Covid Cup Colour Commentary

Random blog posts about the pandemic. I write just to clear up my own thoughts in my head. I'm publishing, because I can't vent them at friends and family over supper these days.

The genesis of the theme was a single-post essay The COVID Cup: America Will Finish at the Bottom of the Major League, which predicted America would do the worst of major nations in the metric of deaths-per-million. It'll probably be wrong; Belgium will hard to "beat". I didn't allow for the massive effect of saving-vs-losing your care homes on the metric. If one could get a metric for non-care-home deaths, or even "deaths under age 70", that would probably have measured the pandemic societal response best. I doubt this data will become available for years. In the meantime, the blog discusses that "deaths per million" column on worldometers.info.


(Copyright is asserted, but all non-commercial use is granted.)

Back to main page


July 10: We Need Event Contact-Tracing to Judge Events

The post below is really yesterday's, improved, I hope, but today I had planned to just bring up an associated topic: contact tracing, and telling the public the results.

I have never seen a single press release that looked like this, say:

Contact-tracing of infections two months ago were summarized today as coming from family members (40%), indoor work (20%), indoor socializing with friends (25%), outdoor socializing (5%), outdoor work (5%), and other (5%).

Such tracing and publication could help inform us of what activities had been proven to be risky...or not.

With my Tulsa-rally questions, they should be already resolved by contact-tracers: those increased cases either attended the rally, or they did not. If very few cases told their doctors and contact-tracers they were there, we should know.

One story in Salon noted "a spokeswoman for the health department told The New York Times that it "will not publicly identify any individual or facility at risk of exposure, or where transmission occurred."

I understand the ethic of medical confidentiality: if you got the virus from your mistress, only confidentiality will let you confess that. But there should be publication of the statistics. Making sure that stats can't be used to identify individuals is old-hat to census takers; it's a discipline that can be applied to all press releases. They aren't even saying the percentage of their current infections that came from "large gatherings that were not advised", which wouldn't even pin down the rally versus the outdoor protests.

For lack of this, the partisans get to just shout at each other, that the-rally, or the-protests, are clearly the real culprit. The virus cops likely know the real perp, at least statistically.

They could be telling us more. They should.


July 10: Blame Imputed to Tulsa Rally Through Statistical Neglect

This post is a re-write of yesterday's, after professional editor pointed out writing flaws and rhetorical overreach - if no data inaccuracies. Yes, re-writes are against the Blogging Code. So sue me.
There's no moral to the story because it's not a story! It's just a bunch of stuff that happened!
--Homer Simpson
(Season 2, Ep. 22 I'm told; I turned on the last scene. It's not an exact quote, but better summarizes this post than the accurate one, so I'm leaving it. Sue me again.)

News is just a bunch of stuff that happened. The media, on the other hand, are storytellers, and they love to tell stories, preferably with cause and effect clarified, heroes and villains, and a moral, like all good stories. When the sequence of events is not a neat story, sometimes the stretch their telling of it.

There's some stretching going on, and they're willfully looking away from the stats, because the stories at left are more exciting than "Tulsa rally minor part of cases in the area". Well, maybe not "willfully", but then "neglectfully".

The stories, when you click on them, don't actually support those headlines very well. Still less well, the even-briefer mention on last night's National News, where the announcer casually tossed out that the rally had caused "up to 500" cases, and moved on, fact stated. Now I see the same couple of words in headlines from about nine sources, including the big national American dailies.

I've been cautioned that this is not media malpractice. My ire is really just about those headlines, and even briefer summaries ("up to 500 cases"). The stories themselves are careful enough to moderate the claim, and connect it to an official quote.

Take ABC news at random:

President Donald Trump's campaign rally in late June, as well as the accompanying counterprotests, likely contributed to the area's recent spike in coronavirus cases, Tulsa City-County Health Department Director Dr. Bruce Dart said Wednesday.

"In the past few days, we've seen almost 500 new cases, and we had several large events just over two weeks ago, so I guess we just connect the dots," Dart said at a press conference...

Dart, who said prior to the rally he'd recommended it be postponed over health concerns, added on Wednesday that "significant events in the past few weeks" had "more than likely contributed" to Tulsa County's surge in cases.

Tulsa County reported 261 new cases on Tuesday, a new record high.

What I take from that, is that Dr. Dart would like to discourage ALL gatherings of any kind. That's not surprising; it's his job at the moment. He surely has an interest in pinning down which kind of events are worst and least-bad, but cases will be minimized if he just discourages everything. So he wasn't being coy about "significant events" and winking that he meant the rally, or the protests, or anything else. He was spreading the blame as thinly as possible. He's also against large barbeques, of which there have probably been a hundred. The media definitely wanted to "connect the dots" back to the rally alone. Just replace "rally", in those headlines, with "rally, other events", and then they accurately reflect his comments. None do.

The number 500 is what will stick with people, joined solely to "arena rally". What's bothering me about all this, I guess, is my contention in previous examinations of Tulsa data that the probability the rally caused few infections, is good news to be celebrated, not buried. It is burying the good news to give the rally special blame for a general increase that started weeks earlier. It would mean we can do more gathering than we thought.

In those two previous posts, I was working from just the "average incubation time" of "5-6 days", and it was enough. However, it's a straightforward exercise to actually apply a 14-day incubation probability model to Tulsa. Without it, media have implicitly taken the "2-14 days incubation period" to mean that "14 days" could be everybody. It can't. It's about 1% of cases. If you'll believe me on that, you can skip to my conclusion well below. For the math nerds, here we go:

My source for data was an article on incubation period in Popular Science. I can see that if I'm going to pick a fight with most of the news media, in defense of our modern version of Nuremberg Rallies, no less, I'm going to have to go to their source, The Annals of Internal Medicine, 5 May 2020 on the incubation period. From 181 publicly reported cases, they published this graph:

This graph can also be described in words, and that is:

Fitting the log-normal model to all cases, we estimated the media incubation period of COVID-19 to be 5.1 days (CI, 4.5 to 5.8 days) (Figure 2). We estimated that fewer than 2.5% of infected persons will show symptoms within 2.2 days (CI, 1.8 to 2.9 days) of exposure, and symptom onset will occur within 11.5 days (CI, 8.2 to 15.6 days) for 97.5% of infected persons. The estimate of the dispersion parameter was 1.52 (CI, 1.32 to 1.72), and the estimated mean incubation period was 5.5 days.

Whew. Fortunately for me, I took a single statistics-summarized-for-engineers course 42 years ago...and even that is enough for any schnook to develop a reasonable model for the probability of showing symptoms 1,2,3...14 days after your exposure, particularly assisted by their cumulative-incubated-patients graph at right.

This is a cumulative graph of a bunch of numbers I invented, in an effort to duplicate their base statistics. It's just shown here to display that it looks a lot like their graph, providing some gross indication that my estimates are on the right track.

The non-cumulative version is below, with the X-axis changed from "days after exposure" to "Days after June 20", where "full day" means "evening", and it should be noted that it would probably become a case the next day, or the day after that - you have to get to a doctor, and be logged as a case either by test or description of symptoms. So feel free to add a day or two to the dates on the X-axis when comparing to a chart of the "cases" logged by public health.

The nice thing about the Tulsa rally is that it was such a discrete event; any exposure must have happened between late afternoon and mid-evening of June 20. Yes, some people (about 70) camped outside, not crowded, and some of the organizers and security were also infected that week, which I covered on July 2.

A half-dozen-odd hours is very different from exposures at the George Floyd marches, spread out over days. With the rally, the date-axis is not a rough estimate, but pretty exact. The only problem is whether the patient took one or a few days to turn "symptoms" in to a "logged case", and we'll deal with that.
The numbers I invented (don't call them "data", they are an estimate of what AIM's source data must have been) which produced both the incubation model at left, and the cumulative version of it above, are reproduced below. It's kind of a fun game: pick a set of 13 numbers that satisfy five criteria: 2.5% symptomatic by day 2, 97.5% by day 11, average days to symptoms 5.5, and median days to symptoms 5.1. The media is shown where the cumulative hits 50 in yellow, the other two limits in orange and pink, and the average shown at bottom. It was a set of numbers that fit, and the fifth criterion, of course, is to have the cumulative look a lot like the graph in the Annals of Internal Medicine.

Having satisfied all those criteria with my estimate, we can go on to estimating when the appearance of cases from a hypothetical exposure of 200 rally attendees would most likely show up. I use "200" because I had to get down to half-percents to make my estimates work, so I can just double the percents to get a whole number of people.

Adding two days to the dates on the graph, and doubling the percentages, we get 200 fans rally-goers becoming cases as per the graph at left. At right, the actual case-counts from the Tulsa County Health Department, marked up in reference to the model.


Unfortunately, the two spikes since the rally are a couple of days too soon (June 23-24) and a full week too late, to fit the best-known model of incubation. You have to assume that not only were a good 200 rally-goers infected, but that nearly all took 13 days to show symptoms (when AIM says that's after 99% are already infected), then took at least two more days to get to the doctor - and most of them took a day or two after that.

It doesn't add up. I can't make those numbers work.

The analysis with the average should have been enough. I really didn't expect to have to be explaining all this over a week later. I figured the "Blame Tulsa" theory was already done with the Post blaming the June 23-24 jump on the rally.

That's right, according to the Washington Post, (if you add up different stories) the rally caused a jump in case-counts just two days later, the cases went away for two weeks, then roared back to cause another jump on days 14-16. The news media clearly didn't do this analysis, and should have.

They're the ones saying "we've got to follow the science" in every other editorial. So I did. And it says they're wrong.


July 8: If Provinces Were Countries, They'd Be All Over the Map

The current news focus on the self-torture of the United States, is of course about the southern United States, and not all of those. Treating either American states, or Canadian provinces, as mere parts of an aggregate makes the pandemic harder to study: both countries are so large and diverse, with their own separate public health officers, laws, and medical systems, that it's like providing one number for "all of Europe".

That would be obviously crazy: how very different the two countries of the Iberian Peninsula are, Portugal a quarter as bad as Spain; Greece not even a tenth as bad as Italy next door!

It's a similar situation in both America and Canada. We've been pretty nice to Quebec, frankly, including it in an aggregate that has all the American news sources describe us as superior.

In point of fact, if Quebec had ever been able to become a separate country, it would make America look good: the USA just passed 405 deaths per million, while Quebec hit 650, more than half again as bad, weeks ago. Quebec is more than twice as bad as Ontario, which is five times as bad as Alberta and BC.

The far-left bar just lumps together the Canadian champions at COVID-dodging: Saskatchewan, Manitoba, the Maritimes save for Nova Scotia, and all the North. They add up to a respectable 4 million people, and a better performance than South Korea! This is a little unfair, as they benefited from a lack of international traffic and more warning. South Korea had to do much more for their win.

BC and Alberta had the exact same number, 36, so were obvious to lump together. They'd be at the top of the European League, as a country, better than Denmark. I had to separate out Nova Scotia, a million people with 63 deaths, other provinces were way higher or lower; but they'd still be high up in the standings.

Ontario clocks in at less than half as bad as the USA, while Quebec is up in the horrors of UK territory, raising the aggregate Canadian average to be worse than any other province except themselves. Bluntly, if this really were some kind of athletic sports series, they'd be really, really, letting down the side.

Once again, this is all about the care homes. Isaac Asimov, comparing the masses of the planets, said "The solar system consists of Jupiter and some debris". The Canadian pandemic failures consist of the care-home story, and some minor mistakes. You can't do better to be informed on that than to visit CANADALAND, and listen to their special podcasts about the pandemic.


July 7: Well of Course the Death Rate Really is Down. Duh.

Observers are starting to puzzle at the continued decline in deaths per day in the USA, while everybody marvels (in a bad way) about the case-counts, again rising exponentially.

I keep reading "but" sentences, where doctors solemnly note that deaths follow along after cases by a couple of weeks. The death rate will certainly tick up soon, but there's no question it is really lower.

At left, the simple story of the whole American experience with the pandemic. The soaring twin curves, for cases, top, and deaths, bottom, are only about 10-12 days apart, back in March and April. I drew two red lines, through the peak of the infection curve, April 11, and the peak of the death curve, April 21. The curves are less than two weeks apart, but the recent uptick is now over 25 days old...with deaths still falling (if not for much longer).

Notice how much more quickly the death-rate fell than the case-rate, over the next two months to the green line, the minimum of cases/day. The death-rate has been dropping for two months. More than you could explain by higher levels of testing turning more mild, unknown cases into known-cases.

The two, much larger changes are:

  1. The care-homes are forewarned now, and doing much better protection. The care-homes were 80% of Canada's losses, about 30%-50% (accounts vary) of America's.
  2. Retired people don't have to "re-open". We're the most-vulnerable population and know it.

Nearly my first post in CCCC offered Lancet data on age-related mortality rates. They drop by a factor of three per decade: 50-somethings are 3X more likely to die than 40-somethings, and 60-somethings ten times more likely to die than 40-somethings.

Doctors are saying that cases are getting younger. That article link quotes Dr. Fauci claiming that "The death rate always lags several weeks behind the infection rate", which the above graphs would argue with. But what the good doctor is arguing is that "They get infected first, then they come home, and then they infect the older people." I can see that in multi-generation households, again associated with lower income, but mostly, not. I will now comically over-use "mostly" to cannily avoid all guessing at the numbers:

The old folks are going to batten down the hatches, mostly; the pandemic will mostly hit those under 60, the care-homes will mostly avoid it, and the death rate will be a fraction, this time. You'll have to see that feared 100,000 cases a day to get back up to 2000 dead per day. That, of course, is all too likely if the current, somewhat frantic, efforts to re-lockdown are unsuccessful.


July 6: Grand Unified Theory of Pandemic Politics: Humility

I've been doing some pretty easy posts, lately; I keep thinking that there will be something to write about from all the testing we've been promised, but it's not coming.

Today may be the lamest , Rex-Murphy-reads-the-news-and-rants, post of all, as revealed by the nature of the subject: a sweeping condemnation of a whole type of thinking, like op-ed writers that capitalize in order to turn their various opponents into one strawman: "The Left are the real racists", etc.

But a Grand Notion did just hit me this morning, wearily going into skim-mode at another news story about "how did we politicize wearing a mask, are surgeons all liberals now?". It struck me that if you have no humility, you can't fight this virus the only way this enemy can be fought: running away.

You can't attack the virus and defeat it in single combat. It doesn't matter how tough you are, or even how many F15 fighters you command: if it contacts you, it will win. You can only run away and hide from this enemy.

At the most cartoonish, hard-to-believe extreme, the height of arrogance is to imagine that you can just declare the pandemic about over, or not really a problem, that you can control reality itself with a pompous speech.

It's now acknowledged that it was Karl Rove, lionized Bush campaign expert, and serial character assassin (John McCain's Black baby, John Kerry's swiftboating) gave the following incredible quote to a reporter:

"We're an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality — judiciously, as you will — we'll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that's how things will sort out. We're history's actors . . . and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do."
...We do what we please, we control the news about it, might is right.

But the virus is an uncontrollable reality for people like Karl Rove, and moves at a speed faster than they can spin the news about it. The only semblance of control can be gained by running away in all humility, and they have none. They might have gained some control over the politics of the Middle East by stepping away, too...but they just couldn't "cut and run", that would have been too...humiliating.

To this mentality, locking down, or even wearing a mask, feels like that "cut and run"; "backing down"; not "standing your ground"; "no stomach"; being a "quitter"...do I have to go on? We have a dozen more insults for it, and some people's whole political persona is grounded in endlessly hitting opponents with such insults - exactly those phrases - and any behaviour that smacks of it, even symbolically, is torture to them.

I've written of COVID-19 as The Christian Virus, and the term has another resonance: humility is a Christian virtue, and the virus is teaching it. Some are requiring painful lessons.


July 5: Essential Workers Lives Not Essential?

As I mentioned, my maternal grandfather died coal mining. He wasn't treated like a human being, but a work-unit; they stopped his pay at the time of the cave-in. No insurance, or any compensation. Replaced with another work-unit the next day. Their lives really, really didn't matter.

He was also a union man, served as president of the local chapter of the UMWA, my mother told me. The unions fought for wages, but above all, for their very lives, for workplace protections and standards. Also for compensation for injuries and deaths, both helping the workers and their families, and adding a financial incentive to make work safer. He died in 1932; a generation later, coal mining was a relatively good job.

Owners hate paying workers, or spending money on them; whatever their human feelings (perhaps that's hypothetical), their economics always push towards worker lives not mattering. Their best strategy, since granddad and millions of colleagues organized the local workers, has been to bring in poorer people who will accept lower pay and standards.

With food, Canadian producers are in a particularly tight corner: trade agreements would let Americans undercut them with their own cheap labour if Canadians really had to pay first-world wages. Canadian apples wouldn't just be more expensive: they'd be nonexistent.

All that said, there's not even a question about which side to be on with the latest protests by Canada's migrant workers. A nice summary on Global is linked from the screen-shot, above. Everything they're asking for is reasonable, under our laws and customs; it's all about accepted Canadian standards applying to them as well. The cost is more than reasonable, it's almost nothing. This is not about getting the pay that Canadians would ask to do this back-breaking work; it's not about raising food prices into uncompetitive heights. It's about cheap, modest steps to save their very lives.

After the Exxon Valdez disaster, they re-examined what it would do to the price of oil, if every oil tanker went to the expense of a double-hull. The Titanic disaster had mandated double-hulls only for liners, not cargo ships. (They were only cargo work-units.) It turned out to be a few bucks a barrel: a nickel per tank of gasoline.

Similar math applies to most workplace protection, which is why those battles were won handily enough, and businesses now actively look for ways to improve safety: it barely touches the bottom line. My granddad died to save somebody a percent or two. His family were left destitute to save another percent.

You'll never notice the change in the price of food that decent, moral treatment of our migrant workers would cost. Support them unreservedly.


July 4: Escape the Pandemic

Well, sorry, I mean the news about the pandemic. Writing this blog has me reading too much of the stuff. Which is easy, as every news organ is just pumping it out. The American news has ticked up again this week, as their infection rate soars in multiple states.

Canada, however, is enjoying a holiday weekend, in a nation with very low risks, a safety hard-won. So if you don't want the Corona Virus harshing the mellow of your Kelowna Virus recovery, try reading The National Observer.

I struggle with that paper. I can't bear to subscribe to the National Post or the allegedly-more-liberal Globe and Mail. Even the latter, I noted in an email to Linda Solomon Wood, the Observer's founder, has a front section for "Business" and another for "Investing", but none for "People Who Work For a Living"; their outlook kind of ignores 90% of the population. She hadn't noticed that, herself, and passed my email around the office.

The Observer isn't just more lefty; it hardly takes its editorial eye away from First Nations and Climate issues, to the point where it is hardly general news at all. And on climate, it manages to be more-extreme than me all the time, which takes some doing. (Briefly, I'm all for new, carbon-free industries, but see no point in treating the fossil fuel industry like planetary-enemy Bond villains, with every pipeline project a Vimy Ridge to die upon.)

I wanted to give a little background, because today, I visited the Observer to find they're just barely touching the pandemic at all. If you just want a good hate-fest on Conservatives, there's the article on how Stephen Harper, still a big internal force, is "destroying the Conservative party". There's the Meng diplomatic problem, there's Canadian racism is nearly as bad as America's, there's Ontario tenant laws.

There's ONE front-page article that mentions COVID,but relax: the title is "David Suzuki on COVID-19's lessons to climate change". Whew. Still climate change.

So, it's a place you can go to NOT read pandemic news; de-stress that one stress just for once. It's also a nice day here in Vancouver, after what seems like a week of cold and rain. My pandemic response last week was to buy a cheap bike, and today's is to get out on it.


July 3: Belated O Canada

Maybe a bad idea to spend my Canada Day post on a "quarterly report", a time to take stock. I confused it with a New Year's tradition. I should have gone for a shout of patriotism. Well, that's today.

For a guy who started off blogging with a screed about not agonizing over America's troubles any more because they're hopeless, I can't seem to quit them. This blog then started with the prediction America would be the worst-in-league at pandemic response. So continuing to pay attention to them is like being a Leafs fan...voluntarily. Madness. Especially this week, or for the next month.

So I was reading Canadian news, and found out that on the sane side of the 49th parallel:

  • The Atlantic Bubble is opening, but with long lineups as people are questioned and checked...despite all four provinces having about 2 new cases per day. Between them. Cautious, much? Canadian.
  • Face-masks are being required in major cities...and it's not getting incensed pushback about "freedom". A Toronto epidemiologist calls us a "nation of rule-followers".
  • The CTV dashboard virus tracker shows (left) that the 7-day average of new cases per day, nationwide (but of course almost entirely Ontario/Quebec) is still edging down, albeit from 310 last week to 307 today. We have almost bottomed-out, perhaps, but still in slight decline, despite a lot of "re-opening".
Or, in short, things are looking up all over - in Canada.

We're doing better than much of Europe, save Germany; that's a tribute to the reasonably smart things we did with the warning they gave us.

The sharper comparison is to our neighbour to the south, of course, and there's so much news about them that...'nuff said.

The downward trend, however slight, means that we can open up to an extent, travel some, vacation...and still keep that dreaded R-nought below one. It's about zero point nine-nine...but that's below one. That's a proud achievement in public comity, communication, and willingness to sacrifice a bit for others.

Proud. We have our troubles, our failures, our dead; but let's just take a breath to be proud, too. I'm proud of the Prairies, and Maritimers, that continued following their advisories, despite near-zero cases. I'm proud of the First Nations that closed borders, protected their people, and kept their rate near zero. Even our two screwup provinces at least reversed course when their errors were clear.

To push my patriotic-rhetoric pedal to the metal, the measures taken to "combat" the coronavirus are not like fighting at all, not dramatic. The mental attitude, needed across the whole population, not just the leaders, is more like calm care, watchfulness, vigilance, preparation, self-sacrifice.

Or in short, we have responded successfully and well, because we really feel it, believe it, show it in action:
O Canada, we stand on guard for thee.


July 2: Tulsa Trendline

The Post has had a few stories that reference the Tulsa Rally, the last few days. I tossed in a comment about my check that showed little evidence it caused any "superspreading", and particularly my disgust that everybody lost interest in Tulsa itself as soon as Washington left (both articles were about Washington people that went there).

Replies sharply reminded me that several campaign staff and Secret Service were infected. That's not actually relevant to my topic; it's quite understandable that people rushing about for a week, talking to others to rent things, buy things and services, making arrangements, might get infected. That's all on them for how distantly they worked, wore masks, etc - and one can imagine campaign staff doing none of that. The question was whether those who attended a two-hour event in a sports arena paid for it with infection, full stop. That's the epidemiologically interesting question, the one about Tulsans, not about Washington zingers landing on political opponents.

In service of that zinger, I'm afraid the Washington Post reporters Josh Dawsey and Carol D. Leonning, resorted to some real cherry-picking of data in their July 1 story about the "fallout" of the rally.

Most of the story is about the postive tests of staff, the leak of same, etc. As to the aftermath, they write:

Meanwhile, Tulsa County saw record-setting spikes of coronavirus cases in the days after the ... rally - with the discovery of roughly 200 to 250 new cases each day.

In all, the county charted 902 new cases of the virus in the week after the rally, an increase of 15 percent over the week that led up the president's visit. This week, new cases have fallen slightly, with an average of 93 positive cases per day so far.

Really, isn't the trend-line from Tulsa County's own web site (linked from the graphic) much more clarifying than those four numbers? (200,250,902,15%) It shows the spike 2.5 days after the rally, on June 23. Yes, 2.5 days, because after being exposed between about 6:30 and 10:30 PM on June 20, the rally victims would have just 60-some hours to develop symptoms, so they could get to a doctor, get tested, get results back immediately (from the blood test, maybe, I don't think those nose-swabs come back within hours), and be entered as a case, to appear as part of that "250" on June 23.

That could happen, but probably not, according to this article in Popular Science:

Overall, fewer than 2.5 percent of infected people started showing symptoms within 2.2 days, and 97.5 percent had developed symptoms within 11.5 days.
It's really not likely that rallygoers are part of the 250, only somewhat likely they're part of the 200 the day after that. By the next day, the median symptom-display time at 5 days, the case-rate is back to 150/day, same as June 20 itself.

In short, the "spike" is too soon for even implied blame; and it's so short that the 14-day trend line right through the rally is actually downward...when a cases caused by a high number of infections on June 20 should be spread out over a week from June 24-July 2.

Which ends my interest in the matter. Events like this are, of course, a risk, and I wouldn't go, would try to talk anybody out of going. The Republican campaign was foolish to do it. All the criticism being leveled in Washington against Washingtonians is justified. I wasn't addressing that.

The single data point we get from Tulsa is that going to an indoor sports arena may be too high a risk to take just to watch a game or hear a speech; but it's not all that great a risk if there were a good reason. I'd spend three hours in one (in a mask) to get an air-conditioned, well-spaced, lineup to vote, for instance.

I'd like an expert opinion, of course. I'd like to see journalists who quoted expert Dr. Corey Hebert calling it a "superspreader event" on June 21, before this data was in, showing him that graph and asking if our concerns have been to cautious.

Oh, and I definitely wouldn't volunteer to organize such an event; that is clearly a massive risk.


Canada Day: Quarterly Report


I started the blog on April Fool's, so this is the first quarter of CCCC. It's already possible to have nostalgia for the bar chart at left, the first day of spring, at the start of our curve.

It looks like, at left, that cases were already on their way down, even outside the blue "uncertain" area, where all the tests aren't back yet, and the figures are lower than they will be. But the "firm" figures for March 11-13 showed a fall in cases. Yay! Already crushing the curve! Should be over by mid-April, we can have Thanksgiving!

But, on Canada Day, let's quote that great Canadian, Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers), with "DENIED!" on the right, where the same period of days (red box) showed nothing but steady, indeed steep, increase, and then much, much worse. And on the right, you'll also notice that they have widened the "uncertain data" shading to fourteen days from seven.

A month later, we did flatten that curve! But as I cheer mighty victory, the care homes were, of course, our utter humiliation. We all learned there was simply no excuse, either; the care-homes were neglected, waiting rooms for the graveyard, before the virus hit, years before, said report after report. It was always cheaper to call for another report than spend the money the last one called for.

Eighty percent of our dead. If Quebec and Ontario had swiftly moved to address the care-homes as BC did, we might at least have cut our death-rate in half, and be in the company of Germany, Greece, and Denmark, if not up in the superhero stratosphere with South Korea, New Zealand, and Taiwan.

