As the applause dies down…

A few short months ago, people all across the UK were coerced by peer pressure to stand outside their homes one evening a week and give a round of applause “for the NHS”.

For those of you unfamiliar with those three letters in that order; National Health Service, the UK’s biggest employer, the state run, centralised health service.

Everyone from the Prime Minister to babes in arms were out there every Thursday doing impressions of performing circus seals to celebrate a massive bureaucracy overseeing a clinical negligence bill that is increasing at a worrying rate (doubling over the previous four years).

And then there’s this:

What’s the likely consequence of that, do we think?

Bill’s Opinion

The Cancer Research charity estimates 350,000 urgent cancer appointments were missed or delayed. They speculate this might translate to 35,000 additional deaths.

That speculation is obviously as scientific and as credible as the original Imperial College model that got everyone into this mess, of course; can a subsequent cancer death really be proven to have been avoidable or was it just earlier than might have been reasonably predicted?

But nonetheless, the absolute number of increased deaths from cancer isn’t zero.

Repeat that for all manner of treatable diseases and conditions.

Then close your eyes and repeat the mantra, “we cannot make trade offs, one life lost to covid is one too many” until you forget all the inconvenient evidence to the contrary.

WHO could’ve known?

The World Health Organisation has amended its advice to governments over the efficacy of quarantine lockdowns.

“We in the World Health Organisation do not advocate lockdowns as the primary means of control of this virus,” Dr Nabarro told The Spectator.

“The only time we believe a lockdown is justified is to buy you time to reorganise, regroup, rebalance your resources, protect your health workers who are exhausted, but by and large, we’d rather not do it.”

This is the WHO’s latest volte face (a better term than “back flip”, surely; back flips result in you facing the same direction). Some of us are old enough to remember that “the situation in Wuhan is contained”, there was “no community transmission” and that “masks aren’t effective”.

Let’s add those to the list of statements not to be believed, along with, “the cheque is in the post”, “of course I love you” and, “no, I definitely promise to pull out before it’s too late”.

Anyway, this is not exactly helping the various leaders around the globe who score high on the “authoritarian” end of this quiz, which, until the start of this year, we wouldn’t have thought included people like that Churchillian libertarian, Boris Johnson.

Some awkward press conferences await Jacinda and Dan, for example. Well, there would if we had the remnants of a functioning press.

Bill’s Opinion

Just stop pretending. We all overestimated the risk back in March.

Just admit it and we can all get on with our lives and doing the things that make our short time on the planet tolerable; visiting family, playing sport, taking holidays.

Enough. Enough.

When the facts change

“……I change my opinion. What do you do, sir?”.

If not for Kung Flu, we’d have spent last week skiing down this slope and its neighbours:

That photo was from today via the webcam here.

At this time of year, there’s usually about a metre of snow where you can see grass.

Interesting. Shocking, actually.

The trap to avoid here is falling into the confirmation bias fallacy.

There’s several possible explanations that may be all playing a part.

1. Climate change. So much, in fact, that over a metre of snow hasn’t arrived compared to last year. We’re definitely into Al Gore/Saint Greta territory, if so.

2. It’s a cyclical bad snow season. Again, though, so bad that a metre’s worth hasn’t fallen? Sceptical.

3. Something else.

Bill’s Opinion

A little research suggests option 3 carries most of the blame: the resort manufactures most of the snow for the ski season (via those red machines in the picture). Because the resort is in Victoriazuela, Chairman Dan has shut it down for the season. That’s what the slopes look like without the machines running every night.

I’m actually shocked by this; I’d always assumed the machines topped up a pre-existing base level of snow, but certainly weren’t responsible for layering a metre of depth onto the slopes.

I don’t have the subject matter expertise to calculate this but it would be fascinating to learn what the emissions per skier are to make all this snow compared to, say, flying that skier to a natural snow field in New Zealand or Japan?

If a politician were genuinely concerned about climate change, that’s the sort of data they’d be seeking to publish to enable people to make the correct environmental choice.

Eliminator

….was a great album by ZZ Top. Their first

three albums are their best, however.

Tap, tap, is this thing on?

Apologies for the hiatus. I suspect, as for all of us, life has been a little strange recently. But I’m ok, and so is everyone I hold dear.

