The age of Rorschach tests

This is an example of a Rorschach Test image:

Related image

In the movies, psychiatrists show their patients these and try to seek meaning in the answer to the question, “tell me what you see?”.

For the record, in this example I see Lord Lucan recreating the Marty McFly guitar solo part during the cover of Johnny B Goode in the film Easy Rider while Edward G Robinson waves a declaration of cooperation next to an airplane that had recently landed from his meeting with Chancellor Dido.

Some people see a butterfly.

I digress.

These strange situations where people report wildly different experiences when seeing or hearing the same situation are not as rare as one might think.

Recall the “viral” dress that was either blue and black or white and gold?

It’s not limited to visual experiences; here’s “yanni or laurel”.

It’s unsurprising then, to find these differences between our perception of reality elsewhere in life. Some examples we can find by simply watching the news;

– Some people believe there are only two genders and this situation is fixed by the facts of biology. On the other hand, some people believe there are more than two genders and a person can choose to transition between them with the help of surgery and hormones or simply by stating it verbally.

– Some people think it’s highly unlikely an individual or group of individuals can collect and analyse enough data to successfully manage to a national economy. Some other people disagree with this, despite 200 million dead bodies in the ground during the 20th century, and are certain the best three people to undertake this task are called Jeremy Corbyn, John McDonnell and Diane Abbott.

Perhaps the pinnacle of this phenomenon of people having wildly divergent views of the same situation are the reactions to Donald Trump’s presidency.

The British have an expression that describes the differing reactions to Trump; like marmite.

Marmite is a salty yeast extract paste (similar to Vegemite in Australia). Nobody is ambivalent about its taste, you either love it or would rather chew your own fingernails off than eat it. A fact the marketing department used to their advantage a few years ago.

Similarly, I’ve yet to meet an American who metaphorically shrugs their shoulders and suggests Trump is neither terrible or the second coming of the Messiah.

Recently, I had a coffee with an American acquaintance and, towards the end of the meeting, she made a comment about how insane her home country was currently under the evil President.

Being an argumentative bugger, I thought I’d probe this opinion further, “ok, I’m not saying you’re wrong, but can you give me your three strongest reasons to persuade me he’s worse than any other previous president?

In order, here they are and the counter points I offered:

  1. He said the Nazis who murdered a woman in Charlottesville were “fine people”. – no, he didn’t. CNN selectivity edited the quote.
  2. He paid off a woman he had extra-marital sex with before he was president. – is that worse than getting the most junior staff member to give him oral sex in the Oval Office?
  3. He’s a dangerous warmonger. – perhaps, but pulling troops out of several current theatres of war and declining the option to bomb Iran suggests otherwise. He’s also running far behind the rate set by Obama.
  4. (She offered a 4th) He’s separating families at the Mexican border. – This has been policy for years and occurs until it can be ascertained the children are actually related to the adults and aren’t kidnapping victims.

Bills Opinion

It’s a difficult task to find a person who can express a nuanced view on President Trump, a view that suggests he’s neither the worst or the best holder of that office.

Why?

It’s my opinion that most people take their opinions verbatim from their selected news source.

Why aren’t the news sources presenting this nuance then? Perhaps it’s not in their interests.

The best explanation I’ve heard so far was expressed by Brett Weinstein on this podcast (go straight to the 1 hour mark and listen for about 4 minutes).

It’s an interesting theory that everyone knows the ideas of the last 10 years are insane but it’s not in anyone’s interests to say so publicly, so the madness remains. Weinstein articulates this far better than I, though.

In the meantime, my pronouns are zhe, zher and zhers:

Like being savaged by a dead sheep

Spare a thought for this week’s Australian Prime Minister (it’s a job selected like Jury Service, so we’re not sure whose turn it is at the moment); he or she has just been “lashed” by Headspace’s new “Ambassador”, Georgie (née George) Stone.

Lashed.

Here’s Georgie:

Georgie is 19 years old and is transgender. So, at any other time prior to about 2010, “she” would be a gay boy, in other words.

The Prime Minister’s lashing is a consequence of expressing just the slightest doubt that, just because George claims to be female, despite being the proud owner of a matching set of female penis and testicles, he is female.

For this failure on the part of the leader of a G20 member nation to agree up is down, black is white and gender is a social construct, the impartial journalists in the ever-declining Australian legacy press have written a unsympathetic article about him (sorry for assuming the gender of whoever is in the job these days).