But we are out of the bottom league, well above the USA (of course), and certainly the UK, Spain, France, Belgium, Italy, and poor deluded Sweden. Because our bar is a big jump down from Ireland/Netherlands at right, I stretched a point to include us with Germany in the next league up. (A tribute to our non-central provinces, which would be in the top league, if separated out.)

We didn't do badly. We just didn't do all that well, and it was all about the Quebec and Ontario care-homes. We need to fix them. It'll cost me in taxes. Fine. They can bill me.

Because The Christian Virus has judged us as Christ judged us, by how we treat the least among us. We have been judged... and found wanting. We have to fix ourselves.


June 30: Tulsa Rally Shows Arena Rallies are Possible?

It's more certain than ever that the large, open-air demonstrations didn't cause a spike in infections. It's possible that the more-closed, more-packed, unmasked rally in Tulsa caused a hundred extra infections or so, but not likely.

As noted by worried commentators at the time, cases in Tulsa had been going steadily up for two weeks, shown at left, from about 25 cases/day on June 6, to 150/day on June 20, the day of the rally. The dip the next day is easily explained by "Sunday, some records not reported until Monday", but the big jump to 250 cases is on Tuesday, three days after the rally - which would be quite early for symptoms to show. The average is five days, and by June 25, it's back down to 150 cases/day - and keeps going down for some days.

CCCC may be the sole "news"(??) organ (outside Tulsa) to actually give a crap about Tulsa, as opposed to criticizing the Republicans. I haven't seen anybody else follow up on Tulsa's pandemic, though today marks ten days since the rally, and any resultant spike should be visible by now. If even a dozen infectees had spread it to several people each, the minimum you could call a "superspread", it would show up against Tulsa's mere 150/day. The 250/day three days later would actually fit the bill, but it is literally a one-day report, surrounded by dips that make it look more like a natural statistical variation; random numbers do bounce up and down - in pandemic reporting, particularly around the weekend.

Further, there could be reports by now of specific infections traced back to rally-goers; they'd be bound to mention it to their doctor. And there's been nothing. I made a good-faith effort with google news, restricted to the last week, and it either didn't matter to The News whether Tulsa really had a bunch of people infected, or they watched for a spike, and it simply wasn't news that their fears were wrong.

The Tulsa World notes that the rally drew attendance from 44 counties across 12 states, not just the one shown at left; and that COVID-19 is "on the rise in 33 of them". That's not exactly the description of a "spike", and it definitely isn't about how actual known rally-goers themselves have been new reported cases.

I would still bet that a good half of the attendees were from Tulsa county itself; there should still be some sort of signal in the noise at left. While the hope that rallies aren't that unsafe is very tentative, I think it's not overoptimistic.

To double-check, I found a graph for all of Oklahoma. The blue bars at right, in the red oval, have that same dip-and-spike on the Tulsa graph; but again, no sign of ongoing upward infections, at a state level. (Tulsa is about 450,000 people, Tulsa county over 600,000, of some 4 million in the state; but it's typical for the cases to be almost entirely in cities.) I suppose much could be made of the trend line peaking and heading down six days after rally day, but it's hard to get around the blue bars of total active cases actually lower after the rally than before.

To be clear, I hope those rallygoer's political beliefs are all cast down into the ash-heap of history, regarded the way that Salem Witch Trials and Mao's Cultural Revolution are regarded today, with contempt and befuddlement that anybody ever believed any of it. I wish all political sorrow and suffering upon their near-empty, racist, cruelty-loving heads. But I don't wish them to get sick, and I really, really don't want their parents to get sick and die.

So, I'm happy to see this; I'm happy to see it even if it sinks in to other, wider-audience places than CCCC, and that in turn causes rallies to come back and be a part of the American campaign. Yes, there would be more lies, insults, threats, and fearmongering filling our TV screens. The helplessly mesmerized media covering them instead of policy discussions...again. The only thing I wouldn't be happy to see is the rallies becoming bigger, and more-packed, until they do bring about a superspread.

I'm happy to see it because all that is less-important than the deaths that won't happen from things like that rally. If the rally is indeed indicative, it means that the superspreading events are from even more-unsafe behaviour. If we can avoid doing things worse than the rally, and only get as close and exposed as the Tulsa Test Subjects, we may be able to get a lot of work (and fun) done this year without dying for it.

I don't know whether the rally-goers actually hoped that BLM demonstrators got infected for their activism. Nobody who has read recent years' most-important essay "The Cruelty is the Point" would doubt it, I'm afraid. Even if so, their opponents should not wish the reverse, or be in any way disappointed by this. Along with the lack of a spike from protests, let's all put politics aside and call it a win.


June 29: Seven O'Clock Applause Dying Out

I walked an hour to Canadian Tire yesterday and bought a new bike; replaced the one stolen a few months back. (Even in pandemic, some businesses go on - like stealing.)

The harbourfront seawall wasn't just active; it was busy. The parks were busy. Groups were well-distanced, but additional parties must have had trouble finding another spot. Canadian Tire was navigable without actually bumping into people and there were a fair number of masks, but I was glad to get out.

In short, people are acting almost as if it's over, save for lining up 2m apart at the till. And the seven o'clock applause has been dying out for some time. I've taken for over a month to banging a watering can instead of just clapping, to add some volume at our end of the street.

We've been thinking of keeping it up two more days, making lots of noise on Canada Day, and stopping. Every day for two months now, I reflect that this is about expressing neighbourhood solidarity with our voluntary activity restrictions, not really for medical staff that have been back to normal hours for a while.

The care-home staff are still in extraordinary protocols, of course. But I'm not sure if we're that appreciative of the care-home staff; no wage increases have been mentioned...and as Robert Heinlein said, "Real applause is green, and folds".


June 28: They Run Towards Danger, Die For Us on the Job

Yes, that's true of police. Their supporters have been sharply reminding us of that in recent weeks. I was able to find this report from 2018 on their risks of injury and death on the job, and it notes some 45 fatalities from 2006-2015, about 4.5 per year; a fatality rate of 0.007% per year on the job. Also, about 3%-4% of them per year have lost-time injury claims.

I'm just sayin', this is what other deaths get:

(perhaps not deeply enough that the City recorded their names...)

But, mainly, I was thinking of nurses and personal care workers. Turns out that Canada has lost sixteen nurses, orderlies, personal support workers, from COVID-19. So that's just the last few months, sixteen dead. You can be sure at least twice as many again have permanent organ injury from it. When COVID-19 came to kill those they protect, they faced the danger; most were provided with poor protection, enhancing their danger. Nurses are not well-paid for what they do; personal care workers and orderlies are not well-paid for stocking shelves, much less for saving lives.

It's not just the low pay, low unionization, and the criminal neglect of their personal protective equipment that got me. It's that four of the dead on that memoriam page don't even have names. I'm sure the Nurse's Union hated that and did some extra phoning, but just couldn't get anybody on the line who had time to dig up the file.

Seeing those missing names took me back five years to the photographs I took at left.

I'm not surprised by it, of course. The police and fire services have a military culture, complete with military ranks; and military culture includes a strong component of reward-by-glory, with medals for bravery, and solemn ceremony surrounding death on the job. When a police officer dies, others for many towns far away are given paid time and transport to attend, and the funeral becomes a uniformed parade of thousands. I don't have a problem with any of that, it's just credit where due.

But it's not an ethic that informs other high-risk professions. I had a Dad survive WW2, his Dad before him survived WW1. The one who died was Mom's Dad, the coal miner. He's my hero; he died bringing home one more paycheque, one more paycheque, one last paycheck. He was 54. The highest-risk professions are fisherman and lumberjack. Heavy construction workers are also up there, higher than police and fire as well. I took the pictures at left just before I retired, of the fine tributes to police and fire staff that adorn the great plaza in front of Calgary City Hall, statues, and photographs of their greatest battles and losses etched into metal plaques for the ages.

Behind the building, there's also a small, sheltered little park hardly noticed by the public, it's mostly used by city staff for smoke breaks out of the wind. It has a triangle of metal about a metre across and two high, with the last plaque at left, to all those who died in trench cave-ins, and equipment failures, and other industrial accidents. Their funerals were attended by family and friends, their whole work-crew and a few others. Their loss is not deeply felt by all, as my note below that line indicates. It's not that I think the police deserve less, just that these folks deserved more.

The medical heroes who have been writing their wills before the ICU heats up, deserve more again. The respirologists and unionized nurses are at least getting decent pay for it. The mostly foreign-born, mostly-female, mostly ill-paid care workers are getting very little indeed. Two of those sixteen were in their thirties; three more in their forties. (Maybe more, the ones with no names have no ages, either.)

The BC Nurses Union also notes that nearly one per day is injured on the job; if that's typical for Canada, then they have a comparable injury rate to police, as well. In spite of the similar risk, they are not allowed to protect themselves with guns. They go to work anyway.

The ethnic component of the worst-paid, and WORST-PROTECTED care workers, who died for our sin, of not equipping them, brings me back around to the whole issue that lives-of-colour don't matter, not enough. Not in police contacts, and not in the settings of industrial risks on the job, that come with no medals or statues. Workers of colour are handed not just the lowest pay, but the highest risks, and the worst neglects of their risks, that could have been cheaply mitigated. The picture below links to a great Toronto Star article on their challenges.

These Blacks wear Blue; can we at least start acting like all the Blue Lives Matter?


June 27: Officers in Danger

Public health officers, that is.

There are numerous stories piling up about threats, dire physical threats made, to public health officers in America. That, and of course frustration with being undermined by their own governor, is behind twenty of them resigning in recent months.

I can't imagine any need for further comment. The Post story link above is a great summary. The Officers' pictures below, are links to the story where the picture appears, about the threats and resignations. I grabbed the most-noted stories from the Post and from CNN. I'm sure it's merely a coincidence that so many are women. No, I'm not, though I did skip Dr. Chris Farnitano of Contra Costa County, who is also hanging in there after a demonstration outside his home and family.

To repeat, twenty have resigned; the number receiving some kind of threat is much higher, probably in the hundreds. Lots of doctors of all genders and colours. These are just the ones I had time for this morning.

The contrast to our own praise and adulation for Dr. Bonnie Henry and Dr. Deena Hinshaw in BC and Alberta, respectively, could hardly be more dramatic.

It's the most incredibly over-the-top metaphor for the rejection of science that sowed the wind - and those states will start reaping the whirlwind when the uptick in "cases" becomes and uptick in "bodies" about a week from now.

Dr. Nichole Quick
Orange County Health Care, Chief
Death Threat
Resigned
Dr. Amy Acton
Health Director, Ohio
Protest with guns outside her home
Resigned
Dr. Kathleen Toomey
Commissioner, Georgia Public Health
Multiple threats
Has police protective detail
Dr. Barbara Ferrer
Shooting her suggested live on Facebook
Police Investigating Multiple Threats
Still on the job


June 26: BC Opens For Vacation Travel: Millions Immediately Contract Virus

BC Premier John Horgan finally opened the province to "Phase 3", most dramatically including non-essential intra-provincial travel. This was in no way related to the imminent end of school, being merely a gigantic coincidence.

The province is of course fortunate in already being one of the best places in the world to have a summer vacation. Which is why much of the province has come down with the Kelowna Virus.

Kelowna Virus symptoms include profound restlessness, an irresistable urge to hit the beaches of Lake Okanagan, and lost-time moments where sufferers regain consciousness to find themselves already packing the trunk. Physicians recommend rest on a warm, sandy surface, and to treat the Kelowna Virus by pounding a few brews.

Get out there. We've all earned a little time away from home.

In addition to being legal, Kelowna/Penticton vacations have the advantage of being more affordable than foreign climes, in current straitened circumstances.


June 25: Number Games

Just a paragraph to note that the USA crossed a death-toll number the other day that I mentioned on May 22: 125,325 dead in all the wars between the Civil War and WW2. They passed the 116K of WW1 alone, early last week.

They're headed for the next number I put together, WW1+Korea, (153K) by late July.


June 25: Yesterday's News

What's always a little funny about the news - even very unfunny news - is when it goes from a great area of concern and fear to...oblivion. Some news just vanishes, making you wonder, "Did the news just take advantage of a mental fad, a short-lived little panic?" The answer is almost always yes.

There's been no news about our fragile toilet-paper supply chain and how you can't turn commercial-grade into consumer-grade overnight. It recovered on its own, without any micromanagement. I never heard of anybody going down to the use of newspaper, which my grandparents would have described as "Wednesday".

On a similar note, shelves everwhere overflow with hand sanitizer this month, and stories about all the distilleries and other production plants that switched to making it, are gone. They'll be switching back now, with no stories, as the factories that regularly make it catch up at lower prices.

For that matter, I haven't seen any news lately about the perfidy of China, and their general responsibility for the whole pandemic. This one is interesting, because there's a large, well-funded political party in the States that would love for that to be the topic, 24x7.

They just can't get traction with it, I suppose, because the global effects are totally different in different countries: China has done very little damage to some local competitors, like South Korea, Japan, and Vietnam, all of which have suffered less than China itself. As conspiratorial sneak-attacks go, it's a pathetic one that depends on your opponent badly failing simple public health measures, for it to succeed. I think the conspiracy theorist are just finding this one a hard sell.

And of course, I've noted repeatedly that chloroquine vanished from the news as soon as certain politicians dropped it as a magic cure - not just for patients, but clearly they figured the entire pandemic could just vanish like a bad dream at dawn. There was a brief flurry of news, not about its effectiveness, but about whether The Lancet should have published a paper about it actually being dangerous. This provided conspiracy lovers a few days of thinking The Lancet is part of the Great Global Conspiracy to, umm...use the pandemic to impoverish a billion people just to defeat a couple of politicians? But even they dropped it. Chloroquine's great sin isn't to be actually harmful, or even to not help with COVID-19; it had to disappear the whole pandemic to be interesting to them. Notice that when an actually effective treatment was announced, all peer-reviewed and straight into use, they were silent. A drug that reduces mortality somewhat was politically worthless, and politics were their only real interest.


June 24: Will a Lower Death Rate Allow America to Sleep?

There's a lot of focus on the "case fatality rate": if you aren't a lucky asymptomatic or mild-symptoms-only infectee who becomes a "case", what are your odds?

But society as a whole has a different fatality rate altogether, and it depends almost entirely on the protection given to care homes. They are 80% of Canada's dead; 30% of America's. They're a whole blog in their own right, much less an article, so I'll just stop there.

Care homes passed around the disease so that most of the patients and staff are infected; and the patients, at least, have a fatality rate dozens of times that of the general population. For most of us, the odds of dying are under 1% - but Canada has logged just over 100,000 cases and 8,000 dead: 8% for the overall society. America is 5%. With most care homes mostly protected, the overall society fatality rate will now plummet, whatever the number of cases. If most retirees, who can stay home, protect themselves, it might fall below 1%.

The graph at left is the same one as yesterday's, below, that highlighted how caseloads went back up in Sweden, and never went down at all, in the USA, are now at levels several times that of Canada and most of Europe...except today's is a graph of deaths, not cases. I have placed it as low as possible in the article to allow same-screen comparison.

As you can see, it's harder to tell the American death rate from the others. It is higher - nearly double Canada's at present - but it is't as dramatic, and more importantly the American death rate is still going down, as the last of the care-home victims are buried. By comparison to April, America looks good on paper.

The thing I fear - especially for the United States - is that the previous fatality numbers will have inured them to accept several hundred dead per day, from familiarity. Car accidents are about 100 Americans a day; murder and suicide, another hundred. Neither statistic ever occasions any serious action.

If their virus population were a black box that accepted "cases" at the input and produces 1% as many dead people a few weeks later, one could imagine a steady state where 50,000 new cases are reported every day, and 500 new deaths from the 50,000 of a few weeks earlier. Disproportionately old, poor, Black, and previously-ill, of course. I'm afraid I can imagine something over double the losses from cars and violence together, to those people, just becoming background noise in the news. Mass-deaths by suicide bombing in Iraq became page-2 stories for years, after dominating the headlines at first.

Care homes were our wake-up call; those piles of bodies outside, the waiting trucks, shocked us bolt-upright. I fear that America wants to hit the snooze button and go back to sleep.


June 23: America, Object of Pity

Since I follow all this daily, I was surprised to be surprised by the graph at right in the Washington Post today. It was clearly done to highlight the topic of the story, which was that the USA is doing badly compared to others, and "Americans, if not their leaders, are starting to notice".

No kidding. They look awful. Pathetic.

I hope the CTV graph at left adds a little more context. The EU is doing well despite Sweden, which failed to lockdown with eyes open, as a decision. A bad one, that did not help their economy. Canada is doing well because Quebec finally got a grip on their transmissions. Canada did much more poorly than Germany, which was much worse two months ago, but improved quickly. Germany, with the highest EU population, really improves the average shown in the Post's graph.

American liberals, of course, have been acutely aware of their inferiority in many areas, for nearly a century. They were being told to "Love it or leave it" for their criticisms (mostly, of the same stuff they're criticizing now) fifty years ago. The complaint was turned into a tightly-written, statistically devastating rant by Aaron Sorkin and Jeff Daniels in the opening scene of "The Newsroom" eight years ago.

The Post article is a great example of both-sides-ism, afraid to more than hint that "one party in particular" (unnamed) can't admit to American problems, before going back to saying "Americans" instead of "conservatives". (I can see they hate to seem to be touting one party, but they don't have to: half of America's Democrats would count as "conservatives" anywhere else. They could just say "conservatives", and coyly let their audience interpret the term.)

Can information like the graphs above convince more of America to stop thinking they're #1 all the way, and admit to need for major changes? I'm thinking, not. The Iraq War didn't do it; Vietnam caused only a half-decade pause in their militarism until it came roaring back with Reagan. The "Newsroom Rant" would still kill the career of most American politicians, eight years later. (In the TV show, the rant caused Daniel's character to take a vacation, came back to find most of his staff had quit. Journalists, quitting because he recited indisputable statistics? Sorkin thought it believable.)

I think the USA will get a significant shift in attitude and behaviour out of this, but nothing revolutionary, and only half of it long-lasting. They've been putting up with the military and the gun deaths and everything else for a long time; they'll put up with this, too.

Pity.


June 22: Travel is Not Locked-Down, it's Suggested-Down

A very late start today, and I want to do some work on posts that get into data (as they all should), so today is just a quick little rumination.

My post yesterday, about the Tulsa rally having poor attendance because even most of that crowd genuinely fear the disease enough to be cautious, suggests to me how smart Dr. B. Henry has been to manage the BC lockdown with nothing more than suggestions and warnings. We haven't had a heavy hand; not many tickets or other legal consequences have been implemented to force us to isolate.

My family is awaiting an OK for interprovincial travel to Alberta, but in fact I know a few people who've already made the trip, on their own opinion that it was "necessary". (Death of a family member, say.)

Frankly, it seems to be working. This is not a natural attitude for governments and regulatory bodies; assuming that people will just Do The Right Thing doesn't work with any other law! But most laws exist to keep you from taking advantage of other people; these advisories are for your own good. The remarkable thing is that people seem to be trusting it.. Remarkable, because as the graph shows, both Canadians and Americans have very little "trust in government", or at least, so they tell pollsters.

The difference is probably spotted by this Business in Vancouver article that distills it down to :

Canadians’ trust for government has spiked dramatically during the COVID pandemic, with 70% of the poll’s respondents (1,200 members - 18 and older - from the general population) saying they trust government during the outbreak. ... But the most important reason ... may be that both Ottawa and the provinces have deferred decision-making to health officers like Theresa Tam and Bonnie Henry, and basing the policy decisions on science has resulted in mass buy-in.

“One of the main reasons why we got such universal buy-in was because the government deferred to science”

I'm not going to look up how American's trust in government has been affected lately. I can only spare so much time for them, and especially their government.


June 21: Tulsa Turning Point?

I'm pretty sure it wasn't just pranking teens - and certainly not mythical protester roadblocks - that limited the Tulsa turn-out last night. There were messages sent out in the last hour or so before the speech began, that there was "still space". Nobody jumped in their cars. (Also, nobody was complaining yesterday that they'd been unable to get a ticket because of said teenagers, or showing up in the parking lot for the overflow. It wasn't the prank.)

The number is now in: the Tulsa Fire Marshals pegged the crowd at 6,100, or about one-third of the arena.

The photograph above is meant to show all those empty (blue) seats, but to me, it adds another piece of information: anybody could sit anywhere, there was no reason for the crowd to not spread out over the whole arena, two empty seats for every full one. Note that Mr. Lonely in the foreground is also wearing a mask. I found a few other photos of the upper areas with some blue spaces between people, and they also have some small but significant numbers of mask-wearers, whereas the front-seats (right) had almost none.

So. We can now separate the supporters into three groups:

  • Those who support, have listened to all the stuff about the virus being minor, and going away, and masks being a liberal thing..but don't believe it enough to show up.
  • Those who showed up, but were happy enough to be way, way back from the front so that they could hardly see, and don't mind wearing masks, in a crowd that probably looked down on them for it.
  • The True Believers up front. They really don't think the virus is a problem. Some of them, by the way, camped out for days! Then found they'd saved their place in line at great discomfort, when they could have strolled in after the warm-up act.
This is fantastic news, statistically. There were at most 5,000 people, out of about 50,000 in Tulsa that voted in the Republican primary, that were really willing to come to a rally and act as if infection risk were nothing to avoid. So many are cheering today out of pure political schadenfreude - hooray, the other team had a bad day. But, a focus on pandemic rather than politics can only be happy that nearly everybody, even MAGA-hat-wearing "enemies", do indeed believe they have a risk, and want to reduce it.

Many have remarked that politics in the US now resemble sports, where you stick with your team for life, loyal whatever their faults. You may keep cheering your team - but will you bet on it? Serious money? That's different.

I hoped yesterday for low case-counts arising from the maskless, indoor rally. We will still get data on that, courtesy of the group-3 True Believers that packed together without masks for three hours anyway. I hope only for good news, but if there's an outbreak traced to that segment of the crowd, it really will ruin all indoor rallies (and sports tickets, and theatres) for many months to come.

I write, "turning point", because this has been true all along; nothing has happened in the last week to make GOP members change their minds about COVID-19 concerns. They were listening to the pooh-poohing all along, cheering it reflexively, but they weren't willing to bet serious money (or two weeks in bed) on that "sports team". The turning point is that now they can all see that most of their fellows don't really believe. The cat's out of the bag: now they all have permission to start admitting what they actually believe.

It might even become possible to be an American Republican who supports dramatic and expensive responses to the pandemic. And have the courage to say so.

One can only hope.


June 20: Protests That Don't Spread Infection

I learned about Vancouver's big march yesterday from the news, long after it had started, but the march ended at Sunset Park, hardly 3 km from our house, so I strolled over and caught a half-hour of the speeches (and concert!) before supper.

It was well-run and financed as an event: a row of portapotties, sound and video equipment, a huge screen so that close-ups of speakers could be seen 100m away; and easily the most well-behaved protest I've ever seen; more like a neighbourhood BBQ with talk instead of food.

Neither the speakers nor anybody around me at any point struck me as angry. If one's sense of "the atmosphere", gathered from expressions, body language, voice tones means anything, I'd say the crowd was almost celebratory: we're together, we're a large number, we're having some impact, successes are in the offing.

When the speakers gave way to a singer of remarkable talent and voice, (upper left photo), my main problem was that supper was on, and I had to get home. I'm further frustrated now that I didn't catch her name, and the news stories neglected to mention it. I want albums; she was awesome.

But, oh, yeah, my topic is the pandemic. I shot a number of photos to record just how packed the gathering was. There are some on the news, of the original march, which probably took less time than the rally at the park. The march, like most, was fairly spaced out. Opinions that spacing, and "movement", help prevent transmission, by keeping the virus from building up in the air, run into the problem that marches end somewhere, with the most-eager participants crowding up close to the stage.

So I grabbed the opportunity, and the rest of this post will be more like my photoblog, with big pictures and a few comments. The back of the crowd, maybe a quarter of the attendance, was very well spaced indeed:

In the more-popular area just behind the sound/camera stand and a secondary bank of speakers (a main bank at the stage; this is about 50 metres away), there was less spacing, and I noticed a slight tendency for people to line up a bit, so that one's closest neighbours were to the side, not front/back of each other.

Then, forward of that camera stand to the stage, it got increasingly dense, well into the packing that would cause transmission concerns. I've got to say, not only is Sunset Park a terrific gathering place with close access to services, the usual breathtaking view: the hill means it's not only a natural amphitheatre, but by standing on it, you have semi-aerial photography for free.

But, very important note: as we look back from there are the lighter crowd around the camera/speaker stand:

And, even more so, the crowd right up front, packed in tight:

...that mask usage is near-universal. Over 90%.

Being up on the hill, with both horizontal and vertical distance separating people from neighbours, seemed to give courage to have masks be "only" about 75%, and the widely-spaced people way at back might have been less again.

To sum up: everybody was very aware this was a risk. Almost nobody wanted to make some point about being "brave", or disrespecting the science.

So I think there can be high hopes that this rally will have caused almost zero transmissions. I awoke this morning to a story from Kitchener-Waterloo which held a rally on June 3; and after two weeks, was prepared to say that one (1) case appeared to trace back to infection at that rally. One. Whew. Be it noted, that rally was also an exemplar of COVID-19 wokeness: Hand-washing stations were provided, and masks were mandatory. Their foresight has been rewarded.

The value to BLM is two-fold; nobody should fear going out to their rallies, which are well-run, peaceful, safe...and have great music. Secondly, they look like just about the most-sensible, responsible people in the discussion, a diametric contrast to those who crap upon their politics... while also causing risk to others.

One can only hope, for Tulsa, that the indoor, undoubtedly mask-free, rally tonight turns out to also surprise us with low case-counts. They are certainly starting off with a statistical handicap. Tulsa County and Vancouver have very similar populations, about 650,000. The county had 125 new cases Friday, in contrast to Vancouver, which had seven. (And that's from assigning all 7 cases in BC to Vancouver, alas, not all that conservative.) The Waterloo area had 73 active cases on May 31. Dividing by 14, that's just five new cases per day, so they were in Vancouver-risk territory when they had only one transmission on June 3.

If the inherent risk in Tulsa (i.e. the probability that a random guy-beside-you is shedding virus) is over an order of magnitude larger, then one might guess a dozen transmissions. Actually, make it a few dozen, because if they fill the 19,000 seat arena, that's a few times as large as Vancouver's rally yesterday. If the actual results are way higher than that, then we'll have some tentative data on how much it increases risk to be indoors - even in the most-capacious "indoor" space - and to avoid masks.

It would be great news if it were as safe as the outdoor rallies have turned out to be; it would mean a lot of good activities could perhaps re-start. To those running this experiment, I can only ask: please stay the hell away from your parents, and other elders, for a week or two. Their risk is many times yours.


