Just duck duck go and call their bluff

Executives from Google and Facebook’s Australian offices were dragged in front of a Senate hearing where they were savaged by Green politician Sarah Two Dads, which must have been scary for them.

If you missed the story, the chronology can be summarised as follows:

1989 Tim Berners-Lee invents the World Wide Web

1998 Larry Page created Google

2020 The Australian news industry discovered the internet

2021 Australian politicians tried to tax the internet

Ok, there’s a bit more to it than that….but not much.

To get a completely unbiased version of events, read this article published by the Sydney Morning Herald, an organisation whose entire raison d’être was to write about new stuff, yet has failed to change its business model every year since 1998.

Bill’s Opinion

As Ben Shapiro is fond of saying, two things can be true at once. Google and Facebook can be ruthless and unscrupulous operators, willing to steal content and commoditise everything they touch AND the Australian news media can be guilty of failing to adapt their business model to make money and not have to keep firing journalists.

In the unlikely event Google switch off their search engine in Australia, nobody should care. Other search engines are available and some, such as Duck Duck Go claim not to track you like a Stasi surveillance team.

I suspect the politicians will blink first, but who really cares anyway.

What is most amusing is the news outlets most exercised by this. Outlets like The Australian and, in the UK, The Times, Telegraph and Spectator have all made a success of the paywall model. This Australian spat says more about the outlets who haven’t, doesn’t it?

Newspapers such as the Sydney Morning Herald are desperate for a government handout, nominally paid for by Google. To understand why, one only needs to answer the following question; “where would a Sydney Morning Herald reader go for free news if they locked the paywall?”.

The answer is, of course, the government news agency, The ABC.

The SMH can’t compete because they have no Unique Selling Point to offer to someone whose politics leans towards the left.

Yet don’t expect to see calls in the SMH for The ABC to be defunded.

It’s the Australian equivalent of Stockholm Syndrome.

As for losing the Google search option in Australia…. I’m reminded of this exchange in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy:

Prosser: Mr. Dent, have you any idea how much damage that bulldozer would suffer if I just let it roll straight over you?

Dent: How much?

Prosser: None at all.

The customer is always right

An interesting Twitter thread here on the subject of Chinese visa abusers students in an Australian university complaining about the subject material being taught.

This caught my attention for two reasons; firstly, it had never crossed my mind that, once reading the prospectus, applying and paying for the course, students would then vociferously petition to define the course material.

But the most instructive aspect of this is the reply by the University. Spoiler alert; it isn’t a single sentence along the lines of, “that’s what we’re teaching, if you don’t like it feel free to fuck off”:

To understand what’s going on with this story, you’ll need some specific Australian background. You can do your own research to confirm/reject these statements and, if you do, it’d be great to hear your conclusions in the comments:

Australia has been running two unofficial route to citizenship schemes for decades. The first is “457 visas” for IT workers where they are employed at lower than market rate until they achieve permanent resident status. In earlier times, this might have been called “indentured labour”. The second is a student visa whereby the children of rich foreigners with questionable qualifications and English language skills pay to attend a university course with the intention of staying long enough to achieve permanent resident status.

This has had the effect of keeping IT salaries lower than they might otherwise have been and inflating the revenue of the universities most guilty of turning a blind eye to non-bilingual students.

Following the events of 2020, these two industries are having to reassess this model.

Bill’s Opinion

The correct response from Monash should have been taciturn and Anglo Saxon. That it was a mealy mouthed equivocation tells us quite how reliant they are on the revenue being shipped in from mainland Chinese parents.

As the old axiom goes, “the customer is always right”.

Mostly peaceful

The online world is a bit of a dumpster fire this week, with everyone with an opinion feeling uninhibited enough to let us know their hot take on the situation, with the added not insignificant bonus of publicly demonstrating their virtue.

Careful observers with memories longer than a few months might spot some slight inconsistencies in these public opinions, however.

For example, those who are loudly proclaiming on their soshal mejia accounts the Trump supporters breaking into The Capitol was an attempted coup yet didn’t speak up against any of the following:

  • The four year campaign to impeach the President on the basis of an election “hacked” by Russia which, after an expensive taxpayer funded investigation, turned out to be a big nothingburger,
  • The nightly Antifa riots in Portland, the destruction of the city centre and the implementation of a lawless “autonomous zone”,
  • The nightly attacks on the Portland courthouse,
  • The invasion of the Senate by anti-Brett Kavanaugh protesters,
  • The riots across the USA and looting of department stores in the name of BLM,
  • BLM and Antifa threatening diners in restaurants and suburban residents in their homes.

