Sunday, March 20, 2011

Very Elizabeth Bay

I'm gradually exploring the trendy cafes around my new neighbourhood, Potts Point and Elizabeth Bay. This morning I bought a coffee from a place with a display of some intriguing reed and straw sculptures, along with a biography of the artist, Diablo Mode. I was amused by the following line: "In 2004, he was the only male in the first major overview of Basketry in Australia."

Monday, January 3, 2011

Joining Twitter

I've decided to continue this "2011 Lessons" theme, but on a Twitter account. If you're interested, here it is.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

2011 Lessons #1

Don't meditate right after listening to the Top 40.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Election Reflections

I found two things fascinating last night - the speeches from the major party leaders, and the goals of the rural independents.

Gillard started out by congratulating the independent and Green MPs who now hold the balance of power. She named all 5 of them individually and expressed a desire to work with them. Gillard had immediately shifted into negotiating mode, flattering the independents and seeming to relish the backroom dealing that lies ahead.

By contrast, Abbott began by celebrating the swing to the Liberal Party and thanking the voters for their support. Only right at the end did he briefly mention the independent and Green members, and he didn't utter any of their names. Clearly Abbott wanted to keep campaigning as long as he could.

All of the independent MPs were interviewed by phone,* with both Windsor and Oakeshott naming "stable government" as their top priority. The use of the exact same phrase indicated they had spoken and established a common goal, but at the time I couldn't work out what exactly they meant. This morning it hit me - the three rural independents (Windsor, Oakeshott & Katter) will negotiate for fixed parliamentary terms. They'll promise to support a minority government for the full 3 years, in return for the PM promising to call the next election in August 2013, along with a referendum on fixed terms. Windsor made exactly that deal in a similar situation, after the 1991 NSW state election, and he'll try to do it again. It will allow the independents to hold the balance of power for the maximum possible time, and either major party will take any chance to be in government rather than in opposition for the next three years.

Getting ahead of myself here, but fixing the electoral cycle in its current state would make for an interesting dynamic. For this election the new House of Reps will take over in September / October and the new Senate will take over next July. A fixed term deal could set that arrangement in stone, meaning that every election would be followed by 9 months of a lame duck Senate.

*Nobody sent a camera crew to film the new kingmakers! I didn't see a hung parliament coming; it's some comfort that the TV networks were equally blindsided.

Sunday, July 25, 2010

Sexist Observation on the Election Debate ...

... but relating to the listeners rather than the speakers.

I tuned in to the Channel 9 footage of the debate, so I could watch the "worm." This is a line graph scrolling across the bottom of the screen, showing the real time responses of a studio audience, either favourable or unfavourable. A total gimmick, but so was everything Gillard and Abbott said.

As an added wrinkle this year, there were separate worms for female and male opinions. The two genders mostly agreed, but the women reacted more quickly. In response to a popular or unpopular statement, the female line jumped up or down within seconds, while the male line trended in the same direction over half a minute.

I'm not sure what that means. Are women more volatile and less reflective? Are men too lazy to press a button on an audience reaction meter?

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Football World Cup Predictions

I've got a feeling the African teams will do well, much like the Asian teams in Japan/Korea 2002. Also, I can't help thinking that Australia's team was at its best 4 years ago.

So those predictions were pretty vague. Time for some detailed programmatic specificity, so that I can be proven wrong in a month's time.

Champion: Argentina (they'll be too scared of their coach's reaction not to win)
Runner-up: Netherlands
Losing semi-finalists: Cameroon, England

Group A qualifiers: Mexico, France
Group B qualifiers: Argentina, South Korea
Group C qualifiers: England, United States
Group D qualifiers: Germany, Ghana
Group E qualifiers: Netherlands, Cameroon
Group F qualifiers: Italy, Slovakia
Group G qualifiers: Brazil, Côte d'Ivoire
Group H qualifiers: Spain, Chile

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Unsafe as Houses

I've been reading a bit about the Henry review of Australia's taxation system, and I'm disappointed that it didn't eliminate the tax break on investment property. That would have been a great way to let some air out of our housing bubble, which has been one of the few around the world not to burst. Prices haven't declined much lately and the price to rent ratio is 56% above its long-run average. It's like Australia got the one empty barrel in a game of Russian roulette, but our luck can't hold out forever.

I know quite a few friends who borrowed to buy a second property, then rented it out to pay the mortgage. The tax incentive plays a big part in this - mortgage payments on investment properties are tax deductible. Most of their money is tied up in a leveraged, illiquid investment, with the potential to cause trouble in a severe recession. They could easily lose their tenant, see the property value decline below the mortgage value, and be stuck in a situation where they can't cover the repayments, or get out from under the mortgage by selling.

I think people under 35 are particularly at risk here, because we were children or adolescents during Australia's last major recession in the early 1990s. We just haven't experienced widespread sackings and the chaos that follows. It's quite possible that Australia's boom will last another 5 or 10 years, but that's only going to make the bursting of the bubble more painful when it happens.

While borrowing to buy your own house brings advantages besides just accumulating capital, borrowing to buy additional houses or flats is pure property speculation. It's a pity that our tax system will continue to encourage it.