Lifting the veil on the narrative

Consider this tragic story of prejudice and bigotry:

The mood after the race was jubilant. Sixteen-year-old Noor Alexandria Abukaram, who had just run her best time yet, hugged her high school teammates as they realised they were headed to regionals.

So far, so inspiring.

Then the students went to check their individual times at last Saturday’s Ohio cross-country meeting, Abukaram remembers. It seemed there was a mistake – her 22 minutes 22 seconds was not listed.

Oh no! Why not?

Other team members who’d sat out Abukaram’s race told her what they’d heard: an official at the Ohio High School Athletic Association approached their coach just before the race to say Abukaram needed a waiver to wear her hijab. Without it, she couldn’t compete.

That’s awful. Imagine thinking you’d competed and won fairly only to discover an obscure rule you’d never known previously had disqualified you.

Abukaram had never experienced this type of bureaucratic nonsense over religious clothing before, after all.

Abukaram says she’s watched her older sister come home crying from soccer games, after being told to change out of religious garb like the long pants she wears in addition to a headscarf.

Oh, that’s awkward.

The article then mentions a different, elite-level, athlete with similar problems:

Ibtihaj Muhammad, the first US athlete to compete in the Olympics with a hijab, has described sticking out uncomfortably at competitions and being asked to remove her headscarf for an event ID photo.

Well, unless everyone is forced to wear a headscarf, then I suppose she would look different, wouldn’t she?

As for ID photos requiring an unrestricted image of the competing athlete, I’m sure someone with even the mildest ability to hypothesise could think of how waiving that rule might result in a bad result.

Back to Abukaram’s tragic case. What say the athletics event organisers?

The Ohio High School Athletic Association says it wasn’t singling out Abukaram last weekend, just enforcing its rules. Students need a waiver to run cross-country in “religious headwear”, spokesman Tim Stried told The New York Times, and Abukaram’s school had not requested one.

Well, they would say that, wouldn’t they, the bigots.

Abukaram’s request after Saturday’s race was approved “immediately”, Stried said. That means Abukaram can run this weekend in regionals.

Oh.

For Abukaram, the decision to strike her time was still hurtful. She wants the waiver requirement dropped – something OHSAA is now considering, Stried told the Times.

Quite right too. Everyone should be forced to change because of one person’s inability to ask for a waiver….which was granted immediately when requested.

Bills Opinion

Crybully is an interesting noun which explains much of what we see in cases involving participants in “The Oppression Olympics”.

In the entire article linked above, and the countless clones of it available via a Google search, the word “why” is conspicuously missing.

As in, “why does the Ohio High School Athletic Association ban head coverings unless agreed in advance?

I can’t find the reasons on the association’s website, mainly because the bylaws and general rules pages have been removed. Interestingly, they are proud enough of their transgender policy to leave that up (spoiler alert; it’s a fudge, like Cricket Australia’s).

We’ll have to speculate then.

I imagine the rule was made because, unless they legislated for every possible religious headgear, they had to reserve the right to review each individual case and not be unreasonable in granting the waivers.

How might a general rule allowing headgear be abused?

Well, we could ask why cyclists wear this type of helmet, for example:

Then there might be reasons of safety; headphones are banned because its restricts competitors’ ability to be aware of other runners.

It seems reasonable, therefore, to check each proposed headgear before a race.

But, claiming victim status and throwing accusations of bigotry is rewarded because incentives matter.

Word of the day; kayfabe

Perhaps there never was a time where we could really trust the news media to present straight facts without an agenda, but in these days of interconnectedness, we can immediately test the integrity of our journalist class for ourselves.

This story in the ever declining Sydney Morning Herald is an interesting case in point. Some facts are presented but an agenda is subtley slipped in:

New York: Chaotic scenes have broken out in Washington as Republican politicians stormed a restricted area on Capitol Hill, disrupting the impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

So far, factual reporting.

The “sit in” by around 20 Republican members of Congress delayed planned testimony on Wednesday local time (Thursday AEDT) from a senior Pentagon official responsible for Ukraine policy.

Deputy Assistant Secretary of Defence Laura Cooper was due to speak in a closed-door session at 10am local time. But four hours later the Republican protest was still underway and the hearings had not started.