Given time and motivation, we could continue to list multiple examples of illegal and violent protest over the last four years, and undertake the offence archeology on the accounts of those who were silent then, vocal now. People are doing this for high profile names such as Alexandria Occasionally Correct with amusing results.

But for the average person, you, for example, what’s the standard you’ve demonstrated? Have you applied the same principles when your team screwed up as when the other side did?

If you didn’t, what does that make you?

Bill’s Opinion

In the few jurisdictions where it still exists, your freedom of speech should be unaffected by your record of subjective and partisan commentary.

That statement notwithstanding, your inability to apply objective standards and principles and your lack of courage to do so in public massively reduces your credibility.

You may exercise your freedom of speech to attempt to persuade us that, despite the long history of coup attempts and successful coups around the world, an unarmed raggle taggle bunch of cosplay Davy Crockets entering a building is a clear and present danger to the world’s most powerful military force. We, however, will judge those twitterings in the context of your previously demonstrated commitment to consistency.

My view on the events in The Capitol are that it was illegal and the rule of law must be maintained. That was also my view on the looting during the summer of BLM, the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone, and all of the other illegal acts we witnessed last year but were given a free pass by many for reasons of political expediency.

I suggest this is a time for a long look in the mirror in case the Nietzsche quote applies to you:

He who fights with monsters might take care lest he thereby become a monster. And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.

…and don’t do it again!

…unless you want to.

Well, that certainly gave President Xi a piece of our mind. I hope he reads it carefully and has second thoughts about his nasty policy of reneging on the 50 year agreement to not impose Chinese legislation on Hong Kong.

One can only imagine the reaction in the inner circle of power in Beijing, they must be absolutely shitting their pants.

Well, imagine no further; we’ve been very fortunate to have access to a secret recording of President Xi’s reaction.

Helpfully, it has been translated for us by Kevin Rudd. Many of you may not be aware, because he doesn’t like to mention it, but the former Australian Prime Minister is fluent in Mandarin:

(Presidential aide passes the text of the Australian response to the arrests to Xi)

(Pause while he reads it)

(Xi scrunches the paper into a tight ball and aims it at the basketball hoop on his wall. Throws and gets it in).

President Xi: Three points! Yao Ming eat yer heart out!

Bill’s Opinion

In August 2019 I wrote about Australia’s quandary on how best to deal with China.

This piss weak response to a further incursion in to the freedoms of the Hong Kongers, supposedly protected under international law, tells us which side of the Chamberlain/Churchill spectrum the current Australian Federal Government have chosen to sit.

That’s fine, we can choose appeasement and cowardice if that’s what we feel is best for our interests. But let’s just admit it then, rather than pretending we’re some kind of moral arbiter and guardians of objective truth.

Without Chinese trade links, Australia is more fucked than a Wan Chai whore after a weekend when a US aircraft carrier has been in town.

They know that, we know that and they know we know that. Which means China can do what the fuck they like and we won’t lift a finger, except perhaps to wave a piece of paper thus:

Dine and discover unintended consequences

There’s a trial underway in New South Wales which apes Boris Johnson’s “Eat out to help out” stimulus from earlier in the year.

The NSW version is the “Dine and discover” programme.

It’s being trialled in The Rocks area of Sydney, later to be rolled out to the rest of the state.

It differs from the UK version however, as the business categories eligible for the stimulus are far greater, including “scenic and sightseeing transport”, “recreational activities such as go-karting, indoor climbing, mini-golf, billiards, bowling or ice-rinks”, “outdoor adventures”, and “travel agencies and tours.

Can anyone see a flaw in the scope of the trial and what do we think happens next?

Bueller? Anyone?

There are plenty of pubs and restaurants in The Rocks, but go-karting and outdoor adventures? Not so many. Similarly, there’s not a huge number of travel and touring businesses based out of the small historic part of Sydney.

Why is this a problem?

Well, what won’t be tested as these $25 vouchers are rolled out is whether there’s an opportunity for misuse and fraud.

