A Smaller World

It has long been an accepted saying that the world is getting smaller.  And so it has seemed, as the speed of transport has increased so much and the ease of getting visas has been relaxed with the rise of international tourism and the promise of foreign currency flowing in.  I traveled the world with ease in the 1970’s, with the occasional exception like Myanmar (then Burma), which had to be flown over and  seemed such a drag and expense to an impoverished backpacker.  I carried a British passport which imperiously demanded countries to let the bearer  “Pass without let or hindrance”.  And so I did through about 60 countries.  Even places like Afghanistan where visas and customs for a busload of people seemed to require 8 hours and 3 pages of my solid passport but didn’t make anything difficult.

Now it seems the world has expanded again with the collapse of international transport.  Just a few hours ago I was talking to guests whose friends were supposed to accompany them, but were locked down in Melbourne, and whose son was stranded in Poland.  Suddenly, that seems a very long way away.   For most of us in Australia our personal worlds are smaller being unable to travel interstate right down to not being able to leave the dwelling except for stated purposes.  I can’t even imagine being banged up in an apartment block with 3 little kids.  Indeed, I am fortunate to be amongst the least affected.  Even ‘staying in’ on my own property lets me get outside and do what I usually do.  My B&B business has been little affected also, or perhaps made even more in demand by C-19.

Nobody in authority it seems has any long term plan about what to do about the pandemic except local patchwork lockdowns and test and trace, and pray for an effective vaccine.  I have already blogged why that might not be easy, or might not happen at all.  So are we stuck with rolling lockdowns and some businesses opening and closing like a toilet door at a folk festival?  Seems like it.  With little international or even interstate travel to selected ‘safe’ destinations and then running the risk of the door home slamming shut behind you like England and Spain.  People’s patience is already quite thin, which might be a large factor why the second surge is harder to control than the first wave, despite procedures, equipment, distancing habits, testing etc being already in place.  The economic system is also creaking and groaning under the stress of disparity of incomes, massive unemployment, unpayable debts, etc.

So we seem to be stuck in a forky stick, between a rock and a hard place.  Lockdown with mass unemployment and struggling to put food on the table, or ‘stuff it’ and business as usual and accept the deaths and illness on the way to ‘herd immunity’.  The chief of WHO said today we may never find an effective vaccine, a depressing but realistic assessment I came to months ago.  30 years since AIDS and still no vaccine despite much money and effort.  It does seem worth the effort to do what we can with basic pandemic precautions to limit the spread, such as hand washing, sanitising spray in public places, social distancing and especially masks.  These thing are relatively easy to do.  Shutting down whole industries might be too much.  If we have to admit that we can’t control the beast and we can’t all be in prison, then a middle way has to be found.  Reduced economic activity leaving us all poorer than we were before, but perhaps there is an upside to that.  A concentration on what is really important to us and a simplification of our lives and our consumption.  And an acceptance that C-19 sweeps through the population be delayed as much as it can be, to allow the health system and society generally to cope.  Then there is hope at the other end of the carnage, when the fit, young, able and resistant are left, and the sick and elderly are culled.  Nobody yet has used the word ‘culled’, but that is what it might come to.  Not deliberate killing, but the realisation that old people like me shouldn’t command the resources of humanity to keep ourselves alive at the expense of a decent life for the younger generations.

I find a grim ironical satisfaction that the transfer of wealth and opportunity from the young to the old that has occurred in the last 30 years may be at last reversed as the virus clears the dead wood so new growth can spring green and fresh.  It may be a purging of society that we need.  I am still trying to think my way through this serious and complex problem and would welcome any thoughts you may have.

C-19 BGO’s Finally Admitted

For those of you who blank out with acronym overload as I do quite often, a BGO is a Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious.  Today the director-general of WHO (World Health Organisation) admitted we hadn’t seen the worst of C-19 yet.  There is worse to come.  Wow! he must be good at graphs climbing skywards to notice that in most places cases are still increasing.  What was obvious to me in Jan when the contagion rate was approximately determined as over 3, but the incubation period was long, and even worst there were asymptomatic carriers, there is no “after the covid virus”.   I wrote in a blog in Jan I think, that C-19 was going to be a permanent scourge of mankind.  I have read so many articles talking about “after the virus”, or getting “back to normal” that I feel like shouting there is no “back”, there is no “normal” and there is no end to the virus.

