On numerators and denominators

Have you had the Coronavirus yet?

How do you know? Have you been tested and, if so, do you believe the test results?

The reason I ask is because I have a theory.

It’s not a passionately-held theory, so don’t read this as a call to reverse public policies and send everyone back to work, school and mass public entertainment events.

But it’s a theory for which I am increasingly open to exploring further. It is this:

COVID19 is far more widespread and, on a per capita basis, far less deadly than the current public estimates.

What would we need to know to be able to disprove or confirm this theory?

The following data points for a suitably large population:

  1. The population size,
  2. The number of people who have had or who currently have it, and
  3. The number of deaths attributable to COVID19.

Simple, right?

Not so fast. (1) is easy enough, we have a good handle on how many people live where,

Collecting (2), though, has three significant problems.

Firstly, it currently relies on the results of a test that has not been universal or even widespread in its use – many people displaying symptoms have been turned away when requesting tests for not “fitting the criteria”.

Second, the test is “real time”. i.e. it tests whether you currently have the virus, not whether you have had it and fully recovered.

Thirdly, the ratio of false negatives is not known. How many people have been sent away with “just the ‘flu” when they’ve actually had the Wuhan version? We don’t know.

Finally, we can’t be certain of the death rate from COVID19. Different countries are counting it in unique ways. The death of someone with stage four cancer in one country may or may not be attributable to COVID19 depending on the methodology.

These complaints about data may sound like nitpicking but they make a significant difference to how we might respond at a national level. Or at least they should.

At the risk of stating the blindingly obvious, the problem is the lack of a quick and accurate antibody test, one that would tell us who has been infected and recovered (and presumably, has immunity).

There’s good news though, it would seem one has been developed in the USA and is hopefully on its way to your local population.

I wonder what it will tell us?

Bill’s Opinion

I’m very sceptical of multi-variable predictive models. Minor inaccuracies on the estimate of one or more variables result in wild ranges of outcomes.

I’m not denying COVID19 is a massive public health problem though; even if it isn’t as deadly as the models are suggesting, the contagion rate is rapid enough to swamp our health systems when it hits people with vulnerable immune systems concurrently.

I do wonder though whether many of us have already had it in early January and shrugged it off as a bad cold. If that describes you and you’ve since lost your job, I’m doubly sorry for you.

Once this test has been distributed widely to a sample population, perhaps we’ll know whether the models were accurate or not.

Lastly, I’m in good company.

UPDATE; This is an excellent analysis of the statistics.

Covid-19 proves the government is not your Mum or Dad

Judging by the comments on here, regular readers have a solid independent mindset and don’t tend to be victims of lazy thinking.

This is a useful character trait at the best of times but more so during a crisis.

Why?

Because the government is not your Mum or Dad.

A million Mums on Facebook are reading this and saying, “well, duh“.

(actually, they’re not, because only about 3 of us read this blog, but for the sake of keeping me motivated, let’s pretend).

At the risk of building a strawMum argument, these are often the same people who write long posts about how the government should tackle climate change but happily post family holiday snaps from Aspen or Hakuba each year.

The growing panic around the spread of Kung Flu is likely to rapidly challenge many people’s internally-held instincts that the government is concerned for their well-being at a personal level.

Breaking News; the government doesn’t have an opinion about you. In fact, as we’ve explained previously, the government doesn’t have an opinion. Period.

It’s an easy misconception to make though, one might see how someone could fall for it. From cradle to grave, the government is smoothing the path for us all, every single hour of the day:

When you wake up in your house built to government-defined specifications, you use government-provided water and plumbing services in the bathroom, make breakfast using government-regulated (or even owned) power, read the post delivered by the government-provided mail services, drive your government-approved vehicle on the government-built road to your child’s government school and then to your heavily government regulated place of work, probably whilst listening to your government provided radio station.

It must be quite a shock, therefore to find even a single crack in the facade that all this isn’t for you individually but us collectively. Sure, the two concepts don’t clash for 99.9% of the time but they are about to.

Let me offer some pertinent examples;

The use of masks to prevent catching Covid-19

The government message is that they are not effective.

Ok, so why do medical professionals and other key workers wear them?

The reality the government is grappling with is more likely that masks are somewhat effective but there is a finite supply which the government needs to secure for medical professionals.

There is not yet a requirement to close schools

Ok, but at some point a critical mass of schools will have an infection and pupils at those first schools to be infected will be at a greater risk than the ones closed before infection.

