April 03, 2020

Horse 2679 - The Travel Blog: Day 3 (Industry)

Day 3

If we cross Oak St (instead of making the choice of turning right or left) and we walk through the pedestrian mall, being careful to avoid the shriners and the lepers who play their ukeleles all day long and a weird chap who is offering to shave your back for a nickel, then if we pass the shops which sell tat, then we find two massive factory buildings - The Calculos Building and the James T Linkletter Printworks.

The Calculos Building services one of the major industries of the nation; being that of number crunching and remanufacturing. I have never personally seen inside the factory¹ and have no idea what the machines that do the crunching look like and I also have no concept of how the remanufacturing process actually happens but I do know that the factory works constantly.
The Calculos Building is constantly sending requests to the Omnitopical Card File for program instructions on processes like simple mathematics but it has at times asked for obscure instructions on things like calculus, economics, accounting, as well as weird things like topology.
The strange thing about the Calculos Building is that although it is constantly looking out for raw material for number crunching (and even tries to extend capacity while other industries are working), it only ever produces discreet packets of numbers. This massive building, with its grey steel walls and no windows; cooling towers and pipes, chimneys and nodding donkeys, only has one finished goods sending dock.

Across the street is the James T Linkletter Printworks, which is a neogothic marble building; which looks rather like the old Sun Building on the corner of Martin Place and Elizbeth Street, Sydney.
Just like the Calculos Building, nobody is allowed inside to see how the internal processes actually work but it at least is a far more sensible looking organisation. It has a scanning department and is always looking for new and interesting things to send to the Omnitopical Card File but at the same time, it is charged with the task of producing both audio descriptions and streams of words. As we are currently on tour of the inside of my mind, then you might be familiar with the kinds of products that this place makes².
If we peer over the back fences, which are topped by circular razor wire, we can see that there is a perimeter buffer which is patrolled by lions (always with the lions) and inside there are at least a hundred roller doors where truckloads of ideas, concepts, thoughts, and rules are unpacked, marshalled, tagged, wrangled, then sent inside for processing.

There are usual deliveries from books and newspapers, crates of observation from a mysterious country called the Kosmos (some of which are incomprehensible) as well as couriers delivering urgent packages of obligations, anxieties, responsibilities, fears, and very occasionally hopes, dreams and pleasure.
The thing is that the James T Linkletter Printworks which is named after a combination of fictional and real characters, is entirely apathetic about the kind of work that it produces. It produces everything from absolutely serious documents, to whimsical prose, to weapons-grade bovine dust.

All of the communication which is produced by the James T Linkletter Printworks and the calculations which are ready for shipping from the Calculos Building are all printed on A5 paper which is marked with the nation's warrant. It is a shield quartered and supported by lion and a kangaroo, a bowler hat above, with the scroll and legend 'Per Ad Ardua Astra' below. Every piece of communication, is produced upon remotely operated golf-ball teletype machines³ and only ever in a a unique Courier-style typeface. It is also exclusively printed in black ink.

On the other side of town are the lesser employed industries which include works produced by the Motor and Skills Department but let's be perfectly honest here, while adequate, they just aren't the products that the nation can get export income for. The nation is not particularly well known for its sporting prowess or its ability to produce manufactuers but it does at least have an adequate go at it.
The Calculos Building and the James T Linkletter Printworks are easily the two most valuable export producing entities of the nation and the fact that they are so close to each other and down the street from the Omnitopical Card File is no accident.

¹nobody ever goes in and nobody ever comes out
²see Horse 2679
³like the IBM Selectric II 

April 02, 2020

Horse 2678 - The Travel Blog: Day 2 (The Memory Palace)

Day 2

Psst, wake up.

If you look out of the windows this early in the morning, you can see flocks of galahs and cockatoos standing around in giant groups as if they were holding council like the aldermen. Of course, just like a bunch of old white men who stand around yelling at each other with their wives rolling their eyes and actually getting the job done, the world of bird and people is not that vastly different.
It's still a little bit dark but soon, after we've had some coffee (or something that is trying to pass itself off as coffee) and a muffin with jam, the sun will rise and the sky will break golden. If we weren't pelting along at 233 mph, then we might be able to hear the silver song of the lark but all we'll get is the steady drumbeat of the engine out front.
We're coming up to St Alphonse Station; which is the smallest of the three railway terminals in Plovdiv and that's where our first excursion on this journey is.

Plovdiv is in a sort of weird place in the world because there is a wall which runs through the centre of it. The wall was started in the late 90s and was finally completed in the 10s of the next century. It is not the result of a political divide but rather the result of a technological one.

The older part of Plovdiv was built in an era when there was black and white television, when broadcast media and print media were the only sources of information. The telephone exchange which is now nothing more than a museum, is housed inside what used to be the Great Hall of Telephony, which was built when all of the phone calls in the land had to be made at a single point and when there was only one line out and so if it was in use, no telephone calls were received or made.
The Great Hall of Telephony was built at a time when you had dedicated furniture for the express purpose of keeping a telephone on.

The Great Hall of Telephony is across the street from the larger and more impressive stone building called The Memory Palace, which straddles the wall running through the city of Plovdiv.

The Memory Palace is a truly wonderful building, with an untolled number of staff, who keep the place running for as much as 20 hours a day. Truth be told, sometimes they will even work overtime and present their findings in the middle of the night.
There are several wings which surround the central chamber of The Memory Palace; some of which are closed, some of which are open but nobody seems to know where the keys are¹, and some of which are in constant working use.

The National Picture Gallery contains probably millions of photographs, of all kinds of places and possibly a photograph of every head that nation has had the pleasure to have known. Please be advised that this is kind of a rolling gallery; which means that there are photographs in there which no longer bear any resemblance to the real world.
The National Picture Gallery also contains snapshots of print media and stills from other wings of the building. The beauty of The Memory Palace is that if you want to go looking for a thing, there will often be cross references to archives in other wings of the building.

If we head out of the National Picture Gallery and step into the centre of the building, we find a seventeen sided chamber which is twelve stories tall. On the floor of the chamber are several green blaze tables with bookstands; and for most of the time there are several research projects going on at the same time.
You will note that hanging on some of the walls, are giant banners which display the current propaganda campaigns of the nation. Currently we have Worry, Calm, Existential Dread, Hand Washing and No Sport; which are all sponsored by the outside corporation of Covid-19. We also have the banners for the Queen Of Silver, Cats², Church; the banners for propaganda campaigns for Work, Maths, and another newly installed banner for this trip around the nation.
You will note that there is also a section of the roof which has windows in the shape of a cross; which allows a projection of that to sort of move around the inside of the chamber. Curiously, if the weather outside is dark and treacherous, that projection seems to be stronger. That nation has sent an emissary to act as a subcontractor for a king; who often shows up in weird places, sometimes unannounced.

The National Sound and Video Archive contains loads and loads of snippets of audio and video, which are recalled occasionally. We suspect that this archive is run by an idiot because from time to time, when there should be silence in the centre chamber, there will often be music playing from somewhere up on level 6. What's even more annoying is that they will play the same songs a loop for a while and even only just a small section.
The National Sound Archive is more than likely connected to the nation's propaganda radio station the Bigbrother Broadcasting Corporation (BBC), as it constantly broadcasts the incessant internal monologue of the nation. Contrary to the suspicions of other nations, there is only one voice in here.
The Video Archive contains a similar kind of set to the Sound Archive but it doesn't get anywhere near the same amount of recall requests.
The other major section of The Memory Palace is the Omnitopical Card File. The Omnitopical Card File contains billions upon billions of sleek grey cards, which purport to contain facts. More than likely, loads of those facts are obsolete or just plain wrong, but entire stacks of them are surprisingly proven to be right on a consistent basis.
They contain everything from base assumptions, to abstract concepts, to sport statistics, to entire sections of books, as well as trivial items and lists.
Take the concept of 'lamp' - a request for a card from the Omnitopical Card File returns:
- a small light bulb
- an even smaller LED bulb
- a coloured warning signal with a label, on an instrument panel
- a small appliance with a base and a bendy shaft with a light bulb and metal shade.
- a similar appliance with a brass base and a green glass shade
- yet another appliance with a kind of umbrella made from brass and pieces of coloured glass
- a metal thing that looks like a gravy boat; which you might find in the story of Aladdin
There is a word of warning. Although I do not fully understand how the Omnitopical Card File works, I am aware that it is organised in a rolling stack compactus and in discreet boxes. When making a request, the archivists will look for that thing, open a box, retrieve only that thing and then return a result. Other nation's Memory Palaces and archives are presumed to be arranged like a giant ball of electrical wires but to discover that would require taking a trip inside someone else's mind.

¹which is ironic given that it is The Memory Palace.
²not the musical; just cats. 

