It’s a Kon job

Australia has been housing people seeking refugee status on the PNG island of Manus for several years. The people arrived by boat at or near Christmas Island, an Australian territory 3,400km from the mainland and, to remove the incentive for future boat arrivals by bringing them to the mainland, Australia made a deal with PNG to house them on Manus.

PNG has since reneged on the deal and the detention centre has been forced to close. Alternate accomodation is on offer, either on the island of Nauru, where Australia has a 2nd detention centre, or within the township on Manus.

If they choose to relocate to Nauru, their asylum application to Australia can continue.

However;

That headline is two weeks old now and the centre is being dismantled. Running water and electricity have therefore been disconnected.

Understandably, those whose have chosen to remain in situ are starting to run out of the basics.

A refugee advocate, Kon Karapanagiotidis, is highlighting their privations and seeking donations and assistance from the public.

He is also very critical of the Australian government’s actions and inactions.

His Twitter account is busy with similar messages, which you can read for yourself.

Kon has a suggested solution for these problems, which he hashtags regularly – #bringthemhere. This campaign has consistently failed to make any ground with Australian governments of both political flavours. Perhaps it might help to examine why?

There’s a useful timeline here. As you’d expect from the BBC, what’s left unsaid is most important. The reason Manus was opened and then re-opened was in response to a large volume of arrivals, resulting in an unknown number, possibly in the thousands, drowning en route.

Put simply, rewarding a dangerous ocean crossing with permanent residence in Australia acts as a “pull” factor which people were prepared to put their lives at extreme risk to achieve. Politicians twice acted to remove this “pull”.

Those people who subsequently crossed multiple international borders and then boarded unsafe boats from Indonesia bound for Australia were relocated to Manus.

The #bringthemhere option has been tried twice and was deemed unpalatable from a human safety point of view.

So what options does Australia have left open?

Bill’s Opinion

Even the most desperate can make choices.

The people currently on Manus Island have made a series of choices;

  1. They chose not to claim asylum in the first country they arrived in after leaving their country of origin.
  2. They chose not to claim asylum in the subsequent countries they arrived in after leaving their country of origin.
  3. They chose to pay people traffickers for a place on a dangerous ocean crossing to Christmas Island.
  4. They chose to decline the option to be resettled in PNG.
  5. They chose not to move to the Nauru centre once Manus was closed.
  6. They chose not to move to the alternate accomodation on Manus.
  7. They chose to remain in situ at the closed centre on Manus.

In the absence of agreeing to #bringthemhere, with its twice-proven consequences, one struggles to understand what other solutions the people of Australia could offer.

Rather than hectoring and making accusations of racism, perhaps Kon could concentrate on seeking compromise solutions. If not, then one can only conclude that the welfare of the refugees is secondary to his desire to see an open borders policy despite a consistent rejection of this by the Australian electorate.

 

EDIT: Corrected Manus is part of PNG, not Indonesia.

Prince William takes on the Malthusian baton for another generation

The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree; Prince William Is Worried There Are Just Too Many People in the World

This has been the Prince’s father’s schtick for years so we shouldn’t be surprised that the same views are held by Windsor Jr.

The headline speaks to a common underlying view held by many people living in rich western countries, that there are limiting factors to the size of the human population and catastrophe awaits us when we trend closer to that finite number.

The development of this idea can be traced back to Reverend Malthus’ 1798 work, An Essay on the Principle of Population. In it, he offers the hypothesis that populations grow into the space they inhabit until they reach a natural limit based on the resources they consume.

It’s an intellectually-attractive theory and one supported by countless observable flora and fauna examples. With regards to human populations, however, the theory doesn’t seem to be correct, or it hasn’t been for over 200 years.

Perhaps Malthus is correct but we just need to wait a little longer?

Well, perhaps but how can we explain the glorious and happy fact that the numbers of people in absolute poverty has fallen consistently over the period since his publication? Better still, that number fell off a cliff from the 1970s and continues to fall.