The reality the government is facing is that, by closing the schools too soon, they reduce the number of available medical professionals as a large percentage will stay home to care for their children.

There is no need to stockpile.

Ok, but we’ve now run out of toilet paper and don’t have any paracetamol in the house and our three nearest supermarkets are empty.

It turns out that early stockpiling makes absolute rational sense if you believe everyone else is about to start doing the same tomorrow.

Bill’s Opinion

As we’ve pointed out many times here, the government is a non-sentient being that responds to stimuli. Projecting an ability to feel empathy, guilt, or a sense of duty onto a mass of thousands of individuals just because they have a group noun is a massive personal misjudgment.

The government, at best, act in your interest as a member of a collective. It can never act in your individual best interest when that is in conflict or even at slight variance to the collective.

Therefore, it’s very rational for you to think seriously about wearing masks in public, better still staying home from work, keeping your children at home, buying enough supplies for two or three weeks at home and preparing to sit things out.

Think positively; Netflix, YouTube, Skype, FaceTime are all available and, hopefully, your broadband stays up.

In the meantime, here’s a YouTube video to get you started. While watching it, consider quite how unprepared the world is for a crisis after we’ve accepted two generations of 100% career politicians as being appropriate leaders for our nations.

Seriously, there isn’t a single person in either the government or the opposition who has any experience even remotely appropriate to qualify them to lead a crisis response; they’ve gone from a PPE or Law degree, into a union position or legal firm, parachuted into a safe seat, to a cabinet position to being the leader of a major nation.

We would have done better by selecting the PM by jury service, lottery or Rock Paper Scissors.

Take it away Prime Minister Morrison, tell us all about the economic response, because that’s what everyone is really worried about isn’t it? We all care more about what’s going to happen to house prices rather than whether or not granny will end her life lying on a gurney in a hospital car park:

Scott Morrison’s blood sweat and tears speech.

The Australian bushfire climate crisis – an antidote to the chaos

After a self-imposed digital purdah over the holiday period where I managed to teach myself a lot about methods to replace structural bulkheads and fibreglassing on 30 a year old yacht, normal service has been resumed.

It may have not have come to your attention, but Australia has suffered a bushfire crisis this summer, particularly in New South Wales and Victoria.

While brave people have worked around the clock, mostly as volunteers, and stoical homeowners have watched as their possessions have been destroyed, metropolitan-dwellers such as me have expended terabytes of data explaining what the cause of these fires is and, by obvious extrapolation, the only solution.

There have been several occasions in my life where I’ve been fortunate to have been able to observe a moment of the zeitgeist in which I’m not personally-invested enough to take a side and could therefore watch friends I’ve previously considered sane, make total fools of themselves.

Examples of this include, the death of Princess Diana, the financial crisis of 2008 and the election of Donald Trump.

To offer a mea culpa and to show fallibility, sadly, I made a fool of myself immediately following the 911 attacks. So, my filter is probably as good as anyone else’s.

However, I’m watching the Australian debate on bushfires and climate change from a position of (self-perceived) neutrality. I’ve accepted that a debate about the various scientific aspects of climate change ultimately converts nobody from one side of the argument to the other.

People pick a team and then find justifications for their team. A compelling chart or dataset isn’t going to dent that certainty.

Once one accepts a role of observer, rather than team player, a different perspective can be offered.

Here it is:

The Australian debate over climate change and bushfires is not a scientific debate, it’s a discussion on opportunity cost.

By this, I mean Australia has finite resources to apply to a problem, any problem. It also has a finite range of influence over the global climate. Which problem it chooses to allocate those resources against and how, are the only two questions that should matter to anyone who has any interest in improving the situation.

Yet, the current hysterical debate in the media and pages of Facebook, Twitter, etc. is around the global problem and solutions.

Does anyone see a future where the two sides of that conversation could ever be reconciled?

I have a circuit breaker for Australia which I offer free to any Prime Minister (it’s a job filled in the same way jury service works, ensuring a new one every 18 months) smart enough to use it. This is copyright free, open source:

(For immediate release)

From the Office of The Prime Minister of Australia:

Fellow Australians, the terrible consequences of the bushfire crisis this summer has convinced many of us, myself included, that climate change is real and poses an existential threat to our planet.