April 01, 2020

Horse 2677 - The Travel Blog: Day 1 (The Train Ride)

With Australia now in full and temporarily forever lockdown, this means that not only international travel bans have come into force but domestic and local travel bans have also come into force. In other words, the government has decided that nobody is allowed to go outside and travel anywhere.
That doesn't mean that we can't create entire worlds in our minds and run around in those. Pretty much every book written before about 1930 has entered the public domain; so if you want to run around inside the world of someone else's mind, it is really easy. We all now have loads of time for Uninterrupted Sustained Silent Reading (USSR); so why not run around inside the mind of someone else? However, since you are here, why not run around inside my mind? I promise that it will be a different place to the real world.

You can imprison me in my house but you'll never imprison me inside my own mind!¹

Day 1

I hope that the cab that I sent was fancy enough for you. I apologise for the smell of strawberries but it's just that the chap who was in the cab before you wanted to go to the Imaginary Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club at Imaginary Wimbledon. Imaginary Wimbledon is a lot like real Wimbledon except for the persistent infestation of Wombles and the fact that they play Imaginary Tennis as opposed to Real Tennis there.

I asked the porter to take your bags and put them in the cargo van of the train because even here in an imaginary land, I still couldn't book a private compartment on the train. First though, let me give you a tour of Grand Hallworth Station.
Grand Hallworth Station was originally just a single island platform when the railway first arrived here in 1858. By 1870, when Hallworth had swelled to just over 8 million people, people's incomes had reached high enough and the price of train travel fallen far enough, that they could travel around the country. John Hill who was a showman, a shyster, a shill, and a shilling-raiser, originally raised ₱30m as seed capital. The original station buildings were finished in 1871 but only that wall by the pastry kiosk remains.
The current building which we are currently in, with 8 steel and glass arched awnings which extend the full length of the platforms and which cover four tracks each, was finished at a cost of ₱4bn and was opened on February 30th 1889.
If you look upwards, you can see that there are rivets which hold the various pieces of steel together and at 25 support arches per awning, that works out to just over 55,000 rivets which keep the roof up.

The engine at the front of the train that we'll be getting on today, is a Horace B6 Pacific class (4-6-2) nuclear steam train. Yes, we are perfectly aware of the danger that poses, after the accident last year when that train derailed and crashed at Wappin Forest but the police did put up a 'Do Not Cross' line; so as long as nobody enters the exclusion zone at Wappin Forest until the year 26020, we should be all right. This particular engine is No.66005 and is called 'The Spirit Of Panda²'.

I have booked us into the Second Class carriage because the irony is that as the First Class carriage has nicer and cushier seats, it is not as fun to ride in. You will also note that towards the back of the train is the Saloon carriage (although the little swinging hinged doors at either end are daft), which is followed by a Nightclub carriage, a Kebab Van carriage and then a Regret carriage. I do not advise going back there.

Have you ever noticed the moquettes on train and bus seats? Do you know what a moquette is? It is the pattern of the king of cloth which has a very biased weft.
The black and white pattern on these seats which I imagine is a derivative of houndstooth, is pretty neat, I think. The Great Northern Imaginary Railway (GNIR) inherited a whole bunch of railway assets when it took over from the Southern Lowlands Overland and Wappin Co. (SLOW Co.). Given that Wappin is now off limits for the next 24,000 years, there's not really a lot of point sending imaginary trains there anymore. We could just try imagining that Wappin never existed but that's now a level of unreality within another world of unreality. Be careful or the world that we've built for ourselves might collapse in on itself.

A nuclear stream train is great because we do not need to burn coal to generate steam. It also means that because of the fantastic pressure inside the boiler, nuclear steam engines are built stronger than coal fired engines but they do not need to be as large. It also means that we will be travelling at an average speed of more than 200mph; which makes Mallard look like a bit of a lame duck.

You will have noticed that once we moved out beyond the centre of town and the skyscrapers gave way to factories and then red tiled houses and then tin shacks, that there's not a lot out here except for farms and fields, rocks, hills and plains. Not that that matters very much because once it is completely dark outside, the only thing that will be visible is the ghostly galleon of the moon tossed upon a cloudy sea. Once we move out into the unimaginatively named Flat Desert (which seems strangely appropriate considering that once you move outside of the realms of imagination there's diddly-squat out here) then at some point the guards will turn out the lights and everyone will go to sleep.

I'm sorry that this is going to be a bit boring for the next few hours but that's the way it is. You can have a read of my Modern Lion magazine³ if you like. There's a good article in there about stabling your lions for your cabriolet. I can only afford one lion and so I have a single lion chariot.
The scrub out here isn't very tall and it's a good thing that we're going through here on the train. Most of the vegetation for the next 1200 miles is no taller than four feet

It's all kind of pretty in its own way. Just because there's nothing much out there and we're confined to staring out of the windows for a while as the world hurtles past, you can still quietly ponder the sereneness of it all.

¹Although it could be argued that since we all suffer from existential cosmic loneliness and can only ever experience the world from our own perspective, that we always were imprisoned within our own minds; which also helps to explain why mental health should be taken extremely seriously and as a properly funded healthcare issue.
²Which is apt as everyone who is mad enough to ride on a train which is pulled by a nuclear steam engine is an endangered species.
³Modern Lion magazine: only ₱5.95
⁴That is, a chariot with only one lion pulling it; as opposed to a chariot being pulled by an unmarried lion. I do not wish to comment on the marital status of lions.

March 26, 2020

Horse 2676 - Isolated But Not Alone

I think that it is safe to assume that at some point, the country is going to go into complete and utter lockdown. That will mean that people will be not allowed out of their houses, save for the most basic of functions such as going to the supermarket, and other food shopping. As it is, the world is already pretty empty and as one of the few people who currently go forth and back across Sydney, I can say that the world is already a lonely place.

I do not think it an understatement to suggest that the world is currently not normal. Right before our eyes we can watch on the television as the systems which have been put in place, struggle to cope and the people in charge, who mostly have arrived at this moment in history by unknowable dumb luck (because who in all honestly would have wanted to be in charge in a time like this) are also struggling to cope.

It is a stressful and disconcerting time and one in which we are being asked to do things which are not normal. One of those things which we are being asked to do, is all of the social distancing that we can, or rather all the social distancing that is possible.

All of us aware of the problem. The world is as it is. That shouldn’t mean that it necessarily should take up all of our available brain power in running around in very small anxiety circles; nor does it demand that we spend each and every second of the day in a sense of existential dread. I think what the moment is calling is to do is to be kind, to be compassionate, and to understand where we are.
There has not been a moment in history like this before and more than likely, there will not be another for the foreseeable future (I hope).
I for one am grateful that we are living in the opening part of the 21st Century where there is a decent standard of medical and that our understanding of disease and how to treat it, is sufficient enough to make us scared of what is going on. Had we been living in the, 14th, 15th, 16th and 17th Centuries, we would have seen people dying of the Plague and not really known what it was at all. We live in a time and place where we know exactly what our enemy is and if you want to go searching the internet, you can even find pictures of it.

This is a profoundly uncertain and scary time. Even though the medical experts and scientists have quite rightly told us that we need to practice social distancing and maybe even complete quarantine that doesn’t mean that we need to isolate ourselves. Even though we can not gather, we still need to find ways to be together. Churches and clubs, friends and families, can still use the means of technology available to us. The buildings and the sporting fields and the restaurants and maybe even our own houses might have the doors closed, that that doesn’t mean that the connections which underpin those things should be.
We have lessons from the past which might be instructive about what to do in a world where we are all individually separated by space:

Paul and Timothy, servants of Christ Jesus,
To all God’s holy people in Christ Jesus at Philippi, together with the overseers and deacons.
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I thank my God every time I remember you. In all my prayers for all of you, I always pray with joy because of your partnership in the gospel from the first day until now, being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.
It is right for me to feel this way about all of you, since I have you in my heart and, whether I am in chains or defending and confirming the gospel, all of you share in God’s grace with me. God can testify how I long for all of you with the affection of Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 1:1-8

You can choose to reject this out of hand if you don't care about religion, and fair play to you because I don't really want to give a lesson in theology but what I do want to say about this is what this is and why this as a piece of literature is important for this particular moment in time.

The chap writing this, Paul, was a political prisoner probably in Rome; more than likely facing an uncertain death sentence. Whether someone is imprisoned because of the vicissitudes of fate and the law or someone is a prisoner inside their own house because of public heath directive, is much of a muchness (though to be fair, I do not consider that being held in chains in prison sounds like a particularly pleasant set of circumstances).

What we have here is a person who is stuck inside a small confine; who consciously remembers that there are people elsewhere. That might not sound very remarkable in a city of over five million people but the first step in not being beaten down is to remember that we are not alone.
More importantly, this is a letter. It is obvious that the first century didn’t have mobile phones and the internet; so that should have made the task of communicating with people physically more difficult than today. Paul either wrote a letter himself, or had it dictated to someone else.

