A bewildered man under pressure

This is the picture of a man under pressure. He looks bewildered.

Victorian Premier, Daniel Andrews, 7 July 2020

He has just announced the reintroduction of hard lockdown rules to apply to all of metropolitan Melbourne and one neighboring municipality. Back to square one. Covid19 lockdown strategy, here we go again in the State of Victoria.

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Emu Export

There was a time in the middle 1980s when Western Australia punched above its weight in the Culture Stakes of Australia. Those were the days of Alan Bond, the Royal Perth Yacht Club, America’s Cup and Swan Lager. One of the more famous video clips of Bob Hawke, who had been Prime Minister for only 6 months by the time Australia II became the first challenger in 132 years to win the Cup, thereby breaking the longest winning streak in sporting history, had Bob on breakfast TV looking as if he was soaked in champagne. Still, such was the era that his image was enhanced. Today, one can imagine a craven apology being delivered by a subdued PM guilty of much less wayward antics than merely being soaked in champagne at breakfast.

I was reminded of those days recently while in my local Dan Murphys liquor store in Melbourne when I spotted a beer that I had not seen in over 30 years: Emu Export. The label says ‘Beer for Western Australia’. Well, of course I had to buy a supply. For in my younger days, at the start of my career, I spent two years working in Perth, WA, the State of Excitement as the local car number plates intoned. It wasn’t particularly exciting in those days if your car was low on petrol at the weekend because the filling stations went onto a roster system so that half would shut down for the weekend. This could require some planning in the pre internet days of finding out where the nearest open filling station was. There was no app.

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COVID-19 update

The total number of people that die in any one year across the whole world is currently around 56 million. Of those, around 28 million were over age 70.

The current total number of deaths due to COVID-19 is 56,000 globally. Of those, the proportion aged over 70 appears to be very high, at least 80% based on what scant data is available.

The global workforce is almost entirely aged less than 70 years. Thus COVID-19 has killed around 11,200 people of potential workforce age. In any typical year, the number of deaths globally of potential workers is 28 m. Thus the increase in workforce deaths, so far, is 0.04%.

Source: ourworldindata.org

Every day is like Sunday

“Every day is like Sunday. Every day is silent and gray.” So sang Morrissey  in the 1980s. He was envisaging nuclear winter but in doing so comparing it to the typical Sunday of the times. Sundays were different then. Shops were closed and churches were open. Even fuel filling stations were mostly closed. The streets were quiet, families had a cooked lunch together at home and grandparents may have been visited in the afternoon.

Melbourne seems to have returned to the Sundays of old, but with some differences. The churches are no longer permitted to admit worshipers. Visiting grandparents is discouraged by the arbiters of assumed state power. The police force is harassing couples on the beach* trying to enjoy the last sunshine of the late summer. Citizens are bullied into a state of hibernation, jobs forcibly removed from many yet they cannot go hunting for new work.

The panic displayed by political leaders stems from two fundamental causes. The first is that over time, people have allowed governments ever increasing powers over our daily lives. The fear of being seen to be doing nothing has replaced the fear of doing something damaging in the mind of the politician. The mainstream media and social media has encouraged this shift. The second cause is a fundamental error in making predictions about the outcome of an exponential growth process. The predictions are wrong, badly so. The error stems from the inability to model the behavioural changes that people make in the face of risk. The risk of infection from social contact with an infected person is not constant over time. It reduces. This is because people change their behaviour. Those models that attempt to show how one infected person infects 2.5 others who each infect another 2.5 persons and pretty soon the whole country is infected and the deaths will be in their millions are wrong. Yet it seems public policy is conducted based on such fears.

There is another side to this pandemic not receiving sufficient attention and that is the fatality rate. Firstly, it is being expressed as a case fatality rate, not infection fatality rate. Case rates are always going to be much higher, yet infection fatality rates are what matters to the population. Second, the rates should be broken down by age band. This data appears to be hidden by authorities, but what is available shows that the mortality rates are heavily skewed to the elderly. Why should an economy be sledgehammered when the workforce is no more badly affected than any other flu season? Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, the key point is not the number of deaths from COVID19 itself, but the net increase in deaths from all causes. In other words, are deaths being labelled as COVID19 deaths rather than heart disease, pneumonia, respiratory failure, stroke, etc. By the time that people get to their elderly years, they usually have a number of underlying medical conditions. Which one is it that should be recorded as the cause of death? It seems that practices are differing in different countries. Germany, it is reported, is not counting a death where there is a number of underlying issues, including COVID19, as caused by COVID19. Italy counts every death where COVID19 is present as a COVID19 cause. When all is said and done, what matters is the total deaths (per time period) compared to the typical number of deaths split by age and gender. If the totals are not changing, then COVID19 is a relabelling exercise. Despite the wholly unsatisfactory analysis of the data, our way of life, civil liberties, economic wellbeing have been damaged immensely. It surprises me that more people are not complaining in the streets. Civil unrest will emerge eventually if these draconian restrictions are not removed.