I hope you are also still close to the top of the Hierarchy of Kung Flu.

Over a month ago, we discussed the tacit scope creep that had occurred since the lockdown commenced.

If you recall, “flattening the curve” was the mission statement in order to not overwhelm the health services. Nobody in authority ever stated a policy of total elimination, probably because that’s a metric that’s guaranteed to be missed.

In the meantime, there’s been much handwringing in Australia at every new case that discovered, domestic borders closed, out of state visitors shunned, etc.

Reading the media, one could have been mistaken in thinking the tacit mission for a while back there was to get to zero cases.

Thank goodness then, somebody has said the quiet part out loud:

There, that wasn’t so hard, was it?

Bill’s Opinion

We’ve mentioned several times here that l:

1. The decision to close an economy is far easier than the subsequent decision to re-open it.

2. That decision was made using a cost/benefit analysis without really understanding the full costs.

The true costs are going to start revealing themselves soon. This report in the UK suggests 200,000 early deaths might occur as a consequence of lockdown, not Kung Flu.

Let’s hope it is wildly inaccurate, like all the other expert models we’ve been subject to recently.

Lastly, sorry again for the absence. I’ll get my mojo back now.

Flat lines, flat out lies

Those of us old enough to remember the days before Kung Flu might recall the original reason we had our liberty, income, mental health and freedoms massively impacted by our elected leaders.

Do you remember the reason?

Let me give you some clues; it was late March when Australians were instructed to stay home. The reason given was to…..

What’s the word?

Flatten.

That was it! “Flatten the curve“.

And why did the curve need flattening?

To not overwhelm the hospitals

There was even a pretty chart to illustrate the concept:

At some point between March and June, important factors changed.

Firstly, we flattened the curve. Has a political leader confirmed that explicitly? If they have, I’ve missed it.

Secondly, as a consequence of flattening the curve, we didn’t overwhelm the hospitals. We didn’t even use the emergency field hospitals set up and the regular hospitals weren’t overwhelmed, not even close to it.

Thirdly, and more worryingly, quietly and without any acknowledgement, the policy was changed from flattening the curve to completely eradicating all cases everywhere.

Let me repeat that; we are now clearly attempting to prevent anyone at all ever catching the virus.

Don’t believe me? Please explain why the state of Victoria has just re-implemented it’s lockdown due to 25 new cases being discovered?

A quick reminder, in case you’ve forgotten, there is currently no vaccine for the virus. Also, we’ve never found a vaccine for a coronavirus in the history of humankind.

Bill’s Opinion

The year 2020 is the year we collectively forgot many truths we’ve known for centuries. One of these is the fact that we have accepted the risk of illness and death from seasonal viruses for the far greater reward of all of the benefits of living in a highly connected global economy.

Without seeking our permission, our politicians have reversed this situation and have implemented a policy of zero harm.

Of course, it’s a false choice; harm is occurring as a consequence of their response to COVID19, we just haven’t started the reckoning process yet.

Unintended consequences are governments’ only consequences

Anyone who has previously met a human might be forgiven for reading the following quote and laughing like a drain:

There is no better time to rid the states of inefficient taxes that hold back economic growth and I am talking stamp duty and payroll taxes,” Mr Perrottet said.

“We are not going to tax our way back into prosperity. Increasing or decreasing taxes is not tax reform.”

When asked which state tax was at the top of his reform agenda Mr Perrottet replied: “Stamp duty. I’ve raised it before, I think we need to get rid of inefficient taxes.”

Stamp duty, also known as transfer duty, taxes the sale of all properties in NSW and last year raised $7.5 billion for the state’s coffers. After payroll tax, stamp duty is the biggest source of taxation revenue for the states.

If you listen very carefully, you can hear the sound of a thousand Estate Agents each unwrapping a shiny new razor blade and settling into a final warm bath, whilst cradling a single malt.

Bill’s Opinion

I can’t read Dominic Perrottet’s mind, but I’m assuming his motivation for foreshadowing the idea of a replacement of Stamp Duty was to show the public the government was actively pursuing ways to get the economy moving. After all, “something must be done” is all the encouragement politicians need to hear to get on with fiddling with complex systems they don’t fully comprehend.