The mere fact that you are reading this is proof that you already possess the necessary means to communicate with people. Most of the western world now walks around with an amazing device in their pocket which has the means to communicate with people tens of thousands of miles away; by text, voice, and video. We are living so far in the future, that in our pockets we have more computing power than what sent astronauts to the moon; so why not use the power which exists at our fingertips.

Ring people.

Text people.

Video chat with people.

Maybe even use that decidedly ancient technology and write a physical letter with ink on dead tree paper.

When Paul wrote his letters from prison, which was the best tech of the day, those letters had to be physically carried across the Roman Empire, usually by foot. If we use the current road network as a rough guide, and assume that the mail travels at an average speed of 30 miles a day then that gives us a transit time of 26 days at a bare minimum. We are not in that position. It does not take us 26 days to send a message: it takes us 26 milliseconds.

While I will admit that we have the right to be disappointed, the right to be angry, the right to be scared, the right to cry, I will ask what the point is? Fear is useful because it teaches us to be respectful of the thing that causes something dangerous or undesirable to happen to us. To be fearful of snakes, of spiders, or drowning, of being electrocuted, of God, of traffic, or of a virus, is a useful defence mechanism that prevents you from an untimely death. It should however only be like the Free Parking square on the Monopoly board: it takes up space, and you have to move on anyway. Be strong and courageous. Don’t be timid; don’t get discouraged. Do something!

Ring people.

Text people.

Video chat with people.

Remember: we might be isolated but we will not be alone.

As we may hold in our hearts the loved ones we will miss, we must hold our communities in our hearts.  Know that we are still a community, even if not physically.  Know that life will return to a normality; albeit maybe a different type of normality.  Know that around the corner there are people who are able to help if we need support.  Know that we can offer and give support.  Know we can connect in ways that are different to what we are used to but still valuable and meaningful.
The doors might be closed on the places and people that we love but the windows are not.

March 25, 2020

Horse 2675 - Do Not Judge People For Continuing To Go To Work

As many of you are self-quarantining because you work in an organisation and environment which is usually full of people, I have continued to go to work; which has been based upon the guidelines from the NSW Department of Health. As someone who works in a firm which is still going about its business in relative normality, I am still very much spooked by the world at present.
I do not know if you have watched any of the British Public Information Films which were produced in preparation for a post apocalyptic nuclear scenario but what we are currently going through seems like a shadow of what might have been and perhaps what still might be.

I think that I might very well be one of the few people in the world for whom day-to-day life may have actually improved (albeit marginally) during the current Coronacrisis. As someone who works in an office of only two people, where we are separated by partition and where the amount of nominal working office space under normal circumstances is 9m², we already met the statutory requirements to remain open.
I am incredibly grateful for the fact that I work in an occupation where practically nothing has changed except for perhaps the expected hand-washing and santisation of surfaces.
I think that I might be one of the exceptionally lucky people in the world who can maintain a 1.5m distance from everyone simply by just going about my business; as practically everything that most normal humans would normally visit as part of their normal day is closed,

I found it really eerie last week when towards the end of the week, the first person who got on the train in the same carriage as me, got on at Redfern. When I came home on Monday the 23rd, standing on Wynyard Station was like being there at 3am. The train carriage that I got on was completely empty until two people got on at Seven Hills.
I am making 44km journeys across a city of five million people where the number of people per train carriage or on the bus, barely gets into double digits if at all. This is the current state of a typical train carriage, both in the morning and the afternoon:

I do not wish to take this flippantly at all. All of the businesses which rely on the congregational nature of humans are currently suffering and will continue to suffer through this to the point bankruptcy and closure in a lot of cases.
All pubs and nightclubs have been closed. One of our clients who is a nightclub operator now faces the very real possibility of closure because the landlord will certainly not extend any form of rent commutation or forgiveness, and with a projected income of literally zero for the indeterminate future, the only outlook is grim. She has already sent notices to her entire workplace staff, that they have been let go. Imagine that you are one of those people for a second and have been dumped out of work and into an economic climate like this.

Restaurants will have to close. Unless restaurant's kitchens can work out some kind of online delivery service, then I don't see any sensible future for them either.
Some restaurants have coping strategies for the impending buspocalypse but I don't really see that this is remotely viable for the vast majority. Take-away places will more than likely do better than expected and places with drive-through may also be able to survive. For instance, I went past McDonald's in Cremorne at lunch time yesterday while walking down an empty pavement back to Mosman (I went to the bank); all the lights were out inside the McDonald's restaurant and instead there was a line of cars which snaked out of the drive-through queue and spilled out on to Military Road and across an intersection with traffic lights.
That might be very well for a drive-through business but for food courts, this is current situation:

I have no idea of the numbers of people who work in retail who are being affected but it must be massive. The Federal Government has thrown some crumbs to people on various government pensions and allowances and it has promised that it will give cash to businesses but relying on the generosity of business owners to continue to employ people when they have literally zero source of income, is either gloriously ignorant, or as I suspect with the announcement that they expect the poorest and most precariously employed people to burn through their superannuation, insipidly malevolent.

I might very well be practically the only person in the world for whom the practicalities of life have improved. The distinct lack of people out and about has meant that I am no longer crammed into public transport with humanity but my own personal level of small comfort has come at the price of potentially millions of people out of work.
That is of course the tip of the iceberg because millions of people being out of work, businesses going into bankruptcy and national economies tanking, is also a small price to pay when you consider the impending magnitude of the Coronacrisis which may include the deaths of millions of people.

I work in a small business. There literally two of us in the office. Both of us working on the assumption that there could be a complete lockdown at any point and I am personally working on the assumption that the absolute worst could happen and that my boss might get jack of the whole thing entirely and simply close the doors permanently. Then what?
I am not going to jump on the bandwagon of people demanding that everyone simply just stay at home for the simple reason that the people who are still going to work are generally those people who are even closer to the cutting edge than anyone else. If anything goes wrong, I do not have a team of people who can help me sort it out.

Or suppose that we do go into sudden and immediate lockdown. I have the luxury of of having annual leave. If you are a casual or on a zero hours contract, you do not have that luxury. What happens then?
Landlords aren't going to forgive anyone their rent and if you have been made unemployed, then the clock has already started on you missing rent payments and the countdown to eviction. I have already seen landlords actually choosing to plan their rent increases now, specifically to put pressure on people to leave.
The Morrison Government in its generosity has said that it will allow people to burn through their long service leave if it in fact exists and have access to $20,000 of their superannuation which means that they can burn through their retirement now as well. I have already fielded questions about this at work.

As a society, it seems that we are generous up until the exact point where any kind of community sacrifice has to be made. We are currently making the economic choice to burn through the livelihoods and future of poorer people, for the protection of the incomes of the rich.
If we're all suddenly asked to stop playing the magic piano, whose only song is 'Ka-Ching', then the symphony stops. If the everything stops, then the people who pay the biggest prices are the people who can least afford it.

Of course I realise the seriousness of what is going on. I will even go so far as to say that the economy (praise be) along with money are ultimately all just made up. The only things that have existed since the beginning of time, is the stuff in the world and the people who live in it. People's lives are valuable, but it seems patently unfair to me that the people who are being asked to sacrifice the most in order to protect people's lives are the poorest of society. Society is three square meals away from anarchy. If you cut off people's work, they do not eat. Cut it off for long enough, and they will be turned into the streets, literally.

March 21, 2020

Horse 2674 - SPORT and The Elephant In The Room

Now that we've all had to adjust to the fact that practically everything in the world is either cancelled or postponed, can I suggest that the one thing that shouldn't be cancelled is sport? Since we're all going to be stuck inside anyway, then why not give us all the mass distraction of giving us something that absolutely does not matter, to take away our worries from the thing that does? Sport should matter even more than life and death precisely because it matters diddly-squat. How is it possible to be worried about the world outside, when you can watch the Bananaville Bears come back from an impossible position at half time to beat the Silver City Snakes in the last minute of extra time?

Of course the elephant in the room is that if we're all stuck inside because of a pandemic, then nobody is going to be at the game.
I put it to you that the elephant in the room can be solved by putting an actual elephant in the room.

The World Health Organisation has said that the artist formerly known as Coronavirus and currently known as COVID-19, is only specific to humans and to a few select animals. That means that cats, dogs, rabbits, lions, tigers, bears, cows, sheep, goats, and donkeys, are all free to go outside if they like. It also means that we can put elephants into sporting grounds because they can't get COVID-19 either.

We know that elephants have a long and proud history of sporting prowess and interest. Elephants have been used in racing, in polo, and as part-time madman and full-time empire builder Hannibal found out, elephants even like alpine skiing.
Don't believe me? In 218 BCE when Hannibal was squaring off against the still nascent Roman Empire for control of the western part of the Mediterranean Sea, he went through the Iberian Peninsula and over the Italian Alps with elephants. How do you get an elephant over the Alps? Skis! I know that that sounds odd because your average elephant lives in Africa where it is very hot but that doesn't mean that they can't dream. You've got to dream - you've got to hold on to the dream!

