Covid Cup Colour Commentary

A Pandemic Blog.

There are no safe places; only safe behaviours

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 follows that metric as gathered by worldometers.info/coronavirus.
(Copyright, Roy Brander, 2020, 2021. All non-commercial use is granted.)

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April 18: Frustrating Screwups in Health Stats

I remember a great truth mentioned in a discussion of violence against women, asthey struggled with the question of whether the phenomenon itself was increasing, or whether it was just being reported more. A criminologist pointed out that the murder rate was not rising, and "murder will out": it produces a body that somebody has to deal with, and records are kept of that, if nothing else. Other, lesser harms tend to rise and fall along with murder itself, so the other harms were probably not rising. This has been great advice in attempting to follow statistics about the pandemic, as it's much easier to lie (or screw up) figures of cases, tests, hospitalizations, than it is to lose count of dead bodies.

So the death statistics are upper left are about the only ones I can trust from Health Canada, this week. They screwed up very badly on the similar charts to the one above, which track hospital admissions and ICU admissions: the number for the 40-49 group went DOWN substantially in one week. Not the numbers of new cases, the pandemic total went down. Somebody both screwed up the data input, and didn't check against previous numbers. (They even went down compared to the totals of three weeks ago.) So, I can't, not for sure, tell you whether "young" people, under sixty, are now crowding the ICUs of Canada. (Unless you'd like a reassuring report that "-209" people, aged 40-49, entered an ICU.)

I can tell you that nearly as many people of all ages entered hospital, or into an ICU, in the last week as in the two previous weeks, except for the oldest groups, the two over 70: they added somewhat fewer in one week than two previous.

For dying itself, the data at upper left tell us that we're down from the over-70s doing 88% of the dying, down to 75%. The 50-59 gang are up from 4% to 7%. (Less terrified now?)

But because "death will out", I'm getting the impression that the news is exaggerating somewhat. Listening to the nightly anchors interviewing exhausted ICU doctors, you'd get the impression that most of the beds were essential-services workers in the prime of life. I think it's closer to say, it's gone up from a third to just over half that are 30-59. And the 20-29 crowd, that they'd like to scare into not having parties, are still just a few percent of the ICUs. "Just" six of them died in the last week (up from 38 last week to 44, shown in graph). Worth noting though, that the six in the last week, is one-seventh of all the 20-29 Canadians that have died in the last year. It would be fair to describe their death-rate per week, as up by a factor of seven!

And having found a scare number to promote, I'll sign off, and mutter my disgust at Health Canada's incompetence. Maybe they'll fix it next week. The numbers will keep getting worse for at least 2 more weeks, so that'll be a more dramatic post anyway. I'd really planned on this post, I like finding numbers that are not making the news, show something you can't get anywhere else. So, in part, I'm posting about the frustrations in reporting on a pandemic: so dependent on good data that often is not there, or clearly erroneous.


April 17: How Full of Crap is Doug Ford?

I have a bunch of new data to crunch today, but that's for posting tomorrow. I hope to get clear numbers on just how much younger those younger ICU patients are getting.

For today, I'm basically taking the day off by just piling-on Doug Ford. It's not needed; the least-useful thing a blog can do is point at mainstream news and say, "Yeah, what she said". I wish I'd noted the name of the CBC analyst who followed Doug Ford on TV this morning with his rant about "how this wouldn't be happening if we had 300,000 vaccines a day back in February".

Doug, we didn't even approve Oxford/AstraZenaca until February 26, and I think every Canadian is aware that we had bad vaccine deliveries before mid-March. (Blame the feds or not; most look at other countries, and don't.)

Ford's "It's all their fault" doesn't pass the laugh-test, of course; all the other provinces have the same Feds, the same vaccine situation. CBC brought on an analyst who sounded more like a prosecutor cutting a weak defense to shreds with fact after fact:

  • The current rise is just what was predicted by epidemiologists if Ontario didn't shut down more in response to the variants increasing;

  • The government didn't listen, kept travel and business going.

  • Ford was warned about the vaccine situation all along, knew what he had to work with.

  • Doug is asking for 300,000 vaccines a day, but has never delivered more than half that into Ontarian arms. There's no proof at all he could have used 300,000 per day.
It's as if Ford expected the Feds to bail him out...with a time machine.

At upper left, the mountain Doug Ford has built with his pandemic response rules. Way back on March 11th, CCCC hilariously worried whether variants could give Ontario 2,000 cases per day, in a month?. It in fact took just 16 days. Everybody else has done better, Doug.

What if Doug got his wish, starting today, and could fully act on it, deliver 300,000 per day? Well, that would, for sure, get Ontario from 22% vaccinated to 50% vaccinated in two weeks. That's not herd immunity, but the curve would certainly begin to bend. The reduction would be visible by the end of April, and by a month from now, it would be going very well.

But, what would happen in the next two weeks, under Doug's old restrictions level? Well, obviously, cases would go up another 58%, just like the last two weeks. That would be 7,000 cases per day. It would be another 84,000 cases, total, and many hundreds dead.

And it would all be Doug Ford's fault. I don't believe this was medical-officer incompetence. I believe that public health has been overruled in nearly every case where a province has behaved badly: BC, Alberta, Ontario, Quebec: I blame the politicians, not the doctors.

And certainly not the vaccine-delivery operation, which has performed multiple miracles, exceeded every expectation. Dunking on them is really low.


April 16: Graphically, How Well Vaccinations Work

I guess it's OK to publish this, though if you click on the graphic, you'll be led the URL at its lower-right corner, which is entirely in Hebrew, and has no obvious path to find the chart, or supporting data. At least not if you don't read Hebrew. The graphic actually comes by way of friend Mike Babulic, who put it up on Facebook (Roy admitted, with a blush). I found that it was also put up on a Quebec Reddit Forum and on Twitter by one Eric Topol, physician and author. So I don't think it's made-up, just hard to find, buried in a Hebrew-language government data report.

Yet another picture worth a thousand words, you can't even be bothered wanting the scale to give you the exact numbers on the risk-reduction. What's plain to me, is that I was a little wacky even having short-timer syndrome in the second week after my vaccination. The bar is so short even for the "under two weeks" at far left.

The Twitter post is answered by a Yair Lewis, who provided the "raw data":

57% of population received at least 1 dose; over 5 million people.

Out of 458,503 COVID cases in this period:
- 388,789 (84.8%) unvaccinated
- 65,916 (14.3%) partially vaxed
- Only 3,798 (0.8%) fully vaxed

And I write this on Day 15, now part of the cohort in the second column, half as tall. What's interesting about those tiny columns is that the studies show just 50% protection after two weeks. Why aren't the columns half as tall, instead of such a small fraction?

I've got a theory, at least: the article notes that the effectiveness numbers come from those first vaccinations of medical staff - heavily exposed, so you get good numbers for effectiveness. But medical staff are also much better symptom-reporters and test-takers than the general population. General population that get a day of mild chills, and some headache, have certainly become part of the 50% that "weren't protected". But did they bother to call their doctor, report a case, get a test? It was over by morning. They just got on with their day. A nurse, on the other hand, is hypersensitive to those symptoms, gets a test within hours, and takes time off work.

Just a theory. If your standard for "protection" is that the disease doesn't even slow you down, then I suspect that the graph at left is the accurate picture, for you. It's not like 50% protection: more like 95%. And 99.5% against hospital.

Get the shot.


April 15: Can the Canucks Take a Dive, Please?

I haven't had a hockey hero in decades; but Canuck Forward JT Miller just qualified, with his "brutally honest" answer about not being "ready at all" to hit the boards.

No Canucks have been hospitalized, which I, with no grace or decency at all, will kind of regret. A bad thing to wish on anybody, but the public service of it would have been awesome. We'll have to content ourselves with JT's honesty. Miller wasn't speaking for anybody else, but it was clear that a number of Canucks have had a rough couple of weeks: "...skating a couple of times, my lungs are screaming and definitely not in game-shape at all right now..."

Miller's response is rare in sports, where "suck it up" and "walk it off" are mantras, along, always, with "play with pain". Except for Boris Johnson, we've not had the public spectacle of a prominent person really struggling with COVID, clearly down from it for weeks on end. Since that's a real thing, it could use some celebrity dramatization that we get with every other problem in our culture.

So, I'm asking: could the Canucks, as a public service, take the same kind of dive that hockey players a famous for taking when an opposing skater elbows them? Could they just, again, over-do the pain and suffering a bit, really moan and whine into a TV camera? We really need it right now, really need to change people's behaviour, and on a dime.

Season's over anyways, guys, this is the best thing you can do for your town and your country.


April 14: Vaccine-Hesitation is Like Titanic Lifeboat Hesitation

How would you like to be crowded in with dozens of other people in a wooden shell that was then hand-crank-lowered down a building some seven stories tall, and into the ocean?

That was what the staff on-board the Titanic urged people to do, and they quailed at the risky-looking idea. They didn't line up, held back. When the owner of the ship, Bruce Ismay, was criticized for getting aboard a lifeboat, when so many were lost, he defended himself by pointing out that he boarded a lifeboat with seats left when nobody else wanted aboard, no women in sight - after he'd urged other people to board it the whole time it was loading.

In the end, the total lifeboat seating, of nearly 1100, saved just 706 people. That was 109 years ago tonight: 1500 people died, April 14, 1912 - some hundreds of them because they didn't get in the boat.

There were other screwups: it didn't help that one lifeboat was nearly lowered on top of another. (The Lusitania sinking had that actually happen, too: this is why you have lifeboat drills, which they did not.) And some of the lifeboats got tangled in the ropes and were never deployed.

But the biggest problem was that the lifeboats looked riskier than the big, solid, iron boat you were leaving. Alas, there was no time to give everybody a tour of the lower decks, where water was gushing in at great speed, just like we can't give everybody a tour of the ICUs just now.

But the risk, see my last few posts, of not getting in the vaccine lifeboat, is much, much higher than the vaccine lifeboat.

Get in the boat.


April 13: Blood Clots and Gender - Risk Calculations

So now it's the Johnson and Johnson vaccine that may be held up due to blood clots. So far, that's based, in America, on six cases out of seven million. The odds are probably higher than one-in-a-million, however: all six were women, aged 18-48. That cohort is halved by gender, and again by age, so for them, the risk is perhaps one in a quarter-million. Of the seven, one dead, one in critical condition.

There may be similar associations for Pfizer or Moderna. This article in StatNews keeps coming up with those million-to-one ratios, however. The numbers are so small that separating "causation" from "correlation" is difficult.

If we had confidence that some vaccines didn't have the risk, the solution seems simple: confine younger women to those products, and give the AZ and JJ to men. I have no idea whether that causes social side-effects (one can imagine areas where only one vaccine is available, so only one gender is getting jabbed); but surely we can work it out. Ship them in pairs.

I knew nothing about gender, of course, when I very cheerfully accepted the blood-clot risk to get my own AZ jab. I think most people would prefer the clot-risk from the vaccine to the clot-risk and sixteen-other-risks from the disease. The risk is so high that patients that make it to ICU are routinely put on anti-blood-clotting on the spot. The referenced article notes that clotting problems were found in 10% of the patients that enter hospital. (Not ICU, hospital.)

Run that math: about 10% of cases wind up in hospital, so abou 1% of COVID-19 sufferers get blood clots. Several percent of BC has how had COVID-19, so that's a few percent of 1%, or a few citizens out of 100,000 that have already had blood clots, because of COVID. When I took that AZ jab, therefore, my odds on getting blood clots in 2021 dropped ninety percent, from one in 25,000 to one in 250,000...if I'd been younger, and female. Those were my odds, as far as I knew, then.

Most of those COVID blood clots were survived without damage, as were most of the clots that may have come from the JJ jab; but the risk is still ten times higher. For every percent of the BC population (it's already probably 3% or more), a hundred people, at least, will get blood clots; only a few if we jabbed 3 million people with Johnson and Johnson.

The pauses and concerns thus sound crazy. They're all about the way we process risk, a topic for tomorrow.


April 12: Is Israel Showing 60% is Good Enough?

I'm still grumpy about whatever data-glitch (was it just at CTV? I didn't check anybody else) that had me thinking Israel was nearly all vaccinated, when the numbers suddenly jumped down to 50% last February.

The story gets weirder: it wasn't data-trouble, but a sudden loss of interest in vaccination by Israelis, that stalled the vaccination at about 60%. The linked story, from two months ago, stresses that Israel had not "beaten the pandemic", that it still had high case-counts, some 5500 per day at the time - basically, you get Canadian equivalents by multiplying by four, so that's like us having 22,000 cases/day, three times as bad as our current troubles. Imagine having 3X Canada's cases, and still down to having the GP phone patients individually to beg them to get vaccinated at the empty clinics!

My post then, of "Israel, WTF?" was almost too weak. Or was it?

Israel, in two freaking months, only went from 58% to 61% vaccinated, a total stall. And yet, that case-count dropped from over 5000 to just 280, now. The death-rate is down to a few per day, like seasonal flu. The pandemic, by gross evidence, is over for them. They still have some restrictions, are moving schools away from bubble systems bit-by-bit, and they are using some kind of vaccine passport, as story in Haaretz notes that they have "re-opened commerce and culture for vaccinated people" (italics mine), which makes the reluctance of that last 40% even more puzzling.

But the decline in cases, while not that dramatic "cliff" I was hoping for, shows that restrictions and vaccinations can work together to end the pandemic, long before you reach that 70% "herd immunity" point. They still have some restrictions, but I scanned over the whole main pages for The Jerusalem Post, and Ha'aretz, and the only pandemic stories were about Pfizer not shipping any more vaccine, because Israel didn't pay for the last 2.5 million doses, and Israel now making masks.

Canada hits 20% today, and should rise at nearly 1% per day, soon. Six weeks until we hit Israeli numbers.


April 11: How to Throw a Pandemic Funeral

It turns out that you follow public health guidelines. Sorry, I guess that makes for a pretty short post. I could expand, I suppose, but I'd just be just repeating my August 25th post.

Which bears repeating, not because of the doddering, raving, former politician needs any more dumping on, but because the newspapers do.

Given the antipathy between the very-ex-president and the press, given the seriousness of the American pandemic last August, and given the election ongoing at the time...I still can't believe the utter lack of criticism for the sense of entitlement in holding a 150-person funeral in the White House..

Those links, I just googled up today. I couldn't find ONE article where the journalist took the White House to task for inventing its own pandemic-gathering rules. They all reported it as if giving everybody tests an hour earlier, then requiring no masks, was all the protection needed. (We know the tests can fail, and with 150 people, the odds of at least one failing are pretty good.)

But again, no physician weighed in on this. Public health was simply bypassed by the sheer power giving the orders. What was public health to do, send DC police up against the Secret Service? They did it because they had the power.

Well, so do the Royal Family. If they'd really wanted, they could have thrown their considerable weight around, said everybody would be vaccinated, everybody would be tested, we're at least bumping 30 mourners up to 60 so that we can invite the whole family, and the top politicians. Or Dukes. Whatever. They could have done it, too, and they didn't.

They are not being given any credit for this. It's just what's expected of real leadership. What I can't get over is that there was no criticism of the previous failure of leadership, and no comparisons being raised now. Except at CCCC, of course.

I'll throw in a bonus. I missed this hilarious example of sheer entitlement at the time. The headline is "Funeral Guest Hit Restaurant Worker".

It seems a bunch of the elite mourners headed for the Fig and Olive, were seated to pandemic maxima - four tables of six - then more showed up, and the restrictions explained. Whereupon a mourner (not a celebrity name), broke the nose of one of the restaurant workers. "Then it just escalated for no reason", said a restaurant spokesman. I think anybody who's seen "mask derangement syndrome", from store owner's videos on TV news, knows what that looked like.

There were no arrests. A lack of police presence to which the guests were, I guess...entitled.

Those who have real Titles have just shown us the price of them.


April 10: Back to the Future with Laurie Penny

I discovered Laurie Penny's writing a couple of years back, and have been following her career ever since. She's a very talented and very passionate writer, has done some outstanding journalism by just getting in there and talking to people, and her insight is like an MRI machine. She's had very precarious employment, journalism being what it is, and went away from it for a while when Joss Whedon also spotted her writing talent, and got her to try her hand at fiction with an episode of The Nevers, now imminent on HBO (and Crave in Canada).

But she has some support - CA $3,824 per month, according to the Patreon web page - from people like me, who just, umm, well, patronize her, in the oldest sense of the word, via Patreon.com. In return we get access to all her writing, and e-mails to push them at us. I got one this morning, and it's from our future:

For me, the after times came all at once. I'm one of the few people who got to step from one reality right into the other. ... I'm now in Melbourne, where there's no COVID at all. None. For me, there was a specific hour, a specific second, when the after times began. ...

In Australia, COVID has been almost entirely eliminated. In Victoria, where I am, there are no cases at all. It's not that the country has been untouched - Melbourne had a hundred-day lockdown last year, which meant jobs lost, businesses closing, communities struggling, families fractured, the special hell of homeschooling for some and the grueling routine of isolation for others. ...

On my first day in Melbourne, I put on a real coat and boots for the first time in a year, and off I trotted out into the world, wanting to see everything, to go in everywhere. The department store! The supermarket! The library! I found somewhere to get a haircut after a year of auto-topiary that left me looking like an extra in a 1960s musical about orphans.

Just hold that image, as we have to lock down again, here, and watch newscast about ICUs stuffing patients into operating theatres. It is coming. Just to rub it, Laurie is living in what Canada could have been, with the Canadian Shield strategy, last fall. Sigh.

I let Laurie write my blog this morning, not just to get my money's worth out of the patreon.com expense ($3/month: you have no excuse), but because I'm grinding numbers.

I'm comparing the Canadian COVID stats for ICU, hospital, and so on from the last two weeks, to the previous pandemic sum totals. They're shifting, but not as much as the news would have you believe. For instance, the over-80 demographic are 70% of our pandemic dead, overall: but still 50% of our dead, the last two weeks. More tomorrow, and much more in coming weeks as the numbers are tracked while vaccinations rise rapidly.


April 9: Worth a Thousand Words

Between these two images, everything you need to know about Alberta, and also, Ontario, really, our two most-conservative-leaning provinces.

At left, from CBCnews, all applause for the info-graphic that tells a story, as the best info-graphics do. At right, a comic from BC Data Modeller Jens von Bergmann, who clearly loves "XKCD", and has the same sense of humour.

That one is a bit tongue-in-cheek, but it's pretty close - and I'm talking the mentality of health ministers and premieres, not the people protesting restrictions. Their ability to look at growing numbers and see nothing there is already legendary. Why the public health ministers "average in" their views to get a feel for what they, as politicians, should be doing, is beyond me.

It's certainly the source of our current problems.

With luck, we are at least on the downside of the roller-coaster for a month - that's even assuming current restrictions get even P1 down below an R of 1.0.

With luck.


April 8: Church Does Right Thing

...is that ever supposed to be not news. But, alas, it is.

The Reverend Dr. Greg Glatz, left, (links to nice story about him) is of the lovely and historic Knox United Church in downtown Calgary, right. And he just did something that I can't recall another local reverend getting in the news for, not this whole pandemic. I'm wracking my brains, but not google: if you have to use a giant search engine to find something, after a year as a news junkie, it was a fairly obscure event.

The Reverend Dr. Glatz said it was "good" that a fellow churchman had seen his church shut down, fences put around it. There have been major religious figures stand up for things. From the Pope on down, the top guys in most denominations have put out messages of stay safe, stay home, tried to provide for Zoom-type worship services.

But, when I read the story and was moving along, it suddenly struck me that this is the first local pastor, in the same community, to condemn fellow churchmen, for spreading disease. For deliberately mis-quoting from scripture that for 2000 years, has been seen to counsel acceptance of worldly authorities, to focus upon the saving of souls.

It's one thing to stick to positive messages, add to the voices calling for distance and stay-home and so forth. A negative message, basically an attack upon a fellow Christian, is a whole other level. Christian soldiers, could be saddling up; Dr. Glatz could well be the object of attacks on himself, his church, his whole denomination, in return. (Link to story from church graphic.)

Congratulations, Dr. Glatz: you've displayed the virtue of courage. Anybody could have stepped forward, but you are conspicuously alone, always a courageous thing to be.

As for the rest of you, show some spine. If you don't give Caesar a little support, there could be a lot more of God's souls rendered back unto him.


April 7: Shocked, Shocked, That Ontario Needed Lockdown

What a surprise. Nobody who was determinedly looking away, and avoiding all the gathering data, and not-listening to multiple warnings, saw that one coming!

I won't even bother with a link; it's the top story on the major papers, and TV channel news sites. Except The Herald, where Alberta's own problems have their increased restrictions as the top story, and the Vancouver Sun, which of course is obsessed with real estate. (People have been dying for a year; but these bidding wars are news!)

There's a great line, I won't bother to look up - I think the original is about "America" - which can be recycled here as: "Doug Ford will do the right thing, only after exhausting all other possibilities". Hey, remember Doug and Jason briefly distinguishing themselves by doing the right thing? Those were the Good Old Days.

Now, it's not just Doug and Jason holding back, and holllllding back, until the virus throws them into a come-along armlock, and forces them to do what they should have done a month earlier - other provinces have fallen into their bad habits. Remember when Saskatchewan was a safe place? Sigh.

Once again, I have to tout Andrew Nikiforuk in The Tyee, and his article on a major French study about pandemic response strategies.

Seems that they reviewed all these many countries, and the different health regions, states, provinces within federated countries like ours, and determined that Get To Zero is the best strategy. The one that Australia, Taiwan, South Korea, all those pandemic champs followed - it saves not just the most lives, but the most economy, the most money, the most schooling, the most jobs. That was yesterday's article. Today, he has another on how BC slipped up from doing well until Fall 2020, to the mess we are in today.

Andrew and Andre' (Picard): Canada's best reporting right now.


April 6: I Am Hiding Under the Bed This Week

Yesterday's "Short-Timer Syndrome" post was a little tongue-in-cheek, of course. I went out soon after, and took many pictures of the West End cherry trees in full-bloom, as they attracted their yearly fan club of admirers. As you can see in those photos, it wasn't "crowded" like a civil rights demonstration, and those were pretty low-risk.

Then, my first news story this morning was posted up on Facebook by a tiny newspaper for just the West End, at right. Well, great. Those crowds loving the cherry trees were in BCs worst hot-spot, apparently.

And, oddly enough for the "blood clots" issue, The National, last night, had an entry in their new series of stories about COVID-19 cases. The doctor stressed how this guy was in his early 30s and completely healthy before contracting it. He wound up intubated for a period, and also the victim of, wait for it, blood clots in his brain. This guy is not one of millions of vaccine recipients, because Canada's only had the one million cases. It's much, much more likely for COVID-19 to give you blood clots, than any vaccine. The disease is getting more frightening, every variant that comes up.

I've got a new thing for CCCC. Because I record television Over-The-Air, with an antenna, I have a power that cable/sat subscribers don't: I can record my TV, save it, edit it, shrink it down to half-size, as below. It's just a 30-second clip...but look at that man's eyes.

I have to credit The National, and the fashion-courage of their correspondent, Dr. Michael Warner, for just appearing on-camera in his scrubs - and his clear fatigue and depression. He's far more effective than any chipper public health spokesman spieling about washing your hands.

Effective enough that I'm going to be in hiding from the thing for a couple of weeks to come, and wary even after the protection kicks in. I'd sooner kiss a cobra.


April 5: Short-Timer Syndrome

The novel about Vietnam war experiences was turned into the movie, "Full Metal Jacket". The movie doesn't much mention the title of the novel. A "tour" of Vietnam was precisely 365 days. On the day you arrived, you'd be told, "you have 365 days and a wakeup". You'd lay your head down in Vietnam 365 times (if you could sleep), and on the 365th wakeup, you'd get on a plane.

These 365 were counted down obsessively by those who didn't want to be there. When the count hit 30 days and a wakeup, miltary superstition would start to kick in. Soldiers, the novel explains, are the most superstitious people in the world; an athlete unwilling to change socks during a winning streak has no comparison. Since life and death in modern battle are terribly random, any angle to improve your luck is believed: lucky rabbit's feet are held tight.

One thing that can drive you crazy is the thought of getting hit on your last day, your last week. It was actually at the last month that everybody would conspire to help a "short timer" avoid further combat missions. Partly from superstition, partly because: as he lost focus on being a soldier, and began to imagine actually making it home to the world, he'd become a liability, not an asset, in the field. So your last month was often almost all on the base.

I'm now four days after vaccination, and very little protected. There aren't figures on the protection level at this point, but they're pretty near zero. There's some significant protection as early as 12 days, and high protection by 15 days.

Now would be a very, very slightly better time for me to be exposed to COVID-19 in medical terms; I bet I have a few percent lower odds of hospital; but it would be the WORST time for me to get it in irony terms: the vaccination wasted, my disease basically unchecked. I really, really, really don't want to take risks now, just like a Vietnam short-timer: not when escape is so close.

So, even though we could use some milk and other groceries, I think I'll stretch it to tomorrow before hitting the store: Easter Monday is still the weekend, it might be crowded. It'll be another week after tomorrow before I'm ready to take risks like entering a store for non-essentials. Now is just not the time.


April 4: Open Letter of Apology to Paul Godfrey

Dear Sir:

I write you at random, having selected you second from the top of the contact on the nearest school to my house. The first guy might be senior enough to be over 55; you, probably not.

So, notionally at least, it's your vaccination's last bit of soreness that is leaving my arm today, as I start to build immunity from the Oxford-AstraZenaca vaccination that was meant for you, and I'm sorry about that.

It's no fault of either of us, and it follows accepted medical practice. The vaccinators are running scared of the anti-vaxxers, like elephants terrified of a mouse. Our culture has no greater heroes than those who invent and make vaccines right now, they should be all-powerful elephants. But the mice are empowered by Fear and Stupidity, great powers of the universe, and the elephants must tread very lightly.

So, even though the worst of your math students could easily compute that any risk from the vaccine is enormously outweighed by the risks of you not getting the vaccine, you will be denied it. Oddly, we give people great freedom to refuse a risk that is so small it may be imaginary - but no freedom whatsoever to accept a risk, though the acceptance may be mathematically obvious. I bet 90% of teachers would have signed any release form at at all to get my shot, but that wasn't an option.

It's as if seatbelts were associated with skin cancer (from contact with the plastic belt if you don't wear a shirt in the car), so you're being denied a seatbelt, then told to get back in the car and drive cross-country.

If I read about a single BC teacher actually dying from coronavirus contracted in the weeks before this is all sorted out, I'm going to have an ugly case of survivor's guilt.

"Having survivor's guilt" isn't much of an apology if it's you that doesn't make it, Paul, but it's there for what little it's worth.

I write that last, because that's the point of picking out a name and printing it, the same as Maclean's now-regular feature of "They Were Loved", putting faces and bios to the pandemic dead. We need to remember that we're talking about people's lives, people serving the public trust. Stay safe, Mr. Godfrey. Your medical system has failed you, and you're on your own for at least a few more weeks.


April 3: Good Saturday

Just to confirm, all those annoying reactions were down to a tolerable level a few hours after I posted yesterday morning. I got some mid-day sleep and was functional, if not vigorous. By nightfall it was just a one-asprin headache, and all my energy came back right around the 24-hour mark after they started, about 11PM.

So, that's that. Back to normal this morning. I enjoyed a Zoom chat with some friends last night, including a guy who'd gotten Oxford-AstraZenaca several weeks back, along with his wife, in Britain. He'd had no reaction of note, but his wife was laid up for a day in bed with my set of reactions, only a bit worse. Chatting with people in the area, that was not uncommon.

I managed to find a comparative table for different vaccines, and AstraZenaca does have higher odds of some reactions - but very slightly. They all have more than 50% of protectees having a few of them. (Fatigue and headache are the most common, after "pain at the injection site", which I did not get.) The other two vaccines are actually more likely to have such reactions on a second dose. Oh, yes, you can get the issues after the second dose: something to look forward to. But, hey, only about 20% get nausea, though it's 40% for Moderna on second dose.

The article also notes something about "efficacy", where doctors have hastened to reassure people that AstraZenaca's "76%" is really just as good as the Moderna/Pfizer 90%+. The article points out that AstraZenaca figures come mainly from where it had to deal with the B.1.1.7 variant, that's more transmissable, by about 40%. Oxford-AstraZenaca may actually be just as protective as the other two. (The other way to look at it, is that they will all be "only" 75% protective soon, as B.1.1.7 and P1 take over the field. Try to remember that a 75% vaccine is awesome by all previous vaccine standards.)

I joked with the party, that it was weirdly good, in a way. It would be a total act of faith to trust the vaccine without such reactions. A guy pokes you with a needle, nothing happens, was it a vaccine, or tap water? But if you go through a 1%-as-bad version of the disease, you know something is happening in there: for your T-cells and white cells, that day of malaise for you was the Rocky Training Montage, and they now have the Eye of the Tiger fastened on COVID-19.


April 2: Bad Friday

My vaccination went off without a hitch. I had been thinking of an amusing(?) post where I randomly picked out a local teacher - perhaps there's a 'teacher of the month' page at some local school - and apologize to her for taking her vaccination. That took a minute to sink in, when I saw it on the news: we 55-65 lucky duckies are getting the dreaded Oxford-AstroZenaca meant for essential workers, particularly teachers.

I can only hope the decision is reversed quickly. Britain is now up to 30 cases of the blood clots - but out of 18 million doses. If that body of people also got 30 blood clots in the couple of weeks before their vaccinations, then I think we're done here. Fingers crossed.

But, alas, poor poor me is having a Bad Friday. I got picked, also at random, to be one of the guys that got a bunch of side-effects, closely resembling a super-mild case of the disease itself. A few hours of feverish chills and body aches last night, which combined with a dull headache to ruin my sleep. This morning, only the headache remains, and fatigue, though that may be more lack-of-sleep than a reaction.

I am still feeling very lucky and glad. With any luck at all, by tomorrow it'll be Good Saturday. And April 23rd, of course, will, statistically, be "75% protected against any symptoms, 100% against the ICU" Saturday. Also 67% protection against spreading the disease.

That is so worth a headache.


April 1: Anniversary Post: Hallmark Ending(?) ... Blog Birthday Present

The first post, here at CCCC, was April Fool's Day, 2020. The single most-appropriate "2020 Day". Christmas 2020 was not much of a Christmas! But April Fool's Day, 2020, was very much an April Fool's Day.

The April Fools this year are all the polities - Canada's provinces, save the Maritimes and North, basically - that just foolishly thought cases that were going up, would start to go down if they did nothing more than plead for caution from podia. ("Podiums" is allowed, but I always go for the "ia" ending: "Stadia", "Millenia". It's just nicer.)

So, the blog's Least Surprising Birthday Present Ever, we get "sudden" lockdowns that are a "surprise" to the affected restaurant owners and so forth. I actually saw a ski resort pub employee (at Whistler, not the Kelowna place that disgraced itself and lost its lease) say "nobody saw this coming". Seriously?

There's nothing to say about it, no stories worth linking to. ALL of the stories for weeks have been about rising case-counts, variants becoming dominant. It was like "predicting" that sunrise was imminent, as you watch the eastern horizon get too bright to look at.

I'm able to summon up anger, even as I get my Hallmark-movie moment. Who the heck could have predicted I'd be scheduled for vaccination on the very anniversary of starting a pandemic blog? I mean, to a Hollywood scriptwriter, at least, it's hard to maintain dramatic tension after that needle goes in, and the protagonist is out of nearly all danger. Time to jump-cut to the "six months later" scene around the Thanksgiving table, start rolling the credits.

There's been some almost-movie-grade drama. I got a call yesterday afternoon, that, sorry, appointment cancelled, the government didn't deliver. Then, she called back at 8:30 PM, from her personal phone, to say that was reversed, the truck came through, the appointment's back on.

The appointments were done just as you may have seen on the news: a sign-up sheet. My vaccination actually kind of depends on nobody losing an 8.5x11 bit of paper. But with people like the young lady from Shopper's, calling me at night on her own phone, I'm actually very confident of success.

Given how bad the people at the top are, who led us so timidly and vacantly into a new wave, I think that young, conscientious, ordinary workers - with sign-up sheets - can frankly do better.


March 31: Tomorrow, Tomorrow, The Sun Comes Out Tomorrow

Fingers crossed for it, at least.

I thought, "what the heck", and walked to my nearby drugstore about 8:30 this morning. Deserted. "Yes, do you need a refill?". "No, I say", pointing at the "VACCINE APPOINTMENTS HERE" sign. "I'm 62, and watch the news."

She smiles, but shrugs. "The lineup went out the door yesterday, while that news was still on. The list filled up in minutes, also the waitlist. The Davie street location got a lot more, you could call."

The number in my pocket, I take a 20-minute walk, instead. No hurry, it'll have filled, yesterday, too. But maybe they'll tell me how many doses they got, how long they took to fill up - nice bit for the blog.

At the pharmacy window, a couple were finishing up, and a guy stepped forward from my right. "Hey, I'm right here." "I was over there, on the dots", he replied, pointing - I hadn't actually been in the line. "But go ahead".

I didn't step forward; just called over to the pharmacist, "Just wanted to ask when your vaccination appointments filled up yesterday?"

She blinked. "I have two left, 5:55 and 6PM tomorrow". I waved the other man forward. (I really like to think I would have done it if she had said she had only one left. Pretty sure, anyway.) He got 5:55, and I got the very last vaccine appointment for tomorrow. I'm sure, the last in the West End. Booked by 9AM, the day after the news.

I already posted "I Ain't Afraid of No Blood Clots", but that does come with the caveat: I'm very afraid of the blood clots you can get from COVID-19. Not as afraid as I am of the neurological damage, and not nearly as afraid as I am of the lung damage. But much, much, much more afraid than I am of Oxford-AstraZenaca blood clots, which occupy a reality zone between in the triangle between "fear-based myth", "hypothetical", and "only visible with the best statistics".

I joked with the first pharmacist that I was overjoyed to hear I had no appointment there because of the huge, round-the-block response. She nodded rapidly; from the news, health professionals are scared that vaccine fearmongering was going to have a win from this. Very reassuring to know that most people have more sense.


March 30: Dumb and Dumber and Dumberer

In order, Dumb is confusing "circuit breaker" with "rheostat". A "circuit breaker" briefly stops all electrical transmission while you make sure a fire won't happen. A rheostat just turns down electrical flow by a bit, turning a valve. In British Columbia, just closing bars and restaurants and gyms, not all businesses, not schools, is a rheostat, not a "circuit breaker". They're debasing the terminology, but more importantly, being timid and weak about an already-desperate, time-sensitive fight with the variants.

Dumber is Ontario, where they've seen this coming for weeks, known it well from two previous waves, and have still bumbled into 67% variants, and the pandemic "completely out of control". The "dumber" title comes from this story, actually, the tidbit that hospitalizations are this time 20% higher than they were at the start of the last lockdown.

Think about it, that means that instead of getting smarter every wave, saying earlier and earlier that "this is the start of a wave, let's stop it early", they're getting dumber every wave, taking longer to accept the obvious. If a cancer patient allowed more and more cancer symptoms to appear and worsen, every time the cancer came back, you'd say they deserved to die after the tumours grew for a third time, ignored.

And Dumberer is this story about the most-Republican of American states, where the governor is now touting her bravery at never locking down, any business, never recommending masks, as a campaign feature, a triumph of governance. It's a Bush speechwriter and lifelong Republican columnist who is saying of that:

Now let me be clear. South Dakota has the second-highest case rate and the eighth-highest covid death rate in the country. In that sparsely populated state, the disease has taken the lives of nearly 2,000 people. And Noem's defiant inaction has made that number higher than it should have been. What level of hubris, extremism or insanity does it take to crow about one of the worst covid records in the nation? Noem might as well be campaigning for higher office in a hearse.

It does help put BC and "dumb" in perspective, and one might even be glad to live in "dumber" Ontario, given the amount of "dumberer" out there. Ah, well, I will cheer myself up by promising to get back to Brazil, soon. Good news: Bolsonaro is doing badly.


March 29: P1 in Vancouver

I just don't know whether to be frightened or reassured that St. Paul's Hospital found more cases of the P1 variant than are known to be in the whole United States. St Paul's is almost exactly a mile from my house.

Normally, that would mean that my post of the other day, about "The balloon goes up", had gone up about P1, that there would be twice as many cases per week of P1 from now on, that it would take over during the course of April. That has been happening with less-bad "UK variant", B.1.1.7, but P1 would be worse.

What's reassuring, is Dr. Bonnie Henry, staunchly claiming that this very large cluster, along with several clusters of B.1.1.7, have all been "contained". That's a very large claim to make about so many cases, a statement of remarkable trust in the sheer thoroughness of the contact-tracing. It would require that everybody with any contact with any of all those cases, has been not just checked for symptoms, but tested, since so many are asymptomatic.

I can only hope she's right; certainly, she won't escape criticism if she's wrong. What was solidly reassuring is her statement that virtually all tested cases are now also being checked for what variant they are. We'll be able to track the progress of the "new pandemic" (and it is), as it happens to us.

The real hard question is what the public health doctors will insist upon if the P1 variant (in particular, but also B.1.1.7) moves into a high "R" value and control is lost. Those of us calling for "Canadian Shield" and "Get to Zero" and all that, for two months, have been proven right so far. If P1 can cause severe symptoms to the already-vaccinated, then we're in for 2021 as a Groundhog Year re-run of 2020.

So, they'd better be right.


March 28: Brazil Faces the Test: Will Bolsonaro Hang?

Eventually, the nicest people have had enough, enough to make them a raging mob. Our hearts all went out to the people of Myanmar, the other day, who didn't just oppose lead and steel with fragile flesh...they come back for more, when they regrouped. It's happened before, and will again. I read the same story in Red China Blues, by Canadian journalist Jan Wong, who had a ringside seat at the Tiananmen Square uprisings. She reported with awe that people would be driven from the square, with machine guns, leaving bodies all over the ground...and then, they'd regroup and come charging back. At machine guns. There were similar acts of courage in Tahrir Square in Cairo, now a decade back.

The photograph shows Mussolini, and some cronies, who were shot and strung up, not by the allied troops, but by Italians:

After being kicked and spat upon, the bodies were hung upside down from the roof of an Esso gas station. The bodies were then stoned from below by civilians.
I was joking, right at the start of this blog, when I asked on April 30, "Where is BoJo's Noose?" about Johnson, though resignation was certainly appropriate (and still is).

Bolsonaro, on the other hand, really has gone an order-of-magnitude past Johnson at getting his people killed. His P1 variant (yes, he gets to own it; there wouldn't have been enough cases to produce new mutations if he'd done his job) is now going to kill millions around the world - but most, in Brazil.

Brazil pulled into the lead, the other day, at most deaths ever declared in one day by any country, well over 3,000. It exceeded any American numbers from their last wave, though Brazil has just two-thirds the population.

But the thing is, the dying of yesterday is based on the case-count of three weeks ago. When the hospitals were at the breaking point, but mostly still functional. This article from Friday describes 15 patients arriving, for two beds - 13 turned away to die. Those terrible choices that Italian doctors were just starting to have to make in Lombardy a year ago, where you take an 85-year-old off the ventilator to give it to a 75-year-old with half a chance - that's now every day and hour in Brazilian hospitals.

