What happens after the COVID-19 virus?

What happens after the COVID-19 virus?

As I write this post there is no toilet paper in the supermarket and not much in the way of pasta, rice or tinned veggies. The frozen foods section is cleaned out and eggs are down to the last couple of dozen. The long-life milk is restricted to two per customer but on the upside, remarkably, the fresh food is as abundant in variety and quality as ever. The deli counter looks like it always has and there is every cut of meat you could wish for waiting for a culinary touch.

It’s weird.

I am wiping down the trolly handle with anti-bacteria surface cleaner and I have no idea if it is dumb or not. I scratch my nose. Idiot, can’t even get the basics right.

I leave the store with a trolley load of provisions nearly identical to the loads carried home before this virus changed everything. I say thank you to the ether with gratitude for my good fortune. Then I say it again.

I try desperately not to give in to the mischievous imp on my shoulder telling me it will not last, make the most of it.

Is he right, that little fear-mongering bugger? Can supply chains keep going with everyone locked down?

I have no idea. Not the foggiest.

This is the new world we have entered. The place of lockdown and isolation, witty memes and singing on balconies. A place where nobody knows if they can protect themselves from the virus and where some seem not to care at all if they do, for themselves or others.

Nobody knows if it will last weeks or months or if the fallout will take years for the world to recover. The economists are delighted for they are in fashion again even though they have absolutely no idea why the neo-liberals resumed the rampant printing of money for the biggest social programs in history.

And in Belarus, they are still singing on the terraces at soccer games.

Unable to fathom any of this I took to thinking what it might look like after the virus.

We could have got so used to working from home that we actually quite like it and persuade companies that this should be the norm and flex days are the ones we go into an office rented just for the purpose.

Only the mothers with young children decide that this home schooling thing is too much and can’t wait to send their kids back to the organised daycare of the education system so they can enjoy the working from home.

We actually got used to fortnightly grocery trips and online orders so much that the shopping malls were converted into community centres for recreation and social persuits. The old folks in the day and the yongsters at night.

So as not to get too worried about the money situation we voted in governments that introduced a liveable universal income with incentives for working two to three days a week on jobs that get us out of the house, away from our partners and keep the place clean and tidy.

They also agreed that they would underwrite the supply chains so that we didn’t have to accumulate personal wealth for a rainy day.

We enjoyed the cleaner air and the lower emissions so much that we agreed staying at home was actually preferable to burning fossil fuels and we would only take trips in electric vehicles from now on. There was a global competition with grand prizes for the invention of fast train and air travel without all the mess.

The mental fallout from the virus was so great that psychology became the most sought after training in colleges and universities and along with the guaranteed income was universal access to mental health care.

The governments realised that QE was actually not going to send inflation up in a rocket and that the concept of money, lending and borrowing against yourself did not actually bring the house of cards down. What they came to realise was that the resource base was what mattered all along. So they invested heavily in understanding how much we needed to look after land, water and the natural world for all its services. They even figured out that soil was the most important resource of all.

Along with this back to nature came a surge in technological advances that made everything and everyone more efficient. Robots with AI blockers built in made all the mudane work routine freeing everyone to work only as they wanted and on service tasks, the necessarily touchy feely work that make us all human for thanks to some very smart researchers a universal viral vaccine was invented that kept us safe from COVID-26.

All up the world became a much better place. There were rouges and the mentally disturbed and the accidents and the unwanted deaths from neglect or stupidity but, all in all, the world was cleaner, smarter and a lot safer place to live.

This is what step changes can do.

They can make us all smile.


Please share or add your ideas for the nice changes we could make happen.

What’s with all this individual enrichment?

What’s with all this individual enrichment?

Capitalism is a powerful force.

Simplistically, it mobilises funds — capital — to secure peoples time and effort — labour — that converts or generates goods and services, often from a natural resource or two, that when sold becomes more capital.

The basic idea is the conversion of one thing to another for monetary gain.

The deal with capitalism is that for this process to work, the enriching part, some capital is needed to begin the process. There is an investment required in the extraction or conversion or creation of a resource that can be rented or sold.