This makes Mathusian predictions seem somewhat unrealistically pessimistic. We are feeding and keeping people alive longer and in far greater numbers than ever before with no obvious reason to assume that this trend will end soon.

Why then, does Malthus’theory stand true for animals but not the shaved ape we call homo sapiens? Human ingenuity, would be my guess; we’re the only species producing efficient farming techniques, improving crop yields and robustness, creating effective pharmaceutical products, building dwellings in locations where extremes of temperatures would usually kill us, etc.

That’s not to say Malthus will be wrong forever about human populations but, if we were to place a bet, the clever money would be on us innovating our way out of trouble long before the catastrophe occurred. If the catastrophe occurs 200 years hence, we’re likely to be capable of colonising other planets, for example. Who knows? Certainly not Malthus, he’s a long time dead, and it’s highly unlikely that a couple of members of the Sax-Coburg-Gotha British Royal Family  have any real insights to offer either.

Of course, if one truly believes that there are too many people in the world, it seems reasonable to ask what might be the possible solutions?

Well, there’s really only two levers we can pull here; lower the birth rate and/or kill a bunch of people.

Examining the delta between people’s expressed and revealed preferences is always a useful test; Prince William and his wife are currently expecting their third child.

So, let us be charitable and assume the Prince doesn’t secretly harbour desires for genocide, we can only conclude that he wants other people to have fewer babies to make more room for his. Which people? Poor people, presumably, people not of his group.

I’m not an evolutionary biologist but I’d suggest that there’s a deep evolutionary instinct at play there.

Bill’s Opinion

Malthus is wrong with regards to humans and has been since 1798. He might be correct one day but the data trends suggests otherwise.

When someone expresses a Malthusian sentiment, it is a great indicator that you are speaking with someone with subconscious authoritarian tendencies.

In his speech, the Prince goes on to bemoan the extinction of species due to human activity. It’s a shame this point was rather lost in the Malthusian guff as we probably all can agree completely that this is a bad thing. Killing millions or asking poor people to do what you aren’t prepared to do yourself isn’t the solution though.

Tickets please

From this morning’s Creepbook for Business feed (the author’s name removed to save their blushes);

Well, yes but….

Using the same logic, a bus driver should receive about a quarter of the salary of the pilot of a 777 passenger aircraft.

The ground crew responsible for connecting the air bridge to the aircraft should probably get a “not killing people” bonus for every successfully alighted passenger too.

Also, every car driver giving a lift to 2 passengers should receive a payment of around a 15th of the bus driver pro-rata to take in to account that it’s not a full time job.

In addition, we might make an argument that there should be a “not killing people with a vehicle” bonus offered to all potential jihadists whenever they get behind the wheel.

Ok, those were facetious examples but they illustrate the point. We don’t pay people commensurate with the risk that they might kill others; it is surely a consideration but there are multiple other contributing factors which determine the value we place on a profession.

Some other elements which we use to determine the VALUE (to use the original author’s stylistics) of a profession;

  1. Rarity of the skills required
  2. Danger of activity being undertaken
  3. Entry costs of joining the profession
  4. Availability of similar or adjacent services or products

 

(1) and (4) are closely-related; if I need to fly between New York and Washington, I could purchase the services of an airline pilot, a train driver, a bus driver or rent a car and drive myself.

The airline pilot has the most complex training, entry costs to the profession and highest level of regulation to comply with but this doesn’t result in their salary being the highest in the country.

Why?

Because we have alternatives to their service which match our appetite for risk, cost, comfort and speed. If, to pay the pilot’s salary, the airline needs to charge $10,000 a ticket for a short round trip between two cities, most people would choose to take the train, bus or drive themselves. Heck, for ten grand, you could buy a secondhand car specifically for the journey.

The author of the comments on the news article above is not asking the right question. The interesting question is not, “shouldn’t we pay bus drivers more money because they could kill 30 people in one crash?” but, “given that bus drivers can kill 30 people in one crash, why are the salaries of bus drivers the world over consistently lower than other professions?“.