The case-count is not rising all that rapidly, recently: the dying would only go up to 4,000 per day...except the hospitals are now turning most away, and it will probably be worse. They're running out of oxygen.

Gwynne Dyer, wanting to "hit the panic button on Brazil", is not of the opinion that the people can remove Bolsonaro (Tiananmen Square failed completely), but I'm starting to wonder. Every population has its breaking point. Watts, Tahrir Square, the Orange Revolution - they were all surprises when they hit.

I look at those graphs and I see that record-breaking death rate doubling in a month. How much can they take?

Bolsonaro might want to avoid gas stations.


March 27: The Balloon Goes Up

One of those phrases you use, know what it means, but not where it comes from. Turns out that the best way to get all the WW1 artillery guns to start shooting simultaneously was to just release a balloon that they all could see, up and down the line. More reliable than wires (fail) or making a noise (might be drowned out). So the heart-lifting sight of a balloon rising lazily into the sky, beloved by every child, was used to signal "time for death".

The covid balloon went up over the last two days across the nation. It was just 14 days after I asked whether Ontario was just a month away from 2,000 cases per day, that Ontario posted a number quite a bit higher. I wondered for a day if that was some kind of weird spike in reporting, it was so fast. Five-fold growth in 14 days? But then yesterday was also over 2,000. It's on, the variants are growing faster than even the pessimistic models predicted, and Ontario is in trouble.

Alberta and especially BC may be in more trouble. I haven't seen a jump like the last two days in BC, in the whole pandemic. How could it grow from 716 to 800, then 908 in seventy-two hours?

If it keeps growing like that, we'll be in a fear-based lockdown in days, whether the government calls one or not. I feel like stocking up at the store today, preparing to hide inside for a spell.

I wonder if the store will be busy. Maybe I should stock up on toilet paper. If increases of 14% per day - an R of TWO - continue over the 3-days of tests that will be reported Monday - then BC will hit 1200/day early next week. The Ontario growth suggests an R of 1.7. These numbers are hard to believe, R values higher than any reported from UK - but if some local stupidity and superspreading are at work, they'll go on until people stop, or are stopped.

It may grow out of control, until we are in real trouble. Fair warning, you should prepare.


March 26: An Extremely Short Summary of Yesterday's Press Conferences

  1. Cases are skyrocketing!
  2. The variants are taking over!
  3. Now, let's talk about our continued re-opening plan!
Well, fine, I'm exaggerating a bit, and it wasn't that bad in every province. In Alberta, the re-opening discussion was about putting off the next stage...but noted that most transmission is at home, please be careful of others at home if you feel symptomatic. Yeah, it's all our fault.

Here in BC, the whole conference went on and on about new closeness allowed in care-homes, because they, at least, are vaccinated and somewhat safe from severe disease. There was just no discussion of the shocking jump to 800 cases per day, and whether that suggests a response.

I'm going to save Ontario for tomorrow. That article makes me too angry.


March 25: The Tyee's Nikiforuk Rubs It In

I try to provide more value than the usual blogger's "You've got to read this" link; but, today, anything I could add would be weak, both for information and entertainment, than Andrew Nikiforuk's you-idiots review of the last eight weeks. It's eight weeks today since a strategy was put forward, called "The Canadian Shield", praised by CCCC. (That was six weeks after CCCC hugely enjoyed Nikiforuk's scorching of Jason Kenney's pandemic performance.

The Canadian Shield strategy actually could run in six weeks, if all went well, exactly as it did in Portugal, covered yesterday. Following the Canadian Shield, our graph could have looked like Portugal's, below. In fact, oddly enough, Portugal's cases-per-day started plummeting exactly on January 30th, exactly as if they were the ones who'd read the article two days earlier.

Nikiforuk does a Sherman's March across the country, "congratulating" the offending premieres one-by-one; every province had its own screw-ups, but they all boiled down to weakness in the face of protests, lack of courage to move quickly, to trust in science. Politicians all, sitting tight and keepin their heads down, not real leaders.

I linked directly to Canadian Shield on Januarly 28th, only noticed Nikiforuk's "Get to Zero" article a week later, but it's the one he links back to, pointing to all the nations that did basically get to zero in six to eight weeks: New Zealand, Australia, Vietnam, Iceland and Taiwan. Oh, and all of Atlantic Canada and our North. It could have been done. He is especially excoriating about how we've not learned from our mistakes in previous waves. It's aggressive dumbness.

We can still do this, to squash down the variants. If we don't control the variants, they may well get around the vaccines; that's what evolution will naturally tend to do to them. It's quite urgent.


March 24: Praise Proud Portugal

It was just two months ago tomorrow, when I posted "Pity Poor Portugal", which had been exemplary, at low cases the whole pandemic, until last fall, when their second wave was one of the worst it Europe. Here's the peak death rates, when countries started to turn it around, in terms of deaths per million population:
  • UK: 1200/68 = 17 deaths per million per day
  • USA: 3300/332 = 10 deaths/million/day
  • France: 600/65 = 9.3
  • Portugal 300/10 = 30
Portugal hit a bad place before they got serious, but holy cow, did they ever get serious. I haven't seen a decline like that, in any country, the whole pandemic.

Portugal is perhaps the single poorest country in western Europe; with a tourism-dependent economy that was hit hard. Nonetheless, when they locked down, they really locked down. Articles about it quoted government and medical people, talking about the details. There were simply no stories of protests, defiant restraunteurs, backlash, nothing. They just locked down hard for two whole months, everybody took it seriously, and that knocked the case-rate down from 12,000/day to 3,000/day in two weeks flat. That's an "R" of around 0.65; I can't recall a steeper decline in my whole time doing this. In the last five weeks, it's from 2500 to 500, about 0.8 - that's the shallow portion of their curve, but it is like the best-performance for any other nation.

Portugal is about a week behind Canada at vaccination, just under 9%, to our 9.5%. Their remarkable discipline, and cautious re-opening. Population-adjusted, their case-rate is now half of Canada's.

Praise Proud Portugal. I am so very happy to say a 180-degree turnaround of my own words of two months back.


March 23: America's Mass Shooters Herald "Return to Normalcy"

After many months of near-dormancy because of the pandemic, America's purveyors of mass gun violence today held a press conference to proclaim a "return to normalcy", and a resumption of regular mass-shootings in the news.

"We felt America was simply tired of crouching inside, afraid of being killed by a virus", said mass-murderer spokesmen, "when, as a good, strong, red-blooded people, they needed to get back to crouching behind counters and desks, afraid of being killed by us."

Continuing the news conference, by taking reporters hostage, and crouching behind their podium, the killers re-iterated that this was "part of America's great re-opening plan".

"There were mass shootings constantly in the news, until this stupid disease came along, killing people the old-fashioned way", noted spokesmen.

"It's just so out-of-touch in the 21st century to continue with these obsolete ways of dying. Republican rhetoric about 'culling the herd', with the virus, is just stuck in the Middle Ages. We mass-murderers can cull the herd with much greater speed and efficiency, without wasting medical resources."

Reporters commented, after taking a few casualties, and regrouping when the spokesmen fled in a car (swerving to hit pedestrians), that the shooters have certainly being getting back to it with undiminished vigor. "At least, it's not a racial thing", noted some police, with relief. "They said so".

The database at right, from "gunviolencearchive.org", only goes back one week. (There were 25 injured and 3 dead in the two days before. You're welcome.) The graphic links to their database. The rest of the chart, not highlighted by the comments, adds up to another four dead and 35 injured.

We are not, alas, all in this together.

CCCC is not going to turn into The Beaverton. This was just how I coped.


March 22: Vaccine Supply and Demand, British Columbia.

I was much taken by the vaccine appointment schedule on the news, last night. It was down to specific ages, for the next week. Age 79, age 78 two days later, age 77 two days later...age 75 by March 27.

If you compare to the BC population-by-age chart at left, which is cumulative, you see it grows by about 35,000 people for every year younger you go, so two days apart means they currently can get through appointments for over 15,000 population, per day. Of course, not everybody is coming in. Vaccines have only been arriving at about 10,000 per day, recently, so uptake of appointments on first offer is presumably around 65% right now.

By the end of March, we should have taken care of everybody down to age 75 who's going to show up early, so April starts us off with age 75, "done", for now.

The trouble is, that the number of people per year takes a jump at age 75 and downward: they're into the baby boom. There are about 44,000 people age 75, but over 55,000 age 74, and then it goes upward by 1000-2000 per year.

The chart at right is a model and here are the assumptions:

  • The blue line assumes 75% uptake, and 30,000 delivered per day.
  • The yellow line is optimistic, assuming only 70% uptake, and 33,000 per day.
  • The orange line is pessimistic assuming 80% uptake and only 25,000 delivered per day.
As you can see, it doesn't make a ton of difference. My favourite number, the day that I can make an appointment (age 62) varies from April 18 at best, April 21 medium, April 26 pessimistic.

BC and Alberta are similar enough in population profiles, and are in any event getting vaccines supplied based on population, so Albertan readers can assume about the same thing.

Age 60 is a milestone, which looks like about May 1. 96% of Canada's deaths have been to those over age 60, so we can assume that, even if the case-rate in Canada is high, the death rate will be negligible.

Unless the P1 variant does just slip past vaccines, of course. I continue to beg every government to quarantine Brazil.


March 21: Think Spring

Fear of Brazil, and variants in general, has had me getting a bit dark, the last few days. And the first day of Spring in Vancouver is typically being celebrated by pouring rain.

I've decided to think of some silver linings in the dark clouds, by an effort of will. Here's my best shots:

  • The new vaccine technology. We've had many articles about it, but it's just our nature to take good things for granted, all too quickly. Anybody complaining about vaccination taking a long time needs to remind themselves that the whole program is a year early, by any previous standard.

  • The new vaccine technology. This isn't just useful for this particular disease, the human relationship with disease itself could be about to undergo nearly as big a revolution as when vaccines were first invented. One of the developers said that her team is going to tackle cancer, next. Cancer.

  • The pandemic is showing up authoritarians. China, in particular, has spent years touting that their controlled society is actually good for people, riding moral high-horse on the strength of so many hundreds of millions lifted out of poverty in recent decades. (Mostly by selling to us.)

    But China's information control, the authoritarian impulse to deny that anything is wrong on their watch, prevented the pandemic from being stopped inside their borders, let it loose upon the world. Another big embarrassment is their vaccine safety scares and ineffectiveness. Brazil, I don't need to repeat myself; and half the postings here have been about the awful American response..which is obviously improving with a change in administration.

    All around, if you hate authoritarians, you have to love how the pandemic showed them up as no-good, terrible, awful, pathetic excuses for governments.

  • The pandemic is giving aid and comfort, if not to people, to the ideas that left-wingers (like me) have been trying to sell for decades. The United States may finally get, perhaps by 2026, the universal health insurance that Canada passed in 1966. Canada may advance on to a universal income support of some kind, like Spain, which announced a Universal Basic Income plan 11 months ago.

  • You appear to be able to significantly reduce your risk of infection with nothing more than good vitamin D levels. I've been a vitamin D fan since remarkable studies a decade back showed it was a clear cancer preventive. Everybody take their vitamin D. The first day of Spring is a great day to advise a (careful) increase in sun exposure, too!
I was going to add in "we at least are now aware of our care-home failures"...but I cannot, in good conscience, assume that now we'll address them. Which is a sad thought, I'm going to put it away now, and focus on the good ones.


March 20: Follow-Up: The Variants Are Still Coming

First a follow-up to yesterday's post. BC was unfairly given a great rating of merely 3% variants in its cases. Yesterday's public health announcement, that we had 737 new cases in 24 hours, of which 68 were variants, is much better data, comparable to what was used for other provinces.

And that comes to 9% variants, not 3%.

In short, Ontario is a few weeks away from huge case numbers as the variants become dominant this week; Quebec is a few weeks behind them; and Alberta and BC are just a few weeks behind that.

By the time BC is in a variant wave, even my age group could be getting vaccinated, but that will only reduce the death toll, not the misery. COVID is still a hellacious thing to get in your fifties.

Brazil was on the CTV news, last night, but still not as a menace to the world that needs to be nationally-quarantined; just as a local tragedy, which reminds me of coverage of Wuhan 14 months back. You'd think we'd have learned something.


March 19: What's Different About Ontario

I think I've resolved a bit of a head-scratcher about the total counts of variants in different provinces. When you look at the grand totals that each province has encountered (at left, with thanks to Alan Beairsto; it links to similar numbers at CTV) it looks like BC and Alberta are up in the same Danger Zone that has everybody concerned about Ontario: over a thousand in both Ontario and Alberta.

The thing is, variants have been trying to get going in Alberta and BC for some time; the numbers haven't grown rapidly - one doubts that's some divine miracle limiting their enhanced reproduction, it's laudable work from all those contact-tracers, running down all the connections, to draw a limit around the spread from each case. So far, the numbers, at any one time, are not nearly as high as Ontario's.

Counting the variants is not like counting the cases. We have tests now that let us tell you every day, how many positive tests there were that day. How many were variants, is not always checked for every positive tests; the DNA sequencing is mostly not as available. So we have statistical measures, often, how many out of a hundred random COVID tests were also variants.

We have snapshots of the how many variants are identified out of the currently-active cases, or how many were found in a day, versus the daily COVID case count, giving us a rough idea of the percentage of cases out there in the community that are the variants. Here's the numbers I could find in the last few days of news reports:

ProvinceNews~Variant%
BC British Columbia currently has "some 143 of 4,941 active cases are variants": 143/4941= 3%
Alberta "Variant Cases make up 12% of Alberta's active infections" 12%
Quebec Variants jumped up by 179, as total cases jumped by 764. Very roughly : 179/764= 23%
Ontario "42% of new cases are variants" 42%

In short, Alberta and BC have higher total numbers because they've trickled in slowly; are growing, but slowly.

Quebec is Ontario, a week or so behind; they recognize that the variants will have taken over in about four weeks, at the rate they're growing.

Ontario has enough data for statistics: the regular form of COVID is still being defeated, has an "R" of 0.9, the cases shrinking by about 10% every five days. But the B117 variant has an R of 1.3 or 1.35 growing rapidly as the other shrinks, so that Ontario is just days away from "over 50% variants", two weeks from them being the huge majority. The differing growth curves make them the "pandemic within the pandemic" of the article title.

B117, not much worse than regular COVID, is giving us a heads-up about P1, the even faster-spreading Brazil variant. While we need to hit that Brazil panic button, that will only give us time. We should start preparing now. For all we know, that one will need both the vaccines we've already got, and some activity restrictions, until we can formulate a booster. Sure hope not.

We are very lucky that B117 can be controlled by the vaccines; it's apparently 67% deadlier - five dead in Britain of B117 for every 3 that catch the regular. P1 is infecting people in Brazil who've been infected with the first one, so the vaccines probably won't stop it, alone. If it's also deadlier, then Bolsonaro will have effectively murdered millions.


March 18: Hitting the Panic Button on Brazil

Dr. Gwynne Dyer is one of my very few North Stars, writers I automatically trust. I'm sure he's made mistakes in 40+ years of it, but damn few, and almost none that could have been avoided with more due-diligence at the time.

So I assume he's done his homework with this frankly scary article about Brazil and its new variant.

Excerpts:

They'd have to lock Bolsonaro up first because he flatly refuses to do any kind of lockdown. He also regards vaccines as sissy and will not support a national program to vaccinate the population.

...

Because Brazil's infection rate is so high, it is an ideal pressure-cooker for new and sometimes more dangerous versions of the coronavirus. ... What makes it so frightening is that it spreads twice as fast as earlier COVID versions - and it seems able to reinfect people who have already had COVID once.

If it can do that, it can probably also get around the immunity conferred by existing vaccines.

This combination of facts makes Brazil out to be a clear and present danger to the entire rest of the world. By letting the disease run rampant, Bolsonaro bears responsibility for the existence of P1, a threat to human life much more serious than Iran could conjure with a dozen nuclear bombs. By letting it continue and not quarantining his country, he is, at one remove, staging a biological attack upon us all.

Dyer ends by calling for complete quarantine of the country. What's bothering me, is that I found the article last night, already over a week old. There are indeed other articles in the news that seem to concede the same basic facts, if not all as urgently. (There's apparently hope that vaccines will still work, at least partially, against P1; and Bolsonaro announced a change of mind on vaccines, the day after Dyer's article - which still strikes me as a remarkable case of "too little, too late", given how Canada itself shows how slow a vaccine rollout can be. Brazil, a much-poorer country with a far weaker health system, can't possibly do anything useful against P1 in time, not with vaccines. Bolsonaro still won't lock down, or restrict travel.

So, Dyer's right, and we're just not facing up to the obvious risk coming in from another country, exactly like this time last year.

We're looking forward to the end of the pandemic over the summer, but if we don't hit the Brazil panic button, even out of an abundance of caution, we're taking a stupid risk of a second pandemic.

The term "crimes against Humanity", normally refers to a crime against any humans that denies their rights, and therefore all of ours. In this rare case, he's committing an actual, physical crime against all humanity, far worse than the usual meaning of the term. As his behaviour is willful, and follows multiple warnings, he's arguably the greatest criminal on Earth right now, trying to kill not just a million more Brazilians, but tens of millions of other humans.

Hit the panic button.


March 17: Variance of Variants

The Provinces are Laboratories of Pandemic Behaviour

I was going to hold off a little longer, after the modeled March 4th "takeover" of the variant in Alberta, was clearly not happening. It's only two weeks past that, tomorrow, and while it's nice not to have that major exponential rise in the model, yet...it could start happening any day.

But what caught me today was the big difference with Ontario, where that has already happened; but only in Ontario. Why Ontario? What are they doing wrong, or other provinces, right? Here's the variance of variants:

BC: 116 of 544 = 21%
Alberta: 62 of 355 = 17%
Saskatchewan: 66 of 156 = 42%
Manitoba: 14 of 111 = 13%
Ontario: 1034 , estimated: over 50%
Quebec: 179 of 703 = 25%

Why Ontario? Mind you, Saskatchewan has more cases per capita, and almost their variant percentage. It's easy to point out differences from huge, urban Ontario and the rest of Canada, but why does Saskatchewan have over three times the percentage of variants found in Manitoba?

I doubt the public health officials have time to chase down these questions, before the question has changed. One can only hope that we figure it out eventually, figure out what went wrong and right.

BC has been an conundrum for me. I've been railing that we have to change our behaviour, have to restrict more, it's about to take off - but I've been wrong. BC has been wandering up and down, spikes and dips, between 400 and 600 cases per day, for over two months. It's weird for pandemic count-numbers to do that -most stories are like Gibraltar yesterday, either soaring or plummeting, (or at least, sinking steadily).

I'm not complaining. The number is low enough, that with the old vaccinated, we aren't taking many casualties. If only Ontario could do as well.


March 16: Let's Hope We're Like Gibraltar

I normally ignore places like Gibraltar; they show up as separate entries in the "worldometers", but with just 33,000 residents, aren't a fair compare to what I called "The Major League" in my initial essay. Gibraltar, at left, is actually the single worst "standing" in the COVID Cup, with "2700 dead per million", despite under 100 deaths, some half again as bad as the catastrophes of the UK and Belgium.

But it's also the place that has pulled off the tremendous response to the recent wave that began in December and did all the killing. They instituted a tight lockdown at the start of the year, and it worked immediately, cases falling rapidly just a week later.

A few days after that, a major vaccination drive began, reaching past 40% vaccinated in just two weeks; by the third week, they were announcing the coming end of the lockdown, and by week four, February 1st, they started a re-opening that was completed over the course of February.

But not too quickly, or too soon; they didn't fully re-open until the start of March, they waited until cases were down to almost nothing...and until they were past the 70% mark for at least first vaccinations, and only people in their 20s were still exposed.

And now, they've reached that wonderful spot I only thought Israel had reached some weeks back: 88% vaccinated, cases at a couple per day.

Gibraltar, as said, is too small to compare to large nations. But, as an aspiration, their story of the last three months is one to hope for.

We've fallen off in doing comparisons to other nations. It's been some time since I read a story about South Korea, Taiwan, Hong Kong, New Zealand, and Australia, the COVID Cup Champion fighters. I did see one recently about how Taiwan was already marketing itself as a safer place for business and tourism - not based on the current case-count so much, as bragging about how well it has done in the overall pandemic fight.

I think that business and travel alike are going to be taking a hard look at pandemic performance, once all the dust has settled, late this Fall, and investments may move around, the same as they do when a nation displays political instability, or economic fragility. COVID's judgement will be noted, for us all.

I loved my visit to Gibraltar, some years back. Climbing that whole mountain, and down again, to shop in town, was a magnificent view and a fun day. I'll have to go back; maybe stop in at city hall and offer congratulations. The COVID Cup's worst sufferer also played a near-perfect game.


March 15: I Ain't Afraid of No Blood Clots

...at least, not compared to how afraid I am of COVID-19. It causes blood clots, for sure, instead of a barely-possible, hugely-unlikely maybe.

The doctors have to act this way; they basically aren't allowed to use "common sense", since, in the long run, science has often triumphed over common sense. Things that "really just couldn't be", turn out to be the unlikely truth.

But the price of science is patience, and I have none, just now. It's correct, over the long run, to be wrong ten times to be right once, follow the science. Four cases of blood clots just happened to follow vaccinations of the old, just as kids tend to show signs of autism around age 3-5, the same as when they are vaccinated, and you get a time-correlation, that is very probably not causation.

With autism, multiple careful studies established that there's no causation. NO, I'm not linking to them. If you still need that proven, then go away, I don't even want you reading my blog.

With blood-clots, we can no doubt gather data together fairly quickly, since so many are being vaccinated, that the rate of people developing blood clots, around their vaccination, is the same before and after the vaccination itself. Old people get blood clots. If you vaccinate hundreds of thousands, then the causation-proof would be that (say) 1 person per 10,000 per day gets a blood clot in the 7 days before the vaccination, and 2 or 3 persons per day, in the seven days after.

That's almost certainly not going to be the case, because of that "common sense" thing: nothing about the vaccine, or immune responses to such vaccines, has ever been associated before, with clotting.

Scientists have to check, that's science. But politicians have been overruling them, for economic, lobbyist-borne reasons, for the whole year. Let's overrule their caution, and volunteer Canada to receieve all the Oxford AstraZenaca products that other countries are currently not taking.

I'll take the first shot.


March 14: Did I Call That One, or What?

It's six weeks since I predicted that Biden's "Path to Victory" was to shoot for their Independence Day for the victory party. As linked to at left, he just announced it.

To be exact, my words were:

Then he can stand up on the steps of the Capitol again, on Independence Day, and declare American Independence from the tyranny of the virus.
And his words, the other day, were:
"That will make this Independence Day something truly special, where we not only mark our independence as a nation but we begin to mark our independence from this virus,"

Not that it was hard. Anybody who loved Bill Pullman's speech at the end of the movie, "Independence Day" could see it at once. The trick is to turn it around, and consider what a failure it would look like if July 4, nearly seven months after the first vaccines got out of labs, had still left Americans unable to have their summer kick-off party? Unacceptable.

Moving at least some kind of major social-events re-opening to the beginning of summer is an obvious morale need for us, too. Because Canada got off to a later start, I'm not sure we can do the same for Canada Day; that's why I went for the Fireworks, (and the August long-weekend) as BCs target holiday.

Calgary, of course, is going to want the Stampede, and that may be tricky, at least without "vaccine passports" at the door. Hardly surprising that Jason Kenney just raised it as a goal, though without commitment. I wouldn't commit, either, not with half of Europe re-introducing restrictions. These new variants are proving to be as scary as predicted. Fingers crossed we can get the case-count way-low by late June.


March 13: Underground Calgary

I now have multiple friends linking me to the Centre for Health Informatics at the U of C. They are publishing COVID-19 test levels from three sewer sampling sites, each of which agglomerates much of the city - there are just three zones being accumulated into one big reading. (Map at left).

Well, finally.

CCCC, having a history with sewer management, has long since published links to similar projects at Ottawa, and Guelph, both last October. Those projects followed a successful project in New Jersey colleges.

Everywhere it's been tried, it's worked, been a fine idea. It just doesn't catch on, doesn't get real funding. Everybody doing it is doing research, not active public health work. Hugely frustrating! But, typical. I realized, last spring, when innovative ways of testing were unable to get traction, that public health bureaucrats are too conservative to innovate on-the-fly. We can only hope they pick up reports from the researchers that will cause them to add these tools to the next fight, probably decades from now.

But, just FYI, this is a map of Calgary's sewer catchments. There are over 50 of them, though only 25 have more than 1000 pipes:

The fun thing about a blog, is you can't run out of room. Want to fantasize about really bringing accuracy to this fight? You can also name the 500-some manholes that just collect a subset of each of those, the sub-catchment, and Calgary has over 500 of those, though just 450 with over about 20 pipes.

Most likely, you'd want a mix: go to sub-catchment level with the biggest catchments, basically break the city up into about 200 zones of comparable size. Then you'd be down under 10,000 people in every test zone. You could put test-collection at all the "campuses", every institutional site that has its own collection system: Skyscrapers. Schools. Industrial areas. Food production.

I can almost hear some Calgary researcher breaking out into laughter: 200 test sites? Does this CCCC idiot have any idea how much it costs to run one test site? The staff-hours, not just the equipment?

If so, he's a researcher that don't know business. The pandemic is probably costing Canada hundreds of millions of dollars a day. Strategies that would let us get more work done, save lives, would have been worth going into mass-production on that equipment, and mass-production (training) of staff, eleven months ago. We certainly could have been ramping up a heck of a lot more than this, since October, when the other projects showed success.

I tend to think, that higher-ups don't like to even think, about wastewater projects. The whole subject is distasteful. Like really old people with dementia in care-homes: the subject gets forgotten, over and over. Remember how in "It", all the awful things that happened in the town of Derry just...slipped away from people's minds. In the Stephen King novel, that was magic, but he was riffing on a real phenomenon: people want to forget some things. Until it's your grandma, then you can't.

And we all want to forget the sewers. It's caused us to miss an opportunity...so far.


March 12: Calling All Dentists

People have complained that lockdowns deprived them of movies; of restaurants; of bars and gyms and friends. I can't recall a single person complaining that they'd have to delay their dentist appointment.

I know, that in my heart of hearts, I was kind of smug about it, though I've had many dental issues over the years, and am hugely indebted to the miracles of modern dentistry (three implants..or is it four?) I had one implant replaced during the pandemic, under all kinds of extra PPE that made me feel my least-safe moment was in the entry room, when another guy walked in.

Six weeks ago, Dentists in BC asked for early vaccination, so they could get back to work. For many, that's just about them, but for medical practitioners, it means getting us pro-active care we need (if not want enough to protest about it), rather than only emergency care. It's an entirely reasonable request, from the public's point of view, much less theirs.

But CCCC would like to go a step further, and do a little social engineering. Dentists are obviously able to administer vaccine. Hell, they're the only people who have to give you shots into your gums; your arm, they could do blindfolded on a trapeze.

CCCC hereby proposes making all dentists offices vaccination centres - but only for patients! If you come in and get your dang checkup and cleaning, you can have an early vaccine shot.

They would, of course, be fully booked as fast as their receptionists can type.

Perfect.

Of course, I'd also tell all the meat-plant, and other neglected "essential workers", about the idea, a day early.

There are about 3,000 dentists in BC, and I'm sure they can all see a dozen people a day for basic services. And they'd be happy to put in six-day weeks for a few months, they've lost a lot of work. That's 800,000 people in a month.

Just brainstormin'.


March 11: Ontario A Month Away from 2000 Cases/Day?

Alan Beairsto is doing reporter work for CCCC now, as I'm not working hard at it recently, distracted by another project.

He writes that I would really love this CBC story with five excellent infographics (some moving ones, always cool), not just about disease, but shopping and work patterns, home prices, and travel.

That linked, top item, to breaking news about the growth of "variants of concern", in Ontario. They've nailed down the R value for the biggest variant, at 1.24. That means, as you can see from a graph of the last four weeks, that it will about quintuple in a month. By the 11th of April, todays average of 450 cases/day will be over 2,000.

If all goes well, they should have everybody (sane and) over 70 vaccinated by then, and the death rate from those 2000, per day, will be a fraction of a percent. The hospitals will be "only" as crowded as when they were getting 3500 cases/day in December.

But, still, it sounds nuts to open up in Ontario, unless the variants are very resricted to some regions, and the others have a little more time.

Here in BC, many have been baffled that Bonnie Henry is talking both with concern about variants, and about doing some re-opening, presumably because she's confident about keeping a lid on it with contact-tracing. I don't think Ontario has that luxury.


March 10: We Need to Hit 50,000 vaccinations per day

Huge family milestone the other day, our oldest relative, 89, just got her first shot, and is now less likely to be hurt by COVID-19 than her children. A real relief, as safe as she's behaved for the whole year.

I've been running numbers on how, damn, if they want to vaccinate over 4 million British Columbians by August, they need to do 32,000 a day from now on - and at present, they have a spike of 12,000 per day, every week when the shipment arrives, then less for the rest of the week.

This article at the CBC does the correct math, where we will take time to ramp up to that, so we'll have to go past it to make up, with a peak at 50,000 vaccinations per day, just in BC. The overall nation will be needing almost exactly ten times that, over 3 million per week all summer.

It's reassuring to hear the confidence with which the political announcements are claiming that level of supply will be coming in. They just have to not screw up the deployment, and all those early supply problems will be forgotten, all forgiven. They know that if they do this really well, they'll probably get away with a lot of their worst failures, in care-homes and rapid testing and schools.

It's also nice that Israel tried out Pfizer on 600 young children, with no ill-effects, even some with cystic fibrosis. Somebody has to try things first, and we are all in their debt.


March 9: MTV is Dead: I Want My Fireworks

Nobody is committing to anything. The trouble is, events don't happen unless you commit work to them months in advance. But if there was one bet you'd think was decent, it would be the Vancouver Fireworks ("Honda Celebration of Light", fine) that come at the end of July.

We're currently figuring that everybody who wants a vaccine will be able to get one by then. It's a really good bet that high vaccination rates for the previous two months, combined with summer, will have the case-load on the run by then, as well.

Yes, it sounds insane: you can get up to 250,000 people watching, they say, probably over 200,000 just on English Bay beach. But everywhere except the most-popular spots right at the centre (where the rock bands also play for hours beforehand) is fairly spread out; I've mostly had over a metre between our blanket and the surrounding ones. It's not much closer quarters, out of doors, at a beach where there's always some breeze, than the Black Lives Matter gathering near Sunset Beach last summer.

Further, the fear of "superspreader" events is two-fold: the actual infections, and the secondary infections from those. As the event would be near the end of the vaccination schedule, the number of people who can even get the secondary infections would close right down in the few weeks after the end of July.

And why restrict ourselves to the normal date? The date could be pushed back about three weeks, to just before the end of August, and still be summer. By then, we'll probably be slowing down on vaccination, from lack of customers.

It would be a great moment to pick as the point where it was basically all over. Fireworks would be the perfect end-of-pandemic celebration.


March 8: The Limits of Vaccination

First up, a retraction of two posts is needed, as they were based on incorrect data. The Israeli "cliff" post and the "Israel, WTF?" post were both based on data from the source at left, which was showing Israel as having vaccinated 70, then 90+ percent of its population - until recently, when the number jumped down to just over 50%.

I was at first wondering if Israel had taken to heart the SNL joke about "Israel is half vaccinated - the Jewish half, I'm thinking", by Michael Che. (In point of fact, Israel is not vaccinating the Palestinian Territories yet, save giving some leftovers to their medical staff.) But, no: while Israel is vaccinating Muslim Israelis, (not "Palestinians", citizens), I think that the tracker service simply confused "doses per 100 citizens" with "percent citizens vaccinated", or some such. In any event, the reason they've hit a plateau on cases is now clear. We'll all need some patience to see the miracle of herd immunity make that cliff happen.

But the limits to vaccination that caught me this morning was the news of not just one, but two outbreaks at a hospital in Kelowna..

These are recent. They happened after we'd vaccinated (nearly?) all our medical staff, who were in line starting December, and are not anti-vaxxers. These hospital outbreaks are happening despite the staff, who should be about the only humans in contact with patients, having at least one shot.

It's much too early to tell just how effective vaccines are at stopping the spread, as opposed to stopping the symptoms, but news stories like these urge us all to caution. As the vaccine rollout hits high gear in a couple of weeks, by a month from now, people will be wanting to "act normal".

Don't let vaccination drive your behaviour. Let the case-count drive your behaviour. If the vaccines are working, the case-count will show it.


March 7: How to Take Over the World

Permit me to go off-topic for a bit; there's just a fine contrast, in my media mix this morning, between two ways of "taking over the world".

Salon.com has an excellent (non-pandemic) article, linked at left, about how the media sells war to liberals by portraying each intervention as a necessary humanitarian effort, or a "tragic failure" if we don't drop bombs.

It contrasts all the many, many articles over the years that have headlines like these, with how well that worked out in Libya - the country fell to warlords, is still a charnel house - with slave markets. Curiously, new articles about Libya all wonder how it could have happened, often not even mentioning the massive NATO bombings.

The same morning, I read at the National Post, about Russia, China, and India moving aggressively to provide vaccines around the world, China to more than 50 countries.

"No strings attached" has legal merit, but emotionally, this is going to have positive impact the way that "vaccine nationalism" had negative impact - people remember who their friends were, when they were in need.

I suspect that vaccines themselves are going to be awfully plentiful in a few years; as CCCC has documented with sanitizer, the free market aways overreacts to any strong stimulus. Drug production, on the whole, however, is still an industry Canada could look into, again, for the whole world.

This 2018 Gwynne Dyer article, "Only the Poor Die Screaming" will tear at your heart: how the very cheap new opiates that are killing so many in the first world, are not cheap enough, in the third, to prevent terribly painful deaths to many.

Canada could push back against Big Pharma, by becoming a Very Big Pharma player -and not for excessive profit, just for good jobs doing good deeds. Vaccines are just a part of it.


March 6: BC and Alberta Have Switched Places

Well, things have gone south, or, rather, gone west, since my January 16 post about BC being "twice as smart" as Alberta.

We all went through the up-tick in cases a month later, but Alberta, the last week, leveled off and even posted a slight reduction, like most provinces. BC, on the other hand, just keeps heading upward, starting to look like that frightening variant model from February.

Worse, the two provinces have now fully switched places: after a whole year where BC had half the cases of Alberta, it's now Alberta that's down in the mid-300's of new cases per day, BC over 600.

I do not credit Jason Kenney.

One could certainly heap blame on BC politicians and public health officials, for not being harsher, and CCCC certainly has, repeatedly. There's a lot of blame due for not using enough of those rapid tests, too. What probably hasn't been done, is enough credit to all the contact-tracers that have held down the growth as much as they have. The curve still doesn't look exponential, and the fact that we have days where the new-case count goes down, tells you the battle is still joined.

But the bad guys are winning, in BC, at least, and from that recent desperation move, it seems likely they've pinned every hope on vaccines holding down the death count until they can hold down the case-count, months from now.


March 5: Grim Graphics: Meat is Murder

As a lover of information graphics, may I ask everybody to click on the graphic at left to jump to the fine CBC article using that art and science to show the pandemic, particularly the "risk your life to work in a meat plant" part of the pandemic.

This article needs an extra headline: At Least Vaccinate the Meat-Processing Staff.

We're vaccinating the care-homes, as the highest of high priorities, but the only transmission difference between those homes, and The Line, is the relative youth of the victims, holding them down to a few deaths per hundred. The workers are telling their union they're scared. But, if they had any power or money in this world, they wouldn't be working there to start with, so they've been abused by their management and multiple levels of government. A few bucks' worth of vaccine is the least we can do.

The CBC article is about the Cargill plant in Alberta, but the news is also fresh because of the re-opening by Olymel of another one in Red Deer - just in time for that March surge every epidemiologist is expecting. The article contains a very telling sentence:

The Quebec-based company said reopening has become possible because "management and the regulators are satisfied that employees can return to the plant safely."
Conspicuously absent, is any indication of whether the employees think that they can return safely. Normally, in any other line of work, that would be the criterion; in the circus, nobody asks the clowns whether the trapeze is safe for the acrobats. You ask the acrobats who depend upon the ropes.

The employees may have been distracted. They still have 78 active cases out of the 515 who became infected, over a quarter of the 1818 staff. A fourth case died just yesterday, as the Olymel annoucement was coming out, which puts Olymel ahead of the Cargill outbreak for total deaths.

Remember to multiply by, umm, "several", to get a count of infectees who won't ever be quite the same, sustained permanent organ or nerve damage.

We have no excuse. We're eating meat, and sneering at the butcher's pathetic, avoidable death. Vaccinate them all.


March 4: Venceremos, Virus

Mostly, the world is more complicated than we imagine, and anybody who attempts to "DIY" profesional products or services, learn they can't even come close.

But not always. My career included the very origins of the first GIS, "Geographic Information Systems", i.e. smart electronic maps like Google Maps. On that first project, I got to study the database that early GIS used, the code that worked it.

It wasn't that hard. This world has some really complex computer programs, labyrinths of logic, but the problems of "mapping things in XY" and "tracing networks of nodes and links" (like that shortest-path for your car, on Google Maps) are not among them. They're 3rd-year undergrad computer science problems, at best. (Maybe 4th year if you get into spherical trig of the actual 3-D globe, which we didn't.)

As my employer struggled to get a large corporate GIS working, for years...and then, years more, when we concluded that original product I'd studied had to be dumped and replaced with ESRI, the big industry standard package. During those several years, I simply created the GIS functionality Waterworks needed, on top of our simpler CAD (Computer-Aided Drafting) package.

I repeat, it wasn't hard. The database design was a few weeks of work, not months. The CAD coding contractor ultimately charged me $400,000 to rewrite the code for both water and sewer, after charging maybe that much again, for the first water-only version over the previous few years. It was all less than a million.

It did all the GIS stuff I needed for my job - and for other people, many dozens of jobs - for twenty years, so far, and counting. They're still using it. About 10 years back, the corporation launched a massive project, about 30 staff, to replace it with a new Water/Sewer GIS based on that standard ESRI. The project was cancelled at the $8 million dollar mark, when a review showed they were $3 million away from producing a not-superior product, so mine's still there. (Why could $10M not replace my $1M? Overambitious project, badly managed...but the key, I thought was that the programmers were NOT GIS professionals, and not engineers, didn't understand the industry. They spent millions just deciding what to do, whereas I knew what I needed, going in.)

So there's "DIY" working, where the "real professionals" didn't. Sometimes, customers go with the big commercial offering because it was there, and "bigger is better" remains a default assumption, but it can be wrong.

And so we come to Cuba. This is different than my September 13 article about DIY vaccines and how we should just try them.

Cuba, pariah to America and abandoned to dire poverty by its original Communist sponsors for decades, simply ("simply"??) went DIY on vaccine. . The first two candidates are both called "Sovereignty" (Soberana 1 and 2), rather than "ScrewYouToo", because Cubans are nice people.

That's different from some meatball-vaccine experimenters at home, because Cuba already does this: produces 8 of the 12 standard vaccines for its own vaccine program. My "DIY" term is actually an insult to the Cuban professionals that have been doing this for a long time.