Anyone who’s ever previously met another human will instinctively know the axiom, if fraud is possible and a large enough number of people are involved, fraud will occur.

Bill’s Opinion

It’s an absolute certainty there will be multiple cases of newly-registered or previously dormant businesses making a load of free money from innovative use of these vouchers.

At its simplest, a scam might simply launder part of the $25 back to the consumer, say, $20 in cash back to you while my “scenic tour business” pockets a fiver and nobody says anything.

More imaginative minds than mine will be working on various elaborate and profitable versions of this idea right now.

This is little league stuff compared with some of the Bernie Madoff-esque scams surely underway already in financial markets, though.

2021 is going to be the “everything bubble” party. Perhaps 2022 is when the hangover kicks in?

A fool and their money

In news that can’t have improved their experience of 2020, it would seem some less than diligent Australians have discovered they’d been “investing” with a female Bernie Madoff.

In the words of Leonard Cohen when he discovered his manager had walked off with much of his wealth, “that can tend to take the shine off your day“.

Whenever one reads of these Ponzi schemes, the depths of gullibility always astound. This one is no exception; statements of investment accounts that were simply the CBA bank logo cut and pasted on to a fake statement and not even the correct number of digits in the bank accounts.

The inference being, none of these “investors” could have ever logged on to their accounts to confirm the balance.

That’s a level of trust bordering on insane.

Speaking of trust, if you believe her husband knew nothing about the fraud, I’ve got a bridge across the river Thames you might like to buy:

You’re not in trouble“. Riiight.

What was the inflight service like on the private jet to the month long holiday in Aspen, Anthony?

Anthony’s professional life seems to consist of not much activity for several years as a “music producer“. The more cynical and cruel amongst you might suspect he’s been spending a lot more time assisting his wife with her “business” than making shitty bleep bleep music.

Anyway, as we start to run out of new content on Netflix and the cinema while the 2020 break in production flows through to us, this case will be a welcome distraction.

See also, the recent arrest of Joe Anderson and Derek Hatton in the UK’s capital of grief and victimhood, Liverpool. Now that’s a Christmas present worth savouring.

Bill’s Opinion

Stupid and mendacious investments will always find willing suckers and, as long as we don’t fall for them, we get to enjoy the schadenfreude.

However, sometimes one just needs to accept the irrationality and embrace the opportunity. After all, a Ponzi scheme still makes money for some of the initial investors.

Which brings us to this prediction; 2021 will see asset bubbles springing up all over the place. All that easy money being hosed at everything that moves will find a home.

Which asset classes do I think are about to take off?

Gold, silver, the NASDAQ, energy stocks and residential property.

We may as well learn to stop worrying and love the bomb.

Career opportunities

From the unbiased and proudly independent Australian government news agency;

Curious minds might find a series of important questions not asked by Toby Mann and wires. Incidentally, I believe I saw Toby Mann And Wires supporting Shakespeare’s Sister at The Garage, Highbury in 1992.

Sweden’s failed coronavirus herd immunity gamble came at a high cost of lives and the country could still have to implement a lockdown to tackle the spread, experts say.

Failed? As the ambassador from post-revolutionary China reportedly replied when asked about his opinion on the success of the French Revolution, “It’s too early to tell“.

Also, experts. Anyone who thinks, in late 2020, an appeal to experts is persuasive really needs to pay more attention. Perhaps the most polite reaction the majority of people have when they see the noun, experts, is, “Sigh, really? Let me guess; and they’ve got a fucking computer model too?“.

Sweden’s approach to dealing with coronavirus was flawed from the start, according to Professor David Goldsmith, the lead author of a paper published by the UK’s Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine.

Ok, let’s see his evidence for that view then:

In it, Professor Goldsmith examined what went wrong with Sweden’s policy and why its case mortality rate is about triple that of its Scandinavian neighbours.

Case mortality rate? That’s our metric of choice for this argument is it?

Case mortality rate is a function of two numbers; the number of dead, which is relatively easy to count, and the number of people who have tested positive for the virus. That second measure is really not comparable across different countries, is it? Testing more people reduces the CFR but doesn’t mean the disease is any more or less dangerous.

And with a severe second wave presently moving through the country, he believes drastic measures need to be undertaken to control the spread.

