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:

Going postal

This story is messily complicated, there are many moving parts and, depending on your prior personal views, you can find positives, negatives or justification within it.

My summary follows;

  • A public housing block in Melbourne, mainly populated by immigrants, is under lockdown following a large cluster of the virus.
  • Controversial politician, Pauline Hanson, made anti-immigrant comments as a consequence.
  • She then posted branded cheap items to the residents.
  • Australia Post is relying on her vote to pass a bill in the organisation’s favour.
  • The City of Melbourne prevented the post from being delivered.
  • Australia Post CEO threatened police action as a consequence.

Depending on your view, you might think Hanson is despicable, Australia Post’s CEO is conflicted or The City of Melbourne have over-reached their authority.

Then there’s this; the curfew wasn’t a medical recommendation and wasn’t requested by the police.

At what point do people in Melbourne decide they’ve had enough and what would that look like? Not for a while; Dan the man is doing well in the polls.

Bill’s Opinion

The slippery slope fallacy should be avoided; situations always change and it doesn’t follow that a negative direction will continue forever. However, situations can become very much worse until they correct.

How many more civil liberties will be removed by arbitrary governmental decisions before the push back gains traction?

I don’t know, but it doesn’t look like people have reached the limit of what they will tolerate yet.

Depressing beyond tablets.

Things to do in Stoke Newington

Today’s title refers to an Alexi Sayle line from his 1980s era (when he was funny and radical, rather than boring and radical):

I write for a newspaper called ‘Things to do in Stoke Newington’. You may have seen it; it’s a big sheet of paper with ‘FUCK ALL’ written on it.

Stoke Newington in the 1980s was an utter shithole, replete with slums, gangs, drugs and corrupt police.

The corrupt police are the focus of our interest today. A culture of planting evidence, re-selling seized drugs, racism and heavy-handed policing was exposed by Operation Jackpot in the mid-90s.

Obviously, a healthy distrust of the police by almost everyone in the area was the result of this failure. It remained a limiting feature of Stoke Newington for years.

Perhaps a similar situation is developing before our eyes in Melbourne. Maybe not so much corruption but certainly a frightening willingness of the police to leverage their monopoly on the use of violence to enforce nascent laws, yet to be tested in the law courts or, indeed, the court of public opinion.

The increasing number of videos circulating on social media showing Melbourne police arresting citizens for social media transgressions, standing in their neighbours’ gardens or breaking curfews are redolent of South American juntas, not a democracy with the long precedents of Common Law.

The most worrying aspect is the enthusiasm of the police force for these brand new laws. I may be mistaken, but no senior member of the force has felt it necessary to speak up on the subject of the risk to the relationship between the public and the police by criminalising much of what was considered everyday life 6 months ago.

What can we infer from this silence?

Bill’s Opinion

It’s very subjective but, to me, it seems like the high tide of personal freedoms is far behind us on the rear view mirror.

In fact, the trend that became evident during those halcyon days of The War on Terror, has intensified in 2020.

The Peelian tradition of policing by consent must feel a very ancient and lost concept to my friends in Melbourne.

How do the Victorian Police recover their respect and credibility after this phase? Worse; do they even want to?

The Sydney Morning Herald meme maker

Much outrage abounds today as the Australian left’s chief bogeyman, Tony Abbott, spoke overnight to a UK Parliament Select Committee.

The headline could almost write itself. In fact, it’s not beyond the imagination to see this screenshot being used as a generic meme template.

For example;

Abbott says water is wet

Or

Abbott claims night is dark

The actual headline was, “Abbott criticises Victoria’s lockdown“. Actually, better still, it had the qualifier, “Former PM“, presumably to remind us all that there have been two more Prime Ministers since he was fired (the office of Australian Prime Minister being a very temporary appointment, rather similar to jury service).

