Going postal

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

My summary follows;

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

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

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

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

Bill’s Opinion

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

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

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

Depressing beyond tablets.

Things to do in Stoke Newington

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What can we infer from this silence?

Bill’s Opinion

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

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

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

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

The Sydney Morning Herald meme maker

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

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

For example;

Abbott says water is wet

Or

Abbott claims night is dark

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

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

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

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

Bill’s Opinion

Aaaand we’re back.

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

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

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

When the facts change

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

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

That photo was from today via the webcam here.

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

Interesting. Shocking, actually.

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

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

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

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

3. Something else.

Bill’s Opinion

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

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

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

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

Reprinting government press releases

Otherwise known as “the New Zealand news media“.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why?

Bill’s Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

“Catastrophic” means something else in Kiwi-ese

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

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

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

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

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

Bill’s Opinion

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

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

Take your medicine, proles

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

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

Our best hope?

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

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

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

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

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

Most of us?

DeTocqueville’s tyranny of the majority, much?

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

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

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

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

The personal benefits ultimately outweigh the personal costs.

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

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

Non sequitur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It may sound draconian.

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

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

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

Bill’s Opinion

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

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

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.

“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.