Bill’s Opinion

Ok, full disclosure; I’m vaguely aware the Prime Minister’s name is Scott Morrison. The media hate him because he’s not afraid to admit to being a Christian.

Until about 6 years ago, the American Psychiatric Association, the main body of professional thought on matters mental, classed transgender (A.K.A gender dysphoria) as a mental illness.

Here’s a question for anyone who agrees with the sentiment expressed in the newspaper’s treatment of “Georgie” and “her” pronouns;

Would you prefer that the person who commands a well-armed military, a large Federal police force and has access to the resources of a secret service, to go around agreeing with every unproven claim made by highly confused 19 year olds?

If so, I’ve got a manifesto written by a mentally-ill 16 year old Swedish girl I’d like to sell to you for a couple of thousand dollars-worth of Bitcoin.

Perhaps this is how the Roman Empire ended

Jenna Guillaume lives in Sydney and is paid to write articles such as this one, in which she takes around 300 words to explain to us that she has clicked the “unfollow” button next to an American reality TV star’s name on Twitter.

At the risk of encouraging this rubbish, a delve into her Twitter account allows us to speculate about the reasons why she’s a) unfollowed the Kardashians, and b) wrote about it.

The reason she unfollowed the reality TV people is because it was making her unhappy about her body. Faced with the choice of doing something tangible to lose about 30kg or to use her thumb once on a smart phone, Jenna selected the less strenuous option.

The reason she wrote about it is because she clearly has no other employable skill. Let’s face it, if you’re a freelance writer “formerly” of Buzzfeed (fuck, how shit do you have to be to be let go from Buzzfeed?), employment options aren’t going to be very forthcoming. Uber driving, maybe?

As fun as it might be to pick on Jenna and her psychological issues relating to being a wheezing land whale, that’s not what today’s subject is really about.

We’ve written about this phenomenon previously; Golgafrincham Ark Buzzfeed.

Perhaps Jenna is a symptom of a cultural malaise. We’ve become so successful as a society and culture that we can afford to carry passengers such as the otherwise useless, Jenna Guillaume.

Bill’s Opinion

On the one hand, it’s a sign of how far we’ve come that someone with so little of worth to offer can still carve a living writing about such vacuous subjects as reality TV and “body positivity”.

The flip side to this is an atrophying of the qualities and values that are likely to have been contributing factors to our wealth and civilisation.

In another time or place, someone like Jenna Guillaume would have found her struggle with “body positivity” a long way down the list of priorities of topics for concern. Not dying of an incurable disease, violence or, ironically, a paucity of calories would have been rather more pressing day to day issues.

Somewhere in Syria, a jihadist is reading Jenna’s twitter account and reinforcing his belief that his god truly is on his side not ours.

Eroding curiosity levels

In the current era of Greta-strophic climate change, our journalistic class seem to have lost all sense of curiosity and inquiry and, instead, serve up re-heated statements without bothering to confirm the source of “facts”.

This is classic case; surf life saving club building under threat from climate change.

At Inverloch south east of Melbourne, locals are desperately trying to defend the local surf life-saving club from erosion that has pushed the shore line back a remarkable 50 metres in seven years.

Since January alone, the ocean has encroached 20 metres more on the beach, as truckloads of imported sand and a “wet” sand fence have failed to hold back the tides.

Gosh, that’s really bad. I hadn’t realised the ocean had risen so quickly. 

Because, according to even the IPCC’s data, the problem is one of the future not the present:

Anyone who has ever had to read a graph for a living will take one look at that, fold their arms, suck their teeth and wonder what the presenter is trying to sell them. 

I’m not saying the chart doesn’t prove the sea level is just about to start rising dramatically, but it’s some helluva coincidence that all the bad stuff happens….. tomorrow.

Back to the article. Recall, the headline and article state categorically that the building by the beach is about to be washed away due to climate change of the catastrophic, man made variety, no less. Yet….

While erosion is part of the natural cycle of shifting sand at the mouth of the Anderson Inlet, the Bass Coast shire is in no doubt the extent of change is due in part to climate change and rising seas.

“Our council accepts that climate change is a real thing,” says Bass Coast mayor Brett Tessari. “The impact in our municipality is horrific in some areas. The surf club is in danger.”

Rightie ho.

Or in other words, this has always been an erosion hot spot but the mayor absolutely knows that it’s significantly worse because of climate change. 