With our unique flora and fauna and naturally dry conditions, Australia is particularly at risk from an increase in global temperatures,

The debate now is not about whether climate change real; the science is settled. The debate is about what we as a relatively small economic power can do in response to it?

This is not a question that can be answered by ideology or one specific scientific discipline; it is now a question for all aspects of daily life, from agriculture to economics, energy production, health, land-use, planning and so much more.

This is why this government is seeking input and answers from all relevant experts. Today, I announce a Royal Commission on the Climate Emergency with the aim of determining Australia’s response.

The terms of the Royal Commission are to include the following non-negotiable considerations:

  • We will disproportionately harm the most vulnerable in our society if we deliberately hamstring the economy, therefore any proposed solutions will be fully-costed and, in total, will not exceed 1% of GDP (benchmarked at 2020 levels).

  • Although Australia is well-respected internationally and is seen by many as a progressive thought leader, our relative ability to influence the global climate is low, therefore any proposed solutions should assume no international collaboration. We will lead by example but not be reliant on others.

  • To protect the weakest and most vulnerable, Australia needs low cost energy. The balance between ensuring this and preventing climate change needs to be clearly examined, therefore the Royal Commision will undertake a full cost/benefit analysis of all possible replacement energy sources, regardless of ideology and factoring in existing government subsidies, tariffs, tax allowances, etc. It is time to reconsider every aspect of energy generation.

I look forward to the full support of the leaders of all major parties in this, our biggest challenge since Gallipoli and the Bodyline Tour.

Bill’s Opinion

If you are 100% certain of what the primary cause of a multi-variable problem is, consider the possibility you’re suffering from cognitive dissonance.

To frame a Royal Commission around the terms above removes the dumb ideology from either side of the fight and concentrates on the opportunity cost to find the best pragmatic use of Australia’s money, time and effort.

The current narrative is one where we are allowing scientists to not only describe the problem but to also the solution when that solution is economic and societal, ie far wider than physics and chemistry. At the risk of going full Godwin, surely we had enough of scientists driving policy in the 20th century?

It has the added benefit of flushing out everyone’s indefensible ideological thoughts, such as the underlying Malthusianism and Millernariasm which, in my view, seems to be the motivation behind most of the louder commentary.

It’s all about me

Jessica (big) “smarty pants” Irvine was allowed another vanity column again this week:

I’ve lost loads of weight because I’m more intelligent than you“.

This continues along the same boastful theme she lectured us with 18 months ago, wherein she helpfully explained how, if you eat fewer calories than you expend in exercise, there’s a good chance you might lose weight over time.

Quite why it took most of her adult life to learn something most people have worked out by the time they’ve reached puberty, she doesn’t explain.

The entire column is barely more than a lengthy Facebook post that most people unfortunate to be connected to her would either skip past or consider justification for muting further updates from her.

That the editorial team at the Sydney Morning Herald let this get as far as publication speaks volumes for the rate of decline of the masthead.

There’s not much else to be said about this utter vanity effort except perhaps a data point for Jessica (well, she claims to be good with numbers) in response to her featured Instagram post:

A six hour marathon?

That’s the cut-off limit of that race.

Bill’s Opinion

Actually, the official results show Jess “ran” the race in 6 hours and 9 minutes.

So they were clearly packing everything up and heading home when she crossed the finish line.

There were only 39 people behind her. Her finish time is on the last page of those who completed the course.

Perhaps Jess’ New Year’s resolution for 2020 should involve developing some level of self-awareness and undertaking a little more introspection.

As for the Sydney Morning Herald editorial team, it might be worth going on to Google Maps and plotting a scenic route to your nearest Centrelink office for later in the year. If you get in the habit of collecting your dole money by foot, you too can become as fit and healthy as Jess Irvine.

Predictions are notoriously difficult

…especially about the future.

But they are a fun diversion.

Here’s ten of mine for the year 2020. Feel free to add your own in the comments.

Australian Politics

Politicians of all sides of the aisle increase the warnings against reliance on China. There will be noises made by the Federal government to have closer trade and defence links with the USA (particularly following the USA election).

A Westpac executive is jailed for the AUSTRAC issues. Probably Lynn Cobley.

Global Politics

The UK will reach a WTO+ deal (ie closer to WTO terms than a full trade deal) with the EU and negotiations won’t be extended. Boris will call their bluff.

Congress won’t send the impeachment papers to the Senate. The GOP will make political hay about this all the way to the election.

