Month: August 2017

Oh Canada!

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Canadian Conservative MP Candice Bergen wrote today,

Earlier this year, I sent a letter to every household in my riding asking them to share their thoughts with me about the Liberal’s Carbon Tax. I received over 2,300 responses back, 96% saying they disagree. A carbon tax would do virtually nothing to help the environment, and would only make life more difficult for everyday Canadian families.”

This smells so familiar. People clearly seeing these taxes for what they are. All pain for no gain. We need not go back very far when Canadian Conservative politician Pierre Poilievre said that Canadian tomato farmers were already feeling the pinch of uncompetitive regulation with regards environmental taxation. It was revealed that the increase in Mexican tomato exports to Canada were having a bigger impact on CO2 emissions than Trudeau’s proposals to halt them.

The growing dangers of the Sanctimonious Society

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Welcome to the sanctimonious society. Social media has taken this to new levels. Given the superficiality of much of today’s internet posts, memes and rants, what it has done is destroy the need for serious debate over contentious issues. Before discussing the likes of Twitter or Facebook censoring certain bloggers, the discourse is self-evident. How often do you read a credible rebuttal to a topical post? Hardly ever is the answer. Usually the criticism is laced with sanctimony, expletives and ridicule. The aim of trolling is none other than to shut down debate and make fun of the person who makes the statement. The intensity of cyber-bullying is chronic. In some respects it is none too surprising we are dealing with words like snowflake, trigger warnings and safe spaces these days.

Take cyber bullying stats from the Association of Psychological Science in the US. In 2015 more than 16,000 young people were absent from school daily because of bullying. 83% of young people say cyber bullying has a negative impact on their self-esteem. 30% of young people have gone on to self-harm as a result of cyberbullying. 10% of young people have attempted to commit suicide as a result of cyberbullying. People who have been bullied are at greatest risk for health problems in adulthood, over six times more likely to be diagnosed with a serious illness, smoke regularly, or develop a psychiatric disorder compared to those not involved in bullying. In the US alone, suicides per 100,000 head of population since 2000 are up 38% according to WHO.

However the WiFi world is quickly escalating unreasoned stupidity in the real world. The internet is awash with so much ill-considered social media activity that if one chooses to breathe for 10 minutes the story will likely have changed 180 degrees from the initial knee jerk. Take the terrible events of Charlottesville this week. The driver that plowed into the crowd was initially reported as a white supremacist before other media reported he was Antifa. Regardless of his affiliation his actions were repugnant. Anyone with common decency can see that. Trying to justify the legitimacy of masked Antifa (many who were carrying baseball bats) staging a ‘peaceful’ protest was somehow morally superior to alt-right torch bearers or vice versa is almost like trying to say watering your lawn with gasoline is less harmful than diesel to kill off weeds.

While the tragedies of the lost lives and depraved acts of violence from both sides is impossible to ignore, the (social and mainstream) media was awash with one sided views. There was no debate and balanced reasoning was next to non existent. One could argue the media has always been biased and to some extent that is true however in the social media world clickbait means revenue and the more sensational and less accurate the reporting the higher the likely ‘hits’ which only exacerbates the problem. We only need to look at CNN’s admission that the ‘Russiagate’ story has been a fabrication for ratings. Integrity be damned. Sadly that is becoming almost an all too common thread of today’s society. Selfish, narcissistic and insensitive bullying.

The other problem nowadays is that almost everyone carries a video camera. It is as if many think they are behind the safety of their own computer screens, oblivious to what is going on. Only a few months ago, an armed SWAT team boarded a Malaysian Airlines flight to suppress a crazed passenger. Despite the screams to get down, multiple people could be seen standing as tall as possible trying to improve the angle of the altercation on their iPhones. There is a sick surrealism to it. Yet if we take this clickbait of someone’s footage at Charlottesville, disseminated to an audience already prejudiced, it only adds to the hysteria. The instant it hits the mobs’ feed it can lead to incorrect assumptions to what is actually going on, even worse hampering emergency services efficacy in controlling the situation. Yet, 10 minutes later, the unedited version of the same scene or one shot from a different angle can completely undermine that biased view. It might show how the violence really escalated rather than the deliberately cut version showing the evil of the unhinged. If we managed to get all of the collective footage from 1,000s of smartphones and objectively analyzed it all it wouldn’t be surprising to see both sides fueling the violence in different areas. Yet because it fits the picture of the ‘divided’ country narrative no attempts are made to seek balance which only fires up the misinformation.