A quick dekko at the CV of the NSW Treasurer, Dominic Perrottet, tells you everything you need to know; his last “real” job was when he was 28 years old. Saying that, the profession was lawyer, so one assumes he’d only managed to gain three of four years post graduation and law school before he was dropped into a safe seat.

Let’s face it, he’s a career politician with practically zero experience in the real world.

If he had even the mildest understanding of how humans make important life decisions such as buying property, he’d have kept his mouth firmly shut until the legislation had been drafted, agreed and had a good chance of being passed into law.

Instead, he’s just told everyone who was considering buying or selling property in NSW that a very expensive tax might be replaced or even removed at some point in the near future, so it might be regrettable to go ahead with the transaction until clarity has been provided.

In related news, the chart has been updated.

Does anyone want to make a prediction on what the next 6 months might look like?

Orange line down, flat or up?

The blue line has never dropped below 0.2% since the 1970s, by the way.

Covid-19 proves the government is not your Mum or Dad

Judging by the comments on here, regular readers have a solid independent mindset and don’t tend to be victims of lazy thinking.

This is a useful character trait at the best of times but more so during a crisis.

Why?

Because the government is not your Mum or Dad.

A million Mums on Facebook are reading this and saying, “well, duh“.

(actually, they’re not, because only about 3 of us read this blog, but for the sake of keeping me motivated, let’s pretend).

At the risk of building a strawMum argument, these are often the same people who write long posts about how the government should tackle climate change but happily post family holiday snaps from Aspen or Hakuba each year.

The growing panic around the spread of Kung Flu is likely to rapidly challenge many people’s internally-held instincts that the government is concerned for their well-being at a personal level.

Breaking News; the government doesn’t have an opinion about you. In fact, as we’ve explained previously, the government doesn’t have an opinion. Period.

It’s an easy misconception to make though, one might see how someone could fall for it. From cradle to grave, the government is smoothing the path for us all, every single hour of the day:

When you wake up in your house built to government-defined specifications, you use government-provided water and plumbing services in the bathroom, make breakfast using government-regulated (or even owned) power, read the post delivered by the government-provided mail services, drive your government-approved vehicle on the government-built road to your child’s government school and then to your heavily government regulated place of work, probably whilst listening to your government provided radio station.

It must be quite a shock, therefore to find even a single crack in the facade that all this isn’t for you individually but us collectively. Sure, the two concepts don’t clash for 99.9% of the time but they are about to.

Let me offer some pertinent examples;

The use of masks to prevent catching Covid-19

The government message is that they are not effective.

Ok, so why do medical professionals and other key workers wear them?

The reality the government is grappling with is more likely that masks are somewhat effective but there is a finite supply which the government needs to secure for medical professionals.

There is not yet a requirement to close schools

Ok, but at some point a critical mass of schools will have an infection and pupils at those first schools to be infected will be at a greater risk than the ones closed before infection.

The reality the government is facing is that, by closing the schools too soon, they reduce the number of available medical professionals as a large percentage will stay home to care for their children.

There is no need to stockpile.

Ok, but we’ve now run out of toilet paper and don’t have any paracetamol in the house and our three nearest supermarkets are empty.

It turns out that early stockpiling makes absolute rational sense if you believe everyone else is about to start doing the same tomorrow.

Bill’s Opinion

As we’ve pointed out many times here, the government is a non-sentient being that responds to stimuli. Projecting an ability to feel empathy, guilt, or a sense of duty onto a mass of thousands of individuals just because they have a group noun is a massive personal misjudgment.

The government, at best, act in your interest as a member of a collective. It can never act in your individual best interest when that is in conflict or even at slight variance to the collective.

Therefore, it’s very rational for you to think seriously about wearing masks in public, better still staying home from work, keeping your children at home, buying enough supplies for two or three weeks at home and preparing to sit things out.

Think positively; Netflix, YouTube, Skype, FaceTime are all available and, hopefully, your broadband stays up.

In the meantime, here’s a YouTube video to get you started. While watching it, consider quite how unprepared the world is for a crisis after we’ve accepted two generations of 100% career politicians as being appropriate leaders for our nations.

