It’s all about you

A useful golden rule when observing current affairs is to keep your counsel for a solid 48 hours. This is particularly true in the case of breaking news about violence and potential terrorism attacks.

The incentive structure in today’s digital age is diametrically-opposed to this rule of sober and prudent analysis, however.

Hence, depending on the source from which you consume your news you may have believed the city of Sydney endured a white supremacist attack, a radical Islamic attack or deadly violence from a mentally-unwell man.

Confusingly for narrative-obsessed journalists (but I repeat myself), the knife-wielder apparently had a USB drive with details of the recent Christchurch and El Paso racially-motivated attacks but also shouted the well-known catchphrase, “Alan’s Snackbar” at the police who arrested him.

Several possibilities suggest themselves here. It could be possible the attacker was:

  • Racially-motivated, or
  • A Jihadi, or
  • One of the two above whilst pretending to be the other in some elaborate hoax, and/or
  • Mentally ill

In a move that should surprise nobody, Lucy Cormack of the Sydney Morning Herald, clearly disappointed the attack wasn’t a good fit for the “white supremacy is everywhere” narrative, pivots and manages to make the attack seem as if it’s part of a war by men on women.

Bill’s Opinion

I think a suitable time has passed since the attack to confidently state, regardless of what he might have said or read, the prime reason the attacker committed the murder and an attempted murder was because he was suffering severe mental illness. It’s unfortunate but no matter how well we work to catch these in advance, there will always be a number of such tragedies in any society.

Claiming this is part of some wider problem of patriarchal and systemic male violence against women is like claiming the attacks on New York on September 11th were motivated by a hatred of open plan offices and elevators. 

“Completely mystified”

The responses below the tweet are priceless, but before you click the link, let’s look at the supporting article.

Apparently, the most likely explanation to the phenomenon of lowering costs for some expenses yet rising costs for others is something I’d not previously heard of; Baumol Cost Disease.

From Bloomberg’s helpful description:

The theory of Baumol cost disease, developed in the 1960s by economist William Baumol, states that some things rise in price even as productivity goes up. When society gets better at making cars, electronics, food and clothing, wages go up. But as wages go up, industries that don’t find ways to use less labor to produce the same service — for example, a string quartet — rise in price as well.

Which, prima facie, sounds reasonable and rational.

However, I would caveat that feeling of reasonableness with the statement that Malthusianism also sounds reasonable and rational when it’s first described, possibly for similar reasons.

What Malthus has been wrong about for the last 291 years is the Industrial Revolution. Or, more specifically, human inventiveness. Oscar Wilde touched on the solution we found to Malthus’ problem with this pithy quote;

Civilization requires slaves. Human slavery is wrong, insecure and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.

As the wags and wits on Twitter were fast to point out, the costs that have experienced the most price inflation are, in a suspicious coincidence, the things that have most benefited from government “help” in terms of regulation and subsidies.

Correlation isn’t causation but there’s clearly something worth further enquiry here.

Bill’s Opinion

The most interesting part of the Baumol description is this:

….industries that don’t find ways to use less labor to produce the same service….

The obvious question that prompts is, “why don’t they find ways to use less labour?”.

Perhaps the range of possible answers are as simple as these two:

  1. Because the work involved is impossible to automate or make any more efficient, and/or
  2. There isn’t a great enough incentive to automate or make more efficient.

Anyone who has ever spent any time working in a government or quasi-government department and the private sector will recognise the critical difference immediately; there is no personal reward for for a manager to find a way to deliver the government service with fewer or with lower-skilled employees.

It is extremely rare for a government minister’s stated desire for improved efficiency to be translated into meaningful incentives down the organisation to a level where they will have any material effect.

As Ronald Reagan so eloquently put it:

Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

Or, as an anonymous quote (no, it wasn’t Milton Friedman) goes:

If you put government in charge of the Sahara desert there will be a shortage of sand in five years.

But remember, “economists are completely mystified“.

News articles about transgenders confuse me

I am privileged enough to have benefited from an excellent education in English comprehension, some of which stuck in my sub-standard brain, but newspaper articles about transgender folk in 2019 always require re-reading.

