Death and taxes

Death and taxes

Death and taxes are certainties. After more than 30 years of professional life, I have learned that there are a few more items on the definites list.

I know now that, in fact, the world is full of certainties beyond death and taxes. Our lives are fundamentally predictable. Business is business, people are people, trains are often crowded, and coffee is a requirement. Accident and novelty notwithstanding, I can be pretty sure what tomorrow will bring.

This is not to say that I readily accept this reality. I am much more inclined to fear the future as something entirely unpredictable and out of control. It seems that my biology requires risk, perhaps to keep me on my toes and on the lookout for lions and the snake in the grass.

My good fortune is that my chosen profession is founded on evidence, the raw material to understand, mitigate and avoid risk. I am trained to find as much certainty as is humanly possible and then to apply that certainty to first reduce risk and ultimately help alleviate fear.

A noble profession you would think.

At some level, I like to think so. Gathering evidence to inform decision making seems like a calming exercise that should benefit the many. Thinking, researching and evaluating my way through environmental problems should be a good thing to do in a world where resources are finite and demand voracious.

Science, the gathering and evaluation of evidence, surely is our best source of certainty. It bounds events through understanding and generates evidence that makes life predictable.

Imagine my shock when in an article from the Alliance for Useful Evidence I came across this quote from a senior UK policymaker…

One insider’s view of policymakers’ hierarchy of evidence
1. Expert evidence (including consultants and think tanks).
2. Opinion–based evidence (including lobbyists/pressure groups).
3. Ideological evidence (party think tanks, manifestos).
4. Media evidence.
5. Internet evidence.
6. Lay evidence (constituents’ or citizens’ experiences).
7. Street evidence (urban myths, conventional wisdom).
8. Cabbies’ evidence.
9. Research evidence.
Source: Phil Davies, former Deputy Chief Social Researcher, 2007.

Classic British cynicism this list may be. A caricature of reality it may be. Satire it must be. And it is probably all of the above. Only it is also alarmingly close to the truth.

For a decade or more I have worked with policymakers a lot and I would say that the list and the ranking of sources are accurate. It may not be what policymakers say they want. Many are keen to involve themselves in evidence-based policy but very few of them know where to get the evidence or how to evaluate it. They are easily swayed by ‘evidence’ sourced from within their everydayness, and that often includes the Uber driver.

They are not familiar with the peer-reviewed literature. They are not avid readers of systematic reviews and none of them knows how to estimate a likelihood.

The reality is that most of them do not have the tools to separate opinion from evidence.

It is a huge problem for me and, I suspect, for you too.

The policies that become the laws that determine what we can and cannot do, what society allows and tolerates and the big decisions on how we use or abuse the natural resources that we rely on for our wellbeing should be firmly grounded in evidence, not opinion.

The problem with Mr Davies’ list is that eight of the nine sources are contaminated by opinion. The ‘evidence’ may or may not be based on fact and could cease to be evidence altogether when all it is based on is the worldview of Joe citizen.

Opinion, a view or judgement formed about something, not necessarily based on fact or knowledge

Arguably far too many of our laws are judgement calls that have little or no evidence to back them up. A law to protect the koala because it is going extinct when there is no evidence for this peril.

Here is another certainty to add to taxes, crowded trains and coffee. Policymakers will not use real evidence.

Why?

Because they are not trained in how to tell the difference between what they are exposed to and the truth. In their minds, the two are muddled and confused to the point of being indistinguishable.

Macron

Macron

The French president was in Sydney recently, fresh from his triumph in Washington DC. He was in town for talks and, by all accounts, his signature. Any number of bilateral agreements were made legal.

Just to remind you, this is the French president, the figurehead of the country that the English fought wars with for centuries. Only in modern times have they become best buddies, at least officially.

Only “this is Australia, not England”, you say.

True. But an Australia still run by the remnants of the British, the white heritage dudes who, whilst nodding to the multicultural attributes of the people, keep reminding everyone of the empire and those who died to defend it. The very same empire that colonised and suppressed so many peoples for so long.

And what was the President to say, in French of course, to his Australian host Prime Minister Turnbull. My translation from his speech outside Kirribilli House on a gloriously sunny autumn day with the harbour shimmering in the background was something like…

“We love you bro, and your missus.

We are well chuffed to sign just about anything you like if it makes you feel good.

After all we are miles away up there in the real world and you are far away down here and for some reason you were gullible enough to buy a bunch of our submarines at great expense.

Thanks mate, good on ya.”

Now I am sure that underneath my cynicism there are more conventional messages.