Bill’s Opinion

Bus drivers get paid at the rate they do because;

  • It’s a commodity skill that literally every sane and able-bodied adult can master by attending a short training course, exam and subsequent re-testing.
  • Not killing people by negligence or malice is a fundamental axiom by which we expect everyone in society to comply. You don’t get a prize because you didn’t kill anyone at work today.
  • By choosing to drive a bus for a career, you have consciously concluded that  neurosurgeon, barrister, airline pilot, internet entrepreneur, engineer, professional soccer player, international assassin, etc. are all out of reach of your capabilities at this time, all of which pay better than bus driver.

 

What we are prepared to pay for individual professions is determined by the VALUE (sic) we judge the profession to provide, a judgement made against multiple factors not just the fact that they could have killed us but but managed not to today.

I, racist robot

Machine learning is the new fidget spinner in IT circles, it would seem. The only problem is, those darn machines are sexist, racist bigots, just like the rest of us.

The article above explains how systems such as Google’s Sentiment Analyzer are producing results that infer a negative bias against certain groups based on ethnic, sexual or gender identifying nouns.

Everyone seems quite surprised and somewhat disappointed by this discovery.

Perhaps what should strike us as most strange about this is that anyone would predict that these systems would be unbiased.

Thinking about the root source of the learning material of the algorithms; all they have to start with is human speech and the written word. The programmers have let the software loose on the collected wisdom of mankind and asked it to draw its own conclusions.

Unsurprisingly, the software has discovered that we all use bias and we all use it all the time.

Perhaps the next conclusion the algorithms might offer is that bias is an entirely natural, logical and, indeed the only known way for humans to successful navigate the world.

“Bias” is a synonym for “in-group preference“, that is, the system every single one of our ancestors employed to stay alive.

Fear or careful suspicion of animals and plants of unknown species would have kept your and my ancestors alive on the plains of Africa long enough to mate and have offspring. That same fear and suspicion of other humans outside of their immediate group also protected our ancestors from being “victim zero” in the next inter-tribal raid.

Later in our evolutionary history, communicating at a distance with those outside of their immediate group will have saved countless of our ancestors from deadly diseases against which their genes hadn’t yet developed an immunity, again, allowing them to mate and have offspring.

How do we know this was a highly-successful strategy that beat all other competing strategies attempted by their peers?

Because I’m here and able to write this blog post and you are able to read it.

Bill’s Opinion

There is nothing shameful about bias, per se. It has served us well throughout every previous generation. Irrational bias is, by its nature, illogical, but before we write off every momentary expression of in-group preference as racist/sexist/whatever the current “-ist” du jour is, we might consider whether it is actually irrational or whether there is any utility to be had by employing it.

In the words of G. K. Chesterton,

In the matter of reforming things, as distinct from deforming them, there is one plain and simple principle; a principle which will probably be called a paradox. There exists in such a case a certain institution or law; let us say, for the sake of simplicity, a fence or gate erected across a road. The more modern type of reformer goes gaily up to it and says, “I don’t see the use of this; let us clear it away.” To which the more intelligent type of reformer will do well to answer: “If you don’t see the use of it, I certainly won’t let you clear it away. Go away and think. Then, when you can come back and tell me that you do see the use of it, I may allow you to destroy it.

Dear Patriarchy, I demand a full and immediate refund

 

The patriarchy is everywhere and is pernicious, racist and responsible for a large number of societal ills including under-representation of women in senior positions in government and business.

Fair enough.

Can we have a quick chat about mathematics, particularly statistical distribution before we completely agree that the science is settled on this evil patriarchy conspiracy idea though, please?

The Italian engineer, Vilfredo Pareto (a man, of course), identified the statistical phenomenon which now carries his surname. You may also know this by the “80:20 rule”.

Whether or not it’s exactly true that 20% of a group of people own 80% of the wealth of the group (in the UK, this was found to be more like 30:70) or that the square root of a group of people are responsible for half of the productivity (Price’s Law), matters not. The important point is that, over time, a distribution concentrates to a small subset of the whole. This is observed in an incredibly-wide range of subjects from error rates on hard drives to the size of sand particles.