“Sweden, unfortunately, have done the wrong thing in the wrong way,” Professor Goldsmith told the ABC.

“They thought they were going to get this herd immunity nonsense.”

“Herd immunity” is a term used by epidemiologists to describe the effect of a population that has grown immune to a virus either by catching it and recovering from it or by vaccination. Professor David Goldsmith’s expertise is not in virology, which might explain this mistake.

It doesn’t stop him from giving those Swedes a stern telling off;

“Nobody has ever tried to control a pandemic or an epidemic by inducing herd immunity.

Excuse me for a moment while I just check I’m up to date on my vaccinations agains the Black Death and Spanish Flu…..oh, hang on.

A measure of antibodies taken in June and July from people in Stockholm, the epicentre of Sweden’s first wave, found only about 15 per cent of the population had them.

Around this time, the country’s case and death rates were dropping.

From what rate to what new rate? We’re not told, obviously it’s not important.

Also unimportant are questions like, how bad was Sweden’s 2019 and 2018 flu season compared to the countries they are now being compared to? If the flu took more frail and sick in a particular country than another in those years, it seems logical Covid19 would take fewer during 2020.

Similarly, this time last year, much of Australia was in flames. This week, not so much. It’s almost as if something happened to the dry tinder…..

“What was it about the Swedes that would simply mean they could sit there and expect not to have a second wave of such severity?” he said.

“It astonishes me. I think they were caught up in their own bullshit.”

Some dispassionate, sober and scientific language there by Professor Goldsmith.

Standby, here comes a further demonstration that Australian universities are not sending their brightest and best to intern at The ABC;

Some of the results of this approach are borne out in simple numbers.

Simple numbers? Cool bananas, we can handle simple numbers. Give it your best shot, Toby Mann And Wires, play us a medley of your greatest hits:

There have been 225,560 cases of coronavirus in Sweden, a country of 10 million, and 6,500 people have died.

Ok, so forgetting the case numbers because, as we’ve said, that’s just a function of how many you test; the total fatality rate for the entire country is currently 0.065%.

With where else shall we compare the European country with 4 land borders?

Oh yes, the island nation of Australia, with its nearest neighbouring foreign major airport (not you, Auckland; sit down) an 8 hour flight away:

For comparison, there have been 27,854 cases and 907 deaths in Australia, which has a population of 25 million.

That comparison is the classic apples with pears.

Against numbers from large countries like the US, India or Brazil, Sweden’s tallies don’t seem too bad.

….not that Toby Mann And Wires is going to give you those comparisons though.

The professor has a co-author who is an actual epidemiologist;

Chair in Epidemiology at Deakin University, Professor Catherine Bennett, said Sweden’s case fatality rate was about 3 per cent, compared to about 1 per cent across the rest of Scandinavia.

“That’s an extraordinary death rate,” she told the ABC.

Case fatality rate. See what she did there?

Sweden’s COVID-19 death toll per capita is more than 10 times Norway’s and nearly five times that of Denmark.

How bad were Norway and Denmark’s 2018/19 flu seasons? Nah, not important.

Perhaps we get a hint at why certain people are so exercised and motivated to prove Sweden’s approach has been a disaster:

Rather than imposing lockdowns like many other countries, Sweden focused on voluntary measures aimed at promoting social distancing and good hygiene, such as working from home if possible, and avoiding public transport and crowded indoor activities.

Sweden had a lockdown of sorts, they just didn’t need over-zealous cops fining dog walkers, arresting beach-goers and flying drones over hikers.

Bill’s Opinion

There are obvious flaws in both the report and the subsequent news article. Hanlon’s Razor suggests we should just write these off as genuine mistakes.

It’s 2020 though. It’s probably long past the time for us to listen to Hanlon or any other expert or unbiased journalist.

These people are not fit to undertake these jobs, or at least not to the standards of the job description most people would expect of them.

Find another job, you mendacious activist bastards.

What’s the secret soy sauce?

The Spectator’s Cindy Yu hosted an interesting podcast this week; Has China really beaten coronavirus? in which she interviewed a correspondent in China who pointed out life has been back to normal since about May. Domestic flights are full, about one in ten people are wearing masks in public (which is a rational decision for anyone worried about pollution there) and nightclubs are operating as they did in 2019 with no social distancing restrictions.

