Nothing is ever what you thought it would be


I think it’s a function of how life works, possibly with a side of the innate perverseness of… er… everything.

Actually, if I’m going to be more or less serious, things rarely if ever work out the way we think they will for the simple reason that we can’t accurately predict what the other maybe dozens of people we know will do, much less the millions of others who are out there making their own decisions without reference to what we want. And sometimes, those decisions make no sense at all.

There is a theory that every decision someone makes is the best that person can do at the time, but that still leaves a lot of room for WTFery. And there is no shortage of that anywhere. Sometimes people have such deeply ingrained beliefs they can’t look past them even when said beliefs contradict their own experience. Sometimes the beliefs are actually a sophisticated coping method that helps them deal with a world that seems horribly hostile.

Heck, one of the reasons conspiracy theories gain adherents is that it’s actually kind of comforting to think that someone is running things and it’s not just a mess of a whole lot of people doing the best they can. Plus it’s always handy to have someone else to blame – human nature and all that. We tend to find it hard to accept that something can just arise out of a mess.

I’ve been through some… interesting times before. Nothing along the lines of armed insurrection or hot civil war, but as a kid, I lived in Australia’s most corrupt state. It had effective one-party rule, which it engineered by a variation on gerrymandering that it was able to maintain for decades. The party in question had survived multiple corruption inquiries by neutering them from the start, the corruption was an open secret along the lines of the running joke being that companies got themselves the lucrative government contracts by leaving large “anonymous” donations of cash in actual paper bags at party headquarters, the state police were running the largest protection racket – and could outbid any of the crooks – and the leader of all of this did the “genial country bumpkin” act damn near perfectly to the point where when it all fell apart there were people who wondered just how much of it he knew about and how much was him being naive/stupid/blind/choose an adjective.

Me, I reckon he was in it up to his eyebrows.

What took it all down was an accident of fate. The regular rumblings were getting loud again, which meant it was time for another corruption inquiry – which would, of course, be neutered – and one of the TV channels ran a very well researched documentary about the corruption. It had to be well-researched because the government was fond of using libel lawsuits to stop damaging rumors.

The premier was elsewhere on official business when it got to where an inquiry had to be announced, so the deputy announced it. Except… he neglected to limit the terms by which it would be run. Even more damaging, he allowed the commissioner running the inquiry to offer indemnity to entice some of the guilty to testify. Whether this was a mistake or an underhanded means of blowing the whole corrupt mess open I have no idea. It could have been either.

That combination plus a very highly placed former cop who was dying of cancer and who couldn’t lie straight in bed and didn’t want to spend his last few months in jail – or possibly meet some of his victims in whatever afterlife he believed in – led to the inquiry going nuclear.

Two sitting representatives ended up doing time, along with a former police commissioner, a fair few of the Vice Squad (who apparently thought they were supposed to foster vice, not suppress it), and a number of others I don’t really remember. The leader would have done time if not for the peculiar coincidence of a die-hard supporter on the jury who was the only “not guilty” vote (a unanimous vote was needed) and some back-room dealing that led to the decision that a retrial wasn’t worth the expense.

When the inquiry was first announced, I thought it was just going to be another whitewash. It wasn’t. For months the whole state was reeling with the news coming out of the inquiry. It was extended twice to hear all the evidence that needed to be handled. Eventually, people got to the point where they simply couldn’t find the energy to be outraged any more. It faded to a kind of weary cynicism of the “Okay, so what’s he been caught at this time?” variety.

This may well explain my view that all politicians are crooked and the only thing in doubt is how corrupt they are. It certainly explains my view that nothing ever turns out the way you expect it to. And that this can be as much a good thing as a bad thing.

If you want more details, look up Joh Bjelke-Petersen or the Fitzgerald Inquiry.

If you just want cat pictures, scroll up and enjoy Westley with his tongue sticking out.

