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Henry Thornton - Contributors: A discussion of economic, social and political issues Blogs
IMF throws in the towel
Date: Wednesday, September 21, 2011
Author: Henry Thornton

The IMF Chief Economist Olivier Blanchard has thrown in the towel and downgraded the lumbering international agency's economic forecasts.

Though Blanchard still expects 4 % growth for the world, hardly shabby, his forecasts for developed countries have been edged down from 'barely acceptable' to 'bloody miserable'. (These are technical economic terms that sound far more impressive in French, ze language of love.)

As warned yesterday, expect a backflip from Madam Legarde on the question of whether developed nations should tighten their belts or send out for more pizza.

Australia's Treasurer has been made 'Finance Minister of the year', an accolade that must peeve Ms Wong. Henry recalls once being told that 9 out of ten winners of Btitain's 'entrepreneur of the year' award ended up broke withing 2, or was it three, years.

Flushed by the award, will Treasurer Swan now blame the slippage into developed nation misery as an excuse to abandon the 'return to surplus by 2013' promise.  Like 'no carbon tax' and 'we will never send asylum seekers to countries who have not signed the UN protocol and dealing with refugees' this budgetary election commitment will prove to be just as firm.

In the gloaming

Amongst the fading light, the Rugby World Cup was meant to kindle light and hope, that is until Australia was choked into an all-but-impossible position by an inspired Ireland.

TP Maher reports here, and if he stays off the turps will continue to do so as the tournement unfolds.

[Ed: We must apologise and withdraw.  TP Mahar would never dring turpentine.  We acknowledge that he is a lifetime single malt quaffer.]

Risk, uncertainty and controlling thugs
Date: Tuesday, January 14, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton

The new financial year is slowly cranking up to business as normal. All the main US equity indices were down by 1.1 % to 1.7 % while the yield on long-term bonds rose to 2.82 %. The Aussie dollar rose by over 1 %.  Commodity experts say iron ore and most metal prices will be lower this year as China struggles with its pivot to consumerism. All this seems to symbolise the fact that 2014 is likely to be a more difficult year for both the US and Australian economies.

The emerging Aussie house price boom is I suspect stronger than the Reserve Bank boffins expected, and the RBA's mates in the press are shedding crocodile tears over the plight of first time house or unit buyers as they are elbowed aside by 'investors' using excessively generous negative gearing tax breaks. Abolishing negative gearing would be a great reform, but Paul Keating's attempt to do so ended in ignominy (try spelling that after a big night watching the tennis, and isn't Ashley Barty a goer) after a few weeks as the punters revolted.

Best hope for the Abbott government is to limit tax offset to interest paid on a case by case basis.  If this is too big a punt for Joe Hockey, what about allowing entrepreneurs to offset losses on new business ventures against income across their portfolio, including their cash income?  Simple equity, plus desire to promote new businesses, demands such a reform, and the rumor mills suggest the boffins are worrying that issue like dogs with a bone. Now, if a cash-strapped start-up cannot afford to pay directors and staff properly, and issues shares in lieu of cash, the ATO requires income tax to be paid on an imputed amount in excess of the issue price. an amazing turn-off.

Any way, to return to the crocodile tears, RBA staffers in the privacy of their offices should be shedding the occasional tear for having overshot in cutting interest rates, thereby making life more difficult than it need be for first home buyers.  This has been further than most experts (even old duffers like Henry) recommended and at least one result is a housing boom that is already squeezing young people out of the market.  Whether super-low interest rates will help the pivot to non-mining activity is yet to be seen, and our fingers are crossed. Encourage infrastructure repair and building is the cry from most of us, financed by selling assets still owned by government or by tax breaks to infrastructure builders or privately owned investment funds, including the booming superannuation funds.

'Policy needs to be designed around uncertainty' thunders Warwick McKibbin today in the Fin. McKibbin makes the powerful point that Treasury forecasts have ignored 'how uncertain the world already is', for which we offer a hearty 'hear, hear!'.  He does not offer any concrete proposals.  The RBA apparently puts error limits around its predictions these days, which is a classic way to take account of risk (which can be measured and allowed for) but not uncertainty.  Specification of 'realistic worst cases' is Henry's suggestion about allowing crudely for uncertainty. Another practice Henry used when he was responsible for forecasting was at the start of the year - ie around now - invite staff to provide predictions of 'unlikely but possible surprises'. Like a good dose of salts, this can loosen the relevant organs, ie brains in this case, to the point that useful insights are produced.  Doing just this in early 1986 was certainly effective, but career limiting for the principal loose-brained thinkers, so one can sympathise with more tight-brained folk who stay in their comfy burrows and say 'uncertainty is not my department, sir'.

