Tuesday, April 15, 2014

The Wooden Finger Five – April 2014


Last week, I watched a BBC documentary from a few years back called ‘Prog Rock Britannia’. Like many of my generation, who grew up with the punk of Nirvana on one hand and the pop of Oasis and Blur on the other, I have generally considered progressive rock to be a load of pretentious old twaddle. But this documentary was excellent, containing interviews with many of the main players from this era of British music, including members of Yes, ELP, King Crimson, Procol Harum, and Genesis (Phil Collins in fact). For the rest of the weekend I was seeking out ten minute suites with ridiculous titles … which I often turned off halfway through, but still… Prog rock had some good stuff, and here is some of it.

1.       Roundabout – Yes

I first listened to Yes’ ‘Fragile’ album in full a few years back, and my affection for this track was cemented by soon after discovering it was on my newly obtained Rock Band 3 game. Even on a relatively tame difficulty level I almost broke my fingers trying to play plastic guitar along with this monster track. It’s quite catchy, Jon Anderson’s voice sounds quite nice rather than fey, and the first couple of minutes of the guitar solo does actually make your neck hairs stand upright. Amount of time that could be edited out of song: three minutes.

2.       The Carpet Crawlers – Genesis

After watching the Prog Rock Britannia documentary, and seeing Peter Gabriel’s over-the-top costumes I spent a fair amount of time googling ‘peter gabriel genesis’, which then led to googling ‘peter Gabriel haircut’. I have listened to a lot of Gabriel’s solo output over the years, but pretty much nothing of his Genesis output. For a person who grew up listening to ‘Invisible Touch’ I was impressed by how well the band could play, and how much they, well, rocked, and Peter Gabriel’s voice is unmistakable even if the musical style is quite different to his ‘Sledgehammer’ or ‘Solsbury Hill’. ‘The Carpet Crawlers’ is a good sample of Genesis’ best era for anyone who does not feel like committing 10-plus minutes listening to a track. Amount of time that could be edited out of song: one and a half minutes.

3&4. 21st Century Schizoid Man and Fallen Angel – King Crimson

In true prog rock fashion I am combining my two favourite Crimson tracks in one entry. I have to make the heathen-like admission that my first encounter with King Crimson’s masterful ’21 Century Schizoid Man’ was the sample that was used in Kanye West’s ‘Power’.  When I first heard the full track in a sufficiently light-minded state on an airplane flight early in the morning, it blew said mind away. Well, at least half the track did – the ‘ironclaw’ part that sounds like it invented alt-rock rather than the free-form jazz-like part in the middle. ‘Fallen Angel’ comes from King Crimson’s mid-70s ‘Red’ album,  and might seem a bit too standard to fit in the prog rock genre, but it is beautifully played and it still has a change in time signature for prog rock fans to appreciate. Amount of time that could be edited out of song – Schizoid Man: four minutes, Fallen Angel: one minute.

5.       Learning To Fly – Pink Floyd

This is not so much prog rock as classic ‘80s rock, but I have pulled it out as I also watched a pretty good Pink Floyd documentary in the past week, and I think this is a fairly underrated track by Pink and cohorts.  Dave Gilmour’s guitar sounds like it was bought and then discarded in 1985, but this track still has an epic feel to it that I find hard to resist. I remember being about eight years old on a houseboat interstate when I first heard this track on the TV, and I immediately felt like I had been fast-tracked into moody young adulthood. That memory might help explain why this track still feels to me nowadays like something beyond my own life experience, even as I generally feel like I’ve long outgrown most of the Floyd’s output. Amount of time that could be edited out of song: half a minute.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

AFL Power Rankings: Round 4 2014

RISING UP

Many observers picked Port Adelaide, after last year’s improvement, to slide back down the ladder in 2014, and given that I assessed the Power’s final ladder position as flattering them a bit, I nodded my head in agreement. But Port has improved more than almost any other team, and this week they climb from 8th to 5th in the rankings with a massive win over Brisbane.

FALLING DOWN

Richmond swap places with the Power after another disappointing result, this time against Collingwood. Given that, prior to last year, the last time they played a final (2001) Carlton and Richmond both fell away badly the next season, I am hoping as a Richmond supporter they do not meet again in a final until 2055.

