Grubby fingers on the scales

For those not normally exercised by the parochial freak show that is Australian politics, “the Morrison government” is a coalition of two parties that pitch themselves as being on the side of free markets and smaller government.

Obviously, as they say in Tasmania, “it’s all relative”.

The Greens are, well, what Greens are the world over; water melons.

The Greens are willing to help the Morrison government pass contentious new laws to make global digital tech giants pay local news media companies for content, but its Senate support will be contingent on the inclusion of both public broadcasters in the mandatory industry code.
Under the proposed laws foreign technology platforms such as Google and Facebook would be forced to pay news companies for use of their articles, share key data and warn them of any changes to their algorithms or face fines of up to 10 per cent of local revenue.

Prima facie, these are curious bedfellows.

Some understanding of the nature of Australian politics is required to make sense of this.

First though, read this sentence and see whether it makes any sense to you:

“There is no reason for the ABC and SBS to be excluded … public broadcasters deserve a fair return for what they produce and what the tech platforms benefit from. If the aim of this code is to ensure the viability of Australia’s media, then the government should ensure ABC is included, that AAP doesn’t fail and that small and independent publishers don’t miss out.”

For the benefit of our overseas readers, the ABC and SBS are government broadcasters. The concept that a government department “deserves” revenue from its competitors in the private sector tells you everything you need to know about Senator Hanson-Young’s understanding of commerce, economics or, indeed, the correct limitations of government.

Obviously, that we’re even talking about taxing one company to pay a competing government department is ridiculous, but the conversation started without anyone challenging the idea of taxing a company to pay for the failings of another.

Why are Facebook, Google, et al going to be clobbered with this potential tax? Because the local Australian media haven’t managed to get a viable subscription service in place to replace their century old paper-based revenue stream.

Did the Pony Express receive tax subsidies from the telegraph once the lines were laid?

Bill’s Opinion

Three things can be correct at the same time; the Australian political landscape can be populated by bedwetting collectivists and crony capitalists, the Australia legacy media can be incompetent and venal AND the big tech companies can be run by utter cunts.

Witness today’s auto-fill suggestions:

And yet:

Going postal

This story is messily complicated, there are many moving parts and, depending on your prior personal views, you can find positives, negatives or justification within it.

My summary follows;

  • A public housing block in Melbourne, mainly populated by immigrants, is under lockdown following a large cluster of the virus.
  • Controversial politician, Pauline Hanson, made anti-immigrant comments as a consequence.
  • She then posted branded cheap items to the residents.
  • Australia Post is relying on her vote to pass a bill in the organisation’s favour.
  • The City of Melbourne prevented the post from being delivered.
  • Australia Post CEO threatened police action as a consequence.

Depending on your view, you might think Hanson is despicable, Australia Post’s CEO is conflicted or The City of Melbourne have over-reached their authority.

Then there’s this; the curfew wasn’t a medical recommendation and wasn’t requested by the police.

At what point do people in Melbourne decide they’ve had enough and what would that look like? Not for a while; Dan the man is doing well in the polls.

Bill’s Opinion

The slippery slope fallacy should be avoided; situations always change and it doesn’t follow that a negative direction will continue forever. However, situations can become very much worse until they correct.

How many more civil liberties will be removed by arbitrary governmental decisions before the push back gains traction?

I don’t know, but it doesn’t look like people have reached the limit of what they will tolerate yet.

Depressing beyond tablets.

Things to do in Stoke Newington

Today’s title refers to an Alexi Sayle line from his 1980s era (when he was funny and radical, rather than boring and radical):

I write for a newspaper called ‘Things to do in Stoke Newington’. You may have seen it; it’s a big sheet of paper with ‘FUCK ALL’ written on it.

Stoke Newington in the 1980s was an utter shithole, replete with slums, gangs, drugs and corrupt police.

The corrupt police are the focus of our interest today. A culture of planting evidence, re-selling seized drugs, racism and heavy-handed policing was exposed by Operation Jackpot in the mid-90s.

Obviously, a healthy distrust of the police by almost everyone in the area was the result of this failure. It remained a limiting feature of Stoke Newington for years.

Perhaps a similar situation is developing before our eyes in Melbourne. Maybe not so much corruption but certainly a frightening willingness of the police to leverage their monopoly on the use of violence to enforce nascent laws, yet to be tested in the law courts or, indeed, the court of public opinion.

The increasing number of videos circulating on social media showing Melbourne police arresting citizens for social media transgressions, standing in their neighbours’ gardens or breaking curfews are redolent of South American juntas, not a democracy with the long precedents of Common Law.