Update: Reported in the Sydney Morning Herald: “Anyone in NSW who leaves their house without a “reasonable excuse” could spend up to six months in prison and face an $11,000 fine under an emergency ministerial directive gazetted overnight.” The politicians are out of control and seriously risking public disorder.


Attentive readers will note that On the Beach was a movie made in Melbourne in the 1950s about nuclear apocalypse. I’m on a roll, here.

Massive overreaction

The COVID-19 virus does not warrant the massive overreaction that political leaders have forced upon citizens around the world. This is genuinely a case of the cure being vastly worse than the disease.

It beggars belief.

The elderly and infirm may be at risk – they always are, and thousands die from flu viruses each year. But the typical workforce is not overly vulnerable. The damage caused by these mini fascists in the corridors of power is immense. We are getting close to being put under house arrest.

What political price will they pay? I hope it is huge. They will try to claim credit in a few months that their actions saved the world. Wannabe Churchills, and the fascist authoritarians who never let a crisis go to waste so they can sieze more control and influence are in evidence everywhere.

What a disgraceful set. And we voted them into power.

Bookmark this and come back to me in 6 months time to admit I am correct.


Events, dear boy, events!

Events are happening. It was the UK prime minister Harold McMillan who reportedly replied to the journalist’s question about what he feared for the times “Events, dear boy, events.” The modern day political leaders with a tendency to fear events have had plenty of material to work with in the last month. Let’s name a few, in no particular order or importance: the south-east Australian bushfires; the assassination of Iranian Republican Guard major-general Soleimani; Brexit; coronavirus; Tesla’s stock price. I will add one more: the impeachment of President DJ Trump, although this is less of an event and more of a political process.

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The fires

Jann Gilbert, marine biologist, lost her home in the Mallacoota fires in eastern Victoria. In the Australian newspaper today, she was reported to have said: “The intensity of the fire was astounding. The ferocity of it has everything to do with climate change. I have lost everything. I just have the clothes on my back.”

Reports from Cobargo, southern New South Wales: “Residents have told of the devastation and terror they felt as fire roared through the village on the NSW south coast, claiming the lives of two people, destroying dozens of homes and leaving about 10 key businesses in ruins. Matthew Elmslie woke at 3.30am on Tuesday to see a 100m-wide fire charging towards his cattle farm in the historic town. By sunset, all he had left was the clothes on his back and a torch.”

Credit: David Caird, The Australian

The time and locations change, but the bushfire experience does not. 36 years ago, the Canberra Times was reporting details of the Ash Wednesday fires in February 1983: “Victoria was in chaos yesterday. Today, it will be in mourning. […] Emergency-service officials, when asked yesterday to assess the numbers of deaths and injuries and damage, said, “We can’t. It’s just chaotic.” That was the story everywhere as frantic relatives and friends tried to check on people living or on holiday in the worst-hit areas. At least 24 people died in the Cockatoo-Beaconsfield area in the Dandenongs. A young engaged couple died as they huddled together in a stormwater gutter. An elderly man died in his front yard trying to save his house from the flames. […] In the same area 12 volunteer firefighters died (and one is still missing) when two tankers were engulfed by the flames. Two more firemen died at Nar-Nar-Goon. On the coast west of Melbourne, almost the entire population of popular seaside town Lorne huddled on the pier as the fire swept through. At nearby Fairhaven, an elderly pensioner refused to leave his house and died. At Lorne, 50 houses were destroyed. At quiet Airey’s Inlet, 300 houses are gone. In rural Upper Beaconsfield, all that was left was a milk bar. One resident estimated the fire had come through at 120 km/h; another said, “This is the end of the world.” In Melbourne, it took several hours for the full horror to sink in as¬†Wednesday¬†ended with 40 degree-plus temperatures. […] Witnesses tell their stories to the media in a mixture of understatement and shocked awe. […] Survivors were stunned: “All I’ve got is what I’m wearing,” said one sobbing woman at Belgrave. “It was just so quick I couldn’t do a thing.” “I’ve never seen anything so frightening in all my life,” said another woman. “Really, you would have had just as much hope spitting on it, but you had to try anyway.” […] The confirmed death toll in the Victorian and South Australian bushfires stood at 69 last night. […] The South Australian toll stood at 26. […] The Prime Minister, Mr Fraser, visited fire-devastated areas yesterday. […]Yesterday, despite a hot beginning to the day, the maximum temperature was only 33 degrees. A cool change caused the temperature to drop after midday. Today would continue to be cooler, with a maximum temperature of 26. The weekend was expected to be fine and warm with a gradual increase in the maximum temperature. There was little prospect of rain.”