The game changer could be an effective vaccine.  After all there are over 100 teams all over the world working on a vaccine, surely they will have one going before the year is out?  There have been breakthroughs announced already and Trump has assured us it will be in a corner store near you soon.  Actually, it isn’t that easy.  There is a slight problem with the word “effective”.  What Trump and all of us want is a ‘silver bullet’ vaccine to make all 7.5 billion of us humans are immune to the disease so that it recedes to only infecting pangolins or short-tailed asiatic bats (I made that up).  There will be flaws in the vaccine, the virus can easily mutate like flu, and how do you inoculate the entire world?  Don’t put too much hope in an ‘effective’ vaccine.

The re-occurrence of the disease in Australia, China, South Korea etc, shows us how it is like playing ‘whack-a-mole’ where it is laboriously eradicated only to emerge again as clusters leading to widespread community contagion.  The disease is progressing at different rates across all the countries on the globe.  There doesn’t seem to be any cases reported for Greenland, but I guess they are just waiting their turn.  There isn’t going to be any safe way of opening up international travel for this year, next year, and perhaps more years after that.  So for tourist operators there will be no foreign travelers for years.  I expect that will mean doom for some.  Others will have to adapt to domestic traffic only.  Yesterday Qantas laying off more staff was in recognition of this, and there will be no ‘back to normal’, just a steady exploration of what the new normal actually is.  It might mean getting a C-19 test 24 hrs before departure on a flight to get a negative certificate.  It might mean an anti-body test to get an ‘immune’ certificate, but nobody yet knows how long that lasts as immunity tends to wane with time.

It may be that Australia’s quite successful quashing of the initial outbreak might lead to vulnerability down the track as less people have been exposed and a lower rate of ‘herd immunity’ has been gained.  Perhaps Trump and Bolsonaro are right in allowing it to sweep through the country to hasten acquiring some immunity.  If they were right, it was for all the wrong reasons.  Whatever happens, the chance of eradicating the virus is long past and now the problem is managing the least worst options.  Deaths versus economic factors, jobs versus poverty, wealth versus humanity.  It requires equations with non-equatable variables.  Plenty of scope for political opportunism.

For all you out there I hope you are coping with what has been going down during lockdown and job losses.  Not too much different here as if you are the only worker, you don’t fire yourself.  And if you work in 156 acres, you are not cramped or confined.  As we creep out of the bunkers, I hope it is towards a brave new world of caring for neighbours and a low carbon world.

A Spot of Bother

The hydro system is pretty well self-governing, and I don’t get down to the turbine/generator bit very often.  I have a couple of indicator light bulbs to let me know what the power is and and where it is going that I can check at a glance as I walk by.  So all has been good for a couple of months without attention so I decide it is about time for a bit of grease to the bearings.  I get down there and all is humming nicely when I notice that there is a wobble on the shaft at one end.  Oh bugger!  I shut off the water supply and find one bearing has failed so the shaft started turning in the bearing and has worn away several mm of the shaft diameter and a few mm of the bearing inner ring.

knackered shaft end

The shaft was flapping around with 5mm of clearance instead of a very tight fit.  It doesn’t reduce the power output, and doesn’t show up at all on the indicator lights at the control center.

Which leads me to a historical note about the invention of the turbine type I am using called a ‘Pelton Wheel’.  In about the early 20th century, an engineer called Mr Pelton was employed by a mining company operating in remote parts to provide electrical power for a mine.  He had a similar problem to mine but where the bearing failure was catastrophic, completely severed one end of the shaft so that the turbine with buckets like deep bowls was skewed at a considerable angle to the incoming jet of water.  His reaction was probably the same as mine.  Oh bugger, lots of work here!  But he noticed that to his consternation, it was actually producing more power.  Totally stuffed, yet working better.  WTF?  A mechanic would have fixed it to how it had been before, but an engineer like Pelton had to know why.  He realised that preserving the momentum of the water jet and smoothly guiding it round 180 degrees, doubled the amount of energy extracted from the water jet.  The Pelton wheel is the most efficient engine known at over 90%.

