Saturday, 26 July 2008

The ridiculous spread of covering of sports grounds

When I heard torrential rain
just as Richmond were beginning to play the Brisbane Lions, the absurdity of playing sport in covered stadiums dawned on me like never before.

The way I see it, football authorities should have no desire to follow the error made by cricketing authorities in England and New Zealand (elsewhere I will acknowledge some excuse for covering pitches) and try to play exclusively in the dry. The rapid drying of Melbourne's climate will sooner or later make this happen anyway, but still creates no excuse for putting a roof on a stadium.

One article in the Age from around two years back really shows that covering, elimination of suburban grounds and a drier climate has no doubt denied the possibility of playing top-class football to some youngsters who would have excelled in the age where wet grounds were an everyday occurrence. The great rovers of even twenty years ago like Platten and Liberatore would simply be far too short to succeed in an age where there is so little play at ground level.

Though my recollections of footy in the wet as a youngster are not sweet, I do feel I should reconsider them.

Another advantage of playing sport on grounds unprotected from rain is the much reduced injury hazard. Even though footballers are supposed to and no doubt are fitter than today, they play on grounds so hard that injuries remain an ever-present risk. With the climate drying out so fast, grounds should be allowed to get as much rain as possible and should be designed to store as much moisture during the footy season, so that players who do hit the ground are less likely to have a limb break if they do fall.

The same holds for cricket, though outside England and New Zealand grounds would actually be as dry protected from rain because of excessive sunshine and evaporation.

In England and New Zealand every cricket fan should imagine what the game would be like with pitches completely open to the elements. Shorter (three- or probably four-day) Tests on fully uncovered and better-drained pitches would have a hope of competing as a public attraction with one-day and 20/20 cricket that five-day Tests on covered pitches simply do not. With pitches open to sun-wind, and dew, the incentive to take long run-ups would be reduced, so that more cricket would actually be played in three days than is now in five!

Thursday, 17 July 2008

Wayne Swan is wrong

The latest news from the government about the petrol price question really is far from promising.

The ABC is saying that Wayne Swan believes that less cheap petrol is not going to have any impact upon the level of greenhouse gas emissions by Australia. I simply cannot take this viewpoint.

To see why, go back before Kyoto - before the 1973 energy crisis. The fact is that the large differences in emissions we observe among developed nations today were already in place in 1973, before most people realised we only had a finite supply of crude oil.

The very fact that energy was less cheap via heavier taxes in Europe than in Australia or North America meant European companies had real incentive to be innovative and develop means of reducing energy consumption. Fuel consumption patterns, as I recall from old editions of Autocar, have always followed a pattern of decline when petrol becomes less cheap and a rise when its price falls back into the basement.

In Australia's history, petrol prices have never got anywhere near ground level. If prices did rocket out of the basement, Australian car makers would have a very different outlook from the conservative, staid one that they have had ever since major US automakers set up branches here seventy or so years ago.

The "household pain" Swan speaks about will only be temporary if people move away from gas-guzzling 4WDs, whose sales have not fallen at all since petrol's cheapness began its current decline. If people became use to pooling cars to eliminate empty space and even to sharing fuel bills for long trips, they would lose little even with petrol at $5 per litre.

Tuesday, 15 July 2008

An anniversary, a joke, and a recollection

One thing I felt I should do as a result of the forty-ninth anniversary of the death of the third highest wicket-taker in first-class cricket and the seventy-fifth anniversary of his being the last cricketer to reach three thousand first-class wickets, I should do something I think about all the time ever since I asked the owner of Dead or Alive about the name "Charlie Parker".

One of my most memorable recollections of Essendon Grammar at East Keilor was looking up a primitive Encyclopedia called Grolier. It had three search methods:

- Word Search, which allowed you to search for combinations of words or phrases like "Hitler", "Jews", "racism" and "war"
- Browse Titles, which allowed you to browse the Grolier's actual titles
- Browse Word Index, which allowed you to look for single words

One fond memory is looking up a combination of "surgeons" and "masks", which gave no entry on Grolier, though therre were 20 for "surgeons". "Surgeon" and "mask" gave one entry under Surgery, which said: "the surgeon in gown and gauze mask came to epitomise medicine by the middle of the twentieth century". At the time I devoured Grolier, I was obsessed with why surgeons wore masks and how it would feel to wear a surgical mask. As with many Christian sects and religious orders, surgical dress seemed and seems so different form the tight, casual dress I have always worn that its fascination is natural.