The connection between my story and theirs is that: I, too, was a GIS professional, in command of all the relevant knowledge actually needed for the job. (The better-funded guys that tried to replace mine, not so much.) I just wasn't as big a deal as a big GIS company, so seemed to suffer in comparison. But you don't need to buy your fish from a giant fishing boat: the fish from a little fishing boat are just as good, because even that boat is big enough for that job. Bigger is not always better. Pfizer and Moderna are bigger vaccine makers than Cuba, but Cuba can, in fact, do it.

Even though, they're just this little island of 11 million people and about nine spare dollars. These news articles kind of surfaced, only when they got into trials, recently.

There's a whole proud Cuban history in medical care, at this point. Medical brains are pretty much their best export. Fidel himself oversaw the development of their biotech sector 40 years ago. The Soberanas are just the first two of five vaccine candidates they have in development. They believe they can crank up production to 100 million doses per year.

Quite the contrast to Canada, four times larger, seventeen times richer (GDP of $1.7T rather than $100B), which can't produce the needed vaccines now because we abandoned the capability.

I'm confident, lately, that we'll soon have a pretty fast vaccination program with our imports. But I almost wish we could instead just plan a vacation to Cuba for some vaccine tourism.

And those limes. And the Afro-Cubana bands alternating with Salsa bands in the bar. How the hell did just eleven million people invent two whole musical genres?

Hats off to Cuba.


March 3: Scenery, Cycling to Canadian Tire

Hey, it's just a blog, some days I only journal. My January 18 post about finally having too much sanitizer clearly needs an update. Stock up for the next pandemic, now's the time to buy! Remember when it was $7.99 for 150ml?

That's available at Canadian Tire right now, so hop in the car. Remember that you can burn it for heat, in other kinds of emergencies. Not a huge drop, really, just down to $14/L from January's $21/L, but it stores better in your shotgun shack.

En route there, on a Monday, I crossed paths with a demonstration, oddly at the Law Courts rather than the usual public square behind the art museum, making it kind of cramped and harder for the public to be in awe of. Maybe they liked the cramping so that they could better deny that there is even a pandemic - or "casedemic", as the sign says. (If it's a world-wide "casedemic", of cases of a disease, isn't that a pandemic? Never ask.)

There's a certain peace descended upon me since the American election went off-the-rails. (It mercifully went off the rails only a month or so after it was over.) As one listens to the bizarre, fragmentary, and so, so vague clouds of conspiracy theories about the "steal", you have to realize how hopeless it always was to convince some people of anything they don't want to believe.

So I smiled and even waved, as I cycled past them. After all, they were on the other side of the road, so I wasn't going to catch wrongness from them. NB: I did clip out the sign that read "Lock Up Comrade Bonnie", alas, but I liked the one turning "Global News" into "Globalist News"; I'd send Keith Baldry a fedora so he could look more spy-like, but I doubt he'd wear it on air.


March 2: BC Vaccination Schedule Reeks of Desperation

I shouldn't use a negative headline, I suppose. (I really do read too much American news: "reeks" belongs in a Fox news headline somewhere, owning the libs.)

It's kind of bold and daring, the stuff that we pioneering Westerners imagine as a cultural feature out here. Nobody else on Earth, so far, is stretching out the gap between doses to sixteen weeks, 116 days. And it was fun, seeing the previous, plodding schedule get a major goosing forward. We should be done all the receptive vulnerable people by the end of March: not just the over-80s, but now all the 70s, and at-risk people down to 60.

The very first CCCC post was about the age-related odds: the 70s are the 4.3% mortality group, we 60s just 1.9%. Then, for the 50s, it leaps down, 3-fold, to 0.6%.

There's undoubtedly desperation, because we've clearly given up on that next wave that I've been predicting for ten weeks. By April, they're probably figuring on over 1000 cases per day, and exempting nearly everybody over 70 means 1000 cases becomes only 10 deaths.

People are kind-of shrugging at 10 deaths per day right now, so that won't cause a panic, though I hope it bothers somewhat that they'll mostly be in my age group, with a few decades left.

Having tossed out the strategy of minimizing transmission,in favour of "protect the old", it's my own age group, and a smaller number of 50-somethings, that will be taking it in the shorts. More total cases, almost none over age 70, so those extra lives lost will mostly be in their sixties.

Of course, that Simon Fraser paper with the "600 lives" calculation may have assumed the R-value of the original COVID; Dr. Bonnie may be afraid that even frantically vaccinating essential workers instead won't hold down transmission enough, any more, as the variants spread.

Either way, it boils down to:

  1. The wave is coming. The officials are planning for it.

  2. Get your jab as soon as you can, oldsters. This one might be the worst.

  3. Young people, you don't need as much good luck, but good luck. Once again, try to stop being the reason we are having this wave, for what it's worth, for anybody to repeat it again.

  4. Fellow sixty-somethings, understand the next eight weeks are you, going under the bus, and you have to protect yourselves. Many of us have the great luxury of retirement, can just stay home, act like it's a year earlier. If you're not retired, look into vacation, unpaid leave, even early retirement. Unless you have total telework, of course. If you can just stay safe until May, many of us will be vaccinated and protected by then.
After early May, the vaccination rate will drop again, as they will have to go back to ever-other-dose being a second shot. The desperation move will work out pretty well, though, as long as the amount of vaccine flowing at least doubles during those ten weeks. Dr. Bonnie is clearly counting on it. Fingers crossed, for her and us all.


March 1: Decline Over in North America

I'm putting no more effort into straightening out those graphics from worldometers and CTV; the point is that they're all the same shape, all over North America. Mexico still has some decline, but nearly level.

They say that the goose at the point of the "V" in a formation, is not the leader; they all have a consensus about where they're going, even the "leader" is constantly adjusting his flight as he notes where the geese on either side are turning. You'd swear that coronavirus response had turned that way across a whole continent. States and provinces that had different curves a month ago, are all now just...hitting bottom, and starting slight inclines in cases.

This isn't true in Europe. Spanish cases are still in steep decline; the UK has moderated the rate of drop, but still dropping. (A bigger exception is Portugal, which has done the most amazing decline of the pandemic; they deserve their own post.)

The bad news is that Germany is looking just like North America (slowly rising at about 8,000 cases/day, worse relatively than Canada now), France has been rising from bottom for a month, and Italy has just started to curve sharply upward.

So, it's a mixed bag, but even worldometers grand-world-summary "New Cases" graph has leveled-off in the last week. The predicted Revenge of the Variants would seem to be just about upon us. The case-load is as low as it's going before the next wave hits in a week or so.

That's it, today, just data observed and reported. I'm done railing at it; now it just has to be dealt with.

This story ain't got no moral,
This story ain't got no end;
This story only goes to show
There ain't no good in Men!


February 28: Fighting COVID With Hippie Voodoo?

The National Observer has a headline up: Other countries are treating COVID patients with probiotics and vitamin D - why aren't we?.

Because this is the 21st century, I thought, but clicked, and it has a link to a paper out from the Chinese University of Hong Kong, which has this in the summary:

The CUHK team recently developed an oral microbiome immunity formula for COVID-19 patients and postulated that this formula would improve clinical symptoms and decrease proinflammatory markers in SARS-CoV-2 infection. In a pilot study in patients hospitalized with COVID-19 7, significantly more patients who received the formula achieved symptom resolution and a reduction in pro-inflammatory immune markers than those who had standard care. Relative abundance of favourable bacteria species also significantly increased after synbiotic therapy compared with baseline3. These preliminary data suggest that modulation of gut microbiota offers hope of boosting immunity against COVID-19 and other emerging viral infections.

I am duly corrected. If the new Canadian study, PROVID-19, at U. Sherbrooke, pans out, at least.

And I am duly reminded of the great statement about this formulated by musician/comedian Tim Minchin, and his song/poem, "STORM", which you should click on immediately if you haven't heard it. Storm has the greatest statement about this topic, ever:

No, there's no such thing as "Alternative medicine that has been proven to work". "Alternative medicine", by definition, has either not been proven to work, or has been proven to not work. Any alternative medicine that is proven to work, is simply called...medicine.
Best of luck to U. Sherbrooke. We could absolutely use a new medicine in our toolkit. I am also reminded of the greatest quote from the movie Wargames: "God Damn it, I'd piss on a spark plug, if I thought it'd do any good".

Let's try the hippie stuff instead.


February 27: Israel, WTF?!?!

So much for Israel falling off a cliff (in COVID case-counts, when vaccines took hold).

For the last week, it would be fair to say that Israel has met the conditions for "herd immunity". As of seven days ago, February 20, Israel had:

  • 83% population with one shot in them;

  • 73% population where one shot had a week to take effect;

  • 66% population had a shot over 12 days earlier, the point where this study showed that infections had greatly reduced viral loads: implying, if not proving, reduced transmission by the vaccinated, not just reduced disease for themselves;

  • 58% were 7 days past their second shot, which Israeli data itself has confirmed, confers some 94% immunity.

I had already been expecting the slope at the right-hand of the graph above to get steeper (if not quite a "cliff") for two weeks, already. Note again, that the figures above are seven days old. Israel is now at 92% of the population vaccinated (which may make them the most-compliant vaccinators, too: Here's the sad and stupid story of a third of the US military refusing vaccine.)

Instead, the whole last week since those statistics happened, has given us the opposite of a steepening. The case-rate leveled off, and has actually risen nearly 3%, in the last few days. Their seven-day average is 3,784 cases-per-day. That's more than 20% higher than Canada's - and we have over four times their population. Israel's current per-capita case-rate is 75% higher than Canada's brief peak on January 9th.

Which, perhaps, explains the (I'm sure, brief) halt in reductions, and even the little increase. Because the virus is still very prevalent in Israeli common spaces - and the Israelis are abandoning all those "safe behaviours" that CCCC champions. What a validation for my blog! But researchers are blaming behaviour in Israel for the infection increase.

Their language in that story is mild, reminding us what cautious, tentative people researchers are. Anybody else, looking at the cover of today's Times of Israel, at left, would just day "DUH".

Israel is doing so well with vaccination, and using the very good Pfizer product for all of it (they have so much vaccine, that they aren't bothering to use their Moderna stock, fobbing off that extra to Palestinian medics), that the virus can't hold out much longer, no matter how badly they behave. But their current death rate of about 25/day, when it could already be down to half that, means those Purim Parties are going to cost dozens or even hundreds of lives.

The last to die, for a mistake.


February 26: "Restrictions"? We Don't Have Real Restrictions. UK Does.

I should note, up top, even the jokey little devil-horns on Dr. Henry, yesterday, are regrettable in that, later yesterday, her TV address mentioned death threats, security on her house. I'll leave the photo up, but I'll consider myself reminded.

A fun thing (probably the only fun thing) about a pandemic blog, is that you can often just journal your own life, since it's happening to us all. Last night, I went for takeout to a shawarma place that shall remain nameless, save that it's on Denman Street next to the Babylon Cafe, which did deserve my business.

The shawarma place is about five metres square, somehow squeezes in four little booths. And they were nearly full. They had barriers between them, so that twenty centimetres and some plexiglass separated you from the next table. The plexiglass goes up about a foot about your head, and stops.

I had entered it, in that state, with two masks on, to give a quick order at the counter and wait outside. Last night, the space for ordering had three people crowded into it, elbow to elbow. I stared for a minute, and went next door, which was being run safely. Go, Babylon Cafe. I have no idea how the other place is escaping Public Health inspections. It felt rude at the time, to take a picture. I should go back tonight, snap one, and complain. (Also, I was very hungry to get home.)

Then, today, I get an email from CCCC friend Hugh Costello, who's been in England for months, with his daughter and new granddaughter, Maria. Hugh's wife Christine is still there - perhaps long enough to get vaccinated! Hugh wanted to get home before the new hotel rules came in, and made it. He writes:

Lockdown in UK is quite extensive. Christine and I took Maria for a walk and picked up a few things at the grocery store. I stayed outside with Maria and a headline on the Daily Telegraph caught my eye; grandparents not living in the same house were going to be able to visit with their grandchildren outside (they still won't be able to come indoors) at the end of March. As of now FaceTime and the like are the only options to interact between social bubbles.
So, if you're envying the rapid decline in cases that the UK has achieved in the last five weeks flat, at left, that is how you do that. You don't let restaurants open, pretty much how they want, on their own recognizance. People will just do what the shawarma fans last night were doing: deliberately ignore risks.

I'm still putting off showing our own case-count graphs, which clearly show our struggle to go down at all, rather than up. BC in particular, has gotten cavalier about the virus, and we're asking for trouble.


February 25: Now Who's Not Following the Science?

Today is a "CTV News"-themed post, in honour of their fine work in spite of over 200 staff being laid-off by their owner, Bell Media, a profit-making enterprise that has correctly seen news as a financial liability for their corporation.

Before they finish killing off CTV News, with cut after cut, though, the newsies are getting out the stories, serving the public trust, if not the bottom line. Today we have two.

Both stories criticize the provincial health plans, with Dr. Bonnie at the buck-stops-here desk, so she gets piled-on today. (The photo is from the non-covid story about her conflict with the RCMP about Naxalone; they're hating on her, too.). But our first story is about the BC decision to go ahead prioritizing my age group in April over high-contact workers. Simon Fraser U has published a model showing it would actually lower cases and save up to 600 lives to delay us 60-79 age group to focus on "teaching, retail, food production and law enforcement".

It's just as wrong to ignore the best-available science to save those 600 lives as it is to ignore masks, or vaccines, or ventilators. You use every tool you have.

It's politics, of course. We old people really get out and vote, and people vote when they're scared. Bonnie's boss, politician Adrian Dix, is right to fear the wrath of old people having their vaccines "snatched away" for a couple of months.

Scientfic strategies minimize loss of life. Political strategies minimize loss of votes.

The second CTV story is nation-wide, though BC is part of it, so we'll link to my own MP, physician Dr. Hedy Fry, calling on BC to use up its million rapid covid tests before they go bad.

Un. Be. Lievable.

As much pandemic news as I follow, I'd just given up on rapid tests. I did post after post about the need to use them, and finally gave up hope. Well, it turns out that they finally got approved, mass-produced, and distributed by the Feds.

And ignored. Left on the shelves. Insane.

The problem is the same as the early failure to recommend masks: they're thinking like personal physicians, not as epidemiologists, fighting fog with things that, statisically, reduce fog.

The logic with masks was that you'd put on your N95 a nurse needed, think you were invulnerable, and behave as if there were no pandemic. They had to flip when it was admitted that while masks provide very partial protection no doctor would rely upon while working, they did statistically reduce transmission so much they were a huge effect.

Their hatred of testing is based on the same objection: rapid tests aren't accurate enough. You can take one, see negative, and think that's certain, behave badly and cause transmission. All true. But uses of rapid tests that are aware of that can statistically reduce transmission. If you rapid-test a whole class after one kid goes positive, and keep the school open instead of closing it, you're very likely going to be correct. Ditto with all those workplaces that need the vaccines! So the other theme of today's post it "what about the essential workers?" CTV's Don Martin interviewed appalled doctors.

Too late for the care-homes: Simon Fraser appears again as Dr. Bonnie's nemisis (and all the other health authorities), calculating that use of rapid-tests in care-homes a year back would have saved about half the deaths in nursing homes. About a third of the deaths in Canada!

The story says that Trudeau is about to start handing the tests to pharmacies, in frustration. BC should just hand them out to school nurses, at least.

These are foolish mistakes.


February 24: Killing People To The Very Last

There's two stories I'm delaying as best I can: the high probability that we saw our lowest case-counts for months to come, last week; and that Israeli "cliff" I was hoping for isn't that sharp. So every morning I look for anything else that needs attention, to give another day for data to break my way.

Today's is pretty self-explanatory, at left. (I also look for stories that tell themselves.) I'd love to claim that this was just about our fascist-adjacent neighours to the south; but we all know that there's a fair-sized chunk of Canada, too, that also love the whole cluster of beliefs that the "White: Republicans" group clings to (bitterly).

Obama's "cling bitterly" line, is the about the best description for still holding beliefs that the virus is a hoax, that it's no worse than the flu, that you're safe if you ask for hydroxychloroquine...and now, that vaccines are, if not poison, dubious. Suspicious. Somebody else go first, I'll try it in a year.

For Canada, this group seems to be small enough to not be a serious factor in vaccine acceptance: we should still be more-worried that long-disadvantaged groups are suspicious of White medicine. Even for America, a back-of-the-envelope is easy.

Simply rounding to 40% White Republicans, 40% White Democrats, 20% non-White, gives us:

  • 90% of 40% White Democrat = 36%
  • 70% of 20% non-White = 14%
  • 50% of 40% White GOP = 20%
...Equals 70% of total. They'll be OK. I think some of those numbers will rise as hundreds of millions are vaccinated without problems.

For the GOP, arguably another huge fail. If they'd been numerous enough to deny that "herd immunity", then they could still be killing other people, and making government look generally bad, just like distance-and-mask-defiance that killed off so many in their Red states in the fall.

But if herd immunity is reached, then all the last deaths, as the epidemic fades at last, will be happening with the anti-vaxxers. Sympathy for them, from almost anybody else, is going to come hard.


February 23: What The Hell IS "Pandemic Fatigue"?

Fatigued                                                                     Not Fatigued

DATELINE, STRASBOURG, June 28, 1943:

German officers were baffled today, when French civilians presented themselves at the train station, demanding to start their annual vacation to Bremen.

Stating that "We've had enough of this war crap; we're tired of it. We've skipped our Bremen vacation for three years in a row, and we've just got War Fatigue." The German officers attempted to politely explain that the war was still going on, and that some inconvenience was unfortunately necessary, when the French would-be tourists became belligerent.

Exasperated, the Germans arrested them. The French have demanded to be jailed in Bremen, with a good view of town.

...said no newspaper story about war, ever.

You'd swear that the central conceit of "Pandemic Fatigue" is that the pandemic is the fault of the government, and The People, bless 'em, have a right to redress for the outrage. Well, you have no right to rail at Mother Nature, you're being silly. It's like being tired of life itself, which is very fatiguing, with all its diseases, and other challenges. It ain't called "This Vale of Tears" for nothing.

I'm grumping because I was inspired by a counter-example on last night's CBC news. They covered a 90th birthday of a man who has only been able to wave at family through a window, for a year, as the last days before his vaccination tick down. But our jaws dropped when they mentioned that his live-in caregiver simply had to bubble up with him, and not her family - she's been living with him for a year, and hasn't hugged family in that long. It was a professional dedication to a job, and a personal dedication to a vulnerable man so dependent on her, that left us in awe.

These marchers seem like such whiny babies compared to her, an adult who accepts that life comes with war, disaster, and disease - that must be met and dealt with, whatever the cost.


February 22: When Do The Vaccinations Get Down To Me?

I believe that CCCC may have found its stride, in the underserved journalistic area of "rough speculation". Not wild speculation, but not professional, responsible speculation, either. Regular journalists are professional, and responsible, and only interview doctors and bureaucrats who are professional, responsible, and cautious - which means you don't even get a rough idea.

All we're getting on the vaccination schedule is "we'll all be done by Fall", which is like saying "everybody will finish this marathon by midnight", when Colour Commentary requires at least an honest guess at who will beat what time.

For irresponsible, rough speculation, I'm using the following easy, fun model:

  1. Neglecting everything done up to last week. Why not? We're only at 3% vaccinated, so my model is 97% accurate, and 200 days from now, that's only a week off! What's been done so far is almost entirely medical staff, and care-homes; the "general community" outside those care-homes is untouched. So we start at ZERO on Valentine's Day.

  2. We got 400,000 doses last week, and 475,000 coming this week, because they said so.

  3. It'll be 450,000 doses the next two weeks, because I'm skeptical they will keep that up, so I made up that number. (I said it was fun and easy.)

  4. Then it's a flat million doses a week starting at mid-March. They've claimed for some time this number would come, I'll extend a little trust starting then.

  5. Doses=people, for the first six weeks, up to the end of March. After that, half of all doses are assumed to be second-doses for already-pretty-safe people, so the persons-affected-per-week, drops by half.
After that, I just needed the Canada age distribution from Statista, which gives the first few columns of the chart at upper left. You can see why I "neglected care homes" (everybody else did); they're only a fraction of the over-80 population. Assuming we vaccinate in strict age-downward fashion, admittedly another simplification, they're down to Age 70 when they have to start dedicating every second dose to the already-done, at end of March.

This is enormously reassuring to those of us expecting a terrible variant-driven wave to rise in March, and for April to be very bad. As the cases go into the high thousands per month, nearly everybody with a hospitalization-probability in the tens of percent, a death-rate over over 2%, will be safe.

We'll be able to sustain over twice the case-rate, probably triple, before the hospitals fill up again. It'll give us time to admit what the smart already know, that we need one last lockdown. My earlier hopes of an Easter supper with family. have probably been ruined by the current timidity, the abandonment of "get to zero".

Even better news, they should get down to me before: Canada Day, The Stampede, my birthday, that whole early-July season that always takes me to Calgary for parties and friends. That may still be all cancelled this year, but there's some hope. By the usual Vancouver Fireworks time at the end of July, they'll be down to the early 50-somethings. Again, maybe cancelled, but maybe not.

The schedule is already very rocky by the last date on that table; they really have to go past 1 million doses per week at some point, or 40 million people will take 80 weeks, over a year. Even "herd immunity" would take until December. So they have to pick it up - hopefully, by June, so that all those summer festivals can go on.


February 21: A Thousand Kids

In Canada, just four of our COVID-19 dead are in the 0-19 age group. That's another thing to remember, about Canada's considerable superiority at fighting COVID-19. In the USA, a proportional number would be 36, but it's actually about 250.

And America's deaths are one-quarter of the world's, so I extrapolate to get our headline. COVID has killed a thousand kids.

COVID-19 is merciful, compared to the 1918 Flu, of course. The graph at right, from a paper published just a few years ago, shows how cruel it was. The same high mortality for the old, starting around 65; but also an age range of high mortality from age 20-35, the peak productive years! Many widows and orphans.

But the terrible story is at the far left, where the highest mortality was for babies, shooting upwards higher than the 70-somethings, for ages under three.

I got on the topic because the news sites more cautious than CCCC, which follow offical stats, rather than worldometers, are just today filling the top half of the page with the 96-point headline "500,000 dead". The Washington Post has a heart-rending article on the small fraction of those dead that were those hundreds of little children.

If you need strength to get angry at yesterday's rally against public health, just dip into it, as much as you could bear. I had to stop reading:

They had futures in mind. In Gainesville, Fla., Kimmie Lynum was busy planning her 10th birthday party. J.J. Boatman, a 9-year-old in Texas, was thinking about his future; he wanted to be a policeman or maybe work at Taco Casa so he could bring tacos home every day. Tagan Drone, a 5-year-old in Amarillo, Tex., planned to be a mermaid for Halloween.
The article mainly focuses on the remaining family, though. There's nothing more devastating for any parent, but also, the brothers and sisters are never the same.
Covid-19 killed Gigi Morse in August in Jackson, Tenn. She was a dynamo of a kid who loved Froot Loops and was obsessed with all things 'Frozen' - the songs, the characters.

The virus didn't kill anyone else in the Morse family, but Gigi's mother says it might as well have. The pain does not ebb. The guilt gnaws at them constantly.

"You see on the news, 'X amount of people died,' but it's so much more than that," Priscilla said. "Do people see just how destroyed your family and your life is, six months later?"

I get more sanguine about how much faster the American vaccine delivery has been, reading this stuff. America has suffered so much more than we have. Yes, yes, they "brought it on themselves"...except that Gigi Morse did not. The sooner America gets vaccinated, the fewer Gigis and Tagans there will be.

Canada prevented six out of seven child-deaths that we would have had, if we'd been like them. Our kids are in one-seventh the danger. Their vaccines are the next Gigi's salvation. Go, USA.


February 20: Picard on Health

We're in the weekly 3-day data-drought in BC. Yesterday, a case-count of over 500 clarified that BC is indeed in trouble, with COVID cases suddenly shooting up in multiple locations, as analysed yesterday, just below. Public health simply said nothing about the frightening numbers, but if all three numbers reported on Monday are up, they really need to talk about a response.

While CCCC awaits those developments, more thanks are due to Globe-and-Mail health reporter, Andre' Picard, last back-patted on November 15.

Andre' sat in for Canadaland Short-Cuts the other day, and tried to counteract the tension-cranking, and attempts to stoke conflict, that the rest of the media are peddling.

Over at Canada's new effort at journalism, The LINE, they're selling the notion that the vaccine rollout is so bad as to cost Trudeau the next election. (I'm actually very excited by The Line, they're writing good stuff - only the problem that I'm now subscribing to about six things, has me hesitating to subscribe for $50/year.)

Host Jesse Brown set up all of that, summing up the national vaccine-panic stories in a voice that kept rising in pitch. Then Picard's voice, low, slow, and calm, shut it all down. Canada's progress is well behind some countries, but really about middle-of-the-pack for developed countries. Nobody is really protected until we all are, so the date you get your shot, is not as important as the date then 70% vaccination is reached. There is just nothing to get that upset about. The media love to build up these things, and oh, they love, love, love to say that political power hangs in the balance on this issue, but the vaccine story is not that dramatic.

Bravo. I've let myself get more excited by it, than it deserves. Picard also noted that some of the best-performing vaccinators: the UK (26%) and US (18%) are the ones in most-desperate need of the help. Both still have far higher per-capita case-rates than we do, you're still safer here!

Picard is still at the Globe, of course, and the graphic at top links to his blog, Picard on Health.


February 19: What The Heck Is The Spike in BC?

It was especially galling, because former problem-places like Ontario, Quebec, and nearly all of the United States, have had rapidly-falling cases for weeks, so much so that there are articles puzzling over why cases are dropping so much, so fast.

BC had been bumbling along, with cases barely dropping at all, sometimes ticking-up a bit, for all of February. One hoped, every day, for the numbers to tick-down, finally. That BC would join the continent-wide curve-crushing, before the variants came.

Then, yesterday, the reported case-count was 617, nearly two hundred higher than the average of recent days. What the hell?!? Surely, this was some catch-up of cases from previous days, gone unreported? Nope, nothing about that in the news announcement. Dix and Henry blandly reported that cases had "ticked up". Ya think? 50% in a day? Some tick.

I wearily downloaded the whole case database again, to see if this was a single outbreak, somewhere - a work-camp suddenly reporting they'd all got sick over the last week? Nope.

The chart at left shows the raw case-counts, and so the lines are very raggedy, up-and-down every weekend. But if I'd used the "7-day moving average" mostly needed these days to smooth that out, you couldn't see the tremendous spike at the end.

Unsurprisingly, it's the Fraser region, our largest, at 1.8 million, nearly half the province, that is responsible for most of the spike, as it's been responsible for most cases. That's not entirely the larger population: they've had a higher per-capita rate, too. But you can also see upticks in the Vancouver Coastal Region (that is, most of Greater Vancouver), and in the Northern Region (the vast forests from Prince George to Prince Rupert, and far north of them).

The table at right drills down to the contributors to the "spike": Fraser Region is over 140 added cases, compared to the previous two days, Northern added over 60 more cases than previous, we in Coastal were "just" an extra 20-30 cases, all of a sudden.

So it was all over. Cases just spontaneously picked up in much of BC, places far apart.

I was still hoping that the big jump in Fraser was concentrated into one event, something that happened and was over, wouldn't spread. So I broke up the Fraser Region into its sub-regions - there's a map of them all here, at StatsCan, but basically:

  • Fraser East = Chilliwack and Abbotsford - jumped up about 30
  • Fraser South = Delta and White Rock - also about 30
  • Fraser North = Greater Vancouver north of the River and East of Vancouver - spiked by 60
...so it was all across the Fraser Region, east and south of Greater Vancouver, and points east into the mountains.

I'm chasing this down, carefully, because it looks real bad. If there's no special place this is happening, then it's not isolated; the infection just spread, the last few days, much faster than it did for whole weeks before.

It's hard to panic, as in "The Variants Have Come! Run!" ... even the dreaded variants can't cause a 50% jump in one day. I really don't expect another report of 600 or higher this afternoon. Spikes happen in statistics.

But this is as concerning as it can be. If today's numbers are up even somewhat from two days ago, if the increase holds through the coming weekend (BC will have one more report today, then none until Monday), I don't see what public health can do but move swiftly to a lockdown.

Fingers crossed.


February 18: Just How Bad Was New York?

Well, it's not as bad as Lombardy.

Lombardy is the northern province of Italy, population almost exactly 10 million. It was where COVID-19 really hit; it has a lot of old people, care homes. It was the source of those harrowing news videos last spring, every room and corridor crowded with people on oxygen, choices made about whom to unplug.

This Lancet Paper from last April 15 indicates that Lombardy has 10 million people, or one-sixth of Italy's population, but took 53% of Italy's deaths up to that date, or three times the average. Italy is now at 1571 deaths per million. So, Lombardy, if it kept up the ratio, is at 4500.

Even if Lombardy improved its performance later in the pandemic, it's worse: that April 15 number was 2200 deaths-per-million already.

Which brings us to New York, second-worst in the United States at 2,388 deaths-per-million, just behind New Jersey at 2,548. The problem for Governor Cuomo, left, is that the number is false.

New York claims a death count of 45,457. this Associated Press report from last summer suggested that the 6,600 of those deaths claimed to be in care-homes were under-reported by half...and perhaps as much as 65%.

But before we run those numbers, let's take a moment to appreciate what a loathsome swine that Mr. Cuomo has been in other ways. As The Daily Poster reports to its e-mail subscribers today:

Amid New York's exploding COVID death toll in April 2020, Cuomo's budget included a provision shielding hospital and nursing home executives from legal consequences if their corporate decisions killed people during the pandemic.
...
Cuomo's corporate immunity provision was quickly copied and pasted into other states' laws and into Senate Republican legislation, in near word-for-word fashion. The liability shield spread from New York to other states...

"The immunity laws could be wrongly used to provide any individual or entity from liability, even if those decisions were not made in good faith or motivated by financial incentives,"
- Report by New York AG

Those are his pandemic sins; I'll leave it to other news to report on the squalid political squirming that followed recently: intimidating whistleblowers, and even just critics, with threats.

But, those stories do inspire me to use the CCCC superpower of not caring if this is responsible journalism: let's just assume that "as much as 65%" is true. Indeed, CCCC would bet money on it, when all is fully invesigated. If 6,600 is barely a third of the total, then CCCC gets to add no less than 12,000 deaths to that 45,457: we'll kindly round down to 57,000.

57,000 dead, divided by New York's 19.5 million people brings them up to 2923 deaths per million. I'm sure that Lombardy is surely over 3,000 by now, at least.

So, New York is not the absolute worst. Cuomo, on the other hand...really does need to be recalled, impeached from ever again holding office, and, one hopes, charged. It's got to be some kind of crime to lie about how bad a public health crisis is going. One trusts that American Democrats are not the same kind of personality-worshipping tribalists as their Republicans; that his former supporters will now turn upon him in outrage, and end his power to keep hurting people.


February 17: Why Is The Whole West Ticking Up?

I was going to write about Dr. Henry's complaint that Fraser Region is ticking up. This was a surprise read, because of my own analysis over two weeks back that Fraser was the only one reliably going down. Things have clearly changed.

When I went to check the numbers, and made the graph at left that compares six provinces by how much they've reduced their 7-day average over the last 7 days. BC actually had a decent downward-tick yesterday; (dark blue line). Henry was obviously advising caution about it.

I was going to add comments about how Alberta (orange line) is now far better than BC, after all those months of being twice the rate; but then I realized that the whole West had an uptick the last few days. Family Day? It's not our biggest holiday, doesn't come with a family feast-meal like December. And here's the thing: Ontario also gets Family Day, and their descent (dark red line) is the best of us all!

One really has to wonder about Manitoba: heading straight up, all week.

We've just a few weeks now, before the variants change the R. We could really stand three weeks in a row like Ontario's: 20% reduction every week. That would halve the current numbers, get Canada down to the peak of the first wave. That's not a great position to go into a new wave with, frankly, but it's a lot better than our current situation.

We're acting like the vaccine cavalry is just over the hill, going to arrive next week. For the very old and institutionalized, the health-care workers, yes, it is. The rest of us, however, need to get serious.


February 16: Not to Praise Iowa

There was nothing special about Iowa in the numbers with which CCCC is sadly obsessed. In the great worldometers scoreboard of CCCC, where every US state has its own database entry (but not Canadian provinces, the jerks), Iowa currently clocks in at 1668 deaths-per-million, which is awful, worse than our by-far-worst province, Quebec. It's worse than the US average, which crossed 1500 yesterday, and worse than most other nations, worse than poor Italy, poorer Portugal. But it wasn't that bad as US States go! The US has done so badly, you have to grade on the curve, and Iowa is the 16th-worst state, a long way behind the horrible failures of New York/New Jersey care homes. (Wealthy Connecticut was also dismal, at over 2000 deaths-per-million.)

But Iowa is special because its bad performance comes in spite of its (covid survival) virtues. It's nearly all-white; financially comfortable; provisioned with infrastructure, and extremely rural. Iowa's pandemic problem is its politics.

An introduction to that bag of snakes would start with this Atlantic article on their representative Steve King, tossed from the Republican party for his openly anti-Semitic and racist remarks, but still loved back home.

By last December, The Atlantic was even more torqued at Iowa, with the article "Iowa Is What Happens When Government Does Nothing", excoriating the state's awful pandemic performance, losing thousands of lives that could have been saved. They have a total population of just 3.1 million, but over 5,000 dead. Manitoba and Saskatchewan, together, have nearly that population (2.5 M), a similar geography, and just over 1,200 dead. Compared to them, Iowa tossed over three thousand lives away.

That article makes it plain that the performative-freedom-politics, where you pose yourself as a hero to the Common Man, fighting against Oppressive Government by opposing public health steps, is responsible. Example after example, of the government doing nothing, while government figures actively praise bad behaviour.

What cranked up this Iowa ill-will, is the more-astonished-than-angry article in the Post, "Welcome to Iowa, A State That Doesn't Care If You Live Or Die", a few days ago. At this moment, where everybody sees the variants taking over the case-load, where the scientists that were all right other times, are predicting a bad March, and worse April, Iowa just lifted all restrictions. Without explanation or warning.

If you only click on one of these articles, that's the one. Iowa is also the source of that story about the meat-plant managers betting on how many would get sick, after the plant forced workers back to work (or be fired), without PPE to protect them.

Hey, the vaccines are coming, right? Well, Iowa ranks 47 out of 50 in vaccine distribution. I've actually found a place, not far from here, that I pity more than Saskatchewan and Manitoba. Imagine having to live in an endless, featureless prairie, and also having terrible, useless, uncaring government by proud, upfront racists.


February 15: Random Factoids

Because it's population is almost exactly one-third of a billion, the United States will hit two round numbers in pandemic deaths, today, or early tomorrow, on worldometers:
  • Half a million dead, they're at 497,244 as I write, and over two thousand dead today is basically certain.

  • 1500 deaths per million, a "club" populated only by Belgium, UK, Italy, Portugal, Czechia, and a few small countries. The post on them hitting one thousand deaths per million, was just December 23rd.

  • On the other hand, today they will have vaccinated nearly 39 million Americans - about the exact population of all Canada!
Fortunately, their overall case-rate is in sharp decline, already, and their vaccinations, going well: today they will vaccinate over 2 million Americans, as Canada stuggles to reach vaccinating 1 million Canadians, over the last two months. Yeah, they're nine times our size...but vaccinating at over 100X the shots per day.

It took me an amazing amount of googling to answer one simple question: Where are the Israelis getting all those vaccines from, and how?

Every news article just noted "The vaccines arrived" without naming the source. Finally, I found the Financial Times link above. It's just those same European Pfizer factories that are supposedly denying Canada supply out of "Vaccine Nationalism".

Ummm...why does the vaccine nationalism not apply to Israel? How many soldiers did they sacrifice to defending Belgium, whom I think promised eternal gratitude and friendship at the time?

The FT says that Israel impressed Pfizer by promising the fastest, smoothest vaccine rollout ever (delivered, must admit), and full sharing of data, so that Pfizer would benefit from the quick win, and the natural experiment. I suppose that did benefit Pfizer, and our health-care bureaucracies, that had done so badly at testing, couldn't be expected to manage a fast vaccination. But still, letting the benefits to corporate image dictate national strategies seems blind.

We are members of NATO, so that our military can go do more dying for France and UK and Belgium, should they ever need it. I'm sure they'll promise Eternal Friendship on that occasion, too.

It's no surprise, of course, that "Vaccine Nationalism" applies to our relationship with the United States. Theoretically, they could have shared their manufacturing, agreed to vaccinate both nations in tandem, so that the infections on both side of the longest undefended border would decline in concert. We're so much smaller, they'd still be at 10% of the population done, instead of 11.6%, this morning. But hey, they only agreed Friday to lift the steel and aluminum tariffs for this morning's shipments; until today, we were still a "security risk"...and poor treatment of allies was about the least-mentioned sin of the last administration; Americans just barely care.

But, same deal: I'm sure we'll be hearing from them the next time they throw a war for us to go die in.


February 14: Valentine's Day Inspirations

I was thinking of putting two contrasting stories in, today: Bhutan, and Iowa. The former, lauded for success, the latter, excoriated for delusional pandemic failure. But, this is Valentine's Day, and the need for uplift as the cold front grinds on, is acute. Let's have two positive stories instead.

I can always crap on Iowa tomorrow. (Both their senators just voted to acquit. Screw 'em.)

It's this Atlantic story about the little kingdom of Bhutan, population 777,000; like Nepal next door, a mountain fastness on the northern edge of India.

Having success at the start of the pandemic was easy for these remote places. Bhutan has a small tourist industry by design; they always wanted low impact on their country, and ensure it's expensive. So it was easy to keep it out, at first.

But, that only works for a few months. If you don't have safe behaviours, a single case will become thousands, and in a few months; we've all watched it, over and over. Peru and Bolivia are remote from rich countries, and not big tourist draws, but both have been ravaged. Bhutan has kept it out, and kept it down. Down to nothing: they've had one case per thousand residents, (Canada has had 20). And one death, despite having only one ventilator. (Average income, about $3000.)

It won't surprise CCCC fans to know they've done it by a maximum of safe behaviours, and almost-astounding public-health competence.

Around midnight on March 6, Bhutan confirmed its first case of COVID-19: a 76-year-old American tourist. Six hours and 18 minutes later, some 300 possible contacts, and contacts of contacts, had been traced and quarantined. “It must have been a record,” Minister of Health Dechen Wangmo—a plain-spoken Yale-educated epidemiologist—told the national newspaper Kuensel, with evident pride.
The other Good News story is New Zealand, with Aukland going into a three-day lockdown because they had three unexplained cases.

For New Zealand, this is "a significant setback", but I'm thrilled by it. First, that the public-health system was that confident, and swift, and decisive. So much better than our nervous, tentative warnings about what we might have to do, please just be good.

Secondly, that they have this thing so whipped that the tiny outbreaks can be nailed with a mere three day lockdown. Three days? BC couldn't fix its current mess in less than three weeks.

I've been posting downer material for days, about case-rates that sit on shelves instead of declining, vaccines that aren't coming, trains rushing at us. It's nice to know that at least in some places, sanity and science have prevailed.


February 13: Vaccine Blame Game?