That was for nerds, the rest of you can tune in again.  So on Saturday I have to shut down the hydro.  Murphy’s Law strikes again as it is 2 days before I can get parts.  The shaft has to be rebuilt with the ground down end built up with welding beads of stainless steel, then turned down to exact size on a quality lathe so there is an interference fit of a few thousandths of a millimetre.  I can’t bodge that bit.  So early Monday morning I take the shaft to Atherton for a re-build.  At this point I have to admit to a blunder.  The bearings I took off were covered with grease and muck, so I got an old and clean one out of the drawer to take to town to buy new ones at the bearing shop.  They looked at the numbers and gave me the exact same bearings.  I went to the engineering company and told them to re-build the weld for this brand new bearing which I gave them, which they did excellently and in the same day.  I got home and presented the bearings to the shaft, and it fitted like a brick in a shirt sleeve.  What has gone wrong here??  After staring at the offending pieces of steel for a long time, it occurs to me to check sizes with my vernier gauge.  The new machined end is exactly 1 inch.  The other end is 25mm.  A difference of 0.4mm.  I had forgotten that 30 years ago I’d widened the turbine case to increase efficiency and installed a new longer metric shaft.  I had grabbed an ancient bearing from the drawer of the old imperial size from the previous shaft.

parts machined and ready for assembly

In the end all works well, except for the ugly fact I have one metric bearing and one imperial bearing on the same shaft.  This is many orders of magnitude different from a similar balls-up of imperial and metric units that saw a 4 billion US dollar Mars lander crash because it actually though it was going to land 3km below the surface.  It took an army of engineers and a host of committees to make that blunder.  I did it all by myself.  I was $65 out of pocket.  Not even that really, as I have now got spare new bearings for each end.

Once I had the machined shaft and suitable custom bearings for each end, it only took me 3 hours to reassemble and put back on-line.  But 5 days in all because it happened on a Saturday and there were only 3 metric self-aligning bearings in FNQ, so I had to wait on transport.  In the mean time the system was kept going quite OK by the solar panels despite the fact there was a lot more cloud than sun.  I did have a problem pulling the pulley wheel off the shaft with my gear pullers.  In fact total failure.  I had to carry the whole shaft assembly up the hill (several breathers on the way), to set up a circular anvil (the massive body of the old generator) to smash the shaft out of the pulley with a sledge hammer.  A bit of good old-fashioned heavy engineering.  It might surprise some people that I actually like doing this sort of shit.  Especially at the end when I have won and defeated those obstinate chunks of metal.

Bridge Over Calm Waters

When you’re weary, feeling small, when tears are in you’re eyes, you will know you have had enough of social isolation.  I haven’t seen or heard any human activity for about a week now.  Not a soul, not a sound, not even a faint rumble from a jet high above.  Unlike most people though, I have had decades of experience and practice at social isolation and in the past have deliberately sought it.   The longest I have not seen or heard any human activity would be about 2 weeks in Tasmania in a beautiful place near the top of Frenchman’s Cap.  A privilege few would have ever achieved in a lifetime on this crowded planet.  My present hiatus of sociability is of course due to covid-19 and the resulting travel restrictions that have seen many cancellations.

I avoid using noisy machines while I have guests here.  They don’t come to the tranquility of remote tropical rainforest to listen to me droning round on my tractor slashing weeds or massacring wood with a chainsaw or electric plane.  So this rare lull in bookings has allowed me to catch up with some noisy projects.  And I’m knackered.  Physical effort seems to go with the noisy chores.  Several week ago, the bridge across Possum Creek was dangerously canting to the right as the log supporting that side gradually collapsed due to rotting away.  It was long dead when I dragged it out of some forest, and 40+ years of further decay left it in a perilous state so I took all the planks off the bridge and hauled it away with my little tractor.  I then cut it up and when dried, it will perform one last task of heating the sauna.  So I needed a 7.2m beam of durable wood to span the creek.  I could buy such a thing from a sawmill I suppose if I searched round, but the great expense and the difficulty of transporting it here caused me to think of a local solution.  Very few of the rainforest trees are durable.  That is resistant to rotting after they are cut.  But along the yellow track at Possum Valley, I had noted that a tree fallen decades ago was still sound with dense yellow wood, but not of suitable proportions.  So I went striding through my arboreal empire with axe in hand, in search of a fallen tree of this species.  I probably have 500-1000 species of trees in my backyard, but hey, you have to be an optimist.  I found one just meters from the track that had lain there for more than 40 years.  There was no way I could use this log whole, as it probably weighed more than a ton even when cut to length.  So I cut a beam out of it by cutting length-ways with a chainsaw where it laid on the forest floor.  A long job with a curvy result, as I followed the bends in the log to get the maximum depth.  Then I put a chain round it and pulled it out of the rainforest with my ute and down the track to near the bridge.