Seriously, there isn’t a single person in either the government or the opposition who has any experience even remotely appropriate to qualify them to lead a crisis response; they’ve gone from a PPE or Law degree, into a union position or legal firm, parachuted into a safe seat, to a cabinet position to being the leader of a major nation.

We would have done better by selecting the PM by jury service, lottery or Rock Paper Scissors.

Take it away Prime Minister Morrison, tell us all about the economic response, because that’s what everyone is really worried about isn’t it? We all care more about what’s going to happen to house prices rather than whether or not granny will end her life lying on a gurney in a hospital car park:

Scott Morrison’s blood sweat and tears speech.

Sorry seems to be the easiest word – part VI

Here we go again.

William of Ockham passim:

Anyone who has been involved in rearing human infants will understand that the word “sorry” is the coda to the process of reconciling a malevolent or negligent act, not the start.

It’s also totally meaningless for the word to be said by anyone other than the person who committed the act, unless it’s used in the context of sympathy (“I’m sorry that happened to you”) instead.

And, on “institutional apologies”:

In addition to the word “sorry”, these apologies have a significant commonality; they are ….. meaningless because the speaker was not responsible for the crime. In most cases, the speaker was not even born at the time of the crime.

Consider then, the Mayor of New Zealand’s apology for a plane crash which, unless “gestational guilt” has become a thing whilst we were busy going about our business, she can’t be held responsible for in any sensible way.

My grandmother used to reply when, as a child, I asked how old she was, “as old as my eyes and little older than my teeth“.

Let’s give a pass, therefore, to the possibility of La Adern’s remarkable dental pre-natal longevity being somehow responsible for the downing of flight NZ901 on November 28th, 1979 (9 months before she was born) but, let’s face it, that’s a theory unlikely to make it past any scientific peer review outside of California.

On behalf of the government and, by extension, the people of New Zealand, she apologised for the tragedy today.

Do your own research into this but please keep in mind the fact ALL civilian navigation in 1979 was undertaken using equipment which would have been instantly recognisable by Captain Cook’s crew.

Excuse my language, but sextants (no, autocorrect, I didn’t mean to type “sexy ants”).

40 years ago, a plane flying over Antarctica, at an altitude low enough for scenic views, using celestial navigation and only air pressure to judge altitude, crashed into a mountain when it started snowing.

Everyone in every position of responsibility in the organisations involved in both the flight and subsequent cover up are dead.

“We” are sorry.

Bill’s Opinion

There is a point beyond which, we should just move on.

The problem is one of incentives versus personal cost, however.

The personal gain to Jacinda Adern for saying “sorry” is not zero. Let’s say she gains one percentage point in the approval ratings.

That’s not the important side of the balance sheet. The cost to her is the square root of fuck all.

The cost is carried by the New Zealand taxpayer who is now up for the potentially-difficult to defend compensation claims.

As always, incentives matter.

William of Ockham passim, again:

In other news, on behalf of the whole of western Christendom, I would like to take this opportunity to apologise for the sacking of Constantinople in 1215. Hopefully we can all move on from here and find common ground.

Keep it simple, stupid

This one is going to be quite uniquely Australian, so apologies in advance if it bores you. If you are reading from a different colony or a Johnny Foreigner location, you might want to persevere simply to assure yourself that, however bad employment regulations are in your country, they’re simplicity itself compared to the Australian version.

Barely a week passes without reports of a new wages underpayment by a large corporate employer. The latest is by the Australian version of GE, Wesfarmers. They’ve discovered and just announced they’ve been underpaying some staff since the early 2000’s and the final bill to put it right is going to be about $15m.

On the face of it, that’s truly scandalous, isn’t it? Particularly coming as it does soon after similar issues with Subway and some fat celebrity chef’s restaurants.

In fact, it takes very little searching to find loads of examples of similar payroll issues across multiple industries and organisations.

This might prompt a question in a curious mind (so nobody employed as a journalist, then); “Are these underpayment issues deliberate or accidental?“.

Speaking from experience as someone who has worked in senior roles in a couple of organisations that have had these issues and being adjacent to the problem (and in one case, responsible for managing the subsequent crisis, despite not having the subject matter expertise…. which was fun), I can categorically state many of these problems are a consequence of incompetence, not mendacity.

