In a previous post I talked about how rich 38 of Australia’s billionaires really are. Today, I read a brilliant post by Robert Reich about US myths [thanks Jill!]. What really grabbed my attention was this video which debunks the myth of the self-made billionaire:
Isn’t it time we stopped idolizing these poor little rich boys?
Isn’t it time we stopped rewarding them for being more ruthless than just about everybody else on the planet?
Isn’t it time we stopped wanting to be like them… and castigating ourselves when our scruples make us ‘fail’?
I know who I admire, and it ain’t any of these guys.
Inflation is rising all over the world, and Australia is not immune, so the RBA [Reserve Bank of Australia] is aggressively raising interest rates. The explanation given is that there is something like a 300 billion dollar slush fund, squirrelled away by Australians, that’s driving spending, and therefore inflation. To reduce inflation, this slush fund must be reduced.
The RBA’s weapon of choice is interest rates. By raising interest rates, it forces the commercial banks to raise their own interest rates, especially on mortgages.
Makes sense, right?
Well no, actually it doesn’t, because the people who have access to that slush fund are at the wealthy end of the spectrum, and for them, higher interest rates won’t mean a damn thing. Their ‘consumerism’ won’t be affected because they’re simply too rich.
But how rich is too rich?
Everyone knows that Gina Rinehart is the wealthiest woman in Australia, but most of us don’t know how wealthy. I was interested enough to find out.
I recommend reading the entire article because it’s quite eye opening.
But getting back to wealth, someone’s worth is not the same as money in the bank. Worth is what they would have if they sold all their holdings and assets and converted them into cash. Clearly, Gina Rinehard does not have 14-plus billion dollars languishing in a bank somewhere. That would be ridiculous, but the grand total of 114.68 billion dollars in just 38 hands is even more ridiculous. And that’s just the people who are worth at least 1 billion dollars. There are 12 more people on the Forbes list whose worth is close to 1 billion. I didn’t bother counting them.
Nor did I count the baby millionaires, the ones who only have a few tens of millions…
At the other end of the scale, are the millions of ordinary Australians who barely make ends meet. At the bottom of that list are JobSeeker recipients who are expected to subsist on $40 a day. A little further up the food chain are those on fixed incomes [pensions] who do NOT own their own homes. Someone I went to school with falls into that category. She’s in her sixties and lives in a boarding house.
Then there are people like me. Thanks to my parents, I have a house, but I have no superannuation, and the only income I have is the age pension. That just went up by, wait for it, $10 per week to account for the cost of living rises. As of yesterday, I now get $2014 per month.
I know we are amongst the lucky ones because we do have a roof over our heads, but keeping that roof is getting harder by the week. I won’t bore you with a list of all the things we can no longer afford, I’ll just say that every appliance in the house has gone past its use-by-date and is breaking down. That includes the plumbing…
I accept that inflation has to be curbed. That’s a given. But we are part of the huge underclass of Australians most vulnerable to increases in the cost of living because our safety margins are so low to begin with. Essentially, we are the ones being punished for the inflationary spending of those higher up the food chain.
Is it fair?
-makes rude noise-
It’s time governments and institutions like the RBA stopped plucking the low hanging fruit just because it’s ‘easy’. The further ALL Australians get from financial and political equality, the more shaky democracy becomes.
Marie Antoinette did not say ‘Let them eat cake’, but she lost her head anyway. Literally.
Australia is a long, long way from that kind of mass hysteria, but democracy is a lot more fragile than we think. To be quite blunt about it, the current version of capitalism is strangling democracy because money equals power, and the middle classes no longer have either.
Sadly, we are living in interesting times, and they’re becoming more interesting by the day.
I’m getting my second booster [4th jab] tomorrow, so I thought I’d better do a RAT [Rapid Antigen Test] before hand…just in case. As you can tell by the title, I’m still Covid-free.