Am I alone in this? Is this just me?

This one, for example, needed three passes before I worked out what was going on;

Zach Barack honoured to be Marvel’s first openly transgender star

The 23-year-old gushed about the role during an interview with Variety at the movie’s Los Angeles premiere on Wednesday. And reflecting on his casting, the star admitted his Hollywood debut still hasn’t sunk in.

“I’m kind of losing my mind a little bit, but I’m acting like I’m not. I don’t know that it fully has (sunk in),” he confessed. “I don’t quite have the capacity to explain how meaningful it is to me.”

Referencing comics as an “important” part of his childhood, Zach went on to explain that there’s “something very inherently trans about those stories”, where a character has to balance life as a teenager and their secret self.

Did you work it out? “Zach” is a woman who thinks she’s a man.

The pictures often help, to be fair. If you find your inner voice saying something along the lines of, “Christ, that’s an ugly man/woman“, it’ll be because they aren’t.

It turns out millions of years of evolution have resulted in the ability to rapidly sort other humans into potential mate/not potential mate categories before we are even consciously aware of the process occurring.

In “Zach’s” words;

“Especially being a transmasculine person, because sometimes there’s a pressure to be a different way than I feel naturally inclined to do because I want to fit in, and I have to actively fight that instinct,” he reflected.

Fighting one’s instinct to “fit in”? That’s a road to happiness and mental well-being, I’m sure.

“The fact of the matter is, being in this movie is so beyond incredibly meaningful, and I hope that it means something to other people.”

Well done, you got a job. It’s probably only meaningful to you and a couple of other people…. like your landlord and bank manager.

Here’s another example:

A transgender man who is fighting to have his child be the first in the UK to legally not have a mother made a documentary showing his child’s face whilst arguing that his family needed court anonymity to protect them from harm.

This being the UK’s Daily Telegraph, one of the last to get the “woke” memo, they give the game away early:

Freddy McConnell, who was born a woman, launched a High Court battle against the Government earlier this year after the General Registrar Office (GRO) refused to register him as the “father” on his child’s birth certificate.

Ok, it’s a woman who’s convinced herself that she’s a man… but not enough to stop her from going to a sperm donor and subsequently pushing a baby through the birth canal and out of her “male vagina” 9 months later.

As an aside, can you imagine the linguistic contortions the midwifery team had to put themselves through to avoid stepping on “Freddie’s” offence eggshells? One has to have some sympathy.

Selective acceptance of inconvenient facts seems to be a theme in “Freddie’s” world:

Mr McConnell was accused of being in “serious breach of his duty of candour to the Court” by failing to disclose the existence of a documentary called Seahorse, which he began filming three years ago. 

Throughout the documentary – which premiered at the trendy New York film festival Tribeca in April – Mr McConnell openly shares personal details including his attempts to get pregnant, giving birth and footage of his child’s face.  

The court heard how Mr McConnell completed his gender transition several years ago and was able to access a sperm donor 10 days after legally becoming a man. As a result, he became pregnant and later gave birth to YY.

Ah, nothing channels Marlene Dietrich’s “I vont to be alone” like being the star of your own BBC documentary. That takes living off the grid to a new level, eh?

The evidence prompted Sir Andrew <McFarlane, president of the Family Division of the High Court> to raise concerns about transgender men’s ability to access fertility treatment in the UK, as he called on the government to review the current legislation. 

Ya think?

Not least of the concerns should be that it’s highly unlikely “Freddie” paid for the treatment out of their own bank account but received it from the UK’s publicly-funded National Health Service.

As a slight digression, if “Freddie” was the recipient of thousands of pounds’ worth of IVF treatment on the NHS, let’s spare a thought for the minimum wage earning taxpayers stacking supermarket shelves on the night shift to pay for it.

But how did I make the leap of faith to assume “Freddie” didn’t get the IVF privately?

Because she/he isn’t on a high salary. We know that because the article helpfully tells us the name of her/his employer.

In April, two months after the initial court hearing, he gave an interview to The Guardian – where he works as a digital journalist – revealing his own full name, where they live and specific medical details of his transition process. 

