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Stage? What stage?

By Trevor Moore

Dylan, The Beatles and Warren Zevon

Boris Johnson has tested positive and the rise in COVID19 cases in Australia continues its inexorable rise which I suppose is why they are talking about “stage 3 restrictions’. Later in this piece I ask what they are but in the meantime, you can see the numbers rising exponentially on the graph.

This is pretty much what was predicted so we should assume that any response has been and is being planned on the basis of those predictions. And for those of you who were dedicated enough to read my piece in last week and got to grips with the whole logarithmic thing there are some interesting comparisons between Australia, Japan and South Korea which I will return to below.

It is always good to get some good news to take one’s mind away from “stage 3 restrictions” - if only for 17 minutes. My friend Macman was quick off the mark this morning to tell me that Bob Dylan has released what one review described as his “first new song in eight years” (which I already knew, of course). Technically this is probably true though one wonders when he actually wrote it. The song is Murder most foul and it is a 17-minute-long commentary, or perhaps stream of consciousness, about the assassination of J F Kennedy. Now this event is, of course, significant to anyone who falls into that much maligned category of Baby Boomer. I am one such. It is said that we all remember what we were doing when we learned of Kennedy’s assassination. The reason for this is that we also remember the Cuban Missile Crisis in October 1962.

Certainly, I recall as a 12-year-old huddling around a transistor radio with my friends at school thinking we were all going to die as Kennedy and Kruschev faced off across the Atlantic. Perhaps we should remember that when we think of the current crisis. I was listening yesterday to the ABC’s Corinacast podcast. They were taking questions from younger listeners and a six-year old asked, “are we all going to die?” Norman Swan co-presents this podcast and he answered this young girl’s question. I should have said “yes, we are all going to die; none of us is immortal” but I sense that my rather literal sense of humour might not have gone down well. (The answer, by the way, is that you are not very likely to die of COVID19 at least according to the numbers).

But back to Dylan. You can find the lyrics of this 17 minute marathon here.

Before you listen to it – a spoiler alert. I had expected something along the lines of Dylan’s earlier longer songs, perhaps something like Lily, Rosemary and the Jack of Hearts or Hurricane, tunes that you can sing along to. I should have guessed from the title Murder Most Foul that this song would be darker and more introspective. And so it is. But it is one of those songs, and I speak as Baby Boomer, that you listened to lying on your bed and smoking something you shouldn’t be smoking - not, of course that you should be smoking at all. Especially because COVID19 attacks the respiratory system. Anyway, the song is full of wonderful cultural references. Here’s one such:

Hush, little children, you'll understand

The Beatles are comin', they're gonna hold your hand

Slide down the banister, go get your coat

Ferry 'cross the Mersey and go for the throat

But the most wonderful discovery for me is in Verse 5 and I was actually able to get one over on Macman with this piece of knowledge. Dylan sings (in that way that my Father used to say that Dylan couldn’t sing at all):

Play Don Henley, play Glenn Frey

Take it to the limit and let it go by

Play it for Carl Wilson, too

Looking far, far away down Gower Avenue

Now, I immediately knew that the last line was a reference to the song Desperadoes Under The Eaves from Warren Zevon’s second and eponymous album. The song also contains the memorable lines “and if California slides into the ocean like the mystics and statistics say it will - I predict this motel will be standing when I pay my bill”. We should take heart from that. We will be here in a year’s time; there will be life after coronavirus, we will survive. And we will have to pay the bill.

But I wasn’t going to write about the new Dylan song. I was going to write about the “stage 3 restrictions” that the press is predicting will happen soon. I thought I should look to find out what is a stage 3 restriction. What things can I not do and what can I do while there are stage 3 restrictions? I know what stage 3 water restrictions mean. I can go to the Council’s website to find that out. I thought I might find out about these new stage 3 restrictions at australia.gov.au. That website is entirely devoted to the coronavirus which suggests that the government isn’t doing anything else at the moment. I assume there is something called Stage 3 (which suggests that there were defined Stages 1 and 2) and that there is a Stage 4 and possibly stages after that. I think there may not be stages beyond 4 because the New Zealand government, which is led by a woman of solid good sense, has published definitions which you can see below.


At least New Zealand tells people what’s going on

I had supposed that there existed some sort of national emergency plan that could be rolled out when there was national emergency. But I was disabused of that notion during the bushfires when it was clear that everyone was just making stuff up as they went. And that’s what’s happening now. It’s easy of course to be wise after any event, but I have to observe that pretty much every large corporate has a risk management plan. The one that employed me for several years certainly had one and following the SARS outbreak in 2003 it included a pandemic risk. There is a senior person appointed with responsibility for managing that risk. But it seems governments do not have risk management plans. They are, of course inherently risk averse.

I have an electronic copy of a wonderful book - I suppose I should call it a pamphlet - published in 1908 and called Microcosmographia Academica and subtitled Being a guide for the young academic politician by a fellow called F. M. Cornford. Now, Cornford was a fine and cynical fellow. In his little book he introduces The Principle of the Dangerous Precedent. Under this principle “you should not now do an admittedly right action for fear you, or your equally timid successors, should not have the courage to do right in some future case, which, ex hypothesi, is essentially different, but superficially resembles the present one. Every public action which is not customary, either is wrong, or, if it is right, is a dangerous precedent. It follows that nothing should ever be done for the first time.” And that may be why there is no government plan to handle serious stuff.

But finally, I return to last week’s piece in The Beagle that was entitled When maths really matters. I cannot resist playing with numbers and I cannot resist doing that with Microsoft Excel. I am no great supporter of MicroSoft - I have been an Apple man for over 30 years - but MicroSoft Excel is peerless. I am sure you could use it to change the wheel on your car. The coronavirus thing gives one the chance to muck around with Excel and all its functions with lots of data. One of the graphs I showed in last week’s piece was of the log of the number of cases.

Now technically, if the rise in cases is exponential, then we should see a straight line. We do not see a straight line: we see things getting worse rather than better. I worried about this, so I went and looked at the numbers for South Korea and Japan because these two countries seem to have flattened out their rise in cases. I plotted their case history on a log scale, and you can see what I found.



In the case of both South Korea and Japan the logarithm of the number of cases went below the trend line and then above the trend line before it flattened off and again fell below the trend line. This leads one to hypothesise that the Australian curve will do the same and that the rise apparent drift above the trend line is something that we should expect before we wrestle this thing to the ground.

Now, in saying this, I could be completely off beam. Japan and South Korea are not Australia. There are differences in population density, in age distribution, in health systems and all manner of other things. But if there is one thing that I learned in my corporate life it is that it’s all in the numbers. We need to watch those numbers and to make sure we each do our bit to contribute to getting that curve down.

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.

Post-script: my friend Macman regained some of the authority he lost over the Warren Zevon reference above. I did not know that Jackson Browne has released a song (presumably the precursor to an album) called A Little Too Soon To Say. You will know that Jackson Browne was a huge supporter of Warren Zevon as the latter struggled with substance abuse problems. Bob Dylan, as you all know, played harmonica on The Factory on Zevon’s sixth album Sentimental Hygeine (his best in my view). Jackson Browne also sang harmony on Desperadoes Under The Eaves. There’s a lovely and primitive version of Zevon doing Dylan’s All Along The Watchtower on YouTube. Oh, and Macman tells me that Jackson Browne has tested positive for COVID19.

the B side to Browne's upcoming single ‘Downhill From Everywhere.’ “

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