Controlling thugs

Jennifer Hewett has been drinking in Mexican bars with young relatives during the holiday season.  She was struck (in her mind, not physically) with the lack of violence, despite the acknowledged presence of drug gangs, police corruption and other noxious aspect of Mexican culture. Ms Hewett attributes lack of violence to numbers of heavily armed police patrolling the fun-streets and booze-temples, which makes sense to Henry.  She asserts that the killers of one young person assulted here will be charged with murder, but a lawyer friend disputes this point, since the defence will be 'Temporarily insane due to drugs and/or 'There was no intention to murder the victim, yer honor, this was just a very sad accident'.

Presumably, a similar defence will be used by the mad person who drove at speed through a red light, killing a pedestrian and two people in a car crossing on green, and injuring others. (If this person was not 'mad' in any normal sense of the word, the word should never be used.)  As well as police presence in numbers, tough laws are also needed, so that judges have to give serious judgments, not 'six years with parole possible after four', whether on not the perpetrator was temporarily 'mad' or drug-crazed.

Read on here.

Henry also wishes to commend Nick Cator of the Oz for his expose of the  fiasco that is the 'national curriculum'.  It is long, it dense with educrat jargon and presents an amazingly noxious view of what is important in Aussie culture.  A real 'black armband' creature.

Since I am unable to access Mr Cator's article on my PC, despite being a subscriber for every issue since launch, and a contributor for over a decade, I shall leave it too interested readers to seek out his article. It is in today's fish'n'chip edition, on the opinion page.

Gird your loins, gentle readers, it is going to be a difficult year.

Saturday Sanity Break, 11 January 2014
Date: Saturday, January 11, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton

Well, bugger me, as Henry's old footy coach used say when surprises (good or bad) arose.  Perhaps straight from the Boof Lehman playbook. Henry's unhappy surprise today is disappearence of PC protection and inability to use the 'product key' provided by PC guru, who is in China on important family business. During Henry's conversation with Mrs PC guru, he asked about her son's ENTER score - '97.95' she said.

'That's wonderful' Henry replied. 'Is ok', Mrs PC guru replied, 'but not enough to get scholarship'. Education is largely about the parental culture, and all the argy-bargy about money for schools is hot air designed mainly to help cement the teachers union members' places and power.

And did Henry read today in the Oz that the 'National curriculum' developed under Rudd'n'Gillard'n'Rudd guv'mints required information on indigenous Australians and multicultural matters to be included in courses on physics'n'chemistry'n'mathematics?  It is no wonder our students are slipping down the global scale despite larger and larger dollops of money being ripped from taxpayers to help the educators. Tony Abbott's back to basics approach to most things needs to be applied rigerously to education funding. 

What is going on about people smuggling, gentle readers? It seems Tony Abbott and Scott Morrisan are stopping the boats, but what is unclear is whether Indonesia is cooperating while pretending to be outraged, or quietly preparing for decisive unilateral action of its own. Come back Greg Sheridan, how can we know what to think without your wise counsel.


Janet Yellen prepares to take over the Fed.  She is regarded as somewhat of a monetary 'dove', which has cheered the souls of share investors.  'Interest rates lower for longer' is the cry of the dove-lovers, yet watch out for strong economic news ... or weak news ... or confusing news.

Overnight, US unemployment showed a sharp drop from 7.0 % to 6.7 %. This however, was the net result of a low 74,000 new jobs more than offset by a 347,000 drop in people saying they are looking for jobs. As one influential source said: 'Output has recovered and is above the prerecession level. But employment is still about two million below where it was when the recession started.' Presumably this is good news for productivity growth, which is often increased most reliably by hard times.  If Australia cannot find a reformist road to productivity hikes, hard times will at least help productivity growth.

News from Canberra includes the unsurprising information that there was almost no net hiring for the bureaucracy this year.  This helps to explain why Henry's oldest offspring failed to find the job he (and we) thought he was made for, and the CPS may have lost a goodun'.  Has lost a whole set of gooduns, the spurned intake of 2013/14 and, as the hard times grind on, the Canberracrats will lose more and more gooduns. 


The PPs have been more comprehensively trashed by their own press than by Mitch Johnson and Co, and are about to face some more fast stuff in the one day series. Henry has been catching snippets of 'Big Bash' cricket on TV news, and can begin to understand how test matches can finish in three days.

Sadly, we fail to see much of the ladies' cricket, and if there is any fan of this more gentle form of the game inclined to contribute, we would welcome regular reports. 

For the next two weeks, however, it is tennis that is in the news, and Little Lleyton's geat win over Federer in Brisbane gives us a flicker of hope for a miracle run from our old, but highest rated, superstar.  One can presumably get set with the bookies at about the same odds that were available for a 5-zip thrashing on the PPs before the first test began. (Disclosure - Henry did not benefit from such a punt.)

Will Mr Tomic do any better? This is the question, and we shall get a preview when Tomic plays Mr del Potro in the Sydney tournament tonight.