So, an alternate headline for the story about Freddie and his male vagina could have been:

BBC makes documentary about transgender Guardian journalist.

Echo chamber much?

Bill’s Opinion

Confusing media reports of transgender folk fall into two categories; those that refer to their “new” gender in a sympathetic attempt to not further the subject’s psychological pain, and those that are deliberate in their attempt to obfuscate and change the meaning of previously universally understood nouns.

There’s possibly a third, supplemental reason for these misleading exercises in English comprehension; digital media is paid for by clicks and time spent on pages. If I have to page back and forth up an article until I’ve understood what’s being presented to me, it registers as a positive statistic to the advertising industry. There’s value in the confusion.

Or as the old sales cliché goes (borrowed from Sun Tzu), “where there’s chaos, there’s margin“.

The result of the confluence of these three reasons to change the meaning of millenia-old nouns is a change to our method of assessing the words presented to us. No woman of child-bearing age is going to look at “Zach” and unconsciously register “him” as a potential father of her future children. The lizard brain has got there first and already deselected “him” out.

There’s a solid scientific study simply waiting to be had to confirm this hypothesis. Good luck ever working again if you undertake it though.

So we unconsciously learn to associate “transgender” with the word “not“. As in “transgender woman” equals “not woman“. I somehow doubt this was the desired outcome of those who seek to change our language.

The cultural Marxists are generally not slow to spot failures of strategy though, so I predict there will be a concerted effort to no longer use transgender as a prefix in future, to be replaced with something else with less linguistic baggage.

We will know sanity has completely lost the culture war when we are told we should not (and later, cannot) use a prefix at all to describe transgender people.

UPDATE

I was unlucky enough to have to accompany some small children to the Spider-Man movie this weekend.

Firstly, the script writers need to be taken outside and shot as it surely cannot be difficult to to write an action movie that actually has action in the first half hour rather than trying to channel 1980s teen movies.

Secondly, one hopes “Zach” was paid commensurately to zher screen time and scripted lines… which amounted to 15 seconds and 6 words. Still, good payoff of publicity in the woke press….

Never apologise, never explain

….is a quote by Canadian feminist (back when that wasn’t a label of insanity), Nellie McClung. Possibly.

Then again, it may have been Gertrude Stein. Or it might have been Benjamin Jowett.

PG Wodehouse was more verbose but does give us a clue as to why we should never show contrition (highlighting, mine);

It is a good rule in life never to apologise. The right sort of people do not want apologies, and the wrong sort of people take a mean advantage of them.

The fact many people may have said something similar about the value of apologies, particularly public ones, might be a clue to a universal truth we might be seeing playing out frequently in “woke” 2019.

Let’s draw a distinction here between being sorry and saying sorry.

An example; “I’m sorry it was discovered that I did cocaine in my youth and then went on to be vehemently anti-drugs when I became Home Secretary (the UK’s minister for crime)” is not the same as, “I’m sorry I did cocaine in my youth”.

The latter is an expression of personal regret. The former is, in effect, offering oneself up for the judgement of the world.

Socialists have long known the difference. They understand the vast power of the public apology and have used it to great effect to further their causes.

The Moscow Trials in the 1930s were simply powerful propaganda pour encourager les autres. If the defendants refused to cooperate in the charade, they were executed anyway.

These are lessons we seem to have to learn the hard way every generation.

Twitter is awash with people who have had to show public contrition for some speech or thought crime from decades earlier as righteous offence archaeologists dig up ancient wrongdoing and present it, in the public interest natch, and sit back smugly as the mob is whipped up and baying for blood.

The Parkland Shooting survivor, Kyle Kashuv, has recently learned how little value there is to showing public remorse. Similarly, Milo Yiannopoulos made an apology he has since come to regret. There are countless examples to be found and, if you can’t be bothered to look for them, wait a few days and the next one will come along.

Two people seem to have found a method of surviving this problem; Donald Trump and, recently, Boris Johnson. Both have lots of reasons to say sorry in public but generally wave it away as if the burden of someone else.

Depending on your personal animus, this could be taken as a proof they are of poor character and borderline sociopathic.