June 18: Pleasant Surprise: Few Infections at Protest Marches

The prevailing theory continues that the coronavirus is not spread by many sufferers, and the 2-to-3 R-nought comes from a small number of "superspreader" events where one victim infects many. The protest marches and rallies looked tailor-made for superspreading, and the medical system was braced.

We appear to have dodged the bullet, worldwide.

I'd been noting the complete lack of a "spike" of cases in New York State, following the huge protests there at the end of May, and there was no sign of it. I hated to jump on it before I was sure, and wasn't the first. Yesterday, both Slate.com and The Guardian ran stories about the lack of case "spikes" even more than two weeks after protests.

The reasons are all speculative, but both articles note how many protest photographs show at least some distancing wherever possible, and a lot of mask usage. Other theories are that not only is it good to be outdoors, not only is it good to have hot, sunny, humid weather, but it is good to be moving rather than sitting in one place.

Nobody knew this going in, of course, a serious risk was accepted as the price, and those who took it (and also, especially, their parents) were lucky.

The images are from the Philadelphia Inquirer, above, and The Guardian, below. They may not actually reflect the way the march looked for all but a fraction of an hour, for a small minority of particpants. Newspaper photographers try to make crowds look as large and as dense as possible, for dramatic effect. I noted in previous posts that most aerial photographs showed more spacing.

I hope to return to a larger topic of which this one is a part, later on: that America, in particular, excels at "natural experiments" in sociology and economics, so much so that the 50 states were called "The Laboratories of Democracy" by one judge. No epidemiologist would dare call for some test subjects to do what the marchers did, to see if the coronavirus spread well or poorly in that kind of gathering.

But volunteers ran the experiment dozens of times, with various degrees of movement and spacing, with different crowd sizes, different weather. I wrote on June 8, "Demonstrations as Data" how later, we could contact-trace people who caught it at demonstrations to nail down how close they'd been to their infector, how long, and get a far better idea how infection proceeds. It's happy, not sad, of course, to have little such data, because so few were infected. Instead of finding the spacing and duration at which spread and superspread occur, we've found the whole thing was below the "superspreading is probable" level. Hooray!

Saturday, America will run another experiment where people gather in a sports arena, most probably without masks, and not moving. I honestly hope that, too, will result in few cases. I'd far rather have the terrific news that we can do things like that in relative safety, than the ugly "satisfaction" of seeing the participants infected - whatever our other disagreements.


June 15: The Uselessness of Billionaires

After taking on all capitalism (in under 1000 words) yesterday, I should give it a rest, today. However, I've been meaning to write something about the last book I finished, Anand Giridharadas' "Winners Take All". It's about not so much the rise of billionaires, as undercutting the excuse often given for them to be admired and supported, their fine charity work; that billionaires are Changing the World. Very, very briefly, Giridharadas shows, not. At best, they are alleviating a little of the worst harms done by the system that keeps making them richer.

It would be easy to continue in that vein, during the pandemic: they could have kept on all staff, at a loss. But, no, the way they got rich was by high prices and low wages, and I'm sure the thought never occurred. (Link to story about Canadian billionaire Jim Pattison cutting wages to front-line grocery staff the other day.)

Billions allow massive brute-force solutions to problems, too. We could have been talking heavy-metal, industrial-grade charity, this spring. Lord, lord, what can you do with a billion dollars, when people are hurting for the lack of a few hundred? They could have bought all that restaurant food, and had it delivered to shelters; they could have rented out entire hotels and closed the shelters.

They could have done that thing they're always ranting on about: been fast and nimble where government is slow and ponderous; they could have started cutting checks in March, had handed out a few thousand in food and shelter to each of, say, 10 million people, saved restaurants and hotels. Spread among a few dozen billionaires, it would have been only several percent of their wealth apiece, money they'd never miss. It wouldn't have been much compared to the government's trillions, of course, but a few tens of billions would have made them admired and beloved, and made Giridharadas look the fool.

Nothing. Except for making Anand Giridharadas look brilliant.

Sorry, that's unfair. The Bloomberg charities have a "COVID-19 Response"; it has a $40 million "Initiative", focused on Africa. Mike's answer to America's problems, of course, was to drop $500M in a month flat on the glorification of Mike Bloomberg, and his elevation to president. Man, that was quick and nimble. (So was his utter cessation of spending on criticism of the administration, when it was clear he wouldn't benefit.)

It may work out to "less than nothing", since the rich are enjoying many government pandemic supports. The link is to a story about private, schools that benefit both as schools, and as businesses. Better the money come from us than more from the "billionaire benefactor". In total, American billionaires have gained $565 billion more just during the pandemic.

In Canada, is was that slow, ponderous government that was nimble: the government web site to get you your CERB money was up in a week, took only a few clicks. Compare to the Windows 10 upgrade that has people willing to abandon Microsoft.

Speaking of Bill Gates, he's been held up as a hero for warning of pandemic. What did he do that dozens of $100K/year health officials did not? Nothing. He only got attention for those warnings because he's a billionaire and they're not.

Bill's been lionized for years for giving billions to a fund that in turn does good in the third world. But he's still worth tens of billions. He's known the US government was going to have a useless pandemic response since before the pandemic; Bill could not only have responded quickly, he could have dropped a lousy billion on preparation in 2019; added another when December made it clear the pandemic was probably getting loose; and a couple of billion a month since, if he really wanted to help.

The Gates foundation could have been sitting on 100 million masks, bought for under a buck apiece when nobody but Mr. Smartypants saw it coming.

It may be a necessity of the way our economy works at present that some people pile up billions. (It's not a necessity for much of it to not be taxed back away, but, for another time.) But the notion that this concentration of wealth has a social utility, by giving power to the smart and good, who then use it better than the public could ever vote to do, has been disproved for years, just reported on by Giridharadas. It's now proven again by their squandered opportunity, a crisis they let go to waste. They had an incredible, Hollywood-movie-script-grade of disaster to show their value, and they were useless.


June 14: Pandemic v. Capitalism

It's ludicrous for me to even touch such an oversized topic. I will surely ramble much longer than my normal 500-word limit. (It's Sunday.) I thought I'd google up a few links on it, and they're overwhelming. The very-capitalist Forbes on how it could fix capitalism, the socialists at Jacobin on how capitalism kills during pandemics, Noam Chomsky on how the pandemic has exposed capitalism's suicidal tendencies.

I pretty much avoided even clicking on this stuff. Much of it has the crucial problem of mistaking "our current politics and economics" with "capitalism", which it surely isn't. Government has been too involved to call it that since the 19th century, and monopolies and oligopolies have more recently taken over, what, a third of the economy? We techies thought the Internet would be this New Deal of its own, creating zillions of new little companies and hot competition, eliminating the old monopolies like IBM, the oligopolies like the TV networks. It devolved down into MAGAF (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Amazon, Facebook) faster than the many airlines of the 1950s were consolidated to a few.

Between high-finance and tech, it feels like a return to the age of robber barons; at least now we line up for breadlines in cars, with the music on, (below) instead of on foot, in Times Square (above).

It was our economy, and not "pure" capitalism, that Matthew Rosza really meant, with the article The coronavirus' next victim? Capitalism, in Salon.com, a week back.

I clicked on this one, because Rosza, finishing his history PhD, just does a lot of well-researched journalism. It caught me at once, because he pointed out that our "economic status quo...is fatally flawed", with examples that have been striking me as dead right for all three months now.

One of the chief problems with free market capitalism - or, for that matter, the global economic system in general - is that it depends on constant consumption in order to sustain itself. If that consumption is disrupted even for a brief period, the entire system grinds to a halt, with people losing their employment and poverty skyrocketing.
Yeah. In emergencies, we all just need food, clothing, shelter, a few other necessities, those "essential jobs". It's weird, when you stop to think of it, that we need movie theatres, because the staff need the job to eat.

Hunter-gatherer tribes, we must note, do not have this problem. They just rally around the sick, injured, old, and "take care of their own". The notion of a "safety net" was not invented by Karl Marx, but by cavemen. Champions like to assume that capitalism is the economic equivalent of "nature", of competition by species in a forest, something that just has to be. But communism (within the tribe, all is shared in times of need) was actually the natural state of most of primitive humanity. We've lost that. (Except, of course, in families, which are all communes. From parents according to abilities, to grandma and kids according to their needs. "Family values" are Marxist.)

Rosza further pulled me in by pointing out how much of current business depends on lies. Lies about the costs of economic production: ecological costs, health costs, social costs of stress. Those in the debate rarely come out and say "yeah, we're hurting people and nature, but it's worth it", they dismiss the problem as nonexistent, damn the studies. (The "we have to kill grandma" crowd of the pandemic are actually kind of refreshingly honest.)

Recently, this has involved more and more denigration of scientists who are clearly just pursuing truth. Paul Krugman has been railing for decades at the compromises made in academic economics to keep up "debate" about tax cuts paying for themselves - or health care, not doing so. We don't have to get me started on climatology, because, now epidemiology has offered far better examples of dismissing scientists, and truth itself, because it might cost some profits.

If the pandemic doesn't kill that part of our system, something else has to.

Lastly, even Rosza doesn't get into the "highest" achievement of our system: a globalized economy of maximized efficiency. Every solution, but the cheapest, is driven to bankruptcy...and that cheapest depends on no blockages to travel and supply chains. The whole thing derails like a train hitting a loose track when any part of it glitches. But that precarity and brittleness were the inevitable outcome of the free market drive to efficiency above all. It cannot, by itself, ever prioritize resilience and safety, because they are expensive. Just as it can never prioritize the environment, physical health, or mental health. Government can regulate it to do so, but when it does, it's not really capitalism any more.

One of the greatest "capitalist" successes of recent years was addicting millions of Americans to opioids; the profits were massive. This wasn't an aberration of the system, but an entirely natural outcome of its rules.

We need to change those rules - by any means necessary.

I would prefer something non-violent, like politics. I've made jokes about the "radicalism" of recent protests, with pearl-clutching at the mere suggestion to "defund" (partially) the police. When I was a kid, protesters chanted "Off The Pigs". Even that is but light radicalism compared to beheading 30,000 French aristocrats; that's generally what you have to do to really change a political/economic status quo.

Do we need to start supporting more "radical" politics? Well, the safe ones have led us into grave societal weakness, destruction of our world, and now, mass death. The pandemic has merely slapped our faces with a long-established truth.


June 13: Finally, Interprovincial Bubble Proposed

Here's the CBC link, but half a dozen other media are running stories on the value of a "Maritime Bubble", allowing travel through the four Maritimes as if they were one big province.

In other words, everybody else has caught up with CCCC of a week ago. Back then, I went further, to combining the Maritimes and Prairies and BC, waving aside the difference between "10 cases a day" and "10 cases a week", because Ontario and Quebec were orders of magnitude higher again.

It strikes me as so obvious that we need to start with inter-provincial "travel bubbles", that I'd be willing to pass on my own agenda for a while. Can't they discuss a Saskatchewan/Manitoba "bubble"? They're both better off than BC or Alberta. Really, a good metric is "active cases per million", which should be proportional to your risk of infection, hitting the street or the store:

The images link to the excellent Wikipedia article tracking the pandemic in Canada, with a shout-out to Alan Beairsto for putting me on to it. Having to be told about the Wikipedia is certainly a "duh moment"; those volunteers never cease to amaze with their hard work and diligence. For free.

Mostly, we need Log scales to chart pandemic stories because of the differences across time are exponential. From 10 to 20 in a week, then, from 10,000 to 20,000 in a week, a month later. But, here, we need log scales because the pandemic in different regions is so much worse that you can't see the "Rest of Canada" with Quebec in the chart.

The log scale also explains back to me why BC and especially Alberta shouldn't be in the same bubble as Saskatchewan/Manitoba. All are very low compared to central Canada, but Alberta needs to halve its case-load again before it's in BCs' league, by ten-fold to be the same risk as Saskatchewan.

So, fine, we'll have to wait. Can we get started by proposing a bubble for SK/MB? It's something.


June 12: Meaningless Milestones

There's a few round, or historical, numbers being hit today. I think that people are numb from all such stories, the news knows it, and we won't be seeing so many any more.

But, for the record, the worldometers reading on the US death toll finished yesterday just a few hundred short, no doubt already added as I write, of the total US death toll for World War One. (116,500 ish).

Like the COVID-19 losses; they happened in a short period, in contrast to the Vietnam war that was spread out over several years. Most of the American dying in WW1 happened after the start of 1918, in the spring and summer.

Very, very, like the COVID-19 losses, nearly half of them; 45,000 of those died of the 1918 pandemic. Of them, 30,000 died before reaching the war in France, they got sick and died in transit.

Interesting, isn't it, that pandemic-disease deaths of serving soldiers, thrown into close quarters by the requirements of their job, are recorded as "war deaths"...but the deaths of meat-plant workers, who got sick because of their job conditions, are going to be their problem, not their employers? What's the difference?

On the "round numbers" front: Canada just did its two-millionth COVID test yesterday. It was 39,241 more tests than the day before, so we are slooowly making progress at reaching that "60,000/day" number that's still the last word I have on "the number needed to re-open safely".

You know, we should "trust the experts" to give good advice. Just don't expect a bureaucracy, however many experts it has, to give good service on short notice.


June 11: My Birthday Wishlist Books Are Non-Pandemic

Yes, I've long since hit the age where I have too much stuff already, and want mostly books and movies for presents. You'd think I'd be wanting a pandemic-related topic next month for my birthday.

But the June 2020 issue of "Alberta Views" had a review of "Bad Law", by John Reilly. I've stretched a definition of "pandemic topic" a bit to include the recent protests, but today, I got nothin'. This is just not about the pandemic. I tried looking for some Indigenous/pandemic "hooks" to relate the two, but all I can do is remark in passing that most of the Nations have locked down well, kept outsiders out so as to be COVID-19 free. There are ongoing concerns with how well Canada's health system works for those communities, which the pandemic has exacerbated. But other than that, I guess I'm changing topics for one day. Back to the pandemic tomorrow.

Reilly just has really valuable perspectives on Canada's law-enforcement relationship, having spent 33 years putting Nakoda (Stoney) people in jail. He slowly twigged to the pointlessness of it, the complete ineffectiveness.

Reilly wound up applying "Indigenous legal principles" in his work, and speaking out, and for it got put under supervision, accused of having "lost his objectivity", or what imperial British administrators called, "going native". (This question is asked about Lawrence of Arabia, early in the movie.)

Reilly won his point, keeping his seat at Canmore, with jurisdiction over the Stoney Nakoda, where he knew the community and had made strong links, retiring a dozen years back. It's his books, however, that brought his experiences with the futility of our justice approach out to affect more than the one community of 4000-some.

Not to say that Reilly adopted a view of settlers-are-evil, Indigenous-are-good. Reilly's harshest criticisms were leveled at Nakoda chief John Snow; I believe that "Bad Medicine" compared some communities to little "third worlds" with one or two families always trading off the governing jobs, handing out patronage and bribes to supporters. I think his term for Snow was "most evil man I have ever encountered".

This does not let the rest-of-Canada off at all; right-wing talking points that imply that bad lives on 'The Rez' are the residents' own fault, miss two points. First, that every human society has had exactly the same tendency to slip into feudal-style governance (including some giant superpowers I could name). Especially, though, that the favourite tactic of the British, French, and Spanish colonial empires was to bribe and then support the worst elements of the subject population. As you look across what we now call "the third world", the whole thing is all (former) colonial subjects, the awful, feudal, governments devised by empires to control and exploit.

With people talking about completely re-writing our policing and legal strategies, Reilly's insights are the result of a lifetime of learning and changing, come from a deeply humane man. We've given our police the dual job: of being police, and keeping the underclass under control. We need deeply humane people to inform the new system.

PS: Oh, and read any novel by the late Richard Wagamese, former Herald columnist. His death was a great loss for Canada.


June 10: Sigh. Getting Testy.

Well, I found other topics for eleven whole days, but I finally typed in the testing counts from canada.ca. And the bar graph is barely worth the space at left. I could have just said, "they have gradually ramped up twenty percent in ten days, mostly". We're at about 33,000 tests per day now, barely over half what the epidemiologists say we need to keep the genie stuffed back in the bottle every time he pops out.

When I typed in my "canada testing plan" google, I literally got the same result; the top link was one I'd clicked on two weeks ago, "COVID-19 testing shortfall spurs quest for radical approaches" at the Globe. That link led to my post about Paul Hebert, with his radical approach indeed.

I know from embittering personal experience what happens when a guy with a radical new idea, one that would totally show up the accomplishments of the old system, approaches a bureaucracy. Nothing. Smiles, nods, a few words of thanks, but the phone doesn't ring. Dr. Hebert's great idea is likely in File 13, unless politicians, or newsies, follow up and push. In any event, there hasn't been another news story in the four weeks since he called them. Tick-tock, 2,500 people died during that period, and provinces continue with re-opening plans that need those tests.

That's just the one point; Dr. Hebert's idea might not have worked, anyway, and it would be fine if the regular system had been able to scale up and produce that 60,000 number, with contact-tracers to suit. It's incredibly important, should be a push comparable to a military campaign. There should be stories about the training and hiring of testers, stories about the changes in labs, stories about the shifting of people from regular jobs to testing jobs.

Nothing.

I tried "canada testing labs changes scale-up" as a google, and got Trudeau offering help to scale-up(May 21), and experts calling for the scale-up in The Star (May 11). I couldn't even find any news with that google if I restricted it to the last week. The top link was to antibody therapies. I don't know what else to google. I'm pretty sure there's just no news on a 60,000-tests-per-day in the offing.

I'll leave it there for today. What there is journalism about is the prospect of continued re-opening in places with increasing case-loads. The lack of testing is going to have a heavy price.


June 9: All Praise Our Dear Leader

In the next few months, Dr. Henry would prove to be one of the most effective public health officials in the world, with lessons for nations struggling to emerge from lockdowns.
      -New York Times Profile on Dr. Bonnie Henry

Well, the secret is out. The warm and fulsome profile of Dr. Bonnie in the New York Times the other day has let millions know that we have it very, very good here in BC.

I had wondered, despite trying to follow all the news, why BC had such sane policies about distancing. There were many cautions about going out in parks, and they did close up playground equipment . But they didn't close up my utterly necessary mental health equipment (Stanley Park). My relatives in Madrid were confined to the house. In France, they backed that up with a form you had to fill to be allowed out for groceries.

...even when pushed to ramp up police enforcement of social distancing in parks and protests - as she was empowered to do - she staunchly refused.

"That’s the only way as a community we can get through this without traumatizing people," she said.

She's a doctor that treats the "whole patient", body and soul; those are the best. One who can recognize that the whole society consists of souls, not just bodies, souls that need certain nourishment, too, for the body to be well.

I wish we could put her in charge of more of the government, frankly. This week, "the cops" come to mind.

The article notes how well the public took it when she teared up on camera over the losses in care homes, a contrast to Alberta Premier Jason Kenney clearly shrugging at them as occurring at advanced age, from "an influenza".

Another quote concerned her handling the SARS problem in Toronto, and a case where both parents got it, and there was nobody to take care of the children. They wound up doing four weeks in children's hospital, the only public system that would take them in. As she relates the incident to her interviewer, again there were tears. Seventeen years later. Everybody can see she really cares, really. It's kind of staggering after you get used enough to politicians.

She's a Dear, and she is, for the moment, our unquestioned Leader; Premier John Horgan is not stupid enough to do anything but rubber-stamp her best-in-the-world advice. Her team's program has gotten us through the first wave, at least, with one of the least-lethal outcomes on the planet, despite a comparatively restrained lockdown.

I'm trying to think of any place on the planet that did not screw up the care home situation; even with the pandemic known to be coming, the first outbreaks in them were nonetheless a surprise. But BC, at least set the standard for quick response.

Economically, the trust she has earned means that the re-opening process will be trusted, too; some politicians paint the populace as straining at the leash to get back to mingling, but polls indicate people are wary. Most want the re-opening staged and paced by a caring medic, not businessmen or pawns thereof. (By the way, Slate has a great article up today about high and low risk activities, from a cautious ER doctor who also really gets the need to get out and enjoy life.)

It's true, BC had its share of luck, which Henry herself gives all the credit to. Unlike Quebec and Ontario, we didn't have an early spring break. But the best make their own luck, and our good luck was to have her.


June 8: Demonstrations as Data

If intelligence services thought the protests represented some great danger to "National Security", they'd be all over the protests with still and motion cameras, sweeping up all that they could about them. As we worry about whether they will cause disease and death in a few weeks, it has to be admitted that they are a priceless natural "experiment" in determining what spreads the virus and what doesn't.

We've had a lot of "advice" from infectious disease experts that only reveals what they don't know. Passing a runner with a mask off? Cyclists in each other's slipstreams? If not two metres, how exposed are you at 1.5? Their answers reveal only that they know what elevates and reduces risk - but not by how much.

Hundreds of thousands on the march provide enough data for a lot of statistics and some real hard numbers. Later contact tracing may indicate that a marcher had no other infected contacts, just the march. At that point, the only stats we'll have are that some marches caused 100 infections, and some 1000. Will that just turn into useless number soup, that going to "a march" provides you with a "probability of infection between 0.01% and 1%", almost worthless, across two orders of magnitude.

But - if we gather data on how packed the march was, the weather that day, the length of time in how close proximity, more-useful patterns may emerge that will provide priceless data:

If we knew more about outdoors transmission in under-two-metre proximity, we could have confidence to space restaurant tables, re-start outdoor construction work and resource work. We'd all have a better idea whether we need masks on the street, or can take them off when we leave the grocery.

Yes, the press are all over the demonstrations; but they're looking for drama and appeal. That's completely different from scientific data-gathering, which would be more about taking picture after picture from the same location, and covering the least-packed as well as most-packed parts of the crowd. Asking an infectee later how long he stood where, combined with such photos, indicate whether you can actually get infected at three metres - or not be, at 1.5.

We keep repeating that the marchers are taking a risk with their lives, because of the need for social change. They are also risking the lives of people not there, and we may not get the social change. (Remember the Parkland gun-control marches? Enough said...) So we should at least get, from the disease spread, some information that could save many other lives.

We shouldn't let a demonstration go to waste.


June 7: Correction: There Are Increases A Few Days After Protests Started

This is basically a correction, especially about Texas. I was looking again at the stats, and America as a whole has increasing daily cases the last week and more. The leading states are California, which as mentioned is just staying high, not spiking, and newcomers Texas, Virginia, and Arizona.

Texas, I dealt with by pointing out the increase recently just followed a gradual rise from before the protests. But reviewing Texas again with the "7 day average" turned on to smooth out the ups and downs, it looks a lot like a new increase rate starting about May 27, definitely getting going by May 29, which really fits. That it's two ways of looking at the same graph highlights how easy it is to see what you want to see.

Texas has its own whole article in the Times, which has detailed case statistics on a separate page. The article makes no mention at all of protests; it's all about how re-opening is a political statement there, and good conservatives are shrugging off pandemic risks. So Texas is a puzzler.

And then we come to Florida and Arizona. Worldometers doesn't yet consider either Florida or Arizona worthy of their own pages for time-series, so I had to type in the daily-cases numbers from May 25 to June 6 myself (I archive every day's site, with the awesome power of Unix "wget" and "crontab" facilities. How I pity Windows victims.)

That graph reassured that Virgina is not headed upwards, but told a bad story about Arizona. The graph links to the spreadsheet, if you want it.

The Virgina numbres are reassuring: they were falling until June, then holding about even. Bad, but no new spike. Arizona, more alarming. The first numbers, in the 200's, are actually a dip; it was in the 300s and 400s a few days before. It's not the jump from the 200s to the 400s by May 27 that concerns, it's the increase after May 31. It's up from 400s to 1200 in a week, and when you look at the photos of their tightly-packed protests, it's easy to make a connection. It's especially aggravating that the link shows cops virtuously joining the crowd in kneeling...half of them with masks off. They should be showing some leadership, part of the job.

Florida, how did I miss it: there are numerous stories, days old, about consecutive days of spiking cases. The journalism about both states is not blaming the protests, though noting the risk, as does every good story about them. Attempting to relate the case-rates, and the protests, through gross case-counts, as here, is of course perilous. If contact-tracing finds few links back to protest attendance, then these "spikes" have other reasons. That, too, should fall out of good contact-tracing: are they related to re-opened business owners and employees? To shopping? Everybody trying to guess what's happening, feels like screaming that great Sherlock Holmes line: "Data, data, data, I cannot make bricks without clay."


June 7: No Early Signs of a Protest "Spike" From America's Open-Air Labs of Pandemic Democracy

Many are the articles worry about a spike in COVID-19 cases from the protests, and zero are the articles that claim the slightest idea what will actually happen. There's a nice summary of the arguments at Slate, by Molly Armstead, going over the good and bad things about the gatherings so far. My impression from the TV coverage is that distancing is increasing as the protesters become more experienced, and I'm seeing more masks. Vancouver's, yesterday, was hearteningly space-out and masked.

It strikes me that we should already be seeing something if this was going to cause a "spike". You can't say "spike" except for dramatic, sudden increases, and the protests are well into their second week at this point: enough for infections from the first three days, to have shown up as cases in the medical system.

Nope. Minnesota, case load is about steady since May 28. New York, New Jersey, still falling from their massive load of a few weeks back. The bad news is from Texas, where cases continue to rise, as they have since weeks before Floyd, it's been a ragged, but long-term steady, rise since a brief levelling-off in late April. California is hardly better: they had an increase hit around May 20, a few days before Floyd was killed, and it's holding about even at the slightly-higher rate. It looks more like a slight, steady increase from re-opening, but not a "spike".

America has a problem with the infections not falling in much of the country; but so far, no spike. Frankly, one hopes the protests fade away after this weekend; if they haven't made their point now, protests aren't going to do it. And to repeat from the other day, daily protests mean, not steady, but exponential spread, which absolutely creates a spike after a while.


June 6: All Politics is Local

Pretty difficult to hook the DC protests into a pandemic topic, as I've already put out the points that protestors can and should take all (possible) precautions during the event, and to consider themselves disease vectors to their older family members for two weeks afterwards. Not distancing from grandma is to hold her life cheaply. And now I've repeated that.

So my only excuse is that I thought up a joke, and hell, this is pandemic, and a social crisis, and surely we all need a joke. It's not even a joke, really, American politics has become so extremist that the "joke" is actually possible.

In an environment of "constitutional hardball", where the power to schedule a supreme court appointment is used to hold it up for a year, to deny a president a right; where the power to throw out voter registrations is used to win the next election, every level of government can use their powers to the maximum for purely political ends.