My brother once wrote an article titled Surgery that said "Surgeons wear masks" 512 times in succession!! I knew it could not be a proper article, but I still laughed.

Also on the Grolier, I searched for the old English bowlers I had then (circa 1993) become obsessed with. I could not find articles for any of them, but found something under "Parker, Charlie". However, it was not the Gloucestershire spin bowler that Grolier was listing, but a jazz musician of the 1940s. Ever since then, I have felt as though I should joke to people about who Charlie Parker is, because even in Australia Charlie Parker the jazz musician is much better known than Charlie Parker the Gloucestershire cricketer.

Nonetheless, the name "Charlie Parker" has ever since been my favourite one for trying to trick people. I imagine often that I would do it in an e-mail, for instance I have though of doing so in discussing my views on Robert P. Murphy's claim that "pro sports salaries are fair, astronomical as they are", where I understand his view but believe he has overlooked important points. Moreover, I still get a laugh out of imaging a file like the one above actually on Dead or Alive even though I know it never could be placed on it because almost nobody in Australia, let alone the US, is that interested in old county cricket.

Saturday, 12 July 2008

Are they taking into account inflation?

Today I heard that the CSIRO says that petrol prices in Australia will reach eight dollars a litre within a decade.

When I first heard of eight-dollar-a-litre petrol, I thought they were releasing a climate change study that suggested $8 a litre would be the necessary price to reduce Australia's greenhouse emisisons to a reasonably sustainable level! As I have suggested in some earlier posts, even $8 a litre is too cheap if Australia wants to reduce its greenhouse emissions to virtually zero as would be required to maintain (restore, actually) the viability of water storages built at high cost in the 1950s. However, large increases in fuel prices would certainly provide more money than is needed to make Australia's transport system reasonably sustainable via demolition of unnecessary roads, reductions in road capacity and rebuilding of the entire rail system for high speeds and better alignment.

The whole problem is that there is the issue of inflation: the CSIRO report does not say explicitly that they mean eight of today's dollars per litre, which would be a decline in petrol's cheapness unheard of anywhere in the world since petrol became widely used.

Because rises in petrol prices are known to cause inflation, it is entirely possible that $8-per-litre petrol is really little less cheap than today's. Although it would require an inflation rate of seventeen percent to completely erode rises in the nominal price of petrol, if a general inflation rate of four percent continues to 2018, it will be as if petrol has only risen to $5.40 per litre, and at an inflation rate of eight percent it would be equivalent only to a rise to $3.70 per litre in today's dollars. Whilst both of these would be uncomfortable, they would hardly be the radical change called for: in fact, $3.70 is the amount paid in the exceptionally low-fragility environment of Norway and would be equivalent of we adjust for Australia's ecological fragility to something like $37 per litre!

Tuesday, 8 July 2008

Lowest-low fertility in Europe

The New York Times has written the longest article yet seen about lowest-low fertility in Europe. Lowest-low fertility refers to a fertility rate of under 1.3 children per woman. Most of southern and eastern Europe, along with Japan and South Korea has fertility rates this low.

The article, titled simply No Babies, looks at practical examples of the nature of the problem and the future Europe faces. On the whole, it believes that the traditional model of a working husband and stay-at-home wife - which was supposed thorugh the experience of the 1950s "baby boom" to produce the most effective and largest families - to be wrong, because those societies where the highest proportion of women work have relatively better fertility rates than those where female employment is less important.

Many of my Epinions articles, and in a less clear manner most religious conservatives, aim to link declining fertility to undoubted masculinisation of women. It is true that in less-masculinised Australia and the US, as the article impressively points out, "mores have evolved to the point where not only is it socially acceptable for fathers to be active participants in raising children, but it’s also often socially unacceptable for them to do otherwise." This lesser masculinisation of culture may well give women much more room to work on their own terms, as with the homeschooling movement, than is possible in a society where labour markets are rigid and extremely competitive as they are in Europe and East Asia.

Monday, 7 July 2008

What strategy will result from a warning a decade overdue?

On 3LO today, I heard at last an admission that global warming will be disastrous for Victoria, something that should have been admitted way back in 1999 when it was clear that the winter polar cyclones are moving poleward at a rate of around one degree every two years. If you look though this blog or for my name in The Age, you should be able to see what I think without me saying much more.

