What’s the secret soy sauce?

The Spectator’s Cindy Yu hosted an interesting podcast this week; Has China really beaten coronavirus? in which she interviewed a correspondent in China who pointed out life has been back to normal since about May. Domestic flights are full, about one in ten people are wearing masks in public (which is a rational decision for anyone worried about pollution there) and nightclubs are operating as they did in 2019 with no social distancing restrictions.

That’s quite a turnaround from the situations we were seeing on the news, YouTube and social media back in January and February.

Do you remember? People were being welded shut inside their homes, others were collapsing on the street, including this man who died and whose photographed corpse made it on the Grauniad’s coverage on January 30th 2020:

Compare and contrast with practically every other country in the world and the varying levels of incursions into centuries’ old freedoms they have imposed. Going nightclubbing must see like a distant memory to New Yorkers, Londoners and Parisians.

So what’s going on? What’s the secret to China’s success?

That’s got to be the question of late 2020, surely?

As documented in the media in the early months of 2020, China enforced city-wide lockdowns, including the infamous door-welding.

But so did many other countries and cities. Why is it that, say, London is still moving in and out of lockdown on an almost weekly basis while the disco twinkies in Guangzhou can boogie the night away inside a steamy nightclub?

From the dead body in the pages of the Grauniad and the nightclubs being open was barely 4 months. How is it that New York, Paris, Milan, Barcelona and Sydney have nobody in their nightclubs?

Indeed, that famous Churchillian libertarian and free market advocate, Boris Johnson, is considering stopping Britons from going to the pub on Christmas Eve, something that wasn’t even implemented during both world wars.

So what on earth is going on?

Bill’s Opinion

I don’t know. I honestly don’t know why 1.3bn citizens in an authoritarian regime like China have, prima facie, greater personal freedom than the heirs to Magna Carta.

All I have is a blunt razor that suggests (not proves) the explanation requiring the fewest number of assumptions to be correct is likely to be the cause.

I’d love for people to offer alternate suggestions in the comments but my current view is the other countries are now dealing with a problem of fearful and incompetent leadership. They are fearful that the initial reaction was justified on the available data but, with what is known now, would be judged far too extreme. They are also incompetent at explaining the trade-offs required to be accepted for us to return to normal life.

Is it an international conspiracy of the Illuminati? Of course not.

It doesn’t really matter though; the impact is indistinguishable.

William of Ockham’s First Law of NSW Politics

All NSW political careers end suddenly with a difficult conversation at an anti-corruption hearing about property development.

Don’t blame me, I only observed the pattern;

Exhibit 1 – Eddie Obeid

Exhibit 2 – Ian McDonald

Exhibit 3 – Eric Roozendaal

Exhibit 4 – Barry O’Farrell

Exhibit 5 – Gladys Berejiklian (pending)

Exhibit 6 – Rod Staples (pending)

That’s just a small, hastily-collated sample, of course. Readers with a better grasp of history will no doubt be able to furnish us with multiple examples from all political hues, as this is a problem that crosses the ideological divide.

Bill’s Opinion

It’s not that these politicians are more or less corrupt than any other group of politicians, they aren’t particularly smarter or dumber either.

It’s just that Australia’s economy is so heavily skewed towards property as the only reliable way to make capital gains that the inevitable subset of corrupt politicians will top up their salaries almost exclusively in that sector.

Who can blame them though, when the executives managing the nation’s pension funds are shameless in their contempt for their customers by switching their own funds to avoid losses whilst letting the regular punters take the hit.

Of course, any reasonable “civilian” would look at that behaviour, conclude the deck is stacked against them ever seeing useful capital gains and that their pension fund is simply a forced deposit account. They logically conclude that the only safe place for their savings is in bricks and mortar.

Which brings us back to the incentives for politicians to take a dip; it’s not going to stop, ever.

Rinse. Repeat.

They used to hate us for our Freedom

Thousands of NSW businesses have less than two weeks to implement digital registration systems to record customers’ contact details before authorities will start issuing fines.
Businesses required to comply include hospitality venues, entertainment venues, public swimming pools, beauty salons, zoos and strip clubs.

We can perhaps have a chuckle at the consternation this announcement will have induced in the NSW Union of Stripclub Owners when considering the impact on their businesses when punters have to sign in digitally and be logged on a database every time they attend their premises.

Today is November 12th. Australia has had almost a week of no locally-acquired cases of Kung Flu. The peak of known cases of the virus in Australia was in April.

Curious minds might ask why, seven months later, we now need intrusive data collection mandated by law (and its inferred monopoly on violence)?

More curious minds might also wonder why the commentariat and public voices in the media are not asking the same question?

Bill’s Opinion

As I wrote in April, the rush to further legislate into the day to day minutiae of regular people going about their everyday lives is disproportionate and very certainly not temporary, as our “war on terror” lessons have shown.

Almost all of this legislation will never be wound back. Freedoms are rarely expanded, particularly when they were initially removed “for the public good“.

I, for one, am not OK with this, at all.

Are you?

The urge to save humanity is almost always a false front for the urge to rule.
H. L. Mencken.

William of Ockham’s First Law of Government Projects

To the casual observer, corruption and incompetence are indistinguishable.

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

How badly failing?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why did this happen?

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

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

Bill’s Opinion

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

“If”, as the Spartans would say

You are advised to submit without further delay, for if I bring my army into your land, I will destroy your farms, slay your people, and raze your city.

Can anyone see the significant assumption being made by the UK government in their justification for an even further destruction of freedom, democracy, the economy and national credibility?

“If doubling occurred every seven days”.

Ok, but doubling what? Confirmed cases?

Well, that depends on how many you test, surely?

Given that a massive proportion of people who catch it have either no symptoms or very mild symptoms, wouldn’t a better measure be how many people present at hospital?

Where’s the data showing the capacity versus occupancy rates of the hospitals?

Where’s the data showing recovery rates of the cases?

Bill’s Opinion

This is simply confirming lesson 2 and 3 from our 2020 Hindsight.

And that’s Numberwang!

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.