Who gets the blame? The USA is hitting 15% vaccinated today, we might hit 3%. We only have about 55% of our health-care workers done so far, and 12% of our over-80s, basically just the ones in long-term care. We will be at less than 10% six weeks from now, it's going so slowly.

Trudeau will get the blame, obviously, "the buck stops here". Certainly the provincial politicians will take none, though they actually have, always had, the power to make their own deals, as they did with PPE. Trudeau alone has no higher power to point to.

But Trudeau, and previous Prime Ministers, did let themselves be ruled over by the one overarching Ruler of the Earth: the Free Market. All the vaccine manufacturing is in other countries, not because Canadians forbade it, or chased it out; it was just a little cheaper, or a little closer to Home Office, to put everything in Europe and America.

It nice, I guess, that nobody is pointing fingers at "other countries", and making this a diplomatic fight. But there's no getting around it: our closest allies, for whom we did not have to send Canadians off to die in war, ever (we've never needed to defend ourselves since 1814; every Canadian soldier since has died for an ally) turned their backs on us, rather than take the kind of political heat that Mr. Trudeau now feels.

We've done a lot of dying for Europe, for Belgium and France. We did some recent dying in an apparently pointless, vain, war in Afghanistan, for America. Their 15% today, would still be 13.5%, if they'd committed to Canada and America vaccinating in tandem, each at the same rate. But nobody even discussed holding back the American program by one-tenth to keep our program at par. The very idea.

At least, now we know whom our friends are: not our military allies, and not those wonderful, innovative, enterprising entrepreneurs of the Free Market.

Well, CCCC attacks from the Left, if only to give readers a little variety from most news. Mr. Trudeau should make some noise about just nationalizing the Canadian Pharmaceutical Industry. The idea has had currency for some time. Normally, nationalization is crazy talk - humanity found out the hard way that government control of the economy is stinks on ice. But Big Pharma is such a tight, centralized oligopoly it's practically a government right now - just not a government that serves the public trust.

I'm not saying Mr. Trudeau should actually nationalize the whole industry; I'm saying he should make some noise about it - I just want to see the looks on their faces in the Parliamentary hearings.

If Trudeau can beg, threaten, or bargain for a flood of vaccines in the second quarter, he'll be saved. If not, he should deflect blame to the industry - make some noise about how they're an unelected government of Canadian Health Care, promise to fight against them for Canadians, point out a bunch of their sins (that should not be hard), and propose something populist, if not nationalization.

But just getting more deliveries instead would be far better. People remember the end of the story.


February 12: April Is the Cruelest Month

(From a TS Eliot Poem)
I'm not really on a different topic from yesterday, I'm just taking time to wallow in it a bit, obsess over it.

What multiple news sites and social media meme-forwarders are passing around is this model produced by people at Alberta Health, about what the B117 ("Kent", or "UK") variant means. Here's the very short version: the UK variant grows, under restrictions that do suppress the original, as fast as the original did with no restrictions. It will be a jump one year back to last April, only with all that explosive growth happening despite the current level of restrictions.

And I just changed that last sentence from "would be" to "will be", because I think that the public health people are simply resigned to letting it happen, so that people will agree to a "COVID Zero" grade of lockdown.

Norway has shown that a tight lockdown can control even the B117 variant. Their case-rate is stable again, their postive test rate down to 1%. But it took some tight restrictions, which the public health people are clearly not going to pro-actively order. This makes me very sad; we can see this train coming, know how much it will hurt when the train hits us, and we aren't getting off the track. When this graphic showed up, some were still hoping for a strong pro-active response, so that cases would be WAY down by March, the growth of the variant also suppressed, giving us more time to vaccinate. It's not happening. So, this graphic is now a prediction, not a just a warning.

The model shows the situation I discussed yesterday, where the case-rate is much higher than today, by the start of April - so high that the death-rate will soon be the same, despite everybody over 80 being protected.

The vaccinations will be picking up, and the over-70s will be kind of frantic to get them, as the ICUs fill up with people in their age-group, and some 60-somethings. Finally, there will be a lockdown, because people always do the right thing, when you hit them over the head repeatedly, and threaten their lives.

But it will, very predictably, be the cruelest month. I really feel like dropping this blog so I don't have to watch the train coming.


February 11: Resigned to an April Wave, Let's Calculate the Death-Rate

I won't even go over all the stuff that every other pandemic article, comparing case-trends, to variant expectations, to vaccination rates, save to sum up:
  • We are not going to push down the current wave very far before the variant(s) become dominant next month. Even Bonnie Henry seems to feel helpless to administer more restrictions.
  • In March, the variants become dominant, the R goes over 1. By April, cases will be soaring, and scaring people, probably resulting in a new lockdown.
  • The vaccinations by then, in Canada at least, will only have protected health-care, and a few other essential, workers, and those over about 75.
So, it will be like the Great Barrington boneheads got their wish: the old protected, and the rest of us just getting infected. How bad will it be?

Here's a very rough approximation, using the wrong statistical technique: just chopping off the deaths over age 75 on the chart at upper left. They're agout 252,000, compared to 169,000 deaths under age 75, in the US, that is, the under-75s are 40% of the total dying. (Half of those are 65-74, so one can imagine their frantic search for a vaccination, by April.) So, will the death-rate per 1000 cases be about 40% of current numbers?

That's probably close enough for such inexact estimation, but it's not how you do it. You have to subtract the protected from the current case-distribution. (12% should be in the mostly protected, over-70 group). Then you treat the remaining 88% as 100%, and have to bump up their death-rate, because they are now all of the cases. Roughly.

It doesn't make a lot of difference; the death-rate will be about half what it was, with 1000 younger people being all of 1000 cases, than with 1000 people, of whom one-eighth are old.

Right now, BC and Alberta cannot seem to get much below 700 cases per day, and have nearly 20 deaths per day. Suppose we have it down to 400 by early March, when it starts going up again, because variants bypass our restrictions. By mid-April, they could be at thousands of cases per day. Once it hits double the current 700, once it hits 1400/day, the death count will be the same, then start going up...and few of the dead will be very old.

That will be the point where there will either be a massive, well-run vaccine program going full steam - or political heads will roll. The complaining right now is nothing.


February 10: Shun "The Sociables", A Menace to Us All

A regular CCCC reader is among the culprits identified by a large group of curlers and physicians as the real problem with the pandemic: socializing.

The words above link to the most-viewed story on CBC News this morning: that the scare we all got a year ago, when 40 of 73 doctors and nurses at a prairie curling bonspiel got COVID-19 in a matter of a few days.

So, the doctors struck back with science, making data-lemonade out of the viral lemons, interviewed everybody about their contacts in detail, and how many secondary infections there were. The came up with one conclusion of special interest to the general public: it was the socializing. Seventeen of the 18 teams that participated had at least one case. The only exception was the team that skipped all social events.

Turn that around to a victory statement: they curled with people that were all turning positive and shedding virus, who were all getting it from each other, and were unscathed.

That means that curling itself can be a safe activity! So, perhaps, can be all those children's sports that many are hesitant to re-start. Hockey can hardly be more dangerous than curling, (except for head injuries, of course).

And, again, and again, we see the blame pointed at those darn "sociables". Not, maybe the world-famous "The Sociables", gang of Brier SuperFans that delight the crowds (and bored news cameramen) pictured at top, (picture links to their story). They've been out of business since that bonspiel scared the bejezus out of the whole sport.

But, the sociables, more generally, are the problem with everything. We can probably do more activities - sport, business, school - as long as we avoid the stuff that humans do when they socialize: face each other and open their mouths.

So: everybody stop doing that, and we'll be fine.


February 9: Handicapping the COVID Cup by Age Demographics

About ten years ago, I caught most of a lecture by David Foot, the Canadian Demographer who wrote "Boom, Bust, and Echo", and explained how "demographics is destiny", how much of society can be predicted by just looking at it's "Population Pyramid", as with Canada's, at left, in 2006. (The most recent year he had for all provinces, in his lecture). The overall Canada pyramid is the colourful background to all the graphics below.

With Canada, you can see that in 2006, there was a lot of population in the 40-55 demographic, and you can still see all the "extra" females over 80, compared to the men, dead of WW2, and earlier health mortality. You can also note the dearth of Canadians in the 0-14 age group - the size of the "under 5" bar is how big the "40-45" bar would be in 40 years, were it not for all our immigration. (This is why we have high immigration: if the 45-year-olds want somebody to sell their houses to in 25 years, there wouldn't be enough 30-year-olds buying then to avoid a housing crash, save for immigration.)

Anyway, that's the kind of stuff his lecture was about: when will various economic needs change because they're age-specific. Like houses. And medicine.

The other graphs, as for Alberta here, show the target population as the white outlines superimposed on the Canadian average.

Alberta has a lot more people in the 0-35 demographic, in 2006, and probably still does, because Alberta gets so much young immigration, from other countries and other provinces.

Similarly, above age 55, Alberta has relatively few senior citizens, compared to the rest of Canada.

By the time you get up to age 80+, the "COVID Death Zone", Alberta is really defincient. The province really has an easier time of it with COVID death counts.

For a sharp contrast, Quebec has the opposite situation: short of teenagers and kids, a little short of young workers, and has way more old people.

For those incensed at "transfer payments", here they are. There are not actual transfers. All that journalists mean when they say "transfer payments" is that income tax revenues are higher per capita in some provinces than others. When you think of Alberta "transferring" to Quebec, it's often Quebecois that moved to Alberta to work and pay taxes, which are consumed by their mother in the care-home in Quebec. At least until recently, when several thousand died.

When you subtract out the part of "transfer payments" that is just "young people paying into Social Security and old people taking it out", there's often not much left to complain about.

The differences between Alberta and Quebec may cause some loud "transfer payment" complaints, but they don't explain more than a little of the huge number of dead in Quebec. Quebec does not have twice the old people as Alberta; it's more like Alberta is 10% below Canadian average, and Quebec, 10% above.

For a real contrast, you can look at different countries, as Foot's lecture did. The terrible death toll in Italy in the beginning, and the extreme fears that people have about the Italian economy in coming years, are clear on this pyramid. Italy really DOES have double the number of old people that Canada does, and an extreme deficiency of kids and young adults. (Remember to add 10 years to this 2010 chart: the lack of those 20-29 is now for 30-39, and there's even fewer 20-29 than in 2010. Italy really, really needs immigration.

Aging countries like this will be struggling with any pandemic, since few of them are kind to the old.

For the biggest possible contrast, you can't do better than India, though I could have put up the age pyramid for our own Nunavut, and it would look the same: just a huge number of young, young people, and almost no oldsters.

I'm actually repeating myself, from 10 months ago in early April, comparing Italy and India, when the blog was barely started. Having found the original Foot graphics that compare them to Canada, I wanted to go over it again, as we consider how desperately the third world needs those vaccines. They do, absolutely. The urgency for those besides health-care workers, however, is not the same.

India is just inherently incapable of having the same death-rate from the pandemic, because so much less of her population is over 40.


February 8: Oh, Yes, I'd Take the 50% Vaccine. And Be Done.

Two Christmases back, I went through a week of minor hell. My then-86-year-old mother-in-law across the hall (we were visiting for Christmas) went through a week of minor hell, after first a week of major hell. The Flu.

Now both the minor and major hell terms are adjusted for "just a flu at home"; it was bad by that standard, where you're so tired you can't read, where sitting up for supper and two hours' of TV every 24 is a major athletic achievement. And of course, the endless misery in the throat, down through all the lungs, just holding on. But I don't mean that hospital needs were looming, not even for Dora during her first, worst week.

But that's all normal. People get flu every year or three, even get it that bad every decade or so; I'm sure I've been through several like that in my life, forgotten most of them - they're normal. Unpleasant, very, but not scary.

If a shot can reduce COVID-19 to no worse than that, I'm done. The pandemic is over for me, because the disease has been reduced to a normal, unfrightening, acceptable event in my life. I'd take that "only 50% effective" shot today, as my only further protection, because it's 100% effective at preventing "severe illness"...which, when a physician says it, means "severe enough to call me". I'm taking that to mean the minor hell I remember is the worst I could then expect from COVID-19. So I'd be done. I live with that already.

Dora has just turned 89, and while she has no underlying conditions - at 89, she's on one pill, the most minimial blood-pressure prescription, and shoveled the walk for an hour this week - a flu as bad as December 2018 might risk her life this year, or next. If the same symptoms hit again, she might need a few days under care - and for her demographic, any hospital would be worrisome indeed.

The vaccine experiments are not getting into that - when somebody is so weak that they can be killed by almost any flu-like symptoms, preventing even them is an almost impossible. We try with the flu itself every year, but every year, flu deaths are considered normal, and even merciful, endings for some.

If COVID-19 is reduced to only as deadly as the flu already is, in care homes, then again, the pandemic is over even for them. We, and they, have already been accepting the cost of "flu season", for decades. Maybe we shouldn't, but that's our culture. COVID-19 will become a normal part of it.

Needless to say, if we have 50% vaccines and 95% vaccines, the old people (75+) all get the best ones. For the rest of us, though, it's kind of a shrug. Or should be. I plan to shrug, and line up for whatever they've got.


February 7: Quebec's CCCC Milestone Passed Last Week

COVID Cup Standings, North American Deaths-per-Million
The news will be mentioning that Quebec has passed 10,000 dead in its own right. I only flashed a guilty start: I'd missed the CCCC version of a milestone, when they passed 1000 deaths-per-million, (the CCCC metric of COVID-Cup victory or failure), early last week. (Or week before, it being Sunday today.) They're doing most of Canada's dying, recently, and have already passed 1200 deaths-per-million.

Quebec has done badly, very badly. It must be noted that they have the oldest demographic age-pyramid in Canada, they just have a lot more old people to catch it. They have been twice as bad as the next-worst province (Ontario) since the start. Quebec looked as bad as the UK last July.

Well, one thing has changed from that chart, relatively: Quebec is no longer as bad as the UK. Quebec may have doubled her deaths-per-million to over 1200, in seven months, but the UK has nearly tripled their number, now up to 1,651 dead per million.

As this chart shows, Quebec, which looks awful compared to other Canadians, shows up pretty high on this overall North American listing.

All of Canada (save Quebec) would be among the very best, were we American states. Our own BC, and the two million in Atlantic and Northern Canada, are better than any. Saskatchewan, beaten by a hair, only by wealthy, lily-white Vermont.

BC is no longer twice as smart as Alberta, that I foolishly bragged about just weeks ago. Our continued high cases have us down to 25% better, and Alberta, for all Kenney's missteps, would rank in the top-five US states in the intramural COVID Cup standings.

Even Ontario would, actually: only four US states have it better. The disappointment of 2021 so far has been Manitoba, which kept to the lowest of COVID Cup scores for nearly a year, then slipped recently, now Canada's second-worst province after Quebec. Worse news for them, their decline-in-cases of recent weeks looks more like the slow, stuttering decline of BC, than the steady, and steep declines of Ontario and Quebec.

As with my Alberta/BC ranking of a few weeks back, the pandemic never gives you a breath to assume that current standings will remain. Germany had a huge wave. The USA is vaccinating much more quickly than we are: they are nearly at 12% with shots, while we languish at 2.4%, a fifth as much. They could start pulling ahead in a matter of weeks.

When you look at the numbers, its hard to avoid a clear recommendation: what vaccines we have, give to Quebec. They have a lot of seniors, and I would say they have a bad government. Rather than saying "well, they deserve this, then", we should have a care, show some national solidarity, and prioritize vaccine distribution by risk, just as we did with First Nations communities.

Being treated like Canada's problem province is punishment enough. That, and ten thousand dead.


February 6: Everybody Read the "Get To Zero" Screed

Apparently, Andrew Nikiforuk's analysis and polemic at The Tyee is now their most-forwarded item ever.

It's richly deserved. It's got people asking Dr. Bonnie Henry questions in news conferences, has her denying that its call for "Get To Zero" is even possible.

This isn't recent news, the original story has just been building for a whole week. It isn't going away. The link just above notes how many experts support Nikiforuk's call, and links in turn to the "Canadian Shield" strategy document that makes the same call for a rapid push-down on transmission.

CCCC is just joining in, after a week, because I'm not even sure that we are reducing cases at the pathetic rate of R=0.92 that I calculated the other day. Yesterday's case-count was back up again, barely below 500; we're leaving ourselves sitting ducks for the variants to spike that up to thousands in March.

Secondly, Nikiforuk, for all his popularity with people-who-read, might as well be a voice crying in the wilderness, next to all the talk of re-opening, now that curves have been crushed down to merely the size that frightened us last Spring. Everybody is talking about Whistler, but nobody is doing anything about it.

Thousands of jobs in Whistler hang in the balance, the news stressed. Can't they at least threaten them with closure, discuss the idea, just to encourage them to smarten up all that staff-socializing apparently at fault?

The contrast between the casual attitudes of the politicians and business community, and the five-alarm noises coming from the science community, is dramatic and frightening. Everybody read your Nikiforuk, today, and get ready to join the outcry. When the case-load starts rising, it'll be too late.


February 5: The Real Reason to Double-Mask

Double-masking? Does it work? We aren't sure. Does it make you feel better if you're anxious? Sure, but so do many meaningless rituals.

The important step, always, is to experiment. I tried putting two on. The thin, very comfortable one from the Aquarium, then Connie's home-made heavy-fabric one on top, with the brilliant wire across the top that lets you mold it around your nose.

It was comfortable; I could breathe fine, actually, and had a feature that made it way better. I wished I'd tried it months ago. I'm never going back to single-masking, at least, not except in mid-summer.

It practically halted the steaming-up of my glasses! I've been wrestling with that problems for months, through the late-Fall and Winter. The wire-over-nose masks really helped, but often needed adjustment. Double-masking wasn't perfect, either, but once I got the two settled together and the wire tamped down, it was the least-steamy vision I'd had since August.

So, that's that, then. Normally, asking for "more" of any sort - more distance, say, has to balance return against cost, even if the cost is "annoyance". In this case, though, I repeat that I wished I'd tried this in September. I hope I'm getting some extra protection and doing my bit; but double-masking, everybody with glasses will want to do, anyway.


February 4: BC Finally Declining - Just Barely

Other news sources have already noted that BC is clearly, finally, in declining cases, after sitting on that 500-cases-per-day "ledge" for a week or more. Well, breathe out a sigh of relief, but not a large one.

I waited long enough to apply my non-patented, (also, non-reliable) method of calculating "R" in seconds - taking the case-rate five days apart and dividing - to yesterday's case-rate divided by January 30. It's 0.92, just enough to cut our case-rate in half - if we keep this up for forty days and forty nights, to the middle of March. Then another forty days - end of April - to cut it in half again. Sometime in May, we'd get down to the case-rate at the peak of the first wave. In short, we are just barely in decline. It's not enough.

The variants would blow us away like lint, if they were prevalent; the lowest estimate is that one adds 0.4 to the "R", taking us up to 1.33, a 50% increase per week.

The decline of December would be more like it: at 0.85, we'd cut it in half in 20 days, be at the peak of first-wave by end of March. Unfortunately, "end of March" is about when the variants will have become dominant, and the calculation doesn't include that. Even 0.85 would probably not be enough to save us from the variants before the vaccine cavalry comes over the hill, about summer.

I'm calculating as I write, here, but my first approximation is: we're still screwed. We have to do more. This is encouraging, but still frightening.

As for any "relaxations", give me a break. Unthinkable.


February 3: Let's Hope Israel Falls off a Cliff

--- Cases --- --- Deaths
...just their case-rate, I mean. Readers will have to forgive the rough-hewn graphics effort at left; a blog isn't supposed to be all polished. (And I suck at polish, anyway.)

The odd increases in both case-rate and death-rate for Israel over the last few days, I'm sure are the old problem of "dip in figures over the weekend, spike on Monday as they catch up paperwork".

Israel has generally been on a rather steep downside of the deadly curves for a month now, courtesy of a pretty serious lockdown. Their "R" (roughly approximated by the case-rates five days apart) is about 0.86, lately. Even the heartening American decline was only 0.83, recently moderated to 0.89.

But, basically, they are still near the peak of a bad second curve, when they amazed the world by vaccinating 1, sometimes 2 percent of their population every day. They have will hit 60% later today, for first doses. One-sixth of their population is now at 28 days, 7 days past the second dose and at 90% immunity or higher. Fifty percent is a week past their first dose, and at perhaps 80% immunity. And, of course, they are still innoculating at a wonderful rate of 10% of the population every 8 days, should hit "herd immunity" in a week or so.

So the whole world is watching Israel case-rates right now. If their daily-cases stop declining at the rate of by 14% every five days, and start declining at, say, 50%, or even 60%, every five days, we all get a glimpse into our own futures. It'll be like a sped-up movie, the decline like falling off a cliff, because of the combination of their jaw-dropping vaccination rate, changing the population almost overnight, and the high rate they started from. (When we vaccinate Prince Edward Island, nobody will notice.)

It's a odd feeling, and a very pleasurable one, to say something nice about Israel for a change. They've got me so inspired and impressed that I'm minded to offer the country a respectful suggestion:

You'll be done vaccinating your whole country in a matter of weeks. Now that the team is running a full speed, why not keep them on, and start vaccinating the heck out of all your neighbours? If only to see the astonishment on their faces, when your doctors show up.


February 2: A Year After "Red Dawn"

At left, a screen shot from the original "Red Dawn", the nickname for an e-mail chain among infectious disease specialists almost exactly a year ago.

They were talking about their concerns about the new COVID-19 pandemic, and especially of their problems with those minimizing it. The Pentagon had just waved off the disease with a comment that Wuhan just "had a bad flu season". Dr. James Lawless, U. Nebraska, is here commenting on that understatement.

Lawless is in the news again (link at image) because near the end of February 2020, just after the first US deaths on February 20, calculated that the US could lose 480,000 souls to it. Worldometers just cracked 450,000 the other day, and they are still losing over 3,000 per day. They will hit that 480,000 just before the one-year anniversary of the first death, giving Lawless a 99% accuracy rating.

What we heard at the time were "models", like Nigel Ferguson's two months later, that offered numbers from 50,000 to 2.2 million for America's risks. Lawless was just throwing out a number from the middle of a wide range; it's really dumb luck ("luck", hah) that he happened to nail it so very closely.

I'm eager (so to speak) to get on with a few topics that need another day or so of data - is BC finally back to crushing the curve? Will Israel now show a really dramatic case decline? But now that we are hitting various anniversaries, I thought to take a day off to look back.

We still don't know how much worse it will get; the variants have thrown all our hard-won expertise of a year into the trash bin. Lawless warns of the possibility of hundreds of thousands more. So much depends on the acceptance of the vaccines, on mutation rates.

The one-year anniversary may not be Red Sunset, but only Red Afternoon.


February 1: Biden's Path to Victory

The path is between these two graphs. "Path to victory" has become a well-worn phrase in US presidential election coverage, but here it's the path to the Big Biden Pandemic Victory Party.

Biden's path to being seen as America's adult-president saviour and virus warrior rests on two things: keeping a lid on the ever-faster-spreading virus for six months, and getting to vaccine-based herd immunity in about that time.

He's off to a terrific start, from a week before he was inaugurated. As the graph shows, daily cases peaked 8 days before the inaugural - the newsies hardly noticed because of all the drama around the military occupation of Washington at the time. So Biden basically gets all the credit, in the public mind.

Can he keep that up? So hard to say, as it's all about human behaviour. But, if, just if, his haters are tired of anti-mask demonstrations and all that, if he can just promote a lot more mask-wearing successfully, there's no reason that the whole American curve can't be crushed again. Even the extreme-right Dakotas have done it already. Biden may also get credit for all the harsh lessons the virus itself has taught America this last Fall.

The other half is that he has to do significantly better than his million-vaccinations-a-day promise. There's no reason why not. Unlike Canada, America has the economic and diplomatic muscle to ensure that vaccine makers don't neglect it, and its own manufacturing. His promise was timid: it had already been 60% done, if mostly from state efforts, despite bumbling federal "help".

How is the 1.3M doses/day, shown on the right, only 60% of the way there? Remember, it's two doses per PERSON. The vaccination rate will, about now, have to accomodate those showing up for their second shot.

Biden's real goal, for PR purposes, can be calculated. Today is 153 days from July 4th, 2021. They have vaccinated 31 million Americans, and 70% of the American population (herd immunity) is 21 million. So Biden has 153 days to vaccinate almost exactly 200 million people with 400 million doses (and another 25 million for those already dosed once). Then he can stand up on the steps of the Capitol again, on Independence Day, and declare American Independence from the tyranny of the virus. That actually requires the game to be pushed up further from 1.65M/day to 2.84M/day, an increase of 72%.

Making that declaration at the start of summer, rather than Fall, would make it an exultant summer where socializing was widespread, and the economy came roaring back with a vengeance.

If he can pull all that off, it'll be a bigger victory than any since WW2.


January 31: Indiana University, the South Korea of Universities

Boy, do I have a heartwarming, inspiring, uplifting story for you.

The people who aggressively fight masks, and distance, and complain, complain, about restrictions, are actually my second-biggest peeve of the pandemic. The worst are the people who are supposedly trying to fight it, but do so with slow, stupid, blind, incompetence, and even if those are absent, with plodding, timid unwillingness to innovate or change.

Universities are often Big Dumb Bureaucracies that exhibit the worst of the latter, but all of them are charged with the opposite: with being society's innovators and developers. Some universities, as the linked article notes, have done bad, dumb jobs at protecting their community, and those are all over our news pages, pleading against parties and having to close.

The story of Indiana University reminds us that they have for a thousand years been separate communities, "town and gown", giving them a kind of autonomy to work out their own community solutions:

"Fortunately, large universities can find ways to tackle society's toughest problems, including the need for new ways to detect infections en masse. Last spring, Rutgers developed a saliva-based test that didn't rely on medical professionals to collect nasopharyngeal swabs. "
(CCCC decried that nobody was using the easier testing, that we could have had almost daily testing. Public health remained impenetrable to the new ideas, but a University had independence to run its own health-care system and just adopt them! Envy...Universities, of course, have their own labs!)

"Through a partnership with medical educators and government officials in Kenya, many of our local faculty and staff had gained expertise in health-care initiatives requiring substantial community outreach. With their help, we hired and trained a corps of contact tracers. Early in the pandemic, I had marveled at how Singapore had a goal of tracking down the source of each identified COVID-19 infection within two hours. In the fall, IU's median time to close a case was half of that."

...

"Collecting a huge quantity of samples was an additional logistical nightmare. But at IU, we realized that our event staff - which has experience at moving massive numbers of people and equipment for football and basketball games, concerts, and commencements - could run our testing operation. Our information-technology services, adept at collecting and processing data as well as building websites and apps, could create dashboards, set up tracking systems, and process test results. And when other institutions found ways to innovate, we copied them."

...I'll stop before I just copy the whole article. Here's your final point: the sum of their work, where huge numbers of people are tested constantly, outbreaks shut down same-day, people kept safe...was $700 per student.

Could Canada have afforded $700 per citizen for massive testing and contact-tracing that would have allowed a semblance of normality, a lot of business, and of course, education? A real hit, some $27 billion, but of course, we could have done it. We just weren't as smart as Indiana U.

The conceit of this blog is that the pandemic is a "game", or really, a test, to which all nations (and provinces and states) are subjected, some doing well. As universities are, of ancient tradition, their own little states, the freshman class for 2021 can judge them by how honestly, and cleverly, and competently they met the challenge. That makes Indiana Univerity the top of the new Ivy League.

This article really buoyed up my day, though the rain is crashing down again. Strongest possible recommendation.


January 30: Blame Everybody But Fraser

Boy, did I miss a beat yesterday, thinking the blame was all evenly distributed. I was so focused on just the last few weeks, when cases "levelled off", that I didn't look back at the earlier context.

When I got my SQL going well, and a pivot table up, I was able to quickly add and subtract health regions from the graphs, and I finally saw that Fraser and the rest (primarily us here in Vancouver Coastal) have different histories.

Fraser, to be clear, still has a higher per-capita infection rate than the rest, and is most of the infections. Notice that the scales on these graphs are different, the Fraser nearly twice as many as the rest put together. (Fraser is 1.8M, the rest together, just over 3M, people.)
In both graphs, there's a levelling-off for most of January: but Fraser is levelling off after two months of steady decline. The rest of us declined until Christmas, had that "Christmas Bump"...and just levelled off at the new, higher, bad level. We haven't really gone down in cases since December.

Fraser still needs to get back to decline, that high per-capita is the biggest transmission problem in BC. But the behaviour the rest of us are displaying is execrable: actually increasing case-loads, if anything, while the doctors plead for responsibility. Never mind how many people at Whistler come from out-of-province: right now, nobody should be coming from in-province, either. Go cross-country skiing.

My dithering about why this is happening was answered clearly by Dr. Henry in yesterday's conference: it's socializing. It's NOT work. It's not that Fraser people have to go into buildings to work. The contact-tracing is coming back with "social contacts", over and over. She says, that even infections at work aren't happening while working; they're happening in the coffee room, over lunch, and in meetings with no masks. Meetings with NO MASKS? You idiots.

But most of it isn't even at work, it's in small gatherings, within families, within groups of friends at home. We have to cut that out.

We're doing a weekend games-party with former work people tonight. There will be chicken wings, chips, beers and shots, and good times. And games, all over Zoom. We can suck that up a few more months.


January 29: Blame Evenly Distributed

Well, that was pretty much the waste of a half-day. I found that BC has a download available of all 66,000 cases - only noted as to gender, health region, date, and age-decade. I blew many hours getting it into an SQL database, where I figured I could work reporting magic upon it, as I did through a whole career.

Then, more hours looking for the "culprit" in the phenomenon of BC simply going level on its case-count for the last two weeks. (See left.) We were starting down the curve, I had it figured we'd be down to low counts by March. Then we just...levelled off. At the unfortunate figure of over 500 cases/day.

Who was not getting their numbers down? Is this Fraser, home to many who work with their hands for a living, catching it at work? Were Vancouver Coastal (those "coastal elites", the smug swine) doing too much partying? Was it going down in some regions, but not in others?

The numbers, for the 7-day-average (anything else is crazy-making, you get huge "dips" on the weekends) for the last two weeks, by region.

None of them change. It's remarkable, really, the consistency across all five health regions - not one goes up or down much in the last two weeks.

If you want to pick on somebody, pick on Fraser - their infections-per-day is about a third more per capita than the other large region, Vancouver Coastal. (1.8 million for Fraser vs 1.2 million for Coastal - they have nearly double the cases with only 45% more people). But Fraser is steady, not getting worse.

We're all not doing enough. Dr. Bonnie has asked for "more" and got the reply, basically "what more can we do?". Well, our stores and restaurants are all still open.

Dr. Bonnie, people are NOT listening to you. NONE of us. I don't see what choice you have but to close up some stuff, if only to get our attention. We seem to be thinking this is just normal, what more can we do.

The variants are coming. Time is short. Let's get drastic.


January 28: Canadian Shield

Thanks to Alan Beairsto for the tip on this. As near as I can tell, the physicians and other experts involved in "Canadian Strategic Choice" and the promotion of a set of COVID protective strategies they call "The Canadian Shield", don't want your help. Their page doesn't solicit membership, donations, or calls to your MP.

That's weird, in this day and age, but I get it. Most of the "public" input on the pandemic has been from nutbars; if I were an MP, I'd have three layers of filters between public pandemic comments, and my in-box. The group seems to be restricted to scientists, petitioning the government for tight controls on borders, brief, tight lockdowns, and quick response to increased infections with immediate restrictions. They have economic analyses, political-popularity analyses - these were the kids who did extra homework.

They're right, obviously - pandemic strategies have always been pretty obvious, in general, only the specifics ever need tweaks. We're still arguing about whether to increase restrictions as we watch infections rise, which is the very definition of "out of touch" (with the pandemic).

They may have left nothing for me to click on to support them, but I think I'll write my MP anyway - on paper - and drop it at her office.

It's not like there's any time.


January 27: What If We Get a Movie Ending?

...that would be terrible.

By "movie ending", I mean the standard, inevitable one, only tweaked a bit by The Andromeda Strain, (1969), the novel and instant movie about the alien plague, that was stopped by the medical team in the underground laboratory.

Michael Crichton was the only writer I've known to even partially subvert the dramatic convention that any countdown-to-disaster must only be averted with a second or so left. Preferably, with the audience browbeaten by a large, generally red digital countdown clock. (These clocks are invariably present on bombs that were never intended to be found, as well.)

In Strain, the nuclear bomb will destroy the facility to contain the disease, must be stopped by a man climbing the internal core, against the defensive system - he makes it, stops the bomb, but needs hospital treatment. When he wakes up, he's told that the countdown - which he did not know, no timer, rule-break number one - was at 35 seconds.

"Hah! 35 seconds! Not even close!"

But just for fun, Crichton throws in them telling him: "Well, exciting for us - all air is normally sucked out of our level at 30 seconds to detonation". This is still subversion of the usual trope, because (a) it was more seconds than the usual 1 or 2, and (b) we only find out when everybody is laughing later.

Other than that brave violation of norms, by a 29-year-old first-time author that was tired of those endings 51 years ago, it's been countdowns to the last second, as a rule.

Nobody wants that drama in real life, however addictive for screenwriters. But you have to wonder, as we read that AstraZeneca can't produce as much early vaccine as they thought, whether we get a movie ending to the pandemic.

If the vaccinations are nowhere near 50% by April - and that's likely - and if the variants are as scary-good transmitters as they fear, then the infection rate could just explode in the Spring, right past all efforts at lockdown.

That's just a disaster movie, Contagion here at last, but if we don't have enough vaccines in February and March, we may have more than we can inject by April or May. Jump back to my post about excess sanitizer ... our commercial systems and supply chains, crazed with lust to win the race for those sweet, sweet vaccine profits, may be in overdrive, and showering us with the stuff by summer. In my movie, this is just when the new, worst-ever, wave, starts causing panic, because we spent April locking down again, and May discovering it didn't work.

At which point, everybody who can possibly give the jab may be pressed into service: drug stores, dentists, safe-injection centres, school nurses. A race that gets more frantic every week.

I would rather not have the movie ending, thank-you very much; but the virus, and its laws of evolution, are in charge, and since the vaccine companies couldn't possibly be under more pressure, there's little more we can do but get the stuff out promptly and efficiently.


January 26: Hear Me, Oh Israel: Well Done.

Quebec is a somewhat-separate culture within a larger country, a province with its own health care, justice, and pension systems - of just under 10 million people. Israel is a very-separate country in a hostile region - and just under 10 million people.

One is at 45% vaccination, one at 2.6%. Enough said about that. Everybody's talking about that issue, but I just wanted to pile on. Israel is proof it can be done, and should have everybody demanding to know what our problem is. (OUR problem - I only picked out Quebec because of the same population as Israel.)

Nope, my main topic is the good news from Israel. In a very, very large "trial", there are now over 128,000 Israelis that have had their second shot, and a week for their systems to process that, and another week to see if they still caught COVID.

In the general population, 0.65% caught it that, week. Among the fully vaccinated, twenty people out of 128,000 did: 0.015%. In other words, they've validated the "95% protection" claim with really large numbers.

It gets better: [Research Analyst] "Ekka Zohar also noted that she found that none of the 20 vaccinees was hospitalized or suffered from a fever higher than 38.5 degrees."

It does not get better for sane people, but might help the nutbars, that there's no news of autism, paralysis, or any other vaccine boogeymen, after millions of people have had the first shot.

This really confirms it, for any of little faith: we have the tools to get out of this mess. COVID will be around for decades, taking a nibble here and there, even staging an outbreak when it mutates enough to need a new vaccine, but our new mRNA technology will strike back with amazing speed every time, and it is all but finished as a predator, as a drag on our society. It may have to become a yearly re-vaccination. So what? I'm fine with that. If the new vaccine research gives us a yearly "stops most colds" shot, I'll happily line up for flu, cold, and covid vaccines - maybe they can make a yearly cocktail.

It's Israel, of all nations, that got to proclaim the human victory over our common enemy to all. Nearly every piece of news out of Israel has been depressing, or even infuriating, for me, for three decades. I'm so pleased to say something nice.


January 25: Pity Poor Portugal

I admit it, I didn't even look at Portugal yesterday because it's filed with Greece, and Vietnam, and Cuba in my mental list of "Pandemic Hero Nations that did a great job with no money somehow". (Mostly with obedient lockdown behaviour - I think in Greece and Portugal because of strong culture ... Vietnam and Cuba, maybe more the soldiers that enforced quarantines.)

Then, today, it's mentioned by Reuters has having become one of the worst spots in Europe. Then I checked the numbers, and holy cow, just look at them. Look at that tiny, barely-there, brilliantly small first wave, way back. Their second wave started later than others, not late summer, but well into October.

A month later, they were pushing it down well enough, then as the Christmas season hit, the crushing stalled - practically on Christmas Day, it turned sharply around and took off like a jackrabbit, just crazy growth.
And now, the story gets horrifying. Portugal today, has a 7-day average at over 12,000 cases per day. They have just over a quarter of the population of Canada, so it's like Canada having 46,000 cases per day.

Their death rate today, is passing 230 per day, as if Canada were losing 860 Canadians per day. If they follow the usual pandemic statistics, they will be losing over two and half times as many in three more weeks, perhaps 600 per day , for a population of just over 10 million. And then, even worse, probably - look a that case-count chart, it's not even starting to level off. Portugal is going to hit those terrible numbers like 1800 dead per million, currently only suffered by the UK, USA, Belgium.

It might help to compare to the famous, terrible American death-counts of 3,000/day and every 4,000/day recently. 600/day for Portugal is like America losing 20,000 per day. That's how they'll go from heroes to bottom-of-the-league in eight weeks flat.

It's so sobering. "Time and fortune makes fools of us all", and certainly the pandemic does. I'll be not surprised if the next stories of viral ravages come from New Zealand or South Korea. If it can happen to Portugal, it can happen to anybody.

What happened? Hard to tell - Portgual isn't much noticed in the news. Everything I could search up was about the election they had the other day, in the middle of all this. The story is probably between the lines in this Reuters article from weeks ago. They relaxed lockdown over Christmas, and one suspects, people got really "relaxed", must have visited everybody, lulled by their long success, and the apparent crushing of the second wave.

But between the lines, the story is about maybe meeting next week to decide to lock back down again...despite the date, January 7, being after cases were already higher than the peak of their second wave, and had been going up like a rocket for 10 days. They responded too slowly, and it got away from them, just that fast.

Pity poor Portugal, and take heed.


January 24: A Survey of Europe's Third Wave

You can't keep up with this thing. Readers are starting to send me pandemic-reading recommendations, and I'm not getting to them. Will the race between vaccination and the new fast-spreading variant, end in a crushed third wave, or a massive one? Will Colchesine and antibody treatments make it a shrug to get the disease?

We Skyped to the fam in Spain yesterday, and I was blindsided as they remarked how bad their third wave was got, though it's receding now. Third wave?

Oh, yeah. While North America was only reading their own staggering pandemic numbers and arguing politics, much of Europe is fighting a third wave, with success, while we can't push down our second.

Europe is large, and it's pandemics are very different, just across borders between similar countries, like Belgium and France (Canada and USA can relate.) So I'm going with a good 'ol 1994 HTML table:

Country GraphCountry CCCC
Britain has deeply screwed itself. As anybody I respect would agree, this started with the election of Boris Johnson, and his pandemic strategy is working out every bit as well as his Brexit strategy. They are sort-of in a third wave, though the second wave never really ended; it went down to much higher than the top of their first wave, and now has gone to world-record heights. Boris has completely ruined my thesis about the USA doing the worst in the developed world.

