The madness of Queen Shebah

Mischievous readers in Australia could have some fun, if they were that way inclined.

Shebah is a ride share service like Uber and Ola. It differs in one significant way, however; the drivers and passengers are female.

Fine“, we might say, “it’s perfectly reasonable for female passengers and drivers to want this additional safety measure. Men can call an Uber“.

If that was the policy, there’d be no opportunity for fun and this blog post wouldn’t need to be written.

Of course, we are living on Planet Insanity so the Shebah folks have tied themselves into logical knots by trying to be more woke than you and I.

Sit back and enjoy our little ride into madness courtesy of the FAQ section of their website (additional questions in bold are ours);

Who can drive or ride with the service?

Ok, only women or children, including boys under 18.

So, the teenage Said Imasi would have been ok to ride on his own then? Here’s a picture of him when he was “fourteen” (he’s the fully grown man on the right);

What about trans people?

Great, so in your “intersectionally feminist” opinion, “Hannah” Mouncey is ok to drive and ride;

As is the serial rapist, “Karen” White.

Okaaaay.

Discrimination is definitely not a thing you condone?

When you say you don’t discriminate, are there any limits?

That’s quite a complex set of restrictions and exceptions. It feels like it could be better illustrated with a decision tree/flow chart diagram along the lines of, “do you have a penis but you are accompanied by a woman and very small child?

Speaking of discrimination, how do you prevent a man or a “woman” with a penis from registering as a driver? What checks are there?

You’ll need to upload photos of all of the following – legally, they must be current so make sure they’re always up to date!

 Your gorgeous face

 Your car: front, back and side view

 The front of your drivers licence

 The back of your drivers licence (with current home address if changed)

 Your car registration

 A roadworthy certificate that is less than 12 months old

 Current rideshare insurance for the car you’ll be driving*

 A Passenger Transport Licence Code from Services NSW (formerly the Department of Roads and Maritime Services)

 A Working With Children Check valid for paid work

Not much in that list to prevent someone like “Hannah” Mouncey from registering to drive then. “Karen” White might struggle with the Working With Children Check, of course.

Bill’s Opinion

Male Australians wishing to have some fun might register for the Shebah service, wear a wig and hail a cab.

They could then claim discrimination if their custom is refused on the grounds of their gender.

Why? Well, if you say you’re a woman, you’re a woman, according to Shebah. It’s right there in their policies and terms of service. If you took Shebah to the various state anti-discrimination ombudsperson, a strong case could be made that the logical inconsistencies of their policy negate any claim of a valid exception to the anti-discrimination laws.

For the sake of clarity, let’s list the inconsistencies;

1. We don’t discriminate. However…. no male drivers, no male passengers under 13, or over 18 unless accompanied by a woman and a baby.

2. We are a female service for females. However…. see (1) regarding male passengers. Also, if a man says he’s a woman we accept him/her at his/her word.

3. We take our drivers’ safety very seriously. However…. see (2), we aren’t going to perform a Crocodile Dundee genital cup to check whether the trans driver still has his/her boy’s bits or not.

Hands up who’s prepared to be the test case for Sanity vs. Shebah 2018?

Brigette Hyacinth and the view from the top of the pyramid

We just couldn’t leave this subject alone….

When one has over a million followers on Creepbook for Business LinkedIn, success comes naturally, opportunities come to you without the requirement to seek them out.

Brigette Hyacinth is in this enviable position; a thought leader to her disciples, a successful author and sought-after public speaker.

If you find yourself in Manhattan, perhaps you too should benefit from her wisdom by attending this speaking event, hosted by the Irish Business Organisation of New York (LinkedIn followers – 542).

Tickets can be purchased here. Breakfast and a show for $30? Great value!

There can’t be much margin to be made on those tickets, assuming everyone gets a juice, coffee and croissant.

That’s ok, she’s probably hired a massive hall so the money will be made on volume of sales rather than high margins. Madison Square Gardens here we come!

Oh, that’s curious; the Fitzpatrick Hotel looks lovely but, at just 91 rooms, it’s little more than a boutique hotel. In fact, they only advertise a couple of boardrooms for functions, so one might presume that this breakfast event is going to be hosted in the restaurant. We’ll let you speculate on the number of seats available in the restaurant of a hotel with only 91 rooms….

Bill’s Opinion

Building a LinkedIn profile with millions of followers, providing unique and interesting content must take an awful lot of effort.

Only a few people are going to manage to reach this pinnacle. Everyone else, like my Network Selling mate, stand little to no chance of emulating this.

