Who is paying for this?

New South Wales is entering its third week of lockdown, 18 months after the virus first arrived and was almost eradicated.

For those who believe the vaccinations are a risk worth taking, the vaccination rates are pitifully distant from a level we might consider useful or, sotto voce, herd immunity.

So, back under the duvet for the residents of the biggest economy in the country, because, to paraphrase the head of the Australian Medical Association, Dr Omar Khorshid, “the only alternative to lockdown is more lockdown”.

You may be wondering whether it’s possible to seek a second opinion on that diagnosis and prescription.

The idea of giving up on the tacit “zero covid” strategy was floated in anonymous briefings to the press last week, only to be met with ridicule and accusations of inhumanity but no tangible or executable answer to the question, “the current strategy has clearly failed, so what do we do now?”.

The school holidays finish on Tuesday and thousands of children will be banished to their bedrooms to attend dysfunctional zoom calls with their teachers whilst using the Alt/Tab function to switch back and forth between “class” and Minecraft.

Of course, that describes the kids whose parents are paying attention and haven’t already given up on them. There’s another group, for whom school was probably their last chance of being socialised and staying out of trouble.

Their parents won’t be checking their attendance at virtual class, their internet access and smartphone use will be unrestricted and it’s unlikely they will be prevented from leaving the house during the school day to smoke vapes at the local skate park.

Our local high school suspended more pupils in the term following the last lockdown than they did in the several years prior, combined. The Principal’s hypothesis was that those kids had little to no adult supervision during the lockdown schooling and brought that freedom to misbehave back into the classroom when school returned.

Eventually, and despite the ridiculous Education Department policies aimed at preventing any semblance of consequences for anti-social behaviour, the school sent these kids home either for short term suspensions or, in the extreme cases, they were “invited” to seek an alternate venue for their education.

The impact of this is going to have dire social consequences. Kids who missed significant portions of school life are not only disadvantaged educationally, but have also missed the last safety net between being a normal member of society or living on its periphery, spending increasing amounts of their lives in and out of the criminal justice system.

Bill’s Opinion

You may think these forever lockdowns are the correct response to outbreaks and that we can see the tangible benefit to them in terms of reducing the deaths and hospitalisation of the infected.

Consider the possibility you are only seeing one side of the balance sheet.

In the UK, for example, it is estimated 7 million people avoided non-covid health appointments since the virus arrived. What percentage of those will result in a later terminal diagnosis that might have been avoided if caught earlier?

5%? 10%?

The official death toll from covid (without questioning the difference between “of” and “with”) is 129,000. If 5% of missed appointments lead to an avoidable death, the covid death count will be less than half of the human cost of “saving the NHS”.

Similarly, the feral kids running around the local area while the middle class kids sit at home in class will become a more visible cost over time. Just because we don’t see the impact now, doesn’t mean you aren’t paying. Remember this in five years time when you have a barbecue discussion about the rise of burglaries, car theft, muggings, drug use, etc.

One can avoid reality but one cannot avoid the consequences of avoiding reality.

Clayton’s zero covid policy

Last week was a watershed moment for Australians in their ongoing battle with the virus. A national cabinet agreed to a “plan” out of the current endless cycle of lockdowns, internal border closures and never visiting or being visited by our loved ones overseas.

Here it is:

One can read further details behind each of those steps at… no, wait, there are no further details. That graphic, using standard Microsoft PowerPoint SmartArt, has taken the Federal and States governments’ combined brain power 15 months to produce.

There’s not even a broad range for the ratio of vaccinated residents that would trigger a move between phases.

Those of us with a job in the productive part of the economy can tell you this is a bollocks plan. The measures should have some element of “SMART” to them to be worthwhile, that is; Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely.

This looks rather similar to those ridiculous international statements we are handed as a fait accomplis from climate conferences, such as the Paris Agreement. The process to produce these documents is the same; a bunch of vested interests get together and drive their own agenda into the document, resulting in an inarticulate mush leaping from the minutiae to the macro between bullet points.