The lowest level of government, municipal, has the least money, the least power. They can't print money, or change criminal law.

But they do have the "power" to paint lines on streets. Nobody thought of that as a real power before, at least not recently; I can't think of another example of this. Muriel Bowser, Mayor of Washington, DC, gets my vote for both political genius-level creativity, and also for political courage. The main reason, I suspect, that this looks new, is that a municipal government is normally crazy to have any conflict with higher levels that control so much budget. (Which has already been threatened.)

Mayor Bowser has the power to paint almost anything on those streets. So, she is being very gentle and kind to only have painted the streets she controls to show the message above from the air.

I don't see that she lacks any power whatsoever to just "go for it", and haul out more yellow paint to just send this message, at right, instead. Foriegn leaders, coming in to DC by air, could all consider the level of support enjoyed by the federal government while contemplating it.

In a perhaps-lame attempt to wrest the topic back to COVID-19, what more powers might a municipality haul out? Vancouver police at our demonstrations were polite, professional, and wore masks. But lets "go for it": What if we'd ordered them to carry signs saying "Grandpa's Life Matters, Wear a Mask Today", and given them each a shoulder bag of masks to hand out? "Have a good event, today, here's your mask, sir. Have a good event today, here's your mask, ma'am. Have a good event today..."

And having done so, they could then buy 10,000 more masks and go on a blitz through our Downtown East Side, not just handing out masks, but asking how people are doing and recommending services. (Yes, they do some of this, now. I'm talking about a special blitz, a "Caring Crackdown on COVID".)

Too often, cities shuffle off that kind of stuff to full-time social workers that are, of course, cheaper, and probably better at it. But the cost is that in doing so, they blow the opportunity to show the police as benign, friendly people on the street, with charity to all and malice toward none. Now is a literally perfect time to tell the police to take extra time and effort to be seen as caring and helpful, not just fierce and powerful. The pandemic demands extra measures be taken to protect and serve, this year. And the moment is one where the police can improve their image.

Pandemic politics are the most local of all. Two metres.


June 5: Canada Should Be Two Solitudes, Not Ten

Weeks ago, Maria, my niece, in Spain, explained the carefully thought-out re-opening strategy for that very hard-hit country. That Madrid, with most of the cases, was a "zone 1" area, where re-opening would allow travel, but only inside that region, no exporting their troubles to less-infected areas. Other provinces were "zone 2", where their re-opening allowed travel across provinces...just not any provinces in "zone 1" status, of course. Effectively, the worst areas are in quarantine from the rest of Spain.

Canada still just has 11 zones, every provincial health system is a separate fishtank. This caught me by surprise, yesterday, when my wife carefully checked the provincial web sites to confirm it. I'd been automatically assuming that BC's talk of mid-June restorations of travel and tourism applied to Alberta, Saskatchewan, Manitoba. Somehow, I'd assumed our epidemiologists thought like Spanish epidemiologists, since they're all epidemiologists, and it's just the one science.

To clarify that we currently live in a country with just the two epidemiological zones - that these are the real borders, the others meaningless to cross - let me do the simplest bar-chart of the 7-day average "new cases" number, divided by the population in millions.

It wasn't worth widening the graph for the smaller-population provinces in Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Maritimes, and the whole North (SK+MB+M+N), to have their own bars; their cases were either zero or barely worth counting, so I lumped them all into a 4.8-million "rest of Canada" (the same size as BC) with 0.8 cases per million per day.

You could make a case, if you were a nervous Maritimer, for not allowing travel from BC and Alberta, with 3 and 4 times their case-load; but, really, that's moot, because you have to either get on an aircraft to do it, or travel for two or three days of driving across our "Zone 1" which is an order of magnitude worse.

My complaint is nothing compared to the Manitoba/Saskatchewan border: imagine being told that you can't travel from a place with 1.3 new cases per day to a place with 0.6! Quebec has a similar internal problem: all their cases are around Montreal, and the Rest of Quebec is chafing at the restrictions.

Canada's internal borders are currently defined by bureaucracy: what area of land is under the jurisdiction of a given provincial authority. For the summer, we need to re-define the borders by the different jurisdictions of the virus, not the jurisdictions of the humans.


June 4: Pretend You See A Black Spot

See? Special effects don't have to be expensive.

I gather these "blackout Tuesday" posts have now been criticized, as they were meant to all link to information about the issue, and most are not. CCCC is two days late on the whole thing, mainly because it sticks to the coronavirus topic, where safe demonstrations were advocated, particularly safety for older relatives back at home.

But safety for demonstrators themselves, including virus-safety, I have some great links:

And, after reading Cory Doctrow's "Little Brother" a few years back, I have to recommend this one at OpenMedia, which has pandemic-related safety advice, but also cyber safety advice, like removal of all sensitive data from your phone. After you're arrested, it's their phone.

To my fellow white folks, I have a word of caution, second-hand, from Matt Taibbi, author of "I Can't Breathe" about the Garner killing. Matt didn't do careful stats, but his feeling, after reading thousands of arrest stories, was that white people are not actually much safer from the police than Blacks. Only a quarter as many are killed by them, proportionately, because they are stopped much less often to start with. Once you have been stopped, the statistics of bad outcomes are not that much better for whites.


June 3: Marchers Need To Do The Right Thing

Our photo today links to a Smithsonian article on a parade in Philadelphia that filled all its hospital beds three days later and killed about 4,500 during the 1918 pandemic. There have been many articles about how transmission won't be so bad, out-of-doors, perhaps the marches won't cause a new wave. The 1918 experience with various victory marches suggests not. It's probably as much about whether people out-of-doors have more space, than more airflow.

As you can see, they're pretty tightly packed in the crowd, the better to see. This also happens in demonstrations, where people are in one place trying to hear a speaker, not so much on marches, where people space out a bit. Every foot of distance helps. It's well-known, now, that 2 metres isn't really enough for 100% safety; it's a compromise that provides a high percentage of safety. But even one metre is undoubtedly far, far better than one foot.

So, demonstrations like Vancouver's, right, may have caused transmissions, but certainly fewer, perhaps, here's that word again, exponentially fewer, than a gathering with a third the distance.

I came across the Vancouver picture while googling for aerial shots of crowds, because any picture in the news media that's at ground level is almost certainly shot with a telephoto lens that exaggerates the appearance of crowding.

Photography site "petapixel.com" has a nice explanatory article about the problem. Crowds are news, and their news value is in proportion to their size, as the "controversy" over the American Inaugural crowds highlighted. News photographers have every incentive to point their lens at the tightest spot in a larger crowd, and use heavy telephoto compression to make it look like a cattle stampede.

Overhead shots, like here for Vancouver, are far more truthful. Overhead shots of the George Floyd demonstrations are hard to come by, but there are a few.

The one in Houston looked
indeed like Philadelphia 1918.
But, the one in Minneapolis itself, from TIME, looked not too packed:

So, we will have a mixed bag of results in a few weeks. Much may depend on whether the protests continue; speaking of "exponential", protests that last long enough for those infected on Day 1 to become asymptomatic spreaders a few days later (the last few days) mean the exponential function will begin to do its multiplications: a quarter percent of the crowd spreading 8 days ago was a half percent 5 days ago, a full percent two days ago, two percent tomorrow. I hope that was an exaggeration.

Other than that, I can only repeat: the people in these crowds need to isolate, every way they can, from their families, especially older family members. Every outbreak can be stopped with the original victims - if they do the right thing.


June 2: The Pareto Pandemic

CCCC is now two months old, having started on April Fool's Day. In all that time, there's been only one bit of really directly useful news for anybody wishing to reduce the dreaded R-nought, "R0" the number infected in turn, per infectee...which still has no more accurate guess than "2.8" from Wuhan in February. Everybody, of course, is trying to mess with "R0". We reduce R0 with distance and hand-washing. A month ago, the one bit of news was that non-medical masks do work to reduce tranmission probability by about half, when you can't distance.

Tremendous news is probably not getting the attention it deserves today, but at least it is in the New York Times: "Just Stop the Superspreading" by epidemiologists Dillion Adam and Benjamin Cowling.

News junkies have all been aware of "superspreader" events like the one choir practice that infected 52 from one person, and of course the religous meeting that spread one case to thousands, in South Korea -- linked from the photo above.

What the new study found was that these are crucial! Wait for it: 70% of victims infect nobody. Another 10% infected one or two others. Were it not for the last 20%, the R0 would be way under one. But the last 20% account for 80% of infections, a perfect example of The Pareto Principle.

Everybody has wanted to find the "game changer", because we really hate this game, where our only winning move is to lose at everything else we do. The game-changer, as the researchers say in their headline, is that we only have to stop the superspreaders. As we learn more about how it transmits, the importance of ventilation and airflow, we may be able to re-open offices, some restaurants, a long list of businesses where contact can be controlled.

Up for tomorrow: are the American demonstrations likely to superspread?


June 1: Coffee Closer?

Those who wanted some other news than the pandemic, should have been careful what they wished for. Aside from hoping older people stay home, and younger people distance themselves from their elders for the next few weeks, there seems little to be done. Pandemics aren't the only things that just have to burn themselves out.

At least we have a really good, large-scale example of the term, "triggered".

Up here in Canada, where the protests have been mostly peaceful, and the politicians sympathetic, we can continue to pay some attention to saving the world. As it were. For today, I now have a collection of people standing around talking in the streets near my home. Let's look at their body positions over two months.

March 20May 4
May 18May 30
This is hardly scientific, but I do get a feeling that the whole business of "re-opening" in the news, and various businesses re-starting, is also giving people a feeling that the problem is over and they can go back to acting "normally".

The Starbucks Morning Gang has been showing up there every day, mostly keeping some distance, if not two metres, for ten weeks now. It just seems to me the last few days that they've closed in another half-metre; they may not even realize it themselves.

I'm seeing more people passing closely on Denman Street, as well - and not that many masks, not much more than half of those indoors at Safeway wearing them.

There will be no sudden costs for this (that's the problem, we aren't good with long-delayed, diffuse punishments or rewards). BC is down to a few hundred active cases (known), so guess at 400 infectious people walking around unknowing, out of 4 million - only one person in 10,000 can infect you. Even multiplying by ten for "they're mostly in big cities", you could pass close to a dozen people a day, with hardly 1% odds on one being infectious. I suspect that people have kind of internalized that sense of safety.

Whether we push our R-nought back up above 1.0 is of course the question. At present, I'd guess no. But these behaviour changes tend to continue.


May 31: Follow Canadian News

Well, what a great time for a wave of protests. The media note there have already been a few dead; but they can only wonder how many lives will be lost, a few weeks from now, from all the close contact. Probably parents and grandparents of participants. Perhaps some participants will stay very distant from their families for a few weeks, if they think their elder's lives matter. One can only hope.

Canada has all these problems, but I like to imagine we have them dialled down a few notches. If our justice system hadn't properly nailed the killer of Sammy Yatim, we'd be in a worse place. At least our PM came out and said good things yesterday, including the admission that we have all these problems.

(I just passed the Good Fight Test by remembering the name "Sammy Yatim", unprompted. Yay me. Maybe not a good person, but not a terrible one, either.)

It all makes for a good reason to scan the American headlines, but read your Canadian news. It's about solving problems, not screaming that nobody is even trying to. I've only got so much bandwidth for stupid, needless, self-caused problems this spring.


May 30: The Exquisite Boredom of a Canadian Contact Tester

The news from the States makes me want to retreat into considerations of pure epidemiological mathematics. In Canada. Or at least, simple arithmetic. In Canada. Let's review just how few tests Canada is doing, still:


It's generous to say those are only a week apart, as one is from morning, the other late afternoon. So it's conservative to give our testing rate as:
(1,596,373 - 1,401,564) / 7 = 27,829 tests/day

(82,764 - 76,054 ) / 7 = 959 positive tests/day.

Our positives rate, then is 959 / 27,829 = 3.4%

..which is a good number, actually. Lower is better. America's, to get back to pitying them, is nearly triple that. South Korea's is 1.3%, and they're the gold standard, of course; we'd quickly get down to that if only we could triple testing, as long promised.

Besides America, you've got to pity the dull life of a registered Canadian contact tester, however. Canada has 27,000 registered contact testers.

So our last simple arithmetic for the day, is that we have a contact tester ready to go for every test made every day. With under 4% positive, we have over 25 people eager to descend upon each hapless disease case. If they aren't all bored, one imagines the Zoom Meeting From Hell, where 25 contact testers in a Brady Bunch Grid batter upon the coughing, feverish victim, demanding the name of every contact, no matter how remote, so that they can each call at least one person, and get some work.

Alberta's just announcing testing for anybody, symptomatic or not; just what I was asking BC for six days back. Let's get that going everywhere, do that tripling of tests, get that ratio down below 2%. It's the road home.


May 29: Testing Plan Watch: Something at last. Also, flour

I just did the Safeway trip for the week, to find the store very quiet, no lineup; people have presumably adjusted to making fewer trips, or picking more odd hours. I couldn't find an aisle with empty shelves; all those "pandemic groceries" like pasta, are in full supply. Even the last thing to be filled in, the shelves of flour, are full...and they've added in these huge 20-kg bags to handle all the "pandemic baking".

Which, if things work out as usual, now be revealed as a fad and panic reaction that's now over, sticking Safeway with all these large-format bags of flour.

Happily, the other belated respose that has finally arrived, is a testing plan, at least for Ontario, which needs one the second-worst in Canada. That's after Quebec, which will probably have so bad a year that the rest of us can't bear to look, unless they start pounding pots together and hanging their PM in effigy. A google on "quebec testing" yields a bunch of four-week-old stories about hitting 14,000 tests per day, a three-week-old story about coming up way short of that, and a two-week-old story about only being up to 9,000. No other announcements. I can't find a stat on their current tests/day anywhere.

In short, Canada has still only averaged 27,000 tests/day for the last five days, up from 25,000 weeks ago. Epidemiologists assured us we need to be testing about three times that many people to "re-open". Canada is lumbering into our response with a ponderous sluggishness that makes Safeway's flour-supply-chain look like lightning reflexes.

I don't know their problems; I'm sure everybody means well, and is working hard. Still, we all have to note that South Korea managed this on-the-fly, with no warning, three months ago now.

Pick it up, somehow, guys. You're embarrassing us. Oh, and killing us.


May 28: How Can They Look Away? Practice, Practice, Practice...

It reads as naive to me, when stories wonder how somebody in authority can not notice, or deliberately ignore, ongoing death counts. Heck, most powers-that-be systematically ignore more deaths than they address. When a novel new way to die appears, Power's first instinct is to ignore it as best as possible, since addressing it costs more than getting us to turn our eyes away.

The cartoon at left is just over 30 years old, from late 1989; about the death of a regular character from AIDS. We've largely forgotten how it was ignored for years, treated as a disease that was not merely confined to the gay community, but was just inherently so, unable to infect everybody else.

Efforts are being made now to make COVID seem like an "old disease" as AIDS was "the gay disease"...something that happens to other people and can be ignored.

Of course, it's a right-wing politician. Lefties often go along with this stuff- they can't prioritize every single issue (even deadly ones) when they get into power, either. But it usually starts on the right. The easiest way to minimize government, is to minimize its problems.

The effort it takes to look away can be considerable, and involve people who are perfectly aware of the real problem, to manufacture acceptable stories about how things are not that bad, how they are progressing on their own, improvement is coming, it will turn around, no need to look here, everybody move along.

Even more frequent is temporization: it's a problem and we are studying it. We are aware, thanks for your concern, we'll have a policy soon.

We may feel triumphal, in Canada, that we didn't actually ignore the pandemic itself, didn't call it a "hoax", didn't pretend it was all going to go away like magic. That is nice, but what a low bar.

We could hold our heads up higher if our nation had been the one to think of protecting care homes when they were still untouched. We could really hold our heads up high if we'd spotted that people were dying in them at higher rates than they could, years ago. Decades. Instead, we now have "Lawyers Wonder Why COVID Long-Term Care Warnings Have Been Ignored"

Seems we'd been ignoring the deaths from other causes for a long time, which right there were all the warning needed that COVID would have the same effect as a bad flu year...times ten...on a care home. But ALL deaths in care homes rested quietly in the giant blind-spot we'd constructed around them.

We ask "What will change permanently?" about this. I only wish it were our magical ability to blind ourselves.


May 27: Belated Headlines

Well, finally. So they did have "100k" stories planned, they just don't use Worldometers.info after all; they use some more conservative report summaries that took another day or so to be sure. Commendable!

The NYT story has an odd construction in it, that it's more deaths than every conflict "since the Korean War" - it's actually just a few thousand short of including the whole Korean War, as my "102,636" below indicates. But no matter; it's all, obviously, a story about nothing but an otherwise-meaningless round number statistic. Which is many percent short of accuracy, as the "excess deaths" numbers strongly hint.

It's confirmed today that the low reported-death statistics on the weekend suffered from reporting delays; today's number on worldometers is already as high as the previous two days combined, and there's hours of reporting to go.

That means my notional 102,636 number will be hit (on worldometers, at least) early tomorrow. I suspect it will pass unnoticed; they can't put two "we've just passed a noteworthy number" stories so close together. Possibly in a week, the 116K for WW1 will get a story.

Since they have too few stories of a good response happening, they probably see their job as to keep printing alarming stories in hopes of stimulating one at last.

Canada, incidentally, can't do these stories. We lost too few in other wars (516 in Korea) to be a shocking number to compare to, and far too many in WW1 (68K) and WW2 (48K) to ever reach those in this pandemic. Thankfully. Even more thankfully, we don't require "scary numbers" to get our governments to act with political courage.


May 27: New News

This is the "news" for spring 2020: the news is that nobody died of COVID-19 in BC yesterday. It's the first such day in a long time, so now the lack of dying is news.

COVID-19 deaths in countries that didn't protect their care homes - and I believe that is all of them - have a "long tail". The dying fight for their lives on ventilators for a month before succumbing. So the wave, in terms of infections, is over weeks before the dying stops.

The deaths in care homes are something like 80% of all of them in Canada. In BC, perhaps even more so: apparently the average age at death of a BC victim is 86.

The problem with fighting a virus is that people need to be respectful of it - scared of it, frankly - when there's no deaths in the news to keep reminding you of the ridiculous-sounding fact of an invisible threat.

It's almost a test of imagination; you have to be able to continue to imagine your neighbours a concern, when they don't look scary. Well, the test has now begun in earnest.


May 25-May 26: Worldometer Watch

I'm just testing my theory that journalists are generally watching "worldometers.info" for their cue to start doing stories about "100,000 dead". Now, they've been doing stories that have some other topic, like "golfing as the US approaches 100,000 dead", for some days now. But the slightly-comical business of all the Vietnam-themed headlines hitting the wires in minutes of each other, has me wondering if it'll happen again today. So, I will hit REFRESH on both worldometers, and the google news search on "100,000 dead" this afternoon.

12:04 PM PDT: Worldometers.info: 99,636. News: still just yesterday's stories with the "as the US approaches" construction.

13:55 PM PDT: Worldometers.info: 99,739. News: unchanged

15:04 PM PDT: Worldometers.info: 99,754. News: unchanged
This is weird; only 454 deaths reported by now; the reports from the USA dropped all weekend, from 1300 to 1000 to 617 yesterday, easily attributed to paperwork staff not working the long weekend. Today, their Memorial Day, even more must be off work than on Sunday? It's not the nature of this statistic to suddenly drop by half. (Ask Italy.) Tomorrow and Wednesday should produce a "spike" in reports, delayed.
15:37 PM PDT: Worldometers.info: 99,771. News: unchanged.

16:37 PM PDT: Worldometers.info: 99,804. News: unchanged.
Maybe not today! There are so few deaths being reported that it won't get to 100,000, at this rate, today - and I'd thought it would be late yesterday. I dare not hope the deaths are actually dropping that much in one weekend; it's more likely late reporting. Which will make for a spike tomorrow morning that'll carry it over 100,000 in time for the morning news. It's already too late today to catch the 6PM news out east.


Reporting Stops Overnight
08:58 AM PDT: Worldometers.info 99,930. News: unchanged.
Good grief, it seems I can start again this morning. Worldometers has started up again, and it didn't immediately take it past the round number, so the newsies can again start the watch during publication hours. All of the stories run the "As US approaches" phrase, probably using up the story they had pre-written for the occasion. The contrast with the golfing and so forth is the usual hook.

09:19 AM PDT: Worldometers.info 99,987. News: changed but not claiming 100K.
The google search "twitched" a bit - a few new stories. But none saying the number had been passed. At the very least, there is no source of US statistics that journalists use, that is "ahead" of worldometers in the reports. And with the number about to come up, I confess this is a dumb way to pass time. It's just curiousity about how journalists work; this is nothing to do with the actual pandemic. Everybody knows we hit 100,000 days, even weeks ago, but can't confirm the count officially.

09:27 AM PDT: Worldometers.info 99,997. News: unchanged from 9:19.

09:31 AM PDT: Worldometers.info 100,021. News: unchanged from 5 minutes ago.
OK, worldometers changed. If it's like Vietnam, the google search should start changing in the next half hour or so. I'd be glad to be proven wrong, of course, but pre-written journalism is definitely a Thing.

10:20 AM PDT: Worldometers.info 100,041. News: CTV just published a new article still using "as US closes in on..." in the headline. CTV, at least, does not use Worldometers, or, at least, wasn't waiting for the exact moment. And nobody has yet published a "100,000 hit" story. My faith is starting to be restored.

10:52 AM PDT: Worldometers.info 100,090. News: Salon just published the first post-100,000 headline...but it's just a new headline on an existing story about Memorial Day.
I'm pleased to find my assumption was wrong. Perhaps even the Vietnam publication times were a coincidence, that the number was hit when they were going to publish anyway. Or, perhaps, they just "used up" all those stories by putting "approaches" in the lede and headline and got off for Memorial Day. It's nice to have your worst assumptions about lazy journalism debunked.

Anyway, I'm calling off the "watch", with relief.


May 25: Where's My Test?

It hit me a few days ago, when I got a haircut: your own "end of lockdown" is whenever you can do the thing YOU want. If you're upset you can't do "X", then getting "X" is your end. Some of us have little interest in hitting a bar or restaurant, but want their symphony nights back. My need for a haircut was getting serious when the barbershop re-opened, had buzzed me in 15 minutes, and my lockdown was over. Lining up at the grocery isn't annoying enough to qualify: let's face it, retirees are lightly touched by a lockdown.

This is another check-in with the "canada testing plan" google. Today finds that Ontario, perhaps galvanized by rising case count as they re-open, has put out an aggressive one, including rules that would let just about anybody willing to claim "they've been exposed" to get one.

Which is getting very close to something I want, and I suspect a few million want, but hate to bring it up: a test just to quiet my fears. It's not fear of the disease, but of giving it. I'd badly like to go visit my mother-in-law; my wife, even more so, obviously. But, Dora is 88, and it wouldn't do to take the smallest chance. We'd been thinking of putting in a week or more of even-more-serious isolation, just stock up on groceries and avoid everybody in the parks and streets by four metres, whatever. Combined with an ever-lower probability of infection as our local case-count drops, it would probably be duly-diligent enough by some point in June.

But an actual test, some days into that, would be a comfort. It would also be testing somebody with odds of 0.1% or less being positive, exactly what they didn't want to waste tests upon. It would be physical medical resources spent on mental health, on anxiety. The state would probably have to do a couple of hundred thousand of them to save a single life. The value is in providing people with the courage to do their personal definition of "re-open": see Mom. It would expend millions of test-kits if my concern is as widespread as I suspect. But, it's a valid national value, although the epidemiologists will have to grit their teeth at the "waste" the psychologists approve of. Waste? We have a rich civilization. It spent $500M on fidget spinners in 2017.

Most news stories lean on how people are eager to do their own "re-open" activity; not enough, perhaps, on how many are eager...but afraid.

PS: I want extra credit for not starting the headline with "Dude".


May 24: Why The Right Loves These Miracle Cures

Sigh. We thought we'd disposed of chloroquine. Study after study showed it offers little help to compensate for side effects. Including death. As for offering prophylaxis, where taking it prevents getting sick to start with, a lupus patient that's been taking it for years just went positive. So much for that.

There are now a rash of articles calling this a right-wing drug. It's not just in America; that's Jair Bolsonaro's own description, from South America's new fascist government (in all but name). The Guardian calls it "The Triumph of Right-Wing Quackery", and The Independent goes further to say that "The Far Right Depends on Snake Oil". And everybody is noting that HCQ (my own abbreviation) is basically a conspiracy theory, with conspiracy theories being constant on the right lately, so it's a "right-wing thing" because they love a good conspiracy to suppress a "cure".

It all doesn't sit right. Conspiracy theories can catch on with the left, as well; the Kennedy Assassination went on for decades. Michael Moore's new movie may have commmitted some major sins, but it was dead right about one basic fact. Many on the environmental left have accepted various miracle cure ideas for the environment; "cures" that don't remotely meet the test of cost-benefit ratios that would allow them to power a civilization. (Not for debate in a COVID-19 blog; read your Vaclav Smil.)

I've read exactly one article that made sense to me in this regard. The theory hasn't come up from another writer, so I'm pleased to recommend "Behind the right's obsession with a miracle cure" by Amanda Marcotte of Salon, seven weeks back. The sub-head summarizes it as a "deep rooted hostility to public health".

Or, more fully:

The hope that there's a hard-to-get miracle cure that will save them speaks directly to the poisonous social Darwinism that guides modern conservatism. It reflects deep hostility to the very concept of a shared public good and a fierce attachment to a racialized ideology of individualism that treats public goods such as health care as things to be hoarded by those with the privilege, money and status to do so.

Conservative ideology simply doesn't allow for the possibility that anything, including pandemic management, is best managed with a "we're all in this together" mentality. Instead they're drawn to this fantasy that there's a Platinum Member COVID-19 status that can be purchased, which will allow them to opt out of the suffering of the plebeian class that has to quarantine or risk sickness and death.

That totally rings a bell with all the most unpleasant conversations I've had with right-wing viewpoints over the years. I wrote in my "Christian Virus" post, below, about all standing equal before the "judgement" of COVID-19. The phrase chosen, because I've never thought the extreme end of the right-wing was fond of us all standing equal before God's judgement, either - they often lean to churches that promise special treatment in that regard for their members alone.

It's kind of like Obama being President of the United States; it's just an intolerable thought that must be escaped, if only with a fantasy about Kenya; the notion that we have to take care of the least among us, because the survival of ultra-right octogenarians like Rupert Murdoch, Charles Koch, and Sheldon Adelson suddenly depends on homeless people and illegal-immigrant meatpackers not being infected... is also intolerable. There has to be a dodge, a way out.

