Tuesday, February 25, 2003

The Baby Boomer Lies and Statistics series will be continued soon. In the meantime, this little blogger will be going “lite”, by putting up some snippets du monde that sometimes could almost speak for themselves. Almost, but let’s face it – info can always be made tastier by the addition of some piquant outrage de jour. So here goes.

Small businesses under siege

What the? At the very least, the article shows that some small businesses, far from being victims of crime, are happy to buy stock from off the back of the proverbial truck. I’m almost tempted to talk about the karma/“what goes around …” aspects here (some small businesses must receive stolen goods out the back that are in turn stolen through the front). However, it is one slender suggestion in the article, that the subject thief’s $3-$5k earnings per week are spent on gambling (pokies mainly, but in my experience, gambling addicts are natural omnivores) that piques my overriding interest.

The connection between gambling addiction and theft is well-established, of course. Yet gambling venues are allowed to operate with seeming impunity in what can most generously be termed a legal grey area – their patrons, most of whom are regulars, spend (lose) large amounts of cash, night after day after night after day.

It is not that it is (nor could or should be) up to gambling venues to assess each patron’s net financial position, and set wager/loss limits accordingly. More realistically perhaps, would be resurrecting the old vagrancy laws, that (rebuttably) presumed a person to be a criminal, if and when they had no visible means of support. Translated for practical use and enforcement in a modern pokies barn, this would mean that patrons who were visibly not spending/losing their money in a recreational fashion would be presumed (again, rebuttably) a criminal. In this leisure-society manqué, thieves spend their stashes as feverishly and as full-timely as most workers work.

See also (for Australians and gambling addiction generally):

Thursday, February 20, 2003

Baby Boomer Lies and Statistics 102 (second of a continuing series)

Correction from yesterday: the “festering inter-generational borderzone” would be better termed a “festering inter-generational fault-line”. The fault-line metaphor is preferable to the border one (I was thinking of the US/Mexican crossing at San Ysidrio/Tijuana, BTW), because it nicely conjures up the abrupt cliff – between people born before and after ~1963 – that must disrupt so many otherwise politely-behaving bell curve graphs. Less certainly, this post-63 inter-generational subsidence, may also have an equally abrupt end. If this does indeed hold true (and only time will tell), the cliff will separate those born before and after ~1978.

Yesterday’s private hospital cover stats and analysis are one, clear example of post-63 statistical subsidence, of course. More ambiguous, however, are the various statistics that point to the broader financial wellbeing of Gen X.

Plainly, the spectacular rise in Australian house-prices – and so overall wealth per person – in the last five years or so – has largely bypassed Gen X in comparison to all older Australians:
What still remains to be seen is the extent to which this having missed the wealth bus, as it were, will have a further long term downside, such as many Gen X’rs (and possibly younger generations too) never being able to afford home ownership.

On the other hand, if we zoom-in on the pin-up, typical Gen X’r – a university graduate and qualified professional – the picture seems much more rosy. Despite the introduction of substantial, and ever-escalating tertiary fees in 1989* (just as the last of the seven-year-arts-degree baby boomer undergrads scuttled off into the workforce), statistics purport to show that graduate return on investment remains more-or-less equally healthy for Gen X as for baby boomers – yielding a net total lifetime gain of about $380,000 for a male graduate, which equates to a 14% ROI:

c.f. the curious extrapolation of this article by blogger/economist John Quiggin:

“As this article by Ross Gittins based on research by Jeff Borland, shows, despite the substantial growth in numbers of graduates in recent years, the wage premium for graduates has remained unchanged (in the US where growth in graduate numbers has been slower, the wage premium has risen greatly). This outcome would make sense only if there was substantial growth in demand for tertiary graduates as against high school graduates and another article by Gittins shows that this is indeed the case”:

On first impression, and certainly on my own lived experience, such statistics are counter-intuitive: the ratio of graduate starting salaries to average weekly earnings has remained in a trough of 80-85% since (surprise, surprise) the late 1980s, significantly lower than the late 1970s to mid 1980s average of 95%:
Even Roger Bartley, executive director of the Graduate Careers Council of Australia, has publicly doubted that the average graduate lifetime earning premium is anything like $500,000 (the figure given in a 2002 Commonwealth government higher ed review)**.

Next: graduate unemployment rates


* fees that were imposed even during the undergraduate studies of hundreds of thousands of Gen X’rs (myself included) in contempt of the most basic precepts of contract law.