Based on the slim pickings evident by Brigette’s potential real life audience who are prepared to pay for extremely low margin tickets to witness her genius first hand, there is absolutely no reason for anyone else to try to emulate this business model.

Canny marketing and self promotion only gets one so far. If the underlying content and substance is bollocks, people won’t pay for the product.

Monetising “likes” and “follows” is where the rubber hits the road. Or doesn’t, as Brigette is illustrating.

If this is all Brigette can achieve with her massive “network”, what hope do the rest of the aspiring chumps influencers have?

Lastly, draw your own conclusions on how inspiring Brigette’s talk is likely to be. Here’s a recent interview.

Sadly, I couldn’t find one with Oleg….

Brigette and Oleg, like the last few scenes of an Alien movie

Those of us who have to work for a living and frequently change employers find ourselves dipping in to the productivity black hole that is Creepbook for Business LinkedIn in the vague hope that some positive outcome will result from all that desperate networking.

Newflash; it never does. Buy a weekly lottery ticket instead, at least you’ll win ten bucks back once or twice a year.

If one views LinkedIn as anything more than a glorified electronic rolodex with the names and contact details of people you’ve met at work, you are setting unrealistic expectations.

That’s not to suggest that using LinkedIn to tout yourself like a truckstop hooker doesn’t pay off for some people. In fact, you can absolutely be certain that it does otherwise it would have gone the way of Pets.com long ago. Just like the infamous Nigerian “419” scam emails, despite the minuscule odds of success, the proof that the business model works is that the activity continues.

Recently I received an unsolicited connect request from someone working in an adjacent field of expertise to me. Against my better judgement, I connected and then had a follow up dialogue which resulted in the offer of a coffee meeting.

Fine“, I thought, “not much to lose and there’s a slim chance he might be able to introduce me to my next employer“.

The gentleman was pleasant enough, clearly knowledgeable and not particularly creepy.

He told a story of a radical change in career in the last 6 months. Filling in the gaps, it looks like a redundancy cheque, a significant birthday and some professional advice had diverted him away from continuing with his current career trajectory to concentrate on becoming a recognised person of influence within his industry instead.

Quite what that meant was left somewhat opaque, but it seemed to involve being a public speaker, published author and, as I later discovered, really fucking annoying on my LinkedIn timeline.

How really fucking annoying? Regardless of the time of day, whenever I logged in to the social media website there would be some asinine comment from him on a random subject ranging from mental health to the best type of tenant to be sought for his investment property (I’m not joking).

This, it would seem, was due to advice given by a consulting firm he had paid about $15,000 to for training on how to be a recognised person of influence (not quite their wording but close enough – I’m not in the business of being sued).

A pattern was emerging with these annoying time pollutants too; he was commenting on the same half a dozen people’s content and they were doing the same back. What’s the betting they were all on the course together?

Rather than cut him off without warning, we had the following SMS exchange;

Me:

Hey, can I offer some unsolicited advice?

I think you’re being too promiscuous on LinkedIn. The video content is great but the one sentence replies to other people’s “Facebooky” posts risks diluting your brand.

I have clicked the “unfollow but remain connected” button on loads of connections due to posting volume not value.

Sorry, if that’s not welcome advice!

Him:

Thank Billy. I hear you. It’s a balancing act. To gain traction on linked in, one needs to comment and be commented on. So today, it’s part of a numbers strategy where we help each other. I don’t much like the grouping though.

A few more exchanges did nothing to dissuade him. I suspect there’s more than an element of “sunk cost bias” going on here. He’s paid his consulting fees and is desperate to see some kind of return.

I’ve seen this behaviour before.

Network Marketing, 1995 style.

Over the course of a couple of years in London, three seperate friends and acquaintances tried to pull this water filter/supplements/storage boxes sales scam on me.

Use your network to make money“, they would say. “I introduce you and you introduce others and they introduce their friends and we all make money“, they’d beam with a smile one normally associates with Jehovah’s Witnesses.

Except they didn’t make any money. None.

The 1995 article linked above from the former newspaper, The Independent, has a line which particularly resonates;

Unemployed graduates, freelancers and management victims of “company downsizing” are particularly likely to be tapped.

The ones I batted away in 90s London and this chump have something in common; they were recently retrenched.

Back to LinkedIn…

There are two superstars of the “influencer” variety that one just can’t shake off the timeline; Brigette Hyacinth and Oleg Vishnepolsky. They operate on very similar principles of writing an utterly crap, barely believable anecdote about some counter-intuitive act of kindness or virtue-signalling they claim to have performed and then asking their network “what do you think?“. Cue a thousand sycophantic comments demurring and cheering along.

