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”.

William of Ockham’s First Law of Government Projects

To the casual observer, corruption and incompetence are indistinguishable.

I’ve been asked to troubleshoot a failing government project.

How badly failing?

It has taken twice as long as originally planned to deliver a fraction of the benefits at three times the original budget. There is a further year of work to go and it would seem there will be a further blow out of cost to achieve that. It’s not clear the planned benefits will ever be achieved to more than perhaps half of those first planned.

“So what?” you might say, “this is how government projects always go”.

You’d be right, of course; the dictionary definition of a unicorn should probably include the words “government project delivered on time, budget and to scope“.

But, putting the low expectations aside, let’s run a little thought experiment….

If I run a government project and double the payments to the third party supplier for no increase in scope, you’d assume I’m in their pocket, right?

However, if I run the same project and descope half the functionality but hold the milestone payments at the same amount….. you just assume blah blah blah unforeseen complex technical issues.

The outcome is almost the same for the supplier though; maximised margin. The second scenario might even be considered worse for the taxpayer; they receive less of the value planned in the “business case”, whereas a cost blow out might have still delivered tangible benefits.

Let’s consider an example of a new pedestrian bridge across a busy highway. The original project was justified on the basis that there would be steps for the fit and active, a ramp for cyclists and a lift for the infirm or parents with children in buggies.

Over the course of the build, various issues are discovered which make the lift difficult to install, perhaps the government architect designed the lift shaft too small, and a decision is made to drop the requirement for the lift.

Perhaps there’s a dispute about the access to the piece of land where the ramp is to be built. The requirement for this is also dropped.

In the meantime, the supplier argues they bid on good faith, incurred considerable costs in preparing to install the lift and ramp and should therefore not suffer reduced fees.

The project continues, the bridge is built and the supplier is paid. Immediately following the official bridge opening ceremony, mothers with buggies, kids on bikes and elderly people with walking sticks are faced with the choice of a difficult stair climb or taking their chances crossing the road between gaps in the traffic.

Why did this happen?

If incompetence, then we would find a thoughtless architect, a useless contract drafter and a government project manager who was unable to plan and track critical activities.

If corruption, we might find many of the same layers of incompetence but perhaps one of the people in a key role was somewhat more deliberate in their lack of diligence.

Bill’s Opinion

For those of you who have been paying attention, this is a follow on revelation from this situation.

Credibility level: Smollett

America is in crisis. The demand for hate crimes is outstripping supply.

As with all supply-side shortages, unsatisfactory, sub-standard products flood the market as a consequence until the natural balance is restored.

Consider the sad tale of Althea Bernstein; the likelihood of this “hate crime” happening as described by Ms Bernstein is so small it would need to be measured by an electron microscope.

Althea borrowed her Mum’s car, drove to near where a riot was occurring, replete with an large arson attack, then returned home past her curfew time with some light burns.

Anyone who reads this story and believes that four boys actually sprayed her with lighter fluid through a car window and followed it up with a lit cigarette lighter needs to seriously take a deep breath and down a cup of coffee.

Nonetheless, some high profile folks have accepted this at face value.

Who?

A couple of dumb football players, for a start. Let’s face it, critical thinking isn’t a core competency for kicking and catching a ball, but Todd Gurley and Oren Burks have managed to underachieve the already low intellectual expectations for their profession.

This is exquisite, though; Megan Markle spoke with Althea for 40 minutes. Apparently, “Meghan and Bernstein formed a connection over being biracial, and Meghan advised her to stay away from social media to avoid seeing negative comments“.

Negative comments such as, “liar, liar, pants on fire“, presumably?

Bill’s Opinion

You, I and everyone we know will read a story like the one Althea told her mother to justify coming home late with light burns to her face and immediately guess what happened; she disobeyed her mother, went to the riot and got splashed whilst having some innocent fun with Molotov cocktails.

That figures such as the football players and the ex-Princess are prepared to publicly state their support for her version of the evening leads us to believe only one of two things is true. Either;

1. They really are so gullible that this story seems credible. In which case, we should pity them, or;

2. Like us, they realise this doesn’t pass the sniff test but have decided to pretend that it does.

If (2) is correct, perhaps Theodore Dalrymple’s explanation is the best way to understand what is going on:

Political correctness is communist propaganda writ small. In my study of communist societies, I came to the conclusion that the purpose of communist propaganda was not to persuade or convince, not to inform, but to humiliate; and therefore, the less it corresponded to reality the better. When people are forced to remain silent when they are being told the most obvious lies, or even worse when they are forced to repeat the lies themselves, they lose once and for all their sense of probity. To assent to obvious lies is in some small way to become evil oneself. One’s standing to resist anything is thus eroded, and even destroyed. A society of emasculated liars is easy to control. I think if you examine political correctness, it has the same effect and is intended to.

Grubby fingers on the scales

For those not normally exercised by the parochial freak show that is Australian politics, “the Morrison government” is a coalition of two parties that pitch themselves as being on the side of free markets and smaller government.

Obviously, as they say in Tasmania, “it’s all relative”.

The Greens are, well, what Greens are the world over; water melons.

The Greens are willing to help the Morrison government pass contentious new laws to make global digital tech giants pay local news media companies for content, but its Senate support will be contingent on the inclusion of both public broadcasters in the mandatory industry code.
Under the proposed laws foreign technology platforms such as Google and Facebook would be forced to pay news companies for use of their articles, share key data and warn them of any changes to their algorithms or face fines of up to 10 per cent of local revenue.