However, given the left have made it clear there is absolutely no redemption available, regardless of whether or not one shows contrition, it could be argued theirs is the only logical response to a call for sorrow.

The ancient Athenians looked at this unintended consequence following the Mytilenean revolt on the island of Lesbos. During the Mytilenean Debate, an earlier decision to send a boat with orders to execute all men and enslave everyone else was reversed and another boat was sent the following day to halt the implementation of the first order. One of the most compelling reasons offered in support of the reversal was that it would incentivise future revolts to fight to the death, as they would otherwise have nothing to lose.

Science has caught up with what Donald, Boris and the ancient Athenians already knew; academic paper confirms public apologies are, at best, not helpful to the individual and possibly even worse for them

Bill’s Opinion

If you mean it, say sorry to the specific individual you wronged. At the point the apology goes wider than just people you could name from memory, forget it and move on; they weren’t actually hurt and it’s not going to help you in the slightest.

Oh, and to the person who hosted the party I attended in an apartment in Hong Kong’s Wan Chai in August 1997; it was me who threw up on your bathroom floor and for that I am deeply sorry. 

Why Khan’t you just shut up and do your damn job?

At last, chance to chat about something unrelated to religious rugby players…..

People sometimes ask me why we moved from London to Sydney? Reasons they are correct in assuming played a factor include the weather, the beaches, sailing and the chance to work in the vanguard, nay, the cutting edge of business and industry.

Ok, nobody seriously suggests the latter; if you think Sydney is leading the world in anything commercial, you’ve not been paying attention. It’s not even leading Australia in making good coffee; that’s Melbourne. Sydney sniffily looks down on it’s northern neighbour, Brisbane, as being backward but at least Brisbane has the humility to rarely pretend to be anything other than an oversized country town where everyone is related.

The main reason we moved out of London is that we didn’t fancy burying one or more of our children after they’d bled out on a London street.

Don’t get me wrong, London is absolutely still my favourite city in the world. If you’re earning a decent wedge of cash and enjoy good food, drink, music, arts and great value travel options, London is the place to live. If you’ve got kids of high school age, however, it’s really a holiday destination only.

We could see the trend years ago with a general and pervasive atmosphere of danger increasing over the years. I lived there for most of my adult life and had a great time but this was partly due to the fact that I was, (1) able to afford to live in one of the nicer areas, and (2) physically confident in most conflict situations (thank you Mr. Hamilton, my junior school teacher who introduced me to rugby).

Even with those mitigating factors, there were still a few occasions where the danger crept into our lives. My significant other still berates me for the time when we were travelling home on a bus one afternoon after I’d been playing rugby and I foolishly prevented a young man from attempting to get on through the rear doors (to avoid paying his fare) and he and two mates jumped me. Two factors were in my favour that day; I was in significantly better physical condition relative to the youths and, most importantly, they didn’t have any weapons. Thanks to that second factor and the help from another bloke on the bus, I was unhurt and they left with bruises. It was still stupid of me, however.

One doesn’t just arrive at being financially independent and handy in a fight though, you must survive adolescence and the initial phase of your working life first. High school age children are at a disadvantage, therefore.

Since we left, for reasons unclear to us, Londoners elected (and subsequently re-elected) a mayor who seems uninterested in delivering the most basic of requirements of his job description; i.e. keeping the population alive and physically safe.

Sadiq Khan has overseen the most rapid escalation in knife crime and other forms of serious violence that the capital has experienced since before Robert Peel thought about getting some hairy-arsed blokes together to calm things down a little.

How bad is it? 30 deaths from stabbings since the start of the year.

From that article;

How many stabbings were there in London in 2018?

Figures from London’s Metropolitan police showed that knife crime surged by 16 per cent in the capital year-on-year in 2018, as Britain’s crime epidemic continues.

There were 1,299 stabbings in London up to the end of April, according to official statistics from the Met Police.

In 2017-18, there were 137 knife offences for every 100,000 people in the capital.

2018 was London’s bloodiest year in almost a decade as the murder toll reached 134.