The most worrying aspect is the enthusiasm of the police force for these brand new laws. I may be mistaken, but no senior member of the force has felt it necessary to speak up on the subject of the risk to the relationship between the public and the police by criminalising much of what was considered everyday life 6 months ago.

What can we infer from this silence?

Bill’s Opinion

It’s very subjective but, to me, it seems like the high tide of personal freedoms is far behind us on the rear view mirror.

In fact, the trend that became evident during those halcyon days of The War on Terror, has intensified in 2020.

The Peelian tradition of policing by consent must feel a very ancient and lost concept to my friends in Melbourne.

How do the Victorian Police recover their respect and credibility after this phase? Worse; do they even want to?

The Sydney Morning Herald meme maker

Much outrage abounds today as the Australian left’s chief bogeyman, Tony Abbott, spoke overnight to a UK Parliament Select Committee.

The headline could almost write itself. In fact, it’s not beyond the imagination to see this screenshot being used as a generic meme template.

For example;

Abbott says water is wet

Or

Abbott claims night is dark

The actual headline was, “Abbott criticises Victoria’s lockdown“. Actually, better still, it had the qualifier, “Former PM“, presumably to remind us all that there have been two more Prime Ministers since he was fired (the office of Australian Prime Minister being a very temporary appointment, rather similar to jury service).

Anyway, after sifting through what Abbott said, the activists at the SMH decided the most egregious thing was something along the lines of, after we’ve experienced 6 months of economic destruction and the concomitant social and human cost that incurs, perhaps we might consider the possibility that the old and seriously ill should be allowed to take their chances against viruses while the rest of us get back to being productive, educating children, having lives with rich experiences and continuing the economic progress and global trade that has lifted billions out of extreme poverty in the last 50 years?

Or, as the SMH translates it; “let granny die“.

Let’s have a moment’s silence for the death of nuance and reasonable good faith debate, shall we?

Bill’s Opinion

Aaaand we’re back.

In the meantime, the news you won’t find on the pages of the SMH is this report from the USA’s Center for Disease Control (I’ve linked to the “fact check” version, to “steelman” what I’m about to claim).

The report confirms 94% of the deaths attributed to Kung Flu in the USA had at least one co-morbidity.

So, millions of otherwise healthy people are being subject to draconian restrictions to their life to avoid a disease that would be extremely unlikely to kill them. Shouldn’t they be given the choice?

When the facts change

“……I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”.

If not for Kung Flu, we’d have spent last week skiing down this slope and its neighbours:

That photo was from today via the webcam here.

At this time of year, there’s usually about a metre of snow where you can see grass.

Interesting. Shocking, actually.

The trap to avoid here is falling into the confirmation bias fallacy.

There’s several possible explanations that may be all playing a part.

1. Climate change. So much, in fact, that over a metre of snow hasn’t arrived compared to last year. We’re definitely into Al Gore/Saint Greta territory, if so.

2. It’s a cyclical bad snow season. Again, though, so bad that a metre’s worth hasn’t fallen? Sceptical.

3. Something else.

Bill’s Opinion

A little research suggests option 3 carries most of the blame: the resort manufactures most of the snow for the ski season (via those red machines in the picture). Because the resort is in Victoriazuela, Chairman Dan has shut it down for the season. That’s what the slopes look like without the machines running every night.

I’m actually shocked by this; I’d always assumed the machines topped up a pre-existing base level of snow, but certainly weren’t responsible for layering a metre of depth onto the slopes.

I don’t have the subject matter expertise to calculate this but it would be fascinating to learn what the emissions per skier are to make all this snow compared to, say, flying that skier to a natural snow field in New Zealand or Japan?

If a politician were genuinely concerned about climate change, that’s the sort of data they’d be seeking to publish to enable people to make the correct environmental choice.

Reprinting government press releases

Otherwise known as “the New Zealand news media“.

It’s long been an axiom that no sports journalist in New Zealand ever bothers submitting copy critical of the All Blacks unless they’ve already signed a long term contact of employment overseas.

It would seem that self-censorship now extends to the political and current affairs desks in the various broadcast and print outlets in the shaky isles.

For 6 months now, Jacinda Adern has spared no public expense to pursue a policy of total eradication of the Kung Flu. “Envy of the world“, the headlines proclaim.

Thats fair enough, there are indeed many jealous eyes upon New Zealand at present.

However, there are also those who question whether it’s the smartest long term strategy to try to completely avoid a virus that has now infected 20 million people around the world when the price the country pays is to be unable to return to normal travel and trade until a yet to be developed vaccine has been rolled out?

You may agree with the Kiwi strategy and that’s fine, but are you not curious about the other side of the debate?

By which I mean not what is the other side of the debate, but where is the other side of the debate?