** “Graduate salaries up but losing ground” by Misha Ketchell, The Age 21 August 2002.

Wednesday, February 19, 2003

Baby Boomer Lies and Statistics 101 (first of a continuing series)

News item: about 200,000 Australians aged from their late 20s to their late 30s have given up their private hospital cover in the past two years. According to a spokesman for federal Health Minister Kay Patterson, up to 5 per cent of the drop in cover among the under-40s was because people were moving into higher age brackets:

Huh? Since when did grasping at statistical straws/insignificances (“up to 5 per cent”) become an excuse for reasoned comment? Not coincidentally, the same spokesman goes on to crow that baby boomers’ children are heading in the opposite fiscal direction: "We are still getting growth among the 15- to 24-year-olds so young people are taking out private health cover, and that's important for the future of the system”.

To understand that these statistics contain some alarming fiscal implications (above and beyond whatever they mean for the future of the public health system), one needs to grasp the health gamble/spin’o’the dice faced by late 20s to mid 30s Australians in June 2001.

With little forenotice, they (and no other Australians) had to make the decision between (i) taking up private hospital cover immediately, or (ii) face paying up on an escalating, 2% annual financial penalty should they later decide to take out private cover.

Younger Australians were exempt from this gamble because the penalty only kicks in at age 30. Those older were effectively exempt, because the decision to go with (i) was a no-brainer – not only could they (usually) easily afford immediate private cover, but being near, on, or beyond the threshold of 50, they were medically “ripe” for such cover, anyway. [Indeed, the unexpected recent large rise in private hospital claims can be attributed precisely to a perverse side-effect of this ripeness – thousands of hitherto-healthy, self-insuring baby boomers rushed into a “don’t delay/never-to-be-repeated” offer, and so, quite naturally, then proceeded to let the wheels fall off their health. But this is another story.]

This gamble vs no-brainer inter-generational divide is compounded by the Medicare levy surcharge, on individuals earning more than $50,000 (or families earning more than $100,000). With the 1% penalty surcharge roughly equalling the cost of private hospital cover, high earners (this time of any age) are given a no-brainer, even on a stand-alone basis. For low-earning Gen X’ers however, whose future income volatility is much higher than for older baby boomers, the stakes are raised – should they go from income famine (without private cover) to feast, they will incur a punitive double jeopardy, hitting them whether they self-insure or not.

The fiscal health roadmap for those 200,000 Gen X Australians is stark – if the “carrot” private cover is just not affordable in one’s 30s, then the “stick” of future punitive pricing just doesn’t matter. Not affordable now equals not affordable ever, from whichever way you look at it. Going from income famine to feast thus becomes more of an unlikely hazard than an aspirational net gain. What started as a real gamble has now become a no-brainer for many of Gen X. And another festering inter-generational borderzone spectre for our social planners – that of the skint retirees of 2025-2040 needing the sort of public health system that last existed only decades earlier.

Tuesday, February 18, 2003

[bottom half of truncated post immediately below]


Call me over-educated, but what is there in this story for Media Watch to cover? In essence, it is that someone, presumably quite senior, at the ABC was dumb enough to innocently fiddle with a story – about which they clearly knew very little background – and so potentially, yet unintentionally, set off a major international incident. The only saving grace? That it was all so-o-o lame.

Indonesia graciously gave Australia a full concession for our lameness on this occasion. Personally, I think that we shouldn’t just leave it at that. The ABC producer/sub-editor at fault (now there’s an unfashionable word) should be yanked out of the Corporation, and put somewhere where they run little risk of doing any real future harm – writing for a Sydney tabloid would be perfect, methinks.

Governments and the third-and-a-half star estate

Last night’s Media Watch on ABC TV made what I consider to be a very big call – that a Sydney tabloid’s trumped-up expose (of supposed five star hotel conditions at Australian refugee detention centres) was a calculated volleying of government (Commonwealth) propaganda.

Of course, it’s no secret that the Liberal government would like to minimise negative media coverage of refugee detention centres. Nor is it a secret that positive media coverage of the centres, “in the ordinary course of business” (as they say in tax law), is unlikely to be manifest. Conversely, it is near-axiomatic that a tabloid will, from time to time, run a trumped-up major feature that exposes some purported scandal.

While sometimes there will be a direct link between the tabloid’s crusade and outside forces and agendas (corporate or government), the more excursionary the crusade, the less absolute news value such a link will have – assuming also that it can be proven. The supposed fact of refugees living in five star luxury is so easily rebutted that, if indeed it is naked government propaganda, the real story is not of conspiracy, but of breathtaking amateurism by the government’s PR flacks.