All of the Republicans eventually left by 3pm.

The Republicans, who chanted “Let us in! Let us in!”, refused orders to leave and had pizza delivered to the secure, underground area of the Capitol to sustain them during the action.

Some brought phones into the area, which is strictly forbidden.

Still factual. This is what we want from our news media.

But here comes the “problematic” part (underlining, mine):

The protest followed damning testimony the previous day by the top US diplomat in Ukraine, William Taylor.

“Damning” why? By whose standard?

We are offered this next paragraph by way of explanation:

He said the Trump administration had endangered Ukrainian lives by withholding $US$391 million ($571 million) in military aid to pressure the country to announce an investigation into Trump’s potential 2020 Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Do you know who else withheld military aid to the Ukraine?

Vice President Joe Biden.

The remainder of the article continues to report facts about the “sit in”, none of which are particularly interesting.

There’s this footnote, however:

The closed door hearings are aimed at deterring witnesses from co-ordinating their testimony and to discourage grandstanding by members of the committee.

Much of the most dramatic testimony, however, is quickly leaked to the press.

Bills Opinion

The main and only piece of information that matters in the entire story is whether anything material has been revealed to confirm the Democrats’ claim of illegal behaviour by Trump.

That we are offered nothing but a description of a standard operating procedure of the Office of President when dealing with foreign powers (temporarily delaying transfers of aid), suggests we are dealing with a big nothingburger (as our ex-colonial cousins might say).

That the reporter couldn’t bring himself to mention the known fact that Biden did the same thing to the same country when he was in office, tells us everything we need to know about the reporter’s motivation.

Today’s word of the day is kayfabe.

Peter Hannam isn’t even trying now

Anyone who has worked in a job where the presentation of data is an important factor, such as manufacturing, finance, IT, HR, retail, government, education, etc., will know that there are several underhand tricks one can play to persuade the viewer of the opinion you’re trying to sell.

Canny observers are sensitive to these and quickly challenge the presenter or, in sales situations where they have an alternative, simply dismiss the sales pitch and move to a more truthful competitor.

Consider then, this latest chart crime from Peter “weather is climate” Hannam in the ever-declining organ, the Sydney Morning Herald.

If you’ve never seen a graph before, the fact that this one is showing the Indian Ocean Dipole ratio trending above 2.0 for the first time ever may send you off into a public mental decline á la Mx. Thunberg.

Everyone else with a brain looks at the X-axis and immediately asks themselves two questions;

  1. What happened in all the years before 2015? and,
  2. What is Peter Hannan’s agenda for not showing it to us?

Hannam can’t quite bring himself to completely lie by omission though, so leaves a clue in the article (highlighting mine):

Scientists caution that reliable observation data only goes back a couple of decades but it is clear this year’s positive-IOD is already one of the strongest of record. So-called “reanalysis” using a combination of observations and modelling suggests the event is also notable over the past 150 years.

After warming us up with that seemingly benign statement explaining that we’ve got about 20 years of observations and then just modelled the rest using a completely un-disprovable simulation, he then goes on to show us the “missing” part of the chart:

Tip for new chart readers; that small print below the graph, explaining the data collection method is where the real news lies (pun intended).

Then comes the obligatory explanations of the data by scientists paid to research the subject of which we are being persuaded is important:

While researchers are yet to settle on how much of a role climate change is already playing in big El Ninos or IODs, “we’re seeing extreme events become more common”, Abram says.

Go on then, define “extreme” and “more common”. We’ll wait….

England says that while IODs can act independently of the Pacific, the connections remain important. For instance, the so-called Indonesian Throughflow – where warm water from the Pacific funnels its way to the Indian Ocean – could change.

…and if my mother had wheels we could use her as wheelbarrow.

“The predictions are for that to weaken,” he says. “If it does, that would be a double whammy of more El Ninos plus more positive-IODs.”

The potentially huge consequences from such complex interactions are a reminder that researchers can’t rest.

Those poor researchers, unable to rest. Thank goodness there’s an infinite supply of tax-slaves to fund their unending Heraklean endeavours.

Bill’s Opinion

In all areas of life, beware of people brandishing suspicious charts. Question not only the data collection methodology but the start and end points of both the x and y axis and whether or not a logarithmic scale is more appropriate.