Nice story about a footy comeback on the fin today (P 52) and also a savage review (P 51) of the movie The Book Thief. Henry will confess that he liked this movie, and even Mrs T (a generally harsh critic) liked it also.  Here is a trailer.

Today Jack the Border Collie gets his summer wash and clipping and we may not get to see another movie for a while as Mrs T is off to Sydney to look after her old Dad.  Then she goes to NZ for a golf'n'sightseeing trip with her golfing pal, so Henry and Jack will just have to cope alone, with the help of occasional home stops from the various offspring who are like young birds testing the air outside the nest.

Image of the week

Courtesy The Smage

Bankers managing money managers (badly).
Date: Friday, January 10, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton

Henry once had a debate with a bank director about the importance of satisfying customers. I naively thought customers might be like women I have known – requiring satisfaction of various needs. “Bankers are focused on customers too,” this old snoozer snorted. “We are focused on getting every last drop of blood from every last customer.”

My attitude was based on a decade in the business of managing money and providing insurance protection, a short account of which is provided here.  Look after the customers and they will maximise your profits worked well a bit over a decade ago. Having trebled ANZ bank's profits from money management in two years, the bankers moved in. Henry was promoted from MD to Chairman of the money/wealth management activity, and decided not to wait round to see the bankers ruin a wonderful business.

Today we learn that the bankers have still not figured out how to run a money management business. Ruth Liew writes in the AFR: 'MLC could become a victim as [NAB CEO] Clyne looks at bottom line'. And 'The wealth management is performing poorly'.

Mr Clyne, the evidence is that you are a pretty good banker, and that you lead your bank well.  But I can guarentee that neither you, nor your senior colleagues nor even your board members know much about 'wealth management'.  Geoffrey Tomlinson, former CEO of National Mutual, should know a bit, but his business was sold out from beneath him. Ken Henry, AC, had a mixed record as Treasury Secretary, and stuffed up Australia's response to the GFC. Other members of the board are either bankers, lawyers, accountants or regulators, except for Chairman Michael Chaney, who ran a retail chain with great success.  Henry's guess is that Mr Chaney is the best placed member of the board to look closely at the supposedly failing wealth management business. (Board members described here.)

Ms Liew continues: 'CLSA banks analyst Brian Johnson said apart from the group’s private banking business, most of MLC’s divisions “tremendously under-perform”. MLC posted a return of tangible equity of around 4 per cent last year, compared with CFS’s circa 21 per cent, according to CLSA', reports Ruth Liew.

'In a note to investors last October, Mr Johnson said there was market chatter that NAB could divest part of MLC, and expected banks to selectively shed higher capital-intensive businesses such as life insurance in favour of ­distributing external products.

'NAB bought MLC from Lend Lease 13 years ago for $4.6 billion. Like many of its wealth peers, it faced increased competition including the boom of self-managed super funds, and difficult conditions in the life insurance sector.

'One senior management wealth executive who declined to be named said he “could see it happening” that NAB would quit its wealth division. “What NAB could do is focus on distributing other [companies’] products like super. The theory is that there is still growth in wealth, you need access to wealth but you can get it done cheaply by someone else.”

This unnamed 'senior wealth management executive' is on the right tram with the latter statement. MLC's great success as part of Lend Lease was due to its approach of providing customers with the best of the best from the list of eligable fund managers, an approach Henry replicated at ANZ.  My guess is that under NAB's banker management, 'best of the best' products have been in part or almost totally replaced by 'home brand' product, which are capital intensive and inherently less attractive to customers than 'best of the best'.

Mr Clyne, if you would like some serious advice on this matter, Henry's 'Second Opinion' service is available here.

[Tepid] Global economic recovery, with a catch or two
Date: Tuesday, January 07, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton

Bene Bernanke has made his last speech as supremo of global monetary policy. His summary: 'Although the Fed undoubtedly will face some difficult challenges in the years ahead, our people and our values make me confident that our institution will meet those challenges successfully'.
His oration - linked here -  covers the Federal Reserve's commitment to transparency and accountability, reform of financial stability and financial management and monetary policy. His final subject is the prospects for the U.S. and global economies, which is our focus today. But this speech is a nice complement to Chairman Bernanke's recent book, which is reviewed here.

Bene says the economy has made considerable progress since the recovery officially began some four and a half years ago.
* Payroll employment has risen by 7-1/2 million jobs from its trough. 
* Real GDP has grown in 16 of 17 quarters, and the level of real GDP in the third quarter of 2013 was 5-1/2 percent above its pre-recession peak.
* The unemployment rate has fallen from 10 percent in the fall of 2009 to 7 percent recently. Industrial production and equipment investment have matched or exceeded pre-recession peaks.
* The banking system has been recapitalized, and the financial system is safer.

And, to conclude the positive factors: 'When the economy was in free fall in late 2008 and early 2009, such improvement was far from certain, as indicated at the time by stock prices that were nearly 60 percent below current levels and very wide credit spreads'.

