“On the beach” in Australia and New Zealand

Here is the plot summary of a 1959 film you may not have watched or indeed heard of. It has a stellar cast, including Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins.

I have a vague memory of watching this on BBC 2 one rainy Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s.

On The Beach

In early 1964, in the months following World War III, the conflict has devastated the entirety of the Northern Hemisphere, killing all humans after polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout. Air currents are slowly carrying the fallout south; the only areas still habitable are in the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere.

….The Australian government arranges for its citizens to receive suicide pills or prepared injections so they may end their lives quickly before there is prolonged suffering from radiation sickness.

…..Within a few days, the last pockets of humanity are dead. The empty, windblown streets of Melbourne are punctuated by the rise of dramatic, strident music over a single powerful image of a previously seen Salvation Army street banner: “There is still time…Brother”.

“How, pray tell, does this have any relevance today?”, you may ask.

Well, the movie is based on a time disparity between the Southern and Northern Hemispheres in terms of their consequences from the nuclear war. It’s happened up north and they’ve taken the pain, whilst the south is watching and waiting for the inevitable impact to arrive.

At the time of writing, Australia’s official death toll from Covid19 is 208 and New Zealand has had just 22 deaths. The USA, meanwhile, is 157,000.

Well done Antipodeans, eh?

Hmm. Depends, doesn’t it.

The first point to note is ALL data on Covid19 is utterly unreliable for the purpose of comparison. Not only are deaths reported differently across countries, but rates of testing is nowhere nearly equal, and local circumstances are wildly different too.

The USA numbers with New York removed are very similar to other countries with good health care systems. What happened in New York? Only the minor issue of old people being relocated from hospital to aged care facilities without being confirmed as free from infection.

Imagine the movie On The Beach with a slightly changed plot where the north didn’t get wiped out but took a bad (say about 200,000 deaths) and immediate hit and then the south were told they would have to suffer the same relative fate (so, about 5,500 deaths in Australia and about 1,200 for New Zealand) BUT must decide when they would take it.

What would Australia and New Zealand decide?

Bill’s Opinion

A friend of mine recently posted the economic data from Sweden on social media, claiming that people who were happy to kill off the old and infirm for the sake of the economy had been proved wrong.

That’s the false dichotomy fallacy. I’ve never met anyone who wants to sacrifice members of the community for the sake of the economy.

I’m aware, therefore, my question above asking what Australia and New Zealand might do if told they’d have to accept 5,500 and 1,200 deaths respectively is also a fake dichotomy. By delaying the pain, both countries have learned lessons from Governor Andrew Cuomo other countries and could now make a third choice of re-opening their economies with very specific and targeted actions to protect the vulnerable.

However, we aren’t seeing this level of nuanced discussion being had in either country. Instead, we are still acting as if a tacit target of zero infections exists. It is my opinion this is delaying the inevitable.

Meanwhile, a new report in Science Magazine suggests T cell immunity to coronavirus already exists in many people and therefore the “herd immunity” (remember that policy?) could be far lower than previously thought.

So, while Head Girl Jacinda and Property Scotty vacillate on how to break bad news, please don’t gas yourself in the garage with your sports car.

Eliminator

….was a great album by ZZ Top. Their first

three albums are their best, however.

Tap, tap, is this thing on?

Apologies for the hiatus. I suspect, as for all of us, life has been a little strange recently. But I’m ok, and so is everyone I hold dear.

I hope you are also still close to the top of the Hierarchy of Kung Flu.

Over a month ago, we discussed the tacit scope creep that had occurred since the lockdown commenced.

If you recall, “flattening the curve” was the mission statement in order to not overwhelm the health services. Nobody in authority ever stated a policy of total elimination, probably because that’s a metric that’s guaranteed to be missed.

In the meantime, there’s been much handwringing in Australia at every new case that discovered, domestic borders closed, out of state visitors shunned, etc.

Reading the media, one could have been mistaken in thinking the tacit mission for a while back there was to get to zero cases.

Thank goodness then, somebody has said the quiet part out loud:

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Bill’s Opinion

We’ve mentioned several times here that l:

1. The decision to close an economy is far easier than the subsequent decision to re-open it.

2. That decision was made using a cost/benefit analysis without really understanding the full costs.

The true costs are going to start revealing themselves soon. This report in the UK suggests 200,000 early deaths might occur as a consequence of lockdown, not Kung Flu.