One assumes they make money from this somehow, just like the most successful Nigerian “prince” or “government” minister requesting your bank account details did.

Everyone else though, my new best friend included, gets nothing.

Well, that’s not quite true; he got unfollowed by me today.

Bill’s Opinion

The Alien series of movies have a fairly formulaic ending; Sigourney or some other hero kills off the beast and settles back ready for hibernation and a journey back to a safe planet, but then we realise the alien is not quite dead and the battle recommences.

Blocking Brigette and Oleg from your LinkedIn feed is quite analogous; just when you’ve clicked the three little dots and selected “unfollow but stay connected” on whichever bastard polluted your timeline this time, another one pops up.

By the way, have you heard about these great water filters that aren’t available in the shops? It’s a great business opportunity!

Stockholm Syndrome

Stockholm syndrome

noun

Feelings of trust or affection felt in many cases of kidnapping or hostage-taking by a victim towards a captor.

Fair warning; if you are allergic to the accent demonstrated in the song Valley Girl, this is going to hurt. You may consider soaking a box of Q-tips in bleach in preparation for repairing the aural damage.

This week, as part of my regular reconnaissance of enemy territory, I have subjected myself to the Ezra Klein podcast.
Ezra writes for Vox. On balance, it’s fair to say that Ezra has a great voice for print media. If you didn’t know otherwise, you might be forgiven for thinking Ezra was a 16 year old girl living in the San Fernando Valley.
Ad hominen fun aside, his podcasts are a great insight to a particular media mindset; this one is a doozy.

In it, Ezra interviews Amy Chozik, author of the book “Chasing Hillary: Ten Years, Two Presidential Campaigns, and One Intact Glass Ceiling“.

Before you set off with us on the journey of discovery, perhaps have a pencil and paper handy to count the number of redundant times the words “like” and “so” are used. The podcast might have been 15 minutes shorter if precision of language was a concept the pair understood.

In the podcast, our protagonists discuss the reporting of Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign. The overwhelming emotion expressed by these two objective journalists is one of regret and, dare we suggest it, shame.

The pair talk about “bias” a lot but not in terms of any suggestion they were biased towards wishing for a Clinton presidency but that they weren’t biased enough in their reporting.

For example, at 17 minutes in, they discuss the “tragedy” of the result. This is not the language employed by unbiased professional reporters. However, any semblance or artifice that they would describe themselves in those professional terms is shed as the conversation develops.

Ok, so we have two partisan writers discussing an election that didn’t go their way. At least the form of the conversation should be easy listening? They’re paid to write for a living, at least.

Nah. Wince as the English language is mangled under our brutal wrestling tag team; “lightning rod-ness” was a particular stand out, as were “stories we pre-wrote” and “pre-writing” whilst discussing the articles they hoped to file after Clinton’s victory. Presumably “pre-writing” is the writing one does before one writes?

See also, “pre-planning“, the planning one does before one plans, and “pre-warning“, the warning one gives before a warning, (to be clear, they don’t use these terms, they’re just two of my pet peeves).

Wonder also at how “gendered” the media coverage of the election was. Other people’s coverage, of course, our two heroes never once made any capital out of the biological differences between Hillary and Bernie or Donald. Oh no sir-ee (or madam/gender fluid person).

Enjoy also the exquisite irony of the use of the phrase, “abdicating our responsibility to think it through“. Spoiler alert; they aren’t talking about why the public didn’t trust Hillary or their reporting of Hillary.

An almost a throwaway line; “Trump’s bashing of the first amendment” was instructive. The fact that there’s no explanation of what is meant by that assertion speaks volumes; Ezra accepts it unquestionably as an axiom we all understand (or should be forced to?). It’s still not clear what he’s done to stop free speech.

Perhaps the best amusement is to had towards the end of the interview where we discover that the abuse directed at journalists was worse from Bernie Sanders’ supporters than anything Trump’s redneck, white-supremacist, misogynist, homophobe, transphobe, Islamaphobes could throw. Really? The left can be more brutal and threatening? Who knew?

Bill’s Opinion

Theres a significant problem with much of what passes as contemporary political discourse; people have lost the ability or desire to understand the opposing view. It is fashionable to write off one’s opponent as acting in bad faith and therefore deserving of whatever sanction we see fit, ranging from “no platforming” to impeachment and prosecution.