In fact, it’s not dissimilar to the process used to record the final Beatles’ album, Let It Be. A group of hostile collaborators tasked with producing something, anything, pumped out a disappointing product. In the Beatles’ case, an album full of solo efforts. In the Australian national cabinet’s example, a shitty PowerPoint slide a primary school child would score mid-class for.

It’s not all bad news though. We finally learned precisely when Australia switched from “flatten the curve” to “zero covid”. We all instinctively know that strategy change occurred, but nobody I’ve spoken to could point to the moment it happened.

It was July last year.

I don’t know about you, but I totally missed that press conference and the subsequent public discussion of the pros and cons of the various options for dealing with the virus. Not even the partisan hacks on Sky News Australia or The ABC mentioned it or discussed it.

Why? No seriously, why? This was a massive national decision and, if it was even reported, it must have been buried deep in the unread part of the newspaper (just next to Peter Fitzsimons’ column, presumably). Why no reporting of note?

Bill’s Opinion

If ever there was an illustration of the consequence of the political consensus across political parties and mainstream media, this would be it.

We didn’t have a national discussion over whether to go for zero cases of Kung Flu because both parties and the media tacitly agreed with it. Our opinion wasn’t sought.

Just a friendly reminder of the consequences government by consensus gets you:

A war in the Middle East looking for non-existent weapons of mass destruction, “45 minutes to launch”.

“Temporary” anti-terrorism laws, “if you’ve done nothing wrong, you’ve got nothing to fear”.

Taxpayer funded bank bail outs following irresponsible lending mistakes., “we gotta save the economy”.

And now this, the reversal of a decision made quietly and without scrutiny a year ago that has had implications for 24 million people, who were never asked and are now not being asked for the reversal.

Back on the beach, Australia

Ten months ago, I wrote about how Australia was in danger of living out an inverted version of the plot of the 1959 movie, “On the Beach”.

Told ya so.

Around half of the population of Australia are back in the economy-destroying lockdown again because 1 person in a population of 24 million is in ICU with the Kung Flu.

In the meantime, a greater percentage of the adult population have held the position of Prime Minister than have been fully vaccinated.*

Before accusations of hypocrisy arrive, despite what I wrote here, I’m not an anti-vaxxer, quite the contrary; I want all of you to take the shot. I’m just waiting for the trial to finish first.

We are living in an age of complexity where an ability to navigate with critical thinking and acceptance of nuance is paramount.

Unfortunately, some kind of negative feedback loop has been in operation in politics and journalism over the last several decades resulting in the situation we find ourselves today; woefully inadequate and unskilled leaders and partisan reporters with a pathological lack of curiosity.

The two most serious consequences of this are that grown up conversations about the strategy and tactics for handling the virus are not had in public and a destructive battle of blame-shifting is playing out between the states’ and federal governments.

The result of this institutional retardation is what Australians are currently facing; neither a vaccinated population nor a “Great Barrington” community immunity approach while protecting the vulnerable.

Meanwhile, the rest of the world seems to be emerging, blinking, out of their homes and back into the football stadia, pubs, restaurants and nightclubs.

Bill’s Opinion

How ironic the country that gave us Steven Bradbury now finds itself the fallen leader as the rest of the world closes in on the finish line.

*Politico.com have fact checked this and have concluded it is incorrect and was a clumsy attempt at humour. But, there have been a ridiculous number of incompetent PMs in the last two decades and an embarrassingly low number of vaccines rolled out.

Thank you for your service

Have you been “jabbed” yet? If not, are you angry at the tardiness of the vaccine roll out or are you unconvinced of its long term safety?

Your answers to these questions have become the new line of division within Australia. How you answer identifies you as part of the “in group” or the “out group”.

The in group have decided the vaccine is both effective and safe, or at least, safe enough. The out group are unconvinced.

And, without throwing lots of links to various medical studies, statistics on the at risk age groups of death by covid, or the current logged instances of reported complications with the various vaccines, the schism is right there.

