Ring the bells that still can ring

…forget your perfect offering. There is a crack, a crack in everything, that’s how the light gets in.

The word “hurt” does yeoman’s work in this article in our favourite woke legacy news source.

The national anthem of Australia needs to be amended to reduce the harm the current version is inflicting on certain Australian citizens, apparently.

The good news is only one word of the three verses need be changed; from “we are young” to the proposed “we are one”:

Verse one of the proposed new anthem is the traditional verse with one minimal change – adding the single word “one” to replace the outmoded, and for many Australians the exclusionary and hurtful word, “young”.

There’s quite a lot of accusations being made against what people may have previously thought was an anodyne five letter adjective indicating relative age or maturity.

“Outmoded”, “exclusionary” and “hurtful” to many Australians?

Okaaaaaay.

So, let’s say there’s a nationwide debate on the subject and the conclusion is everyone agrees to drop the “young” bit, acknowledging the Aboriginal population’s arrival here tens of thousands of years ago. Would that result in this “oneness” we are encouraging, would everyone suddenly find a love of the anthem that previously was missing?

Doubtful.

Bill’s Opinion

There is a subset of people who will never be happy with the lyrics of the Australian national anthem. I have no proof but it’s my suspicion this subset correlates greatly with the people who claim the word “young” is the cause of “hurt and, if so, wouldn’t suddenly transform into flag-waving patriots cheering on the national sports teams or whatever other measure one chooses as a proxy of national pride.

Of course, people who are on the look out for the dog that isn’t barking, might wonder why these people are focusing on a single word of a song they’d never countenance singing while the infant mortality rate of indigenous children is double that of every other ethnic group in the country?

Show me on the doll where the word “young” hurt you….

Rights without responsibilities

If you’ve been living under a rock, been busy, aren’t interested in Australian politics or, frankly (and ironically), have a life, you might not have heard there’s an abortion debate going on in New South Wales.

Obviously, the first casualty in this type of debate is the truth. For the record, the legal status quo looks like this (where New South Wales is in green):

Keep that in mind before we look at the reporting on this issue.

In summary, a pregnant woman can have an abortion in NSW for several reasons, often quoted by pro-abortion lobbyists as the most valid arguments for terminating an unborn child’s life.

The one reason for an abortion not allowed in NSW is as a method of contraception. There’s a couple of big howevers to that; the woman could drive across the state border to the Australian Capital Territory and access abortion on demand there or find a doctor who is willing to prescribe abortion for reasons of mental health.

In other words, abortion in NSW is safe, legal, rare and, wink wink, not to be allowed for contraception.

That isn’t acceptable in these modern times though. Abortion on demand is a woman’s “right”, according to, well, the usual people we find ourselves regularly observing with incredulity here.

As the NSW government tears itself inside out trying to change the law whilst not losing the slim parliamentary majority it has, cue hand-wringing articles in our favourite woke organs of record.

This one, for example, which lists lots of terrible events which might lead to the agonising decision of a woman to kill her unborn child…. all of which are legal already and aren’t under threat of being criminalised.

Then there’s this article, which also describes an agonising choice made by a pregnant woman that is, wait for it, also not under threat of being made illegal.

What I’ve yet to find (please correct me in the comments if you’ve seen it) is an article explaining the current legislation and what impact the proposed changes will have if passed. i.e. will the categories of valid reasons be increased or decreased, will the time limit be decreased or increased, will abortion be available to be used as a form of contraception?

Bill’s Opinion

As I’ve stated earlier, my opinion on abortion has hardened the further away in time I have become from being likely to benefit from it.

The reporting on the current debate is actually activism not journalism. Cases on the margins are being cited as arguments for the change in legislation without explanation that these are already allowed.

If you are pro-abortion, I would suggest that, if your view is without nuance that it is completely the right of the pregnant woman to decide whether or not to continue the pregnancy, you are practicing a form of self-delusion.

If you believe the media reporting on the issue is balanced and impartial, I’d further suggest you may have a form of cognitive or mental deficiency. Perhaps I’ve only seen the worst examples though, so do post links to balanced reporting if you know of any.