This would suggest that, with a helping hand from a male conspiracy, all the wealth, power, influence, high-profile jobs, etc. should quickly concentrate almost exclusively to men. Just a couple of generations should be enough to see this statistical reality at play.

Let’s say we started the conspiracy just after the end of World War II, we should definitely be seeing an almost entirely male-dominated society in several, if not all, western countries by now if there truly was a heavy, cheating male hand on the scales of society.

In fact, the opposite is clearly observable in almost every walk of life in western countries. As a very obvious example, the UK is currently governed by their 2nd female Prime Minister. Hardly a resounding victory for the British branch of the Patriarchy, is it?

Bill’s Opinion

If there is truly a conspiracy of patriarchy, it’s probably the most incompetent conspiracy in the history of mankind homo sapiens. How else can it be that, after multiple generations of living with the effects of this conspiracy, there are any women in positions of governmental power, running corporations, able to own property, freely-associate with other women, travel without a chaperone, express an opinion, etc.?

This patriarchy conspiracy is utter useless bollocks and I want my subscription refunded.

Please forward the cheque to my new address in Saudi Arabia. Now there’s a country that knows how to implement a patriarchy competently.

Someone probably needs to take the role of parent here

My 5 year old son has decided that he’s a girl and, rather than distracting him with a fidget spinner or teaching him how to ride a bike, I’m actively encouraging his fantasies.

This will end well, I’m sure.

Tangentially, I’ve often wondered about the thought process used by those who believe that homosexuality is a “lifestyle choice”. This explanation of homosexual attraction seems to be in denial of the evidence of, until recently, how godawful that life actually is with those who “choose” it being the victims of ostracism, exclusion, violence and, prior to the 1970s in most countries, jail.

It might be argued that the same observation can be applied to transgenderism.

However, there seems to be a glaring difference between the two situations; in the first example, a person has made an informed choice, post-puberty, to have have sexual relations with people of their same rather than the opposite gender. Until they have reached the age of consent, it actually doesn’t matter much what their sexual desires are or aren’t. Certainly there’s little chance of an irreversible or regrettable physical change being implemented on their body.

In the second example someone has decided that they were born in the wrong body. The current school of thought in the progressive circles of society, including 35 year old “queer” feminist Emma Salklid, is that this is enough proof to commence encouraging this world view and, potentially, seeking hormone treatment and surgery to better-align their physical appearance with their brain’s self-image.

There is a chance that imposing Emma’s political world view on a 3 year old boy (this was the age when he declared himself as a girl) might not be the best course of action in this case. In fact, there is a chance that it might be highly regretted by the child in later life. Perhaps there might come a time when a 20 year old highly-screwed up transgender boy/girl/zirl turns to their mother and asks the following questions;

Mum, please can you explain why the fuck you took the word of a 3 year old and started making decisions that can’t be reversed, such as dressing me in skirts, organising play dates with girls rather than playing war games with other boys, commencing hormone treatment which resulted in my genitals not developing normally and, in fact, making my penis so small that there wasn’t enough material to work with for the gender-reassignment surgery?

Also Mum, why would you be so accepting of a 3 year old’s statement about gender when all the studies show that the suicide rate for transgender people is equivalent to those desperate people in German or Soviet concentration camps AND that this rate doesn’t drop following surgery?

Mum, why the fuck couldn’t you have been a parent rather than a political activist?

Bill’s Opinion

3 year old children say lots of things that don’t make sense. If they are insistent that they are a dog, most parents don’t buy them a lead and kennel.

There seems to be a mental problem at play here which would benefit from intense psychiatric help before hormone treatment and surgery become an option…..

And the 5 year old son should probably see a psychiatrist too.

The Gordian knot of climate modelling

Australian climate scientists have built a computer simulation model to predict sea level rises in a variety of scenarios.

The headline result is a 1.32m rise in mean global sea levels by 2100, if no further progress is made in reducing CO2 emissions.

