Not something to particularly brag about

For reasons not quite clear to me, I found myself reading the IP Australia 2018 report. That’s the governing body for the lodging and managing of patents, in case you were wondering.

They categorise patents into overseas requests (e.g. directional drilling for oil extraction) and domestic (e.g. the rotating clothesline).

The narrative on the page is quite dry, factual and perhaps a little taciturn. For example, this paragraph;

While applications grew overall in 2017, applications for standard patents by Australian residents decreased by about five, per cent from 2620 in 2016 to 2503 in 2017. These figures include those who filed directly with IP Australia and those who entered through the PCT route, together accounting for around nine per cent of total patent applications in Australia. The leading Australian standard patent applicants in 2017 (Figure 3) were Aristocrat Technologies (157 applications), the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organisation (CSIRO) (45) and The University of Queensland (18).

No mention of what types of inventions are being patented and for what applications. One wonders why?

Then there’s this breakdown of the top 5 patented applicants;

Two universities, one government department (the science research organisation) and two commercial companies.

Even the least business-savvy can guess what Bluescope Steel do – the clue is in the name.

But what of Aristocrat Technologies Australia? What is the nature of this truly innovative leader of the drive for human development and progress in Australia, what is it they do for a living?

The make gambling machines.

In various countries’ vernacular; slot machines, fruit machines or pokies.

And how’s that going for them?

From the most recent annual report, very fucking well it would seem; a 48% increase in revenue over the year to a total of $3.6bn.

Business is good!

In comparison, here’s the list of overseas applicants;

We all know what Halliburton do, they get billion dollar contracts without having to tender when their ex-boss invades Iraq they’re and oil and gas services supplier.

Qualcomm and Samsung produce IT hardware, phones, TVs, etc., Novartis design drugs to keeps us healthy, Coviden make surgical equipment.

That’s a bit of an interesting compare and contrast with the company who keeps searching for new ways to lighten the load in the wallets of problem gamblers.

Bill’s Opinion

Next time an Australian politician stands up and makes some inspirational speech about innovation and preparing the Australian economy to transition to the 1990s dot com era benefit from digitisation and the like, remind yourself of which companies are currently innovating most domestically.

Let’s face it, Australia primarily sells dirt to China and houses to each other. Useful innovation? Not so much.

Of course, the final word needs to go to Gilbert Gottfried who received boos from the audience after making a bad taste joke the week after 911 about being worried his plane was scheduled to stop at the Empire State Building. Being a consummate professional, he then proceeded to tell the comedians’ “in-joke” for possibly the first time in public.

Trigger warning; if you’re a sensitive soul, you may wish to put some kale in the microwave and not listen to this.

Ladies and gentlemen; The Aristocrats;

An irrelevant retiree from Queen’sland writes….

An obscure gentlemen living out his retirement years in Brisbane has had a lengthy letter published in the paper today, in the grand tradition of newspapers printing rambling rants from retired Majors in Eastbourne or “Disgusted of Tunbridge Wells”.

We’ll save you the chore of having to read it by summarising the entire thing in one paragraph. Actually, we just need to reproduce the final paragraph of Mr. Rudd’s letter;

The core objective of course is to avoid a Royal Commission that would lay bare the actual nature of their Australian political operations and their destruction of the NBN.

For those who haven’t heard already, the NBN is a case study in governmental profligate spending on things nobody needed or that the existing market would have provided cheaper and better if the government had simply got out of the way. See an earlier summary here.

Clearly this disaster is eating away at Kevin Rudd and spoiling his twilight years when he should be playing with his grandchildren.

The letter is also a case study; of how one side of politics struggles to see the irony of their hatred of the other side. Let’s fisk some choice moments to illustrate;

This year will be an important year for three of the world’s oldest, continuing democracies – the United States, the UK and Australia.

The US will decide, post-Mueller, whether Trump’s presidency is terminal. The UK will decide whether to tear up a half a century of European integration. And Australia faces a general election.

Anyone hoping for anything other than a big nothingburger from Mueller really hasn’t being paying attention.

Britain is going to decide about the EU? What was the 2016 referendum about then?

It’s a hunt for Australian relevance to suggest the tri-annual federal election is in any way comparable to Trump and Brexit. Australia is almost at the point of selecting Prime Ministers by alphabetical order or like a jury service lottery.

It will also be an important year for the Murdoch media where its power in these three democracies is formidable, and in Australia’s case dominant.

Murdoch’s combined News Corp brands have an annual audience of 16m, of which there will be significant “doubling up” as that won’t be a unique visitor number.