The drug may be cheap, democratic, you'd think. Except that no drug could be cheap if billions needed many doses in a matter of months. It would become exclusive and expensive very quickly. So, even a cheap drug does fit Marcotte's theory: they're so desperate to believe they can get special treatment, they're fantasizing it.

It does move one from contempt to pity. For a moment.


May 23: The Automatic News Cycle

More of a followup to yesterday's, I could have included this in the same topic.We've become used to "news" having a "news cycle", which is relentlessly gamed by everybody seeking our attention. Half of our news is staged events, in one way or another: timed announcements, opening ceremonies, demonstrations. Even the Iraq War was timed for the news cycle, the White House advertising campaign to sell it with lies delayed to September because "You don't introduce new products in August".

Boris Johnson,
Watching Ferguson's Presentation:
Surprise!

To a degree, it's all "fake news", however truthful: the presentation has been staged for maximum effect. News items that hava no thoughtful presenters, say, the factoid that "Wage Theft is Bigger Than All Other Theft" (like bank robberies, store and gas stations, etc, all combined), remain almost unknown.

The pandemic is a real news story in that the news just shows up by surprise, can't be controlled easily, is always big enough to grab attention. (Unlike wage theft.) It's like an enemy in war; our plans don't survive contact with it, causing surprise events that just come by themselves. It provides an automatic news cycle, stories showing up unforced. It's when our leaders are surprised that we can see how good they are at their real jobs. They would prefer the job of being actors on a stage, their own script, and the script of their opponent, already known. When surprised, they tend to go into hiding, like my cat.


May 22: 102,636

I might as well get this bet laid down today, while my worldometer is still at 96,683 confirmed dead. (worldometers.info is the offical "scorekeeper" for this blog. Other sources will be ignored to preserve my sanity.)

As when I predicted an outpouring of journalistic hooks on the Vietnam War casualty number, and found numerous articles where they hit the "publish" button all in the same hour, there's a spate of articles that will be written today for a quick one-button publish on the weekend. Likely Sunday, unless there's delays in reporting, the five zeros will roll up, as the USA hits 100,000 dead. The timing should be perfect for the Sunday Evening News.

In the spirit of Wanna Bet, I will bet, not on the pandemic but on the journalism. I bet I am not the only person to note the number 102,636. There's another place that reporters go for quick, reasonably impartial factoids, the Wikipedia. I went there to United States Military Casualties of War. (That's a count with a long history of disputes, as the survivors fight to ensure their lost are included. So, below, I note "58,320" as the count on the Vietnam Wall. That wikipedia page actually lists 58,209. But waving aside a quarter of a percent disputed, I'll go with wikipedia.)

I added up all the numbers since WW2, starting with 51 lost in the Chinese Civil War, 1945-1950, ending with the war in Afghanistan (2,216 and counting) and the "Raid on Yemen" in 2017, one death. It came to 102,636. Mostly, that's Vietnam (58K), plus Korea (36K), plus the War On Terror (7K).

Whatever the alternate source reporters use, it'll be within a few hundred, and occur next Tuesday, most likely. So I'm betting on a story or two with headlines or opening paragraphs like 'The US has now lost more citizens to the pandemic than to all the wars since World War Two.'

There's another coming up a week or two after that: "more than" 116,516 lost in World War One, that's a good headline.

Or, possibly, there will be stories at 125,325 - the total casualties between the Civil War and the start of WW2. With luck, the USA will not reach 167,013 - the total US War casualties if you just subtract the Civil War and WW2. But reporters will be able to play puzzle games with the spreadsheet, if they need headlines like "Worse than WW1 plus Korea" (at 153,032).

It all depends on what kind of statement a journalist thinks will make a good hook, as they watch the numbers roll by. It's hard to make a story out of a number, unless it's round, or has a familiar historical reference. The problem with all this, of course, is that they're reporting numbers. Lives turned into statistics.

There's no chance of them not making it, at least, to the WW1 number of 116,516. Let's hope it doesn't become a whole Korea worse than that.


May 21: Name Change: Covid Cup Colour Commentary

I never liked the pun "Covid Up", which depends on pronouncing it with a soft "O"...which nobody does. Also, it was gross. Since I started this by getting mesmerized by the Worldometers web site, and since that worthy has now ascended to global fame , allowing everybody to follow along on my original "Covid Cup" essay's proposal to judge nations by their deaths-per-capita, I have decided to push the grim sports metaphor to the limit and call this "Colour Commentary", as the sportscasters say. And the name is "CCCC" for short.


May 21: Testing Plan Update #1

I've given the "canada test plan" google a week off from mention here. It's really time to check in, because I saw the barbershop open yesterday. One barber had a mask, the other not, as if this were a fashion choice. (It crossed my mind that I should get a cut immediately, before he became positive. I'll go back today and see if somebody tuned him up about the mask.)

A check of the federal site indicated progress from 1,203,512 tests to 1,377,196 over a week: not even 25,000 per day, that is, not half enough.

But Saskatchewan, who hardly had any cases to start with, has a plan! Which takes care of less than 10% of the country. I can only report the google search did not come up with stories from Alberta, Manitoba, the Maritimes.

With BC, I checked the Sun and Province, and the only mention of "testing" at all provides a hint for where to complain: "Canada Offers To Lend Provinces Aid in Boosting Testing" in The Province, reminding that the Provincial health systems have to actually do this, the feds "just" hand them money and tools.

A specific google on "Alberta Testing Plan" found bold claims to double testing back on May 6, but no new announcements.

What's bothering me about the journalism is the lack of stories even trying to explain this. We could understand better if there were stories about how hard it is to train contact-tracers, or how the test kits are coming but the labs are still setting up assembly lines to greatly increase throughput, or whatever. There's be zero follow-up on Paul Hebert, the insect biologist with the idea for automating testing. I suppose that one week is too little for progress there, but an announcment that a provincial system was going to move on his suggestion would have been very welcome.

Which brings us to Ontario. Google can bring up dozens of stories, of course, but the summarization here was about all the reading I could stand. Their case loads actually just went up. They aren't near the testing they want. And Doug Ford, who of course cannot do COVID-19 tests, is reduced to beating his breast and screaming at the people who can, and aren't.

I believe we are now in week three of Doug Ford being "shocked". There's two problems here, for Doug Ford:

  1. He's the guy that was systematically deconstructing the civil service in general, and health care in particular.
  2. Doug Ford is always shouting and pounding tables; it's kind of his default mental posture. So doing it more, even for weeks on end, doesn't affect people much. It's like an abusive home where Dad beats you whether he's happy or sad, so why try to cheer him up?
He's going to need a lot of cheering up later, I suspect. He's not going to be able to blame the health care people for this.

Of course, Ontario may not look bad, compared to Quebec. There's no sign of news from Quebec at all. Probably for the best. I expect only bad news from Quebec this spring.


May 20: No Soap

As we consider our many grave problems, take a moment to reflect on how others have it. I was purusing this Guardian article about the plague in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Their system is so poor, they probably don't know how many cases they have, really - there are only 50 confirmed deaths, all in the capital, Kinshasa. Interviewing a local volunteer whose husband had just died of it (no ventilator), this set me back:

When we had discussed coronavirus, she said the disease is caused by not washing your hands with soap and water. She wasn't surprised that she and her husband contracted it, as they have no clean water in the house and used charcoal ash instead of soap, which she could not afford.

She was also admitted to hospital and died. Again, there were no ventilators.

My Mom and Dad had some kid-scaring stories about deprivation - as a coal-miner's kid in the Depression, of wartime rationing. But our worst days, 80 years back, did not include the inability to afford soap. World War One caused great domestic hardship and poverty, too, but the 1918 pandemic was not made worse by the unaffordability of soap.

So spare a thought of charity for the Congo & surrounding areas, but also for people in New York who cannot afford soap. Or, at least, the people keeping them in jail cannot afford soap. Which is odd, because they can afford a jail, and nightsticks and tasers and jailer stuff.

At the start, prisoners in America were simply told they could get soap at marked-up prices in the commissary; no free soap. Then, the infamous worst of the lot, Riker's, handed everybody a free bar of soap! But more were apparently not forthcoming. Soap is again scarce at Riker's. Why? Too much money?

They're apparently being issued those little, one-ounce bars of soap you get in motels, and I'm sure it's not the luxury brands. The cheapest I could find worked out to 8 cents per bar, for 0.8 ounces, or ten cents an ounce. We're talking about less than a buck a month.

It's possible that this is just massive incompetence and indifference, including indifference to the lives of the guards, not just the inmates; but you have to wonder if it's again the best essay of recent years coming true: The Cruelty is the Point.


May 19: Little Will Change Permanently, Unless It Was Already

I'm getting a little tired of all these articles about what will change permanently. Most of them strike me as wishful thinking. I already covered that my own wishful thinking - I'd be one of those fuzzy do-gooders that wishes we had a society more equal and kind - shows no signs of happening, in my April 29 post, "Inertia". Sorry, fellow commies, but Jagmeet Singh is not burning up the polls, and "Inertia" noted that the first weeks of pandemic did not save the campaign of Bernie Sanders, nor has subsequent economic catastrophe triggered calls to revive it.

What will change permanently, are things that were already headed that way anyway. We were probably headed for more work-from-home as the technology improved and as people got used to it, and as old people uncomfortable with it, die off.

(Actually, everything that kills older people, who are still running things, is helpful for change; but in the "still running things" years under 70-ish, it won't kill enough of us to make much difference. Sorry.)

The pandemic will hustle the change along, but every teleworker I know (and I did months of it, the year before retirement) finds it more difficult than having personal access to co-workers. A lot of people will gladly flock back to the office. Above all, you can bump into the boss at the office and get some facetime. You cannot "bump into" him online. That alone is enough.

So we'll head back to the office, mostly, but there will be a permanent residual; the transition to more, if not all, telework, was happening very slowly; it's five years since I did those months of it, and it had progressed but little in my workplace. The transition will skip ahead ten years.

Some of the "spiritual" changes noted in the Politico article I just linked strike me as low comedy, however. "Less polarization"? "A Return to Faith in Experts"? "Less Individualism"? Oh, man, the author must be so young. When oldsters were that young, we thought that Baby Boomers were a whole new species of humanity, raised in the shadow of the Bomb, all educated to high school and many past that for the first time...our generation was going to eliminate war. And all injustice. Now, we're the demographic heart of the Tea Party, who sent our kids off to Iraq by the million.

Read this article from The Onion, just post-9/11 about "A Shattered Nation Longs To Care About Stupid Bullshit Again", how we could never again give a crap about Britney Spears or other celebrity "dramas" after real drama had traumatized us. We invented the Kardashians to care about a few years later, which upped both the "stupid" and the "bullshit" of "stupid bullshit" to staggering levels. (At least Britney can sing and dance.)

Everything will snap back that wasn't changing anyway; some things may take years. The American reputation isn't irreparably harmed, because it wasn't by Iraq and torture, including torture of allied citizens (like ours). You can feel in every word from world leaders that they want to get back to good relations with the US again and dismiss recent upsets to the fog of history.

This is not a whole new world. It's still the old one, always changing, and this year a little faster. Yes, every crisis is an opportunity, and changes can be pushed along, a few can be started that wouldn't have for years. I hope we can push some good ones. It would be foolish, however, to expect your dreams, Green and New they may be, to come true.


May 18: Science That's Politically Incorrect

I haven't brooked the term "political correctness" since I read the masterful take-down of the very concept by Moria Weigel at The Guardian. Wiegel gives the whole history of where the term came from, and how well-funded lecturers and writers have been promoting the concept since about 1990. They usually give examples from the Ivy League universities they themselves come from, of comically tortured word-usage that never caught on. They carefully never point out that most of "PC" has been to make casual racist insults, like the "N-word", into obscenities that are treated like "F-word", when people used to say them all the time.

Everybody should read that link, but Weigel actually never gets into an admittedly minor gripe I have about the term: they aren't talking about politics. Politics is a process for deciding what laws and regulations should be enforced by the powers-that-be, the ones with guns on their hips. It is just one part of "culture", which is everything we do, every attitude we hold. What is called "politically" incorrect is almost always not a political issue: there's no law against saying the N-word; it's just become very offensive. It's a cultural shift, not political.

Certainly, some activists that push new terms are trying to change the culture: they're trying to make people uncomfortable with being offensive to those in a weak societal position, who can't fight back. (And they can't: Black people tried once to make "whitey" an insult, but it never caught on.)

The anti-PC dare not complain, however, that it's cultural. They can't say "I'd say Black people are lazy, but that's culturally offensive these days"; that's an admission of guilt, as "culturally offensive" means most (decent) people agree on it. But ending with "...but that's politically incorrect these days", is an accusation that everybody knows it's really true, they're just forcing you to repeat the lie that it isn't. Weigel notes that it's a wonderfully compact insult, claiming two lies with just two words. The second implicit claim, that a political, not cultural, agenda is being prosecuted, is usually unsupported; there's no regulation, public spending, or law, at issue.

Today, however, we have some actual, provable, scientific truths that cannot be responded to without actions that are politically very difficult. People must be harmed; vast amounts of money lost; public, rather than private, actions and spending must be done. It's almost intolerable for some politicians. It shouldn't be: culturally, sacrificing to protect the old, sick, and weak is one of our strongest values, our highest heroism. It's very much the politics of public spending, and public regulation of business, that finds the idea, shall we say, offensive. These truths need to be found incorrect, or those people's politics... are not the politics we need right now.

So, accepting the pandemic and the painfully expensive measures to fight it is not scientifically incorrect, and not culturally incorrect, but it actually is, literally, politically incorrect.


May 17: The Decision To Use Politics

I brought up the notion of betting on pandemic outcomes yesterday to introduce a little-known science fiction author. Marc Stiegler kept a career going in IT as he wrote several SF books over the last four decades, promoting a very libertarian point of view in most of them. One of his libertarian ideas from his 1999 book, "Earthweb", concerned using what we'd now call "crowdsourced opinions" in the form of bets. His "castpoints" were web sites where political solutions would be bet upon, and authorities used the bets to decide policy.

Like a lot of libertarian ideas, these intrigued science fiction fans, but never seem to come up as real-world solutions. The neareast thing we have to "castpoints" are still just, well, polls.

Stiegler's most-radical idea, for me, however, was in his earlier book, "David's Sling" which imagined a war with Russia (caused, of course, by weak liberals not showing enough military resolution...yes, just low comedy today). Stiegler solved this with the ultimate "smart weapons", which look a lot like our modern drones. His were the ultimate "smart weapons", not needing outside direction, pure automatons that decide whom to bomb by algorithm. As we found out, even human-directed drones with careful rules of engagement kill innocents nearly half the time; so, another bad prediction.

The truly radical idea wasn't drones in 1999, though, it was a contention one character offers at the start of the book: scientists should decide when politicians are allowed to decide a public issue. His point is superficially very attractive, it goes like this:

There are three broad classes of decision-making: science, politics, and force. You can call a decision "scientific" when it has a clearly-provable correct answer. Should we buy or lease, which is cheapest? Will the cancer respond better to chemotherapy or radiation? Should I rotate my tires? We ask an accountant, a doctor, or a car mechanic, and get an answer they can show is best.

If there is no way to be sure which solution is best overall - nearly always the case in really complex, multi-variable decisions affecting very different people - when experts shrug and say that there are various answers with their own merits, none clearly best - then "politics", is where we go. That's with "politics" very broadly, meaning whichever solution gets the most agreement from the most people affected, keeps conflict to a minimum.

When "politics" - as that broadly defined, fails to find an answer, humans may fall to fighting each other, and whomever beats the other into halting protests, gets it their way.

As long as Stiegler keeps the three categories very broadly, I can't find a logical fault in that. He goes on to point out that it is widely agreed that a huge step forward in human culture happened when we made it possible for the politicians to decide when to use force, rather than the warriors (renamed as "kings" after their win), who naturally prefer force if it will work, deciding whether they'll use negotiation.

Democracy has meaning only when the army can't take over any time, as in Egypt recently. With warriors in the thrones, we were left hoping for "good kings", like Don Corleone, who ended the mob war, but often got "bad kings", like Sonny, who tried solving everything with another hit. Democracies, where the generals obey the civilian masters invariably, are far more stable, and ultimately, prosperous.

A Stiegler character therefore opined that the world would be that much better again, after achieving the use of force being a political decision, would happen if the use of politics were to be a scientific decision. The experts relevant to a question must throw up their hands and admit it's too complicated for one clear answer, before the politicians are even brought into the room.

Wouldn't that have been nice in this pandemic? The best-achieving nations have been the ones that effectively did that by their politicians turning to public health officers and following their advice strictly. The worst are the polities where every word from the scientists has been filtered though a screen of political needs.

I am not joining Stiegler's proposal, which he never takes past the "use of politics should be a scientific decision" concept. Putting any "Council of Scientists"... or whatever ... in charge of any public money or power would instantly politicize who got on the Council. Never happen.

We need a better set of "norms", that's all. We need every politician to be humble about his expertise on every science, to gladly turn to advisory bodies that serve many politicians across their careers, bodies chosen for their own humility as well as expertise. Many countries have this. Most of the provinces of Canada included...once the pandemic started. Before it started, scientific examinations of care-homes (a topic I'll be back to) recommended their improvement over and over and over, for decades, and were ignored. Our "norms" on respect for science are still not high enough. Just ask any climatologist! If they were in charge, we'd have done a lot more about carbon long ago.

People should start asking this question of politicians when they run. This time, their disrespect for science cost many lives. Lives were saved in proportion to how much respect they started to show when the going got tough.

Coming up at our next election: "Sir, is it one of your campaign promises that if a public health officer, or environmental officer, recommends actions that will hurt you politically, you'll follow them anyway?"

Wouldn't it be nice, if they actually did?


May 16: Wanna Bet?

There seems to be one every day, but today's is the "question" of whether a vaccine will take several months, or at least a year.

Not just finding it, and being sure of it, but a hundred million doses into our arms by Christmas? A tall order indeed. We all know the gap between announcement of any product and a hundred million copies in stores. It's not measured in weeks.

So I have TWO excellent reasons for believing the experts on this "controversy":

  1. It's in accord with all the history I have lived through or read about;
  2. They're experts.
Only an idiot would believe in an amateur over an expert, the way only an idiot would bet on an amateur sportsman, over a professional. Betting on the politicians here is like betting on the star of your office pick-up basketball team to dunk on LeBron James.

Alas, the world is well-supplied with idiots who would actually bet on their political idol over a professional. I propose that we smarter people take their money.

Betting is one sport that can continue right now, most of it has already moved online. I already had the execrable taste to propose a notional "Covid Cup" for those with the lowest deaths per capita; why not go whole hawg and propose betting on Pandemic Performance?

I'll lay down a grand on Georgia hitting 2000 dead before Independence Day; two grand on America making it to the 100,000 mark by June 1. Bets like that. Others even more offensive. (Shock is the goal.)

It would be great if the betting process got more people to take experts seriously. Some people just can't evaluate risks to their own lives rationally, which is why you have to make workers obey safety rules; and lots of people hold other people's very lives cheaply. But even they hate to lose bad bets.

If that doesn't work, of course, hey: at least we get to take their money.


May 15: Testing So Bad, Hail Marys are Being Suggested

It's usually in movie scripts that some brilliant but unconventional science is pulled out, late in the third act, to save the day - only when all conventional approaches have failed.

Having finally jumped on Canada's testing issue yesterday, I may camp upon it here until some improvement occurs. (Power brokers tremble: a teeny blog is On Your Case. Now you'll be sorry.) Actually, I'm just drawing clicks to a fine and fascinating Globe and Mail story by Ivan Semeniuk about one doctor's radical suggestion.

I'm going to repeat yesterday's google search every day "canada testing plan", and today, it finally came up with a new link, a few below the ones weeks-old, claiming 60,000 tests by last week. The story admits we're hardly doing 25,000, coming up very short in Ontario and Quebec. Further, that it's not enough testing to safely "re-open".

Both explanation and possible solution are offered by Paul Hebert at U.Guelph. He explains the gene-reading equipment that processes the current "qPCR" test just don't scale up very well. But his equipment does. He uses it to process a million DNA tests a year, just counting species of insects he catches in traps. He's proposed a way to modify it to handle up to 50,000 COVID-19 tests per day, for a buck a test. So we get our test numbers up, along with about a 98% bargain on the cost.

I'll leave the rest of the story to the Globe - there are questions about making this work in practice, but it's certainly heartening - both as a solution to our current problem, and a triumph of Canadian ingenuity that I would suspect we could turn around and give (or sell) to the rest of the world. Wouldn't it be nice.

But still - other countries got their testing numbers up to what they needed without a Hollywood-plot-twist-grade of scientific miracle pulled off. I'd still like to know why we've done so poorly - even if Dr. Hebert saves their Canadian Bacon with his wizardry.


May 14: Raw Data Humbly Submitted: Where the Heck Are the Tests?

I tried punching "canada testing plan" into Google this morning, and the top link was the same one as it has been for three solid weeks: "Canada could soon conduct 60,000 COVID-19 tests per day" in the National Post for April 23rd.

You'd think that three weeks would have brought more news. Or at least, more tests. For a couple of months, I've been saving the page you can find at The Government of Canada Public Health page for the outbreak updates. I just pulled down the last three week's worth, specifically this part of their report:

Then I just put all those numbers for each date into a spreadsheet, giving these graphs for total tests, and by subtraction between days, the daily tests:

Do you see 60,000 on the right graph anywhere? I don't even see 50,000. Or 45,000, though we came close one day. I see no sign of any increase over time.

Are they hoarding test kits, for lack of ideas about whom to test? Lacking contact tracers? It's seven days since we did get a follow-up claim, in the Toronto Star: Canada's Labs Can Now Test 60,000 COVID-19 Cases per day. But do we need to?

Well, duh, yes. I need a test. I need a test, because I'd like to go visit my Mother-In-Law. But did I get the bug just the other day, and am still asymptotic? Testing heavily in workplaces, like barbershops, would allow workplaces to re-open. If we had infinite availability of tests, we could probably do a million a day before people derived no more incremental value from it. We only need to do as few tests as we are, as long as we're locked down.

I'm not even seeing a strategy for that. The news this morning, which kicked off this blog post, is that "anybody with symptoms" can get a test. For a disease where most transmissions may be asymptotic, that strikes me as weak. How about those "essential" workers that are making low wages for high risks? A weekly testing regime would let them know we care.

Those 37 dead NYPD weigh on my mind; weekly (or more) testing for all cops would be good for them, as well. I trust that this has long applied to paramedics.

Public health officers keep saying that you only know the curve has crested and fallen, when looking backwards, after it has happened. Well, that's when we have too much testing: we'll know later, after we conclude we did too many. Let's get there with some stupid levels of over-testing, just to be sure. We're due.


May 13: An Experiment With a C-SPAN Transcript

I admit I didn't watch live, but when I heard that this was an interesting exchange, I watched on YouTube. My internal monologue didn't have as many words, but these are the ideas that crossed my mind while watching.

A great fun thing about YouTube is that you can open up a transcript window and copy/paste, and so, today's literary experiment.

Senator Rand Paul, a true Libertarian and therefore more interesting than most conservatives. They have the consistency of opposing all government action, not turning into socialists the moment military spending comes up. Paul is also a physician, and numerate. His directed reasoning, however, is pretty plain. The trick is not to lie about numbers, but to emphasize the ones that "sound" better.

YouTube Time StampSenator Rand PaulMy Internal Monologue, Watching
00:23Between 18 and 45, the mortality in New York was, The mortality in the United States on 9/11 was just ONE per 100,000.
Eighty of them were police. Speaking of whom, the NYPD now has 37 cops dead.

That's with a small fraction of the city infected; with 50% infected, you'd have another couple of hundred dead cops. Please be plain if you're saying that's OK.

"Cops" is a reference to an earlier post. Obviously, many thousands of New Yorkers under 70 would also die. I just think "cops" is an easy shorthand for "victims you can't even imply are near-death, or socially useless".

00:26uh, 10 out of 100,000.
00:28So, really, we do need to be thinking about that.
00:29We need to, uh,
00:32observe with an open mind what went on in Sweden
00:33where the kids kept going to school.
00:36The mortality per capita in Sweden To be specific, the mortality per capita in Sweden is 343 per million, so far; while lower than all those other countries, it's higher than in the United States, at 254 per million (but rising at 4 per day).

That's easy math: (343-254) X 330 million = 30,000 extra dead people.

The trouble with these kinds of projection-based decisions is that there's no alternative-universe machine to tell us whom the 30,000 would be. We could ask them how unacceptable Sweden's result for the USA would be.

00:38is actually less than France, less than Italy,
00:40less than Spain, less than Belgium,
00:43less than the Netherlands, about the same as Switzerland.
00:45But basically I don't think there's anybody arguing
00:49that what happened in Sweden is an unacceptable result.
00:50I think people are intrigued by it, and we should be.
01:40And the power needs to be dispersed
01:43because people make wrong predictions.
01:45And, really, the history of this, when we look back, There's a problem with crapping on scientists for their inability to make correct predictions, from insufficient information, on-the-fly. You're not really hurting them; you're admitting it's a hard problem even for them.

You're saying: "The problem is SO hard that people with ten years of intensive study, plus 30 more years of daily experience, can only offer a range of predictions that depend on what some known-unknowns are."

And your logic is then: "Therefore, I'm justified in listening to people that have been studying it for ten weeks, and have money reasons for believing the most-positive spins".

I don't believe the Senator suggested that anybody knows more, would be less likely to make those "wrong predictions".

01:47will be of wrong prediction
01:48after wrong prediction after wrong prediction,
01:51starting with, uh, Ferguson in England.
01:54So I think we oughta have a -- a little bit of humility in --
01:57in our, um, belief that we know what's best for the economy.
01:59And as much as I respect you, Doctor Fauci,
02:01I don't think you're the end-all,


May 12: "Bringing China To Heel"

I wondered if that was too sharp a headline, implying I still have the 19th-century mentality towards China shown in the cartoon at left. But, a quick google found it had already been used, by delusional Canadian conservative Diane Francis in the Financial Post a week back. The delusion being that Canada, with the market power of 38 million consumers, nearly a half-percent of the world, can "stand up to China", if only it had a conservative Prime Minister. Like Stephen Harper, here being crapped on by Diane Francis for submissiveness to China in 2014. Maybe not.

Our response to the pandemic does point the way to dealing with China's authoritarian ability to just control trade, to inflict brief internal economic suffering as a strategy to bully other nations. Today, that news is about China not buying Australian beef and barley because Australia wants their COVID-19 response investigated.