One of the more frustrating aspects of climate science is the dearth of rational, respectful discussion of predictions such as this. Climate Change has become a hugely-polarising subject, where either side of the debate shout into their respective echo chambers.

To even ask the questions we will pose below is to risk being labeled “anti science” or the deliberately provocative “denier” (provocative because we all know the only other instance that noun is regularly used).

We will pose some questions nonetheless, if for no other reason than to have it on record in the WayBackMachine that there were some who were somewhat sceptical of the accuracy of the computer models.

Questions which might be interesting to learn the answers to;

1. This latest computer model makes a prediction of sea level rises based on the computer models of other climate scientists which predict global temperature rises. Therefore to accept the 1.32m computer prediction, one must also completely accept the results of the other computer model. What has been the track record of the methodology employed by that computer model compared with observations?

2. What has been the long term trend of sea rises (or falls) and is there precedent for such a rapid rise as predicted by the computer model? If so, did this rise precede or follow a rise in atmospheric CO2?

3. What was the observed impact to life on the planet during this previous period of rising sea levels?

4. The conclusion of the report is that a 1.32m sea rise is probable by 2100 if no further improvements are made to reducing global CO2 emissions. Given that the majority of people who are alive today may not be alive by 2100, which is the more logical course of action; hobbling the global economy, particularly nations transitioning from mainly agrarian economic models and thus slowing the rate of relief from desperate poverty for their populations, OR planning for a gradual transition of populations from low-lying coasts?

Bill’s Opinion

To accept the narrative that we must deliberately slow economic growth to protect the environment requires us to believe several, increasingly unlikely propositions in serial, namely;

1. That the climate is changing.

2. That this climate change is predominately due to an increase in atmospheric CO2.

3. The climate change will be catastrophic for the planet.

4. That, by halting or severely reducing CO2 emissions, the change to the climate can be halted or retarded to a “safe” level.

5. That this halting of emissions can be achieved by governmental policy.

6. That, despite no historical evidence of any similar agreement and implementation ever occurring before in human history, enough global consensus will be achieved that the previous 5 statements are correct and what the precise mitigating action should be.

Anyone familiar with betting parlance will understand that what we’ve just described above is an accumulator. They will also know why these don’t pay out very often.

Californian shark jumping

Stigmatising someone for a having a disease is clearly not a pleasant or kind thing to do. Of course, historically this would have been a useful self-preservation strategy for deadly, highly contagious diseases.

We’re no longer in the Middle Ages and at imminent risk of contracting the bubonic plague though, so we should be constantly reviewing our attitude to those unfortunate to have caught a life-changing disease.

HIV, for example, is no longer the short and painful death sentence of the 1980s and 90s. With expensive cocktails of pharmaceuticals, the worst effects can now be held at bay for many years.

Much is now known about the HIV, especially it’s relative contagiousness. HIV is, in fact, one of the most avoidable diseases known to man; don’t share intravenous needles or have unprotected sex with a carrier and you’re pretty much guaranteed to never contract it.

The legislators of the great State of California have reviewed the changed landscape of our knowledge and treatment of HIV and have decided that we can do more to remove stigma from those who have contracted HIV. Their solution? Downgrade the punishment for knowingly infecting someone.

Pause for a moment and re-read the seven words in that last sentence. Can you see the problematic one?

Knowingly.

i.e. deliberately, or “with intent”.

In other offences that result in the death of someone, that’s the difference between the definition of manslaughter or murder.

In the words of California State Senator Scott Wiener, “HIV is a public health issue, not a criminal issue“. Senator Wiener’s statement is correct, of course, but the new law is far more than touchy-feely “hug a HIV sufferer” legislation, it’s reducing the penalty for deliberately passing the disease to someone else. A disease, which despite all the mitigating treatments for its symptoms, is still incurable and results in a shortened life, not to mention financially crippling medical expenses.

It should be unnecessary to restate this but, for the sake of clarity, the law has reduced the punishment for intentionally infecting someone with an incurable deadly disease.