Given how long the Offspring and I have been self-isolating, you’d think we’d have nothing to worry about, but the reality is that we haven’t been living in a complete bubble. We do have to go to the chemist [pharmacist] every so often, or the IGA [local independent supermarket], or into a service station to pay for petrol, or into a confined space for a booster. We’re always masked, but these days most other people are not. So when you get the sniffles, you worry.
In this case, I was 99.9% certain we only had hay fever – the wattle is blooming like crazy at the moment. Nevertheless, with so many people around us catching the damn virus, it’s hard not to worry. Anyway, it seems we’re still part of the roughly 17 million Australians who still haven’t had the virus.
In case anyone’s wondering, the booster I’m getting tomorrow will be Pfizer. Working on the theory that mixing and matching increases the effectiveness of the current vaccines/boosters, I’ve had the two initial AZ jabs, one Moderna jab and now one Pfizer jab. I guess that makes me a Heinz. 😀
Click the ‘Submit a $250 Power Saving Bonus application’ button.
From there you will be taken through a number of pages that either request information or ask you to accept terms and conditions.
One of the things you will be asked to provide is a PDF of your electricity bill. If, like me, you receive your bills via email, you will have to download the attached document that details specifics about your bill – i.e. how much energy you’ve used, how much it costs, any solar contributions, etc. That attachment is the PDF they’re requesting. There is also an option to submit a hardcopy of the bill but as I didn’t select it, I don’t know how that would work.
I know the government is trying to get people to use the Energy Compare website – it’s pretty good actually, and I’ve used it in the past – but I can’t help wondering how pensioners without computers, or the skills to use them, are supposed to access this rebate. Smartphone perhaps? But what if you don’t have a smartphone, or don’t know how to use it for things other than making a phone call?
Having spent the last five years of my working life helping to teach computer literacy to Beginners, I know there are a lot of them.
I’m also a little puzzled about why this rebate isn’t being shouted from the rooftops. Then again, I don’t watch much TV so perhaps that’s why I didn’t know about it [thanks for telling me, Megan!].
Anyway, the rebate exists so put in your application and get some relief from the bill shock we’re all experiencing.
The following is an email I received from Environment Victoria about the Viva Energy gas terminal proposed for Geelong. In it, Environment Victoria details how Viva Energy ‘neglected’ to include the cost of transport in its emissions proposal:
Hi Andrea, This week Viva Energy released the Environment Effects Statement (EES) for their proposed gas terminal in Geelong, andstraight away we noticed something dodgy.
Viva’s gas terminal would use the same technology as the one AGL proposed in Westernport Bay, and import the same amount of gas, so you’d expect the figures for greenhouse gas pollution to be pretty similar too.
But they weren’t. Viva Energy estimated their gas terminal would have emissions about NINE TIMES LESS than AGL’s proposal.
Why? When we combed through the details, we found the answer. Viva Energy has tried to exclude the largest single source of pollution – from transporting the LNG in tankers to Geelong.
Buried in the appendix of a 13,000 page document, we found the data that gave the real numbers.
When transport emissions are included, the total climate impact of Viva Energy’s gas terminal could be up to 12 TIMES higher – even greater than AGL’s proposal would have been.
If the gas is shipped from the Middle East, the total emissions would be almost 600,000 tonnes per year. And that’s not even including the pollution when the gas is burned in homes and businesses across Victoria.
Right in the middle of a climate crisis, as a warmer atmosphere drives more extreme flooding and fires, Viva Energy has tried to bury the true emissions impact of their gas project.
We can’t let them get away with it – please help by sharing this on social media.Share on FacebookShare on TwitterShare on LinkedIn Viva’s Environment Effects Statement is part of a planning process that’s supposed to assess all the environmental impacts of the terminal. They should have been totally transparent about ALL the emissions so that the public can weigh up the pros and cons.
At least AGL was honest enough to include these ‘Scope 3’ transport emissions, but Viva has tried to get off on a technicality, and that’s not good enough.
Help spread the word about the true climate impact of Viva Energy’s gas terminal by sharing this on Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.