Full disclosure; I am in the out group. Everyone has their own personal reasons for taking or declining the vaccine. Mine are as follows:

  1. My age and underlying health suggests I would not have a severe outcome should I catch Covid
  2. I’m unconvinced by the evidence so far presented that the vaccines have been tested to an acceptable standard
  3. I’m unconvinced the inevitable cases of side effects are being reported to the correct authority to be collated and assessed
  4. In New South Wales, there is fewer than 1 case for every 100,000 people
  5. There is no evidence from countries ahead of Australia in rolling out vaccines that international travel will resume any time soon – one of the key promises made by our leaders
  6. Game Theory – I can still benefit from a vaccine without having to take an additional risk by taking it if enough of you lot do first

Even more helpfully, Australia’s favourite virtue signaller, Peter Fitzsimons, has been loudly and somewhat threateningly writing in his grammatically-challenged Sydney Morning Herald column about how it is our civic duty to take the cure. His latest offering is sub-headlined “Don’t forget where this pain in the arse disaster came from”.

I suspect he wants you to think, “the Liberal state government” in response to that prompter, whereas most people will racistly think, “erm, ‘Peter Daszek’s gain of function laboratory in Wuhan, China“.

But I am grateful to Pirate Pete for holding an opinion on this as it saves us all time from having to think too hard about it, as my handy decision tree below illustrates:

Bill’s Opinion

My decision is to not take the vaccine for probably another 2 years until I’ve seen enough evidence on the severity and distribution of side effects and the effectiveness of other prophylactic and therapeutic treatments of Covid.

The more people such as Fitzsimons label me as a “denier” or”anti-vaxxer”, the more entrenched in that view I am likely to become.

When it comes to other vaccines that have undertaken full scale clinical trials, I’ve had an arm full of them. Previously, before the Covid Curtain fell across our international departure gates, I had travelled to a full and diverse range of shithole countries (nearly all of which have the colour green on their flag, which may or may not be a coincidence), so had to take more precautions. I bet I own one more Yellow Fever certificate than most people reading this.

I’ll take the vaccine once my evaluation of the risk/reward ratio suggests it’s a good idea for me personally. In the meantime, I will respond as follows to people who loudly proclaim their righteous virtue and membership of the vaccine in group:

“Thank you for your selfless service by agreeing to participate in the trial, the results of which I eagerly anticipate reading in 2023”.

Deck ‘em, McManus

One of the more high profile union leaders in Australia was somewhat vexed by the recent agreement between the UK and Australia, suggesting it will increase competition for jobs to the detriment of the locals:

It’s unusual for the unions or indeed anyone on the left to say the quiet part about immigration out aloud.

She’s right, of course. It’s not a difficult mental exercise to realise immigration would have a negative impact on employment prospects for the exisiting population and their ability to negotiate wage increases.

But it’s an interesting ideological contortion for someone on the more left of politics to attempt. It’s the side of politics most associated with the open (or at least more open) borders position, and yet here’s McManus pointing out immigration isn’t all upside for existing residents.

She’s not alone in being an immigration sceptic on the left, either. This opinion piece by Kristina Keneally from early on in the pandemic makes a similar point, which McManus also endorsed on social media when published.

So what’s going on? Is it cognitive dissonance or simply the often knee jerk reaction of one team opposing whatever it is the other team say and do? Perhaps there’s a third explanation.

I’ve recently been rereading Hayek’s The Road to Serfdom. My first reading was a decade ago and, although I took some interesting insights from it, my reading was more of a skim than in depth. I stuck at it this time and have been rewarded with some absolute gems, of which this is one:

Bill’s Opinion

Perhaps Sally and Kristina’s disdain for immigration is driven by concern for Australian workers.

Given that the Australian minimum wage is the second highest in the world, just behind Monaco, and Australians can access comparatively generous unemployment benefits, free medical treatment and subsidised child care, why wouldn’t a socialist want to share this wealth with others?