In essence, the evidence of lake levels in the Western District demonstrates that unless carbon dioxide levels can be restored to something approaching pre-industrial levels of around 280 parts per million by volume, Victoria faces becoming entirely within the subtropical arid belt and having only irregular ephemeral streamflow or groundwater recharge from summer incursions of the monsoon. At current levels of fuel consumption and present demographic trends we are likely to see carbon dioxide reach 700 parts per million by volume, which would be the highest level since the beginning of the Miocene.

A carbon dioxide level of 700 ppmv is sometimes viewed as benign compared to today because of longer growing seasons in high latitudes. However, this gain would be nullified not only by elimination of the growing season in the Mediterranean-climate belt. Warmer temperatures would cause extensive leaching of soils that reduce crop yields potentially by a very large proportion if one compares 8 tonnes per hectare on very young northern European soils to around 1.5 tonnes per hectare on Australia’s ancient soils. Changes in ocean currents would affect the capacity of fisheries even more drastically.

Whilst I have spent too much time discussing the political problems responsible for Australia’s very poor greenhouse emissions, I certainly do want outline three steps Australia should take to cut greenhouse emissions:

1) Reducing road capacity
New roads are always advocated as solutions for the problem of traffic congestion that has resulted from increased affordability of private cars.

What too few people are ever told is that the supply elasticity of demand (ie. the responsiveness of change in demand to change in supply) of road capacity is so great that in fact increases in road capacity have never been found to reduce peak hour travel times.

Worse still, increases in road capacity, especially the growth of freeways, can be shown to be the decisive factor in the need for subsidisation of public rail and tram transport. Even Murray Lonie admitted that the Tullamarine Freeway took as many as fifty percent of off-peak passengers on the Broadmeadows train line upon opening and probably more afterwards. Other Melbourne freeways have had the same effect. If all these freeway users returned to public transport the fares would easily pay the entire costs of the system with no taxpayers’ subsidy. This would also provide incentives to actually make the system of a reasonable quality via extensions, duplications, and improved service frequencies, all of which would drastically cut Australia’s greenhouse emissions.

In the long run, in fact, I think reductions in road capacity would do nothing to reduce people’s mobility. With real incentive to invest in public transport, services would at last reach some sort of respectability in their quality and would serve to improve the mobility of rural as well as urban dwellers.

Whereas road building never pays off, large-scale road demolition in the long run will pay off through the public funding improvements to established infrastructure.

2) Rail track improvement
Most transport experts have been in wonderment at how ancient Australia’s track alignment is. Much of it has not been improved since World War I and is a major barrier to more respectable rail speeds that could compete with air services were aviation fuel properly taxed.

Calls to improve alignment have been made ever since the Pacific Highway accident of October 1989, but the government has instead concentrated upon truck safety laws that have been shown not to significantly improve the safety of road transport and have encouraged its further growth at the expense of more efficient rail.

3) Gauge standardisation
The lack on integration of Australia’s rail system has been one factor that promoted the growth of the most powerful road lobby in the world and continues to press for totally unneeded spending on an already oversized road system.

Rail is very well suited to Australia’s flat landscape and long distances, especially as it is a very clean means of transport. A high-speed rail network would be a much more efficient method of moving people around the continent than the present highway network, and the infrastructure exists to develop a very good system for goods.

The problem is that there exist “breaks of gauge” at state borders between New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland that make for a terrible network of multiple-gauge tracks.

Were these standardised, there would be multiple-track lines over extensive links that might allow for dedicated passenger and freight lines working in harmony as the main arteries between population centres.

Finally recognising how little hope I have

The letter I received today from RMIT after a month of waiting really makes it so clear to me that I have no hope of getting the job I need to be able to live a reasonably independent life. Their statement that I am dangerous to their staff's security really proves what I have been denying for years.

The way in which I reacted to not being allowed to enter their premises and even to losing a phone I had been over-eager and impatient to get back really shows me an inherently violent and egocentric person. Moreover, I am finally coming to realise that I always will be violent, egocentric, and unable to deal with being hurt or feeling unfairly treated in any way other than the most violent. The clearly show fact is contrary to what people who know me even for years believe - they see me as a gentle, peaceable person. Such a gentle, peaceable mask to try and gain public acceptance really cannot last and I am not so over-optimistic to think I would become a peaceful, empathetic person if I tried hard enough.

My (genuine) enjoyment of reading about peaceful and selfless people actually amounts to the most extreme form of envy possible. Whilst I do wish I could be less violent and more concerned with other people, I am not foolish enough to see this as in any way possible no matter how much I try. Even when I grab and assault other people, I do try not to be violent and am desperate not to cause injury.