For example, it is always good to be friendly towards foreign powers whether they speak French or not. Bullying or annoying them is obviously detrimental to any current or future bonhomie.

Chatting pleasantly to the French president helps realise the opportunity for really good deals with a European Union just as they are about to look closely at trade agreements once the British exit. Pleasantries might even secure the odd bilateral with France.

The French are good at high tech industry and Australia has thought it might like to try that too, so cozying up to a player in that game has any number of benefits. Defense materiel, si vous plait.

The more mates you have, the easier it is to keep the bad guys at bay and off your internet allowing you to be the main social media influence. Although one has to think that cyber crime and indeed, cyber warfare, are the arenas of the future.

All up, keep the boys club alive and all will be well.

It will not. We need better than this. We need discussion and agreements about refugees, food security, universal income, changing the workforce, technology to keep people alive rather than kill them, and a host of solutions to keeping multitudes of affluent people happy and off the streets.

A couple of would be chums buying and selling arms is not the answer.

Difficult thought

Difficult thought

When I first read this article on the White House bible study group that is apparently attended on a regular basis by many members of the US cabinet and presided over by an unelected pastor, I thought…

OMG.

Ironic I know.

Incredulity welled up, slowly at first and then escalated toward anger.

Here we had decision makers responsible for the immediate well being of 325 million Americans, not to mention a whole heap of global economic and diplomatic flow on, who bashed the bible in that truly fundamentalist way. On company time, they were learning the gospels as interpreted by an individual whose political and moral agendas are unknown.

This cannot be right.

It cannot be objective or balanced.

And it cannot be in the best interests of a nation made up of people with a myriad of beliefs and values when leaders focus on the interests of just one particular and often narrow view of the world.

Then I checked myself.

Religion is a reality.

Belief in one god or another is an ever present in many people’s lives and has influenced leaders, governments and policy ever since leadership was invented. People in power invariably have religious beliefs and simply because they are in power, inevitably foist those beliefs on their subjects.

So be it, my calming self thought.

It is what it is.

Whoever is in power, be they elected or simply the pastor brought into the inner fold, will have beliefs. It is impossible to find a true neutral. Even the atheist believes in her disbelief. In all cases of leadership the people who lead will bring beliefs and a value set to the process of leading. Values will influence their decisions and how they make them.

Now if those values may seem to me odd, extreme even, my option is not to vote for them. Perhaps even persuade others to do likewise.

If I don’t have a vote or the system is not exactly democratic my options are less comfortable but I could still make my disagreement known, even if only to myself.

My problem with the White House bible group is who runs it and how they got there.

The process of influence through the tradesman’s entrance is a dangerous precedent. It allows beliefs and ideas that really haven’t been through the public mill to ingratiate the source while many other equally valid beliefs and ideas try to muscle their way through the Fourth Estate.

Again this is nothing new. This process of influence is as old as politics itself but we should be more concerned when it is a brazen as this for it suggests that very few people even see it as free influence.

Add to this the ’fake news’ corruption of the media and getting through the back door becomes even more of a bonus.

So here is the thought.

When you next hear a politician speaking about policy, a rarity I know, think about where the policy came from, who influenced its formulation and what values are affected by it.

This can be quite a salutary exercise for the benefits of preaching to the inner circle stretch way beyond theology.

Leadership failure

Leadership failure

Cheating at sport is, well, unacceptable. Yet it happens every day with no sport immune. There will always be one individual in the tournament or player in the team or coach on the sideline who will succumb to the pressure to win, the stress to perform, or simply base instincts.

This is why each sport has rules that sets the frame for what is acceptable, what’s on or close to the nose, and what is simply cheating. Equally, most sports have a fair bit of trouble either defining or enforcing the rules even with umpires and referees present to observe and, where required, intervene.

So if the soccer forward dives in the box at the slightest hint of a nudge from a defender then the referee has to decide. Is this a penalty or not? Some forwards dive. Some don’t. Sometimes it is actually a foul. Altogether a gray area of the rules.

Messing with a cricket ball is similar.

It is against the rules at all levels of the sport but it happens every now and then. Most of the time unnoticed and most of the time to no material effect on the outcome of the game. But it is against the rules. Players who do it are cheating.

So what is different in Australia right now?

A player in the national cricket team roughs up the ball with sandpaper. National outrage. Incredulity and anger. A failure of leadership because the captain of the the Australian cricket team sanctioned premeditated messing with the ball.

In short, cheating surely.

But, on the face of it, nothing.