That’s quite a turnaround from the situations we were seeing on the news, YouTube and social media back in January and February.

Do you remember? People were being welded shut inside their homes, others were collapsing on the street, including this man who died and whose photographed corpse made it on the Grauniad’s coverage on January 30th 2020:

Compare and contrast with practically every other country in the world and the varying levels of incursions into centuries’ old freedoms they have imposed. Going nightclubbing must see like a distant memory to New Yorkers, Londoners and Parisians.

So what’s going on? What’s the secret to China’s success?

That’s got to be the question of late 2020, surely?

As documented in the media in the early months of 2020, China enforced city-wide lockdowns, including the infamous door-welding.

But so did many other countries and cities. Why is it that, say, London is still moving in and out of lockdown on an almost weekly basis while the disco twinkies in Guangzhou can boogie the night away inside a steamy nightclub?

From the dead body in the pages of the Grauniad and the nightclubs being open was barely 4 months. How is it that New York, Paris, Milan, Barcelona and Sydney have nobody in their nightclubs?

Indeed, that famous Churchillian libertarian and free market advocate, Boris Johnson, is considering stopping Britons from going to the pub on Christmas Eve, something that wasn’t even implemented during both world wars.

So what on earth is going on?

Bill’s Opinion

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know why 1.3bn citizens in an authoritarian regime like China have, prima facie, greater personal freedom than the heirs to Magna Carta.

All I have is a blunt razor that suggests (not proves) the explanation requiring the fewest number of assumptions to be correct is likely to be the cause.

I’d love for people to offer alternate suggestions in the comments but my current view is the other countries are now dealing with a problem of fearful and incompetent leadership. They are fearful that the initial reaction was justified on the available data but, with what is known now, would be judged far too extreme. They are also incompetent at explaining the trade-offs required to be accepted for us to return to normal life.

Is it an international conspiracy of the Illuminati? Of course not.

It doesn’t really matter though; the impact is indistinguishable.

William of Ockham’s First Law of NSW Politics

All NSW political careers end suddenly with a difficult conversation at an anti-corruption hearing about property development.

Don’t blame me, I only observed the pattern;

Exhibit 1 – Eddie Obeid

Exhibit 2 – Ian McDonald

Exhibit 3 – Eric Roozendaal

Exhibit 4 – Barry O’Farrell

Exhibit 5 – Gladys Berejiklian (pending)

Exhibit 6 – Rod Staples (pending)

That’s just a small, hastily-collated sample, of course. Readers with a better grasp of history will no doubt be able to furnish us with multiple examples from all political hues, as this is a problem that crosses the ideological divide.

Bill’s Opinion

It’s not that these politicians are more or less corrupt than any other group of politicians, they aren’t particularly smarter or dumber either.

It’s just that Australia’s economy is so heavily skewed towards property as the only reliable way to make capital gains that the inevitable subset of corrupt politicians will top up their salaries almost exclusively in that sector.

Who can blame them though, when the executives managing the nation’s pension funds are shameless in their contempt for their customers by switching their own funds to avoid losses whilst letting the regular punters take the hit.

Of course, any reasonable “civilian” would look at that behaviour, conclude the deck is stacked against them ever seeing useful capital gains and that their pension fund is simply a forced deposit account. They logically conclude that the only safe place for their savings is in bricks and mortar.

Which brings us back to the incentives for politicians to take a dip; it’s not going to stop, ever.

Rinse. Repeat.

Douglas Bader is cancelled

Two legs good, no legs better….

Imagine being named after the wife of William Shakespeare and having a 21 year career as a Hollywood actress and yet not understanding the meaning of the verb, “acting“?

Anne Hathaway seems not to know that three-fingered witches capable of magic aren’t real;

Bill’s Opinion

Of course she knows witches aren’t real and that acting is pretending to be someone/thing you aren’t.

She’s signalling, “please don’t hurt me” to a very small group of people on social media, intoxicated by the power to make famous people do and say things when threatened.

The correct response, particularly when one is a multi-millionaire capable of living comfortably without having to work for the remainder of one’s life, is “oh do fuck off; nobody is really offended and, even if they were, it’s a great life lesson to toughen the fuck up or never engage with the outside world again”.