Hanlon a minute

Hanlon’s razor is a principle or rule of thumb that states “never attribute to malice that which is adequately explained by stupidity”.

This describes my default position whenever I try to parse the statements of politicians. Only their words however, not their actions; the motivation behind these are usually painfully obvious as the trusty revealed versus expressed preferences test explains.

Politicians’ words are often a tricky minefield to navigate though. For example, should the public be wearing masks to combat the virus? Well, no AND yes and you’ll be fined if you don’t keep up with the changes.

Experience has taught me to use Hanlon’s Razor as a safe heuristic to quickly make sense of a politician’s pontificating. For a single statement made by a single politician, it’s rarely wrong. They’re all dumber than bag of hammers and usually a one off statement is simply that lack of intellect revealing itself in verbal form.

When several, seemingly unconnected, politicians make similar or even identical statements, we should probably consider being a little more sceptical of relying on Robert Hanlon’s shaving device.

For example; in the same 24 hour period, Boris Johnson claims lockdowns, not the world’s 2nd largest per capita vaccinated population, reduced deaths and Greg Hunt’s suggestion that, even if Australia ever got its shit together and vaccinated the population, we won’t be leaving the country for several years.

Well, aren’t we just living in a very connected world, eh? Two senior government officials on different sides of the globe decide to downplay the effectiveness of vaccines, one of whom has spent the previous 6 months reminding his country on a daily basis that “normality” would return once enough people had done their civic duty and had the vaccine.

Coincidence? Conspiracy? Collective incompetence? Cowardice?

Your guess is a good as mine.

The one thing we can probably bet the house on is we will not be getting on a plane to an overseas holiday or be welcoming friends and relatives from overseas any time soon, regardless of vaccination status, vaccination passports or any other factor.

Bill’s Opinion

There’s been too many of these coincidences to be ignored. From the lockstep changes over last year of every national leader’s position on masks, school closures, lockdowns, herd immunity, not overwhelming the hospitals and now the effectiveness of vaccinations, the pattern has become too obvious to be ignored.

Hanlon’s Razor suggests we should consider a kinder explanation before assuming bad intentions. My view on these frequent coincidences is now not that we have incompetent leaders, I’ve always assumed that, but they compound their stupidity with cowardice.

No democratic leader is going to risk being accused of having “blood on their hands” by returning those freedoms we used to believe were rights while there is a risk of a single death by this virus. Regardless of any other cost.

Lastly, if your income relies on incoming tourism or overseas visitors such as students, what would the rational response be to Greg Hunt’s latest statement?

Yep, close up and go do something, anything, else.

“I felt a great disturbance in the force, as if a million Australian hospitality workers cried out and were suddenly silenced

Whither Australia’s Federal Government?

If you observe Australian Federal politics for a short while, you may draw the conclusion the current Prime Minister provides about as much national utility as a chocolate teapot. However, should you be masochistic enough to observe Australian Federal politics for a longer time, you will realise this “as useful as tits on a bull” characteristic is common to ALL of the modern era Prime Ministers. It’s a feature of the system, not a bug.

It is possible you are unaware of the, cough, subtleties of the political system in Australia. I certainly was prior to moving here. If this doesn’t describe you, save time and skip the following 3 paragraphs.

Australia has a federated system of states, similar to, yet different from, the USA. This is documented in a rambling and confused constitution which reads like a bunch of vested interests wanted to copy the American version but without any of the annoying parts describing the rights of individuals, inalienable freedoms and primacy of self-determination. Frankly, it’s a dog’s breakfast of a document, although it does perfectly demonstrate the nation’s ongoing struggle with English prose.

The important part is that it is a federated system of quasi-sovereign states, where state governments have far more power than someone from most European counties would intuit.

If that wasn’t obvious prior to 2020, it became painfully clear during the response to the pandemic as state premiers opened and closed domestic borders in a spirit suggesting they felt Queensland and New South Wales had no more in common than Spain and Gibraltar. Meanwhile, the powerless Prime Minister and his ministers mouthed silently like fish washed up on the shore.

The “lived experience” of this system is a confused mess of inconsistent laws and competing regulations (up to 11 versions) for a population similar to that of London and the Home Counties.

Practical examples of this include;

There are countless examples such as these. It’s analogous to the American version of states within a republic but without the justification which comes from the sheer size of population. Both versions probably made huge sense before easy transport and communications, but only one still works as an effective ongoing experiment to test new legislation in a limited jurisdiction. Australia’s federated system of states seems to add unnecessary friction and cost to day to day life when one can travel faster than a horse and communicate quicker than a letter.

These annoyances and inefficiencies impacted Australians infrequently and not greatly enough to become a political movement prior to 2020. From March 2020, the various and differing state responses to the global pandemic starkly exposed the flaws in the system.

We could spend much time here discussing the seemingly random, unconnected and different state laws Australians were subject to during the previous 12 months, pointing out the illogical border closures seemingly dependent on whether the neighbouring state was governed by your fellow political travellers rather than location and number of cases.