This is crunch time for Viva Energy’s gas terminal project.
There’s little over a month to have your say – submissions close 11 April. We’ll be in touch about the best way to make a submission later, but in the meantime please share the social media post or volunteer as an expert.
Thanks for helping spread the word, and we hope you can get more involved in the campaign. Greg Foyster and the team at Environment Victoria
PS: Our media release exposing Viva Energy’s climate accounting trick is here, and it was covered by Australian Financial Review, ABC 774 Melbourne, Geelong AdvertiserBay FM and K Rock. FacebookTwitterInstagramNews wrap Environment Victoria is located on Wurundjeri land and works across many Aboriginal nations. We pay our respects to Aboriginal elders past and present, recognise their continuing contribution to caring for country, and acknowledge that sovereignty was never ceded.
A lot of conservative governments justify their policies during this pandemic with the mantra that we all have to ‘live with Covid’.
Why? Apparently because we’re all going to get it eventually.
Even a relatively trusted source like Dr John Campbell maintains that ‘everyone will get Omicron’ – supposedly because it’s so contagious. Yet the actual numbers don’t add up, even in the UK.
This is a screenshot I took this morning which shows the total number of people infected with Covid-19 in the UK…since the pandemic began:
The comments in red and green are mine. I wanted to see how many people in the UK had not had any of the Covid-19 variants. The number ended up being 50 million.
Now I know that the official figures don’t include those who were infected but had only very mild symptoms or no symptoms at all, so I’m going to double the official figure from 18 million to 36 million.
Revised estimate of people infected with Covid-19 variants = 36 million
When you subtract 36M from 68M you get 32M who have never been infected with any of the Covid-19 variants, and that’s after two years and multiple variants, including Omicron B1. Curiously, data from the UK seems to show that 68% of those infected with Omicron have been re-infected. In other words, previous exposure did not give them immunity against the variant.
Why am I banging on about stats and who has or hasn’t been infected in the UK? The answer is simple:
I hate grand sweeping generalisations that are not based on actual data and,
much of what we do here in Australia seems to reflect the trends happening in the UK… and the conservative government there wants to open up completely, based on the narrative that everyone will get the virus anyway, so they may as well make the best of it.
The truth is a little more nuanced. According to everything I understand about herd immunity, you need to have at least 70% of the total population immune to a virus for the herd immunity effect to kick in. Not just recovered from the infection but actually immune to it.
Why 70%? because that’s roughly the number of immune people you need to stop the virus from being able to replicate – i.e. spread through the community:
Essentially, people who have already had the infection – and are immune to it – crowd out the new infections, so even if someone is sick and shedding the virus all over the place, that virus is falling on people who are already immune so it can’t replicate. It’s been ring-fenced.
So let’s have a look at the UK. Are they at 70% yet?
No, they’re not. More importantly, immunity gained from earlier variants of the virus doesn’t seem to provide immunity against the current variants.
In other words, having had the virus once does not guarantee you won’t get the virus again, and that means there can be no herd immunity.
The lack of herd immunity means that those who have never had the virus are not protected. Therefore, learning to ‘live with the virus’ has nothing to do with protecting the vulnerable. It is ALL about protecting the economy.
Let me be more specific. The policy of living with the virus is essentially throwing all the vulnerable members of the population under the bus. Some will live, some won’t.
So who are these vulnerable people?
They include all the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaxxers for sure, but they also include those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons – i.e. because the vaccine would have a negative reaction with their particular medication or treatment – or those with compromised immune systems for whom the vaccines are much less effective. But the list also includes those who have been fully vaccinated.
The current crop of vaccines were developed for the earlier variants and are much less effective against Omicron, so in a way, we’re right back at the start of the pandemic when we didn’t have any vaccines at all. Until a vaccine specifically designed to target Omicron and its siblings comes along, even being fully vaccinated is no guarantee of protection.