join and cut straight edge

Next I cut a straight edge on the topside of this crazy curvy beam to take the planks.  I used my little tractor to drag it across the creek.  I knew it was going to disappear as I had tossed offcuts into the creek and they had gone to the bottom like bricks.  This wood was much denser than water and wasn’t going to float across.  I got it just right as the the tail end dropped onto the prepared bearing plate 30m behind me.  I stopped the tractor and fiddled about untying the ropes.  Meanwhile, the beam slid into the creek and the mud and totally disappeared.

This was where I had to get all my gear off and plunge into the mire to get a rope round the missing beam.  There are no pictures of this horrendous scene you will be glad to know.  I hauled the tail end onto the bearing plate and hitched it to a tree so it wouldn’t slide in again.  I hauled up on the towing rope in the vain hope I had enough strength to lift it onto the post.  No way.  Probably 200 kg.  So I had to erect a pulley system to haul it out of the water.  Which required a pulley on the submerged end of the beam.  Off with the clothes again and underwater fumbling to attach ropes I couldn’t see but only feel.  Now with 3 to one purchase I hauled up the beam onto the post.  The 1m pipe wrench is to get it upright as an asymmetric beam will not sit on edge.  Then just the mundane task of nailing the planks.

finished bridge

The bridge is now restored and I hope good for decades more.  Or at least long enough I won’t have to do that again.  It was kind of fun though and just for the cost of a few nails.  I had removed, saved, straightened and recycled the galvanised nails that held the planks on.

“No Man is an Island”

The title is a well known quote that firstly ignores about half the human race, and secondly is at odds with new laws.  The governments around the world realised that much to their dismay, isolating each person is not practical, , so have compromised in trying to make each family an island.  Except of course for those who have been overseas, over states, contacted somebody who might had contacted somebody with C-19, caught j-walking on Bondi Beach, or otherwise met the displeasure of authorities.  These people are to be banged up in solitary and fed through a hatch.

So the government has not achieved the ideal of everybody a ‘Robinson Crusoe’, but rather ‘Swiss Family Robinson’, where a family is marooned for a long TV series.  What torture.  Obviously a take off of Robinson Crusoe, but the producers realised there would be a shortage of dialogue with the original story.  So, how are you going?  Doing weird things with the wheelie bin?  Making dumb posts on social media?  Resorting to domestic violence or just getting pissed.  The coping strategies that are emerging either highlight human ingenuity, or provide evidence why our species is doomed.  On the whole, I like most of the silly posts, because a sense of humour has always been the most successful coping strategy.  Make something ridiculous and you re-frame the problem.

The economy up here in FNQ has been devastated by the total closure of the tourist industry.  The tourist operators that were sweating on a 10% reduction because of the exchange rate, are now closed down.  Zero income.  For most of the workers, zero income.  For most of the suppliers for the tourist industry, much reduced income.  And how long will this perilous state continue?  Ask epidemiologists, and they would say not until a vaccine has been developed, tested, and distributed maybe a year, or maybe never, because for many diseases a vaccine has been sought for years and not found.  For businesses, as little time as possible.  For schools, universities, social workers, mental heath workers, people waiting for “non-essential surgery” which they consider essential, ASAP.  Ask the entertainers, restaurant and cafe owners, tomorrow is not soon enough.  For parents jammed up with children not able to blow off steam raging outside with friends, an ordeal.  So I suspect epidemiologists are in a minority of about 1 to a million.  But in the present circumstances, I think they are the people to listen to.  There has rarely, if ever, been a disease as contagious as C-19.  Even bubonic plague which killed 30% of Europe at various times, was not as human to human transmissible as C-19, as it was spread via rat fleas.