The topic of this post is not “Whither Australia’s State Governments?” however. Today, we are wondering what exactly is the bloody point of all the various sociopaths, incompetents, rent-seekers and clock-watchers we are paying for in Canberra? A shorter version of that question is, “what’s the point of the Feds?”.

From what we’ve learned this year, the main duties of the Federal Government seem to be limited to the following:

  • National defence,
  • International Diplomacy (with the caveat some states have been running side campaigns in this area),
  • Immigration,
  • Central banking and the national economy,
  • Collecting income tax and distributing much of it to the states,
  • Erm, that’s about it.

So why then, for example, would the Federal Department of Health need 4,000 full time employees? The department “oversees” the state health departments, doesn’t have any hospitals, and probably doesn’t even employ more than a few dozen medical professionals.

It also failed spectacularly to secure enough vaccines from a diverse selection of pharmaceutical suppliers, despite having been given a 12 month grace period whilst we’ve been locked in a quarantined country. A luxury most other countries did not have. The words, “you had one job” seem somewhat appropriate.

There’s also a Department of Social Services with 1,887 souls desperately doing something, anything, every working day to justify their salary and pension, despite all of the actual governmental social services being delivered at a state level.

Rinse and repeat this question for every federal department listed here, with a particular curiosity for the 107 employees overseeing the $21m spent each year on Food Standards New Zealand.

It’s become painfully obvious over the last year that, regardless of which party is in power, the Federal Government isn’t fit for purpose. If you are unconvinced, let’s try a thought experiment to imagine what Australian life might look like in a version of reality where the Federal Government was fit for purpose.

Obviously, a centrally procured and “needle ready” national vaccine programme, would seem to be a desirable outcome. Also, perhaps it wouldn’t have taken over 12 months to negotiate a standard national policy to determine why and when lockdowns and internal border closures would be enforced.

What about in a regular, non-pandemic year?

How about a national standard for all medical qualifications? Followed by a national standard for any other profession which doesn’t have a specific regional flavour to it?

Or perhaps a joined up immigration system where infrastructure such as roads, housing, health and education capacity were planned and implemented in sync with the new arrivals?

We might expect a fit for purpose Federal Government brokering agreements to standardise rail gauges and facilitate inter-city rail links capable of speeds greater than Stephenson’s Rocket.

The outcomes we can observe in non-pandemic years should be evidence enough of the pointlessness of the Federal Government in its current form. What we experienced during the pandemic simply made it all the more obvious.

Bill’s Opinion

It won’t surprise regular readers of my minarchist instincts. The less opportunity an unelected bureaucrat has to interfere in my life, the happier I am. So, obviously I was in favour of immediately firing as many of them as possible anyway, even before making the observations above.

The post-2020 difference though, is I now have a very clear idea of which career politicians should be given their marching orders first; everyone in Canberra. Raze the buildings, salt the earth, remove the place name from the maps. Replace it with something a fraction of its current size and, while we’re at it, distribute it around the country. There’s a reason why Canberra has the best restaurants in Australia….because you’re picking up the bill for the food and wine every night.

It would seem to me that, based on the dog’s breakfast of a constitution and 120 years of legal precedence, the role of the ideal Federal Government can be summed up in one noun, “diplomacy”.

All we actually need from the Feds is to maintain appropriate relations with other countries (including “muscular” diplomacy, where required) and to use the same diplomacy skills to broker frictionless relations between Australian states and territories.

I’m not even convinced we necessarily benefit by the setting of interest rates and collection of income taxes to be undertaken at a Federal level. Perhaps what’s good economically for Sydney isn’t the same as that which would benefit Launceston, and the ability for their respective state governments to independently course-adjust would be more optimal?

Ultimately, my ramblings on this subject were just an exercise in complaining; there’s zero chance the Canberra political-industrial complex will countenance a change and, unless the people of Melbourne, Sydney, and Brisbane* decide to march on the ACT with pitchforks and singing La Marseilles, nothing will change any time soon.

*sorry Darwin, Adelaide and Hobart, but you’re not relevant. As for Perth; go on, we dare you to declare UDI; we’ll invade and take over those mines within 15 minutes…to save them from China.

Hot dog, boiling frogs, Albuquerque

We’ve all got different limits.

In the film Falling Down, the main character reaches his after a long and difficult day when a store owner refuses to give change to make a telephone call.

For Britons, perhaps it’s the passing of this law later today, banning “non essential” overseas travel, at almost the precise point the herd/vaccine immunity makes itself clear on the offical statistics.

Sorry. WHAT?

Over the 806 years of Common Law, the principle has been consistent: if something isn’t explicitly banned, it’s allowed. Look at how lightly the current crop of politicians are prepared to flip that on its head.

Previously, if a citizen (synonym; “free man“) wished to travel overseas, they would only be prevented for a small list of reasons such as to flee prosecution for a criminal offence, or there was a reasonable expectation they were intending to commit an offence overseas (child abuse, for example).

In 2021, we now have just ten reasons a citizen can cite to not be detained in domestic captivity.

These reasons are listed below, you’ll read them and think, that’s reasonable.

But you’d be wrong. Dead fucking wrong.

It’s so unreasonable, it justifies outrage. Not violence, we’re not there yet, but we should be doing everything within in our capability to fire the people who thought this was a good day’s work in Westminster and never allow them to hold public office again.