Subjecting ourselves to interviews such as this one help us understand how the other side are thinking. The expression “to steel man an argument” is something worth exploring if this is of interest.

A secondary advantage of listening to interviews like this is it is unintentionally fucking hilarious and a wonderful example of the meaning of the word schadenfreude.

Lastly, among his many verbal tics, Ezra frequently uses the expression “I’m curious” to commence a question that could simply have started with “who”, “what”, “where”, “when”, “why” or “how”.

Ironically, it is apparent to the most casual observer that the one characteristic Klein doesn’t posses is curiosity;

The unexamined life is not worth living.

Socrates

John McGrath’s investment advice – caveat emptor

There are just some people whose advice is best taken with an industrial-sized pinch of sodium chloride. Or, in other cases, not taken at all.

In fact, there are some investment “experts” who have a track record of giving great advice…. to themselves, but utterly disastrous advice to others.

Some examples spring to mind; Dick Fuld, Bernie Madoff, Fred Goodwin and, in Australia, John McGrath.

For those not obsessed with the Australian property market (i.e. the other 7.417bn people living in the rest of the world), you may not of heard of the financial disaster zone who is the self-styled “million dollar agent”, John McGrath, let’s quickly catch you up;

John is an estate agent (“realtor”, in North American speak) with a chain of 90+ franchise offices across the country. He started his business in 1988. There might be something significant about the year which we’ll come back to later.

In a recent opinion piece, John offers sage advice to people who might find themselves somewhat underwater with property that is worth less than they paid for it… that’ll describe anyone who bought property in most Australian cities in the last year, for example.

What is that advice then, is it nuanced for owner-occupiers, amateur investors, those nearing retirement, etc.?

Hold, don’t sell.

What, even someone close to retirement, hoping to maximise the capital available to buy an annuity and worried that they’re exposed to a falling asset?

Hold, don’t sell. I repeat; Hold, don’t sell.

Crikey (in the vernacular), that’s ballsy.

Ok, but he’s a seasoned veteran of 30 years in the industry, he knows what he’s talking about, doesn’t he? He’s seen the cycle multiple times.

What cycle?

Oh, he’s barely experience a recession or significant economic downturn in his adult life, let alone when he managed any material level of financial asset. He started work in 1988 and the last recession was 1992. He probably didn’t notice as he was still living with his parents.

Ok, so what if all he’s ever known is large percentage asset growth, he’s proven himself a canny advisor to assist others to make great investments.

Witness; the share price of his business, the imaginatively-titled McGrath Ltd. since the launch in 2015;

To paraphrase Sesame Street, “today’s chart was brought to you by the words ‘shareholder‘, ‘value‘ and ‘destruction‘”.

Perhaps the fairest thing one can say about John McGrath is that he gives very canny investing advice….. to people named John McGrath.

It’s a fool who says they know what will happen to a particular asset price. But, with a property market that seems to be desperately searching for any good news, and failing to find any, the greater fool is someone who thinks that John McGrath has a Scooby about what’s about to happen next and, if he does, he’s about to tell you the truth.

Bill’s Opinion

If you really want to become a millionaire, take 6 million dollars and invest it in whatever John McGrath tells you to.

A cynic might suggest John would like you all to not flood the market with your firesales until he’s finished the conveyancing on his.

Caveat emptor, indeed. Perhaps he ought to change his name to “the 900 thousand dollar agent, 899, 898, 897…….

Welcome to the Hotel Wagga Wagga

You can check out any time you want, but you can never leave“.

One wonders what the likelihood is of this idea being successfully implemented and being successful in its outcomes;

A Government proposal to mandate immigrants live in regional areas.

For some mysterious reason, known only to a select few people with massive intellects, new immigrants to Australia almost exclusively favour the largest cities as their first choice when selecting an area to move to.

To be more specific, the they favour the two largest cities; Melbourne and Sydney.

This causes significant headaches for politicians as they are required to ensure infrastructure and essential services are in place and planned commensurate to the likely population levels in each area.

There are other headaches to be had for those poor hard-working politicians too. Specifically, the problem that the economies of their regional constituencies are being “hollowed out” as young people increasingly vote with their feet as soon as they are able and leave their rural hometown for life in the busy metropolitan areas (no, we’re not talking about you Adelaide, sit down).

There’s a critical mass problem in regional Australia where there needs to be farmers and farm workers to grow the produce the city slickers want to eat but providing quality infrastructure services, ensuring there’s good medical and dental care, maintaining a public school system, etc. becomes increasingly expensive relative to the economies of scale that can be achieved in higher density areas.