There is no hope of eradicating the disease.  Anywhere.  It will come back and come back and continue to knock off vulnerable people like me being in the ‘elderly’ range.  But I could be lucky and develop immunity.  And the community could develop ‘herd’ resistance so I am not exposed to it except every now and then.  And a vaccine could be developed and deployed to mimic herd immunity.  So putting off the onslaught of the disease is the only option right now to avoid perhaps half a billion deaths worldwide.  If you are comfortable with that, as they will mostly be the old, then nothing needs to be done.  If we can limit the current outbreak to half a million deaths worldwide in the next year, then have an effective vaccine, we can call it a victory, though the disease will continue at a low level and probably at a lower death rate.  Social distancing, self-isolation and washing hands is all we have got at this time to make a difference.  Stay safe.

On the Bright Side….

Following my last post about a month ago, C-19 seems to about on the track I predicted and just been labeled a pandemic by WHO.  Unfortunately not the Dr Who who can fix just about anything in the universe, but bureaucratic doctors who can officiate, record, make authoritative statements, compile statistics, make epidemiological studies, but can do bugger all in the real world.  As I said a month ago, C-19 will join the other scourges of mankind, but probably fade in it’s fatality rate as it evolves and tries and keep it’s hosts alive for further exploitation.

So I sense there is a dilemma amongst epidemiologists about strategies.  Easiest is to let the virus have it’s wicked way and sweep through society knocking off the sick and elderly to quickly produce some herd immunity.  A purge of the unfit and useless economic contributors is surely society’s gain.  Then again, these are the people in power, so that is not going to happen.

Another strategy is to “flatten the curve”.  That is slow down the spread by social isolation and travel bans to avoid overwhelming the health facilities.  This admits defeat about containment, but offers some possibility of palliative care for the worse afflicted.  This is current strategy adopted by Australia and most of the world.  It may not reduce infections or fatalities, but is aimed at preventing the health system being totally overwhelmed.  And if it can postpone the peak long enough, a vaccine could then save a lot of people and give enough confidence to drop the draconian restrictions and kick-start the economy again.

The problem with this is that the ‘cure’ could be worst than the disease.  China has crashed it’s production and economy, but I admire the heroic and effective efforts it has made.  Australia has just trashed it’s tourist industry by banning flights and insisting on 2 weeks of self isolation for anyone entering.  What a thrilling holiday that would be.  France has closed all cafes, restaurants and such, Italy is in lockdown, and countries everywhere grinding to an economic halt.

There will be real and terrible economic consequences.  I’m not talking about stock markets or the top end of town, as somehow they always seem to manage although they complain a lot.  I’m talking about small businesses and gig workers with no work and  performers and actors etc, suddenly deprived of an audience.  Will teachers be paid when schools are closed?  Any sick pay for casual workers?

On the bright side….  I am astonished that China has reported no new cases in the last two days.  Figures from China have long been suspect as having being manipulated for political reasons, but in this case, I can see no political gain having already admitted the problem.  Also, this is a virus, quite unresponsive to political correctness or being censored.  If the communist party were suppressing numbers, I think piles of corpses would soon gain world attention.  So I am inclined to think that the containment measures in China have worked.  The rest of the world is playing catch-up by implementing their methods without giving credit.  And without yet seeing the same success.  Italy has tried lockdown but the exponential curve continues.  Spain is in a similar crisis.  Germany seems to be doing better with containment.

Australia seems to be on the exponential curve with little sign of “flattening”.   How did China, the most populous nation on earth, get a handle on this and other countries lose control?  If I am right in thinking China has actually quashed the virus.  Why aren’t afflicted countries beating a path to China’s door to beg some guidance?  I am thinking that the difference in the effectiveness of ‘social distancing’ and ‘self isolation’  measures depends on the discipline of the population to implement the measures.  It may be that in Italy, Spain, Iran, and Australia there is a certain level of disregard for authority.  A bit of ‘she’ll be right’.