17 thoughts on “Nothing is ever what you thought it would be

  1. Grew up in the 50s and 60s in downstate Illinois so had a birdseye seat to all the shenanigans that were Chicago politics. The thing was, back in those days Chicago and state politicians were honest, they both stayed bought and they delivered on what the people wanted. Drugs, prostitution, gambling, all were controlled and the average citizen never saw any of it unless they went looking. These days they are every bit as corrupt but vastly more incompetent, and judging by the way most Federal, state, and local pols have responded to the current basket of crises this lack of competency seems endemic to the whole country.

    1. I’ve maintained for years that the political selection process actively weeds out competent, ethical, and honest enough to stay bought. We’re seeing the results.

      The one politician on Bjelke-Petersen’s side who survived the Fitzgerald Inquiry reasonably intact was well known to be an honest crook. He got a fair amount of flak while in office for conflict of interest scandals – but as far as anyone could tell he genuinely didn’t see the conflict of interest. His mate was doing something that would be good for everyone in the area, so what was the problem?

    2. Hi Uncle Lar,
      Have you read The Lost City by Alan Ehrenhalt? It’s about Chicago and community and corruption and sin in the 1950’s. You may recognize the names!
      My takeaway is similar to what you wrote above: crime was controlled and the average citizen didn’t see it unless they went looking for it.
      It’s fascinating, especially what we lost as a culture and what we gained.

      Today’s solution is tomorrow’s problem.

      1. Or BOSS, by Rokyo
        Also note that SecondCityCop blog is gone.
        The bloggers apparently got word from a friend inside Google that Google had breached their privacy / anonymity protections, which would put their jobs, and possibly their lives, at risk.
        The e-mail is posted on CWB, Chicago Contrarian, and ither sites.
        I will miss them, until they are back.

  2. I was in eastern Australia in 1989 when a whole lot of shenanigans got exposed (politicians in several states resigning left and right). My family followed the news pretty closely. One of the great moments was when the cast doing “The Gondoliers” (Gilbert and Sullivan) in Sidney managed to work a lot of the goings on into the production. And a dig at XXXX™ Beer. We were almost in tears from laughing so hard. It was probably laugh or cry for the Australians, but hey.

    New Mexico had a similar corruption web that was finally unwoven when one woman too many was murdered. The book is _Cricket in the Web_ by Paula Moore.

    1. Ah, yes. The Fitzgerald Inquiry would have been making headlines around then. I recall New South Wales also had some ructions with corrupt politicians as well – the big news with the Queensland pols was mostly because they’d been established for so long they’d started to look like they were set for life.

      Australians will usually choose to laugh rather than cry. We poor bastards have been cursed with crappy leadership since the first shipload of convicts landed in Botany Bay, so we laugh at them.

      This is the country where the exchange between the sitting Prime Minister and the (very recently elevated) leader of the opposition which went (roughly) : “Hawke will bring this country to it’s knees!” “Great! It’s flat on it’s bloody back at the moment!” probably won the election. Although Hawke’s comment that “tax evasion is the only growth industry in the country” helped him too.

      Oz is also the country where for a long time the most right-leaning policies were put into place by the Labor Party government (Hawke, and his successor Keating).

  3. Predicting the future isn’t very difficult. The problem is that tomorrow everything will be completely different.

    1. Indeed it will. Including the future – because if you’re predicting the future based on logical extrapolation you’re doomed from the start.

      Unless you’re working in 5 minute or fewer increments and local/self only.

  4. “It’s tough to make predictions, especially about the future.” ― Yogi Berra.

    Being Odd, I have no frigging clue how most people think about things. Stuff that’s been painfully obvious to me for 30 years is only just now being discovered by “Normal People” apparently. Things normal people find obvious I can’t see.

    One of the things that seems obvious is that social systems are non-linear. You can throw a lot of input at them for no output. Then one more little thing comes along and POW!!! there’s a huge response. That’s the very definition of chaotic.

    Because why? Because when we say “social system” it’s BULLSHIT, is why. There’s no such thing as a “social system.” There is only a mass of humans making the best decisions they can based on what they know. Guys claiming there are systems are academics pushing their pet theories.