Yes, Omicron et al., may be milder than Delta, but it’s not mild. Calling it ‘mild’ instead of ‘milder’ was a neat bit of spin to justify opening up completely. Only now are we seeing how deadly this ‘mild’ virus actually is.
So why are our governments getting away with this? The answer is rather brutal: right from the start, they told people that “…only the elderly, the disabled or those with ‘co-morbidities’ will die so…don’t panic”.
The nett effect of this messaging has been to make the age groups most likely to spread the virus resent those most likely to die from it.
Why should young, healthy people have to suffer lockdowns and restrictions to save a bunch of people who are probably ‘going to die anyway’?
I believe that question, and the resentment that goes with it, is why conspiracy theories have gained such traction. People don’t want to admit how they feel so they latch onto mad stories about legitimate targets – i.e. governments and large corporations.
To be honest, my trust in governments and large corporations is pretty damn low, but the bottom line is that the people in these age groups want to live with Covid…because they don’t think it will affect them. They believe they are immortal so they don’t consider the possibility that they might have a ‘co-morbidity’ without knowing it. They don’t think about long Covid, and what it could do to the rest of their lives. They just resent having those lives interrupted for the sake of a bunch of people they don’t care about anyway.
Which brings me to a rather painful question: if a majority of people in a democracy want to let people die, is a government justified in giving them what they want?
I believe the answer is no. Once elected, the representatives of any democratic government are bound to protect everyone in that democracy, even those who voted against them or those who may have become a ‘liability’.
Protecting all members of society is the cornerstone of the social contract our parents accepted on our behalf when we were born: we give a select group of people a certain amount of power over us in exchange for the protection of the group. Why else obey laws or pay taxes?
Once that core promise of society is broken, trust dies and society falls apart.
We don’t talk about trust much, but everything in society depends on it. Trust allows us to use bits of paper as ‘money’. Trust allows us to walk around without being in fear of our lives. At its most basic, trust allows us to trust others.
Trust in government and ‘the capitalist system’ has been falling for decades now. I truly fear for the future of Western democracies.
I’m writing this as someone who lives in the most locked down city on Earth – Melbourne. We suffered through the first wave of Covid-19 and lost 820 people to the virus, but that death toll could have been much, much worse; during the first wave in Italy, 35,142(1) Italians lost their lives.
Returning to the first wave of Covid-19 in Melbourne, we eliminated the virus and kept it from spreading to the rest of Victoria and the other states by putting ourselves into a VERY strict lockdown. That lockdown included a curfew and a ‘cordon sanitaire’ around Melbourne. It worked. In fact, the same restrictions continued to eliminate the virus from Victoria until NSW, with the tacit approval of the Federal government, decided that we all had to ‘live with Covid’. Thanks to our long border with NSW, we could no longer keep the virus out.
The other States and territories – Queensland, South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, Northern Territory and the ACT – continued to keep Delta out until Omicron came along. Western Australia is now the only state still trying to keep Omicron out. Across the ditch, our New Zealand cousins have not given up the fight against Covid-19 either. The battle may have changed from elimination to a fighting retreat, but it continues. The battle also continues in many of the countries of Asia, but we hear so very little about them.
That’s a lot of data and the forest tends to get lost in the trees so I created a subset(2) of the data to show the difference between the Asian approach to Covid-19 and that of most Western countries. I’ve included Australia and New Zealand as part of Asia, because that is what we are.
In the screenshot below, the data is sorted by total deaths:
Iceland did the best with just 46 deaths while the USA did the worst with 904,038 deaths, but Iceland has a very small population while the USA has a very large one. In the next screenshot, I sorted the data according to deaths per million in order to account for differences in population size:
Iceland appears on the top of the list, again, because something is screwy with the ‘per million’ figure. I suspect a human error resulted in the decimal point being left off, but I’m too lazy to look up the population of Iceland to be sure.
Setting Iceland aside, the data suddenly reveals two surprises:
China does the best with just 3 deaths per million. [Remember that China has a population of roughly 1.4 billionpeople]
Hungary does the worst with 4,285 deaths per million.