How to start becomes the problem if you have no access to capital.

Hence for centuries workers felt exploited as they lacked access to the monies to get themselves off the treadmill. In modern times more westerners feel they have access to capital, sufficient at least for a house, a car, and the luxuries of life.

That they are indentured to the banks for this cash seems to pass them by as they trudge along to the workplace as enslaved as the poor buggers who used to do it for peanuts. Quite literally in the slave systems of the 1800s.

Then there is the inbuilt reality to capitalism that is starting to bite very hard.

When capital is used to create more capital, the original owners of the capital stand to gain the most from the process — the rich get richer.

The argument that wealth creation raises all boats, the more money made, the more money there is to pay workers and their lives improve is also true to a degree. The average wage in mature economies tends to rise over time and the standards of living along with them.

The problem is that individual enrichment is still at the core of the process. The owners of the capital gain the most, the get bigger boats as all the little rowboats slosh about on the tide.

A report published by Oxfam in January 2020 ‘Time to care’ found that the world’s 2,153 billionaires have more wealth than 4.6 billion people.

In other words, a little over 2,000 people hold more wealth than over 60% of the world’s population.

These numbers show what has and continues to happen. Fewer and fewer people have a greater and greater proportion of the wealth.

A riddle

Suppose the board of a large company has seen some good numbers from the CFO and decides to redistribute some of the profit to the workforce as a bonus.

Rather than do this on some arbitrary merit score they decide to give everyone at the company a one-off bonus that is 10% of their gross salary.

Is this fair?

Check out one answer at the end of the post.


A moral conundrum

Should this aspect capitalism be allowed to continue, this appropriation that is an inevitable consequence of the paradigm?

Well, obviously there are plenty of people busting everything to be one of the 2,000 with more money than any one person could realistically spend.

Then there is just about everyone else who would like more money than they have. They might not need billions, even millions, but most people would like even a little bit more to help with the school fees, the rent and maybe even a holiday sometime.

The 4 billion people living on less than $10 per day certainly would. For them over half the money they earn is likely to go on food.

The 800 million of these people that the United Nations says live in extreme poverty are desperate for more cash simply to not go to sleep hungry and maybe a leg up to get themselves out of their poverty.

Unless there is a better way to redistribute, it would seem that we need an alternative to creating wealth for these people.


Are there alternatives to capitalism?

A question asked many times by folk far more erudite in these matters than Alloporus will ever be.

The answer is, of course, several alternatives. Here are a few of the common ones.

Communism

Communism was tried and failed the pub test. People hate being told what to do, especially when it comes to money.

Variants on the tried communist model have been proposed including a few based on anarchism

  • Anarchist communism, that advocates decision making by consensus democracy, the abolition of the state, and the abolition of private ownership of the means of production.
  • Post-scarcity anarchism, an economic system based on social ecology, libertarian municipalism and an abundance of fundamental resources.
  • Anarcho-syndicalism, an ideology centred on self-management of labour, socialism and direct democracy.

Heritage Check System

Then there is the retention of the market economy but with banks stripped of their lending power and with constraints on governments printing money and when they do the money is only used to “buy materials to back the currency, pay for government programs in lieu of taxes, with the remainder to be split evenly among all citizens to stimulate the economy”. This is termed a “heritage check”.

No doubt the originator Robert Heinlein, the American science-fiction author, knew what he meant.

Economic democracy

Economic democracy is where the workers control the companies in some sort of democratic system and social investment is carried out by a network of public banks.

Sounds good until we all suffer death by democracy for the crowd is not always operating in its own best interest let alone the interest of the individual.

Knowledge economy

In a book Post-Capitalist Society published in 1993, Peter Drucker described a possible evolution of capitalistic society where knowledge, rather than capital, land, or labour, is the new basis of wealth.

The thing about this option is not everyone, including an orange-haired president and his supporters, respect knowledge enough. People are quite good at rejecting evidence they don’t like.


Individual enrichment

We could go on for there are dozens of others and maybe one day there will be one that has a chance.

That system will have to allow people the chance for betterment no matter where they currently sit within the system. This is the essence of capitalisms success — even the lowly janitor has a chance of making it.