There’s plenty of gushing articles like this one by John Weekes, Senior Journalist and Crime Reporter, where he quotes “experts” who confirm the current policy is the best.

There are many holes that can be picked in the statements made in the article, each data point could be challenged with credible published information from other countries. But, for reasons know to himself and his editor, John hasn’t.

Why?

Bill’s Opinion

Of course, you don’t have to share my opinion on the efficacy of Jacinda Adern’s policies, but surely you must share my curiosity of the situation where nobody in the New Zealand media questions it?

2020 has shown us many things, some of which we’ve subconsciously known for a long time.

One such example is the fact that the news media is no longer fit for purpose. Perhaps it never was.

We’ve learned definitively that the media is staffed by a mixture of political activists and people with no training in critical thinking or understanding of data.

The sooner the anachronism that is the news media is buried, the happier and better informed we’ll all be.

We’re gonna need a bigger spreadsheet

The first subject we wrote about on this organ was the difficult question of reparations for slavery.

When we speak about slavery, we are of course talking of the Atlantic trade from West Africa to the Americas, rather than the huge Arab slave trade from East Africa or any other versions of this heinous and ancient practice.

Why? Because they don’t count, obviously.

Our conclusion was, like all crimes, there should be a statue of limitations for crimes against humanity, specifically, when all parties have died.

In addition, we stated the “to who, from whom?” question is a puzzle that is beyond human comprehension.

To prove this point, let’s welcome Kamala Harris as the Vice Presidential nominee for the Democrat Party.

What’s the problem with this female person of colour, surely this nomination should be perfect for the identity politics of 2020?

Well, to quote Steve Sailer:

An interesting question is how long until an American political party nominates on its national ticket somebody descended from American slaves. So far they just nominate the children of foreign grad students.

The point being, Harris is half Indian, half Jamaican. So, similar to Barack Obama, she has the correct skin tone but doesn’t share the heritage of the vast majority of Americans with that skin tone.

Actually, it’s a little worse than that….

Kamala’s Great Great Great Grandad owned 200+ slaves. No, seriously.

All right then people who believe reparations are going to be workable, please explain how the millionaire, Senator and Vice President hopeful has been disadvantaged by systemic racism and, once you’ve finished doing that, please describe the algorithm used to calculate how much money she owes to herself as reparations?

Bill’s Opinion

Maybe we want to live in a world where the crimes of the father aren’t passed on to the children?

Radical thought, but the alternative doesn’t feel like it will end well for anyone.

Answers on a postcard, please

During a period of record unemployment, particularly among the young and low skilled, it feels like there might have been an alternate solution to this problem:

Bill’s Opinion

Presumably, that increased demand has a concomitant revenue increase?

So, unless Australia Post are running metropolitan domestic deliveries at a loss, surely the obvious response would be to hire a lot of temporary workers to walk the streets, pushing those red trollies, delivering letters and parcels?

Of course, one the reasons this hasn’t happened is because Australia Post is staffed with somnambulant and low IQ civil servants (yes, I know it’s been privatised, but the workforce and management hasn’t radically changed).

“Catastrophic” means something else in Kiwi-ese

Four (4) people have Kung Flu in New Zealand. That’s “catastrophic”, apparently.

Well, I suppose it is if you’ve decided that the correct public health response to a disease with a infection fatality rate as low as 0.2% (or a middle of the range seasonal flu) is to try to prevent anyone from catching it ever.

Perhaps New Zealand really does have a “catastrophic” problem, but not the one Saint Jacinda thinks.

To put it in terms Kiwis will understand; imagine if the All Blacks defensive line was solid, except for Beauden Barrett. Instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with his team just behind the offside line, he’d sprinted ahead and was standing under the opposition posts, completely out of the game, leaving a gap for the opposition to run at.

As admirable as it might be to be close to completely eliminating the disease from your shores, it does leave the slightly awkward question unanswered; when can you ever return to normal?

Bill’s Opinion

As the rest of the world starts to reopen their economies and commence the long and painful road to recovery, New Zealand (and to a lesser extent, Australia) is likely to be facing an extremely lengthy period of reduced GDP as incoming international tourism and any international trade requiring travel is impracticable.

Ten out of ten for saving people from the virus, Jacinda, but about minus a billion out of ten for screwing your daughter’s generation’s economic well-being.

Take your medicine, proles

Critical thinking is such an overrated and redundant skill. They’ve clearly phased it out at Notre Dame University, Australia, as this fisk demonstrates:

Our best hope for ending the COVID-19 pandemic is a safe and effective vaccine, but faced with polls suggesting a large number of people will refuse to be immunised, governments must consider making it mandatory.

Our best hope?