Anyway, after sifting through what Abbott said, the activists at the SMH decided the most egregious thing was something along the lines of, after we’ve experienced 6 months of economic destruction and the concomitant social and human cost that incurs, perhaps we might consider the possibility that the old and seriously ill should be allowed to take their chances against viruses while the rest of us get back to being productive, educating children, having lives with rich experiences and continuing the economic progress and global trade that has lifted billions out of extreme poverty in the last 50 years?

Or, as the SMH translates it; “let granny die“.

Let’s have a moment’s silence for the death of nuance and reasonable good faith debate, shall we?

Bill’s Opinion

Aaaand we’re back.

In the meantime, the news you won’t find on the pages of the SMH is this report from the USA’s Center for Disease Control (I’ve linked to the “fact check” version, to “steelman” what I’m about to claim).

The report confirms 94% of the deaths attributed to Kung Flu in the USA had at least one co-morbidity.

So, millions of otherwise healthy people are being subject to draconian restrictions to their life to avoid a disease that would be extremely unlikely to kill them. Shouldn’t they be given the choice?

Reprinting government press releases

Otherwise known as “the New Zealand news media“.

It’s long been an axiom that no sports journalist in New Zealand ever bothers submitting copy critical of the All Blacks unless they’ve already signed a long term contact of employment overseas.

It would seem that self-censorship now extends to the political and current affairs desks in the various broadcast and print outlets in the shaky isles.

For 6 months now, Jacinda Adern has spared no public expense to pursue a policy of total eradication of the Kung Flu. “Envy of the world“, the headlines proclaim.

Thats fair enough, there are indeed many jealous eyes upon New Zealand at present.

However, there are also those who question whether it’s the smartest long term strategy to try to completely avoid a virus that has now infected 20 million people around the world when the price the country pays is to be unable to return to normal travel and trade until a yet to be developed vaccine has been rolled out?

You may agree with the Kiwi strategy and that’s fine, but are you not curious about the other side of the debate?

By which I mean not what is the other side of the debate, but where is the other side of the debate?

There’s plenty of gushing articles like this one by John Weekes, Senior Journalist and Crime Reporter, where he quotes “experts” who confirm the current policy is the best.

There are many holes that can be picked in the statements made in the article, each data point could be challenged with credible published information from other countries. But, for reasons know to himself and his editor, John hasn’t.

Why?

Bill’s Opinion

Of course, you don’t have to share my opinion on the efficacy of Jacinda Adern’s policies, but surely you must share my curiosity of the situation where nobody in the New Zealand media questions it?

2020 has shown us many things, some of which we’ve subconsciously known for a long time.

One such example is the fact that the news media is no longer fit for purpose. Perhaps it never was.

We’ve learned definitively that the media is staffed by a mixture of political activists and people with no training in critical thinking or understanding of data.

The sooner the anachronism that is the news media is buried, the happier and better informed we’ll all be.

Answers on a postcard, please

During a period of record unemployment, particularly among the young and low skilled, it feels like there might have been an alternate solution to this problem:

Bill’s Opinion

Presumably, that increased demand has a concomitant revenue increase?

So, unless Australia Post are running metropolitan domestic deliveries at a loss, surely the obvious response would be to hire a lot of temporary workers to walk the streets, pushing those red trollies, delivering letters and parcels?

Of course, one the reasons this hasn’t happened is because Australia Post is staffed with somnambulant and low IQ civil servants (yes, I know it’s been privatised, but the workforce and management hasn’t radically changed).

“Catastrophic” means something else in Kiwi-ese

Four (4) people have Kung Flu in New Zealand. That’s “catastrophic”, apparently.

Well, I suppose it is if you’ve decided that the correct public health response to a disease with a infection fatality rate as low as 0.2% (or a middle of the range seasonal flu) is to try to prevent anyone from catching it ever.

Perhaps New Zealand really does have a “catastrophic” problem, but not the one Saint Jacinda thinks.

To put it in terms Kiwis will understand; imagine if the All Blacks defensive line was solid, except for Beauden Barrett. Instead of standing shoulder to shoulder with his team just behind the offside line, he’d sprinted ahead and was standing under the opposition posts, completely out of the game, leaving a gap for the opposition to run at.