Hungary is the country of my birth. It’s a small country with a small population [roughly 9.6 million]. That population is now smaller by 41,229 people. I’m glad my parents are no longer alive to see what has happened to their country. That said, the USA and the UK have the dubious honour of having the second and third worst results after Hungary.
So how do you measure success in a pandemic? Is it money saved? Or lives?
In a recent video, Dr John expressed disbelief that China would continue to eliminate the virus ‘in the age of Omicron’. In the comments, all sorts of theories were raised, most denigrating China’s strategy as futile, draconian and only possible in such a tightly regulated nation. The unspoken assumption was that no sane person would want to live like that.
I’m not an apologist for China because I don’t think it needs one. Yes, the Chinese government probably is guilty of human rights violations, but people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones. The murder of George Floyd in the US brought the plight of Black America into sharp focus. When police feel they can kill Black Americans without fear of consequences, that’s a human rights violation. When children can be murdered at school because there is no gun control, that’s a human rights violation.
Here in Australia, the media shone a spotlight on our asylum seekers recently, but only because a famous tennis star was locked up with them for a very short time. What we’ve done to asylum seekers in the name of ‘stopping the boats’ is also a human rights violation. Would they be treated the same way if they were white and came from a European country?
But our human rights violations aren’t restricted to asylum seekers. The ‘deaths in custody’ of hundreds of First Nations Australians doesn’t rate a mention unless there’s some political twist to the story. That’s an ongoing human rights violation, yet no one wants to haul Australia off before the Court of International Justice in The Hague. Is it because we belong to ‘us’ and everyone else is ‘them’?
I’m sure China’s strategy of elimination isn’t motivated by pure altruism, but I suspect the Chinese government has worked out that its economy depends on the health of the populace. Dead people can’t manufacture anything. Dead people can’t buy anything either. Maybe that’s a lesson all neo-liberal governments need to learn.
Vaccines are great but they’re not a silver bullet that will save us from the inconvenience of old fashioned contagion control. To save lives, we have to have both. To save our economies, we have to save lives first.
(1) Finding the number of total deaths in the first wave [for Italy] was surprisingly hard, or perhaps I didn’t search for the right terms. In the end, I had to calculate the number of death [for Italy] from a graph put out by the WHO:
If you go to that graph and hover your mouse over each column, you can see the total deaths for that period. I copied the raw numbers into the spreadsheet below so I could get a total just for the first wave in Italy:
(2) The data I used for the comparison between Asian and Western Covid-19 results is detailed below:
No, this is not a post about a personable grizzly – we don’t have any in Australia. The closest we get is the legendary ‘Drop Bear’.
<<cue hysterical laughter>>
No, this post is about my good friend Frank Prem and the Beechworth Bakery Bears he has come to know and love. Frank is an Aussie poet-storyteller who brought me to tears with his stories of the Black Saturday bushfires that killed so many in our state. This time, however, Frank has created a beautiful book about teddy bears:
I love teddy bears and have a whole shelf full keeping me company in my office, so I fell in love with the Bakery Bears at first sight!
In the latest Bear book – Waiting for Frank Bear – Frank gives voice to these cuddly Bears and shows us their Bears-eye-view of the world, both the good and the bad. Coming out of the pandemic, we need books like these, books that bring this topsy turvy time into perspective and help us rediscover what it means to be human.
‘Waiting for Frank Bear’ will be released on November 14, 2021. That’ll be tomorrow for those of us in Australia, the day after for the rest of you? You can pre-order now though. 🙂
You know that ‘Resistance is futile’ [Doctor Who, 1963] so do it! lol And to all the Star Trek fans out there – I watched every episode of Doctor Who as a kid and that phrase was most definitely in use long before the Borg apparently used it in Star Trek. I also watched every episode of the original Star Trek, which is why I’ve never been able to watch the new generation re-make.