After all, I might have presented the x axis of this chart completing at Day 99 instead of 100:

Image result for happiness of a turkey chart

One of the scientists offered this word salad in the interview:

“We are perturbing the atmosphere in a profound way with greenhouse gases,” England says. “How this changes our modes of variability is uncertain.”

There’s a key point being made here; the driving forces resulting in the Indian Ocean Dipole ratio over the last 100 years and into the future are, wait for it, multi-variable, as in an almost infinite number of variables.

Anyone claims to be able to accurately predict, or even directionally-predict a multi-variable equation such as the ratio of sea temperatures between the western and eastern sides of an ocean is either a fool or a knave.

Peter Hannam has enough of a back catalogue of presenting this sort of mendacity as fact that we feel certain his motivation is to lie to us to push forward a personal agenda.

J’accuse, Peter Hannam. You are a liar.

On Extinction Rebellion and other doomsday cults

With the news this week of a family of cloggy Kaas Kops living in the basement of a farm for nine years waiting for the end of the world, perhaps we can poke some fun at the various Bedlamites living amongst us.

There’s plenty of examples to point at, they’ve been around for as long as humans have been around.

Millenarianism and apocalypticism are versions of this and students of history will pluck examples from thousands of years ago in all corners of the globe through to the present day.

Let’s start with the infamous Manson “family”.

Their beliefs were that Charles Manson was the reincarnation of Jesus and there was a forthcoming race war. The cult ended with the Waverley Drive murders, internecine murders and the trial and conviction of Manson.

Except it didn’t; murders were still committed by the “family” until the mid-70s. The cult members really had drunk deep from the well of Manson’s Kool-Aid.

Speaking of Kool-Aid, next we have the Reverend Jim Jones. For his first couple of decades of adult life, he led various churches which had increasingly cult-like qualities. The beliefs he promulgated were a mixture of socialism, nuclear apocalyptic prophesies and, eventually “transition” to another planet after suicide.

As investigations began to close in on his activities, he took nearly a thousand followers to “Jonestown” in Guyana and eventually persuaded many to commit suicide by ingesting cyanide mixed in the aforementioned Kool-Aid (where the expression “drinking the Kool-Aid” originates) or murder each other, including the children. Jones shot himself.

Over in Japan, Aum Shinryko was established by Shoko Ashara. The YouTuber Count Dankula has an amusing video on this group here, which is well worth a viewing.

Their beliefs were a hotchpotch of Buddhism, Hinduism and Shintoism with a spicy nuclear apocalyptic theme.

After a long history of extortion, violence and murders, they released the nerve gas, sarin, on the Tokyo underground with devastating effects.

Shoko was eventually hanged in 2018.

An interesting fact about the death penalty in Japan is that, once convicted, you aren’t given a date of when the execution will occur. You go to bed every night unsure if this is your last. If you’re still in your cell about an hour after breakfast, chances are you’ve got another day on the planet.

I can’t work out whether I think that’s “cruel and unusual punishment” or fitting for the crime.

Our next cult is the comet-hopping Heaven’s Gate. According to Wikipedia, they were/are (there’s still a couple of them around, apparently) a “UFO religious, New religious movement”, which as classifications go, surely can’t be a particularly large club.

Their belief system was based on the premise that the planet would be wiped clean and they had to leave to avoid being caught up in this global spring clean.

Have a read of their Wiki page and chuckle at how the beliefs had to be modified based on the inconvenient evidence of one of their key members dying rather than hitching a ride on a spaceship.

This change of belief resulted in a mass suicide to coincide with the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet. The mass suicide was preceded by 8 of them voluntarily castrating themselves in 1997.

Bill’s Opinion

It’s probably fine if your religious belief involves an unprovable premise. After all, a synonym of that might be “hypothesis”.

However, if your religious belief requires you to murder others, mutilate the genitals of children or commit suicide, consider the possibility you’ve drunk the modern equivalent of Jim Jones’ Kool-Aid.

There seems to have been a bit of a theme running through all these cults where they are reacting to a catastrophic threat, be it religious, nuclear or alien, resulting in escalating extreme actions by the adherents.