The beautiful thing about putting elephants in place of humans at sporting fixtures is twofold. Firstly, elephants take up more space than a human; so you need less of them. Where you previously needed a crowd of thousands of people, you only need a few hundred elephants. Secondly, elephants are ridiculously passionate and vocal about what they do and don't like. I once saw an African Cup Of Nations football match (being contested by people), between Côte d'Ivoire and Nigeria, and the loudest section of the crowd was some elephants in the next field. The match was pretty dire and dour it must be said and the people weren't all that loud but the elephants weren't going to be subdued from giving their opinion. They just bellowed out their disapproval. Do you remember the 2010 World Cup with those vuvuzelas? How about a whole tournament with elephants instead? How jolly would that be?

Also, because elephants are so much larger than people are, if you put coloured coats on them, then on the telly, the crowd doesn't look all that different. Elephants don't particularly care who they barrack for (they are quite ecumenical and non-partisan in that regard); so you can have the same elephants in multiple coloured coats at different matches. People are quite prejudiced and won't turn up at matches where their team isn't playing (and even when their team is playing a lot of the time) but elephants are simply happy to be there.
To be fair, sports like Rugby League and Sheffield Shield Cricket have already been playing before crowds that could have arrived in a single bus and a lot of stadia like the Gabba, Brookvale Oval, and the SCG, already have multiple colours of seats to give the illusion that there's a crowd there when in actual fact the number of people is in the tens.

I do of course realise that having elephants inside a sporting stadium would normally raise a public health risk but you have to remember that if the humans aren't there, then the risk that they pose are only to each other. Elephants aren't likely to get drunk and want to get in fights (unless the subject of the election of King Of The Elephants comes up) and although they may occasionally stampede, at least we know that they are passionate about what they are watching; which is more than can be said about your average Rugby Union crowd who only seem to get excited when the cucumber sandwich kiosk opens.

Oh wait... what? We don't have several million elephants to put into sporting stadia? How come I wasn't informed of this? Maybe the elephant in the room in that we actually start needing to take care of both each other and the planet, so that there are enough elephants in the room to put in the room.

March 20, 2020

Horse 2673 - Imaginary Bus Loads Of Imaginary People

"a lie can travel half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on"

Regular readers of this blog will probably be familiar with the fact that I tend to cite sources to back up what I have said - a lot. There will often be direct links in a piece or as footnotes at the bottom and sometimes for comedic effect¹.
The reason why I like citing sources is because I think that you shouldn't believe a thing I say. I expect you to question everything and to check the sources. Moreover I expect you to form your own opinions which are based upon reasonable information because I believe that reasonable information leads to reasonable opinions.

What happens then, if those sources of information are themselves not reasonable? I course realise that chasing every single fact down to its original proofs can be a bit tedious but in some cases, if a thing doesn't pass the sniff test, then it might be off.

To wit:
Regional towns are being swamped by bus loads of panicked "Coles tourists" who are driving from the city to strip supermarket shelves of basic supplies.
The Age has heard reports of city-dwellers rushing supermarkets in Gisborne, Kyneton, Romsey, Seymour, Woodend, Daylesford and even in towns as far away as Kerang and Deniliquin.
- The Age, 17th March

I would expect a media organisation to bother to check to see if a rumour like this was true. While I understand that reporting what someone said on talkback radio might be true in so far as much as they have said what they have said, what they have said might be a lie.
I have not been able to track down who originally said that "a lie can travel half way around the world before the truth can get its boots on" (it has been attributed to Mark Twain, Winston Churchill, George Orwell, Johnathan Swift) but that appears to be what has happened here.
In an act of blatant hypocrisy, I will now list of all of the places that supposedly have had bus loads of pensioners, city people, generic Asians, foreigners etc. descend upon supermarkets in regional and rural areas but not cite my sources (I don't want to bring down hordes of people on social media):
Griffith, Albury, Orange, Lithgow, Bathurst, Gisborne, Stawell, Woodend, Daylesford, Rowley, Seymore, Ballarat, Cobram, Echuca, Shepparton, Bendigo, Parkes, Beechworth, Wangaratta, Picton, Tahmoor, Thirlmere, Kerang and Deniliquin.
When I went to bed last night, I had counted 54 buses which had supposedly arrived at supermarkets; full of raiders who then stripped supermarkets. At no point have I seen even a single photograph of this; which seems odd to me because in an age where everyone clearly has cameras, as evidenced by the fact that there are now loads of pictures of empty shelves inside said supermarkets, you'd think that there should be at least one of raiding bus loads.

Also, a number which is consistently being thrown around is the number 200. There are supposedly groups of 200 people who arrive at these supermarkets; which also don't have any photographs.
A Toyota Coaster bus, has seating for 23 people in its biggest configuration. By my reckoning, if some of those buses broke the law and carried extra passengers, you would need eight of them, in order to make up 200.
If we assume that the bus in question is a Volvo B10M, which is a fairly typical suburban bus, then they are licensed to carry 47 people seated and 23 people standing. You would still need a minimum of three buses. It's not unusual to see three buses in a row² but to have three buses wait outside while 70 people got out and did their shopping? That's a bit weird.

The problem with the bus loads of people descending upon supermarkets theory is that if it was actually true, then there should be a bus waiting outside to collect shopping trolley loads of shopping. If we assume that even one Toyota Coaster was used for this purpose, can you imagine a bus load of people also tolerating 23 shopping trolley loads of stuff accompanying them, hundreds of miles? Does that make any sense?
I find it interesting that it is only rural and regional areas which appear to have been afflicted by this. Notwithstanding the fact that driving hundreds of miles would tend to leave perishable goods vulnerable to perishing, if this is as common as it supposedly is, then there would be buses passing each other. Does that make any sense?

Granted, there have been hordes who have decided to hoard³ groceries but I do not think that they have gone to the effort to charter buses for this purpose. Have you tried to do that? If you are going to hire a charter bus, then they usually require prior warning weeks in advance. Supposedly, there are organised people who have gone to the effort of hiring charter buses and then organised a group of people. The logistics here on notice of even a week are probably more complex than an average person would be prepared to do.
Also, how do you self-quarantine if you are crammed together with 22 other people and 23 shopping trolley loads of groceries in a bus? Does that make any sense?

I'm not going to embarrass people on Facebook and Twitter who have posted this but I will ask that you use your curiosity a little bit to see if what is being said, is true. There are a lot of panicking people who are acting in ways which aren't collectively sensible but might be individually rational. Yes, there are empty shelves which have been caused by people panic buying but to then blame that panic buying on outsiders, including on the grounds of racism, is neither kind nor helpful.

We are all in this thing together and if you do have loads of time because you are stuck inside, you might want to think about slowing down a bit. Let the lies run around the world because they're going to do that no matter what. Instead, sit down with truth for a bit. Make it a cup of tea and sit on the back steps with it. It's having a hard time putting its boots on at the moment. Give it time to put its boots on; then it will be allowed to walk.

¹such as this footnote.
²It's not unusual to see three buses in a row... dah-dah dah-dah-dah 
³How many boards would the Mongol hordes hoard, if the Mongol hordes could hoard boards?
They would hoard ALL the boards with the axe and sword, if the Mongol hordes could hoard boards.

March 19, 2020

Horse 2672 - Be Careful With The Stories You Tell

As someone who is reasonably prolific when it comes to writing, I think that it is obvious that I wrangle many many words. Almost every single thing that I write goes through at least some basic kind of editing process; including the deleting and adding of words during the construction of sentences. I probably do not have the power to change the world but I do have the power to change at least a little tiny bit of it... and so do you.

Although this might sound trite, I believe that if you set aside the physical and spiritual things that make up, govern, and animate the universe, then so much of our experience and expectation about how the world operates, is made up of stories.
Big media companies get to write loads of stories; politicians and scientists get to write loads of stories; advertising companies write stories in order to get you to buy stuff, but how often do you think about the stories that you write and the stories which other people around you are prepared to listen to?

Think about your stories.

The world has gone into a flapdoodle over the COVID-19 virus. It is reasonable for the world to be concerned about a public health concern, as though it were an unseen enemy, especially when it has killed people and we don't really understand how this will affect the world. It is reasonable to be reasonably concerned.
However, it is also true that as a reaction to this, some people have panicked and raided the supermarkets; as most obviously demonstrated by the empty shelves where toilet paper, pasta, and canned goods once stood. Have they acted reasonably? In their minds, yes.

If I may ask you to wrangle some words for a bit, can I get you to stop using words like 'pandemonium', 'chaos', 'insane', and even 'panic'? I know that this might sound like a really small and insignificant thing to ask but if the world is made up of stories, then it is worth taking at least one second to consider how the stories that you are telling are affecting other people.