The combined audiences for the state-funded ABC, the brand formerly known as Fairfax and the Guardian have far greater numbers for their left of centre bias.

Murdoch is hardly dominant.

Watching Fox is like watching a revivalist meeting of evangelical fundamentalist preachers seeking to out-compete each other for the affections of “the base”.

An interesting analogy for someone previously very comfortable to been seen saying his prayers out loud.

The result is that the Grand Old Party of Lincoln has been ripped from its moorings, with profound consequences for the American democracy at home, and the American-led global order abroad. Well done Rupert.

An alternative view might be the American voters finally broke the circuit of the una-party where the differences between the Democrats and Republicans could hardly be noticed on most policies, particularly globalisation and foreign policy.

But then he deployed his formidable media arsenal in full-throttled support of Britain leaving Europe during the 2016 referendum before finally hitting the Jackpot with Nigel Farage’s UKIP, the ever-opportunistic Boris Johnson and Brexit.

An alternative view might be, due to a catastrophic miscalculation by David Cameron, the British people were (mistakenly, according to people like Rudd) given a vote on something that had been denied them for 43 years and they chose liberty.

Once again, well done Rupert, and that’s despite the fact that his newspapers had already been found guilty of multiple breaches of the criminal law following the Leveson Inquiry into what became known as the “phone-hacking scandal” in 2011-12.

A little obfuscation there making it sound like Levenson was purely about Murdoch’s mastheads or at least right of centre publications; it was damning about both sides and particularly the left wing Daily Mirror.

By contrast, the Canadian democracy has been in reasonable shape. Interesting that there is negligible Murdoch presence there.

An alternative view might be that, without the balance of a strong right of centre media presence, the Canadian people are suffering awful virtue signalling legislation and have become the laughing stock of the western world under their man child trustafarian Prime Minister.

And then we’re back to where we started, “my beautiful NBN project failed because my very own political party fired me for being a useless and sociopathic control freak and every Prime Minister since has struggled with the reality that it made no economic or practical sense for the government to deliver telecommunications networks“;

This was not just to put Abbott’s mad, right-wing government into office. It was also about protecting his company’s commerical interests by getting Abbott and his then Communications Minister Turnbull to destroy my government’s Fibre Optic to the Premises National Broadband Network.

Bill’s Opinion

Once one understands quite how shallow and self-serving Kevin Rudd is, reading his ramblings can be a great source of shadenfruede; he’s clearly tormented by his total lack of political legacy and it’s completely eating him up during what should be a long and relaxing retirement at the generous Australian taxpayer’s expense.

Bravo!

Rejoice! Clementine Ford returns in 2019!

For some unfathomable reason because most of her opinions are subject to cognitive dissonance, Clementine Ford has been suffering from depression but made it through the festive season without offing herself and has even managed to knock out another couple of hundred words of insanity and/or mendacity.

Trigger warning; You may want to sit down before reading the next sentence.

Clementine Ford doesn’t like the things Louis CK said in a recent comedy routine.

No, really.

She was fully onboard with all of his previous material, such as;

I don’t have a gun, but if I did, I would shoot a baby deer in the mouth and feel nothing.

And she’s fine with his monologue on the N-word;

Take responsibility. They found a way to say nigger—because when you say ’the N-word’ you put the word nigger in the person’s head. You say ’the N-word’ and I go ’Oh, she means nigger.’ That’s just white people getting away with saying nigger. Don’t hide behind the first letter like a faggot.

She really appreciated his joke about pedophile child murderers;

When you fuck a kid, you’ve gotta toss ’em. The guy could just call you, ‘Hey, I fucked your kid. You want me to drop him at soccer?’

And Clementine laughed aloud at his joke about wanking in the time between the two towers falling on 911;

How long after 9/11 until you started masturbating again?

But the material on a recent leaked audio following his #MeToo moment is really beyond the pale for Clementine, resulting in her swooning onto her chez longue in horror;

Leaked audio from a recent show lasting almost an hour laden with racism, ableism, transphobia and the good old-fashioned outrage of a white man who can’t take responsibility for his actions.

Of course, she’s not actually listened to it otherwise she would have written this sentence far more accurately;

There was the commentary on the Parkland shooting victims, who shouldn’t think they’re interesting just because they got shot.

Nope, he doesn’t say that on the leaked audio.

What he does say is that the children who didn’t get shot didn’t magically become imbued with the wisdom of experts on constitutional policy relating to gun crime. That’s a very different and subtle nuance that we wouldn’t expect Clementine to pretend to hear.