If you’ve committed no crime, have no intention of committing a crime, perhaps you’ve even had the bloody vaccine like you were told to, who the fuck should be able to prevent you from departing the country?

Some wanky bureaucrat making a decision to hand out five grand fines at Dover because their interpretation of your reason to leave the country is that it isn’t good enough? Fuck off. Fuck right off.

Those ten reasons:

Study

Work

Weddings

Legal obligations

Moving, selling or renting property

Childcare or to be present at a birth

Visiting a dying relative

Attending a funeral

Medical appointments

Escaping a risk of harm

Bill’s Opinion

That last reason is a doozy.

It’ll be interesting to review the final wording of the act to look for the opportunity to cite, “taking a mental health break from an authoritarian government, operating for over a decade without a credible opposition, imposing arbitrary and unscientific laws on citizens” as a valid interpretation.

I no longer recognise my country of birth and its supine, compliant, frit citizens.

This is a country who produced someone capable of delivering this speech with a straight face and honest intentions. An iron curtain has indeed fallen across the continent.

Take it away Byron:

“England! with all thy faults I love thee still,”

I said at Calais, and have not forgot it;

I like to speak and lucubrate my fill;

I like the government (but that is not it);

I like the freedom of the press and quill;

I like the Habeas Corpus (when we’ve got it);

I like a parliamentary debate,

Particularly when ’tis not too late;

I like the taxes, when they’re not too many;

I like a seacoal fire, when not too dear;

I like a beef-steak, too, as well as any;

Have no objection to a pot of beer;

I like the weather, when it is not rainy,

That is, I like two months of every year,

And so God save the Regent, Church, and King!

Which means that I like all and everything.

Our standing army, and disbanded seamen,

Poor’s rate, Reform, my own, the nation’s debt,

Our little riots just to show we are free men,

Our trifling bankruptcies in the Gazette,

Our cloudy climate, and our chilly women,

All these I can forgive, and those forget,

And greatly venerate our recent glories,

And wish they were not owing to the Tories.

Jenna Hates the IWD

No, not the erstwhile Intellectual Dark Web, subsequently disbanded because Sam Harris can’t get over his extreme case of Trump Derangement Syndrome. Instead, Jenna Hates wants to cancel the International Women’s Day (today, by the way).

As many of Jenna Hates columns often do, this one takes three or more seemingly unrelated elements and then stitches them together in a quilt of misandry using a thread of logical fallacies.

Marvel at the dexterity with which she simultaneously claims an alleged rapist is innocent until proven guilty but then points out the chances of a woman ever making a false accusation of rape are minuscule, to the point of being nearly impossible.

Actually, if you read her column carefully, she doesn’t even offer him the olive branch of presumed innocence before chucking this feel-pinion in:

Just for the record, the director of Monash University’s Gender and Family Violence Prevention Centre, Kate Fitz-Gibbon, tells me it is rare – very rare – for a woman to make a false allegation of rape.

Got any data to back that assertion up?

Nah, no need for academics to bother with supporting evidence when making claims of truth.

Fortunately, here in the real world, we have access to search engines which suggest somewhere between 2 to 10% of rape allegations are fabricated (source 1, source 2, source 3).

So, we could “believe all women” and send a lot of innocent people to jail, or we could, I dunno, use the existing legal processes to test these claims and try our hardest to maintain some level of justice and standards for society to operate within.

Jenna Hates is not so concerned about that idea however, because all the circumstantial evidence points to Porter being a member of the political party she hates Nazi scumbag.

Exhibit 1 – He made a political decision Jenna Hates, erm, hates:

While he was minister for social services, he oversaw the destruction of the national sexual assault and counselling hotline, 1800 RESPECT, moving it from a women-led service to one which became part of Medibank, a company now profiting from rape.

By the way, does anyone else wonder whether Medibank’s legal team are planning on challenging that allegation? Get the popcorn in.

By that logic, Celgene, the manufacturer of Revlimid, is profiting from cancer. Don’t hold your breathe for the class action law case.

Exhibit 2 – There are allegations of his philandering:

It also doesn’t help his brand that he was one of the politicians pinged on the Four Corners episode Inside the Canberra Bubble, reported by Louise Milligan, where it was alleged he was seen “kissing and cuddling” a young woman staffer at a popular bar.

One can’t be sure what Jenna Hates hates the most about this; the alleged infidelity, the kissing, the age of the woman or the popularity of the bar?

Exhibit 3 – He’s had failed marriages:

In the meantime, he has had two marriages fall apart. Not that there’s anything wrong with that.

One feels there may be an element of projection going on there. Has Jenna Hates loved and been rejected by any chance? Say it ain’t so.

Bill’s Opinion

As commentator Michael van der Riet infers on a reply to an earlier post, if you are prepared to suspend your standards simply because a convenient stick to beat an opponent presents itself, you have rejected the right to be taken seriously in future.

But yes, Jenna Hates, he definitely did it because he’s been divorced twice and changed the funding model for a support help line.

Burn him and anyone else who reminds me of my ex-husband!

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.