I was standing on Platform 3 of Wynyard Station earlier in the week and there was a chap in a business suit who was having quite an energetic conversation with someone about how 'crazy' it was down here. I have been in the exact same spot before and sometimes in evenings where there are so many people that the station staff have to limit the number of people getting to the platforms but over the last few days, there have been so few people anywhere that you could set up a lounge chair and television on the platform and there'd still be loads of space. It was far from 'crazy'. It was so far from 'crazy'that I was standing maybe 15 feet away from this chap and still overheard his end of the conversation.
What is that doing to the person at the other end of the phone line?
Whoever that person is, is still saturated in the same kind of general information ocean as the rest of us and they will have had the impression that what was happening down at Wynyard Station was 'crazy' when it clearly wasn't.

One of the unfortunate things about being a human is that we can only ever see the world through our own eyes. Behind our eyes, every single one of us is cosmically alone. While that does imply that we can choose to internally change our opinions and feelings about things, those opinions and feelings are still very much influenced by the stories which we collect, which are told to us, and which we tell ourselves.
What happens to those internal stories if what we are getting from the outside, are waves of perceived 'pandemonium', 'chaos', 'insanity', and 'panic'? What happens if those stories which we collect aren't actually true?

I don't mean to suggest that taking reasonable steps to achieve reasonable outcomes is not reasonable. I don't even want to underplay a threat which I confess that I don't really understand. Keep on taking reasonable actions but do it reasonably.
In these days of anxiety and panic and when we are actively told to isolate ourselves from each other, it is very easy to feel frightened. It is rational to be fearful of a virus when the outcome is unknowable and which contains the possibility of death. It is rational to be fearful of an unknown and unseen enemy. Therein lies the problem. As fear is an emotion induced by perceived danger or threat, it is entirely rational because fear itself is an inbuilt protection device. That isn't to say that fear is not reasonable because as an internal protection device, it is perfectly reasonable to have a fear of things that might kill you. A fear of snakes, a fear of drowning, a fear of God, a fear of war, and a fear of disease, are all reasonable fears to have provided that those fears then lead to to some rational action - don't handle snakes and leave them be, don't dive into water that you can't swim in, get your life in order before you meet your maker, be vigilant in case you are called to serve your country in some way, take rational steps do that you don't get the disease or pass it on.
However, you don't need to add to someone else's collection of fears by telling them stories which only serve to heighten those fears. The fact that I haven't seen a toilet roll out in the real world for a while is testament to the multiplication of everyone's fears but individually, those fears might have been rational at the time with the available stories.

Think about your stories. Think about the stories that you tell other people. Think about the stories that you are placing into their heads.

"Other people’s views and troubles can be contagious. Don’t sabotage yourself by unwittingly adopting negative, unproductive attitudes through your associations with others."
- Epictetus

"We are often more frightened than hurt; and we suffer more in the imagination than reality."
- Seneca

"An anxious heart weighs a man down, but a kind word cheers him up."
- Proverb

"Peace is what I leave with you; it is my own peace that I give you. I do not give it as the world does. Do not be worried and upset; do not be afraid."
- Jesus

Be careful of what stories you consume during the virus outbreak. Also be careful about stories you place into the minds of other people. You might not be able to control the world but you do have the power to change at least a little tiny bit of it.

March 18, 2020

Horse 2671 - America's Heart Lies Where It's Treasure Does And That Is Not Its People

A first century ex-tradie who gained a reputation as a bit of a wise man, once said "For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." Presbyterian minister Francis James Grimké once said that "A pretty good test of a man's religion is how it affects his pocketbook." I think that both of these apply equally to a nation state as they do to an individual

Something happened last week which I find absolutely astonishing:

The Federal Reserve said it would make vast sums of short-term loans available on Wall Street and purchase Treasury securities in a coronavirus-related response aimed at preventing ominous trading conditions from creating a sharper economic contraction.
The Fed’s promise to intervene substantially in short-term money markets together with a move that opens the door to a resumption of bond-buying stimulus known as quantitative easing, followed two days of trading in which market functioning appeared to have degraded.
- Wall Street Journal, 13th Mar 2020.

The US Federal Reserve spent $1.5tn in propping up the stock exchange.
Monday 9th March 2020 at the time was the biggest day's point drop of the Dow Jones Industrial Average. This was followed by the biggest day's point drop of the Dow on Wednesday 11 and then followed by an even bigger drop on Thursday 12th.
In terms of percentages, the 12th of March 2020 was the 4th worst ever trading day; only behind Black Monday in 1987 and the Great Crash of 1929.

If you don't understand $1.5tn does, here is a graph that illustrates what it actually did:

Basically, not much.

$1.5tn, that is $1,500,000,000,000, a number so comprehensively massive that it is hard to actually comprehend, could have paid for:
- The Entire Apollo Program
- The International Space Station
- All of the Eisenhower Interstate Highway System
- Ending Homelessness in the United States
- Ending World Hunger for a decade
... combined.

$1.5tn divided by 330 million people is $4545 per person. To put that in perspective, the average private healthcare premium in Australia per household is $2170. In the light of a public health care crisis, instead of doing something about healthcare, the United States was more worried about the health of the bank accounts of a select few number of people.
The United States actually dropped enough coin into the stock market, which had the net effect of correcting a trend line for less than two hours; when for less money it could have bought universal health care for every man, woman, and child. To say that the United States can not afford public health care is a total lie. Not only that, it is a deadly one. If you repeat this lie, then you are akin a mass murderer; you are a knave.

In twenty minutes, the United States spent more money than it cost for the International Space Station, The Entire Apollo Program, the Interstate Highway System, ending Homelessness in the United States, and ending all world hunger  until 2030, combined.
Still, spending more in twenty minutes and watching it all vanish, just to prop up Wall St and the super rich, is better than universal health and actually addressing the issue of health care, right? If you are Wall Street and indeed most of the US Congress, then the answer is obviously 'yes' or else you'd have passed a universal health care bill some time in the past 76 years.
I did not make up that number. President Franklin D Roosevelt proposed universal health in his 1944 State of Union address and along with the 14th Amendment to the Constitution cheque which Martin Luther King Jr said was a "bad cheque", this is a cheque which has never even been presented.

The fact that the United States has spent more than seven decades deliberately avoiding the question and in many instances has actively railed against the question being uttered, is shameful. A wise man once said, that where your treasure is, there your heart will also. If this isn't an active demonstration of where America's heart lies, I don't know what is.

Seen in raw economic terms, a public health care system is really an insurance question. As such, it needs to be frame in such terms.
Insurance is a risk pooling arrangement where people pay into a pool of money, in the hope that if a catastrophic thing happens, they will be compensated for it. If that sounds like gambling, that's because it is. Insurance is people betting favour of their own misfortune while secretly hoping that it never happens, while the insurance companies collect all of the statistical data for that thing happening and then placing a different bet but pocketing the difference. Insurance companies hire actuaries to work out what the statistical likelihood of a thing happening is and then set premiums accordingly.
All of that sounds fine if you are talking about things with defined values and rates of catastrophe, which is why for insurance markets like car insurance and building insurance, letting the market decide the rates of premiums is entirely acceptable in my opinion. I do not have any objections to the market allocating prices and resources if that is appropriate.

I will ask though, what exactly is the value of a human life? If you think that healthcare should also be allowed to be priced and allocated according to the whims of the market, then you have tacitly decided that the value of a human life is both finite and small. Furthermore, you have made the moral judgement that healthcare can and should be excluded to people on the basis of their economic circumstances.

I think it interesting that during the Second World War, when Britain faced a common enemy, the rhetoric even coming out of the Conservative Party, changed from one of individual selfishness to that of collective responsibility. Collective responsibility implies that there should be some kind of collective action given to a very large collective problem. A national defence force is in principle the same kind of risk pooling arrangement on a very large scale as a public health system. The question then is whether or not you apply the same moral framework to the issue of healthcare as you do national defence.

The then Prime Minister Winston Churchill certainly saw the connection:

"The discoveries of healing science must be the inheritance of all. That is clear. Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion.
Our policy is to create a national health service in order to ensure that everybody in the country, irrespective of means, age, sex, or occupation, shall have equal opportunities to benefit from the best and most up-to-date medical and allied services available."
- Winston Churchil, to the Royal College of Physicians in London in March 1944.

The NHS in context forms two great immediate pillars of purpose. The first given the context of war was to provide fit, healthy people who would valiantly be blown to pieces, and secondly to provide fit and proper workers to work in factories.
That second point is quite interesting. The NHS in that role is about improving and maintaining the quality of the labour force. Labour being a factor of production is one of the inputs of generating income, wealth and future capital.