Go on then, Mayor Tessari, how much worse? 5%? 90%? The journalists obviously forgot to ask such an awkward follow-up question.

Up the coast, climate change has resulted in the easiest type of generosity. 

What’s the easiest type of generosity, I hear you ask?

The type where you give away someone else’s money.

If you have more than 10 halogen down-lights installed in your house, the NSW government has generously offered to use money taken from ratepayers who don’t have 10 or more halogen down-lights to pay for every such light in your house to be replaced.

Let’s just pose a question here for a moment; which type of property has tastefully-installed down-lights installed rather than nasty dangling light bulbs?

Bill’s Opinion

Every way one turns, there’s yet another example of a politician using man made climate change as an excuse to dip into someone else’s wallet to buy votes.

Perhaps man made catastrophic climate change is real. Perhaps it’s not. What is absolutely certain, however, it is a wicked way to exercise power over others whilst claiming righteousness.

Climate change is, in many ways, indistinguishable from a massive confidence trick. 

Good news and real news doesn’t sell

There was an interesting dataset presented in the news recently on the changing causes of death over time in Australia.

For those who are unfamiliar with Australia, it may come as a surprise to learn attacks from snakes, spiders, sharks, dingos and dropbears don’t account for statistically material numbers of fatalities.

Our regular source of amusement (for all the wrong reasons), the once proud newspaper now in managed decline, The Sydney Morning Herald, reports on the study.

It’s worth reading their entire article as it contains interesting nuggets and confirms suspicions you may already have had, such as the rapid decline of lung cancer.

The most interesting element of the reporting, however, is the absolute numerical illiteracy and lack of curiosity of the journalists. Nowhere in the article is there reference to the absolute number of deaths or any type of relative measure (e.g. # of deaths per 100,000 people) we might use to learn whether or not we’re improving or have a crisis.

The data is out there though. Here’s a source, for example, showing the absolute death rate was around 600 deaths a year per 100,000 people in the late 1960s and has reduced to about 180 deaths a year per 100,000 people at the current time.

Read that again. If that isn’t bloody good news, I’d like to know what is.

Obviously, I don’t know how intelligent the journalists, Craig Butt and Soren Frederiksen are, but the omission of the information showing that the real rate of death has declined by two thirds is a major oversight. 

We have to assume one of two things are going on when a data point as material to the story as that is left out. Either:

  1. It was a deliberate omission made consciously for an unknown reason, or
  2. Both Craig Butt and Soren Frederiksen are as thick as mince.

Now, this is the Sydney Morning Herald we’re talking about here, so Hanlon’s Razor, “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity“, should obviously be kept front of mind. It is, indeed, entirely plausible that Craig Butt and Soren Frederiksen have IQs barely above room temperature, otherwise why else would they be happy to be employed on just above minimum wage to re-purpose press releases as journalism?

Hanlon’s Razor is a good life rule to apply, particularly when faced with conspiracy theories. I wonder if something else is at play here though?

If they knew they were omitting the information, Craig and Soren would also know the information they missed out is a good news story. Without pretending to know what was in their minds, we might guess at a possible reason.

This is just a theory but one we can test every day by observation:

The news industry is in crisis. People have realised content is now virtually free and, instead of receiving their daily news from just three sources at pre-defined times in the day (the morning physical newspaper, their favourite radio channel and their preferred TV channel), they source the information from websites, mobile phone apps, social media, podcasts, amateur blogs, amateur comments on amateur blogs, etc.

Those journalists remaining in paid employment have seen a commensurate shift in the consumption of their product. Although they previously knew how well a particular day’s edition of the newspaper sold, they had little to no insight into which parts of that newspaper were consumed the most or least.

The opposite is true today. Now, the digital editor can tell, in real time, which headline, which stub, which article receives the most traffic and which are abandoned after just a few sentences.

Imagine that’s your job. Every day , you read a series of analytical views of your employer’s products and examine which were successful and which failed. What’s the logical response to that data?

Do more of the former and less of the latter.

Bill’s Opinion

Our theory describes a basic Pareto distribution. Successful traits and behaviours increase, unsuccessful traits and behaviours are killed off. With more granular data points, that distribution is exaggerated.

If, like our commenter View from Northcote, you see increasing volumes of not news articles being dressed up as important and vital, such as Ivanka Trump visiting the hair salon, this would be a possible confirmation of the theory.

