Stories

Stories

This definition pops up when you ask Google.

story

/ˈstɔːri
noun
1. an account of imaginary or real people and events told for entertainment.
“an adventure story” synonyms: tale, narrative, account, recital;

2. a report of an item of news in a newspaper, magazine, or broadcast.
“stories in the local papers” synonyms: news item, news report, article, feature, piece

Stories are accounts about the wonders of real or imaginary people told to entertain. We like them so much that every day we listen to them constantly as we gossip amongst ourselves or settle in for a night of Netflix.

We also call items of news stories and that is rather odd.

Evidence, on the other hand, is less popular. It is dry, factual and objective, unlikely to fire the imagination or to entertain, unless, of course, it is dramatised into a story.

Enter the public relations team for a government department. Any department really, but let’s say it’s the Department of the Environment.

The PR team face a conundrum. They have some scientific evidence to communicate only it is dry information that would struggle to cut through butter. Stories though are entertainment and, in the times of personal screens and feeds, are indispensable.

“Do you have a story?”, the PR lead says without any idea of what he is asking.

Well, as it turns out I do. I even wrote a book of them called Stories for a Change. There was also my first book, Awkward News for Greenies, that radically and without success had both stories and evidence in the same volume. It just confused the hell out of the handful of people who read it. They couldn’t tell when the fiction became fact.

Even though Netflix shows about sitting presidents get closer and closer to reality, we know them to be dramas made for television. This means that they are not true. Part of our brain can hold onto this even as we fall headlong into the illusion.

Similarly, modern period pieces are so well made that it feels like what actually happened is right there on the screen. The deception would be complete if they figured out how to relay the stench of Mr Darcy. He was most likely on the nose, given the frequency of bathing in the early 1800s. Into these dramas, we can fall without any controls because no matter how realistic they look they are obviously not real.

No doubt our affection for reality TV is that we can kid ourselves into turning off this safety completely. We can see that the people are real even as their stories are clumsily manipulated by eager producers.

In all of these entertainments, there is part of our brain that knows the truth. The story is not a reality. The thing is that we all must know how to separate the truth from fiction otherwise we go mad.

Our lady from the Ministry asks ‘what’s the story’ on a reflex. She knows that unless the evidence is made into entertainment it will not cut through to the desired audience. She also knows that evidence is more likely to be painful than dramatic, stranger than fiction but impenetrable and dull.

Who would know what to say about the average area of illegal land clearing being consistently greater than the modal area? It means that a few large clearing events skew the average upwards and tells you that the majority of instances are smaller than the average. It also tells you that if the total area of clearing is the worry, develop a policy to reduce the instance of large events, through heavy penalties for example.

So why do the people who should use evidence baulk at it in favour of the story, the fabrication that entertains? It is not just a matter of cutting through for people do want to know the truth and are engaged with it whenever it becomes accessible. A more likely reason is that stories are easier.

Telling the truth requires more than courage, it’s about making it easy for people to grasp when the truth can so often be painful.

Stories do this so much easier than facts.

Get real people

Get real people

I am currently reading The Rise and Fall of the Third Reich: A History of Nazi Germany by William L. Shirer, a tome that chronicles the rise and fall of Nazi Germany from the birth of Adolf Hitler in 1889 to the end of World War II in 1945, some 1,200+ pages of sobering reality.

A chronicler that lived through the historical events he recounts has a unique perspective that is close but not necessarily intimate with them. He can be criticised on fact, sequence and detail. There will also be problems when opinion and, in this chronicle, horror at the events inevitably creep in. However, it is a history and one that we should all read for its own sake and because it is highly relevant to our present times.

Halfway through the book, the point at which Hitler has ordered the invasion of Poland, the fateful decision that forced the British and the French to declare war on Germany, there is a matter of fact note of the panzer divisions and the Luftwaffe securing a swift victory over the Polish defences.

There is much to be remembered about that fateful period in September 1939 but there is a footnote in Shirer’s account that resonated deeply when I read it.

He notes that the official records of German casualties were 10,572 killed, 30,322 wounded and 3,400 missing.