But there are important caveats: 'Despite this progress, the recovery clearly remains incomplete'.
* At 7 percent, the unemployment rate still is elevated. The number of long-term unemployed remains unusually high, and other measures of labor underutilization, such as the number of people who are working part time for economic reasons, have improved less than the unemployment rate.
* Labor force participation has continued to decline, and, although some of this decline reflects longer-term trends that were in place prior to the crisis, some of it likely reflects potential workers' discouragement about job prospects.

The soggy recovery partly reflects unpredictable facts including the resurgence in financial volatility associated with the European sovereign debt and banking crisis and the economic effects of natural disasters in Japan and elsewhere.  (Were these things really unpredictable? Somehow I doubt it.)

But other factors that were allowed for but not as strongly as, in retrospect, they might have been, 'werethat the boom and bust left severe imbalances that would take time to work off. As Carmen Reinhart and Ken Rogoff noted in their prescient research, economic activity following financial crises tends to be anemic, especially when the preceding economic expansion was accompanied by rapid growth in credit and real estate prices.

'Weak recoveries from financial crises reflect, in part, the process of deleveraging and balance sheet repair: Households pull back on spending to recoup lost wealth and reduce debt burdens, while financial institutions restrict credit to restore capital ratios and reduce the riskiness of their portfolios. In addition to these financial factors, the weakness of the recovery reflects the overbuilding of housing (and, to some extent, commercial real estate) prior to the crisis, together with tight mortgage credit; indeed, recent activity in these areas is especially tepid in comparison to the rapid gains in construction more typically seen in recoveries'.

This is the story of Japan following its great asset booms in the 1980s and subsequent crash. It seems odd to this writer that the US Fed, with all its resources of highly intelligent economists, could have underestimated this set of factors. But there are further points that seems to me to have considerable contemporary relevance.
* US 'Federal fiscal policy was expansionary in 2009 and 2010. Since that time, however, federal fiscal policy has turned quite restrictive; according to the Congressional Budget Office, tax increases and spending cuts likely lowered output growth in 2013 by as much as 1-1/2 percentage points. In addition, throughout much of the recovery, state and local government budgets have been highly contractionary, reflecting their adjustment to sharply declining tax revenues'.
* 'The weakness of the recovery [also] reflects the overbuilding of housing (and, to some extent, commercial real estate) prior to the crisis, together with tight mortgage credit; indeed, recent activity in these areas is especially tepid in comparison to the rapid gains in construction more typically seen in recoveries'.
* Another factore is weak productivity performance, whose effect was initially overlooked because of problems of measurement, a major problem for any set of forecasters. 'The reasons for weak productivity growth are not entirely clear: It may be a result of the severity of the financial crisis, for example, if tight credit conditions have inhibited innovation, productivity-improving investments, and the formation of new firms; or it may simply reflect slow growth in sales, which have led firms to use capital and labor less intensively, or even mismeasurement. Notably, productivity growth has also flagged in a number of foreign economies that were hard-hit by the financial crisis. Yet another possibility is weak productivity growth reflects longer-term trends largely unrelated to the recession'.

However, Bene Bernanke is determined gto go out on a positive note. The 'headwinds' afflicting the US recovery seem to be abating. 'The [tepid] U.S. recovery appears to be somewhat ahead of those of most other advanced industrial economies; for example, real GDP is still slightly below its pre-recession peak in Japan and remains 2 percent and 3 percent below pre-recession peaks in the United Kingdom and the euro area, respectively. Nevertheless, I see some grounds for cautious optimism abroad as well. As in the United States, central banks in other advanced economies have taken significant steps to strengthen financial systems and to provide policy accommodation. Financial-sector reform is proceeding, and the contractionary effects of tight fiscal policies are waning. Although difficult reforms--such as banking and fiscal reform in Europe and structural reform in Japan--are still in early stages, we have also seen indications of better growth in the advanced economies, which should have positive implications for the United States. Emerging market economies have also grown somewhat more quickly lately after a slowing in the first half of 2013.  

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) has a less optimistic take. Ambrose Evans-Pritchard reports that its view that much of the Western world will require defaults, a savings tax and higher inflation to clear the way for recovery as debt levels reach a 200-year high'.

' The IMF working paper said debt burdens in developed nations have become extreme by any historical measure and will require a wave of haircuts, either negotiated 1930s-style write-offs or the standard mix of measures used by the IMF in its “toolkit” for emerging market blow-ups.

“The size of the problem suggests that restructurings will be needed, for example, in the periphery of Europe, far beyond anything discussed in public to this point,” said the paper, by Harvard professors Carmen Reinhart and Kenneth Rogoff'.

Read on here and ponder Australia's place in the global debt overhang problem, and what it means.