The problem lies in the fact that I cannot and never will be able to judge how things affect other people and feel only what effects me: if something hurts me enough, there is no way I can think about whether fighting by any means possible, including threats to kill, will hurt the other person if I could theoretically get what I wanted at immense cost to the other person.

The whole problem with this is that on one level I know I will have to get a job merely to deal with the time when my mother can no longer support me and my pension disappears. On the other hand, I now know for sure that I am, as the RMIT letter says, inherently too violent and unpredicatable a person to be employable for anyone. If anybody does not give me what I want I know I could give them terrible bruises and possibly even something worse than that. Worse still, I am aware that it is unlikely that in such a situation of panic I will ever learn any response but physical fighting.

Saturday, 5 July 2008

Re-acquainted with an old favourite site

When I first was on the Internet, one of my very favourite sites was Dead or Alive. I loved to find out about whether people I knew were dead or alive, but I was frustrated by the fact that so many people whom I knew were not included either because they were unknown in America (like Herbert Sutcliffe) or who are only famous in fields that have attracted my fixation, like Robert Christgau.

I have often imagined what sites for some people whom I have taken an interest in would be like (I actually asked the site owner if Mary Daly was dead back in 2002!)

In an age of such rapid change, I find it pleasant how little has changed about the outline of Dead or Alive. The fact that the site has not added people I suggested I have grown in acceptance of because I - perhaps through reading astrology sites appreciate that people in entertainment are much more famous than those in the specialised fields that have always (and still) capture my interest.

Thursday, 3 July 2008

Gippsland by-election shows that people still need to learn

The Australian has published a good article that shows how Australia's soft population is so unwilling to deal with the real costs of not acting on climate change. Alternatively, we should say that they are unwilling to see the long-term pain that will result from policies that make life for them financially much easier but which constitute ecological suicide beyond even our present course.

My discovery that Family First, set to become the major party of Australia's next generation, did not even run, truly surprised me. The 2007 Family First candidate Tania Walters did run, but without the support of her party gained only 32.3 percent of the Party's 2007 votes.

It is true that some people have argued that local issues and not the reduced cheapness of petrol are the cause of the swing, and it is equally true that formerly party-endorsed candidates have been able in some cases to win more votes as independents. One might hope for this!

Now there is to be a by-election for the safe Liberal Adelaide Hills seat of Mayo. It might be safe for Labour not to contest given they have no chance of winning, especially if Family First - very strong in the mortgage belt of Adelaide - did run this time.

Labor really must have its priorities in the right direction. It should not run in a by-election for even safer Coalition seats like MacKellar (Bronwyn Bishop listed as "possibly retiring" before 2007), O'Connor (Wilson Tuckey ditto), Fairfax, Maranoa, Moore or Pearce (very like Mayo in being located in the hilly urban hinterland of Perth), but should instead aim to focus on trying to inform the public about the horrible costs of allowing petrol prices back into the depths of the basement.

Independent groups really should try to encourage people to voluntarily do without private motorised transport altogether even if this is very, very, very tough - showing them how Australia's climate has drastically changed and why we need to boycott private car usage to do something about it.

50 greatest footy players

Recent issues of The Age have contained details of who Bob Davis, Ron Carter, Ron Barassi, Ken Hands and Tom Hafey consider to be the 50 greatest players in the history of football.

II have had a long history of trying to dispute with my brother the effectiveness of "scientific" (ie. statistics-based) methods of determining who the best player in the league. Although I have given this up with old county cricket because I know that almost all the old English spin bowlers who made county cricket attractive were utterly hopeless on Australian pitches where they could get no spin, I have not ever tried to look at it seriously with footy - less so than with rugby actually.

Having once been bought a book Knights in Muddy Armour by my mother and actually seen Peter Knights at his peak in the 1970s, he is one player who was surprisingly omitted. Gary Ayres, who won two Norm Smith Medals at a time when I was a Hawthorn fan before finding that their success was due to a zoning system that essentially constituted a gerrymander, is another example from the same period, as is Paul Roos. My father recalls admiring Geelong's Bill Goggin, whom he thought one of the best players in football. Amongst older players, Melbourne's Ivor-Warne Smith, perhaps the predecessor to Knights and Roos, and Footscary centreman Allan Hopkins, are also missing, as is Norm Smith, whom it is thought would have won a Brownlow in 1943.