Pause for a moment to take in those numbers.

Then recall that this is the army that won in a highly successful and soon to be repeated blitzkrieg. Yet still, tens of thousands of German mothers, fathers, sisters and brothers were devastated with grief, over 50,000 families irrevocably scarred, and this was just the first skirmish.

Unimaginable horrors were inflicted on the Polish people in those first few days of the war and many ever more evil acts followed. It is unimaginable what life became when there were bombs whistling down from the sky and tanks rumbling past your front door.

Do not kid yourself that such fear will never be felt again.

Do not think that we are safe from tyranny and evil.

We are not safe.

We must be vigilant for those German families did not see it coming and neither do we.

Steadily the safeguards that humanity put in place are being eroded. We have politicians that are both gutless and a law unto themselves.

We have media that operate as powerful influencers with lies and deceit.

We face resource shortfalls that will test food and water security for billions of people and we have little idea of how to resolve them.

So we need to wake up.

Recall of vegan foods because they might contain dairy is, seriously, the least of our worries.

Fighting for me

Fighting for me

If I get into a fight in a pub at best I’ll be thrown out, maybe banned or if the police arrive, arrested and given a legal clip around the ear.

If I fight a family member and someone finds out the law should prosecute me for that too, although not enough of such actions are punished.

Suppose I am a wimp and decide I need someone else to fight for me. I can hire a more robust type and for a fee they would achieve the biffings I need done.

It could be a bigger fight that requires the services where the taxpayer pays the fee for so-called legitimate fights knowns as wars, and that is fine. War is the worst kind of fight hurting everyone involved for a long time. People die and those that survive are scarred forever.

None of these typical uses of the term fight are pretty. Indeed most fights are not either worth it or the best way to resolve matters.

So why does my local politician have a campaign slogan ‘fighting for you’?

Well obviously she wants to be on my side. Perhaps be the hired biff to do my dirty work for me so I can be at arm’s length from the law.

Maybe she sees me as a wimp.

Obviously she wants me to think that there is something worth fighting for, that the services and legal systems that parliaments legislate are actually a fight for one against another. If you fail to fight you fail to get your share.

I don’t want that at all.

Biffing the other guy because he wants a different policy to me is not what I want.

I’d like robust and intelligent discussion that uses of all available evidence and then a set of solutions chosen to maximise the collective best interest for today, tomorrow and generations to come. I’d like this to be a constructive process, one that builds relationships and supports as much diversity of views and ideals as is possible with the common ground of health, wealth and happiness supported for everyone.

Surprising as this may sound, I don’t think that wanting this outcome makes me a wimp.

Pragmatic resolutions require considerable courage and fortitude, not to mention patience and tenacity.

Fighting is the last resort not the first and certainly not a slogan I can vote for.

Average CEO salary

Average CEO salary

Here is a startling average CEO salary info graphic from the Australian Council of Superannuation Investors reported in a recent ABC post on CEO pay deals reaching their highest level in 17 years

That’s 11 blokes, and they are all blokes, paid $187 million between them.

An average CEO salary on the list might make the recipient declare $327,000 per week to the tax man.

As is usual on this blog, we’ll try and put these incomprehensible sums of money into context.

A delivery driver for Dominos starts at $15 per hour and might earn as little as $200 per week. That $187 million is roughly 6,309 person years worth of time for money at delivery driver rates working a 38 hour week.

Is the CEO worth the time of 631 people at the bottom end of the staffing pyramid?

A CEO would argue his case with vigor. Decisions, risk, and responsibility are all his and he’ll claim that this comes with an unfair level of stress. Indeed the jobs of all the workers depend on his calls that keep the company stable and trading profitably.

The delivery boy just has to get the pizza to the customer before it goes cold.

Disparity between those making decisions and those following them is nothing new. Throughout history leaders of all hues were in privileged positions that came through the support of their followers. People like being led and they are usually quite grateful for it.

If the leader takes people where they want to go, in the case of Domino’s Pizza Enterprises this was to a 7% profit increase despite lower than expected sales and a 9% loss in the share price, then they are happy and perhaps overlook what that direction might cost. More importantly they might not consider if the cost was worth it or even fair.