To a certain extent, t’was always thus the world over. Australia has an additional nuance to this due to her physical size and lower density of population distributed outside the main conurbations.

Over the very long term, one can imagine the solution to Kim Stanley-Robinson’s Malthusian Fallacy will be found using technology and scientific breakthroughs to automate agricultural production reduce the reliance on humans performing traditional roles on farms.

Perhaps the problem is only a 10 to 20 year one then, after which everyone can live in in the megacity with hot and cold running soy decaf and kale smoothies on demand.

Nonetheless, there’s a bit of a problem to be solved here; the politicians don’t want to hamstring economic growth. One way to ensure the GDP figures keep rising is to increase the number of productive workers contributing to it. Put bluntly, they have to persuade the existing population to either throw away their birth control pills or accept a constant flow of immigration.

Note, the politicians aren’t offering a third or fourth option to have flat/contracting GDP growth, or economic growth built on a technological solution to productivity. The parameters of the debate are constrained within an Overton Window to “rising GDP is good, immigration is the solution to achieve this“.

Which is, of course, the the reason why the debate has turned to methods to encourage immigrants to live in places the existing population, especially the politicians, don’t want to. Our old friend expressed versus revealed preferences is at work again.

Back to our original question then, what’s the chances it’ll work?

Some categories of Australian immigration visas already mandate and enforce an element of rural living. There is a “working holiday visa” which rewards the holder to a longer duration of stay if they spend a period of their time performing seasonal work on remote farms. So there is precedent.

There’s some not insignificant differences between what is currently in place and what might be proposed however, not least of which is the demographics involved. The seasonal workers tend to be young people, often single and with no dependents. They are here for a good time not a long time.

The new immigrants who will be mandated to live in the regional areas are likely to be older, married and parents of dependent children. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, their prime concern is to going to be less focused on earning enough to spend the weekend partying on MDMA and browsing what’s on offer on Tinder but more about improving the quality of their housing, the education of their children and affording the airfare back to their country of origin every couple of years.

If the employment options, housing, schools, medical care and ability to save money are sub-optimal in Buttfucksville, Queen’sland, they are going to pack up their belongings and move to the city.

How might the government prevent this, do we think? Checkpoints on all the major roads? Random visa checks? Further requirements on employers to perform the role of Immigration Officer?

Perhaps there’s a clue in the incentives for the working holiday visa workers? Perhaps the initial visa granted is temporary and it can only be converted to permanent residence status after a defined and proven period living in the regional area? What might go wrong with that idea?

Bill’s Opinion

Mandating where immigrants live when they have made the huge personal decision to relocate countries feels like a reasonable idea but it relies on so many factors to be aligned to ensure success;

What if there are no job vacancies in the area, what if the available jobs aren’t suitable for the immigrants’ skills or don’t pay enough to make life sustainable to support their families?

What if the education options available can’t cope with the additional demands of children living in households where English isn’t spoken?

These people will, quite reasonably, claim special status and exemptions due to the government not holding up their end of the bargain.

Here’s a prediction worth noting; the Australian government’s proposals, whatever they are, will not result in a significant shift in the location immigrants live and work, ether due to gaming of the system or failure of an arm of government to plan effectively and exemptions being granted as a consequence.

But the most interesting aspect about this debate is what we are not talking about; what is the full range of solutions to the problem of falling productivity and why aren’t we being shown these, if only for the opportunity to agree that immigration is the only solution?

Open the Overton Window!

You sir, yes you! You are a murdering rapist!

Six women have been murdered in Australia in the last five days.

Apparently, the Australian men who aren’t currently held in custody on suspicion of committing these violent crimes are also responsible and need to engage with some uncomfortable truths.

Wait, what?

That’s right, you heard correctly; the men who don’t beat up their female partners and relatives, the ones who believe violence and murder is morally-reprehensible, share the blame.

Because…..

All these murders were reported against the backdrop of Brett Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court, following historic sexual assault allegations, as the most powerful men in the world men thunder about men’s lives being ruined by women speaking about the violence men have allegedly subjected them to.

For the purposes of journalistic integrity, something writers at the Sydney Morning Herald aren’t concerned with, we’ve added the word “allegedly” in the paragraph above.

When moral equivalence can be found across a violent murder in 2018 and a 36 year old uncorroborated, evidence-free allegation of attempted sexual assault, I suppose mere details such as relativity, assessments of credibility and objective reasoning are optional and, frankly, hindering the cause.