Did Trump take too long to condemn the KKK, Neo-Nazi and White Supremacists? Perhaps. Was he waiting for a full debrief on what went on? Perhaps. Are all 63 million odd Trump voters that don’t openly condemn these acts of violence guilty of being white-supremacists by association? No. Are all Democrats responsible for what Antifa does? No. Internet trolls seem less intent on getting tacit admissions of guilt from their enemy. Think of the campaign which has identified some of the torch bearers leading several to get fired by their employers. Where was the campaign to identify the baseball bat wielding Antifa thugs? Was it because they were masked? Some might cynically claim they don’t have jobs to be fired from. However this idea that only one side is guilty serves no purpose and risks further division.

What we have here is a failure to communicate. Both extremes are so caught up in their own views there is little scope for reasoning much less any desire to consider the alternative argument. This idea that Trump is all of a sudden responsible for unleashing this division is preposterous. Hate doesn’t surface in 6 months. It brews over longer periods of time. If anything Trump is a catalyst to it. His caustic manner is tipping an apple cart of decades of political correctness and walking on eggshells legislation that has sought in many cases to promote victimhood. The President’s actions now threaten many of these altruistic views and socialist ideals. They are upset. This isn’t to debate the rights and wrongs of policy set by previous administrations, rather seek to identify why this scourge is happening. It doesn’t justify any forms of violence but it highlights how tightly sprung things are. Just think of why a p*$$y grabbing vulgarian was able to defy all the odds in the election? Could it be that the underbelly of division has existed in America for so long? It finally reached breaking point and delivered him to the White House? The idea he has created this division is a complete falsehood. One might argue his tweets are stirring this hornet’s nest but the sad fact of the matter is that the problems have been brewing way before his inauguration. Ask yourself why hasn’t the mainstream media worked out the best way to cripple Trump is to ignore him? 18 months on since he won the GOP ticket they have not stopped hyperventilating which gives him more airtime than he deserves and ultimately makes them look foolish.

This bullying behaviour is only likely to get worse. The ever worsening cesspit of social media will only exacerbate the problem. Behind a keyboard, people feel they can afford to be 10 feet tall but seldom do they realize their actions could carry (un)intended negative reactions.

More laws are being created to clamp down on what is called ‘hate speech’ or discriminatory language. However we are witnessing more countries shut down free speech and innocent people are having their lives destroyed for expressing points of view that are completely acceptable and not even the slightest bit racist or bigoted (Australians will know the secret trial held by the AHRC of several QUT students expressing a fact). Seeking prescriptive measures to shut people up will invite exactly the sort of behaviour it seeks to prevent. One can call former EDL leader Tommy Robinson a bigot but he has two best selling books in the UK. Could it be there are more people in the UK that share his views than politicians are willing to admit because political correctness is easier for them to dodge discussing pertinent issues? Whether Tommy is right or wrong in his analysis is beside the point. He obviously represents a larger mindshare of the community. Shutting them up forces the movement underground. Do we ban his book? It doesn’t seek to address the problem which in his case is Islam. In some cases he has a point. The exposure of predominantly Bangladeshi/Pakistani rape gangs who have groomed 100s of innocent women across 18 British cities is an issue. Listening to Newcastle City Mayor Nick Forbes, one of the places impacted by this depravity, spent an entire interview dodging the question of these grooming gangs not wanting to discuss the M word. All it does is alienate more people against an optically biased system.

One can debate till the cows come home about whether the M word is the main factor but if it is not openly debated, it is not hard to see why some will grow prejudiced. It is hardly desirable. It doesn’t mean the thinking is right rather a growing number of people feel ignored. It doesn’t automatically make them racists or bigots. Some feel politicians are hiding from speaking openly of jihadi attacks on home soil, dismissing them as lone wolf attacks or the community’s fault for forcing them to commit such atrocious acts. If indeed the left leaning media is so assured of bigotry by Anglo Saxon Brits why not show the other side of the debate and broadcast hours of footage showing Muslim clerics speaking out against these attacks, everyday Muslims integrating with their non-Muslim communities and how they are actively working with authorities to weed the radicals that are demonizing their faith? No, it’s easier to point fingers at bigoted Brits who see no comfort offered by their elected leaders in what they see happening to their community. Once again bullying people for expressing what they perceive as legitimate concerns doesn’t solve the problem.