And does anybody really believe this statement by La Ford (highlighting mine);

I’m not offended by the idea that any of these topics could be fodder for comedy. But they have to be done well, by the right people, and without the laugh relying on the kind of lazy punch down that all too many comedians reach for because they’re actually far less skilled at their jobs than they think they are.

Pray tell, who gets to decide who the right people are?

But the most telling sentence in Clementine’s first masterpiece of 2019 is the following;

In a recent speech, the genuinely clever and evolving comedian Hannah Gadsby spoke of “the line in the sand” that separates good men from bad men, but that all men reserve the right to be in control of.

If you you are wondering what an “evolving comedian” might be, I suggest you seek out some of Hannah’s work.

Bill’s Opinion

Louis CK has always been a controversial comedian dancing on the edge of good taste. To expect him to suddenly start doing knock knock jokes is to not understand how he’s made people, a lot of people, laugh for several decades.

Hannah Gadsby, on the other hand, is a totally dull scold who plays the room for nods of approval rather than the visceral belly laugh generated by actual comedy. “Evolving comedian” is Clementine’s code for “not fucking funny in the slightest”.

As for Gadsby’s speech on men sexually harassing women, we’ll let you draw your own conclusion on the likelihood of it ever happening to her.

La Ford’s faux outrage at the comedy routine reminds us of this excellent summary;

But perhaps the final word should go to the left wing comedian, Jonathan Pie, who increasingly seems to be travelling the road of enlightenment previously taken by Dave Rubin;

Incentives matter, #7538

How on earth will I manage to find something to be cynical about this?

Greece has awarded citizenship to three migrant fishermen – two Egyptians and an Albanian – who rescued Greeks from a devastating fire near Athens last July.

At a ceremony the Greek President, Prokopis Pavlopoulos, thanked the fishermen for showing “solidarity and humanity” by rescuing dozens of people.

“You are now European citizens too, and so you can teach all our partners who don’t realise the values of Europe, to do what they ought to do,” he said.

Bills Opinion

The three men did a great thing and deserved a reward.

The problem is, the Greeks have just indicated to the market that the price of a European passport is to heroically save a life from a fire.

Most illegal immigrants won’t do anything malicious based on this price signal.

There will be some who will, however. My prediction is that there will be at least one fire set simply to enable an illegal immigrant so “save” a life. Let’s hope nobody dies as a consequence.

Are you dead? Call 1300 “CROAKED” to let us know

Australian insurer and provider of post-life financial services, (advertising tagline; “Everyone plans for retirement, but life doesn’t have stop afterwards*“), have started to make amends for some local difficulties they experienced in 2018. Namely, charging customers they knew were dead already for financial services. How many? 3,124 stiffs.

What form does this attempt to recover a little reputation make things right take?

A telephone number.

Not just a regular telephone number though, but a traffic cone hotline. No, hang on, that’s something else. No, they’ve implemented a hotline where dead people can call in to notify AMP that they no longer require their financial services due to a lack of breathing.

Ok, the grieving relatives can call too.

Bill’s Opinion

This seems to be solving the wrong problem; presumably, if 3,124 people who AMP knew were dead already were still being charged, the problem wasn’t so much an issue of notification but of doing the right thing with that information afterwards?

Hotblack Desiato famously took a year off, dead, for tax reasons.

One can imagine the transcript of the call with his accountant during that period;


“AMP death hotline, my name is Kylie, how can I help you today?”

“Hello, this is Norbert Young, of Young and Earnest Accountants. I represent Mr. Desiato, one of your clients. I’d like to inform you that, although he is recently deceased, it’s only a temporary condition and therefore would like to continue with his current arrangements with your organisation”.

“Oh, erm that’s not on my information sheet workflow. Let me check with my supervisor, (…..long pause), thanks for holding, Mr. Young. My supervisor says Mr. Desiato will need to inform us of this personally. Could you put him on the line, please?”

“Yes, of course. Handing the phone over now.”

(Very long silence)


Congratulations AMP, this is definitely the shot in the arm the share price needed.

* “Biologically, yes it does. The value of your investment may fall as well as rise.

Your property may be at risk if you secure a loan against it.

AMP is regulated by the Australian Regulator of Spiritualist Enterprises.”

French virtue signalling

Seen today whilst passing through Gare de Lyon;

Look closely; the chaps who are recharging their mobile phones are having to pedal for the electricity.