Imagine the pain and suffering Jane Gilmore must feel when she realised the following word salad can be described with the sexist noun, “strawman“;

Imagine this: Six women are murdered by men in five days. Men all over the nation are filled with rage. They organise rapidly on social media, amplified by mainstream media reporting of their activism. Protest marches spring up in every major city in the country. Tens of thousands of men rally. They stay up for hours the night before, painting signs and placards, calling all their male friends and family so they can meet and go to the rallies together. No man is left behind. Men uncomfortable in crowds are supported by gentle friends.

Men feeling triggered and shaky are held in loving male arms, told to cry and hold on to the men who feel their pain and carry their grief. Men with a long history of activism against male violence are chosen to speak at the rallies. They share their stories. They cry for the lost women. Rage against the cruelty of lives ripped apart. Comfort each other and vow to never stop fighting until women are safe.

As the rallies end and the crowds of men slowly disperse, they separate off into small groups. Men sit together in bars, cafes and parks because they cannot bear to be alone after collectively draining all that pain and knowing there’s still so much more under the surface. Men sit with each other unable to stop their tears because they’ve been to so many rallies before and know they will have to do it again.

It probably doesn’t occur to Jane that the 99.9995% of Australian men who don’t murder anyone each year likely have other more pressing things on their minds such as caring for and loving their wives, girlfriends, children, etc. than to waste time virtue signalling to the murderers.

By the way, that percentage quoted above is based on government published statistics showing the murder rate per 100,000 people is currently around 2.2 victims per year (which is a 9% fall over the previous 20 years).

Let’s face it, Jane’s rather passive aggressive suggestion that anyone with a penis should be organising community marches to prevent murders of women somewhat misses the point that, if someone is prepared to break the most serious societal taboo of taking another person’s life, a bunch of placard-waving beardy beta males singing out of tune John Lennon songs in the town centre is going to be about as an effective form of persuasion as holding a Linda McCartney quorn burger in front of a hungry Great White Shark.

Bill’s Opinion

This is the ultimate in identity politics. This is where it leads when we attempt to treat individuals as members of a group for the purpose of effecting meaningful change.

Let’s flip the argument around somewhat and see how it sounds for other versions of the idea; a study in Arizona found that “American Indians” (is that the correct term these days?) were statistically more likely to cause fatal car crashes. Is Jane Gilmore calling for the various indigenous tribes of rural Arizona to hold candlelit vigils urging their brothers and sisters to hand in their car keys and commit to taking public transport?

Individuals are responsible for their own actions. Western civilisation works better than all previously-tried versions because it has a societal contract that group punishment based on immutable natural characteristics such as race, gender, sexuality, etc. is morally-bankrupt and, more importantly, not pragmatic or effective.

If Jane Gilmore finds this contemporary legal principle unacceptable, perhaps she might consider reverting to the more ancient “Code of Hammurabi“, where group punishments and varying levels of punishments relative to social status were mandated?

Lastly, Jane might be advised to read Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention before writing any more of this bollocks.

Describing the ends but not the means

The sheltered workshop and tax dodging former newspaper, The Guardian, ran an opinion piece about science by a writer whose entire qualification seems to be that he writes a genre of fiction with the word “science” in the category description.

Science fiction writer Kim Stanley-Robinson wants to save the planet.

Of course, the usual Malthusian Fallacy is the main theme of the opinion piece. No surprises there and the consistent formula is employed;

1. Define an unverifiable looming catastrophe,

2. Define an untestable solution,

3. As a consequence, demand resources and behavioural changes from the population.

What’s quite interesting in this article is the use of gentle language to describe what would require severely authoritarian measures to implement.

Some examples follow;

The tendency of people to move to cities, either out of desire or perceived necessity, creates a great opportunity. If we managed urbanisation properly, we could nearly remove ourselves from a considerable percentage of the the planet’s surface.

Just a mild “if we managed urbanisation” there, you might say. Of course, everything hinges on one’s definition of “managed“.

It could be said that Hugo Chavez managed the distribution of food in Venezuela, for example…..

Many villages now have populations of under a thousand, and continue to shrink as most of the young people leave. If these places were redefined (and repriced) as becoming usefully empty, there would be caretaker work for some, gamekeeper work for others, and the rest could go to the cities and get into the main swing of things.

Redefined and repriced? Sure, by whom, when, to what price and how?

If we recall, Robert Mugabe redefined and repriced the fertile farmland of Zimbabwe….