That sheer amateurism can act as a particularly nasty smokescreen is shown by some blogs in response to another issue raised (in the sense of not being raised) on last night’s Media Watch:
http://abcwatch.blogspot.com and http://troppoarmadillo.blogspot.com

Again, a conspiracy has been wildly alleged, this time on the part of the ABC. In this case, the facts are exceptionally plain – an ABC news producer/sub-editor(/work experience kid?) reworked some news copy. The story resultantly broadcast thus was changed from the heard-it-before unremarkable – major Islamic groups in Indonesia viewed Australian participation in a war on Iraq as a war on Islam – to an unwitting scoop – the Indonesian government viewed Australian Iraq participation as a war on Islam:
http://theaustralian.news.com.au/common/story_page/0,5744,5995175%255E2702,00.html and

# posted by Paul Watson : 2:35 PM  0 comments

Saturday, February 15, 2003

The anthrax vaccination mini-fracas in Australia
shows political partisanship being practised at a depressing, low level.

The same box is being kicked around, variously labelled “Consent” and “Entitlement”. I would have thought that these were fundamentally different contents, but for whatever reason, they can be used more or less interchangeably in Australian politics. The box is therefore empty.

# posted by Paul Watson : 1:10 PM  0 comments

Thursday, February 06, 2003

Browsed through the brand new Borders bookstore in Melbourne last night. Despite Borders being a US-based multinational, they can hardly be faulted for doing to books for (say) what Starbucks have done for coffee. Nor, for that matter, have Borders done what Nike et al have done for their third world workforces. A book megastore definitely could be a dispiriting monoculture, but this Borders ain’t. My main gripe: no instore remainders/bargains table anywhere.

One of my finds in the magazine racks was the serious-looking and sounding journal, Index on Censorship (vol 4/2002). At $37.50 for the issue, it was definitely going to be a case of a browse’n’speed-read. In the event, I didn’t get past reading a bit of one article. Unusually for these media-lite days, I had chewed off more than I could cranially swallow in the aisle. Hence, it was first stop on the Internet today to track it down, hopefully in full-text. And yes, bullseye!

The article, “The new anti-Semitism” by Harold Evans is at: http://www.indexonline.org/downloads/evans_20030121.pdf

From its title, I had expected a fairly generic summation of the rise of populist right-wingers in the West over the last decade or so. Not so – there has recently been a paradigm shift in anti-semitism – away from Europe and the Western Right, and towards the Middle East/Arab World (& the USA, to an extent) and the Western Left.

I emphasise that the above is my take/paraphrase on what Evans says, in this obviously delicate area of discourse, where there is room for infinite misunderstandings, tangents, and grandstanding. I am also still digesting much of it.

From my January 29 blog on Iraq and suicide bombers – and now this – my views in this area may already sound hollowly and intransigently partisan. Possibly, they are – but I genuinely consider myself a fence-sitter on Israel/Palestine. To call this a “local issue” is a naïve understatement, but nonetheless I am quite comfortable having strong views on Iraq and suicide bombers (and so on virulent, rationality-defying anti-semitism) but none of any strong colour on Israel/Palestine.

There is also the attraction of the intellectual gauntlet that Evans throws down: to understand the seemingly disproportionate power of the Internet in spreading perverse misinformation (most notoriously, that the Jews and/or Israel were behind September 11). If you want a ready example of what Evans perhaps over-dramatically terms this “open sewer”, go to this US-headquartered, blandly-titled hate site:

Most worrying, and intriguing, of all for me is a point that Evans just touches on a couple of times: the corrective, salutary powers of satire, and the [connected] complete absence of satire in the Arab-world media. While the fact that the Arab-world media are not at all a monolith, and do include dissenting voices was rightly made in the Index on Censorship reply, by Mai Ghoussoub and Moshe Machover:
the ratio decidendi of this all is that Messrs Ghoussoub and Machover couldn’t help but be unintentionally comic themselves – unless they are truly, genuinely ignorant of the Internet – in pressing their case; viz:

“Evans has an inflated idea of the Arab media and their organization. The reality is almost the reverse. There is hardly any organised strategy in social or political fields.”

Quite so – like comedy, information abhors a vacuum, and can and will be spun out of nothing, if that is the only resource available.

