WHO could’ve known?

The World Health Organisation has amended its advice to governments over the efficacy of quarantine lockdowns.

“We in the World Health Organisation do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” Dr Nabarro told The Spectator.

“The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganise, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”

This is the WHO’s latest volte face (a better term than “back flip”, surely; back flips result in you facing the same direction). Some of us are old enough to remember that “the situation in Wuhan is contained”, there was “no community transmission” and that “masks aren’t effective”.

Let’s add those to the list of statements not to be believed, along with, “the cheque is in the post”, “of course I love you” and, “no, I definitely promise to pull out before it’s too late”.

Anyway, this is not exactly helping the various leaders around the globe who score high on the “authoritarian” end of this quiz, which, until the start of this year, we wouldn’t have thought included people like that Churchillian libertarian, Boris Johnson.

Some awkward press conferences await Jacinda and Dan, for example. Well, there would if we had the remnants of a functioning press.

Bill’s Opinion

Just stop pretending. We all overestimated the risk back in March.

Just admit it and we can all get on with our lives and doing the things that make our short time on the planet tolerable; visiting family, playing sport, taking holidays.

Enough. Enough.

Having 2020 hindsight

There, I’ve got that headline in before all the wanky retrospectives start to land in the media around early December.

Seriously though, we’re three quarters of the way through, what have we learned (or perhaps had reinforced) this year?

Here’s my personal list, in no particular order:

  1. All data is shit. All of it. It took a global pandemic to show us that multi-national organisations like the WHO have been collecting unrelated data across countries yet making decisions as if there was even an iota of credibility when comparing, say, China’s medical statistics with France’s and New York’s.
  2. No politician or journalist can read a chart or has any comprehension of statistics. Understanding the relationship between testing volume, testing results, ICU admissions and fatalities is critical to making informed evidence-based decisions, yet not a single politician or journalist has been able to articulate this properly. The consequence is an epidemic of panicked headlines about rising case numbers without any reference to the possibility this might be a function of increased testing.
  3. The only models we should trust are made by Hornby and go round a Double O gauge rail track. Seriously, just fuck off with your models predicting the outcome of a situation with an almost infinite number of inputs. “No battle plan survives first contact with the enemy” an’ all that. Keep that shitty model you created using Lotus 123 with a Commodore 64 in your parents spare bedroom where it belongs.
  4. Experts. If ever there was a devalued noun, expert would be it. Sure, you might be the foremost authority on a coronavirus, or you may know more than any other human about the spread of infectious diseases, but you probably know less than my pet goldfish on how a complicated modern supply chain functions, the impact of reduced social contact on mental health, the long term impacts of a year’s loss of primary school education or the consequences of the removal of economic progress on life expectancy in the third world. An expertise that is twenty fathoms deep but only one inch wide is not what we need to make national level decisions.
  5. Our neighbours are more bovine than lionlike. They’re happy to take government largesse for months despite the very awkward silence about an obvious change of strategy (“flatten the curve” became “zero cases” without anyone being told, let alone being asked). They’re also really quick to post accusatory pictures and comments on social media damning each other’s behaviour.

Bill’s Opinion

The Gell-Mann Amnesia Effect should be at the front of mind from now on for the rest of our lives:

  • “Masks don’t work”
  • “Flatten the curve”
  • “Get tested”
  • “Don’t waste tests”
  • “Stay indoors”
  • “Vitamin D is best”
  • “We trust the carbon emissions data from China”
  • “Look at and trust our computer model predicting climate change”

As for all our virtue signalling hashtagging fellow citizens….. Jordan Peterson has been proven correct; we all think we’d be Schindler, but statistically, the evidence is we’d be the unquestioning camp guard.

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.

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).

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.

Don’t take your financial advice from Mumsnet

Jessica “big smarty pants” Irvine has written another blog post on Mumsnet again this week.

This time she’s woman-splaining to us all about three topics; how financially astute she is, how she can lose weight by the magical discovery of eating fewer calories than she burns and how she likes a good stationery order from Office Works.

No, seriously; without a hint of irony, The Sydney Morning Herald has published an article under “economics” where this type of self-indulgent guff is written:

…..I was completing my daily paper-tracking sheet for my food consumption and energy expenditure.

At the end of the day, after I’ve finished eating and calculated my daily calorie deficit, I get to enjoy the immense satisfaction of emblazoning the day’s tracker with a depressible ink stamp that says “ENTERED”.

It continues in the style of a low IQ Jordan Peterson self-help guru:

The desk contains six wooden pigeon holes that house my stamp, my highlighters, my paper receipts for the month and my three paper-based journals.

They are an appointments diary, a gratitude journal and a thoughts journal, into which I periodically spill all my deepest, darkest thoughts. Exposed to the crisp, white pages, these thoughts lose their power. Having identified the thoughts – and the resulting emotions – I journal new, more helpful thoughts to hold.

She also reminds us that she is considerably more intelligent than you and I:

I don’t know about you, but my brain definitely runs faster than my ability to write. By committing to writing things down by hand, therefore, you force your distracted monkey brain to sit.

Hands up who else suspects her lips still move when she reads, though?

The thing is, her Mumsnet post is just a rehash of this self-indulgent shite from two years ago. The only difference is the admission of a love of a tidy desk and coloured pencils.

That’s fair enough, I suppose, the SMH can publish whatever guff they want, but it does seem somewhat tin-eared to print Jessica’s verbosity about her ability to save money during a once in multiple generations recession while there are a record number of Australians registered as unemployed and many more about to join them. Saving money must seem a luxurious memory for those souls.

Not to worry though, we can amuse ourselves with the knowledge that Jessica is stuck inside a shitty two bedroom apartment that she bought at the very top of the property market and is now staring down the barrel of that most depressing of financial situations, negative equity. She hasn’t realised that, if she loses her job now, she’s homeless.

Bill’s Opinion

We’ve learned a lot of things during these months of Kung Flu. In addition to the incompetence of experts and the cowardice of politicians, we can also finally put to rest the notion that anyone employed in the media understands graphs and statistics.

That’s probably why Jessica is writing about crayons and coloured paper, like some teenage girl in a bedroom full of cuddly toys and posters of ponies.

We can’t blame Jessica for not wishing to write about economic reality though, as this updated chart is what it looks like before the government wage subsidies taper off and the unemployment figures start to more accurately reflect what’s been going on since March:

Don’t look down, Jessica.