There's nothing much to say here, save that their Oxford vaccine is their only saving grace now. While their numbers are going down, the variant they discovered will soon be the virus there is, and a fourth wave in March will be worse yet.

Spain has been pretty good at lockdowns, take it seriously, and crushed their second wave much better. The third has been way worse again, and because they responded slowly. Christmas traditions are very deep in Spain, family visiting an even higher priority, so Christmas was bad, and they're just starting to get a grip on it.
Italy, on the other hand, the worst-hit of all Europe last spring, is really still crushing their second wave; it had a "Christmas Bump" that doesn't really deserve the term "third wave", and now they're pushing that down. All hail, Italy; what are they doing right?
France is really different from the whole rest of the continent and most of the world. They crushed the second wave before the Christmas season started, and had no holiday bump - what they've got is a slow, steady increase in numbers, that isn't remotely exponential. While they're in epidemic status - increasing numbers - it looks good compared to the UK and even Spain. Not to be fooled, of coruse: their slow wave is has been averaging a death-rate of 400/day, twice as bad as Canada, by population. Not a success story, just not a disaster story.
Belgium surprised everybody with how bad it got last spring. We think of it as the most well-run of nations because its the seat of the EU, where edicts about trade always come "from Brussels". Then it soars to the worst death-counts, because it turned out to have a lot of vulnerable old people.

Well, they took heed: this is the fastest crushing of a second wave anywhere, and no third wave whatsoever, no Christmas bump, nothing. Again, not a success story compared to Canada: their death rate has just this week dropped down to the same as Canada's, by population. As ours peaks this week and heads down, I hope it declines as fast as Belgium's though: they're good at this once they get going.

And Germany is just weird. They've been struggling with, but not beating a huge second wave for three months now, and only since the New Year are there signs that they're winning at last. Germany was our hero until last Fall; a tiny first wave, totally crushed like a bug, held it down all summer.

Now, it's Endless Bummer.

If they can't shake off the pandemic fatigue thing, or whatever is keeping their infections up, the variant is going to lay a severe beating upon them. Come on, Germany: pull yourselves together and get in the game.


January 23: Canada "Advances" to 500 Club in COVID Cup

It happened overnight. Last night, Canada was at 496 deaths/million population on worldometers; those 128 dead reported as of 9AM PST brought us to exactly 500. I noted the American entry into "the 1000 club" on December 23rd, exactly a month ago. In that month, they made it to 1278, some 93,610 Americans having died in the last month.

The news, of course, will note in about a week that Canada has passed 20,000 deaths, that'll be the round number that grabs a headline.

To actually provide some "COVID Cup Colour Commentary", the USA is 'losing' at its effort to kill more people per million than Britain. Even the last administration's game is no match for the sheer incompetence of Boris Johnson and the Brexiteers. Handing your population over to the virus requires an ability to deny reality, and while the GOP took that to Olympian heights with denial of vote counts, the Brexiteers are hardened reality-deniers that put their backs into it.

While the United States has been marvelled at for bumping off of 4,000 Americans per day, that's still just 12 Americans per million, per day. The UK, however, has been managing 1300 and 1400 per day this last week, a staggering 20 Britons per million! Every day! You have to admit, they have game.

OK, my sarcasm chip just blew, I can't write any more of that.

We were warned that the second wave would be worse than the first, and I couldn't believe it. I figured, all those months of "practice", building new systems, getting used to distancing, we'd have tests pouring from our ears by now, we'll crush that second wave like it was candy floss.

Now, I'm just hoping that we can push the numbers down a ways below peak, perhaps down below the peaks of last Spring, before the new variants become dominant and we really lose control. That terrifying topic, and new hopes for that massive testing, will be upcoming topics.


January 22: The Diamond Jubilee of "Military-Industrial Complex"

I made a note of it over a week ago, but not a sticky note for my screen, so even I forgot. January 17, 2021, was the sixtieth anniversary of Dwight D. Eisenhower's warning to his country about "the immense military establishment" that had joined with "a large arms industry."

Eisenhower had seen the entirely of the military establishment, right to the top; then he had seen the entirely of the political establishment, and supervised it. Near the start of his terms, he also noted this:

The cost of one modern heavy bomber is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities.

It is two electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population.

It is two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete highway.
(emphasis mine).

I covered this topic, before I even invented CCCC, with a separate essay with the extreme title of "US Military Kills a Million Americans". (This was March 20, and just how bad the pandemic would get was still up in the air. There were predictions of up to 2.2 million deaths in America.)

That essay runs on much longer than CCCC posts do, has some charts and graphs, and a stunning picture of Olivia Wilde. (Her Dad has done the best journalism on the subject.) The only update is that the $70B raise the Pentagon got that year was followed by another $20B raise a few months ago: an above-inflation raise in a year where everybody else is taking cuts. (The CDC budget is still about $12B, though I bet they're finally in for an increase!)

The other new point to add is that nobody noticed the sixtieth anniversary of that fundamental speech. Nobody talked about the $20B raise a few months back; it was bipartisan. No newspaper mentioned it more than in-passing, most of the articles about what programs the money was for. Nobody compared it to the cost of that unaffordable "Free College" (Estimated at $40B/year by The Atlantic). It's simply not a topic in their newspapers, in their last election, in their halls of power.

Pity dying Americans, of course, but remember: nearly all of them are content, exchanging two hospitals for a bomber - and buying more bombers than everybody else put together.


January 21: The Bully Pulpit

Joe Biden can do his country no larger favour than to come in bullying. "The Bully Pulpit" was a term invented by Teddy Roosevelt, to point out one of the American President's soft powers: he gets attention when he speaks, can change political conversations.

Biden's pandemic plan (Washington Post link from image) will be helpful, of course, giving more federal support and coordination to what is basically a state-level fight. Canada's own experience, with such different pandemics in the Prairies, Atlantic, and Central Canada, shows how regional and specific the fights are. Alone, however, his plan can't rescue the US from the deep pit they've dug themselves into, which is largely the result of those "unsafe behaviours" that this blog exists to rail about.

Biden has the power to change behaviours just by changing the conversation. He can change it fastest by literal bullying. He can't bully the virus-deniers of course, that would bring backlash. But he can bully the media, almost with impunity: they're used to it after the last guy. When media give oxygen to 'the other side' of the story, giving air time to people ranting about vaccines, and masks, and distancing, all being ineffective, Biden could start calling Fox News "The Virus P.R. Agency". The Wall St. Journal could become "The Ventilator Lobby". Biden could repeat "They're getting people killed" about once a day without oversaturating. I really think he could shut up a lot of repetition of bad-faith arguments.

The Republican Party? How about a special commemoration service for Herman Cain, and for Luke Letlow, the GOP Congressman-elect from 2020 that never got to serve because he died from COVID at 41(!). Biden could casually refer to Cain as having been killed by a virus he picked up a Trump rally (though that is unprovable), because it's widely perceived that way. He could go on and on about how young Letlow was, and how much he still had to give. Then there would be tones of sorrow-not-in-anger about how Letlow's party had such a lamentably lax attitude towards masks while Letlow campaigned, that the campaign probably cost him his life.

What are McConnell and the other GOP princes to do, boycott the ceremony for their own?

He can visit the dying, visit a care-home in full medical PPE, and talk to the cameras about how these people had years left - and are now dying because people opened stores, threw parties, went on vacations. He could speak with a ringing voice about the sacrifices Americans made in war, the food rations, the travel rationing.

He could bring a sense of shame. Hey, who remembers shame?

I'm kind of kidding myself, of course. Biden's a lover, not a fighter. He won't think up mean nicknames, or push very hard. He'd never exploit the deaths of GOP members to defeat the politics that killed them. He'll do better, (he could hardly not) but it won't go all that well. This is America.


January 20: The War for Science

"What do we want? Evidence-based policy. When do we want it? After peer review." That was one of the chants at the March for Science, an international set of demonstrations in April 2017.
...
As an economist watching this disaster, I was mainly horrified. But I couldn't help also thinking, "Welcome to my world." My sense is that many medical experts are still shocked to see what should be matters of science utterly politicized. But in the social sciences it has been that way all along.
Those are extracts from a newsletter you can sign up for, from Paul Krugman, NY Times' economics columnist and author of the much-aforementioned "Arguing with Zombies" (He coined "zombie ideas" for the convenient beliefs that won't die.)

Krugman might have added that many sciences have gone along, publishing discovered truths and getting minor notice for them, until their truth offended Money, and a War on Truth began:

  • Cancer researchers were uncontroversial, discovering carcinogens, until one of them was tobacco. Instantly, there were a thousand new "cancer experts" disputing their every comma and period.

  • Physicists and chemists who went into climatology, and researched how forests moved, and glaciers retreated, were ignored... until they said that burning hydrocarbons was a global problem. Suddenly, they were part of a giant conspiracy.

  • Vaccine researchers could have warned their neighbours, the epidemiologists, that there's no record of success so overwhelmingly positive that you won't be suspected of serving Satan. How hopeless to be an epidemiologist, getting things right maybe 70% of the time, when the gang with the 99.9997% track record are hated?

Really, the "stolen election" beliefs should make us all heave a sigh of relief. It's out in the open now, how deep the delusions can run, how utterly impossible it can be to argue "on the evidence".

It was kind of marvellous, their impenetrability to data. Fifty losses in court? Nah. Two of them at the Supreme Court, with the three shiny new judges? Nope. All the Republican Governors and Returning Officers earnestly pleading that they'd done their jobs very carefully, and checked twice, every ballot was watched by scrutineers? Nothing.

My final straw was the very Republican, vote-suppressing Governor and Sec. State of Georgia, patiently explaining that the video of "ballots being pulled from suitcases", was selectively-edited CCTV footage of ballots being taken back out of official storage boxes they'd been put into for the night, before the counters were told they were going to keep going in overtime. It was the constrast to the glee with which the stolen-election believers had brandished the video as absolute proof that got me: engaging with such people is utterly hopeless.

When I got to the forum where it was taken as obvious that the Capitol rioters were really antifa agent provocateurs, I didn't bat an eye. No denial is surprising now.

It's like a joke-phrase from a cop show, or something, "I wouldn't believe that guy if he had two judges as witnesses". You can save your breath, even if you have two judges. Or three Supreme Court Judges. We can all stop arguing now. Just discuss the matter long enough to find out whether your respondent sounds like one of them, then smile and ask about sports.

The War for Science goes on; but the effort has to be at education, a focus on the young. One must engage with elected officials, but arguing with fellow citizens who've made their decision, just takes energy away from something that might work.


January 19: Nice To See Some Creativity

There's a need for positive news, so often. I'm aching to report good news about the curve being crushed, and while other news are already noting reductions in both Canada and even the US, I'm reluctant to jump on board without a few more days of data.

So, today's an easy and quick one, just a recommend for this upbeat little article in The Tyee, about a shelter buying RVs to use as isolation accomodation.

Brilliant. Creative. Simple! Effective.

Living in a car, RV, or van - "down by the river", or better yet, in a Duke University parking lot so you can afford your degree, is a problematic solution to housing, for society, but a brilliant one for the individual.

I was much taken by an article in Harpers in 2014, about "Workampers", seniors who lost it all in the crash, and had to work into their 70s, with no home any more but a van or RV. They were (and are) like modern Okies, working the summers at odd jobs, seasonal packing at Amazon warehouses, and wintering in vast Arizona RV archipelagos, "economically dormant", spending a few hundred a month on food and the lot.

The article was about how bad our society is that old people are driven to this. I agree, but their own personal, creative solution for their plight filled me with admiration, as with Ken Ilgunas, and his Duke University success a few years earlier.

It's just an efficient use of resources: a "tiny home", that's not a hipster DIY, but factory-made, with mobility, and with no (permanent) real-estate costs. The workampers further benefit from a consumer society that sells off a camper for under $10,000 when it's old and dowdy, but has tens of thousands of miles left on it.

And here, with the pandemic, the "bad" thing about a camper - that it's just a tiny place with the cold outdoors all around it - makes it the perfect isolation ward for one.

Congratulations, PHS! Smart thinking.

Society in general, however, is only shown up as uncreative dummies, for missing this as a larger solution. ATCO didn't start off as a multi-industry giant that owns the Gas Company; it stands for "Alberta Trailer Company" and got stinking rich selling modular work-camp trailers to Saudi Arabian projects at insane markups. If they'd been called a year ago, they could have created trailers that had four or five of these one-person "wards" per trailer, for a few thousand each, once they were stamping them out every hour.

We have to think this out for next time.


January 18: Also a Sign of Poor Resilience

Good 'ol Free Market: it can be counted on to produce huge bounty and low prices - after the emergency is over, and the overproduction has to be dumped.

You have to pity the fool still trying to market the same thing at $59.99, on the left. If ever there was a commodity, it's a straightforward chemical. (Though single-malt sanitizer is probably available on Rodeo Drive for $299.99 a tube.)

"Resilience" is basically about "inefficiency". An overstaffed crew is resilient against losing a guy or two; a resilient hospital has spare beds. Modern commerce is all about eliminating all resilience in favour of "just in time", which is impossible if you have a sudden new need.

It wouldn't kill society to have warehouses of hand sanitizer around at all times. The warehouse cost, for a whole society, would not be that high. The stuff keeps forever, you'd just have to cycle the warehouse contents every year or so. The point could be multiplied by a lot of other things that society might have sudden need for. We always have a lot of spare clothing about in stores, but normally have just seven days of food. We never got down to handing out MREs by the Army, like they did in Contagion (and ran out), but then, this wasn't the worst pandemic possible, at all - a really bad one would shut down whole industries and disrupt them all.

And then there's stores of temporary housing and repair materials, in the event of really major earthquake, the other happens-every-century event that nobody prepares for, because, well - a whole century. But it's coming.

The other place to store spares and have resilience is yourself. We didn't need to hit the stores for hand sanitizer; I'd seen Contagion! We had two large bottles and a small one, for years. (We still have most of them; we mostly just washed with soap a lot.) We also have a few weeks of canned food, which takes up little storage space and costs nothing, since we cycle through the food anyway.

That Free Market has been in for some praise, lately, people pointing out how fast those despised Big Pharma companies swung into virus-fighting. Well, sure: with seven billion sales in the offing, that was no surprise. It's low-profit vaccines and resilience that they suck at.


January 17: "American Carnage" ? Try, "American Holocaust"

The round number of "400,000" clicked up on on Worldometers for the USA a couple of days ago, and the news headlines are now quoting it. But I think everybody is numb to the numbers ticking by.

I was wearily wondering whether to bother to note the point - about 426,000 - where the death-toll would equal the sum of military losses in every American war, subtracting only WW2 and Civil - when random searching turned up the coincidence that this is also nearly the number that died in Auschwitz. (Auschwitz itself was just a fraction of the whole 6-million of the Holocaust.)

Which brings us to the death rate. Historians are still sorting that out, since a really well-run Holocaust (at least fascists make the ovens run on time) leaves few witnesses. While the Nazis' "Operation Reinhard" did kick the rate up to 15,000 bodies per day for over three months, most of the Holocaust rarely hit 100,000 dead per month, or about 3,000 per day.

America is now going to hit that 4,000 per day as an actual rate, not just for Monday spikes catching up weekend reports. They're in Holocaust territory. Granted, America's "death camps" are hospitals, desperately pumping oxygen into human bodies to save them, rather than cyanide to kill them, but the output remains the same: over 100,000 cold bodies in the next month.

If you were getting numb to it, I hope this simile brings back your sense of horror. You're welcome.


January 16: Alberta is Half as Smart as BC ... and Getting Dumber

It's not just California and Canada that can be compared, straight-across, because of very similar populations. BC and Alberta aren't that different, either.

Sure, BC is more like 5 million, and Alberta just 4, but that only shows to Alberta's benefit, gives it a 20% advantage on the graph at right.

The graph just shows the number of "New Cases Reported Today" in BC, divided by the same report from Alberta, for the last 100 days or so, the whole second wave. The case counts in August are down below 100, mostly in the sixties for Alberta and the thirties and forties for BC. I noticed that Alberta always had about twice the count of BC way back, during the first wave.

I'm not sure why the ratio continued. As you can see the BC-over-Alberta case ratio was almost never under one, was mostly about 1.5 through the early Fall, and has been trending upwards in recent months, past two, now nearing three.

I didn't bother with a trend-line. This is a very dispersed cloud of points, and even hinting that it comes close to a steady relationship would be wrong. In fact, CCCC is inflicting all this data on readers because it would have been wrong to just write "BC is twice as smart as Alberta", without clarifying just how very rough that "twice" is.

The question is really whether the overall "dumbness" I'm poking Alberta for is because of the "cynical spreaders" identified by an Angus Reid survey back in August. Angus Reid defined the term as "those who flout public safety rules, have expanded their social circles to larger groups including strangers, don't physically distance, and are ambivalent toward handwashing and mask-wearing, among other actions", according to this CBC story a few months back. .

What's interesting is that the story identifies 18% of BC residents as "cynical spreaders" and 28% in Alberta. Are the cynical spreaders most of the story? Or is Alberta a higher-case-count than BC because of different types of work, different housing?

We know that it's the Pareto Pandemic, with 80% of transmissions coming from 20% of infectees. You'd only have to increase the number of superspreaders a bit to get a large increase in cases.

It's tempting, of course, to blame Bad People for Bad Events. Then you can do something about them. It's a lot tougher if it's just Alberta having a lot of high-transmission workplaces, and you have to start picking on businesses.

I'm really waiting for the big report that will come out in 2022, or late this year... the one that has the data we're currently being denied:

  • How many cases come from in-home transmission?
  • How many cases came from hospitality business (bars, restaurants, hotels), resorts?
  • How many cases came from working together in offices?
  • ...Manufacturing?
  • ...Resource extraction?
  • ...and, of course, social contacts.
Somewhere in there, we really need to know how many cases were caused by "cynical spreaders".

So we know whether to be just angry at them, or take more legal action...next time.


January 15: The "Virus Passport" Question

I was disappointed that the PM is against passports.

I'm in favour of "divisive". I want to divide the world into vaccine-acceptors, who are welcome in newly-opened theatres and bars, and idiots, who are not.

I want there to be strong reasons to get the jab. (Like keeping, or getting back, your job.)

But also, the concept of passports might let us get a 10% jump towards that holy 70% immune state. There's the silver lining to the virus on such a ferocious tear right now, with the CDC warning that the more-transmissable variant will soon be dominant.

If we started now, while we are a month or more away from general-population vaccination, handing out passports to all the survivors, the sad truth is that nearly 10% of Canada, and well over 10% of America, are probably immune already. Give them the cheap antibody test, a passport, and firm instructions to get vaccinated anyway - sometime in late September, when the rush is over and 70% already achieved.

I know that many have said that immunity is uncertain, may last as little as six months. But it's just hit the wires that immunity declines only slightly over the first eight months, so you probably have at least a year - and the great bulk of infections have been since Fall.

We could jump from about 2% at the end of this month, to 22% at the end of February - because we vaccinated 10%, and handed passports to another 10%. By the first day of Spring, maybe 33% - and the bars running full-blast, with people toasting their new passports, and anti-vaxxers with their noses pressed against the window, complaining. (What they do best.)

In my dreams. Oh, well.


January 14: In A Fearful State

Reader Allan Beairsto pointed out last night that California, most populous in the nation, actually has 4% more population than all of our nation. Statistics between Canada and California compare almost exactly, per capita.

And what a chilling comparison it is these days, for California. Going left to right across the worldometers, you immediately note that they have four times as many total cases, 7% of population - but less than twice as many deaths. Do we have double their death-rate because they've done so much more testing and found more cases? Or is it our care-home disgrace that makes COVID in Canada twice as deadly?

But, of course, the numbers in the news that slap you are SIX TIMES as many current cases, and OVER three times as many deaths.

Canada's failures at testing became a throw-hands-in-air non-story months ago. Perhaps testing isn't as important as we thought - perhaps if you have a more rule-following population that has better financial support to stay home from work, you get the lower death rate without all the testing. Testing isn't a goal; the life-saving is.

We'll have to come back to California in about a week. Frankly, all the stats are still so messed-up by the "Double Dips" in data noted yesterday, that it's still too early for me to see Canada's case-load and death-counts in clear decline, though the last few days of numbers bring hope. California, on the other hand, is coming out of the data-fuzzing time with both the case-count, and especially the death-counts, still headed up, up, up.

It's not just that the scales on the two graphs at left are much larger - it's that direction of the curve that's terrifying for California. This is after they went under heavier restrictions in early Dember - clearly, totally ineffective, and no sign so far that only the holidays are to blame.

I've got no conclusion. I'll just say, I think today I'll put my picture of Canadian flags at English Bay beach on Dora's Page. I'm very grateful to live here and not there.


January 13: American Dips

The many emotional stresses of the pandemic are wearing me out, from writing about the pain of so many. I'd like to write about jail vaccinations, and the care-home in Chinatown that's kept a zero case-rate, but it's wearing.

So I'll just write about numbers and graphs. The news noted that the USA had another record-breaking death-count yesterday. Something over 4,300, though my fave, worldometers, was 'merely' at 4,281. But the high number may relate to just catching up from the weekend - worldometers was at only just over 2,000 yesterday, and under 2,000/day on the weekend.

For months, the "weekend dip" has made it folly to look at anything but the seven-day moving average of a pandemic statistics graph. (Blue line, at left.)

The holidays caused data-losses and data-delays that were worse than that, however. Reporting was so constrained over American Thanksgiving, and even worse over the Christmas/New-Year's two-week period, that the graph of increasing cases has these prominent dips - which are then "paid for" by untruthfully high numbers after the dip.

In short, I'm saying that America is not yet really losing over 4,000 lives per day. It is probably reaching 3,500, however, and the case-counts (again, see left) are still increasing. Pandemic responses with restrictions and behaviour are local - can it be that the whole country is so distracted by their political drama, that they are just not doing pandemic response, not even as late and partially as Ontario?

They are certainly headed for 4,000 and more per day, with all those cases coming. I have hope that Canada will see major improvement in February, but I think the USA is going to keep getting worse for weeks yet.


January 12: Random Statistics

Number of vaccinations in Canada in one month: 377,221

Opioid Prescriptions filled per month, 2015: 1.59 million

Outpatient Clinic Vists per Month, Just Surrey Outpatient Hospital: 11,166

Bottles of Liquor Sold in BC this month (via Canadian average): 1,096,491

Number of Massages (or other "alternative health therapies" covered by insurance): 877,193

We are a large, wealthy, powerful society. We spend $415 per person per year, just on cosmetics. We have huge distribution chains, shipping and transportation for hundreds of different products delivered to each citizen, every month. We also deliver complicated services: one-sixth of the population (in theory) gets a dentist visit each month. (Dentists are able to give needles, not just into your arm, but your mouth, safely.)

When you hear a politician or public health employee describing the vaccination project as large, complicated, or difficult, stop listening. It may be so - for them. They haven't done it before. They aren't Shoppers Drug Mart, or London Drugs, or Safeway. They don't know a thing about real distribution problems, about scale. They're used to dealing with quarter-percent of the population that need their services at any one time.

But you know who does deal with the whole population all the time? Shoppers Drug Mart. London Drugs. And Safeway. And Canada's 21,000 dentists that process one-sixth of the population, every month.

Public health are not the part of our society to do this. They've shown that they can't do the job. They've been given a reasonable amount of time to show what they had eight months to prepare for. They have failed.

Pass the job to those who can.


January 11: Not Used to Being Worse than America

CCCC has been kind of a hotbed of America criticism since it started. Indeed, it started off predicting America would be the worst.

America doesn't think much of itself on the vaccination front, lately. If you see "vaccine" in an American headline, it's probably for a story about how unsatisfied they are to have just over two percent of their population vaccinated, so far.

Canada, for four straight weeks now, has been doing only one-third that well. Now, understand, most of my upset is at the actual terrible performance, not at being beaten by America in some game. Consider that performance.

Alberta and BC have been racing each other for "best" for a week, and Alberta has pulled ahead, with a full 1% of the population vaccinated, to our 0.9%! (We are beaten only by tiny Prince Edward Island, which is so small, it has the advantage of going from 1.2% to 1.3%, if they can just vaccinate the whole McGillicuddy clan today.)

Today's number, in the vaccination tracker, for Alberta and BC combined, is 91,203 vaccinations for ~9 million people, for that ~1%. The two provinces have 161 hospital-care facilities each, or 322 total.

Not claiming that every hospital is a vaccination site, or that hospitals are the only ones. Let's just compare the size of the medical resources available to the work done. "91,203" sounds like a lot, but it isn't.

91,203 vacciations / 322 hospitals = 283 vaccinations per hospital

Canada averages 2.5 hospital beds per thousand people. If Alberta/BC are typical, then we have done under five vaccinations per hospital bed.

The first vaccines arrived in BC on December 14. But, hey, let's round the number of vaccination days down to 20, so I don't have to grab my calculator. 283 over 20 is barely fourteen vaccinations per day, per hospital.

What I love about good data is that it requires no comment.


January 10: How Science Does NOT Work

There's no "International Journal of Claimed Truths About Physics". So there's no "International Journal of Fact-Checking Physics Claims".

Nobody gets to write an article that just asserts that plutonium is really safe, and all nuclear safety protocols are a hoax; at least, not and get any reply. They can put that on a sign and wander the streets, attempting to engage. Science sees no need for journals to do work to prove assertions wrong.

No, of course the way that science works is that if you have a claim, you yourself must gather convincing data, then publish it to support that claim. The onus is on the claimant.

But it does seem to work that way in politics and journalism.

Paul Krugman has now been doing the prove-em-wrong side of that game for thirty years, and wrote a book, Zombie Ideas, about having to beat down the same propositions, over and over (tax cuts pay for themselves, minimum wages kill jobs). "Zombie", because, though "thoroughly refuted by analysis and evidence, and should be dead - but won't stay dead because it serves a political purpose, appeals to prejudices, or both."

You can't reply to trolling with science. In effect, journalists fall for this, over and over. Some days it seems like half the op-eds are professors patiently debunking some outrageous claim from a politician that the politician never showed evidence for, and will repeat again and again after the "debunking".

The notion: that lockdowns to "crush the curve" are harder on the economy than letting the virus run free, has been debunked (and shown wrong in practice, by Australia, Taiwan, and others) - nonetheless continues to be the backbone of most arguments!

The dynamic is actually captured in the famous Monty Python comedy sketch about "I'd Like To Have An Argument, Please",(upper left), where the guy paying for proper argument complains that the other side is just contradicting him, not establishing "a collective series of statement to establish a proposition" .

The other side, meanwhile, is working the X-files dynamic: "I Want To Believe". When somebody is fitting their data to the beliefs, the diametric opposite of science, you are wasting your time like arguing with John Cleese in the sketch.

It was kind of (sick) fun to troll, but the really important skill is learning not to be trolled. It's fair to give people one chance to respond to data, but if they don't address the data itself in their reply, you have to disengage immediately, not continue.

Politicians need to just get up and say it plainly: "The notion that fighting the disease costs more than accepting the disease is wrong. It has been proven wrong. Whole nations now have economic recovery, proving it wrong again, and again, in practice. Continuing to claim something so proven wrong is a lie, a contemptible, vicious lie that is killing people. It doesn't deserve any more of our time to reply to it; the lie deserves only our contempt. Stop insulting our intelligence".

We've had enough trolling. The trolls have killed too many, already.


January 9: The Sick Joys of Trolling

An exceptionally political week - crossed with new records in death-counts that have a pandemic blog mostly whining for attention, 'Hey guys, while you argue, people are dying'.

But, of course, it's been hard to look away from the greatest news trainwreck, and it's hard for me to shut up in the comments column, and I discovered that I'd accidentally become a troll. This is off-topic of the pandemic, except that wild Internet conspiracy theories (masks, HCQ, virus-hoax, vaccines...) propounded by Internet trollling are a major problem with the pandemic fight. But the first troll (a failed effort, stopped by the vigilant National Post) was just about Jonathan Kay's extraordinary claim in the National Post yesterday that "The Storming of the US Capitol Wasn't About White Supremacy". I'd just come off the story at upper right, so I felt an urge to comment with the screen-snap at left.

Alas, the screen-snap is all that remains. It won't appear on the Post; the tag says "Content Disabled" which only links to the note "violates our content guidelines". I was a little puzzled. There were no swear words, no insults to any person. I just called a hypothetical person with a flag, a "redneck".

I was actually proud of it; I referenced both the hugely popular Jeff Foxworthy comedy routine of 20 years back, and Maya Angelou's "believe them" quote, and was brief, for once. So what was my sin?

I can only figure that, for the National Post, "redneck" is a racist-like insult, I should have spelled "r*****k", and Jeff Foxworthy needs to be "cancelled" or something. No more references to THAT comedy routine! I'd thought that the enduring popularity of the Foxworthy routines positioned "redneck" as a proud subculture, like "hippie", "nerd", or "cowboy".

It's either that, or the National Post figures that "White Supremacist" is an unforgivable thing to say. I'd rather not go there. (The sensitivity to "redneck" is doubly-confusing because it started off as a name for left-wing labour movement protesters. Yes, really.)

What was far more disturbing, was how amused and even a little delighted I was by the revelation of their sensitivity to the word. Whose the 'snowflake' now? Nyah, nyah! Weird.

So, today, I performed a trolling experiment. Not so much on the National Post, as on myself.

Today, the big top headline in the paper was a story about how a second lockdown - clearly absolutely needed in Ontario and Quebec, as their ICUs buckle under the still-soaring load, that "Curfew to curtail COVID-19 spread might just worsen public mental health, morale".

Neither you nor I need much summary of it: there are no new studies mentioned, there's no actual news about the headline-topic in the article. Just a review of long-known studies that lockdown is hard on you. It didn't deserve top-billing as "news". So I figured it was a good place for my experiment, at right.

As you can read, especially the last sentence, it's insulting; it's trolling for an emotional response. It's not great trolling, since it starts with actual information which is correct. So I added the last sentence for the required deliberate nastiness. Since the whole alt-right tone is about"strength", and "toughness", and manliness, conflating pandemic protestors with "weakling" is about as inflamatory as I could get. Without swearing or saying "redneck", at least.

I have no idea how the NP, or the right-wing commentators I was trolling, will react. But the need for the experiment was validated when I hit the POST button: I was immediately filled with a smug, smirking, satisfied sensation. It was nothing at all like the good feeling I get when I construct an argument I'm proud of on this blog.

That's why they do it. I've let myself get mad this week, and it pops out as anger at those still whining about public health measures even as the dying gets worse and worse. So I was filled with this unholy glee at tweaking their noses.

It's not a good look. It's not, not really, a good feeling. The notion that people sit at the computer all day, getting hit after hit of that unholy-glee, smirking feeling, to feel better...man, I get it now. And now that I get it, I feel that much sorrier for them. The anger will come back now and again, but more and more, just sorry.


January 8: One Point One Two, Zero Point Eight Eight

I'm quite pleased with my little innovation the other day, of just taking the 7-day average case-load from a graph, five days apart, and calling that the "R" figure for the population graphed.

It's an outrageous simplification that no real epidemiologist would stand by; I've realized my superpower is my ability to ignore proper science, when a rough estimate is all that's needed.

It's actually the superpower that Engineering has over Science, the big difference between us. Scientists seek Truth, and have to get things right. Engineers seek A Probably-Good Answer By Wednesday, and sacrifice ultimate truth for expedient results. (And that's Civil Engineers! Man, Military Engineers are stacking the bodies in the mass graves, while the Scientists have finally concluded that the enemy was about to attack.)

The confirmation that Yeah, We Are So Screwed came yesterday, when Dr. Henry announced a still-higher case-load, we are absolutely back to growing again, after those two heartening weeks of decline; all the fears about holiday gatherings have been proven right.

But look left for the good news: the fairly-fast decline was an R of 0.88, just a loss of 12% every five days. The current growth is a mirror: 12% gains in cases every five days. Considering how far below 2.8 that 1.12 already is, the additional restrictions to get us back down to 0.88 should be small.

We can do that. My hopeful timeline for low, summer, case-loads by the end of January is shot, of course, but we could still get there by Valentine's Day, if we could get even a little below 0.88 for the next five weeks.

CCCC will be hectoring for that, for a while yet. This is the point in the Big Football Game movie, where the team are bruised, and tired, and down ten points, going into the fourth quarter. It's time for the Big Push.


January 7: Joke Day

So, worldometers was mostly just catching-up delayed reports, yesterday, when it ticked over 4,100 deaths in a single day. I don't think it will continue at that rate. At least, if it does, I just blew a fuse on thinking about it, on top of everything else.

The images of packed crowds, the story of the many congress members packed into a "safe room" for hours, with the right-wingers smugly refusing face masks the whole time...on the same day as 4,100 dead, really were a bit much for the ol' fuse-box, sorry.

The credit to one Alex White, a few days back, will have to serve for the math joke, a subject I'd rather retreat to, today.

No, heck, back to politics. Here's my joke from yesterday, at which even my wife did not laugh:

Today, America waits with bated breath... to find out whether it will continue to have a bad heath-care system because Republicans keep control of Congress, or because Joe Biden won't do jack for them anyway!

Sorry.

As you can see, "Joke Day" on a pandemic blog is pretty dark humour. But, relax; there will be no jokes about coffins and ventilators. Just, "This is the perfect time to close the border, when all the Conservative politicians are outside!".

There's little need to joke about the, umm, "pro-Trump activists", who, as you can see at upper left, are better at making a joke of themselves than any snotty coastal elite liberal could ever do. Yesterday does make one wonder if this show will ever, ever, go over-the-top and cause its own believers to suddenly realize they're delusional.

But, no, I don't think that will happen. It's not just because of the Sarah Palin post at left, which uses the exact same image I found so funny this morning. It angrily disputes that a mob that was on TV the whole time it walked from the White House incitement speech, to storming the Capitol, with MAGA and Confederate flags flying...was actually a MAGA crowd, was not "antifa false-flag".

(Now, that's funny.)

No, I know that most supporters are unreachable, because a good friend and relative of mine today posted about an important political issue on Facebook: that a self-proclaimed "BLM activist" (with no actual ties to the organization, when you read the article) had tweeted joy at the death of a police officer. That was the big issue, this morning. She spent the summer proclaiming her support for "law-and-order", of course.

So, no. Events like yesterday's will have no effect on the political support these people enjoy. About all it will do is make jokes of them, to people who are still reachable. I can only hope that their pandemic opinions are taken more and more as jokes, very dark, very bad jokes, as well.

But my favourite?

"I'm just wondering why not one of these conservative, mask-hating televangelists have shown up at hospitals to perform miracle cures on even one Coronavirus patient."

Not funny?


January 6: The Hardest Vaccine Calculation

Where do I fit in? At what "priority level" do I sit?

I'm forced to calculate that I'm at the bottom of the list.

My simple calcuation yesterday used that R-factor of 2.8, as if every infectee went out to find 2.8 people. But as CCCC readers with photographic memories all know, this is the Pareto Pandemic, where 70% of infectees infect nobody, 10% infect one person, and 20% infect a dozen.

By vaccinating the old who don't have jobs and don't get out much we miss the opportunity to crush the curve with the vaccines by prioritizing the superspreaders.

That is a second priority, I think, because the current wave is killing so many in care homes, again. We are driven to save them with vaccines, because the care-home industry has failed - again - in full view, with warning, they failed, again. What do we have to do to get some standards? But, as a very famous failure put it, the situation is what it is. One cannot but support getting those vulnerable people out of harm's way, ASAP. (And CCCC's support for remote First Nations communities, which need just a few hundred jabs apiece to let the whole community breathe free, is on record.)

But the really vulnerable are just a few percent of the population. At the 10% mark, they'll have all the health-care workers, the very sick, and everybody over 75. At that point, priority should turn to people of any age and health status that have to work in any kind of contact with others - everybody who cannot work from home, in particular, everybody who is near anybody else on the job.

Because people often start in manual labour and other blue-collar work, that will dramatically shift the priority group to those in the 20-40 age band, who have almost zero risk of dying from the virus - and unvaccinated sixty-somethings like myself will be checking into graveyards for months of that.

But I have very good options to keep myself safe. My 88-year-old mother-in-law feels so safe, we'll have to drag her to the vaccination, I suspect - because she has her groceries delivered, needs nothing else, cancelled Christmas, and doesn't come within three metres of anybody at her door. Retirees don't have to go out. We'll have to use the threat of not coming for Easter to get her into a clinic in April.

So the safest people, if they aren't stupid, are retirees who retired young, in their early sixties and late fifties...like myself. I'm afraid my system puts me at the end of the line. At least I can proudly proclaim it, and not be accused of directed reasoning.


January 5: The Simplest Vaccine Calculation

The simplest vaccine calculation is the only one a non-epidemiologist can do. What the epidemiologists can do, I suspect, is toss out a number with the hasty, boldfaced, disclaimer "has huge error bar!"

The simplest vaccine calculation you can do is for the end-state, where "everything is back to normal", and people behave like they did in November of 2019. Back then, the best number anybody had for "R0" was 2.8 - the average infectee went on to infect 2.8 others.

An average of five days later, the 2.8 would each infect 2.8 more - it works out to doubling twice a week, as case numbers did, in the very early days.

The vaccine doesn't require a lot of math. Say it reduces chances of infection by 90%. So that "2.8" just becomes "0.28" infected, assuming the infectee contacts nothing but vaccinated people. If half the people she encounters are vaccinated then it's:

New R = 50%(2.8) + 50%(2.8 x 10%) = 1.54 ,

as your new "R", for a population where half are vaccinated, and half are not, and (crucial point) everybody behaves like it's November 2019, which they assuredly won't, if only half are vaccinated.

We are currently struggling to get R down to one, with some success in most parts of Canada, so vaccines can only speed up the reduction. The question is at what point people will start to misbehave on distancing, faster than vaccines can make up for it. If people are dumb enough, we could well stumble into a third wave in late spring, with half the population vaccinated. Re-read the number above: if everybody went right back to acting "normal", then R would be well over 1.0, at 1.54, and away we'd go with a wave.

Shrinking the case-load, and keeping it down, will have far more to do with those "safe behaviours" that CCCC champions, than the effects of vaccines, well into summer.

The math does let you "prove" that "70% of population for herd immunity" number that you've heard since vaccines were first discussed:

Thirty percent would still be at 2.8. Seventy percent would be at 5% of 2.8, so:

30%(2.8) + 70%(2.8 x 5%) = 0.938

...or just enough under 1.0, that an outbreak would fade away, not grow. Dr. Fauci recently upgraded his estimate to 80%. This may reflect his concerns about the "new variant", or just conservatism on that original 2.8, which was always, really, "somewhere between 2 and 3". Even the simplest of these calculations has quite an error bar.

Such models should be labelled "for entertainment purposes only", but they can help to understand the basic patterns. At left, a table that assumes the vaccine is a wonderous 95% effective indeed, which dramatizes its effects a bit. It gives the declining "R" as a function of total vaccination, based on different starting growth factors the population may already have.

