NIS Again: SA’s Interconnector

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I coined the phrase ‘Numeric Incompetence Syndrome’ a while back, and yesterday an article in my local newspaper delivered another glaring example. In summary…

South Australia’s connection to the national electrical grid is to be enhanced with a new 900km interconnector to New South Wales and Victoria. The capital cost is expected to be $1.53 billion. The article states: “To cover that, households would pay $9 a year in SA and $5 in NSW.”

Assuming an average household size of 2.7 persons (as in 2016 nationally), there are about 0.65 million households in SA and 3.11 million in NSW. So the total annual amount recovered from households would be ($9 x 0.65M) + ($5 x 3.11M) = $21.4 million. Even allowing for future population growth, this comes nowhere near “covering” an investment of $1.53 billion: to amortise such a sum over a 20-year life at a discount rate of 5%pa would cost $123 million per year, before considering any maintenance costs. So that’s error No.1.

The article goes on to say, “[ElectraNet] estimates the project would deliver overall benefits of $924 million over 20 years…” but adds that “the Australian Energy Regulator … has downsized the project’s 20-year benefit to $269 million.”

Who, in their right mind, would invest $1.53 billion in something that will deliver benefits of only $924 million over 20 years?! How can any sub-editor not see that this cannot be true?! Perhaps the word “net” was omitted, but surely “overall” was inserted to make clear that the writer means gross benefits.

My stroppiness is going off the scale. Journalism is not just about regurgitating people’s press releases; it has to involve some critical thought, some fact-checking, some exercise of common sense for heaven’s sake!

I have emailed the Editor of the newspaper with a link to this post and an invitation to respond and/or to publish a correction.

This Year’s Stroppy

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We had some strong nominations this year, but after much internal debate the Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle goes to … drum roll … Ram Charan and Julia Yang, authors of a new book called ‘The Amazon Management System’, published by Ideapress Publishing and available… well, in most places where you’d look for a book these days. My old friend Ron Allan, who made the nomination, selected the following gem:

“Moreover, transparency of such ultra-detailed, end-to-end (cross-silo and cross-layer) real-time and inputs-oriented data and metrics makes the usual uphill battle for cross-functional collaboration much easier.”

With management advice like this, who needs saboteurs? Thanks to Ron, and congratulations to Ram and Julia.

Oh, and the picture is a visual pun on ‘Amazon’, not an intended likeness of anyone either living, dead, extinct or mythical..

Pride

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No-one is greater than Greta;
Humanity should fête her.
Tho’ belittled and trolled
She’s outspoken and bold –
If I were younger I’d date her.

Even without the photo you’d know which Greta I was talking about, wouldn’t you? Greta Thunberg has joined the small group of people for whom a single name is sufficient: Donald, Gandhi, Madonna, Mao, Meghan and the rest.

The reason I’m featured Miss Thunberg is that I heard her father interviewed on ABC radio the other day. The interviewer’s final question was “Are you proud of your daughter?” He answered “No,” having already explained that he and his wife had tried hard to dissuade Greta from becoming an activist for a cause they initially had little interest in.

It made me think about the word ‘proud’ and its derivatives. I remember as a child being told that I should be proud of my school uniform, and wondering why, since I’d had no hand in its design or manufacture. Moreover, I knew that pride came before a fall and in Religious Instruction I’d been taught that pride was altogether a Bad Thing. Even without knowing what ‘contumely’ meant, I got that Hamlet was not keen on proud men.

Of course it’s natural to feel pride in one’s own achievements – coming top of the class, winning a prize, scoring a goal – even though prophets, psalmists, apostles and Shakespeare are united in disapproval. But how can one possibly be proud of something that one has made no contribution to? How can I be proud that a person or persons unknown have won a match, or confronted a terrorist, or put out a fire?

I suppose a parent can feel pride in having brought up a child who does something good, and perhaps that’s what the ABC’s interviewer had in mind. But evidently Mr Thunberg believes that Greta did it all by herself; indeed, she did it despite her parents’ efforts to stop her. Good for him for giving an honest answer.

Or perhaps ‘proud’ and ‘pride’ are ambiguous words that mean different things to different people. ‘Respect’ is certainly such a word, and I’ve made a mental note to post something about that too.

While we’re on the subject of language, don’t forget that the announcement of this year’s Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Twaddle (aka ‘the Stroppy’) will be made on 17 January. Get your nomination in now! Deadline: 2359 hours GMT, Thursday 16 January.

English Language in Peril?

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Regular readers know that I get stroppy over what I perceive to be degradation of the English language. I’ve ranted over the disappearance of ‘whom’; the substitutability of ‘I’ and ‘me’; and the use of ‘bacteria’, ‘data’ and ‘phenomena’ as though they are singular nouns. Mrs SG gets equally stroppy when she hears someone pronounce the letter ‘H’ as ‘haitch’.