Please note that almost no-one, except Australia's failing businesses, a few journos (especially Grace Collier) and the odd economist - eg here - give prominance to Australia's even more problematic cost overhang.  More on this worrying issue shortly.

Saturday Sanity Break, 4 January 2014
Date: Saturday, January 04, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton

Global equities have continued to boom, and Australia's Super funds have had their best year in a while.  House prices have risen nationally by almost 10 per cent, illustrating concerns expressed last year that the next housing bubble was building strength.

Could the RBA have overdone the stimulus in its desire to cut the value of the Aussie dollar?  'Probably' is the answer, but there are powerful forces, including a growing population and artificial limits on available land and housing density also pushing prices higher.

Here is a clear warning, issued by the AFR in August of 2013.

Despite the rises in house prices in 2013 (see chart below), only in Sydney have new records been set, and then only by the width of a cigarette paper.  But if like Henry you have children struggling to find jobs despite being neat, polite and well credentialled, you cannot help wondering if they will ever be able to find dwelling places they can afford to buy.

Global growth seems to be slowly but reasonably surely picking up, good news of course. But there is continued uncertainty about the pace of recovery, with China leading the charge but trying to slow its own housing boom.

Ben Bernanke has started the long anticipated 'taper' reducing US Fed bond buying (= money printing) an event that was widely expected (including by Henry) to end the share boom with a bang. Instead Bene also said official cash rates would remain low for a long time, which cheered market participents.  Bene soon hands the task of unwinding massively easy American monetary policy to Janet Yellen.

Can America tighten its way to prosperity is the big question for global economics in 2014.  As a supplementaty question, can the US (and therefore global) share boom continue.

More here on the first lady of monetary policy.

Random bashing

The random 'king hit', often followed by a brutal head-kicking or head-stomping, is worrying parents throughout Australia's major cities.

Kids are left severely damaged, facing death or long and usually partial recovery.

So far as we can tell, the offenders are almost always treated leniently by the courts.  Usually their identities are protected, and penalties are trivial.

Why not force them to sweep streets wearing a sign saying 'I am a cowardly head-kicker', or some equally explicit message.

Perhaps for a second offence the message could be tattooed on the offender's forehead.

Such public shaming might be used more often for rape, pedophilic acts, murder and other heinous crimes, in addition to whatever goal term is decreed.  This would include messaye in T-shirts while convicted offenders are released on parole (or tattoo if they are in for a second offence) to warn the innocent person going about their usual business.

Contact Henry here if you wish to express a view here, or offer a different solution.


Australia's top order batters have again been saved by Brad Haddin, this time with the help of Steve Smith.

Now we can sit back and watch Mitch and the boys torturing the PPs. (Eg early today, Cook out, night-watchman Anderson cops nasty hand hit.) Then it will be off to meet the scary South Efricans (SSAs) on their home soil, but at least by then the footy will be cranking up and we can focus there if the newly resurgent Aussies are struggling.

And in the meantime, there is the tennis, with Little Lleyton still Australia's best chance of tennis glory.

Image of the week

House prices - 2013 increases - see images here. (With bonus video.)

Our major economic challenges
Date: Wednesday, January 01, 2014
Author: Henry Thornton

Here's to a safe and more productive 2014 for all Australians, and especially for Henry's readers.

The main economic theme seems to be fixing the budget, and we learn today that Messrs Hawke and Keating, and John Stone, advise Tony Abbott to fix the budget fast. The former pollies have 'form', as the local copper might put it, having heeded advice to do exactly that in 1986.  It can be done, Joe Hockey, but doing so will take every last bit of self-belief and concentration.

The trouble is, your efforts, though greatly needed, will address Australia's major economic challenge only indirectly. The bigger challenge is to recognise and deal with a cost overhang that is in the range of 30 to 40 % relative to cost levels that apply in competitor and customer nations.  Fiscal austerity will encourage moderate wage settlements in some places, but there is in Australia no widely accepted way for costs to be cut in absolute terms, which is what is needed.  Severe recession will hasten the necessary correction but that is a policy of last resort - 'the recession we had to have', as the Great Man put it.  After, it might be noted, a return to budgetary surplus had been achieved following Mr Keating's 'Banana Republic' crisis, but failed to solve the then prevailing cost overhang.

Soft monetary policy was partly to blame for this failure, but this is also being repeated in the interests of reducing the over-valued dollar.  A lower dollar is another necessary but not sufficient condition for avoiding or minimising severe recession, it might be noted.

The problem of excessive costs is widely discussed by failing businesses, especially in recent days by businesses who have to either operate at a loss due to massive 'holiday' pay loadings or stay closed for the holidays thus failing to provide service for customers.

To her great credit, Grace Collier of the Oz, the journalist who most understands the issues, has promised to give publicity to the unsustainable cost levels of every business that asks for help from taxpayers.