Bear in mind the following;

– France has the lowest priced electricity in Europe at €0.15 per kilowatt because they heavily rely on the very sensible method (if you don’t like carbon) of generating energy: nuclear, and

– It takes about 1 kilowatt to fully charge an iPhone, and

– A static exercise bike costs about €200, probably triple that once it’s been integrated into a seat, table and charge station, and there are three of them, and

– The maintenance costs are likely to be the equivalent of a couple of hours of labour a month plus parts, so perhaps €100.

Therefore (and if someone can check my calculations, I’d be grateful), over 12,000 phones would need to be charged a year for this station to make economic sense. So, an average of 33 a day, including Christmas.

Except… an efficient bike generator produces about 100 watts an hour, so there’s absolutely no way these three machines would get even close to a 10% ROI, even if they were fully-utilised around the clock.

Bill’s Opinion

Dear railway travellers of France; the Gare de Lyon station management think you’re a bunch of fat lazy bastards and are therefore happy to spend money in a completely inefficient way to make you change your ways.

Oh, and to the bloke wearing sunglasses indoors at 4pm on a January afternoon; you’re a twat.

Someone needs to be accountable

Thousands of passengers were left stranded after the Sydney Trains network fell into chaos overnight.

For those who are unaware or disinterested in the clusterfuck that is Sydney Trains, this was quite predictable. After all, it was judged to be the fourth worst for operational efficiency of any metropolitan network in the world, whilst also being the most expensive. Not to mention the previous iteration of the agency and its minor difficulties with corruption.

If you were relying on Sydney Trains to get you home after midnight on New Year’s Eve during an electrical storm, the expression ”Plan B” should be firmly in your vocabulary.

Even the most die-hard fans of fireworks must be prepared for a masterclass in stoicism once the last rocket has been fired.

How bad was the latest train-related problem?

Delays of up to three-and-a-half hours were felt across the grid, with many New Year’s Eve revellers taking to social media to vent about the havoc that occurred after the midnight fireworks.

Jeesh, that’s a long post-midnight wait to get home or, more likely, to where your car is parked to then get you home. Not the best start to 2019.

Let’s look at an example;

Tania Holt had a similar experience after spending New Year’s Eve at Barangaroo Reserve with her family, including her five-month-old nephew Jenson.

Wait, what? You took a five month old baby to the middle of Sydney to see the New Year’s Eve fireworks? What could possibly go wrong?

Oh, maybe this (highlighting added);

“My nephew started to get extremely distressed and started to panic as many of the crowd were drunk and abusive as we passed through,” she said. “My brother and his fiancée were so upset by the end as they were just so worried about his safety; it was completely incompetent planning and appalling service.”

Yes, it certainly does look like a case of incompetent planning, taking a 5 month child to a very crowded New’s Year celebration when a storm is forecast.

Bill’s Opinion

“Accountability” is the mot du jour in Australia; from cricketers being accountable for cheating, to bankers being accountable for charging fees for no service, everyone wants to know who is/was accountable.

In true doublespeak though, what it tends to mean is, “someone else is accountable“. Hence why it’s not the fault of the parents of a young baby that they found themselves stuck in the middle of a boisterous and unhappy crowd long after midnight in a thunderstorm.

Against the envy of less happier lands

Shakespeare’s John of Gaunt gives the following speech in Richard the Second on the subject of Britain’s natural defences;

This royal throne of kings, this scepter’d isle,

This earth of majesty, this seat of Mars,

This other Eden, demi-paradise,

This fortress built by Nature for herself

Against infection and the hand of war,

This happy breed of men, this little world,

This precious stone set in the silver sea,

Which serves it in the office of a wall,

Or as a moat defensive to a house,

Against the envy of less happier lands,

This blessed plot, this earth, this realm, this England.

Consider then, the current UK Home Secretary’s strange assertion on the problem of illegal immigrants paddling across the 21 miles of sea from France;

Bill’s Opinion

Au contraire, Mr. Javid; there are several historically-proven easy answers;

1. Have the British Navy patrol the limit of the UK’s territorial water between England and France (12 nautical miles?).

2. Tow any vessels illegally entering the territorial waters back to the nearest French port.

3. If the French authorities complain, robustly suggest that they consider doing their damn job in future.

It would seem there are easy answers to the problem of maintaining national borders, after all.

Update; thanks Sam Vara for the correction to Javid’s job title.

New South Wales’ half pregnant drug policies

Obviously this is political rubbish but one suspects they’ve not really thought this through.