So, all that said, what might history make of those crazy kids at Extinction Rebellion and the Swedish Cabbage Patch Doll, Greta Thunberg?

And whose fault do we think it might be that they have managed to wind themselves up into such a frenzy of fear?

History suggests one possible destination for some of the more gullible members.

The age of Rorschach tests

This is an example of a Rorschach Test image:

Related image

In the movies, psychiatrists show their patients these and try to seek meaning in the answer to the question, “tell me what you see?”.

For the record, in this example I see Lord Lucan recreating the Marty McFly guitar solo part during the cover of Johnny B Goode in the film Easy Rider while Edward G Robinson waves a declaration of cooperation next to an airplane that had recently landed from his meeting with Chancellor Dido.

Some people see a butterfly.

I digress.

These strange situations where people report wildly different experiences when seeing or hearing the same situation are not as rare as one might think.

Recall the “viral” dress that was either blue and black or white and gold?

It’s not limited to visual experiences; here’s “yanni or laurel”.

It’s unsurprising then, to find these differences between our perception of reality elsewhere in life. Some examples we can find by simply watching the news;

– Some people believe there are only two genders and this situation is fixed by the facts of biology. On the other hand, some people believe there are more than two genders and a person can choose to transition between them with the help of surgery and hormones or simply by stating it verbally.

– Some people think it’s highly unlikely an individual or group of individuals can collect and analyse enough data to successfully manage to a national economy. Some other people disagree with this, despite 200 million dead bodies in the ground during the 20th century, and are certain the best three people to undertake this task are called Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott.

Perhaps the pinnacle of this phenomenon of people having wildly divergent views of the same situation are the reactions to Donald Trump’s presidency.

The British have an expression that describes the differing reactions to Trump; like marmite.

Marmite is a salty yeast extract paste (similar to Vegemite in Australia). Nobody is ambivalent about its taste, you either love it or would rather chew your own fingernails off than eat it. A fact the marketing department used to their advantage a few years ago.

Similarly, I’ve yet to meet an American who metaphorically shrugs their shoulders and suggests Trump is neither terrible or the second coming of the Messiah.

Recently, I had a coffee with an American acquaintance and, towards the end of the meeting, she made a comment about how insane her home country was currently under the evil President.

Being an argumentative bugger, I thought I’d probe this opinion further, “ok, I’m not saying you’re wrong, but can you give me your three strongest reasons to persuade me he’s worse than any other previous president?

In order, here they are and the counter points I offered:

  1. He said the Nazis who murdered a woman in Charlottesville were “fine people”. – no, he didn’t. CNN selectivity edited the quote.
  2. He paid off a woman he had extra-marital sex with before he was president. – is that worse than getting the most junior staff member to give him oral sex in the Oval Office?
  3. He’s a dangerous warmonger. – perhaps, but pulling troops out of several current theatres of war and declining the option to bomb Iran suggests otherwise. He’s also running far behind the rate set by Obama.
  4. (She offered a 4th) He’s separating families at the Mexican border. – This has been policy for years and occurs until it can be ascertained the children are actually related to the adults and aren’t kidnapping victims.

Bills Opinion

It’s a difficult task to find a person who can express a nuanced view on President Trump, a view that suggests he’s neither the worst or the best holder of that office.

Why?

It’s my opinion that most people take their opinions verbatim from their selected news source.

Why aren’t the news sources presenting this nuance then? Perhaps it’s not in their interests.

The best explanation I’ve heard so far was expressed by Brett Weinstein on this podcast (go straight to the 1 hour mark and listen for about 4 minutes).

It’s an interesting theory that everyone knows the ideas of the last 10 years are insane but it’s not in anyone’s interests to say so publicly, so the madness remains. Weinstein articulates this far better than I, though.

In the meantime, my pronouns are zhe, zher and zhers:

Like being savaged by a dead sheep

Spare a thought for this week’s Australian Prime Minister (it’s a job selected like Jury Service, so we’re not sure whose turn it is at the moment); he or she has just been “lashed” by Headspace’s new “Ambassador”, Georgie (née George) Stone.

Lashed.

Here’s Georgie:

Georgie is 19 years old and is transgender. So, at any other time prior to about 2010, “she” would be a gay boy, in other words.