Examples already discussed include Holden's and Tyota's raft of above basic award conditions and SPC Ardmona's decision a year ago, when its management must have known the enterprise was in trouble, to agree to a 5 % wage hike.

In similar future cases like this, Ms Collier has promised: 'There is a queue of corporate beggars forming at the door of government, but I am putting the people in the queue, and their wealthy international owners, on notice.

'Try to get your hands on our money, and you will find me shining a great big torch up your jacksi'.

If you have paid the ferryman's toll to read Ms Collier's artice online, here is the link.

Otherwise, this important contribution may be found on P 10 of yesterday's Oz.

Go well, gentle readers, and be resolute if you are a business leader and be sensible if you are a worker.  As Simon Crean's father said all those years ago: 'One man [or woman]'s wage rise is another man [or woman]'s job'.  We have already had the wage hikes and now jobs on offer are sliding and will almost certainly slide faster during 2014.

Day 4 - the sledging continues
Date: Sunday, December 29, 2013
Author: Henry Thornton

Is the Pup a genius? Will the PPs show any real fight?  Will Watto's groin hold up so he can bat Australia to victory?  These are the questions, gentle readers, and they will all be answered today.

The Aussies started well.  Rogers, whose technique, and possibly his test career, seem to have taken great leaps forward since he was hit on the helmet in the first innings, and led Warner in the scoring. He edged one past the keeper, who looked like a garden gnome dressed as a wicket keeper, watching out of the corners of his eyes as a ball he should have caught was spilled by his hapless captain after a despairing dive from first slip. Four runs. The next ball, a bouncer, Rogers scooped over the slip corden for another four, a shot that only the cheekiest Indian stars have previously employed in tests.  Was it the very next over when Warner tried the same scoop shot, only to be caught by the gnome-keeper?  In between the hapless captain dropped a ball that went straight into his hands. Henry began to feel sorry for the PPs, even considering a new nomenclature, the HPs (Hapless Poms).

By lunch, with Rogers and Watson scoring confortably at 4 runs an over, Australia had less than 100 runs to go. Henry was therefore required to visit the gallery to see the American exhibition.  Our Paddington host described this as 'disappointing', with only one Hopper, 'not his best' and others similarly mediocre. Henry will be viewing this exhibition with his radio earphones in place, and his opinion may well be influenced by the course of the cricket in what should be the last session of the forth test, score zip-four.

Henry's gift in the kris kringle was Paul Keating's collected bile, correction pronouncements, called After Words. The Post-Prime Ministerial Speeches. I have picked from the first few of these pronouncements three, shall we be generous and say gems, gems in the dark arts of political sledging - (comments in brackets).

* 'The [Howard] government is responsible for the shameless politicisation of the public service' (P 18). {Gor blimey, comrades, what about Labor's (Republican) G-G, stacking the RBA board with labor mates, etc, etc.}

* 'When John Howard famously advertised his wares in the 2001 election, his advertisements said 'We will decide who comes to this country and the circumstances in which they come'. The 'we', of course, was not meant to be all of us but only some of us' (p 25). {Did Mr Keating govern for all Australians? Bob Hawke might credibly have made such a claim, but not PK.}

* 'I have never understood why the Howards and the Blaineys are so defensive. So resistent to novelty and to progress. They are more than conservatives - they are reactionaries' (P 41). {Mr Howard and Professor Blainey 'defensive? Rubbish - Mr Howard was a greatly respected PM and  Professor Blainey must be rated among Australia's deepest and most innovative thinkers.}

I had run out of interest in this partisan drivel at just the time Watto replaced Warner, and immediately set about helping Rogers finish turning the lions of mid-year into the cricketing pussy cats of late 2013. This was no easy hundred, as his fine century was said to be in Perth, but a serious though aggressive contribution to the demolition of the previously unbeatable Poms with the game still in the balance. Rogers batted confidently toward his century, Watto to a half-century until the newly minted centurian-on-Australian-soil-in-tests fell to Monty Panasar for 112 and Captain Clark joined Watto for the last rites.

The sledging of the PPs (now downgraded to HPs) continued after the stumps were collected and taken away.  A fan called the ABC team to opine that Australia was lucky that Captain (James) Cook was not as hapless as Captain (Alastair) Cook, 'or else we'd all be living in Southampton or Antarctica'.

Life can be cruel, gentle readers. Before this series various pommie pundits predicted a five-zip whitewash.

We head to Sydney, where a whitewash seems possible - but if there is one it will be zip-five.

The Pup is already a genius, whatever the result.

Day three at the `G` - the Pup is a genius
Date: Saturday, December 28, 2013
Author: Henry Thornton

The morning headline pointed out that the government's plans might be in disarray if WA requires a new Senate election, the coalition vote having collapsed while that of Labor and the independents having soared since the recent Federal election. Can it really be true that after three short months the voters already prefer Shorten and Milne to Abbott and Hockey?