The bad news is, if true, don’t expect it to improve any time soon. The incentives are set for the opposite to occur.

Only bad people like you can be sexist

It’s unclear precisely when the facts changed but, at some point during the previous decade, the received opinion in the group of people who know these things is that it is not possible to be racist if you are not white.

The “logic” behind this repurposing of language is that racism=power+evil, or some similar daft equation.

So, for example, if you’re a black man shouting abuse at “crackers” you aren’t racist as long as the subject of your opprobrium is richer or more powerful in some other way than you. Actually, even that doesn’t matter; you could be a rich black person abusing a poor white person and still not be racist because four generations ago people who looked like you were enslaved by people who looked like the other person.

So the other person is the racist by genetics or, if they aren’t related to a slave owner and you aren’t the descendant of slaves, osmosis.

I think I’ve got that about right. Please correct me in the comments if not.

Similarly, being sexist is a crime exclusively committed by people who are bad people. Put another way, if you are a good person, you cannot be sexist.

Sounds a bit of a circular argument? Let me offer a worked example:

Let’s say your name is Arwa and you are a good person. You write a column in the Guardian, a newspaper that only publishes the thoughts of good people. Let’s say the article is full of opinions that, if written by a man who isn’t a good person (but I repeat myself) would be considered highly sexist because it explicitly states a woman’s worth is directly proportional to her beauty and appearance.

Therefore the completely objective assessment of the article is that it can’t be sexist and YOU are the sexist for thinking it might be sexist.

I hope that clears things up for you all.

In completely unrelated news, here’s an excellent article by Arwa Mahdarwi that doesn’t at all malign another woman as a completely brainless bimbo who is manipulated like a rag doll by those around her.

It is possible Trump just felt like cutting her hair. But if the Trumps care about anything, it is image; I wouldn’t dismiss the idea that Trump’s new cut is an attempt to get us to take her politicking more seriously. Women’s hair, after all, is tangled up in traditional ideas of femininity. There is a reason so many female politicians sport a short style known as the political bob (pob): it is less “feminine”, which makes them seem more powerful. So be afraid, be very afraid: Trump’s new do may well signify that she has ramped up her political ambitions. God help us all if she goes brunette.

Bill’s Opinion

If it wasn’t for double standards, the woke brigade would have no standards at all.

Imagine if anyone else had written that Guardian article explaining why Ivanka Trump has no personal agency and is, in fact, a tabula rasa to be written on by the men in her life.

Cultural appropriate shun

The American author, Lionel Shriver, is in Australia this month. Last time she was here there was a bit of a kerfuffle when she spoke about “cultural appropriation” at a writers’ festival and finished off the speech by popping a jaunty Mexican sombrero on her head. All the right people were offended and made a fuss, including a woman who seems to have made a career out of telling Australians and Britons how terrible they are, despite the awkward personal dichotomy of her revealed vs expressed preference of living there rather than her place of birth, Sudan.

“Cultural appropriation” is an interesting compound noun and one which prompts vicarious offence in some and extreme annoyance or amusement in others. We can find a definition on the internets that suggests the following:

Cultural appropriation, at times also phrased cultural misappropriation, is the adoption of elements of one culture by members of another culture. This can be controversial when members of a dominant culture appropriate from disadvantaged minority cultures.

In other words, it’s another branch of critical theory or cultural Marxism. How can we be sure? The emphasis on power. The second sentence in the definition tries to explain why the first sentence is problematic and reverts to an argument of power imbalance.

Without that qualifying sentence, most reasonable and sane people would never consider there was anything sinister about their enjoyment of tea as a refreshing beverage, cooking a spaghetti bolognaise for dinner or using duvets as bedding whilst wearing pyjamas.

A Google Ngram search shows cultural appropriation is a very modern sin:

There is amusement to be had when engaging those issuing accusations of cultural appropriation, however; ask them to describe the margins. By which we mean, a situation where one person uses a useful cultural invention of others and what would be considered over the line and cultural appropriation. Much hilarity often ensues.

Let’s show a worked example:

Bill is a white Englishman who very much enjoys Indian food (but we repeat ourselves). Not content with enjoying the cuisine in his local restaurant, he holidays in India and attends a cookery course to learn how to expertly blend the spices and other ingredients. Back home in London, he hosts a dinner party for some friends where he delights them with his newly acquired knowledge.

