May 30, 2020

Horse 2712 - Qualified Immunity Is Dangerously Stupid

A wise man once wrote that "perfect love drives out fear¹" but then again so does a great deal other things such as ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity; and America has got those things in abundance. Columbia manifest destinied her way across the land taking slavery and guns with as she went but Lady Liberty has only gotten as far as the Hudson because she appears to have dropped her keys in the river.

I would like to call the three days of protests over the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis as unexpected but given that this was caused by the killing of a handcuffed black man who pleaded for air as a white police officer kneeled on his neck, it seems inevitable. The death of yet another black man at the hands of semi-militarised police is an ongoing tragedy which hasn't stopped, even in the midst of a pandemic.

What was also inevitable was the 45th President Of The United States openly calling for violence in racially charged circumstances. If ever there was a man unfit for the office; he is it. Or maybe not. America is openly having a dalliance with fascism and somehow, this clown is the perfect fit.

Also amidst all of this is the hideous miscarriage of justice which is taking place, in that no charges been filed as a result of George Floyd being pinned to the ground by his neck on video for more than 7 mins and occasioning death.

- via NBC News, 29th May 2020.

Basically, one of the serious oddities and flaws of American Law which is more Roman in character than English, is that it is very difficult to bring claims against either individual police officers or the States as their employer for acts which, done by anyone else, are clearly torts. Quite frankly the entire idea of giving state officials, especially the police, "qualified immunity" is abhorrent.
This kind of "qualified immunity" by hiding behind the wall of the state, absolves an individual of all kinds of heinous crimes and does nothing more than to make lies sound truthful and murder respectable.

America told itself as a starting lie that certain these truths were self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, and then immediately declared that some people were only worth 3/5ths of a person; which is still in force today by only affording some people with 3/5ths of justice before the law.
Article 7 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights² (UDHR) states: "All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law". America not only does not recognise the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it also doesn't fundamentally believe in human rights either.

I think that it should be obviously that we should have exactly the same rights against the police as we do against other people. Granted, that carefully defined specific privileges are in fact necessary to carry out police work because police work involves dealing with some very nasty people but, those defined specific privileges need to be precise. I wonder if people in the US realise how odd US law looks to those outside it? They probably don't care, considering that 10,000 firearm deaths per year is acceptable and now we are discovering that 100,000 deaths due to inadequate health care in the middle of a pandemic is also acceptable.

I suppose that my major flaw here is that as someone who has read law and read comparative constitutional law, I think that I may have made a category error. This isn't really about constitutional law, or common law but rather, America which started as a militia state, basically still only recognises that as the only source of law. Once you give people uniforms and guns, they are the law. Of course you are going to get riots and murder when America is fuelled by ignorance, alcohol, passion, presumption, and stupidity; and has guns to go with it.

¹1 John 4:18

May 29, 2020

Horse 2711 - Persistedium

One of the strange things about being married to Mrs Rollo is that although we grew up in vastly different countries and have a fair amount of interest in things with no overlap whatsoever, is that there are a lot of internal logic processes running through our brains which are scarily similar. Those processes engage years and cogs which trip other shafts and gears, which then start other entire processes spinning madly at a hundred thousand revs a minute.

This morning as I was about to head off to work, I was told:
"My brain made up a new word. 'Persistediums' - it is persistent and 'tedium'"

Now I have no idea what is actually going on inside her brain because that is rather like looking inside a theoretical black box and I also have no idea exactly what any brain including my own does inside that magical land that JM Barrie in 'Peter Pan' called that land half way between awake and sleep¹ but I very much appreciate and recognise the kind of process which chucks words and concepts together as though two blobs of plasticene were being fired at each other out of two cannons and we collect the results from off of the floor.
This is a portmanteau and having had this new idea blob arrive in my own brain, I want to examine it.

Persistedium is different in principle to ennui. Ennui is that kind of listless apathy which is related to boredom but not exactly congruous. Ennui kind of became fashionable among the idle rich in that period after Napoleon but before the next Second French Republic when it was simultaneously a luxury to have nothing to do and yet be bored by it. For a concept as nebulous as ennui, it is surprisingly well documented. Persistedium though, implies something a little bit more insidious.

Tedium is not boredom. Tedium is like having a shard of glass stuck in your heel for several months and because the sharpest point has been worn away, the sharpest pain has been dulled. Tedium is a rolling kind of pain which is caused by a constant sameness of circumstance with something consistently unpleasant. Tedium is akin to the Sisyphean task of rolling a giant rock up a hill forever; only to have it roll back down again.
Persistediums implies that there are more than one and that they are perhaps countable and that whatever the things in question are, they do not go away. Closely related is the concept of repetedium; which are these things happening again and again and again.

Due to the circumstances of my youth, I have ended up as a reasonably pessimistic but yet begrudgingly cheerful character whom Honoré De Balzac would have deemed as a 'grinning idiot'. To be fair, the fact that a lot of weeks look exactly the same is not really all that painful or tedious for me. For me to claim that I have either pain or tedium in life would be hideously churlish indeed.
However there are people in life whose own bodies are constant reminders of pain; people for whom circumstance has dealt them familial or other social pain, and people who have to deal with the consequences of other people's pain (think of carers, social workers, people in really awful jobs, and parents of worrisome children etc.). For all of these people, the pain of the things that life has thrown at them can be both rolling and sharp, and either persistent or repetitious.

Those things might very well be the result of something that the person inflicted upon themselves or not. They might be identifiable or not, they might be countable and discreet or not, they may even be nebulous and/or legion. As opposed to pain, persistediums and repetediums are things that occur more than once and as with all pains, not only do they demand to be felt² they will take up and demand all available resources to be felt. Also, precisely because the centre of the observable universe is exactly from the point of the instrument doing the observation, the persistediums and repetediums of someone else are ultimately unknowable. They may be able to sort of describe a general impression that they have but you can never actually feel them.

Perhaps one of the biggest acts of cruelty that you can perform on someone else, apart from actually inflicting pain upon someone else, is to discredit and deny that their pain exists. Someone else's persistediums and repetediums are absolutely not tangible but they are real. I mean technically someone could be lying about their experience but in general because every one of us are egoists who are the centre of our own observable universes, that's generally not the case.

Whether or not it is an unpleasantness caused by something physical or perhaps as the result of relational issues with other people, the fact that this is a repetedium or a persistedium implies that at some point, the person making the complaint which will be legitimate most of the time, will either lose their patience, cool, or temper. Nobody can live with a repetedium or persistedium forever. We all eventually break.
The thing is that as social creatures who are meant to live in community, a great many of these can soothed with that most rare of commodities: kindness. Be kind to someone with a persistedium or repetedium. Obviously they would prefer it to go away but if that's simply not possible, then a burden carried upon many legs is better than one carried by just two.

¹"You know that place between sleep and awake, the place where you can still remember dreaming? That's where I'll always love you. That's where I'll be waiting."
- Peter, Peter Pan³; or, the Boy Who Wouldn't Grow Up (1911)

²"That's the thing about Pain, it demands to be felt."
- John Green, The Fault In Our Stars (2012)

³Peter Pan wore greem tights and could fly. The last time I wore green tights and tried to fly... they threw me off the aircraft.

May 27, 2020

Horse 2710 - Can You Tell Me How Someone Who Practices Hematophagia Ends Up On A Childrens' Television Program?

If you look back on films and television of the late 1960s and 1970s, you very quickly realise that New York City is far from the image of 'the greatest city in the world' and is instead a hotbed of crime and sadness. Punks run riot in the streets, there is graffiti, garbage and broken glass everywhere, and although America is supposedly the land of opportunity, that opportunity hasn't quite visited the folks of the city. It was during this time that the white flight phenomenon was first observed, with richer white folk moving upstate or to Long Island.
Crime was rampant, murder was common, theft and larceny were commonplace and bizarrely there were also reports dating all the way back to 1969, of unexplained paranormal weather phenomena such as thunder and lightning occuring inside apartment buildings and this was also woefully unexplored by authorities.
It was certainly not a place or a time for sending your six year old daughter out to the corner store for a loaf of bread, a container of milk, and a stick of butter.

One small section of this ghoulish tapestry can be explained by the arrival of vampires to the Bronx. Although officially denied, there have been pieces of video footage which show at least one vampire interacting with children and other members of the community in the Bronx. I suppose when everything all around is going crazy, then what might usually be considered to be strange, just becomes boringly passé.

In the immediate aftermath of the Second World War, in the words of Sir Winston Churchill, an Iron Curtain descended across eastern Europe. The countries on the dismal side of the Iron Curtain included Romania and like so many others, it too adopted a communist system of government.
During the late 1950's, with a system of policies not unlike the pogroms of Russia a century before and the systematic genocide of the Third Reich in the two decades before, the communist government of Romania decided to clear out the last remaining strongholds of werewolves and vampires which were still living in the Carpathian Mountains.
In this new period of borderline ethnic cleansing, the previous inhabitants of the Carpathian Mountains who were considered to be a scourge of terror, themselves became the subject of terror being exacted. Many werewolves and vampires fled Romania in the 1950s and this is why the Von Numerovski family fled to the United States.

Unlike previous pogroms (with one of the most famous being the period of the 1890s in which the Dracula family took up residence in London), the anti German sentiment coupled with a general sort of fear of communism, meant that the Von Numerovski family passed through Greece, Ireland and then the United States instead of entering the UK. The land of opportunity with Lady Liberty shining a light upon the Hudson River, welcomed many people escaping Eastern Europe and many people upon passing through Ellis Island, entered an entirely new life.
This is how the Von Numerovski family happened to purchase an apartment in the Bronx and how they were able to continue with their previous practices of vampirism without anyone knowing about it, for more than 40 years.

Even though the United States went through a period of post-war prosperity, various laws relating to rent control of housing and a general lack of maintenance in Brooklyn and the Bronx; coupled with a period of racial tensions, which all paralleled the civil rights movement and the geopolitical tensions relating to the Vietnam War, meant that that prosperity didn't quite visit some sections of New York City. There was a real irony that one of the richest cities in the world, also had some of the highest crime rates in the world as well.
This helps to explain why it wasn't until the mid 1990s, when the data in various archives was released, that anyone began to realise the kinds of horror that the Von Numerovski family had been able to perpetrate.
Being vampires with a penchant for feasting upon the blood of the living, the Von Numerovski family were responsible for the deaths of some 130 people it is estimated. None of these deaths went noticed amidst the background of a city riddled with crime and most of these deaths were attributed to either the results of violence or as being drug related.

In June of 1968, when Alphonse Von Numerovski XI died due to sun exposure, the title of Count Von Numerovski of Carpathia, Hepplemont and Löz, passed to his son Alphonse Von Numerovski XII. Of course such a title would have aroused suspicion at a time when Cold War tensions were escalating and so the younger Alphonse decided to go by the alias of Count Von Count.
The young Count, although a vampire, had not been fully apprenticed in the ways of vampirism owing to the disruption of his youth. Instead of hiding away from society, he moved out of the family home and bought his own apartment in the Bronx, at the address of 123 Sesame Street, Apartment 5A. The street had a bodega on the corner, a business which specialised in small appliance repair, and in an unexpected turn of events it had an eight foot tall pigeon who lived at the end of the block and he happened to claim to be best friends with someone imaginary.
The street also had a homeless person living on the street in a pile of rubbish, an incompetent transient worker who lived in the apartment next door with his mother, and various people who appeared to come from some alternative dimension and who were given the name of 'monsters' by the CIA.

Thus, Count Von Count was able to undertake his own apprenticeship in the ways of vampirism in relative impunity. It is really only fragments of newspaper articles when pieced together that begin to give you a glimpse of his reign of terror in the Bronx and the lower east side of Manhattan.
Quite apart from the sheer volume of mysterious deaths that occurred which were previously thought to be drug and violence related, was the strange practice of arranging of items on the front stoops of brownstones. New York City Police were baffled for years by arrangements of things with chalk numbers on the pavement which corresponded to the total of those arranged things. It is only when you realise that the legends surrounding vampires and the supposition that they have the condition called arithmomania (that is, a compulsion to count things), that it becomes apparent that this was a coping mechanism by the locals.

May 22, 2020

Horse 2709 - We Expect That There Will Be Suffering

Probably because I read rightist newspapers and watch mostly rightist news media, I have repeatedly heard calls asking for an end to any and all elements of the current lockdown. I personally find so much of it extremely hollow, as precisely because Australia has taken appropriate action and coupled with the fact that we are an island fortress which is surrounded by a massive moat, as far as I am concerned, we have done well.
Also, because we don't live in cities all huddled together, like New York, London, or Rome, we haven't actually been placed in as complete lockdown as everyone else. A while back I saw a chap doing sports style commentary for the impending arrival of the local vicar; who was at the time the only person allowed outside if they weren't actually going shopping. The fact that that was the most interesting thing happening in town that day, gives you an idea of the real kind of lockdown that other people have really had to suffer through instead of our pretend sort of lockdown in Australia, relatively speaking. I have heard tales of kids in Spain for instance, who were inside their apartment and hadn't left it for eight weeks.

Not only do have we not had anything like the severe kinds of restrictions on movement in Australia that other countries have had but the people who are complaining the loudest about the restrictions that we have had, are also the ones to have actually suffered the least. Remember, when they talk about wanting people to return to work in the name of the economy (praise be) they aren't particularly concerned about the welfare of the people who have to do that front line work; as evidenced by the fact that hospitals and schools are worryingly underfunded and under resourced in terms of protective equipment and perhaps most worrying of all, have staff who are the most likely to be underpaid relative to the responsibility which we are currently placing them under. It is people's own personal inconvenience which appears to be driving calls to end lockdowns rather than any actual public health concerns.
It seems to me that the people who we expect to suffer the most, are the most vulnerable. The people who own capital are also the ones to be the most openly cruel, as evidenced by the number of landlords who suggested that their renters dip into their superannuation funds early; rather than extend any sort of rent forgiveness.

The curious thing about suffering, is that it tends to produce a work of changes in someone. Just like a mind that has been expanded through education and experience can not and will not snap back to its original dimensions, a heart which has endured some kind of suffering is generally also changed forever. It must be said though, that suffering which produces a defensive work in a heart, occasionally results in a heart which is older and colder and retains possession of the hurt.

From a generational standpoint, we saw that the people who had endured the Great Depression and the Second World War and even the First World War, set about on the grand project of building the welfare state; in some cases in stark contrast to their general political standing before the Second World War. Generations which had suffered together, had developed a sense of community and wider empathy; which explains why Churchill of all people, who was a Conservative Prime Minister, proposed the establishment of the NHS.
Conversely generations who do not have to suffer, have on the whole developed a lesser sense of community and wider empathy which has translated into governmental policy. To some degree this explains why the United States which also went through the Second World War, did not establish the same kind of welfare state system as Europe did. At the time, no state of the Union actually heard the sounds of war¹. The most vociferous objections to the current lockdowns in the United States and here in Australia are being made by older people on the whole² and by sections of the media which act as mouthpieces for the monied classes, which have personally had to bear the least of the load.

This isn't to say that suffering is something which people necessarily like to go through. Almost by definition, suffering is unpleasant. On a repeatable basis though, people who go through suffering are on the whole more resilient and develop either coping strategies or outright strength.
I have no idea how a block of marble feels about being turned into a sculpture of a lion, a god or goddess, or some great statesperson but I can not imagine that it would be happy about it; assuming that a block of marble can feel the feels. A sculptor chips away at the block of marble, which I imagine would inflict pain upon something if you are having bits hacked off. Nevertheless, after the sculpture is finished, it is celebrated for its beauty and may even be preserved as a thing of great cultural significance but nobody ever asks about the marble left on the floor of the sculptor's studio.

My great hope for this current suffering which we are all going through is that it produces a work of greater community and wider empathy than we had previously. The products of kindness, patience, joy and even civic philia generally do not spontaneously arise out of nothing.
I do not know if you have religious leanings and see this as some kind of divine work, or if you see this is as just the long game of history playing out in an impersonal universe³, but surely those things which together make up the broader altruistic framework for a commonwealth of humanity are desirable at the very least. There is no shortage of holy men and prophets across a bunch of religions who have made statements which are variations on "treat other people how you wish to be treated" and yet when it comes to actually carrying this out, we are all collectively terrible at doing it.

As for the general question of "who is going to pay for this current moment of civil kindness?" with regards policies like the JobSeeker and JobKeeper allowances, it certainly isn't going to be the people who already object to paying wages and taxation. It is almost as if the people who do the least actual suffering, are the first people to whinge about doing any kind of suffering at all.

δυνατὰ δὲ οἱ προύχοντες πράσσουσι καὶ οἱ ἀσθενεῖς ξυγχωροῦσιν

"the strong do what they can and the weak suffer what they must"
- Thucydides, History of the Peloponnesian War c.404BCE

¹Pearl Harbor is in Hawaii, which didn't become a state until 1959. 
²The very oldest of the Baby Boomers will be turning 75 years old later this year.
³I think that theism, deism, atheism, are all reasonable viewpoints but all of the people who hold any of them have to remember that from inside the system, the only real way prove any of them is to leave the system. As they are all kind of a priori, you will not shift people. Be kind instead.

May 19, 2020

Horse 2708 - The Bookcase Of Credibility

The COVID-19 pandemic has come at a particularly interesting time in history because unlike the 1918-20 Influenza pandemic, people in a lot of places around the world are now connected not only by radio and television but with the ability to make video calls in real time. This used to be the kind of thing that was only dreamed about in the realms of science fiction but which we are perhaps in danger of being bored by.
In the 1968 movie '2001: A Space Oddessy', included with a bunch of glimpses into an imagined future, along with tablet computers, artificial intelligence, and the obvious paraphernalia to go along with space travel, is a short sequence in which Dr. Heywood Floyd makes a video call to his daughter. He is charged $1.70 for the call, which is only time that any amount of money is referenced in the movie and he pays for it by credit card; which itself must have been pretty neat in 1968¹.
54 years later, we might not have yet set up colonies on the moon or in space (which might disappoint the people of 1968) and certainly not hotels in space but we do have video calls, albeit with people's private computers rather than phone booths.

2001 imagined that the video phones that we'd be using were probably of a fixed line type, like when we all used to have only one telephone in our house. The cameras that we are actually using in the 21st century aren't stand alone devices which are connected to fixed lines but peripherals for computers; which does include the hard built peripherals in our mobile phones. What I don't know if the world of 2001 could have imagined, was how curated the view through the camera was going to be.
YouTube went through a sort of early era in which mostly people in their late teens and early twenties recorded video blogs in their bedrooms. They very quickly realised that they were being judged for what was in the background and it became the norm quite quickly to move into curated corners which included bookcases and knick-knackery. In some cases where they have gone on to be professional, what used to be in people's bedrooms has in some cases been replicated in a studio.

What the COVID-19 pandemic has done, is force loads of people who would otherwise have never have been in front of a camera, to go through the same process of curating the visible space; specifically for broadcast transmission on Skype, Zoom, Facebook Messenger and a bunch of other platforms. In this respect, the desire to project a curated image is as strong for older people and people in professional media as it was for the teenagers and twenty somethings in their bedrooms.
The symbol of the COVID-19 pandemic for me, is not the use of facemasks but the one thing that has mysteriously appeared in the background of people's video calls - The Bookcase Of Credibility.

The presumption by the audience who sees a Bookcase Of Credibility is that the person who is sitting in front of it has read a lot of books. The beauty of the Bookcase Of Credibility as a signalling device is that it isn't necessarily true that someone has actually read any of those books, nor is it true that the quality of those books need be equal.
As far as we out here on the other side of the curated camera view are aware, they could all be Mills and Boon or Harlequin romance novels and provided they were in semi nice leather backed binding, we'd be none the wiser. In fact, the books themselves don't even have to be real; they could all just be just the spines presenting a facade, just as hokey as 23 and 24 Leinster Gardens which are fake facades hiding a ventilation hole for the London Underground from the days when they used to run steam trains underground¹.

The Bookcase Of Credibility is fast becoming a necessity for people who work in the news media or alternatively as I have learned through the medium of audio via podcasts, it is useful for projecting the facade that someone is really organised instead of sitting on the couch covered in cat hair and Cheetos dust, while wearing active wear and trackpants.
What the Bookcase Of Credibility inadvertently projects is that someone is middle class enough to have a bookcase and a dedicated space where they can make video calls from. In that respect we have gone full circle because we used to have dedicated furniture in our houses for the telephone; which may have included a seat and/or space for the telephone books.

I don't personally have a curated space or a Bookcase Of Credibility because as a renter, I don't exactly have the ability to make wholesale changes to the internal structure of the house. Truth be told, most of the books that I have ever read have come from libraries and it is usually only those books which I know that I will want at a future date or which I can not find in a library which I will shuffle a shilling for. This means that by imprint, the most common kind of book that I have is a Penguin Orange, followed by a Penguin Black. To those of you who know what either of those things are, that might lend the impression that I have read impressive books or perhaps (and perhaps more accurately) that I am a colossal cheapskate who prefers to read books where the ravages of time have already tossed aside all of the terrible ones.
I actually have a shelf where John Maynard Keynes, Thomas Piketty, Bernie Sanders, PJ O'Rourke, Adam Smith and Jeremy Clarkson sit next to each other. Elsewhere, Margaret Atwood and Mary Wollstonecraft are off rolling their eyes with contempt, I bet. Again, none of this would help in lending me an air of credibility in the face of someone who has genuinely done proper work in a course of study but to someone who is none the wiser and just sees a stack of books, it might².
That there is the reason why the Bookcase Of Credibility is such an untruthful device. It only works to impress someone in so far as much as they are impressed and only in an upwards direction. You could very well have someone with loads of book in bookcases but they've never read any of them and more importantly, having read a lot of books is not necessarily a qualifier of the person being either intelligent or more importantly, kind. I can think of at least one famous example where the installation of a bookcase was met with justified derision because the person who had the bookcase installed was a knave.

Despite all of this, I am still somewhat impressed by the bookshelves which have appeared behind newsreaders and diplomats, on television because I would expect someone whose trade it is to wrangle information to have read a bit. It also does say something more about the person, instead of the cold and sterile environment of a television studio.

In this respect, I am a complete hypocrite because while on one hand, I am suspicious of a Bookcase Of Credibility I am also kind of impressed.

¹For a brief moment in time, it would have been possible to make a journey from the suburbs of London to New York City which involved both a trip on a steam train and the Concorde.
²And then again, if someone doesn't care about what books you've read or even if you have read any at all, we're back at square one again.

May 16, 2020

Horse 2707 - What About...?

Especially during these times of general anxiety which is founded in a very serious threat of massive loss of life, the one thing that is absolutely certain about the kind of questions which are being asked to rhetoric is that "what about 'such and such'?" will make an inevitable appearance. I don't want to diminish the responsibility to ask powerful people what they intend to do with said power and for whose benefit they wield it but I do find the question of "what about 'such and such'?" to be both tiresome and fruitless.

The idea of 'whataboutism' is not exactly a new device but it has been reframed afresh for our times by both the rise of the internet which means that normal people actually can ask questions to power; as well as the fact that that same internet has meant that the whole news cycle has been sped up to a pace which is beyond people's willingness to consider ideas separately.
I won't say that people don't have the ability to process multiple ideas in concert with each other but there is a very strong desire for instant gratification that people have, which results in a whataboutism type question being asked; with no real desire or curiosity to find out what the answer is.

Whataboutism isn't the exclusive domain of leftist or rightist politics; nor is it the domain of libertarian or authoritarian politics either. I think that it is like the foil of a badly trained fencer who only knows how to thrust in the hope of landing a point without realising that their opponent will parry it away with ease. Therein lies the problem. With a thrust of a whataboutism type question which has no intent and no purpose beyond point scoring, all simple parries and deflections ensure that any real issue is never addressed.
A 'whataboutism' type question is like setting up the simplest of plays which anyone versed in the art of the parry, then gets to take the advantage for free. They are even more pointless in an era when the people in power are actually coached in the art of deflection, as a necessary skill to their arsenal of rhetoric. To think that there aren't professional coaches whose job it is to make speakers more competent in the art of not saying anything at all, is naive at best and negligent at worst.

Perhaps it is my own internal prejudices running overtime but whenever I hear a whataboutism type question, I tend to assume that the person asking such a question is stupid. I choose to define 'stupidity' as the result of deliberate action which stems from choices as opposed to the actual intelligence of a person. People who are less intelligent have just as much capacity for bravery, kindness, affection, loyalty, and all of the hard and difficult aspects of character; as much as anyone else. Stupidity on the other hand, is almost always the result of choice which is backed by selfishness and degrees of unkindness and cruelty which is really just selfishness wearing a different jacket.
The problem that I really have with a whataboutism type question is that it must invariably assume that someone can not hold more than one idea at the same time. I know that is a sweeping generalisation but it is based upon another sweeping generalisation stemming from my perceptions that virtually every whataboutism type question has nothing to do with the original thing in question. That isn't to say that ideas aren't orthagonal and share various areas of the type that Mr Venn might draw his eponymous diagram of but more often than not, I find that the circles of ideas don't even touch. Bringing up the issue of Personal Protective Equipment of domestic nurses when someone is talking about the actions of a foreign government in relation to land rights and invasion, is irrelevant.

I will admit that I have a tendency to be rather indirect and this may come from a latent desire to be polite but whataboutism type questions annoy me probably more than they should because I am too stupid to hold multiple ideas at the same time. If someone is giving a discourse on a particular subject, then I naturally expect that the questions which are asked, have to do with said subject. If a politician starts a new chain of discussion, I do not think that asking about some other thing helps the discourse.
To that end, I really hate the morning zoo approach to press conferences when some politician makes an announcement and the press pack wants to ask a bunch of questions that have nothing to do with the thing whatsoever. The questions that they ask might very well be legitimate but more often than not, they tend to be vehicles for abuse by proxy.

May 11, 2020

Horse 2706 - Why Does There Still Need To Be Two Rugbys?

Last week on Twitter, I asked the question of why there still needed to be two kinds of rugby football and as expected I copped loads of lovely abuse which ranged from everything from accusing me of not understanding the difference (I could write a long essay detailing the differences those people if they like), from not understanding why there is a difference, to just direct abuse which included all kinds of lovely Saxon words and one soul with a surname of lots of numbers wishing that I get COVID-19 and die.
To appease some those people, I will give a short history lesson because it is instructive to the current problem.

The great split into the Rugby League and the Rugby Union happened at a meeting in the George Hotel in Huddersfield, after clubs from the south of England, rejected the northern rugby clubs’ calls for payments to players to be legalised, after the players from the north argued that they afford to play without being paid for missing time at work. The Rugby Union was basically horrified at how working-class 'their' game had become; especially when the clubs in the decidedly industrial and dirty Lancashire and Yorkshire, began to have more power than the old public school network of those people from Harrow and Eton.
That class divide is still in evidence more than 135 years later, with Rugby League being mainly played in the north of England and in western Sydney and southern Queensland; and Rubgy Union being mainly played in the south of England eastern Sydney.
The rest of the world doesn't really care. New Zealand is a Rugby Union nation with a token Rugby League team, South Africa, Argentina, Ireland, France, Italy, Japan, Scotland etc, all play Rubgy Union; and the only other nation that is really known for playing Rubgy League is Papua New Guinea.
To tell the truth, Rugby League is a poor cousin in the north of England anyway, as the cities of Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield, Bradford etc. have football teams with budgets which extend into billion pound territory.

At anything beyond NSW club level with the sole exception of State of Origin matches, there really isn't that much call for Rugby League in the world. New Zealand could probably ditch Rugby League tomorrow with zero consequence and to be fair if England could get over its idiotic class divide, then it could probably also ditch Rugby League tomorrow with some reorganisation.
Australia is the outlier with the big sticklers being the NSWRL, QRL, NSWRU and the QRU. If those four could be reconciled somehow, then there need not be two kinds of rugby at all.

What this COVID-19 crisis should have brought into sharp focus is that what the two codes of Rugby are really fighting over is who can be the biggest pipsqueak. With the exceptions of the United States, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand and a bunch of Pacific island nations, football eclipses the rugbys.
I do not think that it makes economic sense to split resources between the two codes, just because of class arguments. Really, that's the only reason why there ever was two kinds of rugby and why two kinds of rugby remain.

In all honesty, you could probably enmesh the two kinds of rugby in just about every province and at every level. In most nations that just means a single national competition, and for provincial and state competitions and at national level that also means collapsing the two into one. For example, nobody really cares about the Kangaroos and Super Rugby basically exists to appease the underlying problem that Rugby Union isn't commercially viable otherwise (which again stems from the competition between two codes for the same dollarpounds).

Unifying the two games would also invariably require unifying the rules again and again to be honest, the rules which exist are because of firstly the split, secondly the domination of St George in the 1950s and 1960s, and the demands of television.
I think that the clearing out of the rucks and the limited tackle count has rendered Rugby League as a really dumb game. It isn't as tactically diverse as Rugby Union and the weird thing is that the game isn't as good as it was before the limited tackle count.
ABC2 used to run a program called Late Night League Legends, which was the station filling up time with old Rugby League matches and it became really obvious to me that the reason why St George was so good was because they invented tactics to make the opposition carry and then spill the ball rather than holding onto it themselves. That resulted in matches with the same kind of intensity as a State of Origin match, all the time.
Of course Rugby Union suffers from the messiness of having rucks and mauls that don't clear and collapse but that at least provides for another way of tactically playing the game.

Rugby Union also has a better reward system than Rugby League; with more points on offer for kicking goals, as well as better rewards for kicking the ball in normal play.
In a move which is counter intuitive, Rugby League has no real incentive for maintaining possession. The limited tackle count of six, which was extended from four when it was first brought in, means that a team has to give up possession for no reason other than the operation of the rules. That's stupid.
The limited tackle count which was brought in to stop the domination of St George, was taken directly from the NFL in the United States. The accompanying set of rules that go with having a limited down count in American Football means that a team retains possession provided that they are able to make 10 yards down the field. Possession is rewarded provided that you can prove that you deserve it. No such thing exists in Rugby League but in Rugby Union with no tackle count, you can maintain possession for as long as you can maintain possession.
The messiness and sluggishness of one kind of rugby is countered by the stupidity and disincentive system of the other. I am sure that some kind of sensible compromise can be worked out here because I do not think that the idiocies of one game outweigh the idiocies of the other.

Unifying the two kinds of rugby is both a class issue and a rule set issue. The second as with any sport can be solved by a governing body simply laying down the rules. The class issue should be resolved by the two boards getting over themselves. I will naturally declare my biases here and say that I would be equally happy if there were no kinds of rugby at all and that the rest of the world has quite rightly decided that football is the better game however, since the rugbys exist then their continued survival would be better achieved through restoring an economy of scale which should never have been split in the first place and which has served neither of them. Part of the the reason why the rugbys are both marginal sports in most markets is because they are competing against each other needlessly. It needs to stop.

May 05, 2020

Horse 2705 - What Dollar Value Do You Place On A Human Life? The Answer Has Consequences.

As we quickly approach the ⅔ mark of the current public health order (which ends on June 30th), we should expect that the levels of displayed anxiety within society will reach their absurd peak; sometime around 31st of May. Especially in Australia where the number of deaths has been so low, we should expect the economic rightist media to scream blue murder¹ at the mythical thing called 'the economy'; despite demonstrative examples from the past where the destruction wrought upon the economy caused by pandemics is massive.
I think that it should be obvious to all and sundry now, that News Corp and their doyenne The Australian in particular, is a screaming death cult of a media organisation that is willing to literally sacrifice people's lives in order to return profits to the upper classes. These are people who feel as though they have no responsibility to the nation whatsoever and will call for the absolute privatisation of any and all public services, but then expect the general public to bail them out should they be in trouble. It is socialism for the rich at the expense of rampant Darwinist capitalism for everyone else.

Yet if you probe any of these people who claim to be supporters of the capitalist right as though it were a religion all of its own, you very quickly find out that their justifications are as rationally and as logically sound as if you napalmed a house made of tissue paper. Speaking as a creature of the economic left who is perfectly aware of my own hypocrisies, it is nice to see that the economic right is as full of hypocrises and stupidities as myself.

This whole discussion about what price that we should pay for the lives of people, stems from two of the central questions of economics; namely:
- What to produce?
- Who to produce it for?
It also relates to the opportunity cost of doing one thing as opposed to another. That is, what the cost is of doing one set of actions is, compared with the cost of doing another set of actions.
The thing about economics though, is that it is one of three incredibly stupid brothers. Economics is always asking questions but doesn't really care what the value of those questions are. Accounting knows what the price of everything is but is too stupid to ask any questions. Actuary is to stupid to ask questions and doesn't know what the price of anything is but it can tell you in detail what has happened. All three brothers are deeply mistrustful of each other but will always try to rain on each other's parade.
You should always expect to get different answers about the central questions of economics depending on which of the brothers you talk to. The one thing that is the same about all of them is that they are all completely heartless. As they are heartless, they are by extension, cruel.

Knowing all of this, we now lay out two of the three basic parts which relate to the opportunity costs associated with COVID-19:
a) The Case Fatality Rate across the general population is 2.9%, across the OECD. That includes older people who can run as high as 11% and people of prime working age who can run as low as 0.03%.
b) There are 25 million people in Australia.
The cost in lives of COVID-19 assuming that we do nothing is 725,000.
Now I mention that because this is where our three brothers want to have an argument and the argument that they will have, comes down to that third leg of the calculations.
Specifically it all comes down to that one question of:

What dollar value do you place on a human life?

The really curious thing about asking that question is that it makes practically everyone recoil in horror. The economic left hates it because they have to come to grips with the hypocrisy that the government can't actually control everything (and the unwritten leftist horror that it isn't actually advisable for it to do so). The economic right hates it because they have to confront their hypocrisy of demanding that the market should decide the value of everything and then their internal cruelty that that they actually don't care about people when you call their bluff on it.
As an accountant and someone who has worked in the dark arts of insurance valuation, I am prepared to admit that everyone has their price and my faith and my base assumption that all of humanity is basically terrible, informs me that people will name their price far quicker than they care to admit.

For the record, I think that the value of a human life as compared with the calculable amount of sorrow caused if that life was suddenly cut short, should be about three times AWOTE multiplied by that person's unique life expectancy at any given date. I don't have a particularly good methodology for determining this other than the ripple effect caused by someone suddenly dying, on the lives of other people.
I ran this assumption with the life expectancy tables as compared with the last census and I came up with a value of human life at about $6.7m; which is more than the Prime Minister's Office which sets it at about $4.5m. Either way, the price of not putting everyone into lockdown is still more than the price of completely trashing the nation's GDP for the duration of the crisis²; which is why I think that the government was sensible to enforce a public health lockdown.

On the other side of the argument is the IPA which has already called for a 100% lifting of the public health lockdown; which if you want to run their numbers, means that they actually value a human life at way way less than the Federal Government does. I have long suspected that they are a strange kind of right-wing economic terrorist organisation which is akin to a death cult and now I have the numbers to prove it.

I freely admit that I am a horrible monster who is prepared to state my dollar value of a human life; yes, it is vulgar and gauche. However, it is probably more than what most other people are actually prepared to state, when the cold blue light of hypocrisy shines down upon them. I am prepared to think that thought experiment through. Are you?

¹Blue Murder comes from the French "mort bleu" which is a minced oath of "mort dieu"; which itself is "death of God"
²25m x 2.9% x $4.5m = $3.262tn 
Australia's GDP was $1.434tn in 2018.