There was at least better news at the 'G'. Haddin was getting stuck into the PPs, well supported by Lyon.  Ian Chapple was commenting, showing us just why he was such a good leader of the Australian team in his day. 'The bloke at mid-on is waving his arms, the bloke at mid-off is arguing with him about what the bowler should be doing and the captain is at first slip saying nothing'.

Another four to Haddin. Chapple: 'It looks like  there is no-one in charge. Or, if someone is, he hasn't got a clue'. After some splendid batting, Haddin finally lost his wicket for 65 runs leaving Lyon stranded on 18 and Australia within spitting distance of the PPs first inninings score of 250 odd. We learned that Lyon, 18 not out in this innings, is the only player from either side not to get out at some stage of this series.  This means, if Henry recalls the rules, he has the splendid batting average of infinity!

By this vital stage we had arrived to the family Christmas in Strathfield, and a cricket blackout was in place. After kissing all the women (some with more enthusiasm than others) and shaking hands with the blokes, Henry self-medicated with a bottle of crisp white wine. There was a long-lived period of nibbling and drinking while the young lady of the house showered, dried her hair, applied make-up and decided if she was going to grace us with her presence for lunch.

Bert cheered Henry considerably by reporting his smart phone had advised him that the PPs were four down for 60 odd runs, and at that point the TV had to go on.  But first the family Kris Kringle had to be completed, and said daughter left for a wedding (not her own), allowing the rest of us to ingest some food. It was a fine feast, cheered by the regular news that another pommie wicket had fallen cheaply, and then that Lyon had five-for. 

We finally left for our accomodation in Paddington, as Rogers and Warner came out to bat.  Having successfully navigated the final 30 minutes for 30 odd, this leaves Australia with only 201 runs to win the forth test in a row. Seems the colly-wobbles have finally been shaken loose, and tomorrow should prove ...


Day two at the 'G' - Mitch for G-G
Date: Friday, December 27, 2013
Author: Henry Thornton

We arose on day two of the test with the aim of following the cricket on the car radio as we drove northward. The trip started well, with Henry and Mrs T being sledged by Bert and Emily Rose for the choice of the route out of Melbourne, Fortesque having left for Canada to ski with his gf at Whistler in Canada. Gor, blimey, comrades, what has the world come to?.  But the sledging was good natured and the traffic not too bad as we zigged and zagged through Melbourne's northern suburbs, finally joining the Hume Highway somewhere well into the long haul to Goulburn.

Play at the 'G' started almost immediately, and Mitch began to fire. The hapless Tim Bresnan copped the first ball of a new day.  It headed at 145 K/hour, straight toward his throat. With no choice than desperate defence, Breasnan just managed to get his bat in the way of the ball only for it to land safely into the hands of George Bailey. The bloodbath was underway.  Broad survived for a ball (or was it two) until a leg glance for 1 brought Pietersen to face the music.  He backed away to allow himself a big hit, but Mitch saw him going and changed the angle of attack so that the ball followed the English/South African, who only just got out of the way, but it was decidedly inelegant. Pietersen decided it was death or glory, and chose death.  Two balls later his mighty swish missed everything while the ball scattered the stumps.  How we cheered as we passed the third part-hidden cop car for the day at a neat 109 kph.  The inninings was all but over, with another sand-shoe crusher to dismiss Broad (HS 169) to end the parade.

There is a lot of talk that General Cosgrove, AC is to be the next Governor-General.  While we all agreed the General would be a fine occupant of this wondeful sinecure, what about Mitch Johnson, gentle readers? Anyway, as the PPs final batters trudged off, it seemed that Pup had got it right.

The Aussies had, we felt, fielded at less than optimal standard. The batters made us even more certain that there was just a touch of complanency, or excessive christmas cheer, reducing the standard of play. Perhaps Pup should have batted, and kept the PPs on the field for a day and a half. Warner played a lazy shot to go b Anderson, caught Bairstow, 9.  Watto, 'groin' clearly hampering him, poked uncertainly outside the off stump, b, Stokes, c Bairstow, 10. Clarke came in and looked in fine form but left a ball outsife off that took his off stump, b Anderson, 10. Rogers was batting like the anchor man he is, and bravely copped a crack on the helmet that would have sent a lesser man to the sheds. Smith hung about for 77 balls and accumulated 19 runs runs before falling c Bell, b Broad. Bailey hung about for 19 balls before being dismissed c Bairstow, b Anderson for a non-golden duck. Rogers succumbed to Bresnan, c Pieterson for 61 at some stage in the afternoon, a brave effort that should cement his spot in the team for the fifth test. Johnson, Harris and Siddle all went cheaply, leaving Haddin not out 43 and Lyon last man standing.