ALSO OF NOTE

Four of the bottom seven teams – Carlton, Gold Coast, Brisbane, and St. Kilda – lost over six ranking points this week. But on the other hand, bottom placed Melbourne gained over six ranking points from their win over the Blues.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

AFL Power Rankings: Round 3 2014

RISING UP

Essendon continues its customary early season practice of making my rankings look foolish by playing well above its ranking spot. (It then usually finishes off the season making my rankings look foolish by playing well below its ranking spot.) The Bombers move back into positive territory in terms of ranking points after beating up on Carlton.

FALLING DOWN

Carlton had the biggest fall in ranking points this week, and has had the biggest fall in ranking points so far this season. Along with the Crows, the Blues look to be a step below how they finished off 2013.

ALSO OF NOTE

By handily beating Fremantle, Hawthorn takes back the top spot that it has held for most of the past two years, but lost to the Dockers last week.


Wednesday, April 2, 2014

The Most Dominant VFL/AFL Season Ever

Which team had the most dominant VFL/AFL season ever? One way to measure this might be to take the team with the best winning percentage (including finals).

Essendon
2000
96.00
Carlton
1908
95.00
Collingwood
1929
95.00
Essendon
1950
95.00
South Melbourne
1918
93.75
Geelong
2008
92.00
Carlton
1995
92.00
Melbourne
1956
90.00
Essendon
1962
90.00
Collingwood
1903
89.47

It seems like a pretty good list – most of the consensus dominant teams make an appearance, although no Hawthorn team from the ‘80s, or Brisbane Lions team from the 2000s gets on the list. But maybe some of those teams just beat up on bad teams all year? Another way to measure a team’s dominance is to work out how many standard deviations their winning percentage was above the average (the average is of course 50 per cent). That is, if the competition is relatively uneven, a high winning percentage still looks impressive, but slightly less so. Putting aside finals, that gives this table:
Essendon
2000
2.34
Geelong
2008
2.12
Carlton
1995
2.02
Hawthorn
1988
1.97
St. Kilda
2009
1.94
Melbourne
1958
1.93
Carlton
1908
1.91
Hawthorn
1989
1.85
Essendon
1950
1.85
Melbourne
1956
1.80

I like this list, but it has some weaknesses. The main one is this – in 1929, Collingwood won 100 per cent of their home and away games (they lost a final, hence why their overall winning percentage was 95 per cent), but cannot crack the top 10 in the adjusted winning percentage table. Granted, it looks like the competition was very uneven that year, but what more could the Magpies do? Another way to look at dominance then is to work out how many standard deviations their percentage (points scored divided by points conceded) was above the average. There is no limit to percentage, and I tend to argue that, while wins and losses are ultimately how a team’s ladder position is decided, a team’s percentage possibly gives a better indication of how ‘dominant’ they were. I am not going for raw percentage here, because that would just give a list of teams from the 1890s/1900s. The best teams in terms of adjusted percentage are as follows:
Geelong
2007
2.57
Essendon
2000
2.55
Geelong
2008
2.48
Brisbane
1999
2.47
Melbourne
1957
2.38
Carlton
1976
2.30
Hawthorn
1988
2.29
West Coast
1991
2.23
Collingwood
1929
2.13
Carlton
1908
2.12

There are a few ‘oddballs’ on this list, or are there … ? Perhaps the Brisbane Lions of 1999, which had a very good percentage in an even year, were really the ‘best’ team of the Lions’ ‘dynasty’ – they only won less game than the 2001 and 2002 teams, and likely would have won the premiership that year if not for losing the preliminary final against North Melbourne (assuming they played Carlton). Geelong in 2007 also appears to be more dominant than their winning percentage suggested – if a couple of close losses that year were reversed they would appear in the top list for winning percentage also.
But one team keeps appearing at or near the top – Essendon in 2000. The Bombers also more than doubled their opponents’ scores in the finals, a feat also achieved by Hawthorn in 1988, Carlton in 1908, and Geelong in 2007, but not significantly bettered. They may not have gone on to be dominant in subsequent years, but for me the conclusion looks clear – the Essendon 2000 squad had the most dominant VFL/AFL season ever.

Sunday, March 30, 2014

AFL Power Rankings: Round 2 2014

RISING UP

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.

FALLING DOWN

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.

ALSO OF NOTE

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?

RISING UP

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?

FALLING DOWN

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?

ALSO OF NOTE

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.