There is a moral choice to be made with regards to abortion, but it is not the one many lobbyists might think. The choice to take an otherwise viable human life by abortion is actually the final choice in a long series of choices. In chronological order, those are:

  1. Abstain from having sex.
  2. Abstain from having sex with someone you know you don’t want to be be with for the rest of your life.
  3. If you wish to have sex with someone who isn’t an obvious life partner, diligently and responsibly use contraception. Be aware that there will still be a residual risk of pregnancy.
  4. If an “accident” happens, carry the baby to term and decide whether you can cope with parenthood after it’s born.
  5. Offer the child up for adoption to one of the desperate couples who can’t conceive naturally.
  6. Kill the damn thing like a virus.

Sun Tzu and the art of phony war

Recently, we discussed whether or not Australia was under attack by China.

My conclusion was that, regardless of whether or not either party wishes to admit it, in a very real sense we probably are.

If one accepts that hypothesis, there are a range of common sense actions that should follow, at the very least, to prevent the status quo from deteriorating further and to reduce the risk of further hostile actions.

The problem, quite common in western democracies, is the election cycle tends to reward politicians who practice realpolitik, rather than taking a more principled approach to hostile foreign powers.

An example of this can be seen today with many on the Remain side of the Brexit debacle; the evidence is overwhelming that the EU negotiators have not been operating under good faith (an example is the use of the Good Friday Peace Agreement as leverage), yet many of the key players in the British parliament are behaving as if Micawberistic optimism will win the day. To suggest we’ll get a deal after three years of being told non and nien makes something will turn up seem almost pragmatic and sensible.

But we shouldn’t be surprised. Flying back from Munich with worthless pieces of paper only to have to say, “bugger it” and open up the armoury the following year is in the British national DNA. 

Australia’s too, it would seem.

The Lucky Country’s peace for our time moment seems to be playing out currently with barely a day going by without another story emerging about inappropriate Chinese state influence in Australian domestic politics.

Before we continue, there are a couple points to be clarified:

  1. When I refer to “the Chinese”, I’m referring to the state government and its agents, not the ethnic identity.
  2. It’s my belief that there’s very little distinction to be made between the Chinese government and large Chinese corporations. They may be nominally privately-owned and independent but, if you believe that to be true, I’ve a terracotta army I’d like to sell to you. 

I wish to present four pieces of evidence supporting my position that we are not dealing with a good faith actor when we do business at a national or corporate level with the Chinese:

  1. China believed to be behind hack of Australian National University.
  2. “State actor” believed to be behind hack of Australian national parliament computers (ok, it doesn’t name China but we all know who they mean). 
  3. Australian MP bribed by Chinese businessmen.
  4. Ex-pat Chinese government party member, now an Australian MP, can’t recall ever being a member….. for 12 years.

Bill’s Opinion

It’s not the fact these things have happened and are continuing to happen, it’s the dog that isn’t barking that is most concerning.

Look at the reporting of the statements coming from the various Australian government officials and opposition party leaders. It’s as if China was a synonym for Voldemort.

The most recent incident, for example; it’s a member of the Australian federal government with deep and enduring links to a foreign power, yet the official response is nothing to see here, move on.

It’s almost as if, I dunno, nobody has the testicular fortitude to mention the name of the government that always seems to be interfering in Australian domestic affairs in case, horror of horrors, they take their money away and spend it elsewhere.

 

Image result for peace in our time

 

 

“Completely mystified”

The responses below the tweet are priceless, but before you click the link, let’s look at the supporting article.

Apparently, the most likely explanation to the phenomenon of lowering costs for some expenses yet rising costs for others is something I’d not previously heard of; Baumol Cost Disease.

From Bloomberg’s helpful description:

The theory of Baumol cost disease, developed in the 1960s by economist William Baumol, states that some things rise in price even as productivity goes up. When society gets better at making cars, electronics, food and clothing, wages go up. But as wages go up, industries that don’t find ways to use less labor to produce the same service — for example, a string quartet — rise in price as well.

Which, prima facie, sounds reasonable and rational.

However, I would caveat that feeling of reasonableness with the statement that Malthusianism also sounds reasonable and rational when it’s first described, possibly for similar reasons.

What Malthus has been wrong about for the last 291 years is the Industrial Revolution. Or, more specifically, human inventiveness. Oscar Wilde touched on the solution we found to Malthus’ problem with this pithy quote;

Civilization requires slaves. Human slavery is wrong, insecure and demoralizing. On mechanical slavery, on the slavery of the machine, the future of the world depends.