All it took was a player, the vice-captain, with a history of volatility who was under a lot of pressure from the opposition and the crowd, his captain also under strain, and a compliant junior team member making a really bad choice when the team was losing.

Nothing more than a dive in the box.

Well the face is not the story at all. The response of a nation is always more. It reflects real needs. In this case leadership in the way that the society wants and needs.

The public frenzy over a misdemeanor that the international sporting body punished with a one match ban and a match fee fine, is the release of feelings that are simmering under the surface, a deep anxiety that has been there for a very long time. And it has something to do with a lack of direction. An uncertainty in the collective moral compass of not knowing what to stand for or against. And until a cricketer did something really stupid we did not realise how bad this feeling was or where it comes from.

Here is one possible source.

People mostly have no idea what the rules are in politics and business so they can’t really tell if societal leaders fail or not. Most of us have an inkling that they do but we cannot be sure. When they transgress with their secretaries it is one of the few times we see the line we want them to keep behind. The rest of the time we just have a hunch. So when they fail asylum seekers or spend way too much on submarines or let the energy grid fall over whilst carbon emission go up we don’t really know if they are cheating. They are not strictly breaking the rules, just dancing on the line through omission.

On the sporting field, however, we do know.

We can see the cheat. And when that is a premeditated act not only sanctioned but organised by the leadership, we are appalled. It triggers our real need for leaders to be better than us. They are not supposed to cheat, not even to dive in the box. But we know that they do. Seeing it starkly in our leisure time is shocking. It tweaks our subconscious to the truth that this is also happening in other leaders, the ones that really matter to our lives. It freaks us out.

The difficulty is that the leaders that matter stand up and lament the errors of the sportsmen, neatly deflecting from their own vast inadequacies. Until we call them out on their equivalent of ball tampering that they indulge in almost every day, and we do it with the same fervor we have for a national sport, then we will have to live with leadership failure everywhere.

Grubby

Grubby

I am not a Unionist, never have been. Perhaps, back in the day when labour was ruthlessly exploited by capital, I would have joined, but today it feels unnecessary. This, of course, is a delusion on my part.

My political nirvana, where left and right are conspicuously absent, would deliver progressive economics and social benefit through positive leadership without the need for exploitation. This centrism is also delusional.

So even as union membership declines along with their influence, I will concede that they are still needed. The balance between worker and employer will always be precarious.

Nevertheless, I have little time for the modern union movement, mostly because, to me, they epitomise a blinkered, dogmatic worldview that raises their issues ways above any other. My prejudice may not be a good thing, but it is what it is. Recently though, I found myself siding firmly with the unions as they rebutted claims of grubby slander on how they use their money.

Federal police raided the offices of the Australian Workers Union, the uniformed arrival to dig for dirt preceded by a media scrum who had obviously been tipped off. The union claims it has cooperated fully with the authorities on all outstanding matters. It is no coincidence that the leader of the opposition was once the leader of the AWU. On a hunch or a sniff of a lead, unleash the hounds on your suspect who just happens to have past connections to your main rival.

This is truly grubby politics designed to slander your opponent. The Americans call it a fake news, but fake or not, some of the mud will stick. The seed of doubt is watered in its cosy garden pot of compost. Keep the compost moist and the voters will do the rest.

But governments should not be able to manipulate police to achieve this end. When they do, it’s called fascism. And that has a very unpleasant history.

The AWU has my sympathy.

I will always be wary of unionist philosophy and especially of their tactics but when the government behaves in this way it makes unions look like saints. That should tell you enough.

The logic behind this kind of behaviour assumes we can be led by the nose.

It is imperative that everyone is vigilant enough to prove this assumption is always false.

Malcolm

Malcolm

Malcolm, Malcolm, Malcom, what in the name of all sane people is going on with you?

Is it because you were rolled the first time around for holding fast to a policy that actually would have worked and indeed did work for a time when your successor was only shouting loudly?

Is it because the feelings back then really scared you to the core undermining confidence and purpose so much that it was only when you decided to return to fight again that life meant anything?

Is it because there is so much fear of loss now that you’ll do anything you think it takes for it not to happen again?

Is it that you love the limelight so much that your life will be over if that light shines on someone else?

Is it Lucy?

Is it… Well, is it you Malcolm, and you are not the conservative progressive dude with a bit of social nous we thought had come to the fore with an opportunity to shuffle off into history the stupid white men?

Is it the system Malcolm, the endless cycle of media grab and inanity that passes for public consumption of news that has sucked you in along with all the other morons?

Is it wrong Malcolm?

We all think that it is.