Morality in the time of Coronavirus

Imagine yourself in the following scenario:

You are working as a relatively well-paid consultant, on a precarious day rate contract. Your client is a large government agency. You’ve been hired to bring commercial acumen to a project that, by any reasonable measure, has been an abject failure (a year overdue on an 18 month timeline, tens of millions in overspend).

The supplier has a global track record of sharp practice and, a few years ago, was found guilty of bribing public officials.

In your work, you find two major errors or omissions in the supplier’s work and recommend these are used as commercial leverage to improve the outcomes for the taxpayer.

A peer actively works against this advice and commences a campaign of attacking you personally.

In your experience, this behaviour is highly suspicious. The best explanation is incompetence and commercial naivety, but there is also a not insignificant chance of corruption.

A cursory background search of the individual reveals almost a decade working at an organisation that was shut down due to deep and systemic corruption. The individual also has an active Ltd company, despite being a salaried public servant, with a contractual restriction against “moonlighting”.

What do you do?

Bill’s Opinion

At any other time of my career, I would be gunning for this person using the auditors and whistleblower legislation.

In this time of COVID19 shutdowns and imminent recession, I’m less keen to put my family’s financial well-being at risk however.

Any suggestions on how I can manage my way through this without utterly compromising my personal values?

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

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

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

Why?

Because the government is not your Mum or Dad.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me offer some pertinent examples;

The use of masks to prevent catching Covid-19

The government message is that they are not effective.

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

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

There is not yet a requirement to close schools

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

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

There is no need to stockpile.

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

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

Bill’s Opinion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Scott Morrison’s blood sweat and tears speech.

Compare and convirus

Readers outside of Australia might not be aware of the slightly mad scenes in some Australian supermarkets over the previous week, with panic buying (“hamsterkauf” as the Germans call it) in preparation for the inevitable COVID-19 impact on daily life.

This is the status of the flour section of our local supermarket:

There’s suddenly been a spike in interest for home baking. They’ve wiped out both the plain and self-raising flour shelves.

Walking around the neighbourhood, the olfactory delights of home-baked sourdough and delicious sponge cakes are everywhere.

No, not so much.

The same scene is repeated in the dried pasta section.

Panic buying flour and pasta at least makes some sense; they’re sources of food with very long shelf life that wouldn’t be regretted if there were to be shortages later. You’ll use it all up eventually.

Toilet roll, however?

Nobody wants to be caught short of bog roll but, seriously, that’s the item you want to fill your spare room with in anticipation of the zombie apocalypse?

If you listen carefully, you can hear the sound of a billion Indians typing into Google, “toilet paper kya hai?”.

Imagine a world where, simultaneously, this happens:

And this:

Bill’s Opinion

In this age of “big data” it would be fascinating to learn what the Venn Diagram looks like describing the relationship between two schools of thought; those who believe Australia is about to enter a period of shortages and mass sickness and those who believe the price of property will continue to increase at multiple percentage points this year.

Speaking of which, our tracker is updated below.

Everybody was Kung Flu fighting

99% of everything written about Covid19 seems to be uninformed speculation at best and more likely, just made up bullshit.

So, just for a bit of light relief, here’s some random thoughts on the subject:

  1. If your first action after thinking, “hmm, it might be time to stockpile”, is to panic buy toilet paper, you might have misunderstood the relative use of fluffy white arse paper in a national emergency, compared to say, dried beans or medicine.
  2. Related; people are about to learn how good modern supply chains are. They are akin to modern witchcraft. As fast as you can fill your spare bedroom with bog roll, Coles and Woolworths will restock the shelves. The supply chain for nearly everything you are going to need has not yet been materially disrupted. Sure, we might run out of some items but there will be plenty of adjacent replacement versions for a long time yet. Well done for helping an Account Sales Manager make their Q2 2020 numbers early though.
  3. Most business travel is frivolous and businesses can manage just fine without it. Seriously, nearly all of it is just status-driven bollocks that a phone or video call could replace and still achieve an adequate outcome. If you’re really contrarian, now might be the best time to book a luxury holiday in Asia this December. Rajasthan is lovely that time of year.
  4. The IT department have been lying like a cheap Chinese Rolex about their capacity to simultaneously support lots of remote workers (*waves at Wokepac). Some scrambling to buy more licences might save a few IT Infrastructure Managers’ careers but most of the bottleneck will be in physical infrastructure. Best get those CVs tidied up and in the market, chaps, and beat the rush.
  5. No Australian manager under the age of 55 knows what to do with their P&L in a downturn. Not. A. Single. One. A bit of a clue; cancelling the magazine subscriptions and daily flowers in reception or calling the landlord and asking for a discount on the office rent isn’t going to help you.
  6. Consider the possibility it might be better to catch it early; you’ll get the best medical care and then it’s done. Later means you’ll get the mass-treatment quality, if any treatment at all.
  7. Stay clear of French people (a great excuse in case they win the Six Nations).

Bill’s Opinion

Isn’t it absolutely wonderful the Woketivists have been shunted off the news now we’ve got something requiring adult attention?

On bush fires and global warming

The human brain, when faced with complex, multi-variable problems requires simple, easy solutions. Sadly, this is rarely feasible.

Take, for example, the huge outbreak of bush fires currently occurring in New South Wales, Australia.

These fires are serious. Tragically, lives have been lost.

Residential properties have been destroyed, with all the concomitant heartbreak that entails, the photos, the documents of memories, the moments in places that have been forever changed or destroyed.

While the fires are still burning, rational people ask what they should do to protect themselves and their families. This describes my current situation, living as I do in an area with a heavily forested area within an easy stone’s throw.

Those not in immediate danger wonder what they might do to help their neighbours.

Then there are those who live in the Australian equivalent of Islington.

Before the bodies of the dead have been recovered, they have already determined the effect, cause and solution.

The effect is obvious; catastrophic fires.

The cause is man made climate change.

The solution is to artificially hamstring the economy in a massive transfer of wealth and power from individuals to the state:

Bill’s Opinion

A more curious mind might read the coverage of the fires and search for answers to questions such as these:

Obviously, to answer these questions one would need a lot of time to undertake research or a competent and non-activist news media to perform this on our behalf.

Instead, we are presented with the simple message that these fires are definitely the result of man made climate change and the only viable solution to the problem is renewables such as solar and wind turbines.

Finally, I challenge you to find a single mention in the Australian media or political discourse of the vaguest possibility of nuclear energy being even a minor part of the solution.

Our media are mendacious, low IQ or a mixture of the two.

On Extinction Rebellion and other doomsday cults

With the news this week of a family of cloggy Kaas Kops living in the basement of a farm for nine years waiting for the end of the world, perhaps we can poke some fun at the various Bedlamites living amongst us.

There’s plenty of examples to point at, they’ve been around for as long as humans have been around.

Millenarianism and apocalypticism are versions of this and students of history will pluck examples from thousands of years ago in all corners of the globe through to the present day.

Let’s start with the infamous Manson “family”.

Their beliefs were that Charles Manson was the reincarnation of Jesus and there was a forthcoming race war. The cult ended with the Waverley Drive murders, internecine murders and the trial and conviction of Manson.

Except it didn’t; murders were still committed by the “family” until the mid-70s. The cult members really had drunk deep from the well of Manson’s Kool-Aid.

Speaking of Kool-Aid, next we have the Reverend Jim Jones. For his first couple of decades of adult life, he led various churches which had increasingly cult-like qualities. The beliefs he promulgated were a mixture of socialism, nuclear apocalyptic prophesies and, eventually “transition” to another planet after suicide.