Because, as Hayek points out, they’ve thought it through to its logical conclusion and realised it is diametrically opposed to their agenda.

A dreamtime story

Sit down and listen to my story.

Once upon a time, a school teacher published some of his works of fiction. They sold well and he decided to continue his career as an author rather than return to teaching snotty kids.

The Australian theme of some of his works found popularity with his domestic audience and, over time, he wrote about Aboriginal matters, highlighting injustices and the egregious way they suffered since the Europeans arrived.

His writing about Aboriginal issues brought him fame and fortune, he was fêted by the media and enjoyed invitations to conferences and events. Life was good.

Over the decades, he felt an increasing affinity with the subjects of his writing. In his mind, fiction and fact mixed and his own creation story became a blurred conglomeration of truth, wishful thinking and false memories. He was becoming Aboriginal.

Maybe it started with just a little dishonesty in an interview with a journalist, a hint of a suggestion of an indigenous ancestor. He was rewarded with even more sycophancy, further publicity, more revenue flowed.

So he continued; the half-truths, the lies, the falsehoods became easier to pile on, the accretive process gained a life of its own.

He became the “go to” commentator about injustice and discrimination against Aboriginals, displacing the voices of those who actually experienced this first hand.

Perhaps, once or twice, he’d catch himself wondering about the morality of the path he’d chosen, whether it was right to allow a false narrative of his genetics and ancestry to promulgate in the public mind. Perhaps he reasoned that the good he was doing by publicising these issues outweighed the small matter of the dishonesty.

And then, one day, someone said, “BULLSHIT”.

Bill’s Opinion

In completely unrelated news, Bruce Pascoe has experienced a brutal takedown by academics who actually study the subject he writes about.

However, in Pascoe’s defence, I suspect there’s a large helping of total bullshit on the other side of the argument too. For example:

In 2017, her work took her to Sturt Creek in the Kimberley, where she was asked to examine burned bone fragments at a place called “the goat yards”, where more than a dozen Aboriginal people were alleged to have been massacred in 1922. The examination found nothing to dispute Aboriginal accounts of the massacre and a “very high likelihood” that the remains were human, based on the intensity of the fire in which they were burned.

If only there was a trusted scientific method of testing whether biological remains were human. CSI: Kimberley? Bueller? Anyone?

It seems to me that the people who make the most money from matters Aboriginal are those with the least Aboriginal ancestry and connection. It’s a self-saucing industry, efficiently siphoning public and charitable funds away from those living in the Red Centre, in what we might refer to as the Indigenous Monetary Complex.

Are any of them studying maths?

Universities will foot the bill for international students to return to NSW within weeks, with 250 students to arrive each fortnight on charter flights before quarantining in special accommodation.

The pilot program is expected to start within six weeks and will be scaled up by the end of the year to 500 students each fortnight.

As we discussed recently, in a normal year, Australia brings in about 650,000 students on the “pretend to study for a degree to get permanent residency” scheme.

So, at 250 students a fortnight, the university sector will be back to full capacity in about /checks calculator/ ten years. Five years if they got to the 500 a fortnight rate quickly. Assuming none of those students graduate in the meantime, obviously.

UPDATE: Yeah, my maths was shite today too. The point remains though, it’s lipstick on a pig.

Which is probably a fair assumption given they’re not really spending the money for the quality of the education, but the sticker in the passport.

Bill’s Opinion

I’m willing to bet there was recently a conversation along these lines:

University Chancellors: You’ve got to do something, we’re dying on our arses here. Where our bail out?

State Treasurer: Ok, if you foot the bill for the quarantine accommodation, you can bring in as manly as you want. Roughly how many would that be?

University Chancellors: (stares at shoes, awkwardly).

(By the way, apologies for the lack of verbosity here recently; I’ve been a little distracted. Normal service will be resumed now).

Brian the size of a planet

Former CEO of Wokepac and reliable content generator for this organ, Brian Hartzer, is on the publicity milk round for his new book, The Leadership Star. He keeps popping up on the Creepbook for Business timeline grinning in selfies with various people at book signings and coffee meetings to tout his wares like a truckstop hooker at 2am.