As the wags and wits on Twitter were fast to point out, the costs that have experienced the most price inflation are, in a suspicious coincidence, the things that have most benefited from government “help” in terms of regulation and subsidies.

Correlation isn’t causation but there’s clearly something worth further enquiry here.

Bill’s Opinion

The most interesting part of the Baumol description is this:

….industries that don’t find ways to use less labor to produce the same service….

The obvious question that prompts is, “why don’t they find ways to use less labour?”.

Perhaps the range of possible answers are as simple as these two:

  1. Because the work involved is impossible to automate or make any more efficient, and/or
  2. There isn’t a great enough incentive to automate or make more efficient.

Anyone who has ever spent any time working in a government or quasi-government department and the private sector will recognise the critical difference immediately; there is no personal reward for for a manager to find a way to deliver the government service with fewer or with lower-skilled employees.

It is extremely rare for a government minister’s stated desire for improved efficiency to be translated into meaningful incentives down the organisation to a level where they will have any material effect.

As Ronald Reagan so eloquently put it:

Government’s view of the economy could be summed up in a few short phrases: If it moves, tax it. If it keeps moving, regulate it. And if it stops moving, subsidize it.

Or, as an anonymous quote (no, it wasn’t Milton Friedman) goes:

If you put government in charge of the Sahara desert there will be a shortage of sand in five years.

But remember, “economists are completely mystified“.

The Sydney Harbour Stadium

Milton Friedman famously explained the four ways to spend money:

1. Your money on yourself – explaining the model and age of car you drive, balancing comfort, speed and prestige with cost to your preferred ratio.

2. Your money on someone else – explains why the presents you give are generous but not extravagant.

3. Someone else’s money on you – explaining why you always order the fillet steak and a good Shiraz when eating on the company expense tab.

4. Someone else’s money on someone else – explaining why the New South Wales government just awarded a contract to demolish a stadium and rebuild it before the new one had been designed.

No, really. That last one just happened.

In the Olympic event of “Pissing away other people’s money”, it’s a close contender for Gold along side Victoria’s $1.1bn road that never got built.

I suppose the Moore Park location isn’t as godawful as the Olympic Stadium at Homebush, which takes about an hour to reach even if you live close to it (which nobody who follows sports does), but it’s a crap location nonetheless.

If only there were better alternative suggestions….

Bill’s Opinion

Now that it’s been knocked down by corruption mistake, so to speak, why not take the opportunity to turf over the space and let the local junkies have a larger area to pitch their bivvies and overdose in.

Meanwhile, Sydney could build the world’s best sporting venue evah….

Ladies and Gentlemen…. The Sydney Harbour Stadium:

 In summary, our design includes;

1 A world class 120,000 seater stadium built to the north of Clark Island.

2 A “rollable” pitch to be moved out to the east of the stadium when not in use to ensure full sunlight on the grass (learning the lesson of Wales’ Millennium Stadium)

3 A new dedicated underground railway station linking up with Wynyard and terminating at Clark Island.

4 A new ferry wharf to the north west of the stadium connecting with Circular Quay and the other ferry routes.

Imagine the excitement of jumping on a quick ferry ride to a major international sporting event held in the middle of the world’s most beautiful natural harbour. Spectators would quickly arrive and depart using multiple ferries to different harbour locations and the train would connect with the existing rail network.

The footage of the game would be the best advert for Australian tourism (another industry in dire need of stimulus) ever shown on TV. Away matches in Sydney would be the highlight of every international team’s fixtures and their fans would always consider those fixtures as the first choice for travel.

Unlike the current disastrous commercial project the New South Wales government has presided over, this proposed stadium has been fully-designed and costed and, if the government minister would contact me, I will be happy to hand over the three used Malboro packets with the details.

(Keen observers will notice the basic idea for this stadium appeared elsewhere but I have since taken ownership of the copyright).

1984 wasn’t meant as an instruction manual

Just because Australia is close to China, doesn’t mean we should emulate the place….

No, really.

New South Wales transport minister Andrew Constance has revealed plans to roll out facial recognition technology across the transport network as an alternative to Opal cards.