As admirable as it might be to be close to completely eliminating the disease from your shores, it does leave the slightly awkward question unanswered; when can you ever return to normal?

Bill’s Opinion

As the rest of the world starts to reopen their economies and commence the long and painful road to recovery, New Zealand (and to a lesser extent, Australia) is likely to be facing an extremely lengthy period of reduced GDP as incoming international tourism and any international trade requiring travel is impracticable.

Ten out of ten for saving people from the virus, Jacinda, but about minus a billion out of ten for screwing your daughter’s generation’s economic well-being.

“On the beach” in Australia and New Zealand

Here is the plot summary of a 1959 film you may not have watched or indeed heard of. It has a stellar cast, including Gregory Peck, Ava Gardner, Fred Astaire, and Anthony Perkins.

I have a vague memory of watching this on BBC 2 one rainy Sunday afternoon in the late 1970s.

On The Beach

In early 1964, in the months following World War III, the conflict has devastated the entirety of the Northern Hemisphere, killing all humans after polluting the atmosphere with nuclear fallout. Air currents are slowly carrying the fallout south; the only areas still habitable are in the far reaches of the Southern Hemisphere.

….The Australian government arranges for its citizens to receive suicide pills or prepared injections so they may end their lives quickly before there is prolonged suffering from radiation sickness.

…..Within a few days, the last pockets of humanity are dead. The empty, windblown streets of Melbourne are punctuated by the rise of dramatic, strident music over a single powerful image of a previously seen Salvation Army street banner: “There is still time…Brother”.

“How, pray tell, does this have any relevance today?”, you may ask.

Well, the movie is based on a time disparity between the Southern and Northern Hemispheres in terms of their consequences from the nuclear war. It’s happened up north and they’ve taken the pain, whilst the south is watching and waiting for the inevitable impact to arrive.

At the time of writing, Australia’s official death toll from Covid19 is 208 and New Zealand has had just 22 deaths. The USA, meanwhile, is 157,000.

Well done Antipodeans, eh?

Hmm. Depends, doesn’t it.

The first point to note is ALL data on Covid19 is utterly unreliable for the purpose of comparison. Not only are deaths reported differently across countries, but rates of testing is nowhere nearly equal, and local circumstances are wildly different too.

The USA numbers with New York removed are very similar to other countries with good health care systems. What happened in New York? Only the minor issue of old people being relocated from hospital to aged care facilities without being confirmed as free from infection.

Imagine the movie On The Beach with a slightly changed plot where the north didn’t get wiped out but took a bad (say about 200,000 deaths) and immediate hit and then the south were told they would have to suffer the same relative fate (so, about 5,500 deaths in Australia and about 1,200 for New Zealand) BUT must decide when they would take it.

What would Australia and New Zealand decide?

Bill’s Opinion

A friend of mine recently posted the economic data from Sweden on social media, claiming that people who were happy to kill off the old and infirm for the sake of the economy had been proved wrong.

That’s the false dichotomy fallacy. I’ve never met anyone who wants to sacrifice members of the community for the sake of the economy.

I’m aware, therefore, my question above asking what Australia and New Zealand might do if told they’d have to accept 5,500 and 1,200 deaths respectively is also a fake dichotomy. By delaying the pain, both countries have learned lessons from Governor Andrew Cuomo other countries and could now make a third choice of re-opening their economies with very specific and targeted actions to protect the vulnerable.

However, we aren’t seeing this level of nuanced discussion being had in either country. Instead, we are still acting as if a tacit target of zero infections exists. It is my opinion this is delaying the inevitable.

Meanwhile, a new report in Science Magazine suggests T cell immunity to coronavirus already exists in many people and therefore the “herd immunity” (remember that policy?) could be far lower than previously thought.

So, while Head Girl Jacinda and Property Scotty vacillate on how to break bad news, please don’t gas yourself in the garage with your sports car.

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?“.