It’s a slim chance but it is not zero.

This is how people are at the core. They want, desire, need the opportunity to get better, to be better and to live better.

This great urge for betterment is understandable for those whose life is a struggle. However, it does not stop when you get the Porsche and the air-conditioned mansion with heated indoor pool

Maybe not even when your incense burns and your chakras are in blessed harmony, for your ego will still be lurking somewhere deep in your psyche just waiting for you to slip out of nirvana.

Whatever the system it has to allow for individual enrichment.

Answer to the riddle

Is a 10% pay rise across the company fair?

Well, it sounds fair enough. But 10% for the office junior might buy a weekly trip to the fast-food court. The CEO, on the other hand, gets a new car.

Not so fair after all.


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What ever happened to the stupidity filter?

What ever happened to the stupidity filter?

When I was a kid I avoided being seen as stupid.

It was my number one priority, the imperative. I hated the embarrassment of getting anything wrong so I tried not to with every fibre of my being.

Who wants to admit they don’t know who scored Tottenham’s second goal at the Lane on the weekend or wasn’t allowed to stay up late enough to watch the screamer from Glen Hoddle.

Who could not know the latest track by the Sex Pistols, even if it was banned by the BBC and there was no way for the average closeted Joe to hear it?

Who wants to admit they hadn’t heard who the class bicycle was supposed to be shagging. Yes, it was all horribly misogynistic in those bygone years.

I developed a few handy tactics to avoid putting my foot in it.

I thought before I spoke.

I listened and made sure I was in the know about everything there was to know.

I acted like everyone else as best I could.

The last thing I did was blurt out errors of fact or judgement for all to hear. Nobody, least of all me, wanted to be a dumbass.

What changed?

It seems that today there is no embarrassment at being wrong at all.

Any sports, social or knowledge item is a click away on Google. Any visuals missed are on Youtube. If I don’t know the track its cool to Shazam it.

This suggests I can be in the business of getting it right all the time with a little help from my handheld device. Only that is not how it goes down.

These days I am just as likely to be suckered by fake news and errors of knowledge and feel no problem at all in blurting them out to whoever is nearby.

I can be stupid with impunity and absolutely nothing at all happens to me.

What happened to make stupidity a skill worthy of the highest prizes?

Here are three possibilities:

Theory #1

the bubble

We all live in our own bubbles and nothing gets in. The view is opaque and soundproof. Others can see our posts but not us, hence we can never be stupid because we are invisible and safe in the bubble. It offers extraordinary protection and zero kickback.

Theory #2

The hyper ego

Similar to the bubble, but where everyone can see and hear you. It doesn’t matter though because your ego is so powerful that you are always right even when you are not. The ego is all-powerful and can’t ever let you feel pain or let down in any way.

Theory #3

Who gives a f__k?

It doesn’t matter if you are stupid or not because there is no personal responsibility for anything. If I am wrong so what, it’s my life. I don’t care what others think. If I believe I’m right then I am, sod them.

What happens next?

The reasons for getting things right back in the day were the wrong ones.

I was wanting to be accepted, in with the in-crowd, to be liked. Naturally, this is the ego talking, the kind of thing that besets youth whatever the generation.

What it did though, this protection by the ego, was to instil a useful caution. I was more thoughtful than I would otherwise be, perhaps even learnt to be a little streetwise. This was very important when later in life you find yourself on your own in the wrong neighbourhood of Johannesburg or confronted by the military man at the roadblock, his AK47 pointed into your truck.

What happens to the modern youth who can’t be arsed whether he is right or wrong on anything. So long as the chicks think he is cool, who cares?

Presumably, his streetwise instincts must come from somewhere else. Not learned from smarts.

Presumably the truth, the facts and knowledge lose whatever currency they once had. All the work needed to gather and store them is time wasted. Should the unlikely happen and a fact is needed, it is there in your palm.

In other words, there is no stupidity filter anymore.

It is quite ok to be dumb. Nobody seems to mind anymore. They even expect it.

There is no embarrassment, no loss of face.