Epidemiologist Martin Kuldorff suggests herd immunity is the most likely scenario ($ subscription required), either by accepting the young will get it or by eventually finding a vaccine. He’s sceptical a vaccine will be found any time soon though.

It’s not just card-carrying anti-vaxxers that will refuse. Surveys in the United States and France indicate about one in four adults would refuse a vaccine, and one in six in Britain.

Let’s give Chesterton’s Fence another run out. It’s incumbent on the supporters of a yet to be developed vaccine to prove its usefulness and safety.

Maybe survey the “anti-vaxxers” again at that point?

Given the incredibly high costs of unnecessarily extending the COVID-19 crisis, it seems reasonable to consider whether governments should make vaccinations mandatory. In recent months, we have come to accept extraordinary government restrictions that would ordinarily be unconscionable in liberal democracies. If you think − as most of us do − that these constraints are an acceptable price to pay to help curb the pandemic’s damage, then a mandatory vaccination policy deserves serious consideration.

Most of us?

DeTocqueville’s tyranny of the majority, much?

This proposal might strike you as outrageous, but it’s not without precedent. In 1905, inhabitants of Cambridge, Massachusetts were required to be vaccinated against smallpox. Only last year, New York City required anyone over six months of age (in certain parts of the city) to be vaccinated against measles. Since March this year, Germany has required all parents to have their children vaccinated against measles. In all these cases, if an individual were to refuse they would be fined.

By 1905, the smallpox vaccine was over a hundred years old and it was clear what the benefits vs side effects were.

Not quite the same as a yet to be developed vaccine, is it?

Although lockdown conditions reduce your wellbeing, the personal benefits ultimately outweigh the personal costs. If you accept this, then you should also accept mandatory vaccinations, since your chances of being infected will lower dramatically if the vaccine has wide and quick uptake.

The personal benefits ultimately outweigh the personal costs.

That’s a bold statement of fact with absolutely no supporting evidence. It’s also probably about two to three years too early to be certain; have you counted the cost of undetected cancers, for example?

According to a more altruistic justification, a lockdown, and all its associated costs, is acceptable because we have a moral obligation to put others’ wellbeing ahead of our own − especially when the threat to others is as serious as death and the costs to oneself are much smaller. If you accept this, then you should also accept mandatory vaccinations.

Non sequitur.

Giving up one’s freedom to choose whether to be vaccinated is just another way of making a relatively small sacrifice from one’s stock of personal liberties out of altruistic concern for others.

Mandatory vaccinations aren’t exactly “giving up” freedom, more taking it. Nice flip of language, though.

All vaccinations carry some risk and these might be higher in the case of a quickly developed vaccine for a novel virus. But a mandatory vaccine policy can manage such risks sensibly, for instance by allowing exemptions for high-risk individuals. Once we do this, it’s not obvious that mandatory vaccinations run a greater risk of unintentional harm than lockdown, factoring in the long-lasting economic, social, domestic, and psychological consequences of lockdowns.

Who gets to decide? It doesn’t sound like those high-risk individuals get to choose.

Were such a policy to be implemented, we would need to think carefully about how to respond to citizens who outright refuse to comply. But this problem faces mandatory lockdown policies, too, and has proved surmountable.

As with lockdown, some uses of state force are acceptable − such as fines − and some are unacceptable − such as welding doors shut. As with lockdown, some exemptions are appropriate, perhaps for individuals who have serious moral objections to the ingredients or manufacturing conditions of a vaccine.

And there we have it. It’s a call to use the State’s monopoly on violence for the author’s preferred strategy.

Were entire communities to refuse a vaccine, as may occur in places such as Mullumbimby with a high concentration of anti-vaxxers, it may be appropriate to have more stringent social restrictions in place for a time in these communities.

It may sound draconian, but a mandatory vaccination policy enjoys solid prudential and moral justification. And it may be our only way of ending the COVID-19 crisis.

It may sound draconian.

Ya reckon? Forcing people to accept a vaccination yet to be developed rushed through in record time without the benefit of the full due diligence normally undertaken to ensure the cure isn’t worse than the disease; draconian? Yeah, just a teeny bit.

Tim Smartt is a lecturer in moral philosophy at the Institute for Ethics and Society, University of Notre Dame Australia.

I’m guessing logical fallacies aren’t on the curriculum he teaches.

Bill’s Opinion

I’m not an anti-vaxxer. I’m also not in a hurry to be injected with any substance that hasn’t had the benefit of the massive due diligence, testing and peer review processes every other vaccine is subject to before being approved for use.

Despite what a lecturer in ethics at a 3rd rate regional university might say, perhaps a little medical evidence might be the more appropriate guide on how to proceed.