Some people have taken drugs at music festivals and have died so the government should test illegal drugs to check that they are safe.

Of course, there’s the usual instinctive dividing line between right and left going on here; “hard on crime” versus “the government must do something“.

There more to be had though. One of the easiest fallacies to fall for is the slippery slope fallacy, but the reason it is so tempting is that, quite often, there really is a slippery slope.

Let’s look at what might be involved in the New South Wales’ state government providing testing facilities for illegal substances at music festivals;

1. A pre-agreed list of drugs that will be tested. Will they be testing ecstasy, speed, ice, smack, Charlie, etc.? Does anyone still supply and take lysergic acid diethylamide?

2. A method of testing for each that can confirm the levels of all relevant substances. Chemical-based drugs (as opposed to organic drugs like weed) can be “cut” with all kinds of weird and wonderful rubbish from warfarin to toothpaste. It also needs to be a method that doesn’t destroy half of the pill or powder otherwise people won’t use the service.

3. Definitions of what “safe” levels of all of the possible danger factors might be.

4. Legal protection from the consequences of mistakes in the testing process. For example, if 19 year old Jaxson takes a pill to the government testing tent and is told it contains safe levels of amphetamine sulphate but, an hour later, he keels over and dies, is the NSW taxpayer suddenly on the hook for a massive compensation claim from his parents?

5. Legal protection from the consequences of capacity issues; what if Jaxson dies at a location not served by the government tent with folks in white coats?

Bill’s Opinion

The calls for illegal drug testing services at music festivals seems poorly-thought through and, instead, look like a thinly-disguised move towards legalising and regulating recreational drugs.

That’s a debate that really needs to be had in the open. There are many strong arguments for and against legalising and regulating recreational drugs but these are not being presented here. Instead, there’s a risk of a semi-legal, semi-regulated fudge of a compromise occurring, with a lot of unintended consequences later.

For what it’s worth, my view is that recreational drugs should be legalised, regulated (for quality and ensuring strict non-supply to minors) and taxed. There’s a large economy out there that law-abiding citizens could be benefiting from financially.

The Kouk; troll or fool?

One of the Australian Labor (sic) Party’s advisors on matters economic is a shy and retiring character by the name of Stephen Koukoulas, AKA “The Kouk”.

I don’t tend to waste spend much time on social media these days but, in between large meals and long walks, I came across this provocative tweet by the person who, should Bill Shorten become Australia’s next Prime Minister for the obligatory 18 month term, will be whispering sage advice to the highest office in the land;

If, like me, you aren’t a professional economist, you will be wondering why this claim simultaneously seems to make sense but also seems like it shouldn’t be correct.

We’ll explain why it’s wrong shortly, but first, let’s recall an old brain teaser that used to go around in the school playground in various versions;

Three friends decide to split the bill after a meal at a restaurant. The waiter says the bill is £30, so each guest pays £10.

“Later the waiter realises the bill should only be £25. To rectify this, he takes £5 from the amount to return to the group.

“On the way to the table, the waiter realises that he cannot divide the money equally. As the customers didn’t know the total of the revised bill, the waiter decides to just give each of the three friends £1 and keep £2 for himself.

“Each guest got £1 back: so now each guest only paid £9; bringing the total paid to £27. The waiter has £2. And £27 + £2 = £29 so, if the guests originally handed over £30, what happened to the remaining £1?

If you haven’t come across this puzzle before the explanation is here.

It’s a classic misdirection.

Which is precisely what The Kouk is doing with his tweet.

The explanation as to why his statement is incorrect can be found here in an excellent and highly-recommended free PDF of a classic and easily read lesson on economics for mere mortals such as you and I. Treat yourself to a quick education before opening the next festive bottle.

The mistake or misdirection Koukoulas is guilty of is, helpfully, described in the very first chapter. In it, Hazlitt re-explains Bastiat’s Broken Window Fallacy and the concept of “opportunity cost”.

The explanation is so precise and economic (pun intended) in its use of words that I won’t recreate it here, but hope you follow the link and see it for yourself.

Bill’s Opinion

It is almost inconceivable that a professional “economist” is not aware of this fallacy (the first in the book!).

I can think of three possible explanations; either The Kouk is playing a festive game of trolling OR he’s deliberately misdirecting his followers for some other reason OR he’s not a very competent economist.

Of course, economics is a pseudoscience anyway. For proof of this, one only need look at the history of the so-called “Nobel Prize” for the subject; it was created as an effort to lend the subject some scientific credibility.