The usual script is that China lashes out with trade restrictions that hurt their country, which they can accept, being authoritarians who can just order it. A number of some western country's wealthiest have their business kneecapped, however, and they scream at our politicians, who put on some face-saving measures, but quietly cave.

This dynamic assumes that our "economy" is a Red Queen's Race from Alice in Wonderland, that our businesses must always be running at top speed to just stay in place. Lose income for a few months, default on your debts, a business goes under, a rich man somewhere is ruined. It's the same assumption that has the same businessmen screaming "the economy", now, despite lives at stake.

China's threats are often almost toothless; they can only inflict so much internal economic pain, even with the army to back them up; they depend on picking our most-vulnerable pain points. We can harden up ourselves against such pressures with the same heavy government hand that even our conservatives have now accepted for the pandemic.

If government was able to support business through such trade attacks, we could respond to them with all our economic power, rather than leaving, say, our pork producers to bear the brunt alone.

The second part, however, is that no one trade partner with China, not even the US, can really threaten them with much, alone. The whole world that believes in fair trade and human rights needs to present them a united front.

It's funny how that attitude to both China and Russia used to be conservative gospel in our politics. Now it's our conservative side that has gone all weak in the knees, because China has found their soft underbelly: their greed.

As free nations, we can democratically agree to set aside our greed, take a few economic hits in defense of fair trade and human rights now and then, and show a little more courage and self-sacrifice than that - by sharing the burden.


May 11: On the Upside - "The Economy" Has Survived Much Worse

25% unemployment means that three-quarters of the population is still at work. World War Two promptly dropped the US Depression level of unemployment - some 25%, with over 11 million out of work - down to 10% (5.3 million). But if you regard "in the war" as "unemployed" from the point of view of producing anything useful to consumers, the war itself was as bad as the Depression: 11.6 million in the US forces by 1944, producing zero food, clothing, shelter or manufactured goods.

So the people not-producing now, are about the same number as through most of the Depression AND WW2, over a dozen years of low civilian productivity. When (civilian) unemployment of Depression levels was necessary to "save the country", we took that medicine with good cheer.

I can't say whether we will have decades of good economy afterwards, like we did after the war - paying for the massive government debt to finance it with 90% taxes on high incomes - but I can say that our civilization can do this. We can afford it; the rest is just internal accounting. I'd much rather see a post-WW2 approach to balancing the books over a return to feudalism, but that's going to be a long fight, a mere extension of one already going on.

It's funny that arguments for Universal Basic Income just recently worried that there would not be enough jobs for everybody. The book Bullshit Jobs argued that still more jobs exist, but are not needed, even in the opinion of those doing them.

So, don't be afraid for "the economy". We are "the economy"; and we've been through worse and come out just fine. "The Economy" exists to serve our needs, be they making war or making waffles. If we don't need waffles (or, at least, open waffle houses) right now for our needs, then "the economy" (still just us) doesn't need them. "The Economy" didn't need any more Sherman Tanks after 1945, because it's all about our needs. Focus on the distribution problem, not the production problem. We're a very rich society, and we've got this.


Happy Mother's Day

I don't actually have a COVID-19 hook for this topic, except, obviously, mothers are very, very cautious about risking the precious lives they've brought into the world, so perhaps we need their opinions on pandemic risks.

One thing we could pay attention to is the article up at Mother.ly, that We can't re-open without childcare, so every re-opener in places where the schools are still closed does need to be asked about their plan for that.

In a very similar vein, one might read at NBC news that most of the business that Georgia plans to "re-open" (salons, restaurants, gyms, bowling) have majority female staff of child-raising years: mostly mothers, in other words. Without the childcare, they'll be between a rock and a hard place; even with it, they have to take risks - for their whole family. NBC is calling it A Slap in the Face to Mothers.

One wild comment. Doesn't everybody associate illness and fears of same with Mom? Mom bringing you the soup and tea and being sympathetic? Wouldn't a motherly figure, on news media, be more likely to get people to take good care of themselves and get better? So, I'm just asking: there's been article after article about how women are proving better leaders in a pandemic. Not to diminish for a second the accomplishments of Angela Merkel (perhaps Germany's most-successful leader in my lifetime, before the pandemic) or the amazing Jacinda Ardern, but what if it was mostly because people react to feminine advice, about illness and self-care, with less resentment?

I would not argue that in a peer-reviewed journal. But I'd argue it over a beer. Which I mention because, damn, I'd like to go out for a beer. But Dr. Bonnie Henry told me to stay home, so I kind of have to. It's Dr. Bonnie.


May 9: America Disgraced: But, Hey, They Don't Care

I cracked up laughing, I'm afraid, in the middle of an anguished article by Timothy Egan in the NY Times this morning: "The World is Taking Pity on Us: Will American prestige ever recover?". It hit me that the question was absurd: his audience doesn't care. American liberals might pretend to care about "world opinion", but only for making a rhetorical point against their domestic political opponent; but, the point made, they'd go back to their utter lack of interest.

It was Canadian comedian Mike Myers who stressed this in his excellent book "Canada". Partly memoir, partly homage to his beloved home country. But much of it is about how he spent most of his career in the US, and he was firm about their reactions to Canada: they don't follow Canadian news. At all. They know little about us, and from complete lack of interest.

When you think about it, though, Canada is not being singled out for a snub. American presidential candidates struggled to recall the name of the President of Mexico.

Far more importantly, "world opinion" never formed any significant part of their decisions about the wars in Vietnam or Iraq. The notion that bad feelings might have some actual effect on America for torture never entered their discussions about it. It never crossed the minds of Bush or Obama that leaving the innocent Maher Arar on a terrorist watch list for a decade, after he was decisively shown to be innocent, would affect relations with their largest trading partner. They were right: it equally, never crossed any Canadians' minds either, to stop selling them oil, or stop using Amazon.

I don't believe that Timothy Egan, or any other NY Times columnist, ever wrote a column about Canada's opinions of America, or any other nation's, for that matter. They don't say they don't care, because it's not even a subject they think about.

America has the same relationship to the rest of the world that America's rich have to America's poor. It doesn't bother Jeff Bezos in the slightest that warehouse workers think ill of him.

America's rich are immune to public opinion, unless they have products that can be boycotted. (Which fewer and fewer can, any more; too little competition. I haven't even heard of an Amazon or Facebook boycott called for.) America is just as immune to the anger of the world, and acts like it.

Egan says the world takes pity on them. We'd be better off paying no attention at all; it's easier on us, like shrugging off a loud domestic fight next door as "not our problem". Just turn up the TV.


May 8: OK, "noose" was a joke, but where's BoJo's Resignation?

At the time I lionized Neil Ferguson on April 30th (and compared him to Boris Johnson, with astonishment that Englishmen don't want him hanged), I had no idea that Ferguson was suffering character assassination from the tabloids. For extra icky-ness, they had to harm the woman Ferguson was seeing.

Ferguson resigned, not because he'd really caused a significant risk of transmission, since he went through the symptoms and is now presumptively immune. (Those who say that immunity is not certain mean well, but, crap, we've all had colds and flus, and know that immunity is very, very likely indeed.) No, Ferguson resigned because he knows that he is looked to as a leader, and "by example" is really the only kind of leadership that means anything. So he was setting a bad example, and feels that should cost him his leadership job.

But, wait a minute, Johnson set infinitely worse examples. By far the biggest was his actual policy, obviously. "Setting an example" with personal behaviour can have some effect, but actual policy has literally a million times as large an effect, and Johnson spoke and advocated for a "herd immunity" strategy that would have been several times as costly in lives as Sweden's "partial lockdown" - which has worked badly indeed.

It's almost incidental that Johnson also performed many acts of transmission-theatre, shaking hands and actually telling people to go out. This wasn't furtive, like Ferguson's private life, only outed by an aggressive yellow press; they were as public as possible an invitation to ignore the dangers of contact.

The he admitted he was wrong. Not in so many words, but he reversed course overnight. From watching Ferguson's science presentation, as it happens. But this admission, however implicit, should surely have come with immediate resignation, having misled the public, having been wrong about a matter of utmost mortal consquence. How can Britons have faith in his party after that? His best move for the Party was to resign, as the British system makes it an hour's work for another party leader to take over.

What's weird to me isn't that BoJo didn't do it. What's bizarre is that the country didn't demand it. Or at least his opponents, who hate him so. Britons deserve better, and should demand it.


May 7: The Dead Speak. Well, They Get One Word in Edgewise

The mortality rates across different parts of society have an inverse relationship to how much they are listened to, how often their voices are heard in our public sphere.

The front pages of newspapers, the first ten minutes of newscasts, are filled with the concerns and troubles of the wealthy and powerful, mainly. Journalists struggle (a few of them, not most) to tell the stories of the poor and ethnic groups. And sure enough, they have two and four times the mortality of those who are routinely heard.

The awfulness of work in packing plants has been shown but not well-known, for a long time. Eric Schlosser's Fast Food Nation, both the book and the movie, showed how dangerous and stressed a job it is; how only immigrants will work there. We mostly shrugged and turned the page. More recent articles have been about how rough it is to be a warehouse worker.

I suppose what got me onto this today was the reviled offhand comment by a judge in Wisconsin that "Due to the meatpacking, though, that's where the Brown County got the flare. It wasn't just the regular folks in Brown County," . The stories focus on the judge being racist or classist; to me, it just reveals an unconscious, unexamined assumption that most of us make, that we don't have to listen to, or worry about, slaughterhouse workers. If that were not true, conditions in those places would be better. They are not, so we don't. All of us. Cut the judge a break, she's just revealing a symptom of an underlying condition we all suffer from.

We'd rather our purchases all be, what, ten percent, cheaper? Making us all ten percent richer? Rather than know everybody has a job with decent pay and conditions? We'd also like care homes to be, um, affordable.

Nobody is as silent as the care-home residents; many have dementia and can't speak for themselves. The rest find that really old people are not listened to in the first place.

When nobody is listening, you have to shout very loudly. Feudal Japan had a form of ritual suicide called funshi, or "indignation death", a suicide to make a protest. A modern example would be Mohamed Bouazizi, the Tunisian street vendor who set himself alight in 2010 to protest autocracy. He didn't get to make a speech, it was just the one word: death.

We didn't pay attention to care homes even with the pandemic descending. We only noticed when the pile of dead bodies got really high. They each got to shout for our attention only once, by dying.

It's nice we're finally paying some attention to long-ignored problems, but the price was high, and there is still no certainty we won't turn the page again when the embarrassment has faded.


May 6: Nothing Succeeds Like Excess

The best thing I've read about "re-opening" showed up the other day in the Washington Post: The metric that could tell us when it's safe to reemerge, by medical school instructors Jeremy Samuel Faust, and Carlos del Rio.

I'd wondered about what the exact criteria would be for knowing the right time to risk more human contacts, but had no idea what to write about it; I didn't know, either. It's so complex. The good doctors here touch my engineer's soul by making it simple: just measure "excess deaths".

As this image from their column shows, just tracking the total death count, from all causes, in an area shows up the virus hitting with a very clear signal above the noise. The criterion wipes away all argument about whether a person clearly dying of multiple underlying conditions for some months counts as a "COVID-19 death" or merely a "death with COVID-19 present", not to mention whether we should count the guy who didn't get medical care for high blood pressure because he was afraid of the hospital. Every death counts.

It is consistent between polities, the leaders unable to affect it by changing the number of tests, or imposing their own definition of "death caused by COVID-19". Perhaps that's why it is liked by both the plutocrat-pandering arch-conservatives of The Economist like it, and also the lefties at The Guardian (article by a statistician).

When you search on this topic, however, the majority of documents discussing "excess deaths" and "covid-19" on one page are from scientific sources: National Institute of Health, The Lancet, the CDC. The top link where I searched was a speech by my public health officer - announcing a study into them.

That officer - Dr. Bonnie Henry - is idolized in the province right now, so that settles it. Let's figure out some criteria numbers for that metric and hold all the provinces to them. Which is good news in the Maritimes and the North, and Saskatchewan.


May 5: Happy Cinco de Mayo! Enjoy the Food.

There's a nice little love letter from Mexico's Ambassador to Canada at ipolitics.ca from the other day. The note celebrates that the need to close borders exempted Canada's temporary foreign worker system, albeit with various protections from transmission. It contrasts well, obviously, with nations whose metaphorical heads are exploding with the dilemma of wanting to hate immigrants, but also being dependent on them.

Well, I'm grateful to Mexican farmers, and Mexican farm workers in Canada, all taking risks that I'm not, just to keep me in food.

That's it for today. Not a deep dive, just a pathetically obvious observation: in times of trouble and peril, it is better to have friends than adversaries, better to cooperate than compete. For Canada, a happy story about how we make friends well, keep them, have a lot of goodwill out there to rely upon in times like this. May the Fifth Column of fascism behind the lines of democracy be outed and shamed by the damage they do to pandemic response.

And, yes, that whole sentence was contrived so it could start with "May the Fifth", just to top yesterday. I had better stop now. You did not deserve that.


May 4: May The Fourth...Bring Wish Fulfillment. But not likely.

It's become impossible to type "May the Fourth" without mentally finishing "...be with you", and whether it seems arrogant, or not, for Disney to declare this "Star Wars Day" to enrich their corporate property, the pun is too compelling to resist. Star Wars Day, it is. (The actual franchise may have run its course, actually, which is fine with me; make some room for new, innovative SF.)

Not a little of our enjoyment of SF is wish-fulfillment: SF heroes generally enjoy Nice Things like magical medical devices that emit some kind of "healing ray" out of 1930s pulps: the audience gets to watch wounds simply vanish, the injury basically shown in reverse-motion video, healing up into unblemished skin before our eyes.

The Golden Age of SF, that same pulp era that Star Wars pays homage to, was a time of everyday miracles changing lives every year, with cars, electric light, aircraft, submarines, telephones, radio, refrigerators, all coming into full use, over a single generation. No wonder they projected forward another few generations and imagined spaceships the size of cities.

The most-miraculous of those miracles, however, was medicine. Surgery went from guesswork, a near-butchery without anaesthetics, to routinely saving lives. Vaccination, above all, would win most votes for the greatest live-saving achievement of the past century. As that link notes, "little more than a century ago, the U.S. infant mortality rate was a staggering 20 percent, and the childhood mortality rate before age five was another disconcerting 20 percent." And then, some guys in white coats waved their hands and talked some weird words, and that was all over. A billion parents' dearest wish, fulfilled.

Here we are, in that Age of Miracles, and people understandably want one more. But, it's cringeworthy, frankly, listening to the advocates of "end the lockdowns", both on the street and in the press briefing room, as they just keep wishing and wishing, very openly and embarrassingly, for some miracle to just make this all go away. They're like toddlers: "make it didn't happen, Daddy". A vaccine that takes weeks instead of more than a year; a treatment that will make it into a non-lethal disease...bring us something, anything, there has to be something to make my wish come true.

No. There doesn't. This is not a science-fiction movie. This is real. Sometimes problems have only hard solutions that take a long time. Sorry.


May 3: If We're So Rich, Why Ain't We Smart?

I can't say enough about the fine data visualization tools at the "ourworldindata.org" web site, click on the graph below to jump there. Note that this is "per million", so compares small and large nations fairly, and is a LOG scale, so that it is showing the USA doing twice as bad as Canada, and Spain ten times worse..but also Greece doing ten times better, and South Africa ten times better again than Greece.

Some of the best responses to the pandemic have been from countries that are startlingly poor. Portugal and especially Greece, the sickest sick men of Europe since the financial crisis, have exemplary results compared to Italy, Spain, UK, France, Belgium and Switzerland. Heck, Greece is way better than wealthiest European, Germany, run by a scientist. They cancelled everything before even one death had been recorded.

This is similar to the touted response of South Africa, which also shut down before it really reached them.

Stop to think about it, this is the same as evacuating a building when you hear the fire alarm, not when you see flames actually reach your floor. It's obvious. But most rich countries did not do it. Taiwan and New Zealand had the best responses, but not because they have the most money.

This isn't really about "smart" in the sense of having good epidemiologists. A quarter-century back, I wrote an essay about the Titanic sinking that got me flown to two speaking engagements, by the US Navy, no less. The crowd agreed that my best line was "It was not a failure of calculation. It was a failure of imagination. They just didn't imagine it could actually happen."

Some of the poorest countries in the world, in Africa, have done amazingly well with almost no resources. Yes, they had the advantage of time; almost nobody travels to them, so they had more warning. But they used the time, whereas the biggest economy of them all famously threw away their own warning time, not believing it could actually happen. Many in Africa had no such delusions, after AIDS and Ebola. So, excerpt from the Financial Times:

Countries had little choice but to act early. Nigeria was already screening airport passengers in February. Rwanda closed its frontiers on March 19. South Africa locked down before it had suffered a single death. In the absence of money, ingenuity rushed in: solar-powered oxygen units in Uganda, rapid tests in Senegal, mask-making textile factories in Kenya.
I'll elaborate on something from April 15: we in rich countries feel invulnerable to most of life's ills, and nobody feels more invulnerable than Americans. The lockdown protesters still don't believe it can really happen to them. Invulnerability lets you get away with being stupid, like being so militarily powerful you don't fear land war in Asia. They came up against hard lessons there, twice, and will get more now.

They didn't learn from the first 58,000 dead in Asian wars-of-choice, forgot how guerilla warfare worked in a single generation, tried again. So, unless they lose a lot more than 100,000 dead to this pandemic, they'll probably feel invulnerable again in about 50 years, and be stupid for the next one as well. I hope we are not. I hope we are smart, like Africans.


May 2: The Lives Being Saved by the Pandemic

The thing about living is, it kills you. People voluntarily take crazy risks all the time, just for a thrill. But far more, people take risks to earn a living, or to get to that job on time. We lose thousands of people per year to motor accidents, many caused by hurry.

The pandemic has cleared the roads of at least half the cars. In most places, especially urban, the accident fatality rate seems to be down less than that, about 40% in France, because the open roads allow more speeding. (In a few polities, especially rural, the death rate has actually gone up; just way down on the whole.)

Those protesting for a herd-immunity strategy talk about people dying from suicide and other "deaths of despair" owing to poverty. A fair reply is that few of them are committing suicide because of shame at inability to contribute; it's money. Give them a social safety net, and most of those suicides will disappear. But, on top of that, we have to subtract from the deaths that lockdown does cause, the deaths it prevents. No, not the COVID-19 deaths, the:

  • Traffic accidents - nearly 40,000/year in the US, perhaps 15,000 not happening;
  • Workplace fatalities: no workplace, no fatality. About 5,000 per year, surely 1000 not happening. (I only shave off 20% because I think most are in those "essential" jobs; fishing is more dangerous by far than policing.)
  • Murder: the crime rate seems to have, roughly, halved. Much more in some places, less in others; but for argument, let's put in half of the USA's 15,000 murders, and round down to 7000 saved.
That's 27,000 right there, for the USA at least, with its higher rates of crime, injuries, and every other bad thing, versus Canada. I'm sure a little thought about all the ways that being out in the world can get you killed would let me round up to 30,000. Time for the big conclusion with the italics and boldface:

The suicide rate would have to triple to make lockdown a net-killer even without COVID-19! To live our lives, we risk death every day from a dozen causes. A pause in the activities of life actually saves lives on its own.

Update, May 23: Some early stats are in, and it looks like a 20% drop in traffic deaths, 80% in drownings.


May 1: The Value of my Face Mask

Just back from the store, where I wore a "mask" inside, or, rather, a thin silk scarf folded over a few times. It's worthless as as mask, technically. I'm sure aerosols and indeed droplets could saunter right through it, either direction.

But I think the real value of a face mask is how conscious it makes me of my own breathing, normally something you hardly notice. My every exhalation steams up my glasses a bit, making me annoyed and very aware that I'm exhaling moisture. Which reminds me, 20 times a minute, that everybody else is also exhaling moisture, near me. We're all little steamboats, toot, toot.

So I navigate Safeway like the whole place was toxic; stick to business, be aware of every person around you (since about a quarter of the people at Safeway are behaving as if bumping into me is no worry), and dodge.

Interestingly, this value of a face mask is degraded if you wear it all the time and get used to it. So I just wear it in stores while getting stuff there. (The term "shopping" isn't really right; that connotes leisure.) I pull it off once away from the entrance, and go back to just avoiding people by over 2 metres, on the street.

Another value of a face mask, however bad as a filter, is the same as my exaggerated avoidance of people on sidewalks (I go out onto the road): performative. Human beings pick up behaviour cues from all around them. The more you act as if people were plutonium, the more everybody will feel some pressure to do the same.

There's talk of some opening-up moves soon, and I don't want to screw that up.


April 30: Where is Neil Ferguson's Knighthood? (And BoJo's Noose?)

This is mostly a "best example" for my previous post about society having too much inertia to change dramatically, even from a pandemic. One would think that Boris Johnson of the UK would currently be hanging from a lamppost; and Neil Ferguson of the Imperial College would be taking a minute from his workaholic schedule to preen over his knighthood. One man nearly got half a million Britons killed; the other saved them.

It was just early March when Boris was not merely pretending the virus would go away, like the American administration engaging in bizarre denial; he was advocating "herd immunity", a deliberate strategy to not just stay open, but encourage spread to speed the day when the "herd" as a whole would be over the hump.

Britain does not have a meaningful regional level of government, like American states and our provinces; their pandemic response is entirely national. America was stumbling into a disaster at their federal level, but the states would have asserted lockdowns and testing, as they have mostly had to anyway, even if their feds had not seen Ferguson's model. (It was also was applied to America. It was Ferguson's team that predicted that famous 2.2 million deaths possible, not Americans; but the presentation turned the Americans around the same night. Surely "The PowerPoint that saved 2.5 million" will be coming to Netflix documentaries next year.)

Without a middle level of government for Britons to turn to, Johnson could well have prosecuted a "keep everything open, especially schools" strategy, for the whole nation...and the estimate was 510,000 dead that way. It seems unbelievable that he would get credit for changing his mind, when he should be in jail - or on that lamppost - for even speaking aloud his first idea. That he isn't, I think, proves my point: society is a supertanker that takes a long time to turn more than a few degrees to either the right or the left. The difficulty turning to the right has saved us from fascism so far, despite decades of hard work by fascists (who call themselves something else, of course) to bring it back. Alas, it will now keep us from turning more than a few degrees to the left, or to any kind of populist rage. Lucky Boris.


April 29: Inertia

If you've wanted to see change for a long time and are impatient for it, crises seem like this big opportunity for change (Scientific American). Some of my own writing below, about visible statistics, exceptional inequality, and Christianity, all reflect a hope that the societal failures spotlighted by death will be remedied.

It would be better to prepare for disappointment. More likely, one, at the most two, major changes will be put over the top by this "help" - and they'll be the ones that were nearly here anyway. (If this doesn't make universal health insurance an American reality, I can't even.)

The people coming out of quarantine are still the same bunch that went in. In Canada, Liberals and Conservatives are still pretty much in the same place in the polls. There's no massive groundswell of support for the NDP. Hey, we'll get better regulation on our care homes for a couple of decades before standards slip again.

In the States, the presidential challenger is ahead several percent in the polls, but one would think that tens-of-percent would be more believable...not since the virus, but since Charlottesville; after the drink-bleach advice, you'd think, 80/20. I'm sure the pandemic performance will shift their voting by as much as ten percent, but revolutionary changes? No. The "democratic socialist" group within their Congress may expand, by, oh, several members, but not enough to more than tweak legislation a bit.

That's the word: tweaks. We'll get tweaks. Care homes. The pandemic departments will be lavishly supplied, of course, not for the many decades that will elapse before there's another pandemic, probably, but a few. (I doubt the American health care will include dental or eyeglasses: sorry, Bernie.) I bet they can undo some tax cuts, but I would not bet they can raise taxes back to pre-Reagan levels to support social services.

No universal basic income, except maybe in Spain, where the need has been more clear through over a decade of "the crisis" already. I wouldn't bet even odds on all those "essential" minimum-wage workers getting more than minimum wage, or unions. I give them 30%.

There may be some climate action, to the extent of my electric vehicles boost theory, and a little infrastructure work, building the grid and some wind turbines..again, things that were already coming and will move faster with a boost. I strongly doubt that any non-starters will become starters.

So, social activists: pick your battles; pick the ones that seem so obvious to you that they need no more help. It's better to assume they've only had a little help from this.


April 28: Man, Totally Called That One

After my "Vietnam Headline" prediction, for today, the US death rate, at least as quoted by "worldometers.info" promptly dropped from nearly 2000/day down to about 1200; this was a statistically surprising drop, leaving me shaking my head that I should ever try to predict a pandemic even a few days ahead. I could hardly "cheer on" American patients to get back to dying just so that I could make an accurate prediction, obviously.

However, today, the death rate ticked back up again - already 1,885 as I write at 4PM PDT - and passed that "58,320" mark about an hour ago. Wow, were the journalists of America ever waiting for that exact instant to hit the POST button on their Vietnam-themed stories. Get a load of the google news search on "vietnam" a few minutes back, at left.

Look at the times the stories were posted: 1 hour ago, 50 minutes ago, 45 minutes ago...all SIX stories within 40 minutes of the number being reached. They were just waiting to pounce on the moment. I can only hope they were not cheering on the dying, so as to publish and knock off for the day.

Without reading any of the stories at left, I can still recommend the one to read: the one by Nick Turse in The Intercept. Not only is The Intercept one of the best reads out there these days, but Nick is the author of "Kill Anything That Moves", the most truthful, and therefore terrible, book on Vietnam.


April 27: Foxnewspeak

In "1984", George Orwell invented "newspeak", the intentionally-limited language ("doubleplusgood" instead of "excellent") that was supposed to lose words every year, constricting possible topics ever more tightly.

Everybody noted when Fox had the "we have always been at war with Eastasia" (virus) moment several weeks back, when the "hoax" became a "crisis" overnight. I noted just a few posts below when it became impossible to find the word "chloroquine" on their main web page, after weeks of obsessing on it.

Well, several new words have been "vapourized", as Orwell would say, today, including:

  • bleach
  • disinfectant
  • inject
  • cleaning
  • solution
  • internal
  • sunshine
The term "briefing" appears only the once, as part of their standard template, where one web page section is called "The Daily Briefing". The word "briefing" does not appear on any copy. Those White House Briefings that had better ratings than Monday Night Football... have been vapourized.