Then, of course, it’s a question of who is being led toward happiness. Not that many presumably given that the whole thing is legally designed to generate profit for shareholders who chomp on the profit dividends.

I suspect that average CEO salary will start to smell pretty soon. The majority of people are not led by ASX200 CEOs and they don’t understand why such remuneration levels exist. Indeed, I would be asking questions if I were a shareholder in any of these enterprises. Ironically I probably am without knowing it through the aforementioned superannuation investors.

At some point though, the majority will start to say enough is enough. There was an inkling of this with the Occupy Wall Street movement against wealth inequality, corruption and the influence of corporations on government. Not least the propping up of companies with public funds only for these companies to give bonuses to their executives.

And then that effort faded.

It will surely come again.

And anyway, what’s so special about pizza? What makes Mr Meij worth 33% more than the next highest earning CEO?

Maybe it’s the healthier, tastier menu.

Reputation?

Reputation?

The Australian Broadcasting Corporation, the ABC, holds a reputation. It is a highly respected media source down under, modeled not so loosely on the British Broadcasting Corporation. On taxpayer funds it provides Australians with news, entertainment and community service online, on radio and on TV.

It’s fair dinkum.

No surprise then that the ABC news app uploaded a post providing simple steps people can take to help koalas survive in their area. Just a small but useful morsel of public service information.

Here are the eight headline steps…

  1. Tell people koalas are going extinct
  2. Share social media posts
  3. Protect habitat
  4. Plant koala food trees
  5. Watch out for koalas in trouble
  6. Drive carefully and be vigilant
  7. Contain dogs
  8. Save 24-hour rescue hotline into your mobile

I am not sure what you think about this list.

Have a read of it again.

You may find it helpful and informative just as the ABC online editor no doubt hoped. Perhaps you are a fan of the furry and cute koala, so iconically Australian that stuffed toy versions outsell kangaroos in airport departure lounge shops.

But have you seen one in the wild?

Probably not. So the logic leap is that they are rare and, as the list tells us, going extinct. No doubt they need protection.

But there is a problem.

There is no evidence that koalas are going extinct. We don’t even know exactly how many there are in the wild so it’s impossible to know if the numbers are changing towards an extinction risk.

We do know that this species is widespread, cosmopolitan and does very well in favourable habitat containing younger woody plants. It can do so well that some local populations grow rapidly and become overabundant. We also know that the habitat koalas like exist in both agricultural and natural landscapes from Townsville to Mount Gambier, a latitudinal range of nearly 3,000 km.

We also know that when we have a good way to find them, sniffer dogs ironically, they pop up everywhere, often in places where they were either not known or have not been seen for a long time.

Folks, this critter is no more likely to go extinct than the Pope. There are plenty of places for it to hang on indefinitely.

So number one on the list is a lie.

Items 2, 3 and 4 on the list are, therefore, actions based on a lie. Now we are asked to do things that will cost us time and money because some people believe it’s right even though they present no evidence to justify such a request.

This should sound familiar, we see it in politics every day. Only in that forum we allow ourselves some leeway because we know the buggers are rarely honest, it’s why we invented democracy.

Now for a spoiler alert…

species go extinct

They always have.

An average mammal species is present in the fossil record for about 1 million years. There have been extinctions and mass extinctions throughout evolutionary history, some of them catastrophic, and almost all of them occurred before Homo sapiens even existed. And after each single or mass event, evolution continued to generate even more diversity. It’s what nature does.

So, get over it people. Species are an abstract concept, invented by us to help describe nature and how it works but mainly to satisfy our peculiar need to name and classify objects.

And then, for deep psychological reasons only Freud could begin to fathom, we assign a value to the object. Not the species you understand, the objects that make up the species.

This gives us items 5, 6, and 7 on the ABC’s list.

The objects in this case being specific individual koalas, that you or your canine companion (of a single species but with enough human selected natural variation in form and behaviour for a taxonomists to describe a Family or even an Order) might come across on your travels. Noting, of course, that most people will only see a koala in a zoo because they don’t take long walks in the bush staring up at the canopy.