I have a message for the Australian people.  Toilet paper will not guarantee your survival.  Closer to the mark was hoarding rice and pasta, but that deprives other people.  I take note of a saying from west coast American native tribes “best place to store food is in the bellies of your friends”.   I think if this crisis cuts deeper than toilet paper, this will be remembered.  I hope so.

I also hope that many people get the opportunity, or are forced to consider what are the most important things for them.  Many things can be discarded as we get down to the fundamental requirements for a satisfying life.  So many material things are unimportant compared to health and relationships.  Of course food is way up there, but that is not threatened in the present crisis.  Winston Churchill said “never let a good crisis go to waste”.  Let us use it as an opportunity to consider what is really essential to our lives.

 

Reflections

I was born in 1950 in the UK.  In an affluent educated country, just settling down after a catastrophic war.  Rationing was still in place for some things, but babies don’t see far past a warm tit.  I now have nearly 70 years to look back over and compare to what social conditions were like both before I was born and I have plenty of information to guess what social condition are likely to be in the future.

My conclusion is that I have had a most fortunate life, in a most fortunate time in history.  I was raised in a time of the burgeoning wealth of the middle classes, increasing freedom for youth and a general feeling of optimism for the future.  The dark cloud was the cold war and the spectre of nuclear war.  And those clouds gradually dissolved to a shadow on the horizon.  I could travel the world with just a few dollars and a British passport which demanded countries to allow “The bearer to go without let or hindrance”  through their territories.  It’s pompous language a relic of the colonial gunboat era.  I travelled through Afghanistan without let of hindrance and marveled at it’s long confused history which I had no idea about until I went there.  British schools of the 50’s and 60’s didn’t feature much Afghan history, which is a pity because it is a lot more interesting than the Tudor kings of England.  I arrived in New Zealand and Australia at a time I could be a permanent resident just by setting foot on the country.  How good was that!  I could buy a block of land, 156 acres of precious tropical rainforest after landing in Australia with little more than a change of clothes and US$11 just 2 years before.

I now see many threats in the future, and the younger generations do not enjoy the optimism of my carefree youth.  Some are chronically anxious.  They see climate change and it’s disastrous effects actually happening, and those that have been through the fires are at risk of PTSD, and some young people are fearful to have children because of climate change.  This pervasive threat is a reality and psychological burden for young people.  Another threat is much in the news at the moment, recently named as covid-19.  Or the coronavirus.  It will not be contained and will soon join the other scourges of mankind such as flu and colds.  This is creeping into media coverage and public awareness.  It is highly contagious and perhaps 3 or 4 times more than flu.  It is not being contained.  It will be a pandemic which I expect to get even in Possum Valley.  The death rate is around 2% so far in China, but seems to be less in patients overseas who probably receive more intensive palliative and supportive treatment.  I have seen on the internet that in Wuhan, they have built a 1000 bed hospital in 10 days, having run out of stadiums and schools.  Only in China can they cut the paperwork and send in the bulldozers the same day.  An unfortunate lab experiment is being conducted on the cruise liner Diamond Princess anchored off Yokohama.  About 10 days ago 10 cases of covid-19 were detected.  People were already compartmentalised into little cabins, and soon restricted to the cabins in their cruise ship/prison.  I have no doubt that every feasible precaution has been taken, but now 218 are infected.  I think this test tube, and largest cluster of cases outside China, indicates how infectious this virus is.   They will have to rename that ship if they ever expect to use it again other than for transporting sheep to the middle east.

random kitchen photo

I have often heard that everybody is connected by 7 degrees of separation.   Yesterday I was chatting with guests just outside my veranda, and mentioned my concerns that covid-19 is an inevitable pandemic.  They admitted to being tour operators and just a couple of days before having clients from Wuhan.  I took a couple of steps back to some nervous laughter, but it seems that even in an isolated spot in a rainforest, I am only 2 degrees away from the epicenter.