The last column is for Ontario, today. Consider that Ontario, in the news last night for horrifying new case numbers, has doubled those numbers in a month. That's six of those five-day "generations" of the infection, so Ontario's "R" for the last month has averaged 1.12. (1.12 to the sixth power = 2.0)

If Ontario could keep up that level of distancing, then 1.12 could become 0.99 with just a bit over 10% vaccination. But, they aren't getting there for a month at least, even assuming vaccinations increase ten-fold this week. By a month from now, their behaviour will have changed, presumably for the better, as holiday visting ends, and the endless upcoming news of dying people sinks in again.

It's going further out on a limb than a professional would (which is the value of asking a non-professional, with no reputation to protect - and not burdened with too much knowledge that might lose me in maybes!) to use the graph at right to estimate some early effects. The "1.5" and "1.4" at right, are the ratios between case-loads, and case-loads five days later - an estimate of R for that month in BC. It was the great surge of our second wave, up to our present plight.

But we got there by staying for over a month at just 1.5 - the result of all our many bad-behaviours, from Thanksgiving suppers and parties, to more outings to stores and restaurants, all the controversies in the news at the time. Still, that's way below 2.8, because many things like theatres were closed, travel reduced, schools observing distancing.

If we could just manage that lame, half-assed distancing that caused the second wave, but had 30% vaccinated, presumably around April, it would not cause a wave any more, just hold level or even decline.

So, here's the CCCC vaccination timeline, the news that no reputable news-source would dare to offer:

  • Until Valentine's Day, nothing detectable will happen. It will be absolutely necessary to have Ontario's "hard lockdown", and others like it, to crush the current waves.

  • Over February, the death-rate will plummet, because most of it is those very old people in care-homes, and when those homes hit herd-immunity numbers, most of the death counts will drop 80%, a few weeks later. (This will probably have a bad effect on people's attitudes.)

  • By late February, the vaccination rate per day, will finally get into meaningful numbers, a couple of a percent of the population per week. Presuming the lockdowns have crushed the curves again by then, we will be at that 10%, and could regress back to whatever behaviour levels Ontario has been displaying lately...but hold the wave down.

  • By April, at 30%, the BC-in-Fall behaviours will be safe, so Easter Supper with the Family will be On.

  • By Summer, at 50%, we will be safe with behaviours that got Italy into those packed hospital nightmares.

We will always have a 'reservoir' of bad behaviours to revert to, as the vaccines make them possible. It's like computers getting 10,000% faster over a decade, but people kept making them slow anyway, by wasteful behaviours with them. By summer, of course, it won't be the behaviour of Italy last Spring that will be demanded: the theatre chains will want their summer blockbusters back, which is going straight to the 2.8 column again.

Unless, of course, you can't walk into a theatre or bar without a "vaccination passport", which CCCC unreservedly advocates.


January 4: Why Are We Worse At Vaccination? Is it Really Supply?

We were, of course, warned that "We expect to have a limited supply of just a few million doses in the early weeks and months...". The PM took a few hits on TV while admitting it, though the fault would be Mr. Harper's, for failing to see years into the future and starting a vaccine factory ages ago. (Apparently, Quebec will have one in 2022.)

But we haven't seen "a few million" doses, at 3 weeks after the first shipment; we haven't seen one million. Or an eighth of a million, according to the CTV tracker at left. We have vaccinated less than a quarter of the population that the United States has, even as Americans call that "a slow start".

What's odd, to me, is that the media seem to be letting them get away with it. I'd have thought the National Post would be blaming Trudeau for every unvaccinated arm, where "unvaccinated" means the 300,000 more we'd need done by now to be at the same rate as the "slow" United States.

I'm kind of reluctant to base any posts on stats, just now; it'll be a week yet, I bet, before everybody is back to work, cleared off the backlogs, and generally caught up from the Christmas/New Year's staffing issues. I'm sure that the various case-counts and death-counts and so on, are off just now, though I'd be surprised if the vaccine work were affected, after the many apologies required when Ontario took off just Xmas and Boxing Day from the jabbing.

At the three-week mark, over holidays, one can also be a little forgiving of a slow start, for all the time they had to prepare. But they need to pick up their socks. They're embarrassing us. (And, statistically speaking, killing us.)


January 3: They Were Warned

Britain went through this already. Waaay back in May, when it came out that Boris Johnson adviser Dominic Cummings took an April trip, based on his assumption that he was just sooo special. CCCC covered how pandemic hero Neil Ferguson dutifully resigned when he'd broken lockdown rules, between the time Cummings did, and when Cummings was found out. Ferguson had in fact been through the disease at the time, was presumptively immune and safe...but rules are rules, and Ferguson showed respect and contrition. He knew that leadership is by example.

Cummings never did; the big outrage was his failure to resign. Six months later, Johnson was still taking damage from it.

The real warning about how this is genuinely bad, not just political "bad optics", came from The Lancet on August Sixth. As the Bloomberg quick summary tells, survey results on 40,000 people showed that public confidence of the government dropped "sharply", and stayed down, since: the when you betray trust, you lose it for a long, long time. It's crippling to government authority, which depends on the public believing them.

Politicians' pleadings that their trips were "legal" under the rules were not new, either. Dominic Cummings said the same thing, that the trip was legal, and very necessary. That didn't help.

The rest of us have those excuses, too, but we didn't use them.

And all that was done and nailed down as new political wisdom, over four months before any of Jason Kenney's or Rob Ford's servants decided to ignore it. Political parties that cared about pandemic leadership, and saving lives, would have had presentations and seminars on the Cummings story, and the Lancet article. The public health bureaucracy, if it really needed a new fight in speaking truth to power, would have presented, respectfully, talks on how important it is for all the public officials to show COVID-rule-respect leadership, to serve teh public with good examples that will save lives.

The parties obviously did none of that. The failure is being portrayed as personal moral lapses, but it is also a lapse of political savvy and political competence. The NDP at least promptly fired their scofflaw; Ford depended on a voluntary resignation, but Jason Kenney, ever the political stumblebum, is actually doubling down the same way Johnson did, supporting Cummings.

Johnson may pay for that by not having to preside over the inevitable consequences of his Brexit, which may be exactly his plan. Kenney might lose his office, too, but I don't think it's a plan. He's too stupid.


January 2: A Conspiracy Theory I Could Have Believed

A friend on Facebook posts a lot of memes on topics related to pandemic conspiracies, many of them featuring suspicion of China. He recently derided me for my skepticism and urged me to 'figure it out for myself'.

Well, here's my very own plan for China to advance itself in the world and do dirt unto its enemies and competitors. If I'd seen something like this happening, I'd have been suspicious, too.

If I'd made the coronavirus in a lab (or just discovered it in nature, and contained the spread before anybody knew about it - same result) - and were a Chinese saboteur - I'd attack Taiwan, of course.

China has competitors around the world they feel ambivalence towards, because America and Europe and Japan are also their biggest customers; it doesn't do to too impoverish people who spend money on you. Taiwan, on the other hand, is an outright enemy, the home of those who deny the Chinese government even legitimacy.

I'd spread it around Taiwan, and Taiwan's major trading partners, entirely from Taiwan. Once some young spies had been through the virus and could handle it with personal safety, the spread would be precisely targeted by my evil agents. (Evil agents with Taiwan citizenship; I'm sure that China has had many there for decades.)

We'd spend the first week, just spraying the air in Taiwan's Jianguo Wet Market, to make sure the pandemic narrative had a believable start.

To make sure it caught on though, the next week would be around Taiwan's cities, and pump the spray into bars and other packed places.

Week three, as they're just starting to get cases from the Wet Market stall owners into the hospitals, we'd already be onto outgoing flights from Taiwan, spraying my virus-water into the cabin air. That would ensure it would spread to at least a few other countries. I'd pick flights to Taiwan's best friends. Taiwan would be blamed: the place it broke out, the place it came from. All Taiwan's fault.

Taiwan and China have no direct flights, of course, but entries from the targeted countries could be asked if they'd been in Taiwan lately. China, with much warning, would be tracking every person coming in, so they could chase them down later. The instant Taiwan announced anything, China could clamp down on visitors with testing (which would be miraculously ready in incredible time) so that China had basically zero cases, no outbreak, no casualties, because they protected themselves so competently from The Taiwan Virus.

By week four, all operations would cease, when the viral-growth of the disease, it's nature as a potential pandemic, just starting to be recognized.

What I would not do is what happened:

...the end result being a terrible global pandemic that can be laid at China's doorstep - at least to the extent that they could have contained it in Wuhan if they'd been honest and competent.

Taiwan, meanwhile, was basically untouched, because they did get enough warning, and displayed exemplary national discipline in masking and locking down, beating it handily. Taiwan shines as an example of competence, especially next to China.

Since many of the rest of us have displayed amazing incompetence of our own, (hello, Quebec care-homes), and because China is very economically powerful, they'll basically get away with it. I doubt if any "world court" of any kind will be convened to punish them with trade tariffs or anything (that would hurt us, too...)

But China bears great fault in the pandemic, and everybody knows it. There's even a "conspiracy", to the extent that they secretly bullied the WHO, and the WHO laid down for it. But still: everybody knows it. Many of their largest trading partners have been as economically damaged as by a war, and hundreds of thousands have died. (Best of luck to the Chinese tourism agencies.)

Sure, China's dictators are bad and heartless enough to infect their own people, if that had been the best way to engineer a deliberate pandemic - but it wasn't. My Taiwan plan would have been infinitely better, more effective, and cheaper((!) for China.

If what we got was a conspiracy, it was the most-incompetent one in history. Call me next time.


January 1: Meet VOC - When You're #2, You Try Harder

BBC has the first scientific results up about the new variant.

The UK researchers have also given it an official name, "Variant of Concern 202012/01" or "VOC". With luck, it will be adopted and cranks whining "Why say 'UK variant' but not 'China virus'?" can shut up, seeing as how CCCC has been proven right to note immediately that it would be found world-wide as soon as we looked.

The article is quite frightening, I'm afraid, at least from a restrictions-and-economic-pain point of view. While no more deadly, it is much more transmissable. Skipping the meaning of "R numbers" for once, the bottom line is that the restrictions the UK has been going through recently would not be enough to end a wave of this variant. Much more painful restrictions may be necessary. It may make the "essential services" more difficult and dangerous.

We have to remember that an epidemic can shut down a business with no government help: if half the meat-packing plant is out sick for weeks on end, it has to shut down. The uninfected, after getting a taste of how easily it transmits around a plant, or factory, or construction worksite, may just claim to be sick and stay home out of fear.

We've been thinking the next month or so will be bad, because of the baked-in case-load from the past month - but we could be looking at multiple bad months as it proves impossible to get the wave crushed, or crushed waves revive, the variant getting around all restrictions.

The New Year is traditionally time for straightening out, smartening up, going dry, starting exercise programs. The societal New Year's Resolution may have to be to Get Really Serious about distancing and masks and staying in - just the last news we wanted.


December 31: The Last Thing in the Box

CCCC today completes nine straight months of watching people die on worldometers and other "pandemic dashboards" that track sickness and death.

All the end-of-year pieces are out now on 2020, counting out all the terrible things that happened: Mideast violence, Australia and California practically burning down, floods, massive recession and poverty, and the worst disease event in living memory.

It's like Pandora's Box, the legend of all the evils of the world packed into one container, opened foolishly, letting all disease and war and disaster out into the world. But it's a legend about how we survive these: at the bottom of the box lay Hope - and it, too, flew out into the world.

So, today is the bottom of the box for 2020, and CCCC is pleased to offer a link to the new dashboard to watch: CTV's vaccine distribution tracker. (Also linked from sample graphics at right and left).

As CCCC has done, it allows us to follow along on the "competition" that isn't, the progress of the global vaccination effort, and Canada's programs. Unlike the bitter, ironic "competition" - at dying - on the other trackers, this really is a postive, actual race to follow. The countries and regions that deploy vaccines the fastest will have better outcomes in global economic competition.

The next month is going to be pretty awful in certain locales. While Canada seems to be getting a grip on the second wave at last (we'll really know when the holidays are over, and people get tests they've put off), and while much of the USA is actually reducing hospital loads, there's going to be some staggering statistics before it gets better.

During those times, click on your vaccine tracker. The next month should show some serious ramp-up in vaccinations per day, and the dashboard will be changing ever-more-rapidly. That's got to provide some Hope that it's darkest in January, because its just before dawn.


December 30: In Favour of Vaccine Snobbery and Exclusion: Jobs for Jabs

Before we get into general-population vaccination, let's be clear that there must be no quarter, no tolerance of anti-vaxxers. They do not have a religious argument, unless they make up their own religion. They can have all the "personal freedom" arguments they want, as long as they risk nobody else. For me that means:
  • They are not welcome in any workplace involving contact with others;
  • Unvaccinated children are not welcome in public schools;
  • Theatres, bars, restaurants, and hotels are free to welcome them, as long as they publish that they do so, that the rest of us might avoid them.
The workplaces should be forced to have that rule, as needed; you shouldn't be able to intimidate a worker out of their job by requiring them to work under risky conditions. There is risk even to the vaccinated. We simply do not know whether vaccination actually prevents infection, or merely causes all cases to be asymptomatic, allowing any vaccinated person to be a carrier to others in their life.

Certainly, we'll need a system for proving you're vaccinated, (or have antibodies from catching it in the last six months...the exact months need to be nailed down on that one.) Europe is already looking into "vaccination passport" documents.

The schools, and even the work requirement, would be hard to enforce, except that the pandemic response so far, has given schools and employers the PERFECT response to complaints about excluding the unvaccinated: you can continue your schooling or the work from home, like much of 2020.

We all agreed that the kids were still being schooled; maybe not as well, but it was still a school year. People at work over Microsoft Teams, were agreed to be at work, and deserving of their paycheque. So we aren't excluding anybody from anything, telling anti-vaxxer parents that the price of their beliefs is keeping the kid on remote-learning. It's now an acceptable substitute.

Some people may not be vaccinated - or claim not - just so they can continue working from home. But I get a strong sense from the white-collar employees I know, that while there are many good things about work-from-home, career advancement when other employees can bump into the boss every day and get literal face time (not "FaceTime©")...is not one of them. A willingness to come in may be the marker of an ambitious careerist in the coming decade.

So I see clear sailing for just not giving an inch to anti-vaxxers this time around. And every incentive, obviously: this one's too important, to put up with their shit any longer.


December 29: Canada Cracks 400 Dead per Million; Headed for 1000-Club?

The news are carrying the latest round number for total dead, 15,000, last night. Another round number was crossed on worldometers (which is a little ahead of the public-health confirmations, at 15,263 dead already this morning), of 400 dead per million, the metric that allows comparison between polities.

That does still have us 51st-from-worst on Earth, I guess, and we're only a few percent worse than Germany, looked to as such a success. (The second wave has been hard on a lot of success stories.)

A few days ago, I sadly noted the the USA entering the "1000DPM Club", a thousand deaths per million, previously the territory of Spain and Italy. The bitter news, as we pass 400 DPM, is that the IHME COVID-19 Projections Dashboard for Canada, is currently predicting a median scenario (no fast vaccine-rollout, no universal mask rule) of 33,240 deaths in Canada by April 1, (the anniversary date of CCCC), as far ahead as it makes any sense to predict.

That would be 876 per million, and since the dying won't stop for months after that, Canada has excellent odds of going over 900, and may reach the 1000-club itself, under the IHME "easing" scenario, where we do what the USA did in the summer.

I really think we can do better than that.


December 28: "We've done an amazing job. And it's rounding the corner." Part II

This was the title of an October 16 post, right after America's President uttered those amazing words.

At left, a reminder of the October 16 graph from worldometers beside that post, and at right, yesterday's graph, with the now-tiny "corner" dip pointed out so that you can see it at all.

All this time, and people still are not getting, not at gut-level, what "exponential" means. I think that the messaging needs to show more bombs going off, maybe show some of those amazing super-slow-motion movies of the burn going through a pot of gunpowder as it flashes, or the hilarious simulation of a nuclear explosion with mousetraps and ping-pong balls.

People seem to think that the lid has been placed firmly on by getting the case-load down; problem solved. No. It's an explosion with the lid on. The restrictions keep the lid on. Well, the lid is well-off, now, and Canada has been slooowly levelling off the increase; the national case-load was barely growing by the time the holidays hit. America, the same, actually - just at over FOUR TIMES Canada's per-capita case-load. After the holidays, everybody is expecting another jump, and more weeks of struggle to get the growth-rate actually negative.

Negative growth-rate - sustained for some days - that's when you "turn the corner", Mr. President.


December 27: New Variant, Same Solution

I'm basically on-vacation from doing any work on this the last few days, (obviously), but I don't need to do any work to point out something very, very obvious. I should still get credit, because nobody else seems to be noting this, in all the many, many stories on the "new variant", that of course is everywhere on Earth right now, not just Canada.

Because it took time to detect it, and because most nations are in a second wave, with high cases, and because travel is not being restricted much, half a million people flew in the United States on the holiday, it's of course everywhere, and will gradually take over from the old version, naturally.

The very, very obvious is that the fight against the new variant is the same old fight: we can hold it down by opposing transmission and crushing those curves. That will shut down all variants, and keep more-transmissable ones from taking over.

It's just more urgent now, to crush that curve, if it wasn't urgent enough for you before. It was for most people I know, so the news is almost meaningless for us; we can't do any more. But people who haven't been as serious, need yet more pleading. And demands. And fines.


December 26: Walking the Walk by Talking the Talk (only on Skype)

We did ourselves as said; Christmas passed without more other humans, than waving at some others in our condo while taking out garbage. We had a lovely supper together, and - here's a throwback to ancient traditions now being lost - watched "The Polar Express" on CTV - over the airwaves, no less, we've given up cable - at the same time as other Canadians. While I ate a gross amount of candy.

There was roast chicken (two people isn't enough for turkey) and a fireplace, and lots of Christmas music. We Zoomed and Skyped with Calgary and Madrid, exchanged many e-messages with friends; I caught up with one I hadn't had a whole conversation with in many years. We did "planks" exercises over Zoom with workout buddies.

And we get to have zero sympathy for those who just had to have more. No, you didn't. We toasted all the years my Dad spent Christmas in Britain, waiting for the attack that never came, and in Holland, 1945. He never spoke of them as bad Christmases, he knew how many other Soldiers were suffering much, much worse.

We toasted them, too, and had a Merry Christmas.


December 25: Give the Gift of Life This Christmas!

Stay home. Call your family. Call your friends!


December 24: An Xmas Present for CCCC: BC Climbs Down the Mountain

CCCC stands by its post of December 15th, "Yep, We Are So Screwed", because Christmas and New Year's, and weeks after, certainly are. Heartbreaking for the hospitality industry to go back into restrictions at their best time of the year. We built that mountain at left out of mistakes and denial, and it's going to be a long climb down it, yet.

It's not as bad as I thought, nine days ago. I was thinking that we were going to sit on that 650/day "ledge" in the mountain, that we seemed trapped into at the time, for the rest of the holidays. Instead, after more than a week there, we started climbing down the mountain again.

How unpredictable that was, makes fun of my attempt to assume a linear drop, with the red line at left, but it's a first approximation that says if we can not have a bump after Xmas day, and keep it up like this, we could see the summer case-load again by late January.

Late January is not soon enough for vaccination to greatly affect community transmission probabilities, especially since we'll be focused until then on health-care workers, and the care-home set.

One can only hope we don't just balloon back up again, because people get into a psychology - again - that we've beaten it and the whole thing is over.

That's next month's problem. For now, I'm celebrating that resumed decline as a fine Christmas present, indeed.


December 23: UK and USA Share The Worst Xmas Present

...Membership in the "1000 Deaths per Million" Club

As readers know (plural may be speculative), CCCC follows the pandemic statistics are worldometers.org, which uses news reports rather than the Johns-Hopkins dashboard that runs some days behind. At left, last night's final totals, with the USA at just under 331,000 dead. They have just under 332 million people, (far right column), so the deaths-per-million (highlighted column) will hit 1,000 today.

The 1000-deaths-per-million club is rarefied atmosphere. Just those former European Imperial Powers that have had massive deaths of their elderly, mostly, along with some poor but urbanized nations like Peru. As you can see in the middle of the table, the UK just joined the other day. The two formerly great nations, now labouring under the worst leaderships in the developed world, are competing to finish the COVID Cup at the "Bottom of the Major League", as the CCCC kick-off essay put it.

In America, the daily-case rate does seem to be levelling off; alas, it does not seem to be dropping, not yet - and the dying is only increasing. In the UK, the dying had actually levelled off and started to decline for a few weeks, but now has picked up again, because their daily case-rate has been on a steep exponential for two weeks.

I feel embarrassed for getting mad at BC a week ago with "Yep, We Are So Screwed" after seeing a traffic jam. Compared the UK, and the keen new variant they've allowed to develop by not crushing the curve, (see yesterday for link), we're doing well.

The repeating pattern seems to be that the population has to be taught over and over again, in some places, that the virus will go exponential if you don't change your behaviour. They let it get away again (and again, in America) and the virus has to teach them to pay attention. The elected leaders are slow to react, wait whole weeks, but finally impose restrictions. Gradually, people obey - partly from enforcement; in small part from genuine fear of the virus, though many keep denying and denying it; mostly because others are. Finally, the curve bends, at great cost.

That's how it works in the COVID Cup nations-of-failure. The virus finally enforces the same basic steps that smart nations take pro-actively and without foot-dragging, and charges heavily for the lessons. The UK and USA are now paying that high tuition a second (or, in some US states, a third) time. That's how you join the Thousand Deaths per Million Club.


December 22: Imperial Bad Guys Comeuppance?

The connection is anything but perfect, it has many exceptions. But it's close enough, that historians may be chewing on it for decades to come.

It started with me perusing the many stories excoriating the UK government of Boris Johnson for their current pandemic plight: quarantined by the rest of the world for generating a new coronavirus variant. "Generating", because of this article about the string of failures that made it possible. If covid is allowed to have a colony of hundreds of thousands in your nation, for months, the probability of evolution creating new variants is that much higher than if you have few. The "lets just keep running with covid cases, not crush them down" philosophy isn't just making people sick and dead; it's helping the Enemy invent new weapons.

It came to me that there's a common thread of arrogance, to the worst-behaving nations. The USA and Britain aren't just the two most-obviously-arrogant nations about imagining they can steamroll over a pandemic; they were the ones that broke the UN Charter to prosecute aggressive war. They were the two most-culpable nations in the financial crisis, just imagining that they could keep pushing up a property bubble forever; a kind of arrogance underlay that belief, too. Whole cultures can have a belief that bad things simply cannot touch them. (The current use of the term "privilege" revolves around those who just believe this unconsciously, assume it.)

I was chewing on that, whether it diluted the evidence that many EU banks involved in the financial crisis as well, when it hit me that nearly all the really-bad outcomes in Europe: Belgium, Italy, Spain, France, in that order - were former imperial powers. In Italy's case, I don't mean ancient times, they had African colonies in the last century. The exception is Portugal - indeed, it's their colony of Brazil that, under a fascist government, is having a terrible pandemic.

But the "arrogant national psychology" theory can even take a bolster there: Greece and Portugal were deeply humbled in the last ten years by that same 2008 financial crisis, preyed upon by foreign lenders.

Like all vague Theories of History, it probably benefits from some cherry-picking. I skipped Japan, a total exception...or is it? They were humbled with nuclear weapons. Russia was and is very imperial, but you can't trust their pandemic reports.

Ah, well, my "theory" would hold up well in a barroom, if not a classroom, I contend, and it holds up well enough for me to offer whole nations advice that's so appropriate for Christmas:

Blessings will come to the Humble, Ye Nations! And the Proud and Arrogant Shall Be Laid Low.


December 21: The Winter of our Discontent

(Kwitcherbitchin' Lear, you got the vaccine already)

I prefer to be original when possible, but I've just got to go along with what must be the most-common wry headline on opinions columns today.

The first day of winter looks very typical in Vancouver: 1C and 30mm of rain beating just above my head. Just like my post on the pandemic timing for politics, the next 13 weeks have everything stacked against them.

It's winter, for one thing. Cases are high, and expected to surge; the political acceptance of fighting COVID with restrictions is fraying; the economy is crumbling despite (often confused) efforts to support the COVID's "economic victims"; and the vaccines will be frustratingly ineffective at limiting transmission for the whole time.

It's just going to suck.

But the medieval reference should remind us that times have been worse. There is no discontent here as bad as my father missing six Christmases-at-home in a row, 1939 through 1944. A time that included far more dying. We've been watching the mini-series "World Without End", from the Ken Follet novel about the early 14th century, the Hundred Year's War and the Black Death. Frankly, the lives of the peasants during the "good times" in that story were worse than our lowest month of this winter. And then a third of them died.

If you've got a home, and enough money to get by on, you're one of the luckiest humans in all recorded history. Keep your bubble close, call your Mom, enjoy the rich food that continues to pour from the working part of the economy, courtesy of the risks and sacrifices of many workers, tip well.

And Who-ville didn't even need any presents, so buck up.


December 20: How Miraculous Are The New Vaccines? Very.

The expertise of Dr. Rick Bright about vaccines is not to be gainsayed. Granted, Dr. Bright has spent much of his career climbing the bureaucratic ladder in the US government's Health and Human Services; it's been some years since he washed a test-tube himself. When he resigned and turned whistleblower over the "hydroxychloroquine controversy" several months ago, there were any number of articles with anonymous critiques of his management style, (likely encouraged by Trump appointees).

But, being the boss doesn't mean you are out-of-touch with the science, and Rick Bright has been a vaccine expert for decades. He would be completely up on the new "mRNA" vaccines that have amazed us all, this month. And here's the thing: as recently as last May, he was skeptical of the 12-18 month time frame for the vaccine rollout.

The story at "The Hill" linked above was from May 14th. The Pfizer vaccine product was approved just seven months later - less three days. The Hill makes it sound like he was predicting another eighteen months before it would come, though I suspect he was talking about a timeline that started last January, when the vaccine work began. He was really saying that next month through next June would be the timeline, 'if all goes well, and it never does'.

So, the miracle here is just that it was a month earlier than the earliest hoped-for date by a cautious, experienced expert - who warned that it could be several months more. As experts stress, most vaccines used to take years; HIV has never had a vaccine, not in over 35 years, now.

That's miracle enough for me. The program is just getting rolling, but it should be in full flight in a few more days. Texas put up a report yesterday that they'd injected 26,007 doses: 21,820 of them in the previous 24 hours. Literally hundreds of thousands of arms will receive a Christmas Miracle.


December 19: Pandemic Keeps Revealing Deep Cultural Prejudices

On the "outrage" beat, many news pages are carrying the comically inept, awful, terrible, no-good forgetting of the medical residents that actually treat hospital COVID-19 patients in their vaccination program.

The residents, exposed to COVID-19 for most of their endless, "25-hour" workdays, were at the bottom of the priority list, well below X-ray techs.

They're been prioritized, of course, by social status within the hospital community - which is somewhere between the status of the assistant billing clerks, and the oxygen tanks. There have long been previous articles about this: terrible pay, worked half to death, napping anywhere from their long, long shifts.

The issue has always been shrugged at as some kind of "hazing" ritual, before they become specialist doctors that, in the States at least, may pull in half a million a year. (Lawyers are also worked like mules, for nothing, for years, earning their way up to have the privilege of abusing others the same way. Is that kind of kick-down mentality really what you want in people most likely to end up in politics?)

The Stanford administrators are attracting even more abuse for the brand-new buzzword in their defense: "algorithm". But we're on to that one. Here's their mistake:

According to an email sent by a chief resident to other residents, Stanford's leaders explained that an algorithm was used to assign its first allotment of the vaccine. The algorithm was said to have prioritized those health care workers at highest risk for COVID infections, along with factors like age and the location or unit where they work in the hospital. Residents apparently did not have an assigned location, and along with their typically young age, they were dropped low on the priority list.
...just that simple. We put them in as no-location. The mistake, though, was ignoring the medical residents when you were programming the algorithm. The correct algorithm was just to list off everybody who was known to be in contact with COVID-19 patients first, then get on with people whose contact-chances might be inferred, second-hand, from their location.

Calling a "policy" an "algorithm" is just describing a policy somebody typed into a computer. If you'd assigned the vaccination list to humans, you'd just call it "policy", and skipped the new buzzword. (It would also be an "algorithm" if it were executed by a human computer.) The medical residents were ignored, at the top of this policy-making, because human beings didn't even think of them.

There's some spy fictions where the spy is effective because she is a woman, or black, or dressed as a bum or service-person, because those spied upon simply don't even see such people, they don't have names. It turns out the medical residents were simply...invisible...as they have been for a long time.

We also suddenly discovered all those people who live in care-homes. If somebody had really thought about them, the care-homes would have been prepared for the pandemic last January and February, and we'd have saved thousands of lives in Canada. But we just didn't think of that. They were invisible. So are people in jail, apparently, though there were frantic articles in the spring about protecting them, one the other day about vaccinating them. It probably won't happen, except a few locations, like Massachusetts, the bleeding-heart liberals.

As for the very poor, the homeless, they are never invisible, really...but we try hard and manage not to see them. I'm not seeing any vaccination program for them, either.


December 18: Vaccinate Sports

I spotted a story the other day about an inquiry as to whether sports teams could be vaccinated soon, so that they can play in greater safety, with fewer restrictions. The story included a reaction that this was like billionaires expecting to be vaccinated first, because of money, or politicians, because of power.

I thought that was the stupidest thing I'd ever heard lately (and, considering the last month, that's really going a ways)...even though I don't watch sports. I want them to vaccinate the football leagues, though I think the whole sport should go away because of brain injuries.

The reason should be blindingly obvious: people regard sports teams as their heroes, kids in particular want to dress in their jerseys, wear their shoes. But the fandom of course goes up through all ages.

I want all those kids and sports fans vying for a place in line to get the NHL-themed vaccinations, where the band-aid has a Calgary Flames flame on it. I want kids studying up on vaccine safety, so as to shut down the feeble arguments of their anti-vaxxer parents.

And in the states, those stories about Black people having an (understandable) fear of vaccinations, totally shut down by advertisements made by LeBron James - with him delivering the "get vaccinated" speech as his own needle goes in. Then another, three weeks later, where he berates fans for not getting in line yet, if they haven't. Then he can turn to the nurse as she slaps on the LeBron band-aid, and say "Thank you so much; you may have just saved my life." (turns to camera) "Now save your own life; save your mom's life; save everybody's life. Get in line, and tell 'em LeBron sent you."

My logic applies to everybody who might be paid to advertise a product, to give it their endorsement. So, I'm sorry, but the logic applies to Gwynneth Paltrow and Kim Kardashian, as well. It applies double to conservative media heroes like Kid Rock. Again, I'm sorry.

For whatever reason, they are looked to as leaders; let's get them leading people into line.


December 17: Dying Young: Ten Times as Many Americans

Next year will mark 30 years that I've successfully avoided everything but the poster for this tearjerker. I'll save my tears for Americans, trapped in a political madhouse with "leaders" that care nothing for their lives.

Think the coronavirus is exclusively for the old? The old, and the victims of bad government. Canadians in the age group 50-64 have half the death rate of Americans in the age group 30-49. Americans are particularly good at killing off the 30-49 age group with coronavirus. The ratio of death rates is a "mere" 7-8 times worse for both the 18-29 and the 50-64 age groups, but twelve times worse for the 30-49s. Why is that? Forcing people in the prime of life to work those "essential" jobs, like meat packing, with no workplace protections?

My study of this arose from the realization that there are two pandemics that are completely different in their epidemiology: the care-home pandemic, and the general-population pandemic. Care homes quickly become widely infected, because you can't find a better carrier than the staff who help people dress, walk, and eat: the virus races through them - and the death rates are over ten times higher than the general population.

Canada has done a spectacularly bad job of her care-homes, especially in Quebec and Ontario. We have to subtract it to judge how badly or well we did with the general-population pandemic.

Proper epidemiologists can sort through the two pandemics in future years, with great precision: we know who died in homes. For a first glance, however, we can compare just the general-population pandemics alone, by restricting the age groups to the "young", under 65, and especially the under-50 population that are all still at work and school. (Some young are in care-homes from paralysis, etc, but not enough to affect statistics.)

The Canadian statistics of death are separated out by age at the Health Canada Coronavirus site, the American at the CDC site. I collected them for a month, to see if the ratio was changing as new, high death rates hit America the last month. They hadn't changed, really, Canada is into a second wave of its own. But that just means that America is consistently performing about ten times worse than Canada at protecting the general population from coronavirus infection and death. (All are collected in this spreadsheet.)

I found the numbers so shocking that I'd like to walk through my journey step-by-step, check my work. At left, the simple raw counts of dead bodies, both sides of the border. There is one data-artifact: the Canadian column for "50-64" is the report for "50-59" plus 40% of the count for "60-69". Death rates rise with age, so I figured that 40% to the first five years, 60% to the second five years, of that decade, was a good guess. I think you'll see that the exact number is unimportant for the main thesis. (My thesis is, "Americans are much worse at this pandemic". Whether they are 9 times worse or 10, you'd absolutely prefer to have spent 2020 in Canada!)

Step two was to divide the American population (331.9M) over the Canadian (37.9M) to get a population ratio of 8.76. Yes, we're no longer one-tenth of the USA, more than a ninth, even. It's all that immigration, I guess. This gives the table at right, with the Canadian numbers multiplied by 8.76, so you can see how many Americans would have died instead, had they only gone with Canadian governance and cultural values, our community spirit of shared sacrifice.

These are cumulative numbers, you see the slowly-rising death grand totals over the weeks. As the study over time showed little changing, I'll just quote from the final line for December 12.

It's clarifying to exclude the very old, you get away from those numbers so large they mean almost nothing: 300,000 and more. But surely, the notion that America has lost 1114 people in the 18-29 age group, when only 131 would have died had they been Canadian, brings it down to a thousand dead people just starting their lives, whose deaths can be blamed on America, not COVID-19.

At age group 50-64, people are mostly still at work, people with teenagers, and kids in college. But that subtraction is 41,673-6,088, or over 35,000 dead in the USA, that would be still at work and home, if Canadian public health were serving them.

The harshest comparison is between the 50-64 Canadian column, and the American 30-49 column: half as bad. Twice as many Americans, per million, have died in their 30-49 age group, as our 50-64 age group. America would have over five thousand people alive, (11,659-6,088) between 30-49, if they were as safe as Canadians from 50-64.

I'm just belabouring the same numbers, by showing different views of them. The comparisons that some American politicans made to Canada during their campaign, were actually extremely kind to their country. A really fair comparison of the two systems of government, the two cultures, the two nations, is really about the general-population pandemic, not a comparison of the one industry of care-homes.

In that comparison, Canada looks more like one of the COVID Cup major-leaguers like Germany, nearly Australia. Not just two or three times better than America, but ten times.

Once again, the pandemic has highlighted and greatly exaggerated societal differences, and especially social failures, that we already knew about. Canada has a lot to fix in their care-homes. America has a lot to fix, period.


December 16: First Nations First

They were the First Nations in the land; about 90% of them were killed off by North American pandemics we brought along with the guns and steel. So, for that reason alone, absolutely goddam right that they should be first in line when the general population starts to receive vaccinations, right behind the very old and infirm.

Within the ranks of the old and infirm, those in care-homes need priority because their environment exposes them to massively high infection risks compared to those in their own homes; but, after that, the elders of First Nations should get to be ahead of other elders, for that matter.

It's not just a sense of moral debt, hundreds of years old (how much interest is that, then?) that calls for this, of course. I wouldn't even try to sell it on that alone, since we don't seem to feel any other debts to them (not for land, not even for clean water). It's because they have such a shockingly higher statistic of bad outcomes from catching COVID, as with persons of colour in the USA.

Canada's own populations of colour can make similar claims, but satisfying theirs is distinctly...awkward. We obviously have no spot on your ID that certifies you as such. With the First Nations, of course, we've long had "official status", lists of names...and much more importantly, there are some 600+ separate commuities to rush those vaccinations out to.

Which is where my idealism smacks into the hard reality that places without clean water are also scarce on -70C fridges.

Hard reality can be softened by smart engineers. Whether there is some portable-refrigeration tech, some plan to have everybody waiting for the plane in Moosonee, to get their shot, before the liquid nitrogen runs dry, we can do our best. Whether they are at the head of the current line, or the next line that forms when the vaccine that only needs -20C shows up soon, we should let them know we care.


December 15: Yep, We Are So Screwed

This is a follow-up to my despairing post of two days' ago, "Crushed" when I looked out at the Saturday rush-hour (about twice as bad as yesterday's Monday rush-hour, at left) and realized that Monday's case reports would be just as bad as the week before's; that we were just going to spend a month on top of the curve rather than crushing it, because Xmas, and "end of year" at work, were more important.

Tough luck for the parents and grandparents of a lot of people making that decision.

The follow-up, of course, is that I was exactly right: still over 700 cases a day, all weekend, again. It'll stay there. We're going to lose a dozen to 20 people a day in BC for over a month, probably 500 dead that might have been saved. Yes, most of them very old, but there will be enough young people in the mix to add up to that Saskatchewan bus crash, or the Nova Scotia mass murder - horrifying news in a non-pandemic context.

But we plucky British Columbians are going to take that hit just so we can go shopping and visiting and stay ahead at work. The tendency to think it won't happen to you, is behind why restrictions are so inconsistent. The officials know the urge is there, and so fear to push against it too hard, they know they are herding cats. The successful places like New Zealand and Australia have had success because they've had buy-in.

We had buy-in, but, clearly we are losing it. That, and not public health mistakes, is why we are so screwed.

With luck, rather than getting numb to the death-toll over the next three weeks, a growing sense of concern will come back, and when the revels are ended, we'll get back to crushing that curve, one last time.


December 14: Nikiforuk vs Kenney

I developed a real problem with journalist Andrew Nikiforuk decades ago. He didn't like the way that the Alberta oil industry treated landowners, which is very commendable; but he let that dislike give him even a speck of sympathy for one Weibo Ludwig, whom you can look up for yourself. A truly creepy and frightening individual, who deserved none. But I really got upset at one of Nikiforuk's books that really argued the position that HIV was not the real source of AIDS, and, anyway, have paid him little attention for many years.

But he's won a journalism award recently for his good works with The Tyee, which I recommend again and again, we support it, and may be upping our contribution soon, I'm finding a lot of good articles there.

The other day, Nikiforuk wrote a wonderful summing-up of Jason Kenney's stupid, weak, disasterous pandemic strategy.

I'll jump to the conclusion for you:

New Zealand and Australia did the lockdowns right (with support for small businesses) and are enjoying a normal Christmas. Alberta could have pursued that course in early summer but chose the status quo of limping along and further endangering the health-care system and the economy.

So who's the Alberta basher? Own it, Mr. Premier. You just bashed your province.

Nikiforuk builds the case for that statement in a ten-minute read. It clears the head, after reading crazy stuff about how Kenney is bad for locking down, even now.


December 13: Crushed

I was reflecting the other day, in front of my fantastic view, that I'm in the third, or is it fourth, weekend of hoping the three day's of data, that will come tomorrow, will show a significant drop in infections. I cheered last week, when Keith Baldry on Global pointed out how the numbers were, in fact, in decline, if not rapid. But Friday's number in the 700s made me wonder again.