Occasionally he scores a wider audience such as a guest appearance on a podcast, as he does on this one:

I took the time to listen to this and regular readers may be surprised by my reaction…. I thought Brian came across as extremely knowledgeable about the banking industry.

Less frequent readers might be forgiven for thinking, “well duh, one doesn’t get to be CEO of a major bank if you don’t know banking inside out”.

Somewhere between those two points of view lies a question; if Brian is such a banking industry subject matter expert, how come he made such a custard of running one?

Before we answer that, I do need to comment on a couple of points he made in the interview.

Firstly, he talks about improving customer experience to increase market share. This is a medium-sized elephant in the room; there are four main banks in Australia and a large gap between 4th and 5th place. I can’t find figures on customer attrition rates in Australia, but my assumption is it is low compared to other jurisdictions. He doesn’t go into details in the interview either which, if it were a great factor would be presumably data rich.

My hypothesis is customers don’t move banks much in Australia, which explains why the customer service is so shite.

The second comment I’d like to pick him up on is where he mentions his duty to constantly reduce operating costs. When he took over from Gail Kelly, he chose to not integrate the wholly-owned subsidiary, St George, keeping its duplicate infrastructure, staff, products and premises. Go to any high street in Australia and there will likely be two Westpac branches not far from each other, one with a red logo, the other with a dragon. Cost cutting, me arse.

To be fair to Brian, he does talk about lessons learned. Taking more interest in compliance reports and making individuals explicitly accountable being two very relevant lessons he’s clearly taken on board. He actually sounds quite contrite and, ironically, rather like the theory that the safest time to fly is immediately after a major plane crash, he’d probably make a better bank CEO now.

Bill’s Opinion

Brian isn’t stupid, in fact, he obviously got his last job on merit. Yet he still fucked up royally. Why?

My hypotheses is he allowed his focus to drift to the ESG/woke stuff. There are only so many hours in the day and it’s a foolish person who doesn’t concentrate on his or her core objectives for 99% of those waking hours.

Oh well, at least he’s got plenty of time to spend on his hobbies now.

AstraZeneca jab reduces the risk of blood clots!

Of course not. There’s no evidence for this at all.

There’s plenty of evidence very few journalists have any useful level of competence at mathematics though (Jess Irvine included).

A classic example presents itself here; a nurse in Queen’sland experienced a DVT (or blood clot) shortly after having her first “jab” of the AZ vaccine.

This was front page news, despite no evidence linking the DVT with the injection.

Sure, there’s no evidence not linking them either, which is presumably the “public interest” reason for the reporting.

The reporting misses some critical questions and answers, of course. It would be setting expectations far too high for us to hope for competent reporting from our media in 2021.

Anyone capable of basic maths, specifically being able to calculate ratios, fractions, or percentages might ask questions such as:

How many DVTs normally occur in a population?

What is the current rate of DVTs in the recently vaccinated cohort?

What is the rate of hospitalisations for dog bites per capita?

The answer to the first question can be found via the USA’s CDC; 0.25%.

The answer to the second question can be calculated from the article; 1.8m jabs delivered in Australia so far and 18 related DVT cases. So 0.001%. If we assume a DVT caused by the jab will occur with a month whereas the CDC figure is annualised, we should multiply that by 30 days, so 0.03%.

The number of dog bite-related hospital referrals can be found here; 0.016%.

Bill’s Opinion

We can draw several clear conclusions from this data:

1. Statistically, the AstraZeneca jab protects people from DVTs. Ok, it doesn’t really but if we’re playing Numberwang, we may as well say it does.

2. Statistically, the AstraZeneca jab is twice as dangerous as walking your dog.

3. Journalists are fucking innumerate twats.

Jenna Hates….. buying leaving drinks

And her exit party might not be far away as the long term career prospects for a lecturer in Humanities in an Australian university can’t be particularly secure.