At risk of building a strawman, one suspects the cultural Marxists would suggest he’s innocent up until the point he invites the other gammons round to eat his culturally appropriated food.

The problems with this arise following just the slightest scratching of the surface.

Problem #1 – 80% of all “Indian” restaurants in Britain are no such thing. They are Bangladeshi.

Problem #2 – Several of the main ingredients of Indian cuisine only arrived with the Europeans. Chillies, potatoes, tomatoes and cauliflower, for example.

The burning question then is surely, which culture is Bill appropriating?

Bangladeshi? Perhaps, but maybe only those ex-pats who set up restaurants in Britain.

Indian? Perhaps, but if the cuisine they taught him is the Anglo-Bangladeshi version, maybe they are guilty of some cultural appropriation too.

South American? The cultivation of chillies, potatoes and tomatoes was initiated in South America but by which South Americans? Not necessarily the ones whose descendants are currently living there.

It’s a bit tricky, isn’t it?

 

Bill’s Opinion

It’s almost as if the people who suggest cultural appropriation is a sin are bullies who use a claim of vicarious offence as their justification (more on this in a later post).

Perhaps they are mistakenly or even deliberately missing the incredible amount of good work cultural appropriation has done for you, me, them and everyone around us? My suspicion is that they have fallen into the mental trap of zero sum thinking. That is, they believe there is a finite supply of something, in this case “cultural good”, and therefore feel it is their duty to protect those who they perceive as being without power from having their ration stolen.

Of course, this is the racism and bigotry of low expectations. The people who are having their culture “appropriated” have no qualms about taking the best bits of everyone else’s culture such as effective medicine, power generation, water sanitation, iPhones, Game of Thrones streaming, etc. and they really don’t give a shit if someone in another country is cooking a strange facsimile of the food they eat.

Returning to the Sydney Morning Herald report on Lionel Shriver’s visit, it’s interesting to note the article finishes with an explanation that Lionel wasn’t the original first name she was given by her parents, and that she changed it when she was 15. I have a couple of questions on that;

  1. How is it relevant to the news item, and
  2. Did you just “deadname” Ms. Shriver?

The battle of Tor’s

The Liverpool Echo is one of my favourite sources of comedy. This is not because the stereotype of the city of Liverpool, England being populated by hilarious pranksters and jokers is at all correct. In fact, as Stewart Lee once pointed out, Liverpool is a place unique in its ability to confuse cloying sentimentality for humour.

No, the amusement and delight is found in reading news articles targeted at people who are united in their ability to find victim status in the most unusual and innocuous situations. There must be a disproportionate number of florists and shops selling black arm bands in Liverpool than any other location.

Today’s chuckle can be had at the expense of “Tor” Smith, a “transgender person” who is stoically and quietly struggling through their mental health issues erm body dysphoria as categorised in DSM-5 erm transgenderism.

There is much to comment on in the article but we’ll focus on just two main points, for the sake of brevity.

Firstly, the mangling and wrestling of the English language by Kate McMullin, Senior General News Reporter; clearly, it has been explained to her that pronouns are a critical part of Tor’s gender identity and, therefore, Kate has thrown the usual grammatical rules out of the window and performed a search/replace on every “her” and “she” in the article, replacing these perfectly functional pronouns with they/their.

Secondly, because this is Liverpool, we are somehow meant to feel sympathy for Tor because zhe has broken a rib trying to strap down zher breasts.

Bill’s Opinion

As we’ve stated before, when we read articles about transgender people in the media, the first and easiest clue to what is going on is the picture. It turns out, instincts learned over millions of years of evolution are pretty hard to fool on matters as basic and fundamental to genetic survival as reproduction.

Ok, so Tor is a girl with mental health issues.

Here’s a question Tor may never get round to asking zherself; if you were born 15 years earlier, what’s the chances you’d have been satisfied with being lesbian?

As for broken ribs. Nothing screams “perfectly sane and reasonable” as physically abusing yourself and then claiming victim status.

Yeah, nah

I’m sure this has been stated elsewhere but we will plagiarise and repeat here….

William of Ockham’s First Law of Headlines.

Any headline ending with a question mark is always correctly answered, “No”.

Bill’s Opinion

Unfortunately, England’s chances of winning The Ashes this year look more fucked than a Manila whore the weekend a US Navy aircraft carrier arrived.

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.