This will create problems later on. When we actually need that filter to function it will not be there. We will not know how to tell the nonsense from the truth.

And we get Trump and Boris and Scomo all over again.

We have let

We have let

The Guardian online is running a series of 2020 Visions from prominent Australians about the future of a country that is in a mess.

We are flapping our arms around as if after years of surfing we suddenly forgot how to swim.

Our politics is morally bankrupt and devoid of ideas, the people are hiding behind a mountain of household debt so high you need oxygen at base camp, and the outback has had enough sending drought, dust, obscene heat, fire, smoke and finally flood just about everywhere.

Bugger, if it wasn’t for air conditioning, filters and heroic emergency services personnel the place would be unlivable.

It’s been one hell of summer down under.

Any kind of vision for the future is welcome in such dire times.

Here is a quote from the 2020 Vision Series looking for serious answers

Instead, we have let untruths, half-truths, misrepresentations, hypocrisy and hyperbole become the currency of our age. Secrecy is now standard operating procedure in politics. The public interest and the right to know is too often subordinate to some alleged higher interest, grandly and sometimes scarily defined as “security” or “on water” or “in the bubble”, so of little relevance to anybody declared to be outside it: the rest of the country

Professor Ian Chubb, neuroscientist and former chief scientist of Australia

Only three words really matter in this otherwise truthful statement from a senior scientist who spent time with political numpties…

we have let

Yep, we sure have. The people have allowed the irresponsible to break the tiller of the sailboat and failed to repair it. We have let the boat come adrift at the mercy of an angry sea.

It’s our fault.

Don’t blame the politicians or the lefties or the neo-Nazis or the abbos or the DINKys or the Landcruiser MILFs or even the neighbour’s french bulldog that barks like a cat.

Blame yourself.

Yes, you. And me. And every other card-carrying citizen who has stood by and let all this happen.

You know I am right.

Just look at the outpouring of praise for the Rural Fire Service volunteers who have performed miracles to save lives and properties on over 18 million hectares of the country that burnt.

It was effusive and genuine gratitude because we all knew they saved our arses, literally.

We let his risk of catastrophe escalate and then when the crisis came it was local volunteers who bailed us out. They deserve a medal and some serious pay. So much by so many to so few, a famous dude once said.

We have let.

Here is a summary of the 2020 bushfire season

As of 14 January 2020, fires this season have burnt an estimated 18.6 million hectares (46 million acres; 186,000 square kilometres; 72,000 square miles), destroyed over 5,900 buildings (including 2,779 homes) and killed at least 34 people. An estimated one billion animals have been killed and some endangered species may be driven to extinction. Air quality has dropped to hazardous levels. The cost of dealing with the bushfires is expected to exceed the A$4.4 billion of the 2009 Black Saturday fires, and tourism sector revenues have fallen more than A$1 billion. By 7 January 2020, the smoke had moved approximately 11,000 kilometres (6,800 mi) across the South Pacific Ocean to Chile and Argentina. As of 2 January 2020, NASA estimated that 306 million tonnes (337 million short tons) of CO2 was emitted.

Just for comparison, the Australian government estimates that Australia’s net emissions in 2017 were 556.4 million tonnes CO2-equivalent.

Ian Chubb thinks the solution is our re-engagement with democracy when ‘we have let’ becomes ‘no we don’t let’, we demand better.

The sixteen-year-olds are on the case, thank goodness — go Greta.

Unfortunately, we don’t have the 30 odd years it will take before they get strong enough to kick our sorry arses out. So, it is up to us to help them.

Here is what Ian Chubb suggests we do

When we wake up, we will demand leadership: one that is bold, courageous and open, with an unswerving commitment to our right to know. We will need leaders with the ability to build an appropriate vision for our country, along with the competence and capacity to persuade us why we need to do what they propose we do – all the while exposing their evidence base to us so we can see why one option was chosen over another.

Professor Ian Chubb, neuroscientist and former chief scientist of Australia

In short, we must demand logic and accountability.

Actions that make common sense.

No more bubbles and bullshit and pork barrels, just honesty and common sense.

‘We have let’, believe it.