Today’s whine is on the subject of the financial viability of the university sector, after a year of massively reduced revenue.

In a moment of exquisite irony and demonstrating a profound lack of introspection, Janna Hates discusses critical thinking and freedom of speech. Obviously, she then follows that up by not addressing any of the huge pachyderm-shaped objects in the refectory.

Please bear in mind Jenna teaches journalism, and then wonder about the quality standards we will be subjected to from her students.

The university system in this country is dying. The government used the pandemic to destroy the places for critical conversations; and university management mostly rolled over.

The second sentence both presumes motives, mind reading in other words, and demonstrates a keen grasp of irony when suggesting the Australian academe isn’t an ideological echo chamber.

Mass redundancies, both voluntary and forced across the sector, have left big gaps in teaching staff. In some places that led to decisions to close down subjects, courses, departments. Right now, nearly every university is considering merging faculties.

Which departments are merging, do we think? Physics with Mathematics? Medicine with Engineering? Or maybe Gender Studies with Sociology? Go on, have a guess.

She continues with a complaint over the availability of the government furlough scheme to private but not public universities. Prima facie, that sounds quite damning. Of course, the critical thinkers amongst us might wish to investigate further.

It turns out, some private universities qualified for the furlough schemes due to having a lower turnover and assistance was made available to all universities based on a per capita payment for domestic students.

What two hypotheses might we consider based on those facts?

How about, (1) for reasons unknown, publicly funded universities are significantly larger in financial turnover than private universities and (2) they’d all be a lot better off right now if they didn’t rely heavily on overseas students.

Or, to put it another way, Jenna Hates is complaining because your taxes aren’t being used to bail out the educational infrastructure for overseas students.

Let’s go full reductio ad absurdum; Jenna Hates wants the income tax paid by an Australian worker stacking supermarket shelves on the night shift to be used to subsidise the immigration scam education of Chinese kids with rich parents.

The rest of the article follows the usual modus operandi, wandering all over the place accusing “the government” of being negligent at best but most likely mendacious. Don’t waste your time on it unless you’ve really got nothing better to do. Maybe page to the bottom to spot where she can’t resist having a dig at a man who has been accused without proof, by a dead person, of rape and, because of this, should resign.

Let’s return to the original problem. Australian universities are haemorrhaging cash and are having to cut costs to survive.

That’s interesting, isn’t it. Because, as far as one can tell, Australian high schools are still pumping out kids with all the correct qualifications to go on to higher education. The student loan industry is still active and the economy is going gangbusters.

So why the big problems?

Well

617,000 overseas students? What’s that as a percentage of all university students in a normal year? About 44%.

How does that compare with another English-speaking country? The UK usually takes about half a million overseas students, or about 20% of the total.

There isn’t a pandemic every year, of course, but even so, a sector which is ostensibly designed to educate a country’s population yet relies on the revenue generated from almost one overseas students for every domestic student was perhaps always built on risky business model.

It’s even worse than that; fees paid by overseas students are often as much as double those paid by domestic students. The first class passengers are subsidising the economy class travellers.

Or, more accurately, they’re not this year. Hence the subject of Jenna Hates’ current cause célèbre.

Bill’s Opinion

I’m really sorry anyone lost their job as a result of the governmental response to the virus. However, the reality is some sectors of the economy were already unsustainable before the pandemic.

An education sector which had grown to provide as many places to people from countries with recognised high quality universities as it does for its domestic customers was one such sector.

If it wasn’t the 2020 pandemic that caught it napping, it would have been the next financial crisis or cooling of international diplomacy.

There is another inconvenient fact our Lecturer in Journalism, Jenna Hates, fails to address; the overseas student visa has been primarily a fast track to residency for many students, with the academic achievement being a far distant second.

Perhaps a shrunken university sector might serve the Australian student population better as it would have to focus on the quality of the teaching of “hard” subjects with, y’know, actual careers waiting for them once they’ve graduated?

Think critically about that for a moment, Jenna Hates.