“In the transport space we’ll use facial recognition technology to scan customers who’ve ‘opted in’ and linked their Opal account,” Constance said in a speech at the Sydney Institute on Tuesday night.

“No more personal freedom gate barriers. Just a smooth journey,” he said.

Andrew Constance? Where have we heard that name before?

Oh yeah, the chap who instigated an Uber “levy” to bail out speculative taxi “plate” purchasers. In case you’re wondering, “levy” is the name Australian governments use for a tax when they don’t have the courage of their convictions to say “tax”.

The irony is he is from the political party most associated with the economic right, rather than socialism. The party is the Liberal Party and was probably named with the English “classical liberal” definition in mind. Political dogma has changed a lot since, clearly.

That “levy” is probably all an outside observer needs to know to understand the Australian voters’ regular insipid choice between socialism and corporatism.

So, to Constance’s latest big idea; biometric ticket authorisation. In his own words:

“This will read someone’s face, retina, breath, gait or voice to enable next level authorisation and access. Think truly contactless payments – entry to buildings, onto planes, at banks and hotels.”

Call me an old scaredy cat and a cynic but this seems to have all the upside for people who might have bad intentions and a considerable risk of significant downside for everyone else.

What’s the corollary to “entry to buildings, onto planes, at banks and hotels“? No entry.

Currently, entry to those locations and services are managed by the local entity. Constance is hinting at a centrally-managed power providing the yes/no decision based on whether or not your face is in the database of acceptable people.

Who gets the job of running and updating that database? I’d like to offer an early application for this God-like position of power.

And there’s this:

The capability could also be used to detect if someone on a train or bus was ill, Constance claimed.

Well, excuse me if that doesn’t exactly give me a cosy warm feeling like a freshly soiled wetsuit.

It may be cold comfort to predict that, based on a previous history of glacial-speed implementation and incompetence, the New South Wales’ transport network is highly unlikely to be the first wide-scale implementation of facial recognition to have its limitations and scope tested in the law courts and court of public opinion.

The exisiting “Opal” card electronic ticketing system is the same as Hong Kong’s Octopus (launched 1997) and London’s Oyster (launched 2003). Following various delays due to political lethargy and systemic organisational corruption and incompetence in the Transport department, Opal was finally launched in 2012.

Presumably, the NSW government wanted to be absolutely certain there were no teething problems to be ironed out with the fifteen year old Hong Kong version before hastily rushing to follow.

In addition to the fifteen year delay to get around to the project, the State Government rolled out 3.7 million cards and the required retail infrastructure to sell and top up the stored credit when the technology already supported use of contactless debit cards. i.e. that thing 99.9% of people already had in their wallets.

Bill’s Opinion

Anyone who buys Andrew Constance’s claim that implementing biometric recognition for public transport ticketing would be a universal good hasn’t been paying attention to the trend of recent years.

Because a bunch of insane Saudis hijacked planes in the USA on September 11th, 2001, your government has usurped huge powers of surveillance, implemented CCTV camera networks throughout most public spaces, eavesdrops on electronic communications, restricted internet access, further regulated banking and the ability to transfer money, changed centuries old laws about detention without trial and due process, and all in the name of “temporary measures” to make us safer.

If you hope and believe these powers will one day be walked back and revoked because the threat of terrorism has been defeated, I’ve got a harbour bridge I’d like to sell you.

Such a throwaway line by Andrew Constance should scare the crap out of anyone who has read the history of what happens when the power to interfere in the day to day lives of others is concentrated centrally.

The counter argument always made to this is, “no, no, when we centralise the power we will use it for the benefit of everyone“. Well, fool me once, shame on you. Fool me 100 million times, shame on me.

Imagine an average day in the life of a citizen of New South Wales a century ago. How many interactions would they have had with an organ of government? Perhaps they would have sent their child to a state school in the morning, posted a letter in the state run postal service, perhaps said hello to the policeman on the high street.

Now think about the answer to the same question for 2019.

Foresight Battle Royale

This is hilarious; Australia’s over budget, late, poor quality National Broadband Network can’t cope with the demand from a bunch of teenagers playing video games.

Unexpectedly high levels of downloads can cause sluggish connections for all customers using broadband, not just those downloading game updates.

Some games companies release their updates, which can be tens of gigabytes worth of data and are known as “patches”, without much notification or the ability to download in advance of the release.