Admittedly, Churchill wasn't a one man army; nor was he a one man parliamentary democracy. Churchill had to be dragged to that position through the seriousness of total war. The Labour Party had already arrived at that point but the Conservative Party had to be shoved there.
The British public who had just been through that same total war, immediately kicked out the Conservative Government and voted for Clement Atlee's Labour Government who then set about trying to win the ensuing peace which followed. It is in that light that the Family Allowances Act 1945, National Insurance (Industrial Injuries) Acts 1946 and 1948, National Insurance Acts 1946 and 1949, National Health Service Act 1946, Pensions (Increase) Act 1947, and the Landlord and Tenant (Rent Control) Act 1949 were all passed. It also came with massive amounts of opposition from the British Medical Association and 'the city' generally.
America though, never actually arrived at that position and never really saw total war on its doorstep. For America, with the exception of war in the Pacific, the whole war was thousands of miles away and certainly there was never a shot heard within the 48 states.

America came out of the Second World War as the most prosperous nation in the world because it never really suffered the effects of either the First or Second World Wars. Admittedly it went through the Great Depression like everyone else but it didn't have to go to the effort of rebuilding infrastructure which had been physically destroyed because of war.
Britain on the other hand, commissioned British Liberal Party economist William Beveridge to write the "Social Insurance and Allied Services Report" (more commonly known as the Beveridge Report)  during the midst of the Second World War because they didn't want a repeat of the effects which followed after the First World War.
Almost certainly the impetus for building the post war welfare state came out of the Beveridge Report; which contained the following things among a general program for nationalising critical infrastructure:

It is one part only of an attack upon five giant evils:
(1) upon the physical Want with which it is directly concerned
(2) upon Disease which often causes that Want and brings other troubles in its train
(3) upon Ignorance which no democracy can afford among its citizens
(4) upon Squalor ...
(5) and upon Idleness which destroys wealth and corrupts men.
The state in organising security should not stifle incentive, opportunity, responsibility; in establishing a national minimum, it should leave room and encouragement for voluntary action by each individual.
- William Beveridge, Social Insurance and Allied Services (Cmd. 6404) (1942).

I think that last note is quite instructive. Britain saw the perils of state communism as practiced by the USSR (which the name 'Soviet' should tell you that it wasn't really socialist because 'soviets' are literally boards of control which are unelected) and wanted to run a path closer in spirit to what the Scandinavian countries would eventually run on.
America on the other hand, was never going to do that because although America likes to tell itself that it is the land of opportunity, it in reality has always been controlled and run for the benefit of those people who control the most capital. The American Revolution, the Civil War, and indeed the Great Depression have at their heart the same root drivers; that is that those people who have things, want to write the rules so that they keep their things.

The 1945 Labour Party manifesto was a critique of British capitalism but everything that it said could have easily been said about the United States and more so:


The people lost that peace. And when we say "peace" we mean not only the Treaty, but the social and economic policy which followed the fighting.

In the years that followed, the "hard-faced men" and their political friends kept control of the Government. They controlled the banks, the mines, the big industries, largely the press and the cinema. They controlled the means by which the people got their living. They controlled the ways by which most of the people learned about the world outside. This happened in all the big industrialised countries.
Great economic blizzards swept the world in those years. The great inter-war slumps were not acts of God or of blind forces. They were the sure and certain result of the concentration of too much economic power in the hands of too few men. These men had only learned how to act in the interest of their own bureaucratically-run private monopolies which may be likened to totalitarian oligarchies within our democratic State. They had and they felt no responsibility to the nation.
Similar forces are at work today. The interests have not been able to make the same profits out of this war as they did out of the last. 
- 1945 Labour Party manifesto

Those words sound like they could have been written in 2020 and not 75 years ago.

For everything that Roosevelt was, he wasn't a magician and couldn't simply magic up the will of the American people to bother to care about each other. He certainly couldn't make Wall Street and the people sent to Washington care about the people either. His 1944 State of the Union address went unfulfilled and neither he nor Truman who came after him, could achieve it:

We have come to a clear realization of the fact that true individual freedom cannot exist without economic security and independence. "Necessitous men are not free men." People who are hungry and out of a job are the stuff of which dictatorships are made.

In our day these economic truths have become accepted as self-evident. We have accepted, so to speak, a second Bill of Rights under which a new basis of security and prosperity can be established for all regardless of station, race, or creed.

Among these are:

The right to a useful and remunerative job in the industries or shops or farms or mines of the Nation;
The right to earn enough to provide adequate food and clothing and recreation;
The right of every farmer to raise and sell his products at a return which will give him and his family a decent living;
The right of every businessman, large and small, to trade in an atmosphere of freedom from unfair competition and domination by monopolies at home or abroad;
The right of every family to a decent home;
The right to adequate medical care and the opportunity to achieve and enjoy good health;
The right to adequate protection from the economic fears of old age, sickness, accident, and unemployment;
The right to a good education.

All of these rights spell security. And after this war is won we must be prepared to move forward, in the implementation of these rights, to new goals of human happiness and well-being.

America's own rightful place in the world depends in large part upon how fully these and similar rights have been carried into practice for our citizens. For unless there is security here at home there cannot be lasting peace in the world.
- Franklin D Roosevelt, State of the Union Address 1944

As I write this in March 2020, the world is facing up to the pandemic of COVID-19. I will suggest that whatever policy that the United States adopts, it will be monumentally terrible and that people will needlessly die; by design and operation of the health care system.
It is already too late for many people who are living in the United States and I am sorry but the decision has already been taken, repeatedly, that the American people are simply not worth the effort. Furthermore, they have actively repeatedly voted for that to be the case.
The current clown who has been installed at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave is emblematic of the problem at the heart of the American people; it is fitting that elsewhere in the Anglosphere we also have clowns installed in executive government.
The root cause of why the current clown was installed at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave is the same root cause which lies at the heart of the human condition; selfishness, unchecked.

The political solution for the United States would be to elect Bernie Sanders as President (who isn't a Democrat) and then by 2022 at the absolute earliest, start flipping red states in the Senate. The political mechanics of this are such that in order to achieve something massive, one party needs to be in control of both houses and the White House.
If Sanders doesn't win the nomination though, then Joe Biden has stated that he would refuse to sign a Medicare For All Bill and that has all kinds of implications for how the political clock ticks.

Since the Republicans would refuse to pass a Medicare For All Bill, then the elections which become relevant are 2022 and 2028 (because Senators are on 6 year terms). Trump would absolutely be gone by 2024; which means that if Sanders doesn't win the nomination for 2020, then we'd probably have to wait the current backlog of candidates to clear and by then who even knows what the state of play would look like?

I do know that the current political response to the COVID-19 virus in the United States will be inadequate at a national level and as far as an individual who doesn't have health insurance is concerned (of which there are about 40 million people), then the response will be non-existent. I bet that's really galling when you consider that $1.5tn was burned to prop up the stock market... for 25 minutes.

March 13, 2020

Horse 2670 - The United States' Response To COVID-19 Is Equivalent To Zero

The World Health Organisation declared yesterday, the 12th of March 2020, that the COVID-19 virus is now officially a pandemic. This means that the United Nations can legally issue advisory status upon which the various member states are bound by treaty arrangements to act upon. This also comes in relation to previous advisory warnings that the virus would be pandemic by the end of July. I also note that the virus expected to become normalised by the end of 2024; which means that at some point over the next four years that everyone in the world will have had it and that this will be the fifth Coronavirus which will have been identified as achieving this.

Various nations have issued statements and taken action; which has usually involved travel restrictions and in the case of Italy, a complete closure of the borders.
The United States' response in placing a temporary ban on flights from Europe sounds part way sensible but like so much of US Healthcare policy, is only part way sensible and in the case of virology and immunology, part way policies are as good as none at all.
It is the year 2020 and the United States is still arguing about whether or not it should have a single payer healthcare system. The idea was first proposed by President Franklin D Roosevelt in 1944 and if the timetable of the Civil Rights Act is anything to go by, then the United States should have a single payer healthcare system by the end of 2044. That will of course be way too late to deal with an epidemic which will have been 20 years past and way too late to deal with anything else in the interim.

The sad fact of the matter is that every single step which is short of a single payer, single operator, single owner, non-excludable, healthcare system is a step towards a bad system. To that end, every possible candidate for President including Bernie Sanders, is arguing for some form of terrible system. The fact that Bernie Sanders is arguing for a single payer system in the form of Medicare For All, means that he is arguing for two of the four facets.

It should not have taken a pandemic for this to be brought into light. Franklin D Roosevelt first proposed this as policy in the 1944 State of the Union address but he died before he could make it happen. Harry Truman tried in vain to get the system through the Congress but he also failed. Twelve Presidents later and the United States is still arguing about it; with a full 40% of the population actively voting for a verified knave.
I note that President Donald Trump in a television address made the announcement that all flights from Europe to the United States are to be suspended for thirty days; as if that would have any effect at all. Flights from Asia Africa, Australia, Mexico, Canada, and South America, will all still continue; which is like closing one window but not any of the doors. At any rate, a virus is so small that that wouldn't be a good policy anyway because there are already reported cases of the virus in the United States.

America which likes to herald itself as the champion of freedom, has for 80 years point blank refused to care about the responsibilities of government to ensure that the citizenry has freedom from want, ignorance, squalor, idleness, danger, and sickness. It is that last freedom which is relevant here and which is being deliberately neglected.
The lack of a single payer system excludes everyone who doesn't have health insurance from the system. There are reports coming out of the United States that the scheduled charge rate for testing for the virus if someone doesn't have health insurance is $1600. If you do not have health insurance, then the root cause is likely to be because you have such a terrible wage that you can not afford it. If you can not afford to be tested then you will almost certainly have no ability to be able to afford hospital treatment should it come to that; which gives you the only options of hoping that you get better on your own, or dying. Worse, if you don't even know that you have the virus then you could very well be disease vector and infect other people. Just because you don’t test doesn’t mean you don’t have cases and just because you don’t have recorded cases doesn’t mean people aren’t sick.
There are about 40 million people in such a position.

It should go without saying that if you have 40 million people who could potentially be a disease carrier but have no way of knowing and no way of being treated, then the overall herd immunity of the nation is near enough to being non existent.
Even if we reject the notion that healthcare is a right (which the United States has repeatedly decided through policy) then making the accompanying rejection that the nation also does not have the responsibility to look after its own citizenry, actively destroys the defence and ability of the nation to enact any sensible policy whatsoever.

In the days before public fire departments, fire brigades were privately run organisations which were mostly run by insurance companies. Insurance companies would place brass plaques called 'firemarks' on the sides of buildings which indicated if they were responsible for the insurance risk of the building. If a building caught fire and another insurance company's fire brigade was in the area, unless there was an immediate threat to one of their own insured buildings, they would simply just let it burn. A single owner, single operator, non-excludable fire department means that people's houses and buildings less likely to burn to the ground because the fire brigade is under the obligation to put out all fires.
In contrast, the various insurance companies that make up the United States healthcare system are under no obligation to look after people who are not covered by insurance. The net outcome of insurance companies running private fire brigades was fire like the Great Fire Of London in 1666 or the fire which burned the Houses of Parliament at Westminster to the ground. Health care should be able to do the same sort of public insurance function as fire departments.

FDR made the announcement of the Second Bill of Rights in 1944 because he hoped that while the United States was fighting a war and was face to face with the moral obligations that the nation and the people had towards each other, that it should have been easy to pass. It didn't. Curiously, Winston Churchill also saw the obligation that the nation had to its citizenry and despite massive opposition from health insurance companies, the National Health Service in Britain was started in 1948 by the Atlee Labour Government. Meanwhile in the United States? Harry Truman couldn't get it to pass the Senate and it has never been passed.

A famous tradie once said "wherever your treasure is, there your heart will be also". The United States has repeatedly thrown its treasure at killing people overseas and likes to look for new people overseas to kill. The nation conceived in war and based upon the lie that 'all men are created equal' and which then defined some of them as being worth only 3/5ths of a person in the Constitution always finds the budget for bullets and bombs but refuses to act upon the health of its own citizenry.
It's not like we haven't performed an experiment to see how many people are killed in a pandemic before. The Great Influenza of 1918-1920 probably killed hundreds of millions of people worldwide; it is generally assumed now to be some variant of the H1N1 Influenza virus. That was in a world which was prepared to send its children to war because people's lives were an acceptable price to pay. By the end of the Second World War, most nations had decided that enough of a price had been paid and that paying treasure to save people's live was more valuable than killing them.
The United States still hasn't arrived at that conclusion. It had best be prepared to start paying with lives and not treasure.

March 10, 2020

Horse 2669 - ThInK₃ About Chemistry

Late last week, I saw a chap at the bus stop in Mosman who was wearing a cap with the following logo:

Virtually everyone who has been in a high school science classroom will of course recall that this is supposed to look like squares from the periodic table of the elements. People who have done chemistry might recall that these three elements are Thorium (Th), Indium (In), and Potassium (K); and they might further recall that in general if you are writing a chemical formula, you put the elements from left to right. If this actually was a chemical formula then it would probably be written KInTh.

I like the visual pun of putting the word 'think' on a cap because putting on your thinking cap is an idiom for which I have no idea where it comes from. I like that most people will have a vague idea that this is a bit sciencey because that at least says that most people have sat through at least a little bit of science classes in their lifetime.
The expectation that this is a bit sciencey is a bit like doctors carrying a stethoscope even though they almost never use them, or maple syrup bottles having those wee little handles on them even though you can't use them, or railway crossing signs having pictures of steam trains on them even though there are almost no steam trains run by commercial railways anywhere in the world. They are all examples where expectations help form mental shortcuts through the use of skeuomorphs, which ironically means that you do not have to think.

The problem that I have is that if you give me a visual game like this, I am going to want to play with it and think. If this serves as an instruction, part of me as a stereotypical first child rule follower, wants to follow the instruction; which in this case is think - about the cap.

Now I know that Potassium as a Group 1 element will readily give up its outermost electron and that Thorium will generally form metallic bonds (if you can even find it) as it has a valency of +2. That only left Indium and when I looked that up on the periodic table and then checked a chemical data sheet to see what its outermost electron shell was doing I went... whoa!
Indium is 5 electrons deficient in its outermost electron shell and the addition of Thorium's two and Potassium's lone electron should mean that that octet is complete; provided you can find more Potassium atoms. Indium usually gives up its 3 electrons but if it is able to steal 5, it will complete its outermost electron shell to look like Xenon's. What I think is possible is that ThInK₃ is actually a legitimate chemical¹.
I imagine that because all three of these things are metals that the only way that ThInK would be formed is as a precipitate in some kind of aqueous solution and that it would fall out as a heavy metal sludge². I suppose that you could also melt/smelt them together but I have no idea if that would be an alloy or what else it would be. Immediately I also can not imagine what kind of practical use that this metallic sludge would have but as an intellectual exercise, ie. as a self-referential³ thought experiment which is designed to make you think, it's ace. The best part is that I don't even have to clean any lab equipment. I throw my imaginary chemical sludge into an imaginary rubbish bin.

I bet that at the bus stop, as we were all standing around in the rain waiting for the bus to come, that most people wouldn't have cared; some people would have thought that it was a bit sciencey; but I was probably the only one who followed the instruction and did some thinking. Admittedly it was useless but that's not different in principle to watching cat videos on your phone.
I might not be able to build palaces and cathedrals from paragraphs like Alexander Hamilton but I have enough lab equipment lying around in the imaginary laboratory to make metallic sludge. Yay! ThInK.

¹If it is not then I would like someone to let me know. I may have accidentally made some imaginary chemical that I can not dispose of.
²You can also make imaginary heavy metal sludge by booking Metallica, Pantera, and Gwar, to play at your imaginary music festival which you are holding in an imaginary field; in the rain.
³This isn't a self-referential footnote but footnote 4 is.
⁴For more information please reread this footnote⁴.

March 09, 2020

Horse 2668 - International Women's Day 2020: Pinkwash!

I found International Women's Day yesterday really offensive.

Now before you accuse me of being a men's rights activist, I will have to point out that I am totally not. Men have all the rights. About the only circumstance where I can think of where there is a disparity is in the issue of child custody following family law proceedings but there is and should be a presumption that the woman in the relationship will be a better primary care provider because in at least 99:1 cases, she is. Family Law disputes almost always invariably also contain a mismatch of physical power and in that respect, that physical power mismatch is also likely to result in physical harm also overwhelmingly in one direction.

No, the reason why I find International Women's Day offensive, is the amount of pretty pink ribbon tying and pinkwashing of the day that has happened. Granted that there does need to be a great deal of celebration but the media and especially advertising tends to act as though all of the problems in the world have been solved; when in actual fact most of the central issues are very far from being solved.

1. Women make up 51% of the population but 71% of the people who live in relative poverty.
2. Women still only collect on average about 84% of the wage packet of men. There are a bunch of reasons for this, including the self-selection of work by women but mostly it has to do with the relative bargaining power of women. Mostly their bosses and people in management are men.
3. Lower wages also translates into entrenched rates of lower savings at law through the mechanism of superannuation. This also partly helps to explain Statement 1.
4. Women are 97% of all people who have their careers interrupted by having children. This also contributes to Statement 2 as that has net flow on effects relating to recent experience in the workforce, it further compounds Statement 3. This also partly helps to explain Statement 1.
5. Even if you allow for the effects of family law proceedings, women make up 83% of single parents. That also partly helps to explain Statement 1, as that also comes with an economic cost that men aren't paying.
6. Women own less than 12% of all of the land in the world. Since so much of the reward of rent goes to landholders, then this also runs alongside Statement 2 and further helps to explain Statement 1.
7. Women own less than 19% of all of the capital in the world. Since so much of the reward of capital goes to shareholders and management, then this also runs alongside Statement 2 and further helps to explain Statement 1.