So emptying half the Earth of its humans wouldn’t have to be imposed: it’s happening anyway. It would be more a matter of managing how we made the move, and what kind of arrangement we left behind. One important factor here would be to avoid extremes and absolutes of definition and practice, and any sense of idealistic purity. We are mongrel creatures on a mongrel planet, and we have to be flexible to survive.

Quite right; people have been self-selecting and moving to urban centres since the Industrial Revolution. Urban living overtook rural living over a decade ago.

So what’s Kim’s call to action here, if we’re doing this by free will already?

Ah, he wants to lock the gate once we’ve left so it’s harder to return.

We will have to have decarbonised transport and energy production, white roofs, gardens in every empty lot, full-capture recycling, and all the rest of the technologies of sustainability we are already developing. That includes technologies we call law and justice – the system software, so to speak. Yes, justice: robust women’s rights stabilise families and population. Income adequacy and progressive taxation keep the poorest and richest from damaging the biosphere in the ways that extreme poverty or wealth do. Peace, justice, equality and the rule of law are all necessary survival strategies.

That’s quite a word salad which can perhaps be summarised as “people like me need to rewrite the law“, such as;

….because we will be safest if we can get the CO2 level in the atmosphere back down to 350 parts per million.

Says who? If I’m living in a violent urban neighbourhood in Lagos, Nigeria, I might question Kim’s assertion about precisely what actions might keep me safest.

All these working landscapes should exist alongside that so-called empty land (though really it’s only almost empty – empty of people – most of the time). Those areas will be working for us in their own way, as part of the health-giving context of any sustainable civilisation. And all the land has to be surrounded by oceans that, similarly, are left partly unfished.

Which is fine until we get around to talking about how we are planning to keep the people off the land and stop them dropping a net in the water.

All this can be done. All this needs to be done if we are to make it through the emergency centuries we face and create a civilised permaculture, something we can pass along to the future generations as a good home. There is no alternative way; there is no planet B. We have only this planet, and have to fit our species into the energy flows of its biosphere. That’s our project now. That’s the meaning of life, in case you were looking for a meaning.

There is no alternative way? Is that like, “the science is settled“?

Bill’s Opinion

Comparing expressed preferences with revealed preferences is always an interesting exercise.

Kim Stanley-Robinson is urging us to move to large conurbations and then for armed police (no really, how else is he proposing we enforce it?) to close the gates to the newly-vacant countryside.

Out of curiosity, Kimbo, where’s your primary residence? Where exactly is Chez Stanley-Robinson?

The high-density sprawling metropolis of Davis California (pop. 65,622).

Just to illustrate the hypocrisy, this is the satellite view of Davis;

With a strong right arm, one could probably throw a frisbee the entire length of the town in one shot. Although, it sounds like the sort of place where Ultimate Frisbee has no social shame so there’s a good chance it might be intercepted.

In Kim’s own words, from his wiki page (emphasis mine);

Politically, Robinson describes himself as a democratic socialist, going on to say that libertarianism has never “[made] any sense to me, nor sounds attractive as a principle.”

No shit, Sherlock.

Peter Hannam is either mendacious or stupid

Peter “weather equals climate” Hannam has been fighting the good fight with more intensity recently, with many words written bemoaning Trump’s disdain for the Paris Agreement, despite it making no logical sense to anyone who cares to examine the facts.

One of his recent pieces of work is interesting;

Australia’s driest September on record“?

That’s quite a claim and it would certainly indicate a major problem with the environment if true.

Firstly, let’s just mention that nature doesn’t really have a concept of what a “September” is. No, really it doesn’t; think about it for a moment.

Let’s have a look at Peter’s opinion piece kwality jernalism and see if we can find the factual basis for that headline;

Australia has notched its driest September on record, with less than a third of the usual rainfall for the month, extending the dry spell that has farmers and firefighters increasingly desperate for rain.

Yes, you’ve said that in the headline already (but thanks for confirming it wasn’t an editorial decision to make up a headline). What’s the data source?

Victoria posted its second driest September, also collecting just a third of its typical September rain.

Ok, so a large portion of the country was dry but not as dry as it has been before. That’s not supporting the headline though, is it?

Also, as with a “September“, Mother Nature doesn’t really understand the concept of “the Australian State of Victoria“.

NSW also had another dry month, with less than half the normal rain, bringing the state’s year-to-date tally lower than any year but 1902 and 1965, according to Blair Trewin, senior climatologist at the Bureau of Meteorology.

Nope, still not hearing any data supporting the “driest ever” claim.

“Below average rainfall covered almost the entire country” last month, Dr Trewin said, adding that it pipped 1957 as the driest September, and trailed only April 1902 as the driest for any month.