# posted by Paul Watson : 1:06 PM  0 comments

Monday, February 03, 2003

Crikey.com.au have just broken one of the biggest Oz news stories for years:


In the best indy-journalism tradition, the really important news buried well into the story - this bit is very little to do with RMIT's ongoing chaos, rather, it concerns embattled vice-chancellor Ruth Dunkin, and the circumstances of her PHD.

In posting the link, I do not vouch in any way for the facts and opinions contained therein. If they turn out to be wayward, Messrs Mayne & Co will have a major defamation headache on their hands. If they are right, then I predict that Dunkin's going-down is going to be Australian universities' "Enron" - an almost-unbelievable tale of monumental greed, vapidity and incompetence (with a baby boomer claque at its operational core, of course).

# posted by Paul Watson : 3:30 PM  0 comments

Saturday, February 01, 2003

Criminal responsibility in asymmetric relationships

My cue for returning to a topic that’s becoming a hobby horse of mine – though I’m calling it my hobby pony, for now – is this article:

Maybe it’s just me, but it appears that Tiffany Moss is about to take a big rap for a small crime. The smallness here is not just in the maximum amount of money she stood to gain ($20,000), but also in the number of other essential roles in the scam (the carpark procurer, the “lucky” high roller, and the hidden-camera woman – three other people – at an absolute minimum) – and the fact that none of these have been charged, due to an apparent lack of evidence.

Evidence law, combining as it does both substance and procedure, is a difficult beast to argue with. Conspiracy, and criminal responsibility in two-or-more pax criminal endeavours, are more user-friendly areas of discussion and mastery. To start with the obvious quip – yes, it is indeed legally possible for Ms Moss to have taken part in an effective conspiracy of one.

Legally possible, yes, but hardly usual – nor carrying much of that gut-feeling sense of the fair and reasonable. Unfortunately, conspiracy and criminal responsibility law has only one main defence able to be used in cases of asymmetric relationships between conspirators/co-criminals, and this defence – duress – is so archaic as to be practically useless in modern application.

To illustrate: my opinion is that someone who agrees to a $20,000 fee for a part in perpetrating a million-dollar plus fraud is a person who is deeply ambivalent about having any involvement in the first place. Divvying up the proceeds of crime is not, of course, enforceable in contract law, which is all the more reason for co-criminals to be robustly commercial in their terms. In any other type of transaction, Ms Moss would quite likely be entitled to equitable relief (= monetary damages) because of the grossly
uncommercial terms that she had, for reasons that would be fleshed-out in the judicial process, agreed to. Legally, equitable relief has galloped way ahead of the defence of duress because equity is quite prepared to look into the minutiae of the parties' power relationships, especially vis a vis economic power comparisons.

Instead of any considered approach along such lines, Ms Moss’s modesty of gain (both actual and possible/contemplated) is somehow transferred into a simple, naked dereliction of duty, or in Judge Graeme Crossley’s words:

"Her criminality is to open the gate to commit a crime of that or even greater proportion. As soon as she agrees to do it, the risk of enormous loss on behalf of the casino . . . should be immediately apparent."

No, Judge Crossley. “Opening the gate” is a menial task, whether done metaphorically, to effect a crime, or literally, to allow egress through a farm. Tiffany Moss was a skilled-but-menial worker, on $30k a year (2003 rates of pay for Crown Casino croupiers; no tips). Of course Ms Moss would have realized the “risk of enormous loss [to] the casino”, but that was their risk, not hers – a junior employee is not an insurer for their employer. And as for her own risk, Ms Moss may have justly and reasonably thought that in view of the modest prize pool nominated, her wager-in-crime would be concominantly small.

For some of my earlier thoughts on this topic, in the particular contexts of the American boy/man co-criminal cases of Malvo/Muhammad and Chavis/King, see my comment posted on Tim Dunlop’s blog:

Note also the one concession, other than duress, the criminal law makes in these scenarios for "coercion" – defined as:

"pressure, whether in the form of threats or in any other form, sufficient to cause a woman of ordinary good character and normal firmness of mind, placed in the circumstances in which the woman was placed (including the degree of dependence, whether economic or otherwise, of the woman on her husband), to conduct herself in the manner charged."

- s 336 Crimes Act (1958) Vic http://www.austlii.edu.au/au/legis/vic/consol_act/ca195882/s336.html

A sexist legal relic, insulting to everyone in its current formulation, but containing a useful core concept – coercion in asymmetric relationships – that needs urgent modernisation.

# posted by Paul Watson : 2:50 PM  0 comments

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