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Plus ça change

by Trevor Moore

Sometimes I wake up in the morning and see the sun is shining. I’ve been awakened by the kookaburras cranking up. Nothing much has changed; it’s an early autumnal day like many another. Well, except perhaps that we are changing to or from (I can never remember which) daylight saving time much later this year … April, so my wife tells me. And then I check my phone and there are invariably a ton of alerts from The New York Times. I subscribe to The New York Times because I cannot make my mind up whether US politics is a comedy show or a tragedy – in the Shakespearian sense. I read the alerts and see that the world changed overnight while I was asleep. The $2 trillion rescue package which was nearly all done and dusted hasn’t passed after all. $2 trillion … it doesn’t really bear thinking about; it’s not a number that you can really get your head around.

On the other hand, it’s not that much; the US national debt stands at about $15 trillion. Go and put that in your pipe and smoke it Mr Morrison. And that’s just the public debt. If you include inter-governmental holdings, it’s $23.6 trillion. There’s a site that you can visit to see the US national debt rising. There’s a similar site that lets you see how the Australia national debt is going. It was $1.105 trillion as I write. Per capita the US national debt is $72.9K and our national debt (per capita and using today’s (26 March 2020) exchange rate) is $25.2K.

I made the mistake the other night of watching Morrison’s press conference after the meeting of the so-called National Cabinet. I say mistake because he is very boring. I say “so-called” because it’s not really “national”. They do not seem to be making decisions that are sectarian rather than collective. I know that makes it difficult for Morrison who probably feels like a one-armed wallpaper-hanger. One brilliant statement made as a result of Wednesday’s National Cabinet was that hairdressing appointments would still be allowed but needed to be kept to 30 minutes. Now I am bald as a coot and this went over my head. But my wife was quick on the draw as she pointed out that most women need (I am not sure about “need”) to spend a good deal more than 30 minutes at the hairdresser. Then this morning I see that this restriction may have been rolled back. That may well be sensible but what I wonder is how this decision slipped through the National Cabinet without some of its members speaking up. I could understand this if it were the case that the National Cabinet was composed entirely of middle-aged white men. But two of its members are women Gladys Berejiklian and Annastacia Palaszczuk. I wonder why they didn’t point this out. Perhaps they weren’t paying attention.

Of course, business by tele- and video conference is new to our political class. They are used to be whisked hither and thither at the front of the plane at our expense. Now they have to sit still and pay attention on a conference call. Now, the large corporate I worked for practically ran its business on conference calls. These always had several streams. The top-level stream was the conference itself in which everyone (theoretically) participated. But underneath that pairs of participants would be instant messaging (usually disparaging) remarks about the current speaker. The trouble is that the instant messaging would detract from the conference call which, of course, is where the decisions are made. Perhaps this is what happened to Gladys and Annastacia. Who knows?

I haven’t managed to work out why people are stocking up on stuff from the supermarkets. I am used to seeing this behaviour on Christmas Eve when people seem to forget that the shops will open on Boxing Day. The toilet paper thing is unfathomable … so far as I understand COVID19 does not give you what my old housemaster at school called the back-door trots. And flour. Are suddenly people taking to baking? Will we see many more entrants to the baking competitions at the Moruya Show next year? I doubt it. Too much flour; too many weevils. And eggs. Why would people panic about eggs? After all they don’t last forever.

Perhaps these people know something about chickens that I don’t. Perhaps the chickens know something about COVID19 that we don’t and have stopped laying. I can only suppose that people will run out of space and that all will return to what passes as normal.

But I did get some amusement from a news article this week about a chap in the UK who has created a loo roll requirements calculator. The site tells me that it was created by “software developer Ben Sassoon and Artist Sam Harris after they had a discussion about how much toilet paper they each used on a day to day basis and how that would change during the pandemic. It has now been used by over 5,000,000 people and is helping to reduce toilet paper shortage round the world.” Maybe so.

On the face of it the calculator is over-simplified. It has two sliders: one for the number of rolls you are currently holding (ranging from 1 to 200) and one for the number of visits to the toilet you make each day (this ranges from 1 to 40). Then you notice the advanced options. These give some finer granulation. It would be useful if this calculator allowed for the input of the gender make-up of the household as I suspect there are some usage differences between men and women. I am pleased to say that when I calculated our supply it was but 107% of a potential quarantine period. We clearly need one of these for flour and eggs.

I suppose that the prize for the worst decision of the coronavirus crisis so far is the person who let the people off the Ruby Princess. Now, there is such a person. Someone somewhere sent an email or electronically signed an approval and as a result the passengers were let off. Not a good move and all will come out in the end … but not now: there are more important things to do and we are where we are. It’s happened. We need to live with it.

We are not quite locked down … not as in the UK and some other countries but we may well be. At the moment people seem to be keeping their distance and it is noticeably quieter and people are talking more. I stood in a queue at the butcher’s the other day and found myself locked in conversation with people who, in the normal course of events, were far too far away for a civilised conversation. This is a good thing. Social distancing does not necessarily mean that social contact stops. And people are creative. I like a wee dram and next week I am doing an on-line whisky tasting. They send the whisky ahead of time and then they stream the event. Now that’s a good idea.

And there’s plenty of humour going around. Someone sent me this today (see below); I am afraid I cannot attribute it much as I would like to.

Wash your hands. Keep your distance … … do whatever it says on the Federal Government Health Website. And if you aren’t already doing it, then you better start now.

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