The reports of the Wesfarmers problems are instructive; they were discovered following a project to migrate to a new payroll system to achieve compliance to new legislation. Anyone who imagines there’s an individual laughing maniacally after ripping off the workers is clearly deluding themselves.

There’s bound to be a few characters who’ve deliberately chosen to play fast and loose with staff pay but these are most likely to be in smaller companies, probably where they are a significant shareholder. Fat celebrity chefs, perhaps?

In the Wesfarmers’ case, a $15m underpayment over 15 years on a 6,000 person workforce earning about $80k is, what, 0.2%? Small beer.

If we can agree most large organisations are unlikely to choose the utter pain in the arse factor of a future scandal over saving, at most, a couple of percent in staff costs, then we have to question why these otherwise competent organisations keep screwing up payroll?

If you’ve been fortunate enough to avoid looking at the rules around Australian payroll, you might think all that is involved is a simple calculation of hours worked x hourly rate, minus government deductions such as tax.

Ah, such hope….

Here’s one of the Enterprise Agreements presumably causing problems for Wesfarmers. Scan through it and see if you come to the same pair of conclusions as I do:

  1. It’s paid for the private school fees of the children of several lawyers, and
  2. It assumes every manager is an utter idiot or evil.

Most clauses could be replaced with the words, “we will treat each other like grown ups and we won’t be dickheads“. The ridiculous table of days off allowed for bereavement, for example. Speaking as a manager, I’ve never bothered looking at the policy when someone’s relative died, I just told them to take the time they needed. Perhaps that’s naïve but it’s not bitten me so far; an employee hasn’t taken the piss.

Bill’s Opinion

Australia has possibly the most regulated employment environment outside of North Korea. Minimum wages are defined by the government by industry, role and seniority. All of which are pegged to the actual minimum wage so constantly creep up every time the lowest paid Australian gets a raise.

Enterprise agreements are negotiated by union representatives who make Arthur Scargill look like a fan of compromise and administered by an army of “Fair Work Australia” bureaucrats.

It’s a crazy system and one that some poor IT bastard has to code into SAP, Oracle or some other such system only to learn, 15 years later, that a subjective view was taken about what the agreement said on the subject of, say, superannuation payments on overtime when working on a rostered day off after a bank holiday.

Madness.

Little Forethought by the Sea

From the book of faces:

This follows on from the Sydney suburbs of Leichardt and Haberfield being renamed to “Little Italy”.

What a great idea and an utterly genius way to improve the social cohesion between various ethnicities living in the melting pot of Australia.

Let’s step through some versions of the possible logic behind this decision:

  1. Everyone is envious of Chinatown having a name other than “the southern part of Sussex Street”, so we should let everyone else name their place accordingly, or
  2. We love multiculturalism so much, although we can’t really explain what it means but it feels like it’s a warm and lovely version of that 1971 advert for Coca Cola, or
  3. There’s a majority of a particular ethnic group in my constituency and this locks their vote in for me next election.

As with all political decisions, the implications of this are only considered when they directly impact the next election cycle.

More curious minds might ask whether naming areas of a city after the majority ethnic groups residing there is a sound long term strategy?

Where might this lead?

Slippery slope fallacies are to be avoided but, if we now have three areas named in such a way, there’s obviously some level of trend to be observed.

It’s not hard to imagine a situation in the near future where tensions are inflamed because of a perception that this is “our area” and a particular ethnicity isn’t welcome.

It probably happens already to a certain extent but now such an attitude has a perception of legitimacy through Council decree.

Bill’s Opinion

Where might this end? Here’s some suggestions for future naming changes:

Lakemba: Little Lebanon

Glebe: Big Lesbos

Mascot: Little Guangzhou

S’nives: Little Jo’burg

Point Piper: Little Taxation

Paramatta Road: Little Hope And Maintenance

Gosford: Little Dentistry

Mosman: Little Empathy On Sea

Canberra: Little Accountability

Bondi: The Irish and the Jewish communities will have to fight it out for naming rights. The clever money is betting Mossad will beat Continuity Backpackers by a cricket score.

As fun as this is, there’s a couple of versions of the future that could be reasonably envisioned. They are both probably unrealistic, but I suspect only one was ever in the minds of the people behind this push to rename suburbs: