Monday, 18 October 2021

A Pinch of Common Sense

Courtesy www.statesman.com

I found this posted in Facebook a few weeks ago, when the faux outrage about mandated vaccination first began to appear in local and overseas media.

Unfortunately, I didn't take note of the poster's identity, so can't attribute it.

Anyway, after looking at it again, I've decided that it's worth posting, as it reeks of real common sense, which trumps faux outrage every time -

Vaccination history has long been required to travel (if you have been in countries where some of those ‘old’ diseases still persist) and they’re also required when you enrol your children in most kindergartens and  schools. 

When I was studying in the 90s, I had to show proof that I had been vaccinated for hepatitis B too. We can be stopped by police at anytime and asked to submit to a test to prove that we are not intoxicated and we carry licences to prove that we have passed our driving test, library cards, club cards, reward point cards, train/bus passes, credit cards etc.

 All of these cards are required to prove something at different times and places, and many of them track where we go, what we buy etc. (For the insidious purpose of making us buy more of the same usually too). Not to mention phones which record where we go (by GPS tracker no less), our heart rate, our bank balance, where we shop, what we listen to, what we read, what we look at online etc., AND we live with CCTV pretty much everywhere these days. 

So, we have not lived in a ‘free’ world for a long time, and I personally, don’t really have a problem with carrying a card which shows that I’m happy to help keep my community safe and limit my use of hospital resources should I happen to get sick. 

I’m just really grateful that I live in a country that can afford to vaccinate everyone for free, and also that I’m not living in Afghanistan or any other country at war (civil or otherwise). 

There are a huge number of people out there who are living through traumatic experiences every day and experience limitations on their rights and freedoms that we cannot even begin to imagine. I imagine that they would be astounded that we’re kicking up a fuss about government regulations which are being put in place to protect our lives and limit the spread of illness.

Saturday, 16 October 2021

I Don't Wish to Know That*

Image courtesy Penguin Inc.

One of the most interesting books I encountered when studying years ago, is Neil Postman's Teaching as a Subversive Activity.

That was in the mid-seventies when I was completing my education degree. From memory, it was a set text. Postman's book was ground-breaking in that it rejected traditional educational practice by encouraging teachers to ensure that their students questioned everything. It set out to promote the importance of teaching enquiry skills that could be applied to a world increasing in complexity and encouraging students to question many of the half-truths western culture had accepted for centuries.

This was a revolutionary concept, especially viewed from the American notion of education which was largely about filling students up with knowledge and dogma whilst at the same time expecting them to accept it all without question.

More recently, I'm observing that same unquestioning attitude to on-line information, emanating mostly from the USA, and driven by the profit motive assaulting our local media landscape. What is now called the MSM (Main Stream Media) panders to one extreme of the political spectrum or the other and makes a dollar from selling opinions that are consumed like breakfast cereal. The consumer will always pay for what he/she wants to hear, and as the song goes, will disregard the rest.

Facts no longer matter, and reporting them has become a lost art. 

The outcome of this media manipulation is social division, the likes of which is tearing the USA apart. Unfortunately, it seems to be oozing across the Pacific. 

This post, gentle reader, offers advice on how you can discriminate between truth and misinformation when you encounter material on-line.

First up, there are a multitude of fact checking sites out there. 

Locally, we have TheConversation FactCheckAAP FactCheck, and RMIT FactCheck.  The last of these is used by the ABC, which puts it, in my book as less reliable because of its affiliation with a mainstream media organisation.

In the USA landscape you will find FactCheck.org, PolitiFact.com,  Snopes.com, and PunditFact. There are others that are part of media organisations like the RMIT ABC site, such as FactChecker (Washington Post) but I have not included them in my list as they aren't independent.

The four listed are run by non-profit groups, as they refuse to accept money from mainstream media or PACs in order to maintain their independence.

Apart from using these sites, there are few fairly simple verification strategies that the average punter can use. The first one is "triangulation", whereby you search for three different reports of the same incident, and find aspects on which they agree. Generally (but not always) these points of agreement approach the truth.

Then there is a strategy I've used, especially in regard to recent reports of BLM activity, particularly in the USA. Reports from deeply aligned media (such as Fox News) have promoted the notion that rioting and disorder have become daily events in locations such as Portland. At the height of this reporting, I would check two or three of the local (generally non-aligned) news websites, and a completely different picture would emerge.

A very good example of this phenomenon is revealed when you compare the local coverage of the Arizona County Mariposa audit as it is reported in the local media with how it turns up in NewsNow. 

This, from the Huffington Post, is a pretty good summary -


Postman's work is as relevant now as it was in 1971, and is still available in paperback.

It's a recommended read.

*From a running joke in the original series of the Goon Show

#Inbuilt Crap Detectors


Sunday, 3 October 2021

A Very Bad Example

Pic courtesy CNBC

I've always believed that watching what is going on across the Pacific is a pretty reliable way of predicting the future of this country.

This rule of thumb has held historically for a wide range of cultural phenomena, including media trends, music and changes in lifestyle. Note I wrote "changes", not "improvements". 

Recently in the USA, we've seen the election in 2016 of a populist one-term POTUS, who effectively destroyed whatever remained of his country's unity in his term, and then refused to accept that he was defeated at the election of November 2020. His break with the democratic tradition has plunged his country further into the pit of division that he exploited to get elected in the first place.

As part of the exploitation of this division, the Republicans (or at least some of them) instituted an audit of the presidential vote in Maricopa county in Arizona, the state which, when called by Fox News for Biden, broke the news that Trump was a one-term president.

The goal of the audit was to prove fraud in order to get Biden elected. It was not an objective exercise.The results of that audit have finally been released, but without the blaze of publicity that was associated with the announcement of the audit in the first place. The report can be found here. 

An extract - 

What has been found is both encouraging and revealing. On the positive side there were no substantial differences between the hand count of the ballots provided and the official election canvass results for Maricopa County.

Remember, that is a summary of the major findings of the Trump-inspired exercise carried out by his supporters - exactly the opposite of what it was intended to find. 
So the official results stand. In fact, the audit found that Biden actually won by 360 more votes than the official results, winning the state by a margin of 45,469 ballots.  You get the best reporting by reading the local non-aligned media. 

So in the washup, the audit was an exercise in maintaining the rage and frustration felt by Trump supporters with the goal of keeping his run in 2024 in the news, and maintaining a fund-raising base. It had absolutely nothing to do with election integrity.

In other words, it's now OK across the Pacific, that if you lose an election, to simply deny the fact, put it down to fraud, and throughly weaken your country's confidence in the democratic process as you go along. 
That is obviously extremely dangerous, and throughly immoral, and reminds me of Abe Lincoln's speech in which he quoted Matthew 12:22-28 - 

A house divided against itself cannot stand. 

So we should look across the Pacific, note the mess the USA is in, and use it as a reminder not to follow down that road. There are so many examples of this in terms of firearms legislation, a largely non-existent health system and the USA's dysfunctional electoral process itself.

The Americans could do with our independent Electoral Commissions, both state and federal, and our system of compulsory voting. They could also do with our NFA, our public health system, and our largely non-partisan judiciary.

Never take your own country for granted.

Monday, 27 September 2021

Going Jack

 

Image courtesy Lion International


When I served in a rifle platoon a very long time ago, one of the worst insults you could offer to a fellow soldier was to refer to him as "Jack".

The term came from the phrase "F**k you Jack, I'm all right". 

Essentially, any soldier going "Jack" was either selfish, stupid, or both. 

Stupid, because our lives depended on each other. 

Selfish, because he was putting considerations about his own well-being ahead of that of his comrades.

A good example would have been a digger who coughed, sneezed, smoked, snored or farted in an all-night ambush. Such a soldier would have been given a swift kick up the backside by an NCO (or perhaps a fellow soldier, depending on who got to him first).

That principle of collective loyalty and cooperation is fundamental to success in any undertaking where disunity is death, and it is illustrated so clearly when we look at statistics emanating from the USA, where states with high vaccination rates are suffering far fewer Covid 19 deaths than those where vaccine hesitancy is rampant. 

It is almost a perfect negative correlation.

And yet we observe people of little brain and miniscule moral comprehension taking to the street in the name of "freedom" in this country. In the process, they have casually desecrated the Shrine of Remembrance.

The "freedom" they're advocating is the freedom to jeopardise the well-being of the group in favour of the selfish demands of the individual. I've blogged previously about how that glib notion has fallen in a heap with the advent of the pandemic.

We have also observed the phenomenon (relatively new to Australia) of rent seeking politicians appropriating the anger and frustration inevitably generated by the restrictions to their own ends.

This is one cultural trend that should be swiftly booted back across the Pacific from whence it came.

It is divisive, destructive and dangerous.

Saturday, 18 September 2021

Under the Radar

Cartoon courtesy The Guardian

The story of the week is Australia's move to acquire nuclear powered submarines.

But under the radar, is a much more important story, that is all about taking our foreign policy priorities back to the sixties.

Let's first examine the outcome of the decision to cancel the French project and consider the realities. Hugh White does just that.

The likely acquisition date of replacements for the Collins class boats is now further down the track than it was for the abandoned French project. We're talking about the 2040s. Let's hope our enemies, imagined or real, are prepared to give us that much start.

In addition, it is going to cost more, even before we compensate the French for the cancellation.

As Peter Jennings, executive director of the Australian Strategic Policy Institute, said a few days ago -

"The irony is that when we chose the French-designed submarine a few years ago we actually took a nuclear-powered submarine and have been spending millions of dollars turning it into a diesel submarine."

So we have moved from modifying a nuclear powered boat to take diesel electric propulsion (a complicated and expensive proposition) to going full circle and deciding that we really wanted nuclear all along. That is at least bizarre, and almost unbelievable.

But it's real...

What is far more significant is the return to the strategic alignments of the sixties. A glance at a map reveals that Australia is located in the South Pacific, a very long way from both Pennsylvania Avenue and Downing Street.

We are much closer to Jakarta, Singapore and Hanoi. Yet, apparently there was no consultation with any of our neighbours. There was also no negotiation with the French at government to government level. The French are more than a little miffed - hardly surprising.

Perhaps if some real consultation had taken place, we may have been able to set up a deal where we leased the nuclear powered version of the Barracuda from France whilst we were waiting for the Yanks and Brits to get their act into gear.

As it is, we seem to have come out of the whole debacle with more expense, greater delays, and some seriously fed up neighbours.

But most significantly, any real sovereignty that we had in terms of our relationship with the USA has gone down the plughole. Perhaps we could be optimistic and hope that in the fullness of time, the acquisition of these boats may allow us to develop our own independent deterrent, rather than depending on the Americans, but how much time do we have?

As it is now, we are tied to them, and to their capricious foreign policy which bangs backwards and forwards like a dunny door in the wind driven by their dysfunctional and erratic domestic politics. 

If I'm still around when these subs finally hit the water under their own steam, (I'll be in my nineties), I'll be fascinated to observe what form of leader occupies the White House. Recent history has shown that the Yanks have the capacity to "elect"* complete snake oil merchants to that position.

And there will be five different POTUS elected between now and 2040. By the law of averages, at least one of them is likely to be a lunatic.

You only need to consider the results of domestic driven interventions and withdrawals in recent foreign wars (Vietnam Iraq, and Afghanistan) to understand the utter incompetence of the Americans. And we went along with them each time.

I lived the consequences of that incompetence fifty years ago in Vietnam. 

Let's hope that no more young Australians will have to do the same in the future.

*Probably the wrong word to use to describe the process.


Saturday, 11 September 2021

Israel and Delta

                                           Pic courtesy WSJ



Israel's experience with the Delta strain of the virus, and the success or otherwise of its vaccination programme is instructive for Australia, given the likely rocky road ahead on the road map set out by the PM and the NSW Premier.

As this is written, Israel is dealing with a third wave of the virus, specifically the Delta variant. On September 9th 2021, Israel reported 5861 new cases and 6 new deaths. This contrasted with the situation in 2020 when the country went into lockdown averaging 4000 new daily infections, and daily deaths reached a high of 101 on January 20th 2021.

So the rate of infection is higher in 2021, but the death rate lower. The other change since a few months ago is that the lockdowns in Israel were lifted prior to the increased rate of infections.

Because we are not comparing like with like in two aspects (a different more infectious variant and lighter restrictions) it is difficult to come to definite conclusions, but some things seem evident.

1.  More people are becoming infected, but fewer are being hospitalised and dying.
2.  The lockdowns were effective in reducing transmission, and lifting them has increased transmission.
3. More people are recovering, but it is too early to understand the nature of that recovery.

All of this suggests caution. 

This caution should emanate not only from the figures above, but also from the possibility (or likelihood) that new variants will emerge. That is, after all, how viruses behave.

Vaccination is not the silver bullet, but it does seem to help. It needs to be remembered that even in Israel, only 61.1% of people are fully vaccinated. 

That doesn't bode well for Australia, where the figure stands at 32.6% fully vaccinated as this is posted.


Tuesday, 7 September 2021

Song for Adam Goodes



Apart from the fact that this is a great song, it has an interesting back story.

It was written by Paul Kelly for the documentary "The Final Quarter", which looks at the last few years of Goodes playing career.

It won the Best Original Song Composed for the Screen in the 2019 Screen Music Awards.

Because Goodes' had the temerity to object to the crowd booing every time he touched the ball, he came in for a lot of criticism.

Indigenous players are supposed to accept that casual racism without a murmur.

He didn't. Well done that man.....

The song is about his mother, and how her values forged his success as a footballer and Australian of the Year.

  

A Pinch of Common Sense

Courtesy www.statesman.com I found this posted in Facebook a few weeks ago, when the faux outrage about mandated vaccination first began to ...