Zeitgeist

Sentiment turns against Saint Greta. There’s a financial scandal involving her parents or handlers.

A judge in the USA finds a single mother of a transgender child guilty of abuse. The Supreme Court supports this finding on appeal.

Sport

Six Nations table:

1 England

2 Ireland

3 Wales

4 France

5 Scotland

6 Italy

Australia finishes bottom of the Rugby Championship table.

Economy

Gold to temporarily breach all time high ($1,895).

The Dow to breach 30,000.

Widening jaws, bouncing dead cats

We’ve not updated this for a couple of months:

Well, that’s certainly telling an interesting story, isn’t it?

Regarding the lending figures; prior to 2019, the monthly change had only previously fallen to 0.3% or lower three times since the 1970s. It had never fallen as low as 0.1% until this October and November.

Market volumes must surely be playing a part in this picture.

Bill’s Opinion

Despite the voices claiming all is well and there’s never been a better time to buy, the lending data is flashing a red warning sign.

Unless buyers have found a new, magical source of capital, this recovery is likely to be short-lived.

My personal view is, stay out of this market until at least three consecutive months’ lending change figures above 0.3%.

The Manchurian Candidates for Australia

Australia’s least popular sociopathic narcissist (no, not you Eddie McGuire, sit down), Kevin Rudd, is back in the pages of the declining parish newsletter again, lecturing us on his favourite subject, himself China.

Before we get into the real subject of today’s blog post, perhaps we ought to point out that there is barely a sentence or paragraph in the article without “me”, “my” or “I” (he speaks Mandarin? Wow, that’s the first time we’ve heard that!).

Can anyone offer a suggestion as to why that might be?

Anyway, irrelevant-Rudd’s plea is that Australia doesn’t jaw jaw (to borrow Churchill’s phrase) but have a secret government strategy that is robust in the way the country intends to deal with China.

Here’s a question for Kevin. Given you’ve been out of office for nearly a decade (let’s not count the ridiculous 3 month “comeback tour”), how do you know there isn’t?

He goes on to suggest Australia should not be racist to China which, an unkind critic might suggest, sounds remarkably similar to the immediate post-kidnapping interviews with Patty Hearst.

He’s not the only ex-PM worried that Australia might upset the big northern neighbours, Paul Keating has recently been vocal on the subject too.

He said that Australia’s government and political system had failed in developing a China policy and that the “subtleties of foreign policy and the elasticity of diplomacy are being supplanted by the phobias of a group of security agencies”.

“Phobias”.

Real phobias are about “extreme or irrational fears”.

Given that there are multiple examples of Australian politics being influenced or subject to attempts to influence in recent years (Sam Dastyari, IT hack of parliament, possible defecting spy, possible attempt to install a puppet MP), at what point does a fear cease being irrational?

Bill’s Opinion

Anyone who believes Beijing’s approach to Australia will be ameliorated in any way for the better hasn’t been paying attention.

It is clear to anyone who wishes to look that China has increased the scale and intensity of domestic human rights abuses against groups such as the Uyghurs and Falun Gong. Depending on which reports one believes there are currently perhaps up to a million people internally-exiled in “re-education camps”.

What did the initial reporting of The Holocaust look like? Subdued.

Perhaps one can pass this off and look the other way because “it’s an internal matter”. So was Apartheid… until it wasn’t.

Then there’s the asymmetric trade deals where we get cheap shit and they steal our IP. Is that a great deal?

How about the opioid crisis in the USA? Remember, like surfing, blue jeans, rock and roll and HIV, what the Americans have, Australians get about five years later.

What is the dog that isn’t barking in all of this?

In all of the media coverage of the increasingly bad news relating to China and Australia’s relationship with the country the incredible economic leverage China has over Australia is never mentioned.

Seriously, it’s just not, is it?

Within about 3 to 6 months and without a shot being fired, China could put Australia into a deep recession which would perhaps take years to recover from.

When was the last time you heard the sentiment in the paragraph above ever expressed in the media?

Yet that’s the inference behind every claim for “calm rational heads” when dealing with China.

Perhaps appeasement is Australia’s only option, but there’s still some respect to be had by admitting to it.

The alternative is doubly-cowardly.

Super, smashing, great

Mark McVeigh, a 24-year-old environmental scientist from Australia, won’t be able to access his retirement savings until 2055. But, concerned about what the world may look like then, he’s taking action now, suing his A$57 billion ($39 billion) pension fund for not adequately disclosing or assessing the impact of climate change on its investments.