To put the shoe on the other foot, Robinson posted a video link of the start of an Oldham (a borough of Manchester) Council meeting. It showed the majority of Anglo-Saxon councillors with their heads bowed as the elected Muslim Mayor requested his imam to say prayers. Of course it easy to see why some might draw conclusions to the decline of centuries of British culture however looking deeper into the matter yielded interesting findings. Voter turnout at the last election in the 25% Muslim borough was around 30%. It was a fairly held election. Democracy. Whether local politics is too petty for some, if the residents of Oldham are so incensed by the idea of an imam saying prayers in Arabic and English after following the Serjeant at Arms carrying a mace bearing a Christian cross it is hard to have sympathy. If one is truly in fear of the cultural upheaval, why not use their democracy to change it? Expressing outrage at something that is controllable seems ridiculous.

Australia is in the midst of bullying as well. Same sex marriage (SSM) is on the table. A postal plebiscite is set to occur. Many argue that parliamentarians should vote on it and get it over with. Indeed there are far more pressing economic issues to deal with. Yet the Turnbull government lacks any moral authority and is beholden to so many internal factions to be able to pass so called marriage equality.

Still regardless of one’s views on SSM, the bullying is in full effect. Musician Nick Minchin created one of his hallmark curse-ladened parodies of a Peter Allen song called, “I still call Australia homophobic”. Sadly he is part of the problem, not the solution. One doesn’t have to be homophobic to be against SSM. Yet Minchin thinks it is ok to call these people ‘bigoted c*nts’. Such words have all the same traits of ridiculing Trump or Brexit voters in the lead up to the vote. It has the opposite impact at the polling booth.

A Tasmanian archbishop is being hauled before a tribunal for expressing his anti-SSM views on the grounds of spreading hate. Are his views old fashioned or just part of millennia of religion? A hotel was forced to cancel a lawful gathering of anti-SSM campaigners through intimidation. Is this the sort of behaviour (albeit at the fringe) that unites a nation on a subject?

Some argue it is a waste of $122mn to hold a SSM plebiscite for a government in a $750bn hole. Maybe it is but to many out there, they want a democratic vote to take place. Some feel lobby groups that ignore their concerns (however backward, ancient or stiff) on issues they hold dearly are the exact reason why a vote should be held. It doesn’t matter to them whether a Catholic country like Ireland passed gay marriage, these people don’t want to be brow beaten, attacked or pilloried for expressing an alternative view. I am quite certain that should ‘Yes’ get up in the plebiscite people will have had their say. Shouting down the views of others is wrong. Let their voices be heard and allow the marketplace for free speech settle the differences. Sadly this is not the case. Any polling done by Get Up which shows an emphatic victory should be discounted. Indeed if they are so sure of a ‘Yes’ outcome then they should be over the moon to let democracy back its findings. Secretly they think otherwise. What they view as a waste of money won’t be to others.

Some people fear (again we’re not debating the rights and wrongs of it) that should lobby group bullying win the fight for SSM by an act of parliament then what comes next? We only need to look at the Safe Schools Programme in Victoria which is nothing more than a way to enforce gender indoctrination under the guise of anti-bullying. Cross dressing/role playing, whichever bathrooms and other ‘progressive’ programs are not necessary for 6 year olds. Boys playing with Tonka trucks and Matchbox cars or girls playing with Barbie dolls is not something that requires the school system to enforce boys and girls to reverse toy box selections. When I was a baby my mother recalled I had a love for cars. Even from my pram I knew more car names than English words. I’m sure she wasn’t wheeling me around the Warringah Mall car park trying to force me to do male things. By the same token my daughters weren’t chained to the Bratz corner of Toys’R’us in order to force them to be girls. Seeing her mother apply makeup was something she wanted to do.