What I find really offensive about International Women's Day is the fact that it has been pinkwashed of a lot of its meaning. It is really easy for a company like Shell or Apple to do precisely nothing and ask the marketing department to make a one day token effort, than actually investigate their internal company structure.
It is really easy for successful women to get a voice and talk about the work that they did; without acknowledging the fact that no story exists in a vacuum and that in general, successful women had considerable advantages that other women might not have had (and I say this completely hypocritically as a white male).

Even more offensive is that International Women's Day used to be International Working Women's Day and was very much tied with the march for suffrage, and issues like representation in parliaments, equal pay, equal economic opportunity, equal legal rights, reproductive rights, subsidized child care, and the prevention of violence against women. Most of these battles haven't yet been won by a long shot.
I suspect that the reason why the original notions of International Working Women's Day have been gradually shut down or forgotten, is because the hard questions remain unanswered and because notions of equal pay and equal economic opportunity sound oh so socialist. It is far easier for people to play fluffy identity politics, both on the authoritarian right and the libertarian right, than to actually installing policies which might cost businesses money.

I guess what I really found offensive about International Women's Day is the way that this year, the discussions on radio never really talked about out the world of business is unjust, nor about any real response about how we care for people. I found especially offensive that Social Services Minister Anne Ruston marked International Women's Day by announcing that the Federal Government would earmark $20 million into a no-interest loan scheme to help women experiencing domestic violence to buy basic goods. Quite frankly the last thing that someone in already precarious circumstances needs is the government pretending to care but saddling them with debt. $20 million is a pathetic amount to throw towards this. If the Government was serious about doing something about domestic violence then it could implement coercive control laws, or any other range of actions recommended by many agencies for years. But no.

8. Although the experience of psychological aggression is about 1:1 for both men and women, about 90% of all physical injuries because of domestic violence are suffered by women. Although homicide rates are about the same, the likelihood of someone going on to live in relative poverty, is also overwhelmingly suffered by women. Women are 86% of all people who have their careers interrupted by domestic violence. This also partly helps to explain Statement 1.

Nobody wanted to talk about that in the media yesterday.

March 06, 2020

Horse 2667 - What Caused The Great Sydney Toilet Paper Crisis Of 2020?

Humans are strange creatures.
One of the basic assumptions in economics, especially when looking at the interaction of forces in markets, is that humans are rational actors who make rational choices. The plurality of those choices determines broad tendencies which translates into data and price decisions. Humans are not rational however, and will make really stupid decisions at times. Broadly speaking, everything bad that has happened in the history of the world has come down to accident, selfishness, or stupidity; or some combination of those things. The Sydney Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020 has the accident of COVID-19 as the base problem; with loads of selfishness and stupidity driving toilet paper sales.

The root cause of the Sydney Toilet Paper Crisis Of 2020 is a very real fear of the effects of COVID-19 (accident). The general public has responded by not bothering to do very much research into what the effects will be (stupidity). As a result, the general public has decided to raid supermarkets for all of their toilet paper, tissues, tins of beans and now tinned spaghetti (selfishness). None of this is out of character for these strange creatures. Yet again, there is nothing new under the sun.

Charles Mackay in his 1841 book "Extraordinary Popular Delusions And The Madness Of Crowds" made a catalogue of a bunch of historical hysterical manifestations of human stupidity; including Tulipomania, The South Sea Bubble, Alchemy, Witch Mania, and The Crusades among other things. The Sydney Toilet Paper Crisis of 2020 certainly looks like a lot of these historical hysterical manifestations of human stupidity in my opinion.

I wanted to interrogate the trigger for all of this. We've known about COVID-19 for a while but it has really only been this week when we've collectively gone stark raving mad. Most of the media has done a fantastic job of reporting on what has happened but I hadn't found anyone asking why it did. That meant that I had to go and do it myself.

I sent the following email to twenty Woolworths, twenty Coles, and ten Aldi stores across Sydney and was hoping that in an age of real time stocktaking that they might be able to provide me with some useful information. They wouldn't be able to tell me the why it happened but they will be able to give me a precise time to pinpoint the when.

Dear ,
As you are probably more than aware, people in Sydney have been caught up in a wave of panic buying of toilet paper and tissue, in relation to a perceived threat of outbreak of the Coroniavirus.

I have sent emails to multiple supermarkets across Sydney because I want to enquire into what triggered this. I suspect that there must have been a single trigger which has caused this and I am curious to find out what it is.

If it is not too much trouble, could you please reply with an approximate time, or possibly the exact time, when your particular store started seeing toilet paper fly off of the shelves? 

I completely understand if this is something that you do not want to reply to but I appeal to your sense of curiosity and hope that you are just as curious as I a. I will not publish your name or email address because I also completely understand and respect your right to privacy and anonymity. 

Thanking you in advance,
Andrew Rollason.

Publishing people's names is a sensitive subject and so I will not do that. I do not want store managers to get into trouble. The beauty of the internet and email is that once you have compiled a list, you can send out a bunch of emails using a mail merge. In the olden days this might have cost quite a lot in postage. I didn't know what kind of response to expect but to everyone who has responded, I thank you for your cooperation.
These then, are the responses that I got back; with the email addresses and names removed.

Firstly, from Woolworths:

Dear Andrew, 
Thank you for your email. This isn't the usual sort of email that we get but I am happy to answer it because I am interested to find out what the hell is going on.
Our store had it's first run (don't mind the pun ha ha) at 08:57am on Tuesday the 3rd. 

Please let me know how you get on.

Cheers, Woolworths 1 Manager.

and this:

Hi Andrew.

On Tuesday for store open at 8am on Tuesday we had 100 lots of toilet paper (5 brands) on the shelf. We sold two by 08:45. By 9am we had sold out of all 98 remaining lots of toilet paper and the shelf was empty. 

Woolworths 2 Manager.


Thank you for your enquiry. Sales of individual items is not something that we get asked a lot but it is heaps easy to get data for because we have stocktaking in real time.
We had no toilet paper by 9:15am on Tuesday morning, no toilet paper by 8:30am on Wednesday morning and we got no toilet paper delivery last night.

Woolworths 3 Manager.

The story was not markedly different at Coles either but only two stores were prepared to email me back:

Thank you for your enquiry. At Coles 1 Store we pride ourselves on customer service and we are happy to answer questions from customers, no matter how odd they are. The only stupid question is a question that is never asked.

I have also been shocked at the panic buying of toilet paper in Sydney and I have never seen anything like that before. I hope that you get to the bottom of this (har har).

Our store experienced nothing out of the ordinary until 08:50 on Tuesday when I had to call a section manager to restock the shelves with toilet paper. By 10am it was all gone. On Wednesday, we had whole queues of people with nothing but toilet paper in their trolleys. 
Let me know what you find out. This is not normal and people are weird.

Coles 1 Manager.

I got this rather abrupt reply from a second Coles store:

08:00 - 08:30 - nothing
08:30 - 09:00 - nothing

From an Aldi, I got this:

Hi Andrew,
Our store in X opens at 8am and by 9am we were out of toilet paper. I don't know if that helps. 
Aldi 1 Manager.

I think that 5 responses from 50 emails is a good result. I imagine that most store managers probably either wouldn't give me the information or wouldn't even deign to respond in principle. I do not know if sales of individual items counts as a trade secret or not.

The general trend here is that something happened on Tuesday morning and before 9am. There is nothing out of the ordinary in either the Daily Telegraph or the Sydney Morning Herald for that morning but the Alan Jones Breakfast Show had him ranting about the subject at 08:43am that morning¹. The problem with this line of inquiry is that Alan Jones tends to get all of his grist for his breathless rants from the daily newspapers. It wouldn't surprise me if he was Coroniavirusvirus Patient Zero but I can't honestly prove the case.

Or it could be that the media was already in a frenzy that just happened to get recharged again. Adjunct Associate Professor Ian Mackay of the University of Queensland's Adjunct Associate Professor and an actual virologist was on Neil Mitchell's breakfast show on Wednesday the 26th and said that the arrival of COVID-19 was an inevitability².

“Think about your pets, think about your grandparents and parents, how they’re going to go. Talk to your doctor about getting a few extra prescriptions stocked in the cupboard, just in case. There’s no point hoarding things or panic buying so that we empty the shelves. We don’t need to do that. It’s not panic preparing, it’s just thinking ahead to what happens if there are interruptions in our day to day life.”
- Ian Mackay, to Neil Mitchell, 3AW. 26th Feb 2020

Quite frankly I think that media has a lot to answer for when it comes to matters of public health. Ian Mackay's discussion with Neil Mitchell is sensible but Alan Jones who basically subscribes to the old newspaper adage of "if it bleeds, it leads" does nothing but flame hysterical manifestations of human stupidity. I could be drawing a long bow here but I suspect I am close to hitting the target.
I guess people have a need to feel in control of their life and buying loads and loads of toilet paper satisfies this need? We need to do a thing - this is a thing - therefore we need to do this? Yet again, there is nothing new under the sun.