    Similarly in physics, there’s no “universal gas pressure law” there’s only a mass of atoms that -appear- to be all the same and -appear- to behave the same way every time. That all atoms are the same is an assumption we make, not a proven thing. A safe assumption, given observations, but still.

    Humans, by contrast, are not all the same. They differ -widely- from each other on many different measurable dimensions, and they can change markedly in a very short span of time. One of the things Big Data is finding out is how little all those patterns they love actually mean. Will Person A really buy that 75″ TV if you keep serving him ads for it? They don’t know that.

    They know that out of a 10K sample, X% will buy the TV if N number of ads are served to them. This week. But next week? The number represented by X changes based on variables that nobody can possibly identify, none of which have anything to do with televisions.

    But weirdly, other types of things appear to follow rigidly along set glidepaths as if they were on rails. The Peter Principle, for instance, can be observed at work in all hierarchical institutions. It’s an eye-rolling joke, but on the other hand it is a real thing. The Iron Law of Institutions is another one, and the principle that bureaucracies grow, they never shrink.

    Some things therefore can be predicted better than others. Example, the older and larger an organization or department, the more cruft, waste and corruption there will be in it. The larger a bureaucracy, the faster it will grow and the more resources it will consume to do the same amount of work. Churches, governments or computer companies, they all show the same things.

    Here’s another principle that sort of combines the others together. If you pile up a bunch of money in one place, crooked people will eventually show up to steal it. That’s how it works all the way down the animal food chain right from lions to microbes. If there’s food, something will come along and eat it.

    To me as an Odd it seemed painfully obvious that trusting one’s safety, freedom and future to an institution was insane. I saw that in the 1990s, after spending my young life blissfully unaware. Here we are, frigging thirty years later, and normies are waking up to the fact that they’ve been robbed blind.

    Gee whiz Normies, nice to see you woke the f- up. Government is too big, what should we do? Riot? Have a civil war? Burn down Portland?

    Well, how about if we started by MAKING IT SMALLER?!!! Hmm? There’s a concept for you.

    You start a process of making the government smaller, you immediately find all the a-holes who make their living from making it bigger. Then you next find all the criminals who make their living stealing from it. Then the seat polishers hiding in it, the dumbasses who just go through the motions, etc. Pretty much the only way to deal with all that is turn off the money tap. Cut their budgets. Tax cut. A big and bold one. Defund not just the police, but everything. Do that, and all the Karens and scumbags will have to find some other way to get by.

    Crows don’t go to the fields where there’s no corn. You want to get rid of crows? Pick up the corn.

    1. Exactly! About the only “predictive” aspects of big data are things like if female X starts buying pre-natal supplies, you’ve got a pretty darn good chance that within 9 months she’ll be looking for baby care products. Whoop-de-do. Nothing halfway intelligent service staff can’t figure out, and a hell of a lot less creepier if the service staff are saying, “Oh, hey, have you thought about {BABY PRODUCT} yet?”

      Just like it doesn’t take much brain to figure out that if there are kids of school/college age, there will be school supplies bought at certain times of the year. Duh.

      Outside of that, yeah. While a city or a society – or even a country – can appear to be a single organism with its own internal systems if you look at it the right way (traffic patterns in older cities can look bizarrely like blood vessels only with more variety in the “traffic cells”) but blood cells are not – as far as anyone knows – able to make decisions. Drivers can and do, which is why I’ve never yet seen a traffic management system work the way it was meant to.

      There’s a few more or less universal rules. If you reward it (whether you meant to or not) you’ll get more of it. Easier targets get more activity. If it looks like free stuff it will get taken (For whatever the reason a lot of people lack the ability to see that anything that comes from the government is anything but free). The more you’ve got to do to get it, the more likely you are to value it.

      And of course, human behavior exists on a bloody spectrum. In any random collection of people, there’ll be some who’ll always lie, cheat, steal, etc. Some will never. And most will have a point where they say, “Well screw you, law. You make it too difficult to do this legally, I’ll do it the easy way.” Everyone’s point is different, of course.