What this all boils down to is society’s growing intolerance for free and open debate. We do not lack the ability to talk but we’re incapable of listening. That alternative views must be mocked or banned. There are some with such inability to accept alternative views who suggest prison sentences for climate skepticism. Are the arguments for climate change so weak that alarmists believe the only way to force the end game is to legally ban freedom of opinion?

One imagines that if we put an Antifa and a KKK supporter in the same room unbeknownst to them both and asked a standard questions on a variety of topics they probably would agree on more than they would if within their representative groups. These experiments have been conducted before where complete strangers meet and by the end when identities are revealed there is an awakening. It isn’t forced but occurs naturally through cordial conversation.

I make no apology for my conservative views. One friend is an unabashed socialist. We debate intensely on a variety of issues we have polar views on. I recently wrote to him privately to thank him for broadening my understanding of his views. While I might disagree with him I certainly respect his right to debate his points, which he often does insightfully. Some points are indeed valid and on certain issues we see eye to eye. Others less so. However we listen.

Sadly sanctimony is becoming ever more firmly entrenched into our culture and it can have nothing but bad outcomes. Perhaps to end with a Jewish proverb – “slander slays three people: the spoken by, the spoken to and the spoken of”

 

80,000 litres of diesel an hour to save renewable energy failure

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You have to laugh at the irony. In order to make up for South Australia’s misguided renewable energy policy which has been the cause of numerous blackouts, 9 diesel generators costing $111mn will use 80,000 litres of diesel per hour to keep the lights on during power shortages. Had the Port Augusta coal fired plant not been ceremoniously dynamited as a virtue signaling exercise, South Australian tax payers would be $100mn better off as a start. Energy Plan Implementation ED Sam Crafter said after the initial 13-month period, there was an option to extend the lease for a further 12 months. There also was an option to walk away at the end of 25 months. So if South Australia chooses to extend the lease of the generators for another 12 months the cost won’t be included in the $111m. It is hard not to laugh at the irony of governments who make such appalling choices and cover up their mistakes by stealing more from taxpayers who they never properly showed costings to in the first place. Is it any wonder South Australia has the highest energy costs in the world, the highest unemployment rate in the country and the slowest growth. Don’t be surprised if Premier Jay Weatherill sees this as a fair price to pay to save the planet, even if South Australia is crushed in the process.

What do we really want from an army?

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It is a serious question. What do we really want from our armed forces? We pay billions in taxes to hopefully arm them to the teeth with the best technology, skills, training and capabilities to win wars should we ever find ourselves in one. Victory is the only choice in war. The ideal scenario is to make the enemy fear you enough such as you won’t end up in battle. However the military should never be a place that is used to test social experiments.

Then why the push for making the military or any other emergency service anything other than the best? Gender balance and diversity are irrelevant. News has resurfaced that the Australian Defence Forces (ADF) are being set gender recruitment targets. It is insanity. Merit should be the only criteria. If 100% of them happen to be women based on merit then so be it but setting gender targets as a slated goal is obtuse. If more women wish to join the armed forces through desire, hunger and passion than men then that is expressing a clear will.

Eligibility standards are being lowered to help hit diversity targets. You can see the standards difference in these two charts posted by the ADF.

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Recruiters at the ADF have been told they must hire women or face relocation if they don’t comply. The recruiters say there are no jobs available for men in the in the infantry as a rifleman or artilleryman. But these positions are marked as ‘recruit immediately’ if a female applies. If a 50kg woman is in the artillery a 43.2kg M-107 shell is over 80% of her weight. An 80kg man would be lifting the same shells at around half of his weight. This is basic physics.

The West Australian newspaper reported one recruiter who said, “This is political correctness gone mad. I don’t care if it is a man or a woman – I just want to get the best person for the job.”

Yet the political correctness is promoted from the top. Defence chief, Air Chief Marshal Mark Binskin, stressed the importance of diversity for the ADF. “A diverse workforce is all about capability. The greater our diversity, the greater the range of ideas and insights to challenge the accepted norm, assess the risks, see them from a different perspective, and develop creative solutions.”