Cue picture of stereotypical ponytailed unshaven millennial affecting zher best serious face:

Is that shirt available in “ironed”, son?

Before launching the legal action, McVeigh asked Retail Employees Superannuation Trust, or Rest, how it was ensuring his savings were future proofed against rising world temperatures. Its response didn’t satisfy him and he ended up engaging specialist climate change law firm, Equity Generation Lawyers.

Readers outside Australia might not know this, but the legislation around Superannuation is excellent in terms of portability and choice for the consumer. If you don’t like how your fund is invested or administered, switching to another provider is relatively simple. In most cases it’s a quick and easy online process using an industry standard reference number.

So, our faux gravitas-faced soy boy could log on to the laptop pictured in front of him and switch to this fund, for example.

That he has, instead, chosen to engage an activist legal firm (who are hopefully acting pro-bono) to sue his existing fund requires some explanation, then.

Given that portability of funds, and the availability of real alternatives, it’s not unreasonable for observers to wonder at Mark’s motivation in this.

Is he genuinely concerned about how his investments are being made? Complete an online form and switch funds then.

Or, is this an attempt to set a legal precedent restricting the choice of the rest of us?

Bill’s Opinion

We can’t read Mark’s mind, but his actions suggest less concern about his personal investments and more a desire to interfere with ours.

The problem he will face is that the prime objective, written in law, of superannuation funds is to increase the wealth of the savers.

It won’t be hard for the Defence lawyers to argue that, compared to a pathetic 1.2% annualised performance, his current fund is performing their legal duties far more diligently then the virtue signalling “ethical” fund.

It won’t have entered Mark’s mind, given the incontrovertible truth that, starting about 20 years before his birth, the world has witnessed nothing short of a miracle in the reduction of human suffering as a result of economic freedom to trade and invest:

But sure, go ahead Mark, tell us all how we should spend our own money, because you’ve worked it all out for us in your 24 years of existence.

New Zealand’s “nuclear moment” *

* Spoiler alert; not really.

True to the idiom she has made all of her own, Jacinda Adern, the Mayor of New Zealand, has signalled her virtue on climate change by committing her country’s economy to being hamstrung until someone with a brain takes over her job.

If you’re interested in the details, click the link above. Be prepared, however, to be left wanting more tangible details on how this promise of carbon virtue will be achieved and funded.

That’s not the topic of this post today, however. We’re more interested in the total irony resulting in this quote and headline:

The irony is, of course, that nuclear energy does not form part of the strategy.

Bill’s Opinion

There are in life, some very useful heuristics we can use to save time when forming opinions. These are not infallible but are more often correct than not.

On climate change, if the person you are discussing the problem with fails to mention even the possibility of nuclear energy being part of the solution, you can be fairly sure they are calling for some kind of transfer of political and economic power first, solving environmental problems a far distant second.

Nobody named Brian is ever competent

It’s an uncomfortable but unconscious truth that some first names are not associated with success. Those which immediately spring to mind include; Wayne, Kevin, and Nigel.

Brian is another example. Yes, the guitarist from Queen is highly competent in the fields of music and astrophysics, but he’s the exception, like Farage is amongst all the Nigels.

Australia has a classic “incompetent Brian” running (ruining?) the bank, Wokepac.

Luckily for Brian, he’s a member of The Club, which is handy because this time next year he’ll need to find a new job.

Why?

Two reasons:

Firstly, he’s been at the helm during the latter phases of the multi-decade ongoing decline of the weakest of Australia’s “big four” banks, culminating in the apologetic letter (from page 10) in the annual report.

Secondly, he’s got to find $8m cash in his personal bank account between now and March next year.

Now, I’ve no doubt Brian’s personal wealth easily exceeds that; he earns over half of that a year in the salary component of his package alone, notwithstanding his generous decision to waive his performance bonus.

The more pertinent question is whether or not he has enough personal belief in the future of Wokepac, the Australian banking industry and the Australian economy in general, to cash in $8m of his investments and personal wealth and transfer it to shares in the dog of the banking sector?

Bills Opinion

Since joining The Club, Brian has feathered his nest nicely whilst virtue signalling, using shareholder’s money, on matters LGBTQ+, Aboriginal, diversity and every other cause célèbre.

The time has come to see quite how committed he is to this as a future business strategy. Chicken or pig, Brian?