These statistics are appalling but they also tend to obfuscate even worse realisations. For example, how young those 30 murder victims are.

The reason I used The Sun’s article above rather than a more “respectable” mainstream media outlet is because it lists each of this year’s fatalities and gives their ages. Take a moment and scan down the list. Most of those murdered were 25 years old or younger.

When one looks at the probability of being stabbed in London, the “137 in 100,000” is not relevant if you are, say, an 18 year old. Clearly the risk is far greater for you and nearly everything an 18 year old would consider as being fun is likely to contribute to worsening that probability, such as going to a party, drinking in a bar, attending a music festival, walking home from a friend’s house at night, etc.

Bill’s Opinion

Things are likely to get far worse before London improves. The good news is that crime epidemics can be reversed in large global cities like London. New York in the 80s and 90s is the precedent for this.

However, it’s clear that the leadership is where the change starts. If your mayor is more interested at ranting on Twitter about his distaste for the President of the United States than, say, increasing visible policing, targeted stop and search, curfews for school age children, enforcing truancy laws, and generally being bothered about the rule of law, then don’t expect knife crime and other violence to reduce in a hurry.  

Alistair Williams has a good perspective on this;

Giving no quarter

This is a curious little report.

The United States has rejected more than 300 refugees under the Australia-US refugee deal, leaving the men in Australia’s offshore processing centres on Manus Island and Nauru.

That’s fair enough; I suppose, their borders, their border entry requirements.

What sort of percentage of these previously slam dunk new American residents were rejected?

Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said the target of resettling 1250 refugees was not going to be met, hampering the Coalition’s goal of closing down the detention centres.

Crikey, that’s nearly a 25% rejection rate.

“I don’t think we’ll get there,” he said. “There’s been over 300 that have been rejected by the United States for various reasons. They will make decisions about who they will bring under their migration program.”

Various reasons“.

Any chance we, the taxpayer who funds these rejected applicants, could learn what those reasons might be?

Mr Dutton said there were 95 people who have either withdrawn from consideration or rejected an offer, 295 who were in the pipeline for approval and 531 who had been re-settled.

Withdrawn or rejected an offer of resettlement to the USA…. after an expensive and perilous journey across 2 continents and half an ocean followed by several years on an island in the middle of nowhere?

Is anyone else wondering why? A quick scan of the rest of the article would suggest that nobody else is interested in the details.

This is interesting though:

Under the deal, Australia would reportedly accept dozens of Central American refugees in exchange for those in the Australian offshore detention centres, but Mr Dutton said only two Rwandans accused of mass murder by the US had been re-settled in Australia. 

The pair were taken to the US more than a decade ago and charged with murdering eight people in a brutal 1999 machete attack in Uganda.

Wait, what?

“We don’t have plans to bring any others from America at this stage,” Mr Dutton told ABC’s Insiders on Sunday.

Oh, that’s ok then. Just the two accused of genocide then. Could someone please let me know what postcode they were relocated to?

He said the historical perspective and circumstances of the allegations needed to be taken into account as well as what has happened in the intervening period.

What does that even mean, do we think?

Because Australia doesn’t have many Tutsi these two accused murderers are not so likely to repeat their actions?

Or, over time, a mass murder event becomes less serious?

If you’re confused by Dutton’s statement, you’re not alone.

“That’s a different situation from someone who just sexually assaulted a girl on Manus in the last 12 months,” he said.”We aren’t bringing in people posing a risk.”

Excuse me if I’m unconvinced by that word salad.

In fact, I’m sure I read something similar from the Argentinian authorities in 1960 after Albert Eichman was captured.

Mr Dutton said the Australian Federal Police, Australian Security Intelligence Organisation and international partners would continue to vet asylum seekers and Australians returning from war-zones in Syria.

“They’re complex cases. We’ll look at them compassionately but realistically,” he said.

Right, but back to the arrangement with the USA; it would seem something came up in their vetting that didn’t in ours. Comparatively quickly too, given that these asylum seekers were on Nauru and Manus, under Australian Federal care for 4 or 5 years.