Let’s hope it is wildly inaccurate, like all the other expert models we’ve been subject to recently.

Lastly, sorry again for the absence. I’ll get my mojo back now.

Hubris in a “post experts” age

Experts, eh?

Remember when we outsourced so much of our key life decisions to “experts”?

“We lied about the effectiveness of masks, sorry ’bout that”.

“The USA will be 6 degrees warmer by 2020”.

“The USA housing crisis is contained”.

Etc. etc.

So, ladies and gentlemen, drum roll please….

Here’s the “experts” who will guide you out of these difficult and febrile times:

Stop laughing at the back.

The beard on the left is Ross “dress for the job you want, not the job you have” Gittins, of whom we’ve written previously.

Pole position is Jess “I’m smarter than you proles” Irvine. Again, she’s not escaped our attention, in fact on multiple occasions we’ve laughed at her ridiculous Facebook posts masquerading as journalism and her heavy reliance on feelings over data.

I’ve no idea who the other chap is, so I assume he’ll be the one made redundant in the next round just like the nameless crew member who is transported to the planet with Captain Kirk.

Bill’s Opinion

Seriously, who in their right mind would listen to anything these clowns say?

They’ve predicted nothing other than sunrise and sunset. Worse, they’ve had no actual useful experience of a recession outside of the lecture theatre of a university.

Jess Irvine bought her first property at what was clearly the very tippety top of the market. She needs an excel spreadsheet to lose weight and run a marathon at a pace that put her behind the team clearing up.

No, but thanks Sydney Morning Herald, our economic advice is in safe hands. What next, Pirate Pete lecturing us on virtue signalling?

Send in the clowns. Oh look, they’re already here.

Flat lines, flat out lies

Those of us old enough to remember the days before Kung Flu might recall the original reason we had our liberty, income, mental health and freedoms massively impacted by our elected leaders.

Do you remember the reason?

Let me give you some clues; it was late March when Australians were instructed to stay home. The reason given was to…..

What’s the word?

Flatten.

That was it! “Flatten the curve“.

And why did the curve need flattening?

To not overwhelm the hospitals

There was even a pretty chart to illustrate the concept:

At some point between March and June, important factors changed.

Firstly, we flattened the curve. Has a political leader confirmed that explicitly? If they have, I’ve missed it.

Secondly, as a consequence of flattening the curve, we didn’t overwhelm the hospitals. We didn’t even use the emergency field hospitals set up and the regular hospitals weren’t overwhelmed, not even close to it.

Thirdly, and more worryingly, quietly and without any acknowledgement, the policy was changed from flattening the curve to completely eradicating all cases everywhere.

Let me repeat that; we are now clearly attempting to prevent anyone at all ever catching the virus.

Don’t believe me? Please explain why the state of Victoria has just re-implemented it’s lockdown due to 25 new cases being discovered?

A quick reminder, in case you’ve forgotten, there is currently no vaccine for the virus. Also, we’ve never found a vaccine for a coronavirus in the history of humankind.

Bill’s Opinion

The year 2020 is the year we collectively forgot many truths we’ve known for centuries. One of these is the fact that we have accepted the risk of illness and death from seasonal viruses for the far greater reward of all of the benefits of living in a highly connected global economy.

Without seeking our permission, our politicians have reversed this situation and have implemented a policy of zero harm.

Of course, it’s a false choice; harm is occurring as a consequence of their response to COVID19, we just haven’t started the reckoning process yet.

The Dreamtime Phoney War

On the June 1st episode of the podcast, TRIGGERnometry, Peter Hitchens made an interesting observation on the the current attitude of many people in the UK (but it applies equally to any other country undergoing government Kung Flu largesse):

He describes many people as living in a happy dreamtime where most, if not all, of their wages are being paid for by government relief schemes, the weather is pleasant and the consequences of incurring the biggest peacetime national debt have not yet been felt.

His opinion is this cannot continue and, when the plug is pulled on these various furlough schemes, there will be a difficult and tragic reckoning to be had.

The likely timeline for this mean reversion differs by jurisdiction but the 3rd and 4th quarters of 2020 is generally when these government cash drops are due to either finish or begin to taper off.

I say this without any hint of glee, but there are individuals and entire industries that are going to experience the financial equivalent of cold turkey.

What’s cold turkey feel like? Let’s ask a professional:

I can’t imagine what other people think cold turkey is like. It is fucking awful. On the scale of things, it’s better than having your leg blown off in the trenches. It’s better than starving to death.