But I’ve just read an article by David Shariatmadari in the admirable Guardian Weekly, pointing out that the language has always been a work-in-progress and many of today’s spellings and usages would have been considered quite wrong only a couple of hundred years ago. Mr Shariatmadari mentions that ‘an apron’ evolved from ‘a napron’ and ‘horse’ used to be ‘hros’. He considers people like me to be pedants.

To an extent I accept what he says. After all, I never use ‘thou’, ‘thee’ or ‘thy’ unless I’m on stage; or ‘hast’, ‘hath’ or ‘dost’ for that matter. Perhaps I am prejudiced against people who seem to misuse the language out of ignorance or laziness, or as a deliberate ploy to avoid precision, or in the act of hijacking a word (such as ‘gay’, ‘community’ or ‘like’) for their own ends. But dammit we must have some rules! If everyone thinks they can repurpose words and make up meanings at will, the result can only be miscommunication.

Home-Grown Fruit and Stroppy 2019

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Nectarines

Today’s my birthday and therefore the day to announce the winner of this year’s Stroppy. But first I make will make another announcement: Mrs SG and I have harvested our nectarine crop! It amounted to 7.2kg after cutting off the rotten bits. St Bernard’s Market is selling yellow nectarines A$2.99/kg at the moment, giving our crop a retail value of A$21.50. Mrs SG wondered aloud whether that would cover the cost of watering the tree for a year.

I was reminded of an email circulated recently by my old friend Ron Allan. It was a picture of lots of tomatoes with the caption “Growing your own tomatoes is the best way to devote 3 months of your life to saving $2.17.” Well, Ron, even if that’s US$2.17, we did much better than that!

That curtain-raiser is little more than an excuse to display a colourful picture of our nectarines. Now to the main business. The winner of the 2019 Stroppy Award for Meaningless Drivel is … drumroll … the South Australian Academic Health Science and Translation Centre, for this passage from a report to the state government agency SA Health:

“What we can deduce from our work is that it is possible to generate a narrative around the experience of multiple stakeholders, going through a large-scale system change, in ways that both acknowledge the limitations of the data but support the emerging themes from the data, and from other (realist) literature reviews.”

A worthy winner! Thanks are due to Brad Crouch, the Advertiser’s Medical Reporter, who drew this to my attention.

Stroppy 2019

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“. . . here will be an old abusing of God’s patience and the king’s English.” The Merry Wives of Windsor, Act I Scene IV

A reminder . . . The next Stroppy Git Award for Meaningless Drivel (aka The Stroppy) will be awarded on 17 January 2019. Nominations will close at 2359 UTC/GMT on Sunday 13 January.

The English language is under unrelenting attack from those whose ends are served by ambiguity and the re-purposing of words – and from an army of the ignorant and lazy, it must be said. The word ‘whom’ has all but disappeared. ‘I’ and ‘me’ are becoming interchangeable. ‘Phenomena’ and ‘bacteria’ are following ‘data’ on a slide towards singularity as their parents ‘phenomenon‘ and ‘bacterium’ look on helplessly, aghast at the prospect of their own demise.

The award each January of The Stroppy is an attempt to use public ridicule as a weapon in defence of linguistic rigour. Feel free to join this noble cause by submitting a nomination.

Foot-In-Mouth Syndrome

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An Australian federal politician, Fraser Anning, has just made his maiden speech in the Senate, in which he called for a return to the White Australia Policy and a ban on Muslim immigration. Just to make sure he had everyone offside he talked of this being the ‘final solution’.

When it was pointed out to him that the very phrase ‘final solution’ was indissolubly linked in everyone’s mind to Hitler, Nazism and the attempted annihilation of Jews, gypsies, homosexuals and other undesirables, he said his words were taken out of context.

Either he doesn’t know what the ‘final solution’ is in historical terms, in which case he may be considered too ignorant to be a useful member of the legislature; or he’s too lacking in sensitivity, political savvy and common sense to be a useful member of the legislature. Either way . . .

Mind you, Mr Anning is not alone in his choice of infelicitous words. How often, even now, do we hear politicians and activists claiming to be on a ‘crusade’?

Yes, I know, in in our nice liberal secular democracies the word ‘crusade’ just means a passionately executed campaign – nothing to do with the repeated Christian assaults on the so-called Holy Land in the 11th, 12th and 13th centuries. But to a great many Muslims, even today and even in educated circles, the word is still burdened with its original meaning. Its casual use only confirms the suspicion that The West has hostile intent towards Islam and its followers.