As investigations began to close in on his activities, he took nearly a thousand followers to “Jonestown” in Guyana and eventually persuaded many to commit suicide by ingesting cyanide mixed in the aforementioned Kool-Aid (where the expression “drinking the Kool-Aid” originates) or murder each other, including the children. Jones shot himself.

Over in Japan, Aum Shinryko was established by Shoko Ashara. The YouTuber Count Dankula has an amusing video on this group here, which is well worth a viewing.

Their beliefs were a hotchpotch of Buddhism, Hinduism and Shintoism with a spicy nuclear apocalyptic theme.

After a long history of extortion, violence and murders, they released the nerve gas, sarin, on the Tokyo underground with devastating effects.

Shoko was eventually hanged in 2018.

An interesting fact about the death penalty in Japan is that, once convicted, you aren’t given a date of when the execution will occur. You go to bed every night unsure if this is your last. If you’re still in your cell about an hour after breakfast, chances are you’ve got another day on the planet.

I can’t work out whether I think that’s “cruel and unusual punishment” or fitting for the crime.

Our next cult is the comet-hopping Heaven’s Gate. According to Wikipedia, they were/are (there’s still a couple of them around, apparently) a “UFO religious, New religious movement”, which as classifications go, surely can’t be a particularly large club.

Their belief system was based on the premise that the planet would be wiped clean and they had to leave to avoid being caught up in this global spring clean.

Have a read of their Wiki page and chuckle at how the beliefs had to be modified based on the inconvenient evidence of one of their key members dying rather than hitching a ride on a spaceship.

This change of belief resulted in a mass suicide to coincide with the arrival of the Hale-Bopp comet. The mass suicide was preceded by 8 of them voluntarily castrating themselves in 1997.

Bill’s Opinion

It’s probably fine if your religious belief involves an unprovable premise. After all, a synonym of that might be “hypothesis”.

However, if your religious belief requires you to murder others, mutilate the genitals of children or commit suicide, consider the possibility you’ve drunk the modern equivalent of Jim Jones’ Kool-Aid.

There seems to have been a bit of a theme running through all these cults where they are reacting to a catastrophic threat, be it religious, nuclear or alien, resulting in escalating extreme actions by the adherents.

So, all that said, what might history make of those crazy kids at Extinction Rebellion and the Swedish Cabbage Patch Doll, Greta Thunberg?

And whose fault do we think it might be that they have managed to wind themselves up into such a frenzy of fear?

History suggests one possible destination for some of the more gullible members.

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:

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.

Cheer up!

Switching on the news and browsing the media websites this week is unusually depressing. Without perspective and a wider source of information and analysis, one could be excused for thinking the world is going to hell in a handcart. I’m not going to list the reasons why one might be feeling low, the media do a good enough job of running “if it bleeds, it leads” stories. 

In any case, I’m not convinced it’s true. In fact, I think the reality is almost 180 degrees the other way; there are far more signs things are going well and what we’re being served as news is simply a mixture of confirmation bias and a logical reaction to incentives. A regular browse of the good news stories on Human Progress is a useful counter to the media confirmation bias.

I don’t say this lightly…. I have become convinced, via conversations with friends, family and colleagues that the media business model, what is left of it, has become detrimental to the general mental health of the world.

Technological advances have resulted in a proliferation of volume (24 x 7 updates) and sources (you’re reading a personal blog, but it’s still “a source”) of news. Our old friend, Pareto distribution, drives eyeballs and clicks to those presenting the most compelling new information.

Not much bad stuff happened today” is not a headline we’ll continue to tolerate on consecutive days for very long.  

Let’s lighten the mood a little today then. Because it’s human nature to take pleasure at others’ mild misfortune (after all, that describes the basis for all comedy), today’s blog post is simply a bunch of happy predictions I am prepared to make and the timeframe within which I expect them to occur. 

If you share my optimism and outlook, they might cheer you up immediately. If you don’t, you might experience the even greater pleasure of delayed gratification when the deadline passes and you can return to the comments section and have a chuckle at my expense. 