And it struck me that not only had I seen some pretty long lines to get into stores yesterday, I was looking at a Georgia street choked with slow-moving vehicles at four in the afternoon. It was a typical-looking Saturday before Xmas shopper's rush hour.

Most of the "restrictions" still depend on personal choices, and people are personally choosing to do the Christmas stuff. I'm reading a lot into a packed street, but my hopes that the curve would start getting crushed, got crushed.

I think the numbers are going to be bad through the New Year. Maybe then we can get serious and make some progress. As I look back at late March through early May, it was actually about the same: the downside-slopes of the curves were gentle, the infections going down slowly - and that was with more business closed, the schools closed. Sitting around every weekend expecting a dramatic turnaround was naive.

The advocates of "circuit breaker" lockdowns, where you lock down really hard for just a few weeks, are probably naive, also. Absent massive policing of the "hard" lockdown, you'd probably still get only a gentle downward trend, and be unable to just go back to normal in two weeks. Imagining it will happen around Christmas, when all the good messaging is swimming upstream against ingrained traditions, was awfully optimistic.

I'm switching my hopes that "Dry January", will also be "Spaced-Out January", and we'll have some normality around the end of it. That, and the knowledge that at least the medical staff are protected, will cheer me up considerably.


December 12: Three Weeks of Inevitable Dying

I should produce a post that takes research, but today I'm basically just back to my late-April mesmerization by death-toll dashboards again. What's got my eyes round is the multiplication by twenty. Because most provinces and states are at a high level of daily infections, that just isn't declining much (yes, depressed again by a case-count over 700 in BC, yesterday - exponential increase may have stopped, but there's just so little decrease) we are sentenced to three weeks of death-tolls that look like today's.

That's hitting 100/day for Canada, with 2000 deaths to come. The US is expecting over 3000/day for the rest of the month, and into January, their curves not even changing yet. For them, another hundred thousand dead - passing their WW2 military losses - is now inevitable by early January. For Canada, sixteen thousand dead by then, and even if the curve is then rapidly crushed, stays there until vaccines reach over 60% in the late summer, we'll probably hit twenty thousand dead. It's predictable, and changing people's behaviour is now so hard, it feels inevitable.

It's not the inevitable deaths to those already sick that get to me. It's the weird notion that I could be passing people on the street that look OK, but will show symptoms tomorrow, and not see Christmas - the Walking Dead. (I'll bring out that term to pass along a joke from the other day:
"Future Zombie movies will look really naive and unbelievable if they don't show half the population running towards the zombies, daring them to bite, since it's all a hoax".)

I must have read about six SF stories now, pretty much relating back to the legend of Cassandra, about people who can predict the future - but only predict terrible things, and be unable to change them. Generally, they're basically horror stories for the Twilight Zone. That's what it feels like, watching the train come at you, down the tracks you're tied to.

It's going to be a tough month for Christmas cheer. I can only hope "The Epiphany" (January 6th) actually brings one for the ongoing denial movement.


December 11: The Very Simple Version of Vaccine Math

How many people need to be vaccinated, as we contemplate the bizarre notion that anybody does not want it.

"Early on in the pandemic" is the only time for which the now-famous "R0" was a reflection of what it would be if everybody went back "to normal", presuming we can even remember that. The Rt numbers ever since, reflect at least some caution in even the dumbest locations. That original R0 was 2.8.

Your extremely simple model of vaccination is that you can multiply R0 by the percent of vaccinated people that will still catch it from an infectee, and that's you post-vaccine Rt.

So, we need 66% effectiveness, because 2.8/3 is less than one. As long as it's under one, an infection will die out naturally, fewer victims with every "generation" of transmission.

Unfortunately, 100% population vaccination isn't going to happen. If we only vaccinate half the population, well, the other half still have Rt=2.8, so the overall population is at 1.4, even if the other half had zero risk. (Again, this is a very simple model.)

Even with the incredible 95% effective vaccines, you still have to vaccinate 65% of the population, because the remaining 35% will have that 2.8 Rt, for 0.95 overall. The 5% infection rate in the vaccinated 65% of the population take that nearly up to one.

The good news is that not every member of the population is an equal-risk infector. Remember that this is the Pareto Pandemic, the infection mostly the result of superspreaders, the 20% of infectees that average a dozen victims each, responsible for 80% of the infections.

It will be crucial to vaccinate that lot. People who contact many others are work, sports, education, and other institutional settings are the really vital vaccinations.

They should be mandatory for the job, in those professions, in those schools, for the sport access in those sports.

Period.


December 10: The Third-Worst War

Well, the round numbers are all hitting at once, and a few papers are tiredly pointing them out. As noted a few weeks ago, numerical comparisons are getting exhausted, a certain numbness is setting in. In that post, I mentioned the number "294,265", my adding-up of every American military casuality in war, save only the two biggest, WW2, and their Civil War. Both those are over 400,000, and up to even a month ago, I would have said that 'America will not reach that high, so this is the last war comparison'.

But the other "round number headline" yesterday, was "over 3000 dead in a single day", that is, "more than 9/11". There's just no reason to assume that much less than 100,000 will die in the next month, they've kind of sentenced themselves to that by the infection-rate of the last weeks. They should hit 405,399 (WW2) around the middle of January. (On January 21, 2021, of course, all 410,000 will become Biden's Fault.) Only their Civil War death toll (~655,000) remains unlikely.

They could reach even that number, before vaccines finally take effect, but I suspect the next month will school even their most ardent denialists into changing behaviours. Or, at least, I continue to hope.

For now, though, it's just their third-worst war. It was a stupid mistake to call it "The China Virus" - mostly because the attempt - to create a public assumption of foreign attack - simply didn't catch, always a humiliating failure for a demagogue. Also, now, because, if this was a war with China, then, man, China really beat your ass, soundly. (Why, exactly, they infected themselves first as a strategy, would remain a puzzler, of course.)


December 9: Call Off Christmas

In the words of the Sheriff of Nottingham in the "Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves" movie (1991): "Call Off Christmas". (Alan Rickman was the best thing in this movie. We recommend the barely noticed "Robin Hood", same year. It was ruined by the giant ad dollars dropped on the competing Kevin Costner movie. Just plain "Robin Hood", with Uma Thurman and Patrick Bergen, was the better movie. By Far. Rickman did not save the Costner version, and I'm glad YouTube lets me enjoy his best scene without having to re-watch it.)

Despite our own raising of the Christmas Lights for the first time in Vancouver, this year, it's painful that we'll be with family only over Skype. (Once again, praise be, the pandemic waited until nearly everybody had Internet that would support Skype.) It's tough. The longer an inconvenience goes on, the more you feel "due" for a break. But my parents got through Christmas 1939 through Christmas 1944 apart from their families, six of them in a row. We'll manage the one.

Can those who feel this is just impossible, spare a thought for those whose Christmas has been "cancelled" by the death of a family member? It's really hard, losing somebody when it's close to Christmas: quite the damper.

Many families can be philosophical about COVID losses, if they're that fraction that were in the last few years of life, their deaths expected for some time already. Even now, that is over half of them. Still - at Christmas. Hard.

Spare more thought for those about to lose people with decades left. Chuck Yeager made it to 97. Canada currently has some 2000 people, age band 50-70, fighting for their lives in the ICU. 1200 in that age band have already died in Canada, and some hundreds of those 2000 are going to leave those ICUs in body bags. Right Around Christmas.

Christmas is definitely cancelled for those thousands of families in Canada, probably for a hundred thousand families in the United States, just counting the losses that shocked their families as "not their time".

So please, if you were still thinking of travelling or gathering, don't. Call off Christmas, so it won't be called off in a far more terrible way, for others - possibly others in your own family.


December 8: Waiting Rewarded

Thanks to Keith at Global News for finding the cheer in that awaited weekend news. For a moment, it still looked bad - over 2000 new cases.

But Keith pointed out the differences from last weekend: 2020 new cases instead of over 2300, last weekend; the case-counts dropped in all health regions except the far north, which has just a few. Considering that these are three-day sums, and a week apart, it's significant.

We aren't really on the downside of the curve yet, we're pretty much sitting on top of it. Yes, the 7-day rolling average of daily case-counts, at left, looks like a downside, but we're just a couple of higher days away from that looking like a fluctuation. Don't let your breath out yet. But: it is no longer an exponential increase, or any increase; it's very likely started a downward trend. If we can just keep it up.

Manitoba and Saskatchewan are in similar straits: clear signs that that R-factor has broken down below one, the curve turning. But Alberta, Ontario and Quebec, no sign of a turnaround. For the nation, things are still looking bad.

Let's all push on this, we really need to see their three numbers change next weekend for sure.


December 7: Weekend Waiting

December the Seventh, Nineteen-Forty-One, was a "Day that Shall Live in Infamy", because the Japanese killed just over 2400 Americans at Pearl Harbour.

December the Seventh, Two Thousand and Twenty, will not live in infamy, though at least as many Americans will die today, of a foreign (indeed, originally, Asian) attack. The virus' attack, of course, was the least-sneaky attack in American history. In 1941, 2400 dying was a terrible shock; today is just another day in 2020 America.

The death-o-meter will quite possibly tick up to the 9/11 number, today, and some blend of Pearl Harbour memories and 9/11 references will likely show up in your late-night news, after the number comes in.

The Monday number, however, will be false, really, an artifact of the simplest, silliest data-mangle: the weekend. Here in BC, they simply don't report the Saturday/Sunday case-loads or death-counts, until 3pm Monday, which is why I am "weekend waiting". I'll get three days of case numbers at once. In my dreams, they will be in the 700s, 600s, and 500s respectively, indicating that the curve is being crushed, and we're on the other side. In my dreams. After a couple of Mondays like that, I'm mainly hoping they just stop going up. Fingers crossed.

But the worldometers numbers for the USA come in every day, its just that some counties don't report on weekends, some do. So you see the "weekend dip", shown at right - that being the most-extreme "weekend dip" ever in USA daily-cases, because of their (roughly) five-day superweekend for Thanksgiving. Mostly, you can filter out weekend dips with a 7-day moving average line (blue), but Thanksgiving was so big, it created this bizarre dip even in the average.

This last weekend dip will result in a catch-up today that might inflate their numbers - already ticking up to the high 2000s - above that 3000 round number that will trigger all the 9/11 references in the headlines.

The poor newsies: they'll be torn between doing a Pearl Harbour reference, and a 9/11 reference: what rhetorical gymnastics will they use?

Oh, yeah, the poor dead Americans, too. Shame about them.


December 6: Can I Just Think about Dungeons and Dragons Today?

...the real news has too many dead people.

We've been doling out the "Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings" movies, one per weekend, for over a month now. Last night's conclusion to "The Two Towers" was lighter on the magical enchantments, and heavy on the sort-of 14th-century medieval battles of armor and sword, with a high chance of dying.

"Lord of the Rings" has now brought some three generations to the game of Dungeons and Dragons. I think it's one of the greatest things for childhood education, ever. I'm sorry I only discovered it in my twenties, when I already had a science degree with a stats course.

It's educational, because losing roll after roll of the dice in a fight teaches you, the hard way, slowly, how statistics work, which is the opposite of how drama works, how war stories work.

Both Star Trek and Star Wars, the real children's classics of our day, feature the drama approach. Kirk and Spock are about to sneak into the bad guy's fortress, when Spock starts to say "Captain, the odds of a successful attack are.. "..."Spock! Don't tell me the odds". A dozen years later, C-3PO is trying to tell Han Solo that the odds of flying through an asteroid field are...and gets almost exactly the same reply: Never tell me the odds!.

In Dungeons and Dragons, successful players learn the opposite message: Always tell me the odds! That's what real-life warriors want, too, at least after their first battle. The last thing they want is drama. If everybody thought that way all the time, we'd have had a fraction of the casualties we've had from the pandemic. We'd have almost no arguments right now about the right things to do, save arguments over what the odds are. What are the odds of infection in a bar? In a restaurant? Outdoors versus indoors?. (Hint: given the choice, take the dragon on your left, not the bar on your right. At least in South Dakota, today.)

When the first wave was crushed, the risk inherent in going out and being near people was greatly reduced. But it wasn't zero, and the more you went out and did, the more infections happened, the more the risk increased. That's the risk-based view: that every contact was still a risk, still to be minimized. You could minimize with masks, with limited outings, with smaller gatherings.

Many people took the dramatic view instead: the Monster had been defeated, we were now in the broad sunlit uplands of safety, go do anything. Never tell me the odds, you'll ruin the wedding. And here we are.

We need the makers of Dungeons and Dragons to create a new game called "going out". You have to throw a bunch of dice every time you go out. Out to the store: you're infected if six dice come up all ones. Out to a wedding for 50: you're infected if you throw a single die and it comes up one, because the risk is hundreds of times higher. A few hours of playing that game, rolling those dice, might teach people to take fewer such risks in real life.

As proof, I offer the point that no group of Dungeons and Dragons players have ever actually attempted to storm a castle. Which should be good enough proof for your average anti-vaxxer, after all.


December 5: Let's Have a Global Conspiracy Against Anti-Vaxxers

I only wish we could have a fun conspiracy, something involving hooded costumes, meeting in a Star Chamber, in the Empire State Building sub-basement, at midnight. The anti-vaxxers would like that, too, it's the kind of conspiracy they prefer to oppose, even if they have to imagine it, first.

But, no, this global conspiracy should involve about 99% of the human race, and be announced on the pages of major newspapers.

This is the year the forces of common sense can strike back. Last year was the one where (mostly liberal) anti-science idiots in Seattle caused the 2019 measles outbreak, covering their children in spots, and themselves in shame.

That started a bit of a backlash, which this year can obviously push up to a tsunami of common-sense, provided we give no quarter, no sympathy, no concessions at all to the forces of stupidity. Finally, we have a vaccine that only the craziest would not want. Anti-vaxxers have had their limited success because so many deadly diseases are now more than a generation in the past, and they don't know them, in life, or even from their parents. Now, it's been made very clear how bad the risk is - and how the unvaccinated are risking lives not their own.

Secondly, this year has provided a little white lie that can be exploited: that remote learning and remote work is acceptable. This year, schools are going to claim that children deserved to be promoted, and graduated with diplomas, after distance learning. We know it wasn't that great, but that's the story.

So, those who would claim they have some 'right' to go to school or work unvaccinated, and risk the lives of others, can just be told they're on permanent remote status - remote work, remote schooling - until vaccinated. I suppose for work, we could accept wearing a mask and distancing.

I suggested this in a newspaper comment this morning, and got a reply that many are finding remote work to be preferable, and it might be taken as a reward, not punishment. A minor concern, to me. Long before the pandemic, it was accepted workplace wisdom that the more personal contact with bosses, the better for your career. It's better to be near her office, better to bump into her at coffee and in elevators - "elevator speech" is even a common term. Remote-work being a Good Thing will die within weeks of most people going back to the office. I did a few months of remote work just before retiring, and found it very harmful to my human connections.

I do agree that you get more flies with honey. Vaccines should be promoted gently and respectfully through the next Fall. But for Fall 2021, schools in particular must demand vaccines, parent groups must threaten to not let children attend schools that tolerate non-vaccination. Best of all, now that we have the "you'll have to go remote" threat, we can insist on it for all vaccines, not just covid.

Then something good can come out of all this. I'd love to see some social progress with income inequality and child-care and all that, but I'd take a mighty win over the anti-vaxxer idiots as a Great Year.


December 4: Immunity Should be Seen and Not Herd

Today's post is the reverse of yesterday's, an unabashed promotion for a single pandemic article, by Malia Jones, left, in Slate magazine.

I liked it so much, I went to the trouble of googling Dr. Jones, to offer the link to her 23-some scientific publications; she also does a lot of science-fact articles for local Wisconsin journalism.

It's the best take-down I've read, in all this time, on the very idea of "natural herd immunity". Most just point out you need a dead minimum of 60% infected to get there (and this is, by the way, a round number guess: waves might not stop until you hit 70%, or 80%), compute the death-toll of that,(millions) and assume the argument is won.

Alas, the argument keeps coming back, and those who keep reviving the zombie, barely disguise their contempt for the deaths of the old, wave them away with "keep them safe in homes", so Dr. Jones decided a more comprehensive, fully dispositive argument was needed to shut them down.

She goes over how long it would take, many months: as more are infected, the rate slows..for...a...long...time...before it stops. It would come at first in this huge wave that would overwhelm hospitals, crush medical staff, eliminate all other treatment for any other problem. Then the wave would recede, but come back, wave after wave, as the virus reached ever-more protected groups.

You'd try to manage it, to restrict the size of the waves, keep the medical system functioning - but also try to push it, so it wouldn't take six months, like controlled firebreaks in firefighting. You'd fail; it isn't really possible to control it.

If you deliberately pushed contacts, say across a university, to force the university community to "local immunity", it would escape to other communities. (It would be this great "opportunity" for teenagers to legally, if only statistically, murder unpopular elderly professors, though, so there's that.)

You'd try to protect care-homes, but how to protect all the vulnerable people who live outside them, just have severe diabetes, but are needed at work? You'd lose up to 30% of those with severe "pre-existing conditions". One useful thing about the discussion, for American health-care debates, is determining who, exactly, could not possibly care less about "pre-existing conditions".

Actually walking through how the scenario would work out, in a little detail, is devastating. Nobody would propose it. All the proposers have glossed over these details, easily predictable as they are.

But people kept proposing; Sweden actually tried it, and is now very sorry.

We can put it behind us, now, with the first UK vaccinations out next week. But we really have to remember all the people who kept pushing it. They should be marked for life, like those who promoted the Iraq War.

That means, of course, that any journalists in question, are up for a promotion.


December 3: Rear-View Mirror

I'm pretty much too depressed to look up some pandemic story and highlight it for you, today. Recall a saying from April, that you can only see the crest of an epidemic curve in the rear-view mirror. You can hope that every day where the number doesn't go up means the crest is reached, or nearly; we had a couple of days recently, where the number went down for BC, at least - but it was just the usual vagaries of reporting, especially around weekends.

But you need a few days in a row of steady declines before you can hope it's the crest behind you. I keep hoping, every day, for a couple of weeks now.

Yesterday's 800-some for BC (I can't even be bothered to look it up), was a crushing disappointment. The soaring numbers are not news; the message from public health and the premier could not be more clear. Everybody knows how this goes, by now.

Most people I see, in my very limited corner of Vancouver, are clearly getting more cautious. More masks, more caution in stores. The restaurant I saw the other day was alarming, but as I walked the street yesterday, I could see it was an exception. A lot of people are voluntarily restricting activity.

The finger-pointing, very possibly unfair, (because the problem is work, not recreation), is at "Fraser Health Region", that is, cities of the lower mainland just east of Vancouver proper. We may need a pro-mask, pro-restrictions car rally, or something, drive through those streets honking...I don't know. People have got to get the message.

If contact-tracing says that Fraser cases are coming from work, then for heaven's sake, bite the bullet, BC, and shut down those types of work for a few weeks.

I need to see that peak in the rear-view mirror. It's not just about the disease risk; I need to feel some pride in the community, you guys are testing my faith.


December 2: Herding Cats

It's a good 15 years now since EDS, an HP-owned IT consulting company, did their "Herding Cats" video, brilliantly funny, with its close attention to detail - and all the remarkable cat-herding that must have been needed to make the video. Click on the image for a view.

And, I'm done for the day, except for drawing a connection to the pandemic. "Herding Cats" had already been used so much to describe "managing computer programmers" that they could reference the joke on a major-network commercial. Programmers are considered quirky, introverted, hard-to-reach, and prone to distraction by pet projects. Like most stereotypes, it's a wild exaggeration of a few truths, of course: most supervisors, after another drink, will admit that hard-to-manage people are also common through the rest of the office. (Programmers often have more option to leave, so you can't smack them down as easily.)

It's become clear that the public-health officers of Canada fear that they're herding cats. I mean, we have case-loads right now bigger than anything that happened in the first wave. Those case-loads, and a little fear of more, had us all banging pots, barely venturing out for groceries, and hoarding toilet paper for reasons that remain unexplained. Now, we're angry that the bars are closing at 10 pm. I passed a restaurant the other day, that had about four tables going in a 20x20 space, and my jaw dropped open as I stared. It was a low ceiling, no windows open. I wouldn't have wanted to pick up takeout, much less sit down.

The social media push-back includes belief systems that the hospitals are not even busy; we're back to the "hoax". Meanwhile, in Australia, they correctly spotted over three months ago that they needed lockdown to crush a second wave, crushed it, and have been fine for Several weeks. (Granted, they're going into summer over there, that helps.) It's been over a month since anybody died of COVID there.

Canada can get out of this mess. We just have to do the same stuff we've been told to do for nine months. We wouldn't even need to lock down, if people could just take their behaviour seriously when they are out. But, I'm trying to herd cats. If the cats won't herd, you've got to lock them down.


December 1: The Next Voice You Hear

...was the title of an odd, cheaply-made 1950s movie, (starring a future First Lady!) where God comes on the radio, and provides inspiration and advice. There's no technical explanation for the phenomenon - every station, worldwide, each in the right language - and a controversy over belief ensues.

Religious people have always jumped at the opportunity to view natural disasters as a Message from God. This is touted about hurricanes in general - they keep happening because of sin - and specific hurricanes have causes, taxation in the case of Hurricane Irene in 2011. At that time, the Republican in question wondered

"I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians. We've had an earthquake; we've had a hurricane. He said, 'Are you going to start listening to me here?' "
In the most-memorable case, Hurricane Katrina, Pat Robertson blamed it on legalized abortion.

When I googled to find stories on the religious reaction to the pandemic, all the stories that came up dated back to the beginnings in April. The Charlottesville Observer collected some reactions. Just 11% of religious respondents blamed it on "human sinfulness", most of the rest on "governments", either foreign or domestic.

I bring this up as a conclusion to the previous three days of marvelling at the timing of the pandemic, and how perfectly BAD it was for the Republicans: all of the pandemic pain, none of the pandemic victory. (If they can get the first vaccines injected by December ninth, a heroic achievement, those first recipients will be considered 95% immune when the second, 28-days-later injection has had a few weeks to work, a total of 42 days later: Biden's inauguration day. I could argue the pandemic was timed to the day to screw the current president.)

If the pandemic is the product of "intelligent design", the intelligence clearly wanted him screwed. If you can't see that plainly, then I'm with Michelle Bachman: "I don't know how much God has to do to get the attention of the politicians."


November 30: The Political Price of COVID-20

So, what if Wuhan, China, were first starting to see cases of a new respiratory disease, today? Most countries would have done about the same. But, of course, this post is about the United States.

I'm going to assume a Democrat's election, again taking advice from David Frum that the old "42%" would have been no higher, just as the pandemic made it go no lower. So, one year exactly makes it interesting, because the pandemic would have hit exactly the same: with the now-outgoing President ignoring it entirely.

What would have been hard on the Democrats, of course, is that the entire thing would have been relentlessly blamed on them, from January 20th, onward. As long as they have to fight it somehow, the crisis is a "hoax"; but the instant a politcal enemy can be blamed for it, there's a sudden transformation into Major Catastrophe.

I was reminded of a "fantasy episode" of the TV show, The Good Fight, where a character is hit on the head and experiences a longish dream that Clinton had won in 2016. It's explained to her that the administration had announced a cure for cancer a year later...and was now being bitterly attacked by conservatives, with much equivocation and timid concessions by the liberals, for having done so too slowly.

In America, four dead in Benghazi was a Major Catastrophe, but 40,000 dead was "less than most flu seasons". Be assured that the same 40,000 dead, if laid at Democratic feet, would be 10,000 times as bad as Benghazi.

I doubt that Democrats could have held it down to 40,000, of course. There's only so much the federal government can do with "messaging".

It's fascinating and futile to attempt to guess what the US death toll would have been, up to now, with a good administration in charge, following Obama's "Pandemic Playbook". Better, certainly, but much better?

It doesn't matter, though. No number of dead would have been small enough to get a pass. The Democrats would certainly have wielded the "COVID Cup Defense", that is, showed how the USA did better than many other countries. Since Britain and France, Italy and Spain would still have done terribly, there'd be worse cases to point to.

But, at the end of the day, it would have been a Democrat failure and embarrassment, it would have done them some damage, even if they'd pulled out of it long before 2022. My overall point is that this pandemic was timed, almost to the month, to dump all the bad times on a Republican, and all the vaccination season and subsequent economic burst, will hit in the first months of the new administration.

From Biden's point of view, the timing of the pandemic was perfect. One can criticize the Republicans for performance (and must), but you can't deny they were handed the most atrocious bit of bad luck in recent political history.


November 29: The Political Price of COVID-18

As promised, a thought experiment about timing. What if it had come just the one year earlier? Was 2020 not just, as yesterday noted, a lucky decade for it to hit, but a lucky year?

That's just not true, epidemiologically, or for most of the world. The networking, and mRNA vaccines, were all nearly as good a year ago, good enough. Most nations had about the same politics; Australia and South Korea would still have done well, and Britain, under Johnson, very badly. Canada would have done the same. Indeed, I'm pleased, as a Canadian, to say it would have been the same under Harper, as little as I like his politics; Canadian conservatives would not have responded with magical thinking. Our conservatives are better than theirs.

But the United States? Well, for the pandemic itself, again the same. The administration denied it, no matter whether there were 15 cases - or 150,000 per day. The American response to the COVID-18 pandemic would have produced the exact same devastating documentary of incompetence.

But the final political outcome might have been harder for their Democrats. Perhaps not. I mind an interview with David Frum, who noted that that the deathless "42%", that we kept seeing as support for four years, never changed for any other reason, so the lack of a pandemic wouldn't have brought any more GOP support; the pandemic, he said, did not win Biden anything, because also nothing could increase that unending "42%".

But what if they'd successfully taken credit for beating the pandemic? It's well-known that people only judge you on the economy of the election year. Ronald Reagan presided over a recession for two years. It ended mostly because of work at the Fed on money supply, but he still ran on "are you better off now than four years ago", and picked up a lot of votes. Another legend is that "The economy, stupid", was why a sudden recession ended the first Bush presidency, despite him winning a war a year earlier.

If it had been COVID-18, then the vaccines would have come out in December of 2019. By the political conventions of August, the population would have been hitting 50% vaccinated, and another 10% immune from disease, because of their huge infection rate; the conventions would have gone on, rallies would have been huge, and you-know-who would have relentlessly pressed a message of his own heroic responsibility for every dose of vaccine. The economy is expected to explode in six months, and it would have been five months into that explosion on their election day.

I concede that Frum is basically correct, but I think that the vote would have been at least closer - and as we've seen from the frantic, pathetic attempts to cast doubt on the election, that would have been damaging.

2020 was far luckier, for their Democrats, and frankly, for democracy. Happiness is relative. Be happy. Tomorrow: what if it were COVID-20? Also a Bad Thing for American Democrats.


November 28: The Luck of 2020

All the jokes, many of them bitter, ensure that "2020" will go down in history as "The Bad Luck Year", for the whole world.

It could have been worse. Much. It could have been an earlier year.

The horrors of a pandemic were highlighted in 2011, by the movie "Contagion", which is also all that world leaders needed for a briefing, really. Nations that did what the smart places did in that movie, are the ones looking very good these days. The SARS scare had already hit, years before, and MERS, the next year. What if COVID-19 had been COVID-13, hit soon after?

It would have hit a world with much more of it at war. Indeed, it would have been very bad in the Middle East if a pandemic had hit in 2004, with war raging.

Even several years back would have found our economy much less able to handle lockdown with only 10% of the economic output shut down. The Zoom corporation was founded in 2011. Skype already existed, but given its many bugs, I doubt that half the office workers in the developed world could have been using it, simultaneously, and most of the school students, without collapse. Our (very limited) success with telework and teleschooling, has also come from the continuous upgrades to the Internet infrastructure in recent years, to let streaming work. It wasn't there a half-dozen years ago.

And speaking of streaming, lockdown has been considerably more tolerable with all those streaming options. Not a huge improvement on 100 cable channels, but every bit has helped with morale. Those months with the library closed, and no discs rentable, were hard enough as it was.

But for the big finish, those mRNA vaccines that are now amazing us with how quickly they came out, how high a protection they offer, and how they're actually safer than the old kind, are very new. This is the first time they've been deployed in large numbers, for humans. The technology to make them at all, at scale, was only developed a few years before "Contagion" came out, and it's very unlikely they would have been approved, or even attempted, before about 2015 at the earliest.

SARS-COV-2 actually waited, very politely, for us to be much more ready for it than we were, even half-dozen years ago.

So, those observations apply to 2020 "the good year" for the whole developed world. Coming up, how it was the perfect year, almost to the exact month, for it to hit the USA -- politically speaking, for their liberals. It was so badly timed for the GOP, that one is tempted to buy into their conspiracy theories. More on that, the next two days.


November 27: Patriotism

Chris Nelson in the Calgary Herald and National Post today (no, not providing a link, not worth your time) derides "We're all in this together", as "sappy". More fully:
We were inundated with pious advertising campaigns...Short of asking us to link arms ...and sing Kumbaya, there wasn't a homespun homily not dusted off and presented as some part of our collective, stop-COVID-in-its-tracks campaign.
Well, sure, Chris, of course it is all "sappy".

That's because it's patriotism. Patriotism is always "sappy". Only a sap would buy into patriotism, sacrifice for others. Patriotism can get you killed, it's always best to be completely cynical and self-serving. Britons who started prattling about "we're all in this together" when The Blitz fell upon London, frequently died for their Kumbaya attitudes. Some, because they stayed in London to help the wounded, some even marched off to war, to stop the bombers. What saps.

And nothing damages "The Economy" like patriotism. To repeat, World War II subtracted 30% from the American economy to defense production, for three years. Britain fared much worse, enduring food rationing almost to 1950. It would have been vastly cheaper to have an "Anschluss", like Austria, learn a few Hitler salutes. Edward VIII was all ready to take over as a pro-German King. There were only a few hundred thousand Jews in Britain at the time. Boris Johnson nearly signed off on that many deaths from coronavirus, just a few months back, before Ferguson's presentation stopped him.

Yup, it's a lot, to ask people to sacrifice convenience, time, work, money for their country. Those opposed to all that certainly have a point. Where they go wrong is imagining that they're being asked to do all this to:

  • Please store clerks they'd rather spit and yell at;
  • Submit to a tyrannical government;
  • Take orders from a bunch of science nerds that don't understand business.
No. People are being asked to sacrifice for their country, for their whole country, for everybody. An invader has come to our shores; it wants to hurt us all. These are the only known ways to fight the invader, all patriots must rally to the fight.

The unpatriotic are getting themselves killed, but they're getting the patriots killed, too. We need to start calling them what they are: unpatriotic.


November 26: A Thanksgiving Prayer for America

Dear Lord, let thy grace fall upon us, as we gather together about the family table, from far and wide across this great nation.

Let the laws of probability be nudged, nay, be stretched, to preclude any of us carrying the virus thou hast granted us, to show us the sins of our society. Should thy virus be present, pray alter the laws of physics, to prevent our very breaths becoming aerosol bioweapons. Be it thy will for the aerosols to fill the room, grant the elders present, the luck to not become infected.

Should thy Divine Plan include their illness, let the new treatments be not hard to find in this time of plague; let their ability to shift the probability of death downward by a third, include their cases in that third.

Do not kill us for our foolishness, for we really did mean well.

In Jesus name, we pray.

Amen.


November 25: Resistance

Thank you Jason Kenney for NOT locking us down. I think the increased restrictions make sense but don't go overboard. There are so many people struggling and so many businesses on the verge of closing.
...that was in my Facebook feed this morning, from family, known her all her life. A wonderful person.

But she figures that having higher case-loads than Ontario, with three times the population, still doesn't justify all that much.

The contrast with last night's CBC piece on the draconian lockdowns in Australia is sharp. They had public support, and they worked. Australia is back economic productivity today, with a total national death toll of one-twelfth of Canada's. Even people who'd lost their bar in Australia, sadly accepted the need for the actions, on camera. Everybody seemed to understand this led to the minimum economic damage, was not a trade-off with money.

My Facebook poster is resistant to current public-health policy, but on a spectrum of resistance - with these views near the other end:

We are told by the media that we are in the middle of a pandemic so deadly that we need to completely reorder our society and bring in a New World Order. Trudeau admitted as much at Davos where he met up with, you guessed it, George Soros. The same pedophile elites that have done nothing but destroy everything good in life while enriching themselves have volunteered to lead us into this glorious new future where "you will own nothing, and you'll like it".
...that was in my Facebook feed a week or so back; again, a friend for over 40 years. A great father and grandfather, pillar of his community and church, a truly sweet guy.

I disagree with these, but we all have to live in the same society with them.

I was angry at Facebook for the stuff I had to read on it, for the stupid temptation it gave me to reply, to argue. After the last three weeks, that's all drained out. There's an ocean of it, and you don't shout at the ocean.

I'm sure that Australia has a fair-sized population of people who could have gone the same way. We need to look to these successful nations: what strategies did they employ? How did they talk about this? What they did worked. What was it?

Jason Kenney's approach is not working for some of these resisters, either: I saw the "pedophile" word hauled out on him today, on Facebook, presumably for the degree of lockdown he did reluctantly accept. I didn't bother to read the post in detail. I need to read up on Australia, not shout at the ocean.


November 24: Waiting for the Second Derivative

I took a day off. The pandemic did not. (It never does. There's a Terminator movie joke in there somewhere: "It doesn't feel any pity"...)

It's weird, to me it feels like there isn't news right now, in spite of all the exponentials, and the vaccines, and the stores paradoxically packed, because they're so dangerous they must be closed immediately. (I'm not sure how bad that is. I'm currently irritated by shaggy locks because I was afraid to get a haircut two weeks ago. But ONE week ago, I spent a half-hour in a Best Buy...without getting within a metre of anybody for more than seconds, the new mask on tight. It didn't feel scary. Others may be less-cautious.)

It all feels like minor news, as we wait for each day's case-counts. That's the real serious news, about how Christmas is going to go, it's being decided now. The weekend numbers for BC were fairly depressing, over 600 per day. But there was a glimmer of hope, in that the previous two days were in the 700s. It's good news when the second derivative of the daily case-counts goes negative. The first derivative is the change in case-counts per day. When that goes negative, you're going down from 700 to 600 to 500, and the curve is being crushed. But it's already great news, already almost over, when the rate of increase slows.

I'm not sure if BC is yet into declining new cases, but I'm pretty sure the rate of increase has at least slowed. We need a few more days of data-points, from mid-week when the data flows consistently, to be sure. Maybe people have stepped back from contacts, from activities, broken the exponential chain.

If so, we may be better people than some. A WaPo article today openly worries that restrictions and lockdowns will just get no response in parts of America.

Once again, the people may not respond...the virus always will. It won't even take Christmas off.


November 22: Madrid Hanging in There

I wrote just the other day about Spain crushing the new curve, a process I'm happy to say has continued, their daily case numbers are now declining sharply. Whew.

And I can testify the people are hanging in there; we just got off the Zoom call with the relatives in Madrid, and the baby is looking healthy, the toddler is healthy and happy and bouncing about, the two adults are doing well enough with remote work, and morale is high.

PJ O'Rourke made the great comment on "morale"; it really means "how well people are doing when they aren't doing well at all". PJ notes that we speak of morale in prisons, morale on warships, morale at work. Nobody talks about the morale level of a vacation, or a love affair, or a night out on the town. So, well as things are going, it's still "morale". But they're going to make it to Spring, that's for sure.

So are we. As we go into a few weeks of the scourging punishments of Job, to which we are sentenced by the case-rates of the last few weeks, at least be sure that if we crush this curve well and hold it down, it'll be the last.


November 21: Introverts Rejoice! (Quietly, of course).

I like socializing, I like parties, I so badly wanted to go see family this Fall, and Christmas. But there's a little spot in there that also finds it all stressful, that kind of goes "whew!" when you're back home from the party and putting the tea on.

For lots of people, that "little spot" is most of their brain, and every hour in a group is like white-knuckle flying. They don't want to be rude, though, so they bravely accept invitations, tough it out, even put in a conversational sally or two, armpits soaking the undershirt.

Imagine how happy they are, this week! Saved, at last, after impatiently expecting a lockdown for the last week. Or three! Authorities really didn't move until they were arm-twisted. I wrote of Dr. Bonnie using "surgery" the other week. She was thinking that the key contact issues had been identified, and could be addressed, but, nope - all surgery failed, and we're back to April. Her poor colleague, Dina Henshaw in Alberta, is looking much worse right now. Most of Alberta's people are about to lock down, whatever Kenney says. Toronto, of course, has no more options.

In America, especially, this couldn't have come at a worse time for socializing: for them, the whole Thanksgiving-through-New-Year's season is a single giant family togetherness holiday. Alas, even the American "virus hoax" deniers can't really deny 2,000 dead per day, now specializing in the reddest states and counties.

For introverts, the Spring was The Most Wonderful Time of the Year, finally, everybody required to act the way they'd rather act all the time. There's going to be a great deal of unhappiness over the next couple of months, as the wave crests and slowly recedes. I'm glad that some people just got the nicest Christmas present.


November 20: All Numeric Comparisons Exhausted

The newsies that follow the Johns Hopkins site for the current pandemic statistics, just paused to write stories noting that the American death toll has crossed the quarter-million mark. Those of us who prefer worldometers were there some days ago, and worldometers is currently at 258,698.

The Post has a routine article about the numeric comparisons that absorbed me when the ticker crossed the "Vietnam Dead" line of 58,000. It compares the 250,000 to other disasters of American history.

It's still below the numbers for the Civil War (600,000+) and World War II (405,000), and the 1918 flu (nearly 700,000). Other than that, this disaster is the single biggest.

We are just a few days away, probably two weeks, from the last number I bothered to fix up from the casualties of war page on Wikipedia. It's 294,265 - and it's the grand total of all American casualties of all wars, subtracting only the Civil War, and WW II. From their Revolutionary War (50,000) and the "Northwest Indian War, 1785-1796" (35 casualties) at the top of the page, to the "Islamic State Intervention 2014" (157 dead) and the "Raid on Yemen 2017" (1 dead), it comes to 294,265. We'll see it around December Sixth.

The Post article does note some models show the US reaching 438,000 deaths by March 21, and actually exceeding even the WW II numbers. That would be a death rate of 1320 per million, higher than any current in the world - though by then Belgium will have pulled well ahead.

The war comparisons trigger my interest because of the variance in public reaction. During a war, every loss is publicized, keenly felt. The notion that in another month, the US might be experiencing the same losses as 9/11, every day, seems almost bizarre - 9/11 changed the US politics so much, but the losses of a hundred time as much seem only to have confirmed them.


November 19: Airflow

The actual virus news is bad. So is much of the political news, that reinforces yesterday's story about pandemic-response decisions being political, not scientific. I'm in search of good news.

Every day seems to bring more good news about vaccines, and every news organ jumps on those stories. The one that caught my eye this morning might as well have been a product placement, since it touts just the one business: at left, the 460 Fitness Gym in Blacksburg Virginia

Finally, finally, finally, somebody heard the "6 foot rule" and instead of saying "SIX feet? Outrageous!", said "Let's make it ten feet, then". The tape marks out your workout space, which is self-contained. No crossing into others' spaces, or sharing any equipment.