Let us not confuse diversity with skills. In WW2, the US Army employed Native American Indians to work in intelligence. The idea that their native tongue was next to impossible to decode if transmissions were intercepted by the enemy. The US military wasn’t making a diversity play to even out race, gender or religion. It was employing a clear tactical advantage to help win a war. Such intelligence is vital in planning battles and tactics. The enemy wants to know our plans in advance such they can ambush or counter. The Navaho language meant the Japanese intelligence forces were completely flummoxed and suffered huge losses as a result. The merit was the rarity of the Navaho language, a skill no one else had. Think of how hard the British worked at breaking the codes of the German Enigma machines at Bletchley Park. Skill is is the defining factor.

It gets more ridiculous. One senior retired military contact has said that those who are recruited are now allowed to raise a red card in protest if a drill-sergeant is offending their sensitivities. Seriously? Surely an army is as strong as its weakest link and if leaders can’t drill discipline into his or her troops what hope have they in battle? Perhaps they can just disobey orders and avoid a court martial because they deployed a red card on the battlefield. Surely no one joins the army expecting it to be a life of late morning lie-ins, frequent recreation and late nights at the bar.

The military should never be a social experiment. It is off limits. This is not to say women should not have a chance to join it. In fact the desire to serve one’s country is indeed an excellent trait to have but putting in place a system that excludes Victor, a fitness freak with a black belt in martial arts from joining the infantry, for Victoria, a lady with a BMI of 30 makes no sense. If Victoria is the black-belted gym junkie and Victor is a slob then of course it makes sense to recruit her.

At the end of the day with bullets whizzing around and artillery shells exploding around them it is not hard to envisage that every soldier looks to the person to the left or right of them wondering only about their capability to do the job, not celebrating the army’s pro-diversity drive. Anything that potentially damages morale should be avoided at all costs. Dropping standards for both genders is fraught with long term risks and turning the ADF into an organization that puts more emphasis on feeling warm and cuddly versus a gung-ho group of steely-eyed effective combat troops lowers our capability to defend.

We must move on from this politically correct nonsense because in the end it will literally kill us. Then again we are getting our submarines built in Australia, not because they will be better built but because our defence capability took a back seat to buying votes. Don’t think our enemies aren’t always keeping on top of our (growing lack of ) capabilities.

The Wolf who cried “Boy”

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North Korea’s threat to fire a nuclear missile at Guam should the US try anything to jeopardize the hermit kingdom’s nuclear programme is more the domain of an hysteric media for now. He is the wolf crying boy – “I will eat your sheep when I wish, what are you going to do about it?” Of course, no sane government can dismiss his threats. The 33-year old leader has assassinated subjects and relatives who he feared might pose a challenge to him. He taunts his enemies in full knowledge the collateral damage the West may suffer would likely be factor fold higher than he stands to lose. North Korea’s GDP is estimated to be around $12 billion annually. Tokyo’s GDP is estimated to be around $1.5 trillion, 125x larger. Seoul’s GDP is around $780 billion (65x North Korea) but is located in shelling distance. From a purely militaristic standpoint, North Korea doesn’t stand a chance. The US has spy satellites parked permanently over North Korea surveilling troop movements, missile test sites and US submarines will have constant watch over Pyongyang’s naval activity. Mutually Assured Destruction (MAD) is not a bargaining chip in this case. While it does raise the ‘risk’ factor, it is not enough to exclude war on the peninsula.

The problem is that all the while no action is taken, PyongYang’s arsenal grows more sophisticated. Kim has no plans to halt his development. In 1994 then President Bill Clinton came closest to taking action against its nuclear capability but in the end chose diplomacy. We are 23 years on and the capabilities are such that this game has increasingly limited life span. Trump made his thoughts clear in a 1995 interview. Try to talk him out and if all else fails take the military option

The more advanced his arsenal becomes, the more weight his demands carry. Kim is in his 30s. Assuming the West does nothing, there is another three decades of threats and bellicose to consider. Over time its weapons programme will be sufficiently credible to hit Washington DC. Just like Russian missiles in Cuba, America will not allow a condition which could threaten it to exist.

North Korea has 3 main nuclear missile launch sites (Musudan-Ri,  Punggye-Ri and Tongchang-Ri) among the fourteen nuclear facilities ranging from R&D, power generation,  mining and refined fissile material production. A surgical strike would be difficult to achieve without North Korea getting away a few missiles itself.