Hang on, that’s not what we signed up for. Back in those halcyon days of 2009 we were told we’d get 100Mbs over which we’d be able to run all sorts of society-changing services.

Here’s the original 2009 press release, just for the record.

Ah, promises made, not honoured. Just $43 billion over 8 years, eh? And the suckers believed them.

The NBN really has stood the test of time in the 24 carat lies department hasn’t it, right up there with, “the cheque’s in the post”, “yes, I love you too” and “of course I won’t come in your mouth”.

Gaming was baked in to the capacity according to the original “business case” (we use that term loosely; it doesn’t bear much resemblance to any I’ve seen in my career). Here’s the document, page 26 has the mention of gaming.

You’d think a modern, highly technical and, most importantly, centrally planned telecommunications network would be able to either cope with a few spotty kids playing shoot ’em up games OR be capable of prioritising other traffic.

After all, the UK are planning to block porn sites unless people have registered to have them unblocked (nobody’s told the government nanny state about VPNs), so it must surely be simplicity itself to block or throttle a single games company?

Yet here we are, begging Epic Games for details of their forthcoming updates and promotions.

How utterly embarrassing.

Bill’s Opinion

Australians are no different to many other nationalities in their belief that the government can magically deliver major programmes of work on time, to quality and on budget… despite all the evidence to the contrary.

I still have conversations with people who believe the plan was poorly executed because their political opponents’ duplicity and/or incompetence.

The reality is, a simple further deregulation of the telecoms industry would have done the same job quicker, cheaper and more suitable to the demand.

The government could have concentrated on making some provisions for the 3% of the population who don’t live in the metropolitan areas. Posting them porn DVDs each week, for example.

Great news for the global economy!

Kevin Rudd is predicting economic doom.

There are very few certainties in life beyond death and taxes but one can make a solid fortune by betting against any economic prediction offered by the former Australian Prime Minister.

No, not that former Prime Minister, or that one, or that one, or that one, or that one, this one just died, but this one who was fired from the job…..hilariously twice.

We can’t be certain that his woeful predictions are due to incompetence or whether he’s got the McGrath-Bouris merdeus touch (everything they touch turns to shit) of being able to pull suckers in to their scheme of handing over wealth.

After all, this is the Prime Minister who had such a poor understanding of basic supply and demand that he unintentionally opened up an entire murderous business opportunity for Indonesian people smugglers to sell unseaworthy end of life fishing boats to Africans make a perilous thousand mile journey.

He also oversaw the Australian response to the 2008 global financial crisis which, arguably postponed what could have been a minor domestic recession to something with the potential to be much worse in the near future. But hey, people got a new TV and some house insulation out of it.

Reading Rudd’s opinion piece today reminds us of the gaping intellectual hole that has been left in Australian political life by his quiet and statesmanlike retirement;

This time last month, I was having breakfast with a Chinese friend in Chengdu, the prosperous provincial capital of Sichuan, discussing the increasingly toxic US-China relationship.

Not just a friend, but a Chinese friend, because he’s Kevin Rudd, Mandarin-speaker extraordinaire.

As for the increasingly-toxic US-China relationship, relative to what? Pre-Nixon in China, days? The years immediately following Tiananmen Square?

Well, if things are toxic now, viva toxicity because the two countries are fairly deeply linked these days.

Rudd can’t help himself by chucking in a little bitterness at his opponents;

Mysteriously these also happened to be the headlines in every newspaper in China that day. I hadn’t seen such editorial discipline since Murdoch’s coverage of the Australian elections.

This is worth looking at in more detail for a quick diversion. According to the Sydney Morning Herald, the NewsCorp (Murdoch) titles don’t attract as many eyes as the Sydney Morning Herald. And that’s before we count the various media outlets of the ABC, the Guardian, and most other media outlets landing to the left.

Frankly, any left of centre Prime Ministerial candidate who fails to win an election when the majority of the media is on their side ought to have a good long look at themselves in the mirror. Being a famous narcissist, Rudd looks in the mirror more than most, yet struggles with self-awareness.

Back to Rudd’s panic about the trade war…

His hypothesis is that China has reached the end of their patience and will not offer anything more in negotiations:

My prediction is that the Osaka G20 Summit will see a “reboot” to the negotiating process. And after Osaka, Trump will yield on the first two of China’s new red lines. And Xi will increase the quantum of the proposed Chinese purchasing agreement from China’s previous offer, although not by as much as Trump has demanded. That way, enough face will be saved all around.