But you don’t want to go there. The whole body just sort of turns itself inside out and rejects itself for three days. You know in three days it’s going to calm down. It’s going to be the longest three days you’ve spent in your life, and you wonder why you’re doing this to yourself when you could be living a perfectly normal fucking rich rock star life.

And there you are puking and climbing walls. Why do you do that to yourself? I don’t know. I still don’t know. Your skin crawling, your guts churning, you can’t stop your limbs from jerking and moving about, and you’re throwing up and shitting at the same time, and shit’s coming out your nose and your eyes, and the first time that happens for real, that’s when a reasonable man says, “I’m hooked.” But even that doesn’t stop a reasonable man from going back on it.

Keith Richards

Bill’s Opinion

Governments and central banks are about to discover restarting an economy is a significantly different prospect to stopping one.

I have no doubt our money, our children’s money and our grandchildren’s money will be generously thrown at the problem.

Some of it may even stick.

In fact, the Australian Government is mooting plans to throw figures like $20,000 at new home builds or to renovate existing homes. Obviously, this will have the effect of increasing the price of everything by a leveraged ratio of $20,000.

I understand the Keynsian theory is it doesn’t matter what the money is spent on but, now we’ve just run the biggest experiment to prove most people don’t need to live 8km from the CBD to be productive, why are we installing granite kitchen worktops in Mosman rather than building high speed rail links to an open plain in the middle of nowhere for developers to build around?

In the meantime, this organ has been sadly missing a previous regular commentator from Brisbane who frequented this place with gleeful tales of his investing prowess and acumen.

If he were to return, we might ask him to review this updated chart and answer the question, “what happens next?“.

Don’t ya know that it Hertz so good

… to paraphrase Susan Cadogan.

One of the first corporate dominoes fell this week as the car rental company, Hertz, commenced the bankruptcy process in the USA.

That a car rental company might file for Chapter 11 after 6 weeks of almost total cessation of global and domestic travel might not be so surprising, perhaps.

There’s an analogy to be had here though, which can be summarised by one question.

Before I pose that question, I will explain that this is the second time I posed it. The first was last night when we finally managed to visit friends for dinner. One of the couple was very much of the “one death is too many, regardless of the economic and long term social costs” attitude, so prevalent in all of the media class and nearly every national government.

She was also absolutely certain the published figures for fatalities from around the world were 100% accurate, despite also conceding the data collection methodologies varied by country and local jurisdiction.

Her reaction when I asked the following question was visceral; she physically moved and paused in her conversation. Depending on which psychology source you read, this can sometimes be an indication of a moment of cognitive dissonance. The question was this:

“Over recent years, Hertz has taken on $19bn of debt, so do you think Hertz died of the virus or simply with it?”.

Bill’s Opinion

The virus might have hurried Hertz and Virgin along to an early grave, but the debt level both companies had taken on was unsustainable by any objective measure.

What do we think will the Receiver will write as the cause of death on their death certificates?

Unintended consequences are governments’ only consequences

Anyone who has previously met a human might be forgiven for reading the following quote and laughing like a drain:

There is no better time to rid the states of inefficient taxes that hold back economic growth and I am talking stamp duty and payroll taxes,” Mr Perrottet said.

“We are not going to tax our way back into prosperity. Increasing or decreasing taxes is not tax reform.”

When asked which state tax was at the top of his reform agenda Mr Perrottet replied: “Stamp duty. I’ve raised it before, I think we need to get rid of inefficient taxes.”

Stamp duty, also known as transfer duty, taxes the sale of all properties in NSW and last year raised $7.5 billion for the state’s coffers. After payroll tax, stamp duty is the biggest source of taxation revenue for the states.

If you listen very carefully, you can hear the sound of a thousand Estate Agents each unwrapping a shiny new razor blade and settling into a final warm bath, whilst cradling a single malt.

Bill’s Opinion

I can’t read Dominic Perrottet’s mind, but I’m assuming his motivation for foreshadowing the idea of a replacement of Stamp Duty was to show the public the government was actively pursuing ways to get the economy moving. After all, “something must be done” is all the encouragement politicians need to hear to get on with fiddling with complex systems they don’t fully comprehend.

A quick dekko at the CV of the NSW Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, tells you everything you need to know; his last “real” job was when he was 28 years old. Saying that, the profession was lawyer, so one assumes he’d only managed to gain three of four years post graduation and law school before he was dropped into a safe seat.