April 27: The Obvious Next Tesla Ad

Even with my nonexistent skills and only the most basic image editor, this didn't take five minutes:

Seriously, if we, who live in relatively clean-air cities, find these images a devastating sell for electric vehicles, how is it playing in cities where the air is actually that bad? How long before these cities start pushing for laws to charge you $100 per month to run an internal-combustion engine, versus nothing for an EV? The case for it couldn't be stronger: the internal-combustion engines are as obviously making the city dirty as somebody who throws their trash out the window.

It's weird, now that I think of it, that the local nature of car pollution has been ignored by climate activists trying to focus on the "global" nature of the issue. If you can convince cities to put a surcharge on their pollution, the car market would have to change faster than it has been.

Well, these images have done their work for them. These will surely spur sales of EVs and perhaps get every city switching to electric buses, and electric city-services vehicles. (It's hard to claim range anxiety in a waterworks half-ton, an ambulance, or a police cruiser that never cracks 100 km per day.) Then, cities could move on to charging all the commercial vehicles, everything used in construction and delivery, a premium for fouling the city air.

But the air will remain filthy because of commuter vehicles. The memory of these days will linger, though. Consumers discovered the London congestion fee was a great thing; as the air clears, they'll come to feel the same about the air-pollution fee.

In his essential book, A Thousand Barrels a Second, Dr. Peter Tertzakian noted that it takes over 20 years to "change out" the North American vehicle fleet; it's not just the cost, the car factories can only run so fast. It's a 2006 book, and we could presumably have been half-way there by now, if we'd started in 2010 producing nothing but EVs; we are in fact at 1%. But viruses aren't the only thing that grow exponentially; we all now understand how ideas can "go viral", and the EV idea just got a huge push. We still could use another major improvement in batteries, but even with what we've got, the formerly-fantastic idea of all new vehicle production going electric may be just a few years away.


April 26: R>G - How Convenient. Thanks for Saving That Up. We'll Just Take It, Now. Thanks.

'r>g'
was the terse final statement from a huge study by Thomas Piketty a few years back, "Capital in the 21st Century" that the overall returns from major investments (r) was greater than the overall growth of the economy (g). In this age where nearly everybody finally gets exponential functions, it should mean something devastating. Since both r and g are growth exponents, so is "r-g", the exponentially-increasing rate at which stored piles of money come to take over the economy, until the money-piles pretty much own everything. Including the politicians.

That the politicans are owned by the money-piles is most-easily proven by what Vox journalist Matt Yglesias explained about the Panama Papers: that if these tiny "sovereign" Caribbean nations were conspiring to undermine pharmaceutical or Blu-Ray copyrights by pumping out cheap medicines or movies, they'd be shut down by diplomatic or financial pressure within weeks. They aren't, because tax-theft is winked at by politicians, some of whom are involved.

But if we need a pile of several trillion dollars to run civil society with for some months, and would rather not indebt two generations to those banks (see below) to raise the bridge money, I think we all know where to find such a pile.

Quite a lot of that pile of money is outright proceeds of foul crimes. A larger share is proceeds of that genteel, white-collar, but equally destructive crime of tax fraud. And the largest share is legal "tax avoidance"...but shouldn't ever have been legal. As the ACLU's Jameel Jaffer put it about NSA spying, "the deeper scandal is what's legal".

The money in the tax havens is particularly easy to discuss confiscating. As with the cruise industry flagging all their ships to Panama (hey, Panama again, funny coincidence!!) then asking for America-funded bailouts, you get little sympathy if you abandon your country.

So, this being a blog and not a respected publication, I'd like to skip all the legal stuff and just advocate that America simply take it. Militarily. As Madeleine Albright once screamed at Colin Powell, "What's the point of having this superb military you're always talking about if we can't use it?".

Sure, it's illegal under American law to prosecute aggressive war without UN Security Council permission - but that's been a dead letter since Iraq. So just send in the fleets, conquer all the tax havens and loot their banks, medieval style. It gets around all that tedious legal wrangling over drug-lords vs tax-cheats vs tax-avoiders. All of it spoils of war. Done. Hey, if you're going to be one of Ayn Rand's "looters", just be honest about it.

Only America can do this; only America has that insanely-overbuilt military. But Canada and every other nation would profit, long-term, because the tax havens would shut down forever. What's the point in piling up your money outside the taxman's influence if you're handing 100% of it to the gunboats?

As for all that r>g money piled up inside law-abiding, tax-having countries, that's a stroke of the pen. Just add a zero to that 2% wealth tax of Elizabeth Warren's for one year. Or two. They'd still have 60% of everything over $50 million, whereas the tax-shelterers would lose it all.

The obvious danger here is that governments would then become that Ayn Rand nightmare of "looters", sucking up those money piles for every minor government program and waste, after the crisis. That was assumed to be true of democracy itself. But the rich got richer and our society continued to resemble feudalism despite all that democracy, so I'm sanguine about it.

With a little luck, the wealthy would just stop trying to dodge tax laws, accept that money gets harder and harder to accumulate as your pile gets larger. Right now it gets easier and easier to get richer as you get richer.

Hey, even my gunboat economics aren't as bad as The Terror; the rich not only get to keep their heads, but the first $50 million and most of the rest. Except the tax-dodgers. Screw 'em; they're criminals.

Will any of this happen? Nah. These ideas might work economically, but even the pandemic isn't making them come closer politically. The "military conquest" notion is pure satire, obviously; if America really wanted that money, it could do it by pure pressure, with only the most-oblique hints of actual violence. But even that is not remotely going to happen. We can take a look at that in a future post.


April 25: Everybody Takes A Hit But The Banks?

I'm just writing my provincial and federal representatives to ask about whether they will save 70,000 animals at the Vancouver Aquarium, which, despite laying off all staff but the ones keeping them alive, and $600K in recent donations, is weeks away from destitution. In part, the aquarium just put all memberships into a "time machine", where your renewal date is extended by a day for every day they remain closed.

I mention, "time machine", because it was a great phrase used in the article by the inhumanly productive Derek Thompson of The Atlantic: The Four Rules of Pandemic Economics, where Rule #2 (after "lives vs the economy is a false choice", the absolute #1), is "Build Companies a Time Machine". Businesses need to have all their books teleported to the future point where they can restart their moneymaking, unharmed by the passage of time. The economist interviewed mentioned "anything - grants, cheap loans, debt relief - that would allow companies to shift their expenses to the future". I'm not hearing the "debt relief" part in the news, though.

The grants and cheap-loans solutions are just moving their private debt to public debt. We're so rich (as a society) that the government really can just print a lot of money and use it to basically keep us all going for a short period, with only modest inflation. But everybody is taking a hit here, nearly every business is hurting. The public solution means we all share the pain, everybody...except the banks. The aquarium, facing bankruptcy, can lose even more to provide a "time machine" to customers, but banks can't?

The most-regulated and controlled business, the one that owes its existence to the government bailouts so recently, is the one that can't be told to take a hit?

I don't remotely know enough about this subject to discuss it in detail. But any who's played with their mortgage on a spreadsheet knows that plugging in "zero interest" is exactly a "time machine" in finance; the clock stops on your loan.

I'm not saying every loan. All these bailouts need tailoring. It might require a case-by-case application.

I'm bringing it up because there's a lot of really radical things happening. Just not a proposal that the banks themselves should suffer by a penny, at least not at the hands of government; instead, government should give everybody money so they can hand it on to banks.

Many loans will go bad anyway, and that will hurt the banks too. Honestly, they should be looking at enforced zero-interest proposals as the lesser of two evils.

I suspect they don't want to set the precedent.

That was also my lesser of two radical proposals. Up tomorrow, the "eat the rich" idea.


April 24: Coming Tuesday: The Vietnam War Headline

I knew this headline was coming last night, with the April 23 total coming in well over 49,000. The death rate, for a few days at a time, is predictable enough that I can write the next one, due Monday, or Tuesday: "U.S. Death Toll Surpasses Vietnam War". There are 58,320 names on The Vietnam Memorial Wall. At over 2000 per day, the US will have 52,000 tonight, over 56,000 Sunday night, and "hit the wall" (number) late Monday or early Tuesday.

I wonder if there will be a letter of condolences coming from Ho Chi Minh City, something about sympathy for those killed by American arrogance and ignorance.

Probably not.


April 24: Pandemic == Year Zero?

I somewhat enjoyed a web-broadcast talk between Linda Wood of the National Observer and Noam Chomsky yesterday. Dr. Chomsky was in his usual form, quietly pointing out that bailout money was going to airlines that recently profited by exactly the same amount, and handed it all to their stock owners in buybacks; meanwhile, little guys with little power were being tossed into destitution. Yes, the world is a fallen place, only somewhat improved from the days when Game of Thrones was a documentary, and it needs a lot of major changes to be fair and fully productive. But now?

There's a widespread perception, almost entirely on the left, that this crisis == political opportunity; that the pandemic, by highlighting all the iniquities that were so obvious to Noam Chomsky and his readers already, is the perfect time for major changes. The questions to Chomsky and Wood were almost entirely along that line: what does the New World look like: Green New Deal; universal health care and even income; perhaps a Global World Order, "USA 2.0", etc.

I'm all in favour of a better world, though what I'll be pointing out in future post(s), as with my April 9 post, is that there's no sign of it coming. My question today is whether they are even that great an idea - this year. The pandemic is a huge civilizational stress. But nothing is more stressful, in personal life or at society-scale, than change. Is a time of stress a time to take on more?

There's absolutely an argument for it when a change that gets us through the pandemic. Say, a revised system of unemployment-insurance, combined with actual guaranteed minimum income of some sort, will have to be implemented - and will be seen as more efficient and moral than our current welfare system, so will be kept. The universal health care that has been long, long coming down south will finally get over the top.

The old 1930's strategy of infrastructure building during depression, this time with green energy infrastructure, is certainly time-tested! Imagine how enthused a civil engineer is over the prospect of finally fixing all the damn roads and broken pipes, getting that smart supergrid, and pouring a new terawatt or six of green power into it.

But revolutionary changes not tied to the current problem make me highly suspicious. They smack too much of the French Revolution's "Year One", referenced by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia 180 years later as "Year Zero". Both complete societal re-designs ended in madness, mass murder, counter-revolution and war. It's the kind of prospect that turns the most ardent progressive into a literal conservative, wary of more than one change at a time.

Tomorrow, I'm going to toss out a few truly radical ideas - I've been reading SF all my life, after all. Perhaps contemplating those will clarify why there's no visible majority for radical change.


April 23: The Relevant Statistics

A question from a reader the other day set me aback; mostly because, wait, I have readers? Plural? But also, because he asked about whether it was not more relevant to track hospitalizations and ICU crowding levels, rather than merely "cases" that can mean very little...since so many cases have few symptoms. ("Case counts" in Italy, with its old population, means something more dire than in India, where most cases hit people under 35, see below.)

It really hit me, because that's been understood for a long time. Even in local news, we were impressed by Global's Keith Baldry, their legislative reporter, who zeroed in on hospital and ICU numbers as being the only relevant statistic, for him to report. Keith was shrugging at "case counts" and "positive test numbers" back in early March, and advising his fans to watch those ICU admissions. I never did find out where the source data was, because Keith tracked it for me, he was on the job. But where is it for every other health region?

If a local reporter who mostly covers the BC legislative sniping rather than health-and-science, had that nailed right off, why are major national news people still so focused on easy-to-get, but not-very-useful, statistics?

I have found web site that can be used; it just tracks information as a dashboard, does no journalistic interpretation. It proudly notes all the important news sources that cite it. It's covidtracking.com, and it is, alas, only for the States. However, as the States are about to go into "interesting times", for pandemic statistics, this month, it may be the place to visit. Best of all, it not only has 50 of these on the dashboard:

...but you can download these stats for all 50 states into your spreadsheet or other favourite tool. What even this report is missing is the context of available ICU beds or ventilators or whatever resource. It's not hard to add the basic population of each state to your spreadsheet, however, so the relative troubles of each state can be seen...and compared to New York of a week ago, when resources were very stretched.

I'll have to look into the problem, if only to keep my spreadsheet skills up.

Frustrating not to find the equivalent for Canada. CTV news is doing a lovely dashboard, but it's all about the cases, and the ultimate deaths, the other easy-to-get number. Except from care homes with six bodies piled up in the rec room and five in the pottery shop.


April 22: Chloroquine? What's That?

Day two of being able to go to the Fox News web site, hit "CTRL-F" on my browser to search the text on the page, type "chloroquine", and get "zero results". Following a study in Brazil that was terminated when 11 patients died, and then a French study finding more deaths and no benefit, the word simply vanished from their front page. A search on it found a mention in one story the other day, and the basic story from the day before that about the lack of benefits, then silence.

This is not unique to Fox News; all that's really special about them is the sheer speed at which they pull the about-face.

The New York Times and the Washington Post still employ most of the columnists who found the 2002 White House sales pitch for the Iraq War, as believable as Fox found the recent White House sales pitch for chloroquine. That particular quack medication - for the troubles of the Middle East - was enthusiastically pitched as a real game-changer, too. Instead of patience and resources for healing, war would be the quick solution to the lack of civilized behaviour there. Turns out that war, too, actually does less good, and causes more inadvertent deaths, than its enthusiasts mentioned at the start of the treatment.

Unlike the mercifully-quick drug studies, the failure of the war played out over a many years. At first they stuggled to explain how a few tweaks would perfect it. But after about a dozen repetitions of Thomas Friedman's "the next six months are crucial" line, they gradually fell silent on the subject.

And all were hounded from the profession, like doctors who'd peddled a fake medicine would be sanctioned by their professional organization? Hah. No. Journalists don't have one. Or any behaviour in common with professions that do have one.

Now David Frum and George Packer remain among the Atlantic's most-printed writers (just on other subjects), happily kept on by war enthusiast Jeffrey Goldberg. Fred Hiatt, after choosing 27 editorials in favour of the War Treatment for Iraq and only two against, is still picking out op-ed writers for the Post, including Max Boot and Jennifer Rubin, still writing daily - if not about past mistakes, ever.

The Times, of course, uniquely apologized for its credulous coverage. Then it went right back to doing the same thing with the next wars.

So, don't just hate Fox News for promoting a tantalizing solution just because it:
(a) came from a position of high authority,
(b) fit a much-desired narrative of having power over a problem, and
(c) seized upon slender evidence while ignoring red flags.

Hate the others who've done the same, got hundreds of thousands of people killed, and got away with it, because it took longer for their wildly-overoptimistic credulity to be exposed.


April 21: Public and Private Servants

What's the difference between Amazon and a Post Office? The Post Office is there for you. They serve the public trust, have no other agenda. Amazon exists to produce returns on its stock, full stop.

Amazon is pursuing that lately by extending its shutdown in France , where it played hardball when told to only provide essential services. Amazon's claim was that it wasn't sure what those were, and couldn't risk a fine, so, safer to shut down entirely.

Hard to believe. If it made a good-faith effort; communicated its list of proposed essentials back to the law and asked for feedback; and asked for warnings and a chance to comply should there be concerns, was the government really about to fine them? Was a fine really so much more expensive than total shutdown? For a competitor in a free market, the shutdown probably wouldn't make sense.

It's a completely believable move for a near-monopoly, however; assuming that it would be a critial step in the "supply chain" for millions right now, it likely figures that France will just cave - and let them sell anything they want, expose their workers to any risk the Amazon board deems profitable.

Postal services, which are usually the more-affordable shipping option, and most-common resort of the poorer customers, don't have the option to play hardball; they serve the public trust. That's the difference.


April 20: T.I.C. (This is Canada. We're better. (Much))

As Canada scratches its collective head over the baffling mass-murder yesterday, which wiped other news from the page, a topic-focused blog can do what we do, duly note news that others missed about covid. Vancouver had one of those protests about lockdown. It was very reassuring. Out of 2.5 million people in the lower mainland, about 25 showed up, one Canadian in 100,000 ... and were courteously escorted by police.

Also, the complete lack of political-party signs, confederate flags, automatic weapons, and general American stupidity and racism were hugely reassuring. This is Canada. Still.

Yes, my headline may seem off, since we also just duplicated one of America's worst pathologies, the crazed-gunman-who-was-such-a-nice-quiet-guy story. I guess I'm clinging to the fact that for us, it was the worst in history, and the second worst was 30 years ago. So, even there, we're still better. Much. Not that "lack of mass murders" is some competitive sport, any more than my Covid Cup is a real game. It's more of a question being posed: the two nations have so much in common; what makes us so different?

While nobody even noticed the Vancouver protest, it's arguably the larger story. The American protesters may get more people killed than the Nova Scotia gunman - even if they don't succeed! The protests alone may cause enough infections that the second-and-third-order infections from those, will rise into the thousands, and thus kill dozens. That's the magnitude of this pandemic: it just throws all those shooter stories into the shade, measured by body count. The most minor bumps in a pandemic "curve" are bigger than a major shooting.


April 19: T.I.A. (This Is America)

The pandemic has had me recently breaking an effort to improve my mental health, the way it's been making people over-bake and over-eat carbs. I've been following American news a lot. The awful exponential mathematics, applied to their large population and sped along by incompetent response, are piling up eye-popping death rates.

But my very first writing attempt, November 2016, was "Breaking Up With America", about how I had to stop that. For my mental health, I needed to consign that country to the same box we all keep benighted nations like Nigeria or Somalia in, where you can't afford to get upset when you see headlines about ninety dead in a riot over "witches".

While America may have many admirable people, the news from there is just too relentlessly bad, for most of my life, and almost entirely self-inflicted pain. It's just too hard on outsiders to cheer for their good guys, and then see them unable to raise a protest march over war or torture.

Still, interest in America crept up on me recently, until, of course, the news was about Americans demonstrating to get older Americans, like their supposedly-revered war vets, killed. The same war vets noted yesterday, the ones that endured several years of sub-minimum-wage army employment, and food rationing, to save Europeans.

That was the reminder I needed. It's like the much-repeated phrase that became the theme of the film "Blood Diamond", "This is Africa". It's a sigh of resignation that it's foolish to try to fix Africa: the place has too many people taking advantage of anybody who tries to Do Good. Does saving lives require sacrifice? Protest the sacrifice as an Assault on Freedom, for pure political gain.

It's hard to consign news from Michigan into the same place I keep headlines about slaughter in Iraq, or mass graves found in Mexico, but it's the only way to keep my head on straight.

The news in Canada, British Columbia in particular, is diametrically opposed. Despite wide and close contacts with China (six flights a day to/fro YVR), we're one of the best-off places to be right now. It's time to focus on good news; the source of the bad news has no interest in our opinions, and doesn't want any help.


April 18: A Confession of Trolling

I claim I blog to halt my terrible habit of newspaper comments. The old "write a big essay" blogging on the brander.ca main page did not do that, but this write-something-short-every-day approach is working. Mostly.

Today I couldn't help it; locked-down too long reading stupidity in the news, I guess. I saw in the National Post that the writers, tentatively, and the comments-writers, voraciously, were joining in on the "end the lockdown" rhetoric.

Impulsively, I trolled. I have no excuse. Trolling is of course the preparation of deliberately-inflammatory material, just to sit back smirking while the victims cry their outrage. People who lean to extreme right-wing views tend to worship the past; today is always a fallen state - Dad's generation were better people. Today, liberal weenie-ness and sensitivity makes us less strong. It's easy enough to use against them whenever they complain about almost anything. So here's my comment in the National Post column about how Canada should "wish Sweden well" in their experiment with partially open businesses.

We've become very weak sisters compared to the Greatest Generation. My parents talked with feeling about the near-complete loss of civilian production during WW2, the food rationing, the drives for scrap metal. Then there was serving in the Army - five years at 50 cents an hour, came out with zero savings with half his 20s lost. (And no skills, if "Loading trucks" doesn't count.)

All this was to save lives in Europe; Canada could have just stayed out of it, as the USA did for nearly 3 years, making money while the rest of us were spending ourselves broke on war production.

And yet, the 30 years after the war were the most expansive and prosperous of all time, when income inequality dropped and dropped because wages were so good.

The people wanting to just surrender to the virus and say "Kill grandma, kill my wife maybe, just don't take my job" wouldn't have lasted long against the Nazis.

It's a trolling failure, so far. I got two thumbs-up and a "well said", when I'd hoped for 97 thumbs-down and several angry replies. Damn.

Postscript: Failure and "Success"

The C19-related post was an utter trolling failure. I over-did my argument, I guess, no right-wing nutbars took the bait; I ended up with a few more thumbs-up.

But there was success later in the day; skipping the details because that topic was about oil companies robbing the public by leaving it to us to clean up abandoned oil wells, I again set two conservative tropes against each other: oil (pro) vs "people who dodge their commitments and debts and leave the rest of us to pay for them" (anti). This turned out very satisfyingly, for a troll: it was the top of a chain of 47 replies, that quickly wandered into other topics, with everybody insulting each other. Trolls find this entertaining.

I found it awful; it's a sick talent, trolling, like having a talent for a cutting insult that really gets under somebody's skin. Or it's basically the same talent. Maybe doing that will cure me entirely of the National Post comments section, which would be very good for my mental health.


April 17: Canada Place, Five Blocks West, Same Day

A contrast to yesterday's pictures of the Downtown East Side. Just blocks away, where "those people" would probably be hassled by police if they bothered anybody for spare change, the place is properly deserted, when it is normally a throng of tourists and restaurant customers.

The Fairmont Hotel is closed. And a few more blocks west, a nice group of not-desperate people have found a way to enjoy a park that would not make Dr. Bonnie Henry (or cops) frown at them.


It's great to see, but the contrast is so jarring. I'm watching local news a lot lately, and just not seeing the problem acknowledged, much less addressed.

You'd think it would be obvious that the cops should be encouraging the DTES people to spread out the places they hang out in all day - even provide free services for them at Canada Place and parks and nearby blocks where the stores are all closed anyway (normally they'd complain bitterly).

I suspect that they haven't even thought of this idea; it's too much in the DNA to assume those people need to be corralled away from "decent folk" like the nice kids above. The kids would leave if that park filled up with DTES residents, even safely-spaced ones under watchful police eyes. Worse, people who were not so uncomfortable around them might start heading out to new DTES hang-out areas for socializing (and drug purchase) if their situation were made safe and pleasant by police oversight. It's always simplest to just ignore this one problem, always has been.

Except this year.


April 16: A Careful Walk Through Vancouver's Downtown East Side

The Downtown East Side, the DTES, home of Canada's best "poverty porn", where journalists can easily snap photos of human sorrow and pain. I passed through it the other day, hoping the Army/Navy store was still open where I could pick up a few things (nope). Crazily, I checked whether the door in the alley was still open..which involved going down an alley where in the space of 45 seconds I passed one guy sleeping in an alley, another relieving himself on the dumpster across from it, and a third guy behind the next dumpster, just pushing the plunger home on the hypo in his arm. This is pretty normal for half a dozen alleys in the DTES.

But the other thing that caught me was the different social distancing. It wasn't completely absent; there were a few masks, and people did seem to keep an extra half-metre of distance - but nothing like what we should all be doing. The pandemic is going to hit this community hard. Higher risk of transmission, and half of them have an underlying condition.

Hastings street is a busy commercial street just a few blocks away. When you get to this gathering place at a corner beside Gastown, you've hit the DTES.

Just across the street a half-block east is an informal street market.

Various wares spread out on blankets dot the next few blocks up. It's where people sit all day, whether from lack of a house, or because their "house" is a room about 8x10.

And then these last shots are just Hastings street in those longitudes, busy with foot traffic.

(At least this guy has the right attitude.)


I'm not intending to provide more of that poverty porn here, just document that devoting a lot of attention to keeping people spaced at 2m in Stanley Park is probably not the best use of resources. These people have been left to shift for themselves for decades, and we're still doing it. Only this time, their infections are going to come back to haunt the rest of us.

The cops must understand this is a greater problem than strollers on the seawall. But their problem is unchanged: We have nowhere else for them to go. Nobody wants these people spreading out into more space, other neighbourhoods. They've always been concentrated into these few blocks. Yet another thing that never really worked well, exposed as a public health problem for all of us, no longer just a "their problem" for them alone.


April 15: Could We Get Used To This?

A week ago, in a post about "visible statistics" I passed on my brother's credit to Dr. Peter M. Sandman for the observation that if statistics like "smoking killing 300,000 per year in the US" were made visible by happening all in one day in one city, they'd be intolerable. Bruce took a course based on Sandman's work. He offered a corallary that set me back for a few days, but I've got to accept it: these visible statistics become invisible again, become an accepted part of life, if they stop being novel. If another plague came every year and killed a few hundred thousand people, we'd eventually shrug that life has risks and try to get on with it.

Sandman's formula is that "Risk= Hazard + Outrage" ... and "outrage" is a necessarily a temporary emotion.

Modern medicine and especially vaccines have given us such a sense of invulnerability. One American-born friend of mine observed that nobody on the planet feels quite so much invulnerability as Americans, protected by their money, their own continent, and their gigantic military. They actually start wars on purpose, knowing that for them, it's just a TV show, with foreigners doing 99% of the dying. That may relate to why they've shown the most resistance to a lockdown: it's hard for them to believe this risk is real.

We now get outraged at things that previous generations would have shrugged at. A difference we have with the 1918 pandemic is that a fair fraction of our victims, in the age before antibiotics, heart stents, blood pressure medication, and insulin...were already dead of something else; they never made it to 80 to start with. We expect those care-home patients to have those last few years, and are outraged at the loss. As for 40-ish parents of young kids dying of disease, busy doctors in the middle of life, New York Cops, that's just crazy talk. But it used to be more common, and people endured it.

Not everybody today has that sense of invulnerability, that outrage at the very idea their lives are at risk. Those with the roughest lives also tend to risk-taking behaviour, and that includes behaviour that will get them infected. Most of the time, we just shrug and let them have lives of risk, injury, disease and early mortality; but in the age of the Christian Virus, we are pushed by our own self-interest to lower their risk, to lower ours.

Since their lives leave them with little capacity for outrage at a new risk, we have to be outraged on their behalf.

Peter Sandman's excellent paper on "Responding to Community Outrage" is a bit tangential to the current crisis, but relevant, and an excellent read.


April 14: "Never in living memory?" Ahem.

Admittedly, not in my memory, at age 61; true enough, nobody under 65 does remember. My older brothers do, though the younger, just barely. He was four going on five during the terrible polio summer of 1956. The same closed theatres and swimming pools. The terror for parents was great: unlike COVID-19, which barely touches children, polio actually preferred them. It was also called "infantile paralysis"; not that older people (like President FDR, decades earlier) were spared.

My brother wrote me "What I most remember is Shannon next door who was my age and we played together every day - then suddenly she was gone and I wasn't allowed outside. Forget when or why the family moved ... They came back for a visit years later and there she was with this withered leg in an iron brace...And Howard Tilley [father of the family across the alley] in an iron lung for two years, then in a wheelchair for his remaining days."