Prima facie, these are curious bedfellows.

Some understanding of the nature of Australian politics is required to make sense of this.

First though, read this sentence and see whether it makes any sense to you:

“There is no reason for the ABC and SBS to be excluded … public broadcasters deserve a fair return for what they produce and what the tech platforms benefit from. If the aim of this code is to ensure the viability of Australia’s media, then the government should ensure ABC is included, that AAP doesn’t fail and that small and independent publishers don’t miss out.”

For the benefit of our overseas readers, the ABC and SBS are government broadcasters. The concept that a government department “deserves” revenue from its competitors in the private sector tells you everything you need to know about Senator Hanson-Young’s understanding of commerce, economics or, indeed, the correct limitations of government.

Obviously, that we’re even talking about taxing one company to pay a competing government department is ridiculous, but the conversation started without anyone challenging the idea of taxing a company to pay for the failings of another.

Why are Facebook, Google, et al going to be clobbered with this potential tax? Because the local Australian media haven’t managed to get a viable subscription service in place to replace their century old paper-based revenue stream.

Did the Pony Express receive tax subsidies from the telegraph once the lines were laid?

Bill’s Opinion

Three things can be correct at the same time; the Australian political landscape can be populated by bedwetting collectivists and crony capitalists, the Australia legacy media can be incompetent and venal AND the big tech companies can be run by utter cunts.

Witness today’s auto-fill suggestions:

And yet:

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.

Flat lines, flat out lies

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

Do you remember the reason?

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

What’s the word?

Flatten.

That was it! “Flatten the curve“.

And why did the curve need flattening?

To not overwhelm the hospitals

There was even a pretty chart to illustrate the concept:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Bill’s Opinion

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

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

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

The Dreamtime Phoney War

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Keith Richards

Bill’s Opinion

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

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

Some of it may even stick.

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

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

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

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

Faulty maps have brought the earth to a halt

Caught between the twisted stars the plotted lines the faulty map that brought Columbus to New York

Betwixt between the East and west he calls on her wearing a leather vest, the earth squeals and shudders to a halt.

“Romeo had Juliette” Lou Reed

The Drake Equation was created by Dr. Frank Drake. From wiki:

The Drake equation is a probabilistic argument used to estimate the number of active, communicative extraterrestrial civilizations in the Milky Way galaxy.

The equation relies on 7 variables to produce the answer to the question, how many alien civilisations are there out there?

The 7 variables are:

R∗ = the average rate of star formation in our galaxy.

fp = the fraction of those stars that have planets.

ne = the average number of planets that can potentially support life per star that has planets.

fl = the fraction of planets that could support life that actually develop life at some point.

fi = the fraction of planets with life that actually go on to develop intelligent life (civilizations).

fc = the fraction of civilizations that develop a technology that releases detectable signs of their existence into space.

L = the length of time for which such civilizations release detectable signals into space.

Depending on the estimated values of each of these variables, we find that the number of alien civilisations in the universe sits somewhere in a range between zero and 50 million.

Let me repeat that. Between zero to 50 million.

So, the Drake Equation is an interesting intellectual exercise but of absolutely no use in determining any kind of tangible action to be taken. We’re not going to start sending Matthew McConaughay out light years away to make contact. Similarly, it’s probably a waste of time and resources building global defences against invading Martians.

Which brings us to the infamous Imperial College computer model used to produce the report which the UK and many other world governments relied on to determine their response to the China Flu.

Spoiler alert; the model is shit.

You didn’t need a programming expert to tell you that though, the evidence is flooding in from around the globe.

The model’s predictions are falling apart wherever we look. Hospitals are not overwhelmed anywhere. No, not even in New York City.

Awkwardly, Sweden seems to have magically saved tens of thousands of predicted fatalities despite ignoring the report’s recommended actions.

The holy church of the UK’s National Health Service is being applauded every Thursday evening like an inverse Emmanuel Goldstein whilst having barely any of the predicted volume of patients.

What’s going on? Well, one possible explanation is that we’ve made the biggest peacetime policy decision ever, based on shit maths.

How shit? Really fucking shit.

But it’s ok though, no need worry, the UK government have a plan out of this mess. Boris Johnson is basing his decisions to release the public and economy on the “R number”.

Great!

Curious minds might have one or two questions perhaps, such as:

What is the R number currently, and how is it measured?

To which the answers are, dunno and using guesswork.

Bill’s Opinion

The infamous pederast, John Maynard Keynes, said, “When the facts change, I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?“.

My current opinion is that the initial responses to close borders and enforce some restrictions on public gatherings was correct and rational behaviour in the face of a new virus that has reached pandemic status.

However, the justification given for these suspensions of freedom was that we couldn’t afford to overwhelm our hospitals.

Tick. We didn’t overwhelm the hospitals.

It is not at all clear how using the R number as a reason to release restrictions can be reconciled to that original justification.

If we have managed to flatten the curve (remember when that phrase was fashionable?), it doesn’t mean the area beneath the curve has reduced. To be clear; the same number of infections and deaths occur under every model where hospitals are not overwhelmed.

Has any politician had the cojones to come out and say that yet? Of course not.

And this is the problem; going into lockdown was easy by comparison with the political courage required to end it.

As the Chinese (oh, the irony) proverb says:

He who rides a tiger is afraid to dismount.