Let’s face it, he’s a career politician with practically zero experience in the real world.

If he had even the mildest understanding of how humans make important life decisions such as buying property, he’d have kept his mouth firmly shut until the legislation had been drafted, agreed and had a good chance of being passed into law.

Instead, he’s just told everyone who was considering buying or selling property in NSW that a very expensive tax might be replaced or even removed at some point in the near future, so it might be regrettable to go ahead with the transaction until clarity has been provided.

In related news, the chart has been updated.

Does anyone want to make a prediction on what the next 6 months might look like?

Orange line down, flat or up?

The blue line has never dropped below 0.2% since the 1970s, by the way.

Casually sinister, Prime Minister

Headlines are often misleading, usually written by someone other than the article’s author.

Regardless of that, the casual manner in which this is written, seemingly without considering the alternate ways it might be read and received, is truly frightening:

Earn“. As in, “earn” your freedom.

…more app downloads are needed“. All that’s needed to complete the sentence is, “or else“.

Perhaps the headline doesn’t reflect the facts contained within the story. After all, the Sydney Morning Herald had hundreds of headlines about Russian hacking of various elections without providing any evidence within those articles.

Sadly, no; The Prime Minister really went there:

About 3.6 million people, or 15 per cent of the population, have downloaded the CovidSafe app, used to determine who has had contact with an individual carrying the virus, since its release last Sunday. This is far short of the government’s target for 40 per cent adoption, with a focus on those over the age of 16.

“That is the ticket to opening up our economy – to getting people back into jobs and getting businesses open again,” Mr Morrison said.

Great. Suddenly that “voluntary” app (that still hasn’t had the associated privacy legislation passed, by the way) is starting to feel a little less of a free choice with no negative consequences for conscientious objectors.

In fact, who else wonders whether, if 80% of the population vote “nien danke” to the app, there won’t be further legislation defining what public services and spaces one is unable to use without showing it running on your device?

Bill’s Opinion

The opinions about this app are polarised. It’s yet again another Brexit/Trump/gay marriage type issue; if you’re on one side of the conversation, you are able to loudly express your opinion without fear of censure. The other side, however, sit quietly seething in the knowledge they will be shouted down for even suggesting there may be a microscopic smidgen of merit to the suggestion the app is government overreach.

Personally, I’m not downloading the app voluntarily. If I find myself restricted in society as a consequence, I’d reconsider that for precisely as long as it takes me to emigrate.

The question would be at that point, to where? The entire globe seems to have pivoted overnight to a socialist, Keynesian, semi-authoritarian dystopia.

Appy clappy people of faith

Whenever there were skirmishes in satellite states during the Cold War, some wag would always crack the joke that, to compensate for being late for the first and second world wars, America was determined to be early for the third.

Now that the data starts to arrive from many locations around the world suggesting the infection fatality rate of the Kung Flu is a fraction of the first estimates, governments are demonstrating the sunk cost fallacy to compensate for their previous tardiness.

One example is the multiple “tracing” apps developed for mobile phones, ostensibly to enable the tracking of contacts once an individual has been diagnosed with the virus.

Both the UK and Australia have launched their versions of this, despite the now obvious fact that the health systems have not been overwhelmed and the less obvious but increasingly likely calculation that the death rate is only a little higher than seasonal ‘flu, a risk we have long since accepted as part of daily life.

This is a classic sunk cost fallacy – spending money on this development was possibly the right decision at the time given the contemporaneous information, but events have overtaken us in the meantime, yet we are still pressing ahead with the roll out.

The Australian app is particularly pointless; new cases have decreased to a trickle and happily, new deaths are in the single digits. An Australian resident currently has more chance of winning the lottery jackpot than meeting an infected person.

Yet, the app was launched yesterday to much fanfare and, frankly, virtue signalling by our media-political class. “Download this app and save lives“, is our generation’s “Dig for victory“, it would seem.

What is most remarkable is the cognitive dissonance required to accept the triple proposition that this app will, 1) be effective, 2), won’t be used maliciously or for a new purpose and 3) won’t be subject to the usual data leaks, cyber weaknesses and failures of every government IT project.

Some of us are old enough to remember when the Australian Federal government and all of its security and intelligence departments couldn’t prevent “a sophisticated state actor” from hacking the parliamentary email system.

Ah, those naive and simpler days back in, erm, February last year.

What is most remarkable though, are the loudest voices proclaiming their virtue regarding the questionable app.