Either way, I will benefit from a warm feeling of selfless, righteous altruism….

Bill’s Opinion Predictions

Sports

The Bledisloe Cup match this weekend will be won by Australia and, if this prediction transpires, they will go on to draw or win the return match the following weekend and therefore finally win the Bledisloe Cup for the first time in almost a generation. This one is a long shot and is based more on a feeling New Zealand’s team has become fragile and somewhat “woke”.  

The 2019 Rugby World Cup will be won by a northern hemisphere team. My preference would be England but I could probably live with it being Ireland and, after a little introspection and professional counselling, even Wales. The important point is, it’s not going to be New Zealand.

Brexit

Britain will leave the EU on October 31st without a deal. Boris Johnson will be Prime Minister at the time, but will call a General Election in January and will be returned with a clear but not large majority.  

No material changes will occur to the border between Ireland and Northern Ireland.

Britain will not experience significant disruption to trade or travel as a consequence to Brexit. Some luxury or highly-specialised goods or services might have a wobble but will be solved within a few weeks.

EU

As a consequence to the world not ending after Brexit, the EU will double down on their commitment to a European federal una-state, passing laws to ensure a single taxation code, a European military, centralised control of immigration and further adoption of the Euro.

Leo Varadkar will be ousted as Taoiseach by the Dáil before Christmas 2019 as a reward for being played by the EU with regards to Brexit.

USA

The Democrats will nominate Elizabeth Warren as the 2020 presidential candidate. Donald Trump will win a second term with an increased share of both the Electoral College and the popular vote. The presidential debates will comedy gold on a par with the best efforts of Monty Python and Ricky Gervais.

Media

Following the USA elections, there will be some high profile media casualties, with a consolidation or bankruptcy of several high profile brands such as CNN, MSNBC, The Washington Post and the New York Times.

In other countries, such as Canadia and Australia, several mastheads and broadcasters will be further subsidised or even nationalised.

Global Economy

Despite the continuing call for a global stock market crash, higher highs will be reached on the major indices. Gold and silver will see a 20% increase by the end of 2020.

China will “lose” the trade war with the USA. This will be spun as the opposite to save face but the trade indicators will show a material improvement towards the USA.  

Australian Economy

Flat as a pancake over 2019 and 2020 with a slight uptick in unemployment.

House prices in the two main cities will continue a slow atrophy with the occasional dead cat bounce for a month or two which will be lauded as signifying the “new bottom”. At the end of 2020, prices will be lower than today.

 

Flash! Flash, I love you…..

….but we only have 14 hours to save the earth.

We have good news and bad news.

Bad news; it’s no longer 12 years to save the planet, but 18 months.

Good news; by January 2021, we can finally stop reading how long we will have to save the planet as it will be too late.

Unless you’re utterly bored today, don’t bother clicking the link to the article on the BBC website as it’s clearly been written by their AI Climate Bot (tm).

Artificial Intelligence journalism articles are often indistinguishable from human-generated pieces but there are tell-tale signs to be found if one looks hard enough.

An intelligent human, for example, even one who was massively ideologically biased, would never write a statement such as,

Do you remember the good old days when we had “12 years to save the planet”?

…without at least a little introspection on how many times a deadline had been previously given that had subsequently been passed without obvious consequence.

As a persuasive technique, it’s a terrible strategy to ask the question, do you remember when we only had 12 years left, as it prompts several unhelpful answers in the mind of the reader.

Such as;

Bill’s Opinion

Depending on your age, health, genetics and lifestyle, you probably have somewhere between zero and seventy years left.

I strongly suspect the earth, humanity and most of the other species will still be getting along just fine long after you’re gone.

Claims of this being our “last chance” are, at best, delusional, but more likely motivated by a desire for a combination of wealth, power, fame and attention.

That our media agree to publish this spoonfed nonsense without critical analysis tells you everything you need to know about how much else of their content can be trusted.