      1. “…but blood cells are not – as far as anyone knows – able to make decisions.”

        You mean like driving slow in the fast lane on purpose, or lane-hopping in their riced-out Honda?

        Now I’m imaging blood cells doing that. ~:D

        Yay, I feel better! My blood cells are having stoplight to stoplight drag races. Woo hoo!

    2. Having watched the citizens of Hershey in action, I can state that an awful lot of people want gold-plated services as long as someone else is paying for them.
      Point out what *they* have to pay and you’ll get pushback, complaints, and eventually, the grudging and reluctant understanding that if you want it, it has to be paid for. This is followed immediately by searching for cash cows to be milked (i.e., tourists) and then the awful discovery that tying your budgets to tourism can sometimes fail catastrophically.

      A real failing in democracy is that once large groups of people discover they can vote themselves subsidies and payouts, they do. And they rarely, if ever, go away.

      Every system has problems, some far worse than others. It all comes down to the people and their moral character when no one is looking.

      1. New Jersey went for “tax the rich” to such an extent that one rich man moving to Florida trigged a budget crisis.

        1. I’m shocked that people could be so blind. Shocked, I tell you!

          Yeah, right. I wouldn’t be surprised if the silly beggars tried to make it harder to leave or increased taxes on “the rich”

    3. I may be a different species of Odd. I find the world more predictable if I assume a whole lot of people are doing the worst they can do, and the rest are mostly looking out for themselves.

      1. I’ve gradually come to that view over the years.

        Somewhere in my youth it was drummed into me that you should always try your best. I assumed -everyone- was trying their best, and was therefore dismayed at their poor results. But I had an epiphany, sometime in the 1990s.

        Gun control and the Canadian government. They spent two billion dollars on a database of all the registered guns in the country. Yes, that’s BILLION, with a B. And I was confused, because there’s no doubt all the “scientific” evidence is bogus, and there’s no doubt just from police statistics that gun control doesn’t work. Why do it? It just pisses people off.

        I was further confused by the fact that there were only two (2) million records in the database. These days you could run the whole thing on your phone. Two BILLION dollars for something that would run on a current-year desktop PC. I was 100% sure I could have such a thing written and working on dedicated top-of-the-line hardware with gold plated telephones for under $10 million, even if we had it done by IBM. So what the hell?

        If you go back to that time and look at old blog posts etc. you see a huge number of people like myself, raging on about the facts, and the studies, and the law, and oh the humanity, and what thee hell is wrong with these Liberals?

        Then one day, it occurred to me they were just stealing the money. And suddenly, everything they were doing made sense. I’m not the first one who thought of it, and I’m not the first one to say it by a long shot. But hearing someone say it and UNDERSTANDING it to be true, those are two different things. so on that day I finally understood that they were just f-ing well stealing the money.

        Going forward, I see this everywhere now. Anytime I see something that goes against the laws of physics, like “sustainable energy projects,” I just check to see who suggested it and who is on the board of directors. Who were the big investors, and when did they sell their shares?

        I invariably find that the Board and the big investors are Liberal bag men. They make their unbelievably obscene profits, like 10X investment type of obscene, invest one dollar get back ten dollars, and then they SELL IT before the thing gets into production. Because they know it won’t produce, it’s a scam. The follow-on investors and the government get stuck with the loss, and the perpetrators skip off Scot free. Usually this type of thing was limited to stadiums and public works like parks etc. but since the 1980s they’ve been applying it to mega-projects like the national electrical infrastructure and gun control.

        How do you legally steal $2 billion in tax dollars? Make a gun registry. How do you steal $500 billion? Make wind power an official thing. Steal a trillion by blocking oil pipelines.

        So really, where I used to think that Liberals were idiots for pursuing these obviously insane policies, now I understand that -I’m- the idiot and they’re stealing me blind. They’ve been doing it since the Income Tax of WWI and every year it gets worse.

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