Bill’s Opinion

Kevin Rudd knows a lot about China, he has a greater Mandarin vocabulary and speaks with a better dialect than anyone I know who isn’t ethnically Chinese.

His knowledge and understanding of negotiation, supply and demand and matters commercial have been demonstrated, at Australian taxpayers’ chagrin and expense, to be disastrous, however.

Fortunately, few of our failures cost lives. Unfortunately, Kevin Rudd’s poor grasp of basic human nature and economics has cost millions of dollars and hundreds of lives.

Maybe China will back down, maybe they won’t. It’s more likely they will though since Mr. Rudd is convinced otherwise.

The Australian 26th and 28th Prime Minister, brought to you by Dunning and Kruger.

Monorail! Monorail!

Sydney ratepayers must miss the albino pachyderm that was their late beloved monorail, formerly of their parish. It may have stopped at no useful locations and cost more than a taxi to go there but at least the liability had been paid off and it only cost them operating overheads.

It was removed a few years ago but, rather than learn a lesson about crap public transport projects nobody asked for, the State Government decided to spunk ratepayer’s money on light railways.

How’s the value for money been so far?

Oh: Light rail project costs blow out to at least 30% over budget and is two years late.

The +30% figure is conservative, by the way. That’s a calculation by a journalist based on public information. The real figure when (if) the line is completed is likely to be an order of magnitude greater. Sydneysiders should prepare the wallets for close to $3bn when the final invoice has been counted.

Actually, it’s not the ratepayers in Sydney we should feel sympathy for; the ratepayers of regional NSW are up for the same bill but none of the eventual benefit.

There’s something about grand infrastructure plans in Australia that seem to regularly under deliver and over cost. The National Pornband Broadband Network, for example.

Bill’s Opinion

This isn’t my area of expertise, so I welcome illuminating comments below as always.

However, it would seem that there’s been a fundamental disconnect somewhere between the NSW infrastructure planning department and the legal counsel to have let such an obvious issue of subterranean cables be so vaguely contracted for.

Do you think any civil servant will have lost their job over this $576m screw up?

The eternal lesson is there for another generation; if you want something done badly, get a government department to do it.

Mandate rooted

As we know, Australia is in the insalubrious club of tin pot dictatorships and banana republics that enforce voting by law.

So, turn out must be close to 100% then, with any missing votes due to forgetfulness or illness?

Hmm, not quite.

So despite there being an enrolment rate (ie “we know who you are and where you live for the purposes of issuing the fine”) of over 98%, only 91% of voters turned up?

Ok, but that 91% took the important task of maintaining confidence in the democratic process seriously, though, surely?

Oh;

But up to 1.5 million people on the roll failed to vote at the election. In some seats, once informal votes are taken into account, less than three-quarters of those entitled to vote cast a legitimate ballot

Ah. So, faced with a choice of a $20 fine or turning up and drawing a penis on the form, a quarter of the population chose the genital option.

One Liberal MP said the voting figures suggested ramifications for the political system and major parties.

“Everyone campaigns on the assumption that people vote. This might mean they will have to campaign on the assumption they have to get people to vote,” they said.

You mean politicians will have to go out and campaign for people’s votes and engage them on matters of policy, as if they were taking voters’ views in to account?

How novel.

Bill’s Opinion

A major difference one notices when experiencing an Australian Federal election compared to general elections in other western democracies is how little you see of politicians in the wild.

Sure, they are all over the media, dropping well-crafted soundbites in time for the evening’s TV news but you can do the weekend shopping at the local mall safe in the knowledge it will be a politician-free zone.

As for politicians walking the streets, knocking on doors asking for your support? Forget it.

I have long assumed this lack of visibility of prospective MPs is a direct consequence of compulsory voting. Politicians assume everyone is going to vote, and most likely vote en masse for their traditional demographic’s party. If that assumption is correct, then their resources are best directed at potential swing seats only.

Perhaps this taking for granted of the electorate is now becoming a poor strategy when a quarter of the electorate are going to the local school, signing on the register and then flipping the bird at the whole charade?

More of this, please.