Bill’s Opinion

Once again, California leads the world in stupidity. There’s unlikely to be huge spike in the number of HIV infections in the state as a consequence of this legislation, presumably it’s quite a small subset of HIV carriers who are malicious enough to knowingly pass the disease on to others, but for those who are infected by such an evil act, it must be somewhat galling to learn that their attacker will be out of prison within half a year.

There is a clear schism opening up in western society between those who wish for legislation and government policy that is driven by data and logic and those who prefer for emotion, feelings and virtue-signalling to drive the public agenda. Fortunately, the latter group of people have have a Mecca, a promised land, a safe space, to emigrate to; California.

Cooooool.

Image result for jump the shark

The left do nothing but project

Clementine Ford is the gift that keeps on giving. One wonders whether the words “cognitive dissonance” are in her vocabulary?

This week, the most important topic for her scrutiny is the disparity between the allocation of domestic duties and her observation that women have a greater level of internalised anxiety when visitors are in their house.

Not Clementine or any of her friends, you understand, but other, nameless people. Perhaps we could give them a name? Let’s call them Mr and Mrs Strawman.

Mr Strawman is clearly related to “all the men I slept with in my 20s” of whom, “not a single one of them ever apologised for the fact that they were clearly sleeping on sheets that had never been washed and definitely smelled like it”.

Of course, it could be that there were men out there on the singles scene who had clean sheets waiting on the bed when they brought a date home, and it was just some unfortunate coincidence that none of them invited Clementine back to sample them. Hmmm, correlation isn’t causation an’ all that, but it makes one think.

In the Ford household, much angst is expended on presenting a fully-equal division of labour, witness; “We each do our own laundry and often cook or organise our own dinner, both of which stop these jobs from being naturally assumed to be my responsibility”.

Let’s stop for a moment and unpack that statement; you do your own laundry and cook your own dinner?

That’s a very interesting choice of words, isn’t it? One imagines a scenario where Clementine is sifting through the laundry basket to ensure that only her dirty clothes make it into the washing machine and none of her partner’s are cleaned by mistake.

Similarly, does she tuck into a hearty plate of tofu surprise while the poor chap is stuck with instant noodles?

Bill’s Opinion

Clementine Ford is extremely lucky; she is paid to write lengthy Strawman articles where she projects her own insecurities onto general society and then lays the blame at the door of the “patriarchy”.

In the real world, most busy couples manage to find an equilibrium and division of labour that is appropriate to their respective levels of domestic and external activity and contribution which is less about being “gendered” and more about practicality.

A fundamental misunderstanding of the internet

The Australian state government of New South Wales are planning legislation to ban automated software that can rapidly buy multiple tickets for events such as concerts.

At first blush, this would seem a great win for the consumer. Which is presumably why it was announced (not the “great win” part, but the “it would seem” bit).

Why such scepticism here?

Firstly, let’s examine how such legislation might be drafted. It would need to;

  • Define the software by the function it performs.
  • Define the owner or user or beneficiary of the software.
  • Define the operating jurisdiction of the legislation.
  • Explain how to police the legislation for software running from another country (over a VPN, for example) or even another Australian state.
  • Explain how to identify and prosecute the owner of the software.
  • Define when the crime is committed; after just one ticket is bought?

As the title of this post infers, the legislation required for the banning of “bots” suggests the proposer has very little idea of how the internet works.

In addition, it’s yet another government solution where the market could be quite capable of resolving the issue;

If the artists and event organisers really wanted to prevent secondary sales of their tickets, they have many options available to deploy such as using pre-confirmed registered users on a website or ticket collection at the event with a standard form of identification.

Also, consider the consumer; plenty of people are clearly currently happy to pay above face value for tickets. The event organisers are missing a trick here; why not run the ticket sales process as a time-limited auction? This is, in effect, what the”scalpers” are doing and are taking the risk that they won’t sell all the tickets.

Bill’s Opinion

If you really want to fuck something up in a truly expensive and ineffective way, ask a government employee to implement a solution that nobody asked for.