Never leave a number alone

Never leave a number alone

Is 90,000 a big number?

It could be.

If 90,000 were the number of…

  • children who died from preventable diseases in the last month it would be both big and tragic and unacceptable
  • passengers aloft in commercial airliners at any given time, then a whole heap of airlines would go bust overnight given there are roughly a million people in the air at any one time
  • potholes per km of road you would be in Zambia

The problem is that on its own 90,000 has no context or comparison. It is meaningless.

I could tell you that 90,000 ha of native vegetation cleared for agriculture is a policy review trigger. Farmers apply to legally manage or clear native vegetation on their properties and when the cumulative area of approvals reaches 90,000 ha it is agreed in advance to take a close look at the policy. Noting that during the policy development any agreement on the trigger number was hard-fought, for there are advocates for zero hectares and those who believe that no number is big enough.

At least this 90,000 has context. It represents an area of land and has a purpose.

Even with context 90,000 will have advocates who claim the economic progress from agricultural development and detractors who lament the loss of native plants from the landscape. On its own, 90,000 ha just garners opinions, even as a trigger number.

What 90,000 really needs is some company.

To know its place and find meaning in its existence the 90,000 needs to have some other numbers. For example, the area of native vegetation under conservation, restoration or active management (12,863,450 ha), the area of winter crop for 2018 (3,100,000 ha) or a string of numbers such as the area converted to arable agriculture each year for the last 50 years (curiously this value is difficult to pin down). Only when 90,000 ha has other numbers can it find itself, make sense and contribute to society.

This is true of almost all reported numbers.

Suppose a Minister announces with great fanfare a further $4 million in funding for schools. Not bad you might think. It would take the average Joe a couple of working lifetimes or a lottery win to get that kind of cash.

In Australia, $4 million is enough for the salaries and overheads of roughly 40 teachers for one year. These teachers would be expected to look after 560 students, quite a few it would seem. Only there are 1.52 million high school students in Australia making 560 a tiny proportion of those seeking erudition and selfies.

So the 40 extra teachers recruited from the Minister’s largess would teach 0.036% of the high school population for one year.

After that, the Minister would need to make another announcement.

Now back to the 90,000 ha.

It is certainly a precautionary number in its context of area treated under a native vegetation policy. As a proportion of the area of NSW (80.9 million ha) it is minuscule, even as a proportion of area under arable production it is small.

Then there is an unprecedented fire season and over 5 million hectares is burnt by bushfires that rage for months, the largest covering more than 800,000 hectares of continuous forest.

This time 90,000 ha has a very different context. Fire is not the same as clearing for most trees will recover from fire and seedlings will establish in the ash beds when it rains but the point is that the area needs context.

It is worth discussion if the trigger is just 10% of the area of a single fire.

Comparison is always critical when dealing with numbers. On its own, a number makes no sense, its naked, self-conscious and insecure. It needs some context for clothing and some friends to compare against.

Next time there is an argument over a single number — like there will be over the 5 million+ hectares of bushland burnt in the NSW summer of 2019 — remember you can’t leave it on its own.


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When to change business-as-usual

When to change business-as-usual

In the First World War, the first tanks appear on the battlefield. They were fearsome things in their day, able to repel machine guns and straddle trenches to fire down on the occupants. No matter they were slow and easily picked off by artillery.

Their biggest weakness was their means of communication: carrier pigeons. Business-as-usual was to write a short message and attach it to the leg of a bird that may or may not make its way back to base, a none too helpful one-way message.

In the Second World War, tanks had moved on. Radios replaced the pigeons but they had no off switch and so the entire brigade heard the screams of the crews consumed by fire when their coffin on tracks was hit. It must have been horrendous.

Modern tanks all have GPS, are tracked to the millimetre and second, carry multiple comms backups and yet are still vulnerable to anti-tank grenades delivered old-school.

Soon enough drone tanks will become business-as-usual. Unmanned killing machines without feelings or fear.

Everything evolves.

What worked yesterday may not today.

There are two reasons for this.

The first is that there is a good chance that something better, more fit for purpose, has appeared through the human addiction to innovation and being smart. A new way of doing whatever it is gets invented out of curiosity or profit that is way better than business-as-usual.