What these ‘object-centered’ actions do ask is for us to be good citizens. People who are careful, aware of what’s going on around us and should we see distress, offer help. Nothing at all wrong with any of these. It’s just they should be a given. I would want to do this anyway for all objects, including other people, and I would want my kids to be vigilant too. It’s the biblical golden rule from Matthew 7:12 “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you“.

Item 8 on the list is, well, it’s blatant marketing.

A hotline? Come on ABC you are supposed to be the last bastion of the precommercial world where information is the currency, not profit or popularity.

The ‘simple steps’ in this list are just an opinion.

So sorry ABC, not fair dinkum, not fair dinkum at all.

Little gem – more hopeful

Little gem – more hopeful

TED talks have been around for a long time now, since 1984 as it turns out. There are over 2,000 of them, most in that punchy, smart format that makes even challenging ideas accessible.

Here is a collection of eight of them that Kara Cutruzzula selected on how to be more hopeful

They have these messages…

  1. Shift your expectations
  2. Recognize that you can change your life at any point
  3. Look for meaning in the most challenging moments
  4. Listen to another person’s story
  5. Return to your home base
  6. Add some wow to your world
  7. Remember the essential goodness of humanity
  8. Think about your death (yes, really).

A good list, a little gem, and well worth a look.

Cost shifting

Cost shifting

I guarantee that at some point in your day you shift a cost.

Something done will benefit you at the expense of someone else and, in far too many instances, ultimately impact on the environment.

But don’t feel too bad for you are not alone. We all do it.

Every day I put waste items in the garbage. When the kitchen bin is full, I empty it into the dustbin that each week is collected. My garbage is transported to a landfill where it is covered with layer after layer of trash from my neighbourhood and periodically capped with soil. In time my garbage decomposes and releases methane to the atmosphere and a smell to the surrounds.

I trust that the landfill facility is well managed so that any smell is contained and that nothing too toxic leaks into the groundwater.

I know that my garbage is going to be in the ground for a very long time carrying risk of contamination so I also hope that the landfill site is well chosen and remains contained.

Of course I pay for the collection, transport and management of my garbage that in modern times might include the capture and flaring of the methane. But these costs are really to cover the collection actions and not the long-term contamination risk.

That risk is external to my transaction. I do not expect to pay if the structural engineer got it wrong.

What if I wanted to do something about this external cost? It is impossible to live in a modern city and not generate at least some garbage.

I might compost any green waste at home. This would be good, as would diligence in filling up the recycling bin. I could separate all the plastic bags and send them to a recycler. And, of course, take reusable bags to the grocery store. And even if I were diligent in these things there would still be some packaging around the cheese or the preschitto that would need a bin.

When I’m out and about there is coffee, the muffin, the business lunch, the snacks my wife so lovingly packs into my man bag and goodness knows how much garbage from Tuesdays take away sushi.

The reality is that there is a packaging externality created in our modern world. Just now we are beginning to realise that the oceans are copping most of this cost as huge plastic gyres and then surreptitiously returning some of it to our bodies in the seafood we consume.

The truth is that every resource we consume creates an externality somewhere. Greenhouse gases, ozone depletion, water pollution, smoke, dust… You get the idea.

Human ingenuity changes the way ecosystems function and we are not always sure by how much or with what consequence. When the consequence is the depletion of function that humans find useful then it is a cost. And if we’ve ignored the cost by assuming its either of no consequence or absorbed by the system without undue pain then we have shifted it.

Shifting costs is pervasive and hard to stop. Everyone does it all the time, individually and collectively.

There is little point in beating yourself or a drum on this though. It is impossible to live as a modern human and not shift costs. It is an inevitability built into our lifestyles and the commerce that creates them.

However, it is possible to become much more aware of this reality and at least give some thought to the external costs of the things we do.

In time, thinking might even change us a little bit. Perhaps enough to stop the gyres accumulating out of control to rise out of the water and take over the world.