went on to Natal University, where he got a BA.  He discovered that working on a farm was not for him, and had some sort of mental breakdown.  Then he got a job as a reporter for the Star newspaper, and met Irmgard Johanna Frieda Thiele through a church youth group.  There was a battle for her affections with a rival, and by some miracle Dad won out, which is lucky, otherwise I wouldn't be here today.  They were married, and I was born in 1957.  Shortly afterwards, the Brookes family moved to Manchester, where Dad got a job with the Guardian.  While there, Christine was born.  The growing family then moved back to South Africa, and in 1962, Beatrice was born.  We lived in Little Thatch, a small farm in Halfway House.  We had dogs and a cow, grew mealies, and had black servants.  While we lived there electricity was connected.  We had a pony called "Fear not", and I have lasting memories of Dad sprinting up the driveway, running late to catch the bus to work.  Mum got pregnant again, and in keeping with the family tradition of changing country before the birth of each child, we moved to Australia, settling in Perth.

We arrived in January 1965, on the last day of a 5 day heat wave.  Mum was 7 months pregnant, and air conditioning virtually unknown.  We were made very welcome, and Mum had Hilary a couple of months later.  All 4 children now born, there was no need to move again, and Charles stayed in Perth for the next 51 years.

We bought a house in South Perth, and Dad got a job with the ABC.  He wanted to be an on air announcer, but his rather english accent was falling out of favour as Australians became more accepting of their own.  We attended the local Anglican church, St Mary's, and Dad pursued a religious vocation, becoming a deacon.

There were some initial cultural adjustment problems.  Dad was unhappy with the way the garbo had left the bin, and so waited for him the next time and told him how he should do it.  Dad discovered that Australia in 1965 was a much more egalitarian place than South Africa in 1965, and also that some Australians (and this garbo was one) weren't afraid to use colourful and forceful language when putting their point of view.

My recollections of childhood was of how Dad and Mum always managed to make birthdays and Christmas seem exciting.  There were always more presents than I expected.  We weren't rich, and I don't know how they did it. But the fact that mum hung used glad wrap out to dry may be a clue.  Like parents everywhere, they did an awful lot for their kids.  As an aspiring swimmer I was driven every morning to Beatty Park at 6am for a couple of years.

Brookeses generally love walking and beaches.  We would go on picnics to John Forrest National Park and walk before lunch one way up the old railway tracks and after lunch the other way.  We loved it, but you wouldn't have thought so, listening to us complain about having to go!  Trips to the beach were fantastic.  It often took Mum and Dad quite some time to get us out of the water to go home, as we pleaded for "just one more wave".

In short, they gave us happy childhoods.  And it is hard to ask for anything more.  Not that that ever stopped anyone, and there were times I felt annoyed that Dad was the Dad he was, and not the Dad I would have preferred.  But being the Dad each child wants is not in the job description.  Loving and caring is, and he did that very well.  As a teenager, I can still remember being shocked when some friends of mine said, after visiting, that my Dad was nice!  But he was, and that was pretty well the universal consensus of the friends of all the Brookes children.

It is hard to believe now, but as a child I found him terrifying, and that fear didn't go away until I was much older.

I played hockey with the South Perth under 13s.  As unlikely looking lot as you'd ever seen.  We were terrible, and had no coach.  I think the parents would just drop the boys off, and pick them up afterwards.  Losing by 10 goals and more was common.  Dad took pity on us and volunteered to coach us.  We still lost, but by the end of the season it was a more respectable 3 nil.  This led to Dad and me joining the Vic Park hockey club, where he played halfback for the 4Bs, and got to be called "Chas" and have a beer with the boys after the game.  He had one of the worst "rush" tackles I've ever seen.

Along with the move to Vic Park hockey club came a move to St Peters Anglican Church in Vic Park.  Dad was a regular there for many years, before returning to St Marys.   He also changed careers, becoming a probation and parole officer, before going back to university to complete a Masters of Social Work, after which he became a school social worker.  I recall being a willing participant in one of his psychology experiments that involved testing our powers of discrimination when tasting different chocolates.