The mercy that COVID-19 extends to children is a bright spot in 2020, that can perhaps only be appreciated by the generation of polio survivors. It's frankly bizarre to me that polio articles have not been in the news, so few that Bruce's age and up have been irritated by this "Never our living memory" phrase they keep hearing.

The 1956 Polio summer was especially bitter, in a way: the vaccine had been developed in 1955. I just missed the anniversary here on the blog: the day Bruce wrote me was 65 years since the April 12, 1955 announcement that it had been successfully tested. I wouldn't have missed it if a campaign to make it a national holiday had succeeded. Salk gave the patent away for free, campaigned for mandatory vaccination, claimed that public health was a "moral committment". The only problem was distributing it in time, and both Shannon and Mr. Tilley missed being saved by the time that took.

(Off-topic, April 14 is an anniversay: The Titanic went down 108 years ago today. I always notice because I wrote that essay 25 years ago.)

Dr. Salk's free gift to the world should shame every anti-vaxxer, of course, not that we need any more reasons to pity and condemn them. His lack of interest in money should of course also shame any politician working to monetize and indeed monopolize a vaccine for COVID-19.. Bastards.

I'd never thought of a dividing line between my age group and my brothers, less than seven years senior. But everybody born after 1956 is part of a new world, where disease epidemics are not one of a parent's greatest terrors. Infectious diseases do still kill or injure many children, but in nothing like the numbers they used to, before vaccines. They are one of the greatest inventions of all time, and living in their era is a greater privilege than any of our jets, our electronics, our communications. Only those who remember the times when polio stalked the neighbourhood, serial-killing, really appreciate them fully. If COVID-19 brings that appreciation to a new generation, it will have that silver lining, at least.


April 13: Playful Distancing

I'm on my run, and burst out of Stanley Park to the English Bay beach, the bike and pedestrian pathways so much in the news lately when patient photographers capture moments when people are too close together (which they mostly are not).

It's true enough at the moment, though, people mostly several metres apart, but occasionally closer as they pass each other. I circle wide around a couple not keeping to the right, going far left up on the grass; but then there's an oncoming couple and I have to dive right across the pathway at a 45 degree angle, going to the path edge like the last ten centimetres of it was a plank bridging two buildings, and stay just outside their Death Zone.

Then two people are each walking singly, one far right, the other far left; this just leaves a 4-metre gap between them, measured by the diagonal, and I, desperate, accelerate to dash through the thin Safe Zone outside their killer radiation.

Killer radiation?

Hey, anything can be a game if you play it so. Even social distancing. Is there a kid who never jumped from furniture to furniture, "terrified" of a single toe hitting the carpet, because they're playing "The Floor Is Lava".

My runs are more fun now, and safe, because I'm playing my own running game:

People Are Plutonium.


April 12: New Hand-washing Song

Na na na, nah,
Na na na, naaaah,
Coronavirus
Goodbye.

The soap's dissolving
Your oily coating
Without protection
You will die, Die, DIE!

Na na na, nah,
Na na na, naaaah,
Coronavirus
Goodbye.

It actually runs a little long, but nobody will mind. People love singing this song to the Opposition. Mostly, adults don't need this stuff; but I think kids, the bloodthirsty little Fortnight Fans, will love it.


April 12: The China Virus Warning

There's this obvious logical flaw in the complaint that the rest of the world was not kept well-informed by China about the new virus problem.

The complaint, per se, is perfectly correct. They could have warned us in mid-December, they did not until January 21. Simple fact. They were, of course, the first to suffer for it, their denial of reality cost them thousands of lives.

But, hey, you know who had NO warning at all, zip, nada, zero? China!

So, if your country's story with COVID-19 is more depressing than that of Hubei province, you can hardly blame it on lack of warning. Hubei had less.

My "Covid Cup" formulation has nations judged on their casualties per million population. China, like America and Canada, really has separate responses, curves, and stories for each of its federation of provinces. The story there is really just about Hubei province, the only part locked down - so, not 1.2 billion people, really just 58.5 million. Their 3339 deaths come to a score of 57 per million. America just hit 62. (Canada will reach 57 at about 2100 deaths, which we seem doomed to hit in around two weeks.)

We would all have had a month more to prepare if China had been honest. We would also have had another month to prepare if we'd all started working hard on January 22. After all the years of warning, after the Hollywood movie in 2011, there was no excuse not to assume the worst immediately. So divide your complaints between China, and your own government, at least equally.


April 11: The Christian Virus

The hurricane blows, brings a hard rain
When the blue sky breaks
It feels like the world's gonna change
And we'll start caring for each other
Like Jesus said that we might
I'm a jack of all trades, we'll be all right
-Springsteen

On Easter weekend, consider the Christian Virus. The Christian Virus crosses degrees of separation; it brings together the rich with the homeless and the prisoners in jail. Wealth is no innoculation before it. Should 80-something billionaires contract it, they will stand before its judgement on an equal footing with beggars. And they could contract it, easily enough.

Your cleaner has a family, who have friends, who have families...that work in a jail. Or a grocery. Or a hospital. Or are homeless. Three degrees of separation is two weeks travel for the Christian Virus.

So suddenly problems for the poor and downtrodden are on the front-burner. They had been discussed at leisure, over decades. Great concerns were always expressed that help might cause moral hazards, and costs of helping the unworthy. Now, there is a Massive Effort to get the Los Angeles homeless into hotels. The country that imprisons more of its population that any other is letting out the ones whose confinement never served much judicial purpose.

There's no actual Christianity in the sudden concern. The virus has simply created new situation where the health and safety of the humblest and the worst among us are necessary to our own, and where the ability of the powerful to insulate themselves from the rest of us is diminished.

The virus is like Adam Smith's Invisible Hand, making human beings care for their fellows, to promote their own welfare. It turns out that threatening us with two weeks of Worst Flu Ever, plus a mere 1% chance of dying, works better than threats of Eternal Damnation. Quite bluntly, the virus is doing Christianity's job better than the religion itself ever did.

Every time something terrible happens, it's generally claimed that it is all part of a Great Plan too large for our tiny human minds to see. Perhaps this time, we're being given a hint.


Good Friday, April 10: America The Exceptional

Before I started putting all my C19 posts in one long file, I did a separate post as The Covid Cup: America Will Finish At Bottom of the Major League.

I wrote that before reviewing my own photographs of Spain, below, that mirror behaviour in Italy, France and Switzerland, not to mention my sight of the Italian Age Pyramid, again below; perhaps these factors will put Italy in the cellar of the "major league". But the USA is certainly looking to take the cake for "dumb, bad response".

The US has long been noted for its exceptionalism. Not just the political kind; I mean the cultural attribute that makes it stand out from all other industrialized nations: its freakishly high income inequality. The image at top left has only one nation labeled, and I've shrunk it sharply, because it only says one thing: for their income level, the United States have the highest income inequality by far. That, alone, would let you predict that their encounter with a health-and-social-coordination challenge will be the worst. That factor predicts nearly every other bad social outcome. There's a whole book full of proof.

The book, The Spirit Level: Why More Equal Societies Almost Always Do Better by Richard Wilkinson and Kate Pickett, has been out for over ten years, has only been shown to be more-true all that time.

It's ironic, today, that the authors are epidemiologists, were just sorting through statistics for correlations that might be causes - and they found that income inequality correlates with nearly every measure of societal success: health, crime, marriage success, drug consumption, violence, teen pregnancy...you name it, societies with less inequality have better statistics of every kind.

The data drills down internally, too: most likely, the states with the highest income inequality will be the states with the most dead; even the counties and cities.

It's not just during a crisis that it costs lives to ignore the epidemiologists; America has been losing tens of thousands of people to the Grim Reaper, per year, for a long time, and from highly preventable causes. The reasons are many, but they all fall out from the cultural attitudes that make them so sanguine about purchasing prosperity upon the backs of others.

Which leaves me repeating my message from yesterday: COVID is merely highlighting a lot of existing problems that we all, (but America especially), have always studiously ignored. I'd like to think this will see problems like income inequality addressed, but I'm pessimistic. From long practice, we are very, very good at ignoring problems of poverty and race and pollution. America, exceptionally so.


April 9: Of Course, Everything is NOT Different Now

We heard all this "everything is different now" after 9/11. But the USA doubled down on all the things that caused 9/11, if you ask me. If the USA had conducted itself so that it was now loved and respected across the Middle East, man, that would have been different.

Ditto, the financial collapse: responded to in ways that made banks bigger, richer, and income inequality even greater. Revolution was more visibly-brewing then, but it's like the old maxim: people overestimate short-term effects and understimate long-term effects.

If you want proof that "nothing changed" (overnight), look at the end of the Sanders campaign. If COVID-19 had really changed everybody's minds about everything from the overwhelming importance of universal medical care, to regulating Wall St. and assuring basic income supports, then there was still room for everybody to say so by giving Sanders 90% of the vote in Wisconsin, and all the primary votes after that, snatching victory from the jaws of defeat, and making "Our Revolution" an actual revolution.

Hah. If that were about to happen, we'd have known in 2018, because there wouldn't have been "AOC and The Squad", there would have been 10 AOCs and fifty in that "squad". That would have told you a revolution was at hand. (An entirely legal one involving congressional voting patterns.)

There is probably a revolution brewing, and the near-certainty is that the political outcomes from the pandemic will be so rotten, that they will push that revolution along. The deeper dive, for me, is from history professor Rebecca Spang and her Atlantic article The Revolution is Under Way Already. Real revolution is deep change in the outlook of a whole people, a statistical thing. Gay marriage and cannabis legalization were jokes, until they suddenly weren't, because support crossed the 50% line, with neither sea-change championed by any charismatic leader.

Sanders has been part of a real revolution, which is being pointed out by many pundits: that he was a single-digit-popularity weirdo a few years ago, and now he came that close to power, without taking a penny from the large donors, a unique and unprecedented accomplishment. But he was a symptom of the real change, growing slowly in the people.

The American pandemic response will be terrible, I'm sure. Income inequality will increase, large corporations and banks will become richer and less-accountable, the safety net will not feel safe. This is not just because of the executive, but the congress. The real revolution will be the election of a very different-looking congress. When that giant "Squad" arrives, and the pandemic may finally do it, that'll be the revolution. Not one guy.


April 8: Visible Statistics

COVID-19 continues to highlight all the things we were already doing wrong. From stressed medical systems, to stressed finances for the huge number that were not ready for a $400 expense. Solid statistics have shown for decades that air pollution costs millions of lives around the globe (sound familiar?), except every year. Coal smoke alone was fingered for 100,000, as much as 24,000 in the USA. The stats were solid because death rates "from asthma", from "heart attack", "from COPD" were significantly higher downwind of coal plants, fingering the smoke as an assistant killer.

Now, with a lung-searing disease circling the globe, a past life in polluted air may doom you if you catch it, when your twin raised in the mountains will live.

The 100,000 a year have been invisible statistics: visible to statisticians, but the public just reads the figure in the paper, as here, and it comes without an emotional impact. My brother Bruce said it best, over dinner years ago: "Three hundred thousand people per year die from smoking in America. If they all died on one day in Chicago, smoking would be illegal the next day." (Bruce has just written to tell me to properly attribute it to Peter Sandman.)

COVID-19 does something like that. At first, its just statistics, the invisible kind about increased mortality in nursing homes; then suddenly a thousand people die on one day in New York. (That'll probably be about the end of this week; 731 yesterday, but 779 as I write at noon EDT.)

The invisible statistics tell us not to be surprised to find out that public leaders are actually just as indifferent to the deaths of tens of thousands of their own countrymen, as they shrugged at dead Arabs in their overseas wars. They always were. Harvard estimated that America's lack of universal health insurance cost 45,000 lives per year. Every year. But they died of a hundred different things, and the common factor shortening their odds of making it was unseen. Same withAfrican-American mortality, always there but now highlighted. It's grimly certain that Indigenous Canadian statistics for COVID will also come out.

If COVID-19 has a silver lining, and it probably doesn't, it's that it's visible statistics haul the invisible ones out into the light for another look. But people will probably forget again.


April 7: A Little Corrective to Overdoing The Predictions

There's lots of predictive effort going on right now, and I'm guiltier than most. In all my theorizing about India or the USA, it's important to remember that this problem is sufficiently complex to be another dismal science like economics: frustratingly close to predictable sometimes, but more often surprising because of some factor not accounted for. When you want science, go to New Scientist magazine, it's always had neutral, measured takes on politicized questions like climate.

Two good articles up now: "Estimates of the Death Toll Have Little Meaning" ...and why.

"Why We Still Don't Know What the Mortality Rate Is" ...contrary to my offering many numbers for each age group. I did stress in that post that the data was just from Wuhan, and had major error bars.

There are going to be other factors than age. The New York Times this morning reports that there's clear data that hospitalizations and deaths are clearly more common in areas that had higher levels of particulate pollution. Which would be very bad in many cities in India and China. And the Times and CNN and others have just all spotted that death rates are way higher for some African-American communities.

Neither of which should be surprising, when you think of it. Death rates for African-Americans from everything are higher. And air pollution is, thinking about it, already known to kill tens of thousands of Americans per year, coal alone is blamed for 100,000 deaths per year around the globe.

(Rant about nuclear being safer, has been deleted. After the Chernobyl documentary, I gave up.)


April 6: Demographics is Pandemic Destiny

Continuing with my apparently-ongoing theme of the age-related mortality of COVID-19, it's valuable to understand that this presumably means the demographic profile of a nation will have a huge effect on its sufferings from the pandemic.

Italy is one of the oldest nations on Earth, with a lot of seniors and comparatively few of the young people who have a small fraction of the death-rate . Look at Italy's last month, and then consider India, with 1.3 billion people and the lowest ratio of doctors, almost nobody about to get a ventilator or even oxygen, much greater difficulty "locking down". You'd tend to conclude they are going to lose at least ten million people, probably more.

The tool for showing a country's demographics is called its "age pyramid", a bar chart with the young people at the bottom and the old at the top - narrow at the top because of population growth and because the old have died off on the way up the pyramid.

Traditionally, one puts a bar-chart for the women on the right, men on the left. It shows how more men than women die off at older ages. At left, you can see the baby-boom bulge from 50-65, the Gen-X baby bust from 35-49, and the baby-boom echo from 25-35.

I enjoyed a lecture from David Foot, of "Boom, Bust, and Echo", some years back, that explained the demographics-is-destiny concept. Quebec wasn't taking Alberta's transfer payments because their politics were defective; they were just older, with way more retirees taking money out of Canada Pension, and fewer young people paying in. Alberta and BC were the youngest provinces. His whole book was about how demographic forces like that were mistaken for political triumphs all the time. (California is wealthy because of liberalism AND Texas is doing well because of conservatism? Both are just young.)

For both Italy and India, I didn't see much difference between the female and male halves of the pyramid, so I just picked the female side for India, and the male side, for Italy, and put them side-by-side for comparison.

To COVID-19, India is not a nation of 1.3 billion prospective victims; it only has a few milion people over the age of 80, only some tens of millions over the age of 65. (Remember to double the numbers you count on one side to add in the opposite sex. Also remember the X-scale on the India side is 20X larger.)

It's funny to say "only", because India's population over age 60 - maybe 120 million - is larger than the whole population of most countries - and they seem doomed to lose literally millions of them if they can't successfully lock-down. Even if so, their overall death rate, divided by those 1.3 billion people, will be a fraction of a percent, probably lower than Italy's, for all their lack of medicine.


April 5: Perhaps Italy Has Already Told Us That It's "Underlying Conditions"

I missed this two weeks ago, when Bloomberg reported that 99% of the dead in Italy had those "underlying conditions", indeed, multiple ones in most cases.

I'm glad to bring this up, because it's likely wrong to pick your age out on the log graph I posted below, spot the percentage mortality, and imagine this is your risk if you start getting a fever. The graph probably more reflects the likelyhood of finding somebody with heart, blood pressure, or diabetes problems. If you have few health problems, your risk is probably a fraction of the number on the graph. Only 0.8% of the dead in Italy had zero previous diseases.

Of course, those of less-advanced age, but some health issues, can be more nervous now, so it's not like the news is good or bad; it's just clarifying.

Back to the South, Margaret Renkl at the New York Times says the South is a "perfect storm" because they have the worst health systems, and the most social/political resistance to a lockdown. Also at the NYT, two doctors double-down on the message in The Atlantic, below. They write that America's existing health problems of obesity, diabetes, and high blood pressure may kill thousands that otherwise might have made it. They don't mention the South, but The Atlantic noted that these are the issues that are worst there.

In a California study of the 2009 influenza pandemic, people with obesity were twice as likely to be hospitalized compared with the state population. Among those who were hospitalized, the risk of dying was significantly increased for people with severe obesity.
If this describes you, the shut-in is your perfect time for a diet, not comfort food.


April 4: Why Are The Old At More Risk? The South May Tell

I graphed how case mortality for COVID-19 increases exponentially with age, with soothing numbers for 20-somethings. But WHY does this happen? We're told that the immune system gets weaker with age. However, it is also weak for the first five years of life, and children are barely touched by c19. So, is it mostly that age brings ever more of those "underlying conditions"? Heartening news for an 80-something with good health! (Bad for a 40-something without it.)

Some argument for this just appeared in The Atlantic this week. The article, "The Coronavirus's Unique Threat to the South", by Vann R. Newkirk II, shows that those "age-related mortality" figures from the South are different from the Wuhan data quoted by The Lancet in my post below. They're even distinctly higher than other US States.

In Louisiana, people ages 40 to 59 account for 22 percent of all deaths. The same age range in Georgia accounts for 17 percent of all deaths. By comparison, the same age group accounts for only about 10 percent of all deaths in Colorado, and 6 percent of all deaths in Washington State.
The article takes dead aim at underlying conditions for the young in those states for the explanation. "Due to high rates of conditions like lung disease and heart disease and obesity, the people living in these states are at risk if they get the virus," says the head of the Kaiser Family Foundation. The article concludes that "These differences are not innate to southerners; they are the result of policy. Health disparities tend to track both race and poverty... Georgia, and Louisiana all spend less than $25 per person on public health a year, compared with $84 per person in New York."

I'll stop dead, right there. I don't want to be accused, by some centrist, of "unseemly gloating" for pointing out, however quietly and soberly, that any high-social-spender was correct, ever, about anything.

I'll focus on the upside. If you're a senior with generally good health, be of good cheer: your slot in the cemetary may be taken by an obese, hard-drinking, 45-year-old smoker.


April 3: A Modest Suggestion to Explain Spain and Italy

As I write, the agonies of Spain and Italy continue into their second month. France may fare little better. There has been some wonder how they got so bad so fast. I've been traveling to Spain every year or three now for 40 years, and I have a few pictures that may be a partial explanation.

I took them about February 23rd of last year, almost exactly 1 year before Spain's first confirmed case, which is to say, probably after there were hundreds of cases in Madrid that were still asymptomatic but spreading. The weather would have been the same this February: pleasant for strolling.

The three pictures are of one of about a dozen large plazas and squares in central Madrid. Most have heard of the Puerta del Sol, the largest of them, four times this size, and the Plaza Mayor, equally big. They are connected by broad, all-pedestrian corridors connecting them, with shopping and sidewalk cafes. Click on those links for far more examples, but these three are views of the same place in different directions.


(These link to larger versions of the photo)

The Metro sign tells me this is the Plaza del Callao, which isn't even on this map, but it's about the size of the Plaza del Carmen, just south of it and at the middle-top of this map. Everything red on this map would be this full of people on a typical Tuesday night in Madrid. Busier on a weekend night. So you need to multiply this area by all the red you see on the map: tens of thousands of people in close contact, for extended periods, every weeknight. Double it on weekends.

A friend tells me that this culture in Italy is called "La passaggiata" and is common in Greece and Switzerland as well. Switzerland has six times the cases and twelve times the deaths of Canada, per million population.


(Map from openstreetmap.org. Conversion of dull grey to a mix of safety-orange and "hot zone" red by GIMP software)

After meeting in these plazas, chatting for a while, they generally repair to very packed bars and restaurants. The whole red area above, the plazas and all the broad pedestrian boulevards that connect them, must have a density of nearly one person per square metre, every evening, for hours.

Madrid for me was the ultimate friendly, sociable city; I've never been to a place with so much street life that is "vibrant" as our urban planners say when they mean "pedestrian traffic". I suspect it caused a rapid early spread. My relatives there are suffering from the lack of socializing; it's a deep part of the culture.


April 2: GOP Resists Torture

In his book, My Life in Court, the great lawsuit lawyer Louis Nizer commented on one of the most-wrong things about courtroom dramas. (I'm unable to find his exact words, sorry).

He noted that courtroom dramas frequently have a scene where a lying witness is confronted with contradictory information that shows up their lie. In drama, the witness is then demolished, breaks down completely and confesses the truth. In Nizer's experience, most resist caving in the way a tortured soldier might keep silent to the very last shred of his strength.

People have marveled at how resistant the GOP and supporters are to truth about COVID-19. Informed by sober experts? Denial. Confronted by the experience of other countries? We're different. Shown that the start of it is happening just as those experts predicted, and the next 14 days can be forecast with the simplest statistics? Maybe it won't happen.

It's difficult to avoid amusement (very dark humour) as we watch them be tortured by the facts, the body-count battering away the armor around their worldview. They've always been able to simply deny before. But it's hard to deny the existence of a pile of bodies, the way you can deny climate science or economics that take years to play out.

They continue to resist, of course, every concession to the facts followed within hours or minutes by some sort of denial, frequently of their own recent words.

There's no way to enjoy this, but I have to admit I see a silver lining.


Telepaths Fail to Warn President In 2017

New York, April 2, 2020
A group of New York Psychics admitted failure yesterday, having attempted to send a message back through time.

"We gathered in a circle to focus our energies", said Psychic Science spokesman George Kreskin yesterday, "and pushed all our psychic powers into a single message sent three years back in time to the mind of the American president. We tried to warn him about the coming of COVID-19, so that he would have time to prepare."

"We did establish mental contact, but the connection was very poor. We finally kept repeating the term 'COVID' over and over; it was our best shot."

"Unfortunately, all that got through to May of 2017 was the garbled term 'COVFEFE'. Damn."


April 1: Apparently, Blue Lives Don't Matter (to the GOP)

Do you think sacrificing a small number of people - say, those over 70 or with breathing or immunological problems - is a fair trade for rescuing "worthier" people and the economy?

People have been shocked to read of multiple prominent Republican politicians, media, and supporters like Lt. Gov Dan Patrick of Texas, advocating that we sacrifice to COVID-19 all the people it wants to eat, rather than sacrifice "the economy".

It's not clear yet how many trillions the "cure" will cost the economy. Certainly, it will cost the rich far more than the poor. When great losses come from war, for instance, they reduce inequality. But like a war, this will also kill people. Some 2.2 million at worst, and maybe 100,000 at best, according to a British study that converted Boris Johnson last March 13th. So there's over 2 million lives to be saved.

Should we all endure some poverty to save them? Some victims are deemed worthier than others. A dead addict in an alley is barely news, but other victims get extra sympathy. While more than a hundred Americans die every day by violence, only a few make the news. The murder of a police officer in the line of duty is one such death. Let’s talk about those very worthy cops.

As of April 1, it's in the news that over 1400 NYPD officers have already tested positive for COVID-19, and three of them have now died. [Postscript,April 20: 30 cops now.] The force skews young, obviously; most are in the 25-50 age range and early retirement is encouraged, so few are over 60. Less than one percent of them will die if COVID-19 is simply let loose to stalk the entire population.

And not all would even be infected. Maybe 30,000 of the 55,000 NYC police would get the bug; half would have no serious symptoms; fewer than 5,000 would have a severe illness; and, because of youth, under half a percent, most likely - maybe only another hundred officers - would leave hospitals in boxes. (More likely 200; but let's be conservative.)

But the GOP were not just advocating the sacrifice of 100 NYPD officers. I am just using them as a microcosm of Americans aged 25-55.

Data from Wuhan,see below, suggested that COVID-19 kills about 1% of people my age (61), making me the "median age" for dying; I have the same chance as the overall population. Above the age of 80, it's more like 5%. For those under 30, it's as low as 0.03%.

But that's nearly 20,000 of the 44 million in America's 15-24 age group? Under a twentieth of a percent of the college crowd, so only 6,000 kids 18-21. How do you ask America's parents to surrender thousands of children to the flames?

There are 130 million other Americans in the NYPD age profile, so one million of those famous "2.2 million" in the British estimate would be in the prime of life. Barely half would be "useless" (for money-making).

Yes, COVID-19 mostly kills old people, especially the ones who could be killed anyway by the flu or even colds. But allowing it free reign will kill so many people that all age groups would die in droves and masses and piles. Of the more than two million dead, a good million would qualify as "worthy victims" by any measure.

April 1: Your Chance of Dying Grows Exponentially with Age

There was a funny fact about the new mortality figures per decade of age published the other day by the Lancet. The researchers found a sharp age efffect on odds of their case dying from COVID-19.

They grouped the patients by decade of age: 20s, 30s, 40s. I have put their figure for each decade against a single point in the middle, age 25, 35, and so on:

AgeCase Mortality
250.03%
350.08%
450.16%
550.60%
651.90%
754.30%
857.80%

The article graphed these numbers, with huge error bars that indicate we shouldn't treat these as especially accurate:

The numbers kind of jumped out at me, and it's amazing to me how these fine scholars could have missed pointing something out that you can see plainly with the same figures in a semi-log graph:

...the odds grow exponentially. My wife is just 8 years younger (53 vs 61) yet my odds of dying are double what hers are. (Triple if I were 65; I'm interpolating down to 1.3% odds at age 61.)

Even if the numbers themselves turn out to be off, the methodology that produced them was consistent for each age group, so the relationship between the data points will be highly consistent: and the dotted "trend line" that is a straight line on the log graph has an "R-squared" factor, a correlation coefficient, of 0.99 - which is statistician for "Not remotely a coincidence". Whatever your odds, they grow exponentially with age.

Exponential relationships are everywhere, or it would be funny for this factoid to surface, just as millions are having exponentials and semi-log plots explained to them so they can understand that the growth rate of dead bodies:

May appear to be hard to predict, but on a semilog plot, that swooping curve is a straight line that's dead easy to extrapolate:

Those 100,000 deaths are obviously just 12 days away, as long as that line remains straight. We have little data to suggest it won't.


Main Page and Index

Text is COPYRIGHT, Roy Brander, 2019. All graphics are available Internet grabs that link to their source, and will be taken down upon request, to "roy.brander" at Google's mail system.