At the end of day two, Henry and team was at Goulburn, desperately searching for accomodations (Mrs T having said this would be no problem), while it had begun to look as if Pup had blown it. We found the last four unallocated beds in the town and settled our nerves with a cook your ovn steaks at the 'Tattslotto' eatin and drinkin place, highly recommended, incidentally, after a hard day's cricket.

Boxing day at the `G`
Date: Thursday, December 26, 2013
Author: Henry Thornton

For the first time in years, Henry has the opportunity to be the the pinnacle of world sport, watching Australia play the pestiferous Poms (PP) at the Melbourne Cricket Ground (the 'G').

The game is cricket, sadly not footy (AFL-style) which we'd be sure to win.  But, after a major belting in the UK, Australia, correction Mitch Johnson, had beaten the PPs into abject submission at the Gabba in Brisbane, and in Adelaide and Perth.

With Mitch in the finest form of his career, Ryan Harris and Peter Siddle is disciplined support,  Wicket-keeper Haddan consistently, and several other cameo contributions in batting, and all round excellent fielding, the Aussies were unstoppable.

Even 'Watto' was doing ok, with the occasional wicket and a wonderful century to finalise the Perth test, when the PPs were literally on their knees.

Henry is by nature a contrarian.  All the Aussies were being quoted to the effect that they were 'up' for another win at the 'G', with a recent history of limp failure to expunge.

This was, to a contrarian, a sign that the wheels were likley to fall off.  In the most recent 'Saturday Sanity Break', linked here, Henry asked: 'Will the pestiferous poms -  minus Trott and Swan, and who knows who - climb off the mat to deliver a knock-out blow on Boxing day?  Will 'Pup' again win the toss and bat on a splendid batting pitch on day one, and which turns into a mine-field about 30 minutes before tea on day two?  Will rain end Australia's chances of a fourth win? '

But Henry's eldest offspring, Bert, had acquired ticket to day one of the Boxing Day test, and which parent could resist such an opportunity.

We arose early on the big day, dressed, replaced batteries in the small radio with earphones we could both use at the same time, packed the ham sandwiches and christmas cake Mrs T had kindly made, and headed off in the elderlyTerritory. 'Where shall we park?' Henery asked Bert, who was driving. 'At this time in Victoria Street, we can park all day at 80 cents per hour', Bert explained. 'That's why I raided your stash of coins this morning.'

Bert's plan was that Henry would buy breakfast, but the relevant eating places were closed, and Henry was pleased that he had snacked on fruit and yogurt while Bert was showering ealier in the day.

By 10.15 am Bert and Henry had found their seats, high in the member's stand, but right in line with the pitch. (The games in Melbourne and Sydney start at 10.30 am so that the extra time from Pommie bolwer lassitude can be made up without upsetting the 6 pm news.)

Seats were filling quickly, with the crowd in a happy frame of mind and very few PPs to be recognised. The so-called Barmy Army were on the far side of the vast areana, and appeared puzzled when the dusky maiden performed a 'Welcome to Country', then stood for 'God Save the Queen' just as the Aussies stood for 'Advance Australia Fair'.

Captain Clarke won the toss for the forth time in the series, (so much for statistical probabilities, making one suspect he has a double-headed coin or is letting the home side bat first part of the sales maximisation sarategy). He appeared just a tad uncertain and informed the crowd that he had hoped to lose this toss. 'I can't believe I'm doing this, but we'll bowl'. The sky was overcast and there had been a sprinkle of rain as we walked from the parking place to the ground, with forecasts of showers, and perhaps thunderstorms, to come.

For the remainder of the game, the main theme was 'did Pup get it wrong?'.  The wicket, we were told, was a bit moist at first, and would present early challenges, but after that would flatten out and become a belter. Kerrie O'Keefe warmed up his irritating, mindless laugh and then it was game on.

The day turned into a wonderful arm wrestle.  Mitch, Ryan and Peter ran in, bowling in short bursts, keeping to the 'line and length' theme that is said to be the mantra of the bowling coach. Every PP got a start and at lunch the score was something like 71 for one. We ate our ham sandwiches in a reasonably contented manner, debating the pros and cons of Pup's decision to bowl and asking ourselves if Mitch was just a bit jaded.  Bert brought coffee and the clouds began to clear.

The arm wrestle continued after lunch, and the scorecard became depressingly similar. Cook, c Clarke, b Siddle for 27, Carberry, b Watson for 38 (a wonderful dismissal, the ball clipping the off-bail as Carberry shouldered arms), Joe Root, c Haddin, b Harris, 24, Bell, c Haddin, b Harris, 27, Stokes, c Watson, b Johnson, 14, and Bairstow, b Johnson, 10. Only Pietersen held out, helped by dropped catches, including a really tough chance turned into a six when he was only 4, a chance that could if taken have justified Pup's brave decision.

Verdict - Pup's brave call had paid off, especially toward the end of the day when Mitch found his mojo and removed Stokes and Bairstow in terrifying manner

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