All speculative fiction writers know about building worlds with words, but what if you need more than words to visualise the space in which your story takes place?
I’m a bit of a perfectionist yet even so, I recently discovered that a guestimate right at the start of Vokhtah was not only wrong, it was very wrong. That, plus needing a distraction from my first jab of AstraZeneca, lead me to Inkarnate, a brilliant, fantasy map making app.
Within the first week of playing around with Inkarnate, I had a map of Vokhtah that was a million times better than the dinky map I’d made using only Corel Draw 8. The trouble was, the more I worked on the map, the more I noticed the gaps in my worldbuilding. You see, the eyries of the Vokh don’t just appear as haphazard dots on a map. They are chosen for very specific requirements, such as:
the security provided by the cave system,
the proximity to water [and hence to food animals]
and the distance from other Vokh [the greater the better].
But if eyries have pre-requisites, so do the Trader caravans that service them. All iVokh can fly, including the Traders, but few can fly well. As for the Plodders who carry the bulk of the Traders’ goods, they can barely fly at all. And this is where biology and terrain combine to create problems, because if eyries need to be near water, but Plodders can’t fly over obstructions like rivers, how do the caravans travel from gather to gather? [A gather is like a human market place.]
In book 1 of Vokhtah, the only river the Traders had to cross was the Little Blue, and it had almost stopped running by the end of the dry season [Tohoh]. The ford across the river was dangerous but doable. But then what about the other seasons?
In my current WIP, I sidestepped that problem by saying that no caravans could travel during the wet season [Kohoh]. Neat. Unfortunately, when I came to filling in the Inkarnate map, I could no longer avoid the issue of terrain because the story of Vokhtah continues on past Kohoh into Tuhoh [the season of new growth] and beyond.
How in heck was I going to solve the problem of river crossings?
The solution to the problem of rivers required a complete rethink of the map, starting with geology and basic physics. Water always flows downhill, and depending on the slope and density of the material it flows through, it either slows down and spreads out:
… or it runs swiftly and carves out gorges. And sometimes it creates land bridges that span the gorge from side to side:
Or sometimes the bridge is actually the rim of a pool that sits high above the river. When the level of water goes back to its normal level, the rim provides a way from one side of the river to the other:
When there is too much water in the pool, it cascades over the rim and becomes a waterfall that feeds the river below:
And yes, I spent a couple of days just researching rivers and terrain here in Australia. 🙂 Much of the info. I discovered came from these videos:
The middle video was shot by an amateur so the helicopter noise is quite loud, but it feels real, as if you’re sitting in the helicopter, experiencing the trip along with the pilot and sightseers. Videos 1 and 3 are professionally produced and provide better visuals.
One of the things I learned was that Katherine Gorge, which is where most of the images were shot, is actually a deep cut through a plateau. All the images I’d seen before this were from the river level and made it seem as if the gorge had cut its way through a flat plain. Not so.
The realisation that the gorge was part of a plateau changed my whole perspective about the Inkarnate map, and how the eyries and caravans [of Vokhtah] would interact with the geology. The end result is this:
Click the image to zoom in closer. The legend on the left identifies the icons used in the map, including the eyries belonging to the Vokh, from the most powerful [large purple] to least powerful [tiny white].
The fuzzy purple areas represent the native vegetation of Vokhtah. As the planet is quite different to Earth, I had to re-imagine the evolution of plants without chlorophyll [the thing that makes Earth plants green and which they use to synthesize food from sunlight, water and minerals in the soil]. I pinched the idea from Earth plants that don’t have chlorophyll of their own. They’re basically parasites, but hey… 🙂
To be honest, I can’t remember exactly why I chose purple/lavender but you’ll notice that most of the water sources on the planet are shades of purple as well. A trick of the visible light off water in a binary star system maybe? The notable exceptions are The Eye [the lake at the top of the map], and the two rivers flowing out of the Eye [Little Blue and Big Blue]. The Eye is a maar lake and it was formed from a volcanic eruption.