Dad was an unashamed monarchist.  It is perhaps not surprising, since in his lifetime, two princes, Charles and Harry were named after him.  In the queen's 1977 silver jubilee tour, Dad felt that the crowd in Kings Park needed some direction, and took it upon himself to lead them in three cheers for Her Majesty.  Luckily, as a 20 year old, I was not there to endure such embarrassing paternal behaviour.

I recall one church fete when Dad decided that he would make some jigsaw puzzles to sell.  He glued nice alpine pictures to plywood, and laboured painstakingly with a fret saw to cut the pieces. And on the day of the fete, I saw them on display, and waited for them to sell.  But no one bought them.  Later in the afternoon I got excited to see that one was missing, but on looking closer saw that it was still there, and had just fallen down.  I don't know why, but this always struck me as very sad.

In 1981 Dad joined the Order of St Luke, and became Chaplain of the Melville chapter, and  eventually their state chaplain.  The Order is a healing ministry, and Dad had good reasons for his involvement.   He retired from an active role with them a couple of years ago, and was awarded life membership.  Even though he retired, he still took a keen interest in how the Order ran.  Some might even go so far as to say that he was a bit controlling.  Certainly he was not one to sit quietly by if he thought something needed to be said!

In the mid 1980's Dad retired from his social work job.  Though only in his mid 50's, state government pensions were very generous in those days, and he and Mum embarked on some grey nomad adventures, travelling Australia and the world.   Dad had plans to become a priest, but these did not eventuate.  He did quite a few stints as a prison chaplain, but never again had a permanent full time job.

At some point, Charles took to making jams and marmalades, and he was quite good at it.  In the hall where the refreshments will be served, you'll see some of his handy work, and you should feel free to take one with you.  There aren't enough for everyone, so be quick!

By now the children were marrying, and soon grandchildren started to appear.  Scott first in 1988 and then Michael, Natalie, Nicole & Nadine, Cameron, Lucy and Daniel.  Great grandchildren followed, with Hayley, Zoe, Ariana and Flynn.

His wife, Irmeli died in 2004, and Dad lived on his own for a few years, becoming more and more affected by a form of Parkinson's disease.  It was sad to see the man who had happily run around playing soccer in Kings Park in his early 70's, become bent over and unsteady on his feet ten  years later.  In 2010 circumstances saw me move in with Dad, and it worked out well for both of us.  He needed help, and I somewhere to live.  Charles battled on, surviving a major car crash that resulted in him spending 5 months in hospital and rehab.  On his recovery, he kept travelling, and kept up his social life.

In his last month he saw "Far From the Madding Crowd", enjoyed a Musica Amica concert, went to church, attended an Order of St Luke service and dinner, joined in the activities for seniors at Southcare (where he was banned from the general knowledge quiz because he knew so much more than the others) and went to his regular Monday night bible study group.  Up to the end he was doing laps of the local oval, and getting himself to and from his various appointments, either by gopher or taxi.  He had a bowl full of cumquats, on the kitchen counter, which were no doubt earmarked to become cumquat marmalade.   But life was getting harder for him, and it was not a bad time for him to go.

He had a long life, did many things, and was part of the lives of many people.  We will miss him, but hopefully we'll all take a little of his spirit with us.

Monday, July 6, 2015

Physics teaching again

So I'm teaching a physics unit with around 20 students in it.  And I'm pleased to say that I think they are starting to discuss problems with each other when I ask them to.  Not sure why they don't like doing this, but they are starting now.

Discussions are great.  You say what you think, and others explain why you are wrong.  You adjust the mental model that you have, and your understanding improves.  Students don't seem to like them - preferring to defer to the expertise of the lecturer.  But its not the best way to learn.  The lecturer has long forgotten what it was like to be learning this stuff.  Their fellow students know exactly what it is like.  They are the ones to help.