Another threat to the younger generations is the ridiculous income gap between rich and poor.  In Australia, there should not be any poor.  Simple as that.  There is more than enough to go round for us all to be satisfied.  And the price of houses and letting is prohibitive.  The older generations (that is me) are ripping off the younger generations when the historical imperative is to help and provide for your offspring.  The worst offences are building government debts for future generation to pay off, charging kids for their education, and worst of all trashing the environment for short term gains.  Yes, short term is all we greedy baby boomers have left, so maybe when death relinquishes our grip on power and wealth, you can establish a rational world economy based on renewable energy.

Our present government is a thoroughly professional body of people who have looked into the future and are dedicated to ensuring that it never happens.  They are sponsored by miners and deep in the pockets of old money.   A few years in parliament to collect the fabulous pensions and then do the rounds on the boards of corporations to collect the rewards that would have been a little unseemly while they were actually in government.  I believe there are actually rules where they have to wait a few months before they can ‘board’ the gravy train.  What a fig leaf.

So I have lived in very good times and never press-ganged into a war.  I am not so optimistic for the future and have often looked at my grandkids playing and thinking perhaps this is as good as it gets as they splashed naked in a rainforest creek.  It could be that real living standards are already on the way down.  Water undrinkable, air unbreathable, temperature unbearable.

Appearance and Utility

I know I have a lot of views that are out of step with the majority of society.  And a major item is what motivates me to do things, value things, mend things, appreciate things and buy things.  I am heavily biased to assess situations, procedures, and objects by how well they are fulfilling their functions.  In other words by their utility.  It seems to me the society I love and live in, is obsessed with the appearance of things.  This is made most obvious to me by the searing in-your-face light of the advertising industry following its imperative to promote consumption with new sales long before the old item had ceased to function.

The most egregious example is the recent TV ads by Toyota I think, where the parents take the kids to a ball game and the ball hits the car.  “Yep, it’s a right-off” declares the father after seeing the small dent caused.  Another ad in the series a guy drives the car to what appears to be an urban dumping/exchange area, tosses the keys in through a window and furtively sneaks away.  Another is of a lady comes to her car and sees a spider on the front dash, yep it’s another right-off.  I think you have probably seen them.  The message is that just a little thing wrong with the appearance, and you need to chuck it away (there is no ‘away’ left on the planet anymore).  It reminds me of a very old and slightly racist joke about the oil sheikhs who bought a limo, then just left it and bought another when the ashtrays were full.  Consumerism gone mad.  The philosophy behind the ads of wasteful spending really, really annoys me.  And don’t even start me about the assault on the appearance of women to make them feel insecure if they don’t have perfect, eyelashes, hair, armpits, toenails, teeth, etc etc.  I hate this psychological assault on women, and it particularly affects young girls.  Hey, ladies, I like you for who you are and how you treat other people.  Actually we were designed with hair in the armpits, and probably for a good reason, but I don’t know what it is.  Relax, deep breaths, it’s OK.

And if I see another guilt-ridden ad for a product that kills 99.9% of germs, I might scream in frustration.  Actually, it has been known for a long time that if you manage to do that, and it is harder than the ads would suggest, it makes the family prone to allergies and auto-immune diseases.  Google “hygiene hypothesis”.   We actually have to get friendly with the right germs and try and get along with them for our health.  A healthy gut will have about 1100 species of germs in permanent residence, and a deficient system only perhaps 300.  Yes, wash your hands to prevent gate-crushers, but the old adage of “clean enough to be healthy, dirty enough to be happy” applies.  Your first defence against germs is the germs in residence.  They have a lot of practice in turf wars.

So it is possible that up to 50% of human effort in Australia goes to waste, and harmful waste at that.  For things we don’t need and many things where we would be better off if they had never been devised.  Hey, how would you like to work only 3 days a week for the same pay?  It is possible if you identify expenditures for reasons of utility, and expenditures for reasons of appearance.  Attitudes to appearance can be adjusted in your own mind.  Expenditures to satisfy advertisers demands, leave you in their debt.  Imagine if the whole massive advertising industry did not even exist!  I bet we could afford 10 more bank holidays.  And with the coming of the internet, the excuse that they are informing us of products of interest is a transparent fig leaf.  We can easily find what suits us best.

I leave you to contemplate if any of this applies to you, and how you could make a reassessment of your expenditures to align with utility rather than appearance.  You do not have to live your life to satisfy other people.