Why Guam? Of course one can view his threat in several ways. One, Guam is the current realistic technical capability of his nuclear weapons, two; Kim hasn’t said he’ll strike Washington DC which should be interpreted as evidence that he is not completely deranged and bragging about capabilities he does not yet have, three; he could theoretically bomb the US military installations in Okinawa which is closer than Guam and more likely to score a relative hit but he has been careful not to drag Japan into this contest (yet) and finally; his nuclear programme is his only bargaining chip. Were Kim to cease his atomic aspirations, he would literally be a sitting duck. He knows – as did his father and grandfather before him – the regime survives on the will of the Rest of the World to appease it. If he has no trump card, the RoW can ignore it.

On April 10th this year, China’s special envoy on the North Korean nuclear programme, Wu Dawei, visited Seoul with the idea of pushing a harder UN resolution in case of another nuclear test. In the short term China is hoping a short term halt to coal imports will bring Kim Jong-Un to heel they have not ruled out removing him entirely. It is the least preferred option but Trump’s moves will only mean China is being forced to up the ante. However China has been lamenting that it can’t force Kim to come to heel. Once again this is partly China testing the will of Trump versus his predecessor. Do not think for one second that China hasn’t been channeling Sun Tzu as to how it can pull off a geopolitical masterstroke by bringing Kim to heel and the US to back down. This is becoming harder to achieve, even more so with an unpredictable president.

Let us not forget the strategic benefits of North Korea to China. It provides a buffer to the US friendly South Korea and keeps furthering China’s status as a dominant force (economically and militarily) in the region. One of the last things China wants is the equivalent population of Australia (24 million) as refugees on its northern border. Best it remains contained inside a regime presiding over a tiny economy. Even less desirable is a US invasion/strike which puts a US protectorate on China’s doorstep.

Global markets are not reacting too erratically to this crisis. They are collectively taking the path of most common scenario vis-a-vis history to date. Minor risk on. Even Korean CDS spreads, at 14 year highs (61) remain well down on GFC and the death of Kim Jong-Il. However a president who wants to reassert US foreign policy after 8 years of willful abuse under his predecessor may be more than willing to take decisive action and put an end to the North Korean problem. He won’t risk it unless his generals can give a very high level of assurance the collateral damage will be minimal

While some media want to believe that Trump is itching for a war in North Korea or Iran to resurrect his sliding poll numbers, that is an obtuse way of thinking. North Korea is a growing threat. Pure and simple. If North Korea gets a capability to potentially hit the US mainland then that is untenable. Any country that threatens to attack another puts itself on a geopolitical chess board of its own making. This is dragging China into a game it would rather not play but inevitably Beijing realizes that it has to take control before Trump takes it from them leaving them in the worst of all worlds.

Cooler heads to prevail? Maybe but something suggests that North Korea is brewing beyond what markets are currently pricing.

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Australia vs Japan – Coca Cola Index

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Whenever buying a Coke in Australia it is hard not to notice the exorbitant prices for a 500ml bottle – usually around $4. Here in parts of Japan you can pick up a 500ml Coke for less than $1. In convenience stores 500ml Coke sells for ¥129 or around $1.50. Either way Japan is a bargain basement country which is often contrary to expectations.

Tricking the auto-pilot 73% of the time

So much faith is put in the hands of computers nowadays but the idea of driverless cars is still fraught with danger.  Car & Driver reports “Researchers at the University of Washington have shown they can get computer vision systems to misidentify road signs using nothing more than stickers made on a home printer. UW computer-security researcher Yoshi Kohno described an attack algorithm that uses printed images stuck on road signs. These images confuse the cameras on which most self-driving vehicles rely. In one example, explained in a document uploaded to the open-source scientific-paper site arXiv last week, small stickers attached to a standard stop sign…using an attack disguised as graffiti, researchers were able to get computer vision systems to misclassify stop signs at a 73.3 percent rate, causing them to be interpreted as Speed Limit 45 signs..”

Sure systems will improve over time but we already have a plethora of people already putting too much “blind” faith in systems being fool proof as this video demonstrates