Still not “driest ever” though, is it?

Melbourne posted its fifth-driest September on record, with no days recording more than 5 millimetres of rain – only the second time that’s happened for that month in records going back to 1855.

Yawn. There’s a pattern emerging here, dry but not “driest ever“.

Sydney’s rainfall was less extreme, coming in about one-quarter below average.

Snore.

A lack of rain has been a standout feature of much of eastern Australia this year, drying out soils and forests. All of NSW has been declared in drought, while the fire season has started early and is forecast to be an active one.

For the rest of the year, the bureau’s outlook suggests odds particularly favour drier than average conditions in Victoria, southern South Australia and Tasmania.

Still not “driest ever” though?

“The signal in the outlook [for October to December] that’s really strong is warmth,” Dr Trewin said, noting that almost all of the country has an 80 per cent chance of warmer than usual maximum and minimum temperatures.

For September, daytime temperatures were 1.41 degrees above the average for the 1961-90 period.

The Murray-Darling Basin, Australia’s food bowl, had its driest January-September since 1902 – the end of the Federation Drought – Dr Trewin said.

Warm but not “driest ever“?

And then, almost as if these things are driven by some kind of natural cycle, the dry weather is replaced by, erm, wet weather;

Note the tagline for Cassandra’s article; “Weather“.

Peter, however, is the real Cassandra in the Greek sense with his default; “Extreme Weather“.

Bill’s Opinion

In addition to Occam’s Razor, there is another shaving device that is useful when analysing people’s public statements and acts; Hanlon’s Razor.

Never attribute to malice that which can be adequately explained by stupidity.

As much as we would like to use this principle with Peter Hannam, he makes it bloody hard to not draw the conclusion that he is acting in bad faith.

He is a veteran journalist who will have been taught the wisdom of concise, factual writing, critical thinking and use of source data.

So why, therefore, does the headline and opening paragraph make a claim that is not substantiated anywhere within the body of the article?

We suggest one of the following explanations for this discrepancy;

  1. After all these years to hone his craft, Peter made a genuine mistake, forgetting to add the all-important sentence or paragraph that would have corroborated his claim.
  2. Peter is incompetent and has been languishing in the role of serious journalist for several years without being in possession of the requisite skills and experience to perform the role.
  3. He knew that there was no supporting evidence for the claim of “driest ever” but went ahead with the assertion, both as a headline and in the body of the article.

Our suggestion is that, based on his extensive public record of writing, (3) is the most likely explanation.

If you accept this explanation that Peter is deliberately trying to deceive the reader, we perhaps should ask ourselves, why?

Actually, perhaps we should ask Peter that?

Hi Peter Hannam, are you a fool or a knave and, if the latter, to what purpose?

If someone on Twitter could ask him, we would be most grateful – @p_hannam
In the meantime, let’s just remind ourselves of Mencken’s quote;

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

Checkmate by the patriarchy

Yifan Hou is the 87th ranked chess player in the world.

What is the difference between Yifan and the 86 chess players higher up the ranking?

Yifan is female.

If ever there was an illustration of the pernicious and mendacious nature of the patriarchy, this must be it.

Where is the diversity in the world of chess? What on earth is FIDE planning to do about this egregious imbalance between the genders? A disparity as shocking as this makes the gender pay gap pale into insignificance.

Bill’s Opinion

The next time you hear a discussion about the patriarchy, gender pay gaps or gender bias, ask the protagonist for their opinion on the fact that the highest ranking female chess player is languishing down in the 80s on the world ranking.

Ask them, for example, whether this is explained by one or several of the following possible reasons;

  1. The rules of chess are, in some way not yet obvious, biased towards men or against women,
  2. Parents and teachers are deliberately or unconsciously dissuading girls from taking up the board game,
  3. Girls are put off by the masculine and aggressive toxic male culture surrounding an ancient board game consisting of moving 32 pieces around a grid.
  4. The male and female brain differs slightly such that, at the extreme ends of the statistical distribution, an obvious divergence occurs.
  5. Another reason which you haven’t yet thought of but would be very open to hearing about.

Reason 4 seems the most likely contributor to the objective and observable fact that, at the elite level, the best chess players are men.

Could Yifan finish you or I off in half a dozen moves on a chess board? Without a doubt.

Could she beat the number one ranked man? Not a chance.

In other news, the vast majority of prisoners convicted of violent crime are men as are most firefighters. That’s probably something to do with duh patriarchy too, no doubt.