There’s more from Mr. Dutton:

“If we’re bringing teenagers back, for example, who may have been listening to the propaganda rhetoric, having watched horrific circumstances, bodies being mutilated, over a long period of time, what threat those individuals may pose to our country if they’re returned”

What, as opposed to two people accused of doing the killing?

Anyway, these two potential mass murderers aside, what about the nearly 25% rejected applicants? Why might the USA quickly deem them to be not the type of person to be admitted to their country?

Here’s another data point you might not be aware of or have forgotten, certainly the news report seems to have omitted it; the deal wasn’t contingent on the applicants being genuine asylum seekers under the UN definition, they only had to pass a basic safety vetting.

Bill’s Opinion

Why might someone sitting for years on Nauru or Manus withdraw from a chance to be relocated in America?

The Guardian suggests it’s because America is horrid to Muslims, because that’s what several of the asylum seekers told them. More horrid than half a decade on an isolated Pacific Island?

We seem to be missing quite a lot of relevant information here.

Why would the USA be able to determine someone isn’t suitable to be relocated in their country when Australia has been happy to keep that person housed, fed and Xbox’d to their heart’s content for years?

Again, we seem to be missing quite a lot of relevant information.

Incentives matter. The urgency to investigate and adjudicate on an asylum seeker’s case when they are living outside of the country to which they are applying is not as great as when they are potentially about to arrive on your shores.

As for withdrawing an apparently slam dunk application to America because of “Islamophobia“? Our razor suggests that’s unlikely to be the real reason; an explanation requiring fewer assumptions to be correct is that there is something in one’s past that, if or perhaps when discovered by the American authorities, would require you to answer a bunch of difficult questions.

Save the children…. from Oxfam

Oxfam are in the news for the wrong reasons again this week. An investigation by the UK’s Charity Commission has found there was an institutional cover-up of child abuse by Oxfam’s staff in Haiti.

On a lighter note, I still chuckle at Bill Bailey’s joke that Haiti is the evil 8th dwarf that Snow White doesn’t like to talk about.

The noisy outrage quite rightly generated by this root and branch moral failure by one of the world’s previously best-regarded charities risks drowning out two interesting questions;

1. What ratio of applicants for the foreign aid worker jobs apply because of the access to vulnerable kids versus those who discover latent kiddie-fiddling tendencies on arrival?
2. Are the charity’s incentives such that an institutional cover-up was always the most likely response to complaints?

My first question is facetiously-written but its underlying curiosity is serious; presumably there are going to be some applicants to a job located in a disaster zone who aren’t there for altruistic reasons or even reasons of simply needing employment, but because it’s a good opportunity to undertake behaviours that risk imprisonment and public censure back home.

I bet that percentage is a larger number than anyone would wish to acknowledge. It’s certainly not zero.

The second question brings us back to one of my favourite short reads, Steven Kerr’s “On the folly of rewarding A while expecting B”.

Incentives matter.

How are the executives and senior managers in Oxfam rewarded and for which behaviours do they receive negative consequences? If being open and honest about the validity of a serious complaint impacts the ability to raise funds, thereby impacting the future salary and bonus pool available to employees, is it really that shocking if issues are swept under the corporate carpet?

Bill’s Opinion

Oxfam is, like many charities, a fundraising organisation with an aid-distribution department attached.

No, really they are, I’m sorry if that statement seems inaccurate or bursts an illusion you were suffering from.

The fact that any charity exists for more than a few short years is proof of two things;

1. It was woeful at achieving its stated outcome through reasons of incompetence, and/or setting too high a target and/or public apathy, or
2. After achieving the stated outcome, the people drawing a salary from the charity didn’t fancy closing the operation down and getting another job elsewhere so expanded the charity’s scope.

Oxfam was created to send food to the Greeks who were starving after the Nazi occupation in World War II. At some point, the Greeks were fed and someone in a boardroom in Oxford said, “Right then chaps, job well done. Shall we close the operation down and head off to the pub or is there something else we should do with this large organisation we find ourselves in charge of?

Somewhere along that road the very existence of the organisation grew a perception of worth and quality beyond the life of the initial mission statement. Subsequent corruption and scandals were inevitable from then.