The Prime Minister’s lashing is a consequence of expressing just the slightest doubt that, just because George claims to be female, despite being the proud owner of a matching set of female penis and testicles, he is female.

For this failure on the part of the leader of a G20 member nation to agree up is down, black is white and gender is a social construct, the impartial journalists in the ever-declining Australian legacy press have written a unsympathetic article about him (sorry for assuming the gender of whoever is in the job these days).

Bill’s Opinion

Ok, full disclosure; I’m vaguely aware the Prime Minister’s name is Scott Morrison. The media hate him because he’s not afraid to admit to being a Christian.

Until about 6 years ago, the American Psychiatric Association, the main body of professional thought on matters mental, classed transgender (A.K.A gender dysphoria) as a mental illness.

Here’s a question for anyone who agrees with the sentiment expressed in the newspaper’s treatment of “Georgie” and “her” pronouns;

Would you prefer that the person who commands a well-armed military, a large Federal police force and has access to the resources of a secret service, to go around agreeing with every unproven claim made by highly confused 19 year olds?

If so, I’ve got a manifesto written by a mentally-ill 16 year old Swedish girl I’d like to sell to you for a couple of thousand dollars-worth of Bitcoin.

Did we stop you beating your wife?

Probably not.

Speaking personally, I was only vaguely aware of The White Ribbon Foundation through seeing a poster in the kitchen area of an office in which I was recently working.

Some male colleagues had signed their names on the poster under statements pledging to not hit their partners and to speak up should they see someone they know committing domestic violence or abuse.

My reaction was to think it was a pointless exercise but also a good scam; trick and bully corporates into paying the White Ribbon “protection fee” to have a representative come in and give a day’s awareness and have the company name added to the online register of organisations that don’t encourage their staff to beat up their spouses.

Domestic violence and abuse is one of those unopposable causes isn’t it? “What, you don’t agree we shouldn’t beat women up? What kind of a monster are you?”.

I’m somewhat surprised therefore by the financial collapse of the charity. Prima facie, this was a business model that should have been simplicity itself to maintain and earn a good living from.

Bill’s Opinion

In recent years, the corporate world has become a target for charity shakedown operations of which the White Ribbon Foundation seems to have been one of the more obvious.

The model seems to work along the lines of;

  1. Define a worthy cause and frame it in terms that are incapable of being opposed without risk of catastrophic publicity,
  2. Offer corporate “training” at an inflated fee,
  3. Request “donations” in return for being named as a partner/ally/supporter.
  4. Rinse and repeat.

Examples I can think of operating right now include all our favourite subjects; climate change, LGBTQptanyangkipperbang, indigenous businesses, gender equity, etc.

The credit for the original idea seems to be due to the infamous American race-baiting politician, Jesse Jackson, as described in the book “Shakedown” (the customer reviews are entertaining).

One wonders whether Jackson has ever thought to claim royalties from the numerous copycat charities operating around the world these days? Perhaps that’s a level of chutzpah too far even for him.

Perhaps this is how the Roman Empire ended

Jenna Guillaume lives in Sydney and is paid to write articles such as this one, in which she takes around 300 words to explain to us that she has clicked the “unfollow” button next to an American reality TV star’s name on Twitter.

At the risk of encouraging this rubbish, a delve into her Twitter account allows us to speculate about the reasons why she’s a) unfollowed the Kardashians, and b) wrote about it.

The reason she unfollowed the reality TV people is because it was making her unhappy about her body. Faced with the choice of doing something tangible to lose about 30kg or to use her thumb once on a smart phone, Jenna selected the less strenuous option.

The reason she wrote about it is because she clearly has no other employable skill. Let’s face it, if you’re a freelance writer “formerly” of Buzzfeed (fuck, how shit do you have to be to be let go from Buzzfeed?), employment options aren’t going to be very forthcoming. Uber driving, maybe?

As fun as it might be to pick on Jenna and her psychological issues relating to being a wheezing land whale, that’s not what today’s subject is really about.

We’ve written about this phenomenon previously; Golgafrincham Ark Buzzfeed.