The second reason is that there is no such thing as usual. If you have been around long enough you know what I mean. Nature, people, commerce, tanks, whatever it is, today’s circumstances are not the same as yesterday’s and tomorrow is yesterday today.

When change is everywhere and inevitable, business-as-usual is the least effective idiom we have.

It should be business-as-change.

Instead, we latch onto BAU believing in it. It is the system that works right now so why change it. This is the common paradigm of ‘if it ain’t broke’ and is actually fine if it ain’t. The problem is that we don’t always know if the system is broken or not, especially when usual activities are slowly changing the conditions, as happens in agriculture.

In a few instances, business-as-usual may be the only option because it is not possible to change.

Those early tanks had pigeons because there was nothing else. In a famous example, the tanks won a battle and punched a hole in the enemy lines but the infantry commanders didn’t know and by the time they found out the enemy had regrouped. At the time there was no better way to communicate.

Modernity has a few of these scenarios still where we actually are stuck because there is, as yet, nothing better.

Alloporus contends that this is actually quite rare. More often business-as-usual is our mantra because it is the easiest path or the path that is familiar. And so we stick with it instead of asking for change towards something better.

Herein is the challenge.

A lot of what we do today under the guise of commerce for profit justified by its familiarity is actually killing the goose. We are mining our soils, clearing vegetation that provides services, changing the climate and simplifying nature every chance we get to the extent that business-as-usual in our agricultural systems will send us broke and starve half the world.

Fortunately, there are better ways already available. Most of the environmental challenges we face can either be fixed, mitigated or adapted to but not, repeat not, under BAU.

When to change business-as-usual is right now.


Post script

Oh my, it’s going extinct… again.

Since this post was first drafted more than 5 million hectares of forest in NSW have been burned in large and voracious bushfires.

The extent and severity of this disturbance to mostly wild forest systems is new, at least to the historical record. It might have happened in the distant past but nothing like it recently.

The fires will have knocked back animal pests and weeds to levels not imagined under business-as-usual control.

It is a challenge with many native animals lost but also a massive opportunity to create a better place for the survivors.


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When craziness is too much

When craziness is too much

Sometimes the craziness is too much, it blows your synapses away. You are left in a bucket of incredulity.

Cop this quote from the former Australian PM Tony Abbott reported by SBS online from a summit in Hungary trying to explain the real threat to the existence of his kind…

“It seems to me that it is not so much our failure to reduce carbon dioxide emissions, but our failure to produce children that is the extinction reality against which we really need to work against”

Tony Abbott, Former Australian Prime Minister

Let’s just pause a moment.

This blatant click-baiting is trying to trick us that even though Australia failed to reduce emissions, that’s not the biggest problem. That accolade goes to our inability to produce enough white people.

Seriously, enough white people. You are kidding, right?

At first, I thought that I should write the obvious rebuttal that we are already reproducing 8,000 people per hour. An hourly net increase into the grand diaspora of the world, and it should matter little what tribes they come from. There are more than enough people to go around and satisfy every neoliberals wet dream.

Only when we last looked, the distribution of people and resources is uneven across the world. This means that some places will be crowded and run out of resources. And when the population growth rate is high, crowded places will become difficult to live in and people will want to leave to find a better opportunity. Emigration is inevitable and these people have to go somewhere.

Do you want to live in these crowded places? No, neither does Tony.

But then I thought again.

This kind of craziness is too common compared to the proportion of people who might actually believe the nonsense.

Here is a fascinating graphic from Statista chart of the day

What it says is that less than 1 in 20 people actually deny the existence of climate change in most developed countries. A party representing this minority would never win an election and yet the rhetoric from the deniers remains powerful in the social mix.

This is what Abbot and his cronies bank on.

They know their opinions are not shared by most but that is not what matters. Influence is the game and, no matter there are kids on strike and a 16 year old girl calling out the UN, these noisy minorities are good at it.

It turns out I can’t push the incredulity aside. It is gut-wrenching because these people are incorrigible.

What I have to learn is that numbers are not enough.