The same people who recently were ascribing mendacity and duplicity as motives to the current governing political party with regards their actions on refugees, climate change, bush fires, Julian Assange, same sex marriage, etc. are now the loudest voices calling for absolute trust in both the motives and competency of the current administration.

You can find your own celebrity examples of this, I’m sure, but even the most cursory wander in the sewers of social media will provide evidence of this miraculous volte face by the government’s previously most vociferous critics.

Bill’s Opinion

I would like to offer a pertinent and relevant axiom;

Anyone who believes the government is benign and/or competent has either never met a politician or civil servant or has achieved an almost Jedi level of cognitive dissonance.

Risky business

Over the last few decades, there has been a proliferation and expansion of career categories and roles within large organisations, many of which add dubious value to their stakeholders.

Examples might include the exponential growth of the previously named “Personnel” department; the size of the Human Resources’ departments as a ratio of the entire company has generally expanded exponentially since, say, the 1980s.

This spawned the utterly pointless diversity military industrial complex, based mainly on a ridiculous 1989 essay by Peggy McIntosh.

Another example, perhaps less obvious, is the Risk department.

Financial institutions in particular, have an increasing footprint of staff with “Risk” in their job title. For those who have been lucky enough to not work with these people, “risk” is a code for “no responsibilities“.

Being a “risk professional” means never having to be accountable for anything.

That might sound like an inflammatory statement but it’s easily empirically-checked; there have been plenty of documented failure in organisations’ risk management over the last few years. Examples include Wokepac’s Paedophile Enablement Programme, CBA’s Mafia Laundry Scheme, and dozens of leaks of personal data by private and public sector organisations.

How many of those resulted in the resignation or firing of the most senior risk officer? Perhaps you could let us know in the comments if any “risk professional” lost their job as a consequence.

The Audit team, at least, serve a useful purpose of checking compliance occurred as required for critical activities. By contrast, the Risk team are generally worse than useless as they advise on avoiding things that might happen. Proving they have helped is an impossible task as it is like proving a negative; the car didn’t crash because we took the keys from you.

Risk is one of those departments capable of parthenogenesis. Decades ago, risk was mainly a safety or financial function; what can we do to not kill workers or how do we hedge against this financial transaction going to shit?

These days though, all sorts of risks are documented in Excel spreadsheets or expensive software products that are just glorified versions of spreadsheets. Risk “professionals” in a crappy mediocre retail bank pretend they can somehow quantity geopolitical risks or mitigate for earthquakes in Indonesia by facilititing post-it note workshops and acting like over-promoted junior police officers bullying and pestering those people whose job it is to actually generate revenue.

The science behind risk management is complete bollocks. Depending on which source you select, you’ll be shown a complicated methodology which pretends it can somehow grade probability and impact to provide a credibility-lite relative score of the risks to the organisation.

Of course, with all models, the input parameters and assumptions behind the calculations are critical to the likely accuracy of the result they give. GIGO – garbage in, garbage out.

The people in these risk roles are never impressive individuals either. As with any kind of critic, they are most likely providing feedback on people whose job they simply couldn’t do themselves.

Those who can, do.

Those who can’t, teach.

Those who can’t even teach, measure risk”.

An classic example comes to mind from my recent experience in an Australian bank. My interlocutor was a chap who seemingly had made a career out of being deeply unpleasant.

In one of those frequent coincidences with ugly personalities, he was also physically repulsive; no chin, terrible dentistry, a lopsided face (think Thom York without the talent). Better still, he suffered from extreme rhoticism; he pronounced “th” as “f” or “v” and “r” as “w”.

Hi, I’m ve genewal manager of wisk and I fink we must gwade vese wisks“.

We once had an illuminating conversation over a corporate slide deck; there was wholesome picture of a young child on scooter. The kid was wearing a helmet and open-toed shoes. We had an argument about which was the greater problem.

My view; it’s almost certain the kid will rip her foot whilst scooting.

His view; if she bangs her head she might suffer a brain injury.

He seemed somewhat offended when I asked him how many children he had (spoiler alert; none, and little chance of that changing).

So how did it go for us, corporately and in government, with this massive army of risk managers keeping us safe?

Bill’s Opinion

Just as the lawyers of the world mainly missed writing the word “pandemic” in their definition of Force Majeure, the Risk team in most organisations have completely failed to do their job.

Of course, the most likely response to this will be to hire more, not fewer/better risk managers.

Wince and wepeat.