Perhaps Jenna is a symptom of a cultural malaise. We’ve become so successful as a society and culture that we can afford to carry passengers such as the otherwise useless, Jenna Guillaume.

Bill’s Opinion

On the one hand, it’s a sign of how far we’ve come that someone with so little of worth to offer can still carve a living writing about such vacuous subjects as reality TV and “body positivity”.

The flip side to this is an atrophying of the qualities and values that are likely to have been contributing factors to our wealth and civilisation.

In another time or place, someone like Jenna Guillaume would have found her struggle with “body positivity” a long way down the list of priorities of topics for concern. Not dying of an incurable disease, violence or, ironically, a paucity of calories would have been rather more pressing day to day issues.

Somewhere in Syria, a jihadist is reading Jenna’s twitter account and reinforcing his belief that his god truly is on his side not ours.

Keep it simple, stupid

This one is going to be quite uniquely Australian, so apologies in advance if it bores you. If you are reading from a different colony or a Johnny Foreigner location, you might want to persevere simply to assure yourself that, however bad employment regulations are in your country, they’re simplicity itself compared to the Australian version.

Barely a week passes without reports of a new wages underpayment by a large corporate employer. The latest is by the Australian version of GE, Wesfarmers. They’ve discovered and just announced they’ve been underpaying some staff since the early 2000’s and the final bill to put it right is going to be about $15m.

On the face of it, that’s truly scandalous, isn’t it? Particularly coming as it does soon after similar issues with Subway and some fat celebrity chef’s restaurants.

In fact, it takes very little searching to find loads of examples of similar payroll issues across multiple industries and organisations.

This might prompt a question in a curious mind (so nobody employed as a journalist, then); “Are these underpayment issues deliberate or accidental?“.

Speaking from experience as someone who has worked in senior roles in a couple of organisations that have had these issues and being adjacent to the problem (and in one case, responsible for managing the subsequent crisis, despite not having the subject matter expertise…. which was fun), I can categorically state many of these problems are a consequence of incompetence, not mendacity.

The reports of the Wesfarmers problems are instructive; they were discovered following a project to migrate to a new payroll system to achieve compliance to new legislation. Anyone who imagines there’s an individual laughing maniacally after ripping off the workers is clearly deluding themselves.

There’s bound to be a few characters who’ve deliberately chosen to play fast and loose with staff pay but these are most likely to be in smaller companies, probably where they are a significant shareholder. Fat celebrity chefs, perhaps?

In the Wesfarmers’ case, a $15m underpayment over 15 years on a 6,000 person workforce earning about $80k is, what, 0.2%? Small beer.

If we can agree most large organisations are unlikely to choose the utter pain in the arse factor of a future scandal over saving, at most, a couple of percent in staff costs, then we have to question why these otherwise competent organisations keep screwing up payroll?

If you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid looking at the rules around Australian payroll, you might think all that is involved is a simple calculation of hours worked x hourly rate, minus government deductions such as tax.

Ah, such hope….

Here’s one of the Enterprise Agreements presumably causing problems for Wesfarmers. Scan through it and see if you come to the same pair of conclusions as I do:

  1. It’s paid for the private school fees of the children of several lawyers, and
  2. It assumes every manager is an utter idiot or evil.

Most clauses could be replaced with the words, “we will treat each other like grown ups and we won’t be dickheads“. The ridiculous table of days off allowed for bereavement, for example. Speaking as a manager, I’ve never bothered looking at the policy when someone’s relative died, I just told them to take the time they needed. Perhaps that’s naïve but it’s not bitten me so far; an employee hasn’t taken the piss.

Bill’s Opinion

Australia has possibly the most regulated employment environment outside of North Korea. Minimum wages are defined by the government by industry, role and seniority. All of which are pegged to the actual minimum wage so constantly creep up every time the lowest paid Australian gets a raise.

Enterprise agreements are negotiated by union representatives who make Arthur Scargill look like a fan of compromise and administered by an army of “Fair Work Australia” bureaucrats.

It’s a crazy system and one that some poor IT bastard has to code into SAP, Oracle or some other such system only to learn, 15 years later, that a subjective view was taken about what the agreement said on the subject of, say, superannuation payments on overtime when working on a rostered day off after a bank holiday.

Madness.