That would not have been enough, not in a gym, where people are emitting fog clouds of aerosols that can cross even a ten-foot limit, can cross a room. The key was airflow. Gym owner Velvet Minnick worked with Linsey Marr, a civil engineering professor. (Finally! Somebody asked us! We were waiting!) Marr is an expert in airborne transmission and recommended the "athlete stations" be at the doors you see at back, and those kept open. With the windspeeds in the area, the airflow was several times the normal amount. Where cold forced some doors closed, they enforced mask requirements. "We don't see outbreaks above a certain ventilation rate", Marr notes.

It's a nice symmetry: you don't wind up on a ventilator, if you ventilate your space to start with.

The amount of human exhalations in the air is monitored with a carbon dioxide meter, a neat, commercially-available approach.

The benefits were shown by disaster averted: one coach tested positive, and it turned out he'd worked with no less than 50 athletes in the space, while infectious. There wasn't a single infection.

The 460 Fitness solution can't be applied everywhere, but fans and ventilation can be greatly improved in a lot of places, like bars and restaurants. Examples like these show us how much life we can get back, altered but recognizable. The vaccine news is heartening for the Spring, but we have a winter to get through, and as much life as possible needs to go on.


November 18: States of Denial

Montana, Wyoming, North Dakota, South Dakota. Four states that touch, and indeed, should probably be just the one state the size of a Canadian prairie province, like those to their north. Just 3.2 million people, almost enough to justify one senator, were their Senate rep-by-pop. Of course, they have eight senators, like the 110 million people of California, Texas, Florida, and New York. That's why the USA is not democratic enough to be admitted to the EU, if they were to ask.

And hardly any states are more for GOP politics; Wyoming delivered 70% of its vote to them this year, more than any in the nation.

Alas for them, this is associated with being States of Denial. The most-chilling story came up Monday in the Post: A nurse in South Dakota telling of patients that deny the virus is real, right up to their death.

"Their last dying words are, 'This can't be happening. It's not real,'" Doering said, adding that some patients prefer to believe that they have pneumonia or other diseases rather than covid-19, despite seeing their positive test results.

It's hard to add anything on to that. At least you can save time spent trying to get them to un-deny lesser things, like the usefulness of masks, or the good intentions of health-care officials. If you can deny you're dying of a given cause, to the nurse caring for you, right to the last breath, then you can easily deny anything.

Is the pandemic about fighting a disease, or about a radical agenda to take away all our possessions? That's where the argument goes, two sentences after attempting to discuss mask-wearing, or school closure. School re-openings are actually, the finest-grained public health decisions that are made right now, because they are far below the state, province, or even city level: there are 10,000 school systems in the US, which were studied by two political science professors for whether they re-opened or not - and what that was associated with.

It had NO association with the level of infection at the time. None.

It had a slight association with teacher's unions: the stronger the union, the more likely it was to close and go to remote instruction. A little.

But the only strong correlation with re-opening was the number of GOP voters. It's an almost entirely political decision, in most districts. The infection risk is not really considered.

So the butcher's bill for this belief system is now coming in. British Columbia and Ontario both have about 40 people per million in hospital right now, the dotted line low-down on the chart at right. Their prairie states have almost ten times that. BC is now losing about ten people per day to covid, and we know that is doomed to double and more over the next few weeks. But the four states are will be losing 80 people per day, all next week.

Whether it goes on up to 100 and 200 per day, for under 3 million people, is up to them, really. They just have to leave the State of Denial.


November 17: As It Gets Bad, Take Heart From The Wins

So, it's bad. It's getting worse. We don't know when it will turn around, either. Are the new restrictions enough to get "R" back below 1.0? Will people obey them? It's getting scary out there, with hospitals filling up. It's scary that Manitoba, which has been so exemplary and safe for months, is now the least-safe place to breathe indoors.

Well, take heart from Spain. Site of some of the pandemic's worst horrors, they had a new wave come for them in August, at left, that was higher than the first one. (At least in confirmed cases; those first waves may have been larger than we could prove, not enough tests.)

You notice that they were not successful at crushing that curve, it only dipped briefly in the middle of September for a few weeks, then began to soar again in October. The failure came from another success we can really cheer:
The deaths barely ticked up, thorugh the curve was as high as the first. Mostly, it was a younger demographic, of course, as covered here months ago; partly, it was new therapies. Either way, it makes the virus a lot less terrifying.

The other victory is just in the last three weeks: having soared up to an even-higher third wave, they got serious with restrictions in October, and it's now clear the curve is decisively going down. They have another month to put in, clearly, at the rate they're going. But it can be done.

Additional cheer comes from The Tyee article about the places beating COVID-19, one of which is Atlantic Canada - they'd be a world leader like South Korea or New Zealand, were they a separate country.

And the Globe has a great article about the state of Victoria in Australia and how they got it down and kept it down, a fulsome victory from the word "go".

The motto is "Go for Zero"; let's join in.


November 16: A Word From the Financial Post: We're All Just Money

I used to do cost-benefit calculations that mostly involved money, but also "service", and we put a notional value on that - a house out of water for a night, we'd spend $100 rather than see it happen, that is, $2500 preventing one main break that would inconvenience 25 houses. These calculations get controversial when you're spending on infrastructure to prevent death, like guardrails on a road: you have to put a figure on what you'd spend to avoid a human death, and we currently round that up to about $10 million. (Highway departments budgeting for guardrails, and chemical plants putting in pollution controls, may use different figures, and there's not enough journalism done pointing out the disagreements.)

A friend who used to work there with me sent me a link the other day to a Financial Post article by non-health expert Terence Cocoran on the topic of how we may be valuing human life just too darn much with this lockdown stuff. Maybe the hit on "the economy" (a term I've come to distrust) is too expensive. Virus fighting is apparently so expensive it has to value human life at an over-the-top $17 million to make financial sense.

I didn't like the article much. It breezes past the issue that it's not just death. Several times as many people may be permanently injured, in nerves, veins, and organs, as die - and may suffer permanent loss of economic productivity, and indeed need expensive care, themselves. I just spent more words on the issue than the article did; that's all skipped.

Then, the article notes the plummeting death rates from the virus, as we've kept more old people from getting it, and learned a few therapies. The analysis skips over how the death rate would soar again if the hospitals clogged, or how the whole "economy" would suffer if case-rates went so high that a quarter of the population was at home, either sick, caring for same, or afraid to go out, if over 50.

There was more discussion of these issues, and more detail, from an journalist-specialist on the subject, Cass Sunstein, author of "The Cost-Benefit Revolution", in an article in Bloomberg.

Also, it came to opposite conclusions, citing a study that showed about a $5 trillion profit for America in locking down, that is, the unfought pandemic would cost $5 trillion more than the cost of fighting it. It does acknowledge that we could slip into negative numbers if the depression stretched out long enough. (Dating to March 22, it had no idea that good vaccines would come so early.)

The Financial Post worldview is neatly expressed by an article this morning: "Posthaste: Great news about a new vaccine, but the rollouts are still a year away and that may be too late for many firms."

For many firms? For the businesses, for the machines owned by wealthy investors to return profits? The vaccine will be too late for them? Yup, the article summarizes the vaccine schedule situation, then the economic forecasts, and calls out this sentence with its own paragraph:

For many businesses, the vaccine may come too late.

The word "people" does appear in the article, when it is summarizing how many need the vaccine.

But they just don't notice that the vaccine will come too late for a lot of people, who are going to die. Indeed, one of those business problems is that after they die, they stop buying stuff, and definitely don't show up to work.

It's how unconscious this telling slip was, how they don't notice the signal they're sending, that's kind of delightful. I suppose tomorrow's article will look on the bright side, how the huge surge now hitting America will be good news for the funeral industry.


November 15: Andre' Picard, Gold-Star Award

I have to promote some more Canadian journalism today, though it's hardly "independent", as the Globe and Mail is, of course, Canada's most-venerable, 'mainstream media' newspaper. I've got my problems with the Globe, won't subscribe to them. It irritates me excessively that they have special, front-page sections on "Investing", and "Report on Business"; but no section for that part of the economy called "Labour", which of course describes over 90% of the population.

But, on health and medicine, they do have Andre' Picard. Picard is an example of something I'm normally disapproving of: a reporter with only general knowledge to start with, had to pick it all up on the job. I'm an admirer of the book, "Informing the News", by Tom Patterson, which advocates that reporters have knowledge specialties with formal training. (Most-damning story from the book: Wall Street analysts complaining that the reporter sent to interview them had to have the terms "credit" and "debit" explained.)

Well, Andre' may not be a physician or biologist, but, damn, he really did pick it all up on the job, and has been winning awards and plaudits for his coverage for many years. His work on the pandemic has been exemplary. (His thumbnail up there is a link to his page at the paper, with all his work.)

What I have just discovered about the Globe is that I can support its best work by dropping $7 on the weekend edition in paper, more for the now-novel experience of reading the news at a table, with breakfast dripping onto the page. Yesterday's edition had an excellent opinion piece, which, like all Picard's "opinion" pieces, have more facts and figures than most news stories.

Doug Ford is properly excoriated for his loosening of restrictions while putting in his "colour coded system", the one I made fun of months before he invented it; loosening, as cases increased.

And, Jason Kenney is hit for his "I trust the public" line that is the opposite of leadership.

Best of all, Picard makes the simple, clear call for an inflexible set of rules: at so many cases, or so much positivity, restrictions increase whether politically convenient, or not.

Support your independent media, but don't miss Andre', either.


November 14: Canadaland on Care Homes

I end my plugs of Canadian independent journalism with a repeat, today, of my plug for Canadaland's "Commons" Series, "The Pandemic", which focused on the care-home debacle. I wrote about it on August 29, "The Plight of the Living Dead", an admittedly awful term that came to mind as I read about the deep dementia that afflicts so many residents.

It's excellent journalism, and the podcast format is a great presentation of it, hearing the voices of the families, the actual residents, the care-givers about the emotional topic. What I'll add today is for those who'd rather not depress themselves with sad stories of people in a bad way, of stupid bureaucracies and suffering caused to save a few pennies.

That's understandable, so please at least listen to the very last episode, "The Most Dangerous Story", in which you hear about a care-home that tried something different, and succeeded beyond expectations. It's inspiring, and heartwarming, and positive. It'll do you good.

It does start off with the most effectively chilling thing I've ever heard on podcast, or radio before it. With some terrific writing, and skilled sound-editing, they somehow took me into the mind of a man replaying, over, and over, and over, every day, the worst half-hour of his life. A man searching frantically for a safe door from an air-raid, those moments coming back, in his dementia, as he searches for his own room in the care-home. And then you are shown his route out of Hell.

I had to stop typing there to wipe my eyes, just remembering it from four months ago. Let that be my review. It was just brilliantly effective story-telling, and Canadaland's Arshy Mann deserves a couple of journalism awards for producing it.


November 13: Will You Kindly Stop Giving Your Coronavirus to 1.3 Other People!

It's very rude. Especially the part where they might die.

When Bonnie Henry gave a specific growth rate on the news yesterday (Daily Case-rates have doubled in 13 days), it took half a minute to work out the new "Rt", the number of people in turn infected by each new case, at this time.

For a rough number (and no other numbers are possible in pandemics, we now know), you just divide the doubling time by five, because the average time between "generations" is five days. In this case, 13/5 = 2.6. You then go to your calculator and take that root of two, because it's taking 2.6 "generations" to double. So 2 (y-root-of-x button) 2.6, (equals button)...and we have 1.3.

Currently, on average, every new infectee in BC is infecting 1.3 other people. We know that this average couldn't be further from the truth, of course, my headline is just a joke. The reality is still that most people don't infect anybody, a few infect one other, and a small number of "superspreaders" is 80% of the transmission. It's the "Pareto Pandemic". So far, Dr. Bonnie has been trying surgery on our activities to just cut out the superspreading events, and leave most activity intact.

The latest is that the superspreading seems to be mostly in the home, around the table, as it were. That's a hard thing to ask people to give up. But I missed a chance to connect with an old friend from work, whom I haven't seen in years, just yesterday - and we cancelled both Thanksgiving and Christmas.

We're doing our bit; everybody else has to, right now, because those curves have gone all smoothly exponential again, where we can predict next month's death-count with that button on my calculator.

I'll admit, it's a bit of a struggle to promote my next plug for Canadian independent journalism, the National Observer, at right. They've put some resources into the pandemic, but don't have a dedicated health expert. While they express a great interest in First Nations issues, they've done almost nothing on the effects of the pandemic on First Nations communities.

However, they've been good at covering the economic issues from the pandemic, and the problems in our jails. Give them a look, they're mostly reader-supported, and thus more independent than most of your other news.


November 12: Good Coverage by Canadians (I)

I'll be doing free plugs for Canadian news media for a few days. In my quest for pandemic mental health, I'm trying to reduce my consumption of American news media, the way I'd try to stop eating licorice for lunch. It raises your blood pressure too much.

Today's plug is for The Tyee, a small BC paper that does everything from regional to international, and is highly independent.

The graphic at left links to a nice opinion piece - on how the stupidity that powers American right-wing politics, is also the stupidity that is killing people in the pandemic. Admittedly, the data comes from an American news source, the dry Associated Press newswire.

It seems that they went down below the state level that I graphed three weeks back as "Statistical Proof GOP States are Getting Sicker", to the county level, and found the correlation has become tighter still. Of the 372 counties with the highest number of infections, 93% voted GOP.

What I liked about the Tyee opinion piece by freelancer Mitchell Anderson was the willingness to estimate a butcher's bill for American mismanagement, a number I've struggled to justify. Anderson, Canadian, simply compares them to us:

Canada is no world leader on COVID-19, but if the U.S. had managed to replicate our flawed pandemic response, they would have saved almost 150,000 lives and $10 trillion. This is the terrible cost of having to accommodate endemic dumbass behaviour.
Ahhh...the relief of just flatly stating that, the Cold Equations, the numeric reality.

Best of all, Anderson actually then has the nerve to switch topics, though switching away from "150,000 dead" takes discipline. He goes on to compare the dumbness to our own with opioids, and how many lives we could save there. It's a Canadian article, concerned with Canadian problems. We can still improve our own pandemic response, and we can use the lessons learned to save more lives taken by other mistakes.

We don't have to obsess over neighbours who are vastly more dumbass still - the message I need to take to my heart, and get better.


November 11: Remembrance Day is NOT Cancelled

Officially, yes, no ceremonies at the big cenotaphs in the centre of cities. But Vancouver has more than one cenotaph. This one had its hundredth anniversary this year, and the community around it was not about to stay away from it for any stupid pandemic. They, and we, the crowd, found a way to do it.

Those holding the ceremony stayed distant and masked except at the microphone. The cenotaph is just in Stanley Park, in the nicest-gardened part of it - just west of the Aquarium. It's nestled in the trees that grow by the little creek, that runs behind the sea lion pool. (The sea lions make their comical-sounding calls all through each solemn ceremony, every year. This year, those calls are bittersweet comedy, because we can't go visit them.) So the crowd just had to spread out like this, and did so naturally, no prompting.

The police honour guard were distant enough up on their horses, I suppose, who were good as gold throughout. The "nine o'clock gun", just a kilometre distant, boomed 21 times throughout the hour, the echoes vollying across the harbour, but the horses remained calm.

Various dignitaries "attended" by livestream, and P.A. system. There was a half-hour of stories told, about how the Nisei fought for Canada, despite not having the vote. They fought for us, anyway - twice. They asked for the vote in 1915, got accepted into the army when desperately needed in 1916, and got the vote...in 1949. After the second war, which had internment, for their families, for thanks. This was Hedy Fry, the local MP, and their descendant. So was the MLA who spoke next.

Afterwards, we walked back through the least-known memorial of them all: the garden devoted to plaques about the air force trainees in BC. It's the most beautiful part of the park.

This year, the garden has a new plaque. Just installed a few months ago. This place is so little-known that we were quite alone. But Remembrance continues, in an unbroken chain.

Remembrance of the dead has a second layer of meaning this year, of course; we've lost so many. Canada, about a third as many as died for us in WW1 (61,000). In America, already more than twice as many as the 110,000 they lost, and their current government has surely doomed them to that rising to three times as many, before the still-rising wave is crushed. The news today is that the American government is now basically doing nothing about the pandemic.

It reminds me of those movies about WW1, like Gallipoli, or Paths of Glory, about how people were dying in one failed attempt after another to save face, and yet the generals were stubbornly stupid, letting them continue dying pointlessly.


November 10: Christmas is Cancelled

It feels that way, at least. Relatives in Calgary will be celebrating without us visiting, and we're skipping the presents for good measure. (The "present" is that an 88-year-old adds zero more infection risks that month. Our presents are our absence. Not funny?)

Yes, even the Grinch couldn't steal Christmas, and we'll be fine with our Skype sessions with the family. But it sure is a crushing disappointment. It would be worse if we were one of those locations in America or Britain where stupid behaviour could be blamed for this second wave (often third, in America) that's ensured we'll all be living more-limited lives again for much of the next month or more.

But, one must admit, BC has been pretty good, had nothing but the best advice from public health, and mostly taken it. The second wave is mostly just Fall indoors, school, the accumulation of more and more businesses opening, I think. The evidence is the aforementioned "surgery" of only restricting family gatherings, and a few businesses. There's nobody to blame, for which we should all be grateful. Any cracks in the feeling that "we're all in it together" can literally be deadly.

No wonder everybody is crying with gladness at the 90% vaccine from Pfizer, which has Canadian work in it. It's a dramatic new way of making vaccines, and the now-high chance of it working means that all vaccines could soon be coming out better and faster, following mutations faster. Another great new research in the field is from a Canadian company, and showing excellent results. (Two stories in the same day, that contain the phrase "even better than we hoped". The researchers must have been restraining an urge to twerk.)

As the PM says, it shows a light at the end of the tunnel. Between the grey, dark Fall weather, and the pall cast over Christmas, the multiple vaccine lights winking on this month are sorely needed for morale.


November 9: A Modest Proposal

The Basement
November 9, 2020

Occupant
The White House

Dear Sir:

You are welcome to all the lawsuits and recounts you want, but I think you know, deeper down, how they are going to play out. Also, you know that I will be under intense pressure - from millions - to ensure that the Justice Department enforces every law that you may have crossed paths with, in the last decade or so. I gather there are four areas where they really won't let me ignore.

  • You can't let the Presidency wash clean previous crimes, so they have to look into the money-laundering and tax fraud concerns that pre-date your taking office.

  • We can't let the $40M for Mueller go to waste either, or the clear conclusions be ignored, so there are ten obstruction-of-justice charges to pursue, and ...

  • ...a couple of campaign-finance allegations involving the young ladies.

  • What really has people fired up are the emoluments, all the many profits made from the office.

They aren't going to give me a choice: if I don't pursue that, the whole emoluments clause of the Constitution becomes a dead letter, not just a mere law.

So it's awkward for you, attempting a self-pardon, when that would establish any president entirely above the law; and it's awkward for me, because I don't want your supporters going crazy with their M16s, during the endless trials.

Indeed, I don't need your trials being "The Conversation" for about...oh, four years of appeals, I'm sure...when I'm trying to get policy discussed and passed.

So here's my solution: I can pardon you, and not be lynched for it, if and only if it would save a hundred thousand lives. Normally, that would be impossible, but, what a coincidence, here were are the one year of all American history where I could plausibly claim that. Epidemiologists will back me up on it: on the one hand, you're getting people killed. On ther other, you can save lives by just...going away. What a gift.

So: I'll pardon you. Hell, I'll pardon your family. I'll even pardon Steven Mnuchin for breaking the law to withhold your tax returns, if you care. If - and only if, Mr. Pence resigns tomorrow at 11:58 AM, you resign at 11:59, and Justice Roberts swears in Nancy Pelosi as the 46th President at noon. She will form a caretaker government of my proposed appointees, that will immediately implement a stringent pandemic response.

It's a terrible and shameful thing, a man being able to save a hundred thousand lives, by nothing more than getting the hell out of the way, 70 days early. It's a worse thing that 71 million voted for the problem in the system. But here I am, it's now my job to deal with it. My job and Nancy's.

She will not pardon you. I will pardon you in just over two months, provided you spend those two months tweeting and announcing exactly what you're told to say, which will be messages of heartfelt support for the new administration, and strongly urging your supporters to work with us in a spirit of peaceful, American transition. A lawyer will be at your side, all the time, ensuring you don't slip up, and you will cooperate, or lose your pardons. Your support must be so forceful it's impossible to walk back, after the pardons.

Be good at it, and Nancy and I will have a serious talk with the New York prosecutors, stressing the New Yorker lives saved, and get you off on everything. Just be good for 70 days, and you walk.

The beauty of this is that my supporters will know I won a hard bargain for those pardons, that you'd never have left for less. But your supporters will think that you had the big conversion in your great and unmatched wisdom, and I pardoned you out of respect, because they're incapable of thinking that you were beaten, frightened, and controlled.

Tweet "covfefe" again if you agree. Only you and I will ever see this page.

(signed) Joe.



November 8: Dr. Bonnie, Doing Surgery Instead of Slashing

Lockdowns no longer loom! Dr. Bonnie's new restrictions are out, and they barely touch commerce.

Bad news for wedding and other party planners, for indoor gyms, for restaurants that hoped to push a few tables together to host a meeting, but otherwise, business as usual on Main Street. A lot of people with shaky jobs can breathe out now. (Just breathe out through a mask.)

Interestingly, the restrictions are far more intrusive into personal lives than a mere business lockdown. Telling people how many family members can gather together? Pretty busybody of her, and totally unenforceable. It really depends on voluntary cooperation.

I think Dr. B will get exactly that, if reputation and the obvious evidence of ever-higher case counts means anything. I know that I'm wondering whether to get a haircut. I was thinking of getting one a little early, because "lockdowns loomed", and realized that thinking is all-too-close to the, umm, "Bridiots" in the photo at right: going out for a night of drinking and breathing on each other in crowded bars, just before the lockdown. Sigh.

Nope, I'm going to hope that Dr. B has the right mix of advice again, is going to nudge and urge and chivvy the public into crushing the second curve, and I'll be able to get my haircut in a few weeks.

It's not even about my personal risk, I really doubt I could catch it at the barber shop. It's about performing the act of being cautious, in the hope it will make others more likely to be the same, not just when seeing me, but all day. It's how we can all contribute. Those cases are getting truly alarming, and we have to get serious in response.


November 7: Lockdowns Loom

A great bolster argument for not getting your head involved in endless American political dramas: while we were distracted, the world went to hell.

America's numbers are exploding, but so are Canada's, Britain's, all across Europe. Lockdowns there are already being announced. At left, the overall world graphs just hit the very highest one-day rate of death reports ever. Not without warning, it followed weeks of smooth, unresisted exponential growth.

9,205 people around the world died in one day, of covid, and the curves assure us that we're just days away from the 10,000 deaths/day period, which could go on for some weeks, even with frantic lockdowns to crush the curve. Again.

It's pretty frightening, seeing the BC case numbers simply soar. Everybody seems baffled, it's like "We're doing everything you said! What does it want from us?". Well, "it" wants a lockdown, I guess. Covid communicates its wants by killing people, so you have to accept the message.

"There are only safe behaviours", is the CCCC motto: and "safe behaviours", the virus gets to define. We're learning how protected we were by the summer, apparently, how able we were to get away with various occasions. For BC, at least, Dr. Bonnie seems to be pointing at family gatherings, not at commerce. I suppose in summer, windows were open during those family dinners, and it made a difference.

It would be a novel "lockdown" if she left all the stores and restaurants open, but forbade people to gather outside the home in any social way. Much harder to police, harder to turn into politics, since people's jobs are not being hurt.

Since the post is intended to turn us back to the Real Problem from the invented problems of the Drama Queen Nation, I'd rather avoid all American news altogether.

Alas, they're actually the worst-hit of the new surge, so they have to get a mention. While they were consumed with shouting at each other, the worldometers site, some days ahead of the "official" counts from Johns Hopkins, has just rolled up some very round, and terrible, numbers for them, at left.

They just hit ten million cases, yesterday. They whizzed past that mark, as they also have just started breaking records for new cases per day. At this rate, they'll now add a million new cases every week, ten thousand of whom will die. Probably a thousand non-elderly adults per week.

OK, to finish, I did check the news, and, yes, it is huge pandemic news that their administration will shift, to one that is willing and able to fight the pandemic, in 74 days. Unfortunately, I see over 100,000 dead by then, most of them could have been saved.

Has it become harder to care about that, when I got so angry at so many of them the other day? Not really. One can feel compassion for suicides.


November 6: Toxic Work Environment

Day two completed of my ignoring the news as best I can, when that's almost impossible. What's been impressive to me, is how much generally better I feel through the day, catching up with books and avoiding news.

I've had to admit that being interested in major American papers is only a short step above social-media doomscrolling.

America's limitation of two political parties has degenerated down to just two opposed cultures. I mean, damn, we thought WE had "two solitudes", two cultures that didn't understand each other. Quebec and the rest get along beautifully by comparison to them.

America's terrible politics have crippled their pandemic response. One side feels such a need to promote their politics, that they'll promote them with bad public health moves. (NO, you can't blame one guy. He was supported by his party. Who were afraid of his supporters. Because of their toxic political atmosphere, and because many of them actually agreed with him, which makes blaming his "mental illnesses" problematic.)

Everybody's heard about toxic work environments, too many of us have been in them. When every project turns into a drama; when every meeting is a fight, because somebody had to pick a fight, because every day at work is about dominating others in the team, first, and getting the job done, distant second.

American governance is a toxic work environment. I first started reading their news daily when Clinton was trying to get them Canadian health care. It was popular in polls, he'd pretty much run on it and won, it seemed to be inevitable. If they do get universal health care by, say, 2026, that would be thirty years later. Keeping in mind that Clinton was 30 years behind Canada getting Medicare. When Team C can do something by 1966, and Team A is still arguing sixty years later, their work environment is profoundly unproductive. It also can't manage a one-year project, like this year.

American politics doesn't just look like a reality show on TV, the great political discovery it took a TV star to spot. It really is manufactured drama, just like those shows create it with deliberately toxic situations.

This week's drama couldn't happen in Canada, because our system was better designed. We spend something like three to four times as much per vote on elections, than Americans do. That's why we don't have "voting machines" and "hanging chads": we simply pay retired people enough money to just count them all, in small batches. We have many more voting locations that only have to count a few thousand pieces of paper, each, which only takes a few hours. That's it. All their current voting problems, still going this morning, are artificial.

In 1915, every time WW1 soldiers fought and died over the same five hundred yards of ground, back and forth, each battle was a great drama indeed. After the war was over, a account of it is repetitive and boring. It'll be the same one day, reading about pitched fights over minor improvements in health care. This week, for instance, the election is against the guy who wants to move another 500 yards towards the far-off goal of having what we got in 1966, and the guy who wants to take back the 500 yards Obama got in 2014.

Oh, yeah: according to worldometers, 3514 Americans died since the start of November third. More than on 9/11. I don't belive the news noticed.


November 5: News Blackout

About the only "pandemic hook" I've got for this post is the realization that the pandemic, and perhaps looking up material to blog here, has given me a news addiction that I'm glad to break. I haven't looked at a news page since 11pm on the 3rd, when I realized how many Americans had still turned out for President Pandemic-Promoter, and suffered a disgust-attack that made me genuinely ill.

News addictions are perfect pandemic companions: you stay in, you work out your emotions and rage at all sorts of things, you fall into hypnotized fascination with the rolling numbers. It's the little brother of Facebook doom-scrolling: there's always another news story, another page you haven't checked for hours.

So, I cancelled my New York Times subscription yesterday, after over 15 years. It's baby steps: that one was $275 a year, whereas the weirdly bottom-basement deal with the Washington Post is literally just $20/year. So that's harder to cancel. What I need to cancel is the amount of it I suck up. Crazy as trying to eat the all-you-can-eat buffet: you just make yourself sick. And fat. Headed.

Also, I have to switch to supporting Canadian news. I'm already into CanadaLand for $10/month, and I'm bumping to $14, and throwing in a gift to help them fight a lawsuit from "The Rebel", Canada's own effort at alt-right trolling for profit. We subscribe to The Tyee and the National Observer, also. I'm going to spend more time on our problems, even if they aren't as entertaining and outraging.

They are, at least, saner.

I've been saving, I don't know why, an intended post about CanadaLand's coverage of the care-home debacle. It's wonderful, the last episode in particular deserving some sort of award. Coming up soon.


November 4: Sickening

I think it was Alice Cooper, doing a joke election campaign, had the slogan "A Troubled Man For Troubled Times". I can go way further: "The Sickest People in a Sick Nation Vote for a Sick Man for Sick Times". And prove every word.

I also could make the case with "sick" as a metaphor for military and diplomatic failures and economic woes, but they're also the literally sickest nation; and the literally sickest states had the highest votes for the sick man in the mental-illness sense.

What government the Americans end up with, is a problem for tomorrow or the next day, whatever. And mostly, their problem. I'm just writing about my revulsion at their voting patterns. Even supposing a "win", it'll feel like a loss for being so close.

I really expected better. Much better. I went through all this before, in 2016, concluding I had to quit caring about that country, and here I sit, exposed as an idiot who couldn't quit them. Each of these crises has made me think, over and over, like Charlie Brown running at Lucy's football, surely this, this, extraordinary crisis, will move them. But it's Biblical disappointment, where God kept "hardening Pharoah's heart" against the chosen people.

Every time, we find their hearts are too hard to change. Not for failed war promises, for discovery of torture, for financial collapse of the mightiest capitalist towers (of money). And now, not for a failed handling of a pandemic that will take 300,000 lives by Christmas. A challenge the whole world has met, nearly all better than them. What more proof did they need that this political philosophy didn't work in the real world?

I should have been ignoring them as best I could, as promised in 2016. I would have been much less sickened today.


November 3: Watch This Instead of the Election

I don't know what solution you have for seeing something on America's "Hulu", though I think it's also a Shaw video-on-demand offering, but by hook or by crook (many chose "crook", via bittorrent), see this movie. What's the point in watching the American election coverage? You can't affect the outcome. Just take the day off, except that watching this movie is work. Emotional work.

As mentioned in previous posts, we had to watch it in smaller chunks, because you get reminded of all the past failures, and get angry at them again.

It's a remarkable achievement to make any movie in a short time, and during a pandemic, just amazing. They basically invented a self-operating movie camera to send to people, so they could interview them over Skype, but not use the Skype feed, rather a real camera that made for movie-quality interviews. A technical-achievement Oscar may be due.

Alex Gibney has, of course, been making most of America's best documentaries for many years now. He goes back 40 years, but became well-known after his Enron takedown in 2005, and the torture story "Taxi to the Dark Side", in 2007. He's not afraid of tackling high-tech, with Steve Jobs, Russian Hackers, Wikileaks, and Stuxnet, all in the last half-dozen years. He'll go after people who fight back hard and dirty, as with Scientology, and it's not his first foray into criticizing the current administration.

He's grabbed excellent interviews with people inside the response, subsequently fired, and not. John Oliver, incidentally, summarized the documentary's best bits down into about 10 minutes just the other night on his "Last Week Tonight" show, also a don't-miss.

(Also, yes, I'm shrinking the font a size. I've just switched from Chrome to Firefox, and realized just how oversized it looks on most browsers.)


November 2: American Losers

The "good guys" will probably win a lot in the American elections tomorrow, but I can barely stand to follow it any more. (It's also hard to look away, the car-wreck phenomenon.) Frankly, it's appalling. America generally appalls me, of course, but I have to admit I kept watching them through these years, hoping that all the ugliness and failure would lift scales from their eyes, bring fundamental change, etc etc.

Nah.

Their papers lately are filled with praise of the Democrats, coming from the two biggest "centre-right" Republican pundits. (The articles are literally titled "Five Great Things Biden Has Already Done" and "Seven Big Things Biden Got Right", indicating that the Post's Jennifer Rubin is 7/5ths as enthusiastic as the Time's David Brooks.) They are, obviously, most pleased of all that the Democrats picked the most-right-wing representative they've got, compromised and compromised again and again.

From an electoral point of view, pardon my coldness here, nothing could have gone more right than for all those poor people to die recently. The soaring case-loads were in the reddest states, and swing-states, are wonderful. It's smashing that the other side self-inflicted covid at the highest level. It's great, for the Democrats, that the economy is in the tank. Hell, even the weather is looking good, which is good for turnout, which is good for Democrats. For a challenger, all this hell is perfect. And the "October Surprise Laptop" fizzled. Things could not have gone "better" (for an electoral challenger.)

And as America speeds up towards a quarter-million dead, about 200,000 of whom could have been saved, multiple states are still "50/50", or "a tossup", and the Presidential election still has some doubt.

For me, that just underscores how nearly-irredeemable the country is, how dragged down the normal Americans are by the abnormal. Those are the only terms I can come up with, where "normal" means "the political centre of most other developed nations". The political centre where starting wars or running torture chambers is crazy talk; where having universal health insurance is obvious; where gerrymandering is impossible, and voting takes minutes, not hours. That's NORMAL, goddammit.

Much of America is normal. The rest of us don't have 25% of our population as evangelical "Christians" that love killing and openly hate minorities, refuse to worship with them.

Their liberals believe that their conservatives are racist (or tolerant of it in allies) but don't believe that conservatism itself is inherently racist. How well they know it: their own party used to be the (more) racist one. Conservative voters, on the other hand, really do believe that liberalism is evil, inherent in the philosophy itself. That's abnormal, in most nations.

The failure of the Iraq War did not change their beliefs; the failure of the American economy did not change their economic beliefs; and now the world's-worst response to the pandemic has failed to convince more than a few of them to switch votes for one election. This election will not remove their great power to hold America back, preventing making the changes that changing times demand.

They are on-course to be the big Losers of the 21st century, and it's just painful to watch. How I pity them.

OK, PS: I promise to take some of this back -- IF it turns out that the analyses are more-wrong on this election than the last one, and in the opposite direction. Maybe the depressing coverage is exaggerated, as the media bent over backwards to not make the same mistake.

If all the swing-states are won handily, if multiple unexpected states like Texas are shock wins; if the Senate gains as many seats as the Democrats wildest dreams. Americans can surprise you now and then. But what I've seen so far - not the extreme antics of right-wing activists, but the lack of change from the great majority that are not activist - will have me pitying again by the weekend.


November 1: Rally Side Effects? Associated Events? Bad Attitudes?

A few papers are carrying the story I touted yesterday, of the Stanford economists associating 30,000 infections and (thus a presumed) 700 deaths, with GOP election rallies. I have to admit I put it out there very quickly, as it hit my news moments earlier and felt "breaking". Easy to put up the link and be done the blog.

A further read revealed a puzzle: they only analysed 18 rallies. That's over 1600 infections per rally, which is totally ludicrous, as a first-order effect. Few of the rallies had more than 16,000 at them, say, so it would require 10% of the rallygoers to be infected, outdoors, in a few hours. If the rally were held in a low-ceilinged bar, maybe. Outdoors, no way.

However, the association can easily include not just second-order infections, from those who did go to the rally, it can include associated effects. The rallies are parties for those who attend; perhaps they also had home parties, BBQs, tail-gaters, fundraising dinner parties. Perhaps the rally tended to cause a general reduction in mask-wearing in the whole county, as aggressive anti-maskers hassled mask-wearers, if only with glares.

Or, possibly, the rallies were picked for NOT actually being that similar to counties around them, that the economists compared them to. Perhaps they were much more likely to continue dangerous behaviours after the cases ticked up.

And, lastly, the Stanford economists could have WAY overestimated, because of various errors - and the report would still be devastating, if you ask me. Suppose they're a whole order of magnitude high. Suppose the rallies "only" cost 3,000 infections and 70 deaths. Actually, go two orders of magnitude: 300 infections and seven deaths. That would still be awful, shameful, and even criminal. ("Benghazi" was only four, and it got a Michael Bay movie.)


October 31: Rallies Have Killed 700. So Far.

Stanford economists have analysed the infections springing from rallies, and they estimate about 30,000 infections, presumably costing 700 deaths.

It's an easy day for a blog, when there's one story to draw attention to: provide the link, and post. This blog has always had a fascination with following the numbers, the way a pandemic can be described and predicted with statistics. And my closest thing to "controversy" (if there were enough readers to have a discussion at some point), was when I could not find any evidence of infections caused by that first rally in Tulsa.

The Oklahoma public health official, I noted, was careful not to blame the rally specifically, only on the many different events all going on; you'll note that the many, many rallies in the last few weeks have followed that pattern, with local officials expressing displeasure and concern, but no specific blame.

That's because analyses like mine of Tulsa, are hard to do; my Tulsa work only worked for one cause happening on one night, and it could only find a lack of increasing infections; if there had been any increase, ascribing it to the rally would have been harder. With many infectious events happening, the local officials can't be positive about any blame. This approach is different, using much more data across many events.

As the article will detail for you, the economists are well-skilled in the "natural experiments" of comparing statistics from different counties, controlling for all other variables, and correlating behaviours with outcomes. They compared counties with and without rallies, but all other things similar, and the 30,000 infections, 700 deaths estimate is the result.

It will be disputed and denigrated, of course. It may even be challenged and ultimately adjusted by other studies; but the adjustments won't be huge, or Stanford will be in for an academic black eye. It's most-likely about right.

It covers rallies from Tulsa to September 22, and of course, there have been many more since, in time of greater infection prevalence, greater risk per rally. The final analysis will surely come in at over 1000 dead, many of whom did not attend, or were even related to those who did.


October 30: A Rough Beast, Its Hour Come 'Round at Last, Chews Its Way Into the Vitals of a Nation

The Times had a new infographic this morning. I am weak for infographics, having basically dedicated most of a career to creating them. (The Post had a 13-graphic example article on the problem of depicting red and blue states fairly, when the reds are so much less dense. It was like red-and-blue Hallowe'en candy for me.)

At left, not the case-count, or death-count, but just which places hit their peak in the last week. This lets out all the coasts, apparently. Maybe we don't come into countries by boat, any more, maybe you could fly from Beijing to Boisie direct, but most arrivals are at coastal cities. The virus "burned through" the coasts in the Spring, and they learned. Their second waves are much lower than their firsts, though America's overall, (see yesterday, below) is much higher.

So the map looks like a devouring that has eaten its way into the innards, feasting on the soft underbelly. And it is a very "soft" underbelly, to the virus. The occupants of politically red states are still not protecting themselves from it. Its hour really has come 'round: you can't beat the meal that, as you gnaw your way through the intestines into the liver, just keeps baring its belly and repeating "this is not happening".

The pandemic isn't Iwo Jima, with guys just like you falling to your left and right. The worst locations (Lombardy, New Jersey) have lost "only" a few thousand people per million, a few tenths of a percent. The majority of those were already in care. It's perfectly possible to deny it, unless you stand outside the hospitals, watching the bodies come out.

It would be terrific if those red states could learn something from this expensive, blood-soaked lesson, but my every previous hope that they'd learn something, from the Iraq War, say, or the Great Recession, has been humiliated. Statistically, they've only learned a little - maybe several percent have shifted views, and that probably temporarily - from the endless shocks of the last four years. So, no, losing a tenth-percent of their population to preventable stupidity won't do it, either. They'll be ready for eating when the next one comes, too.


October 29: Worst Democracy

The inception of this blog was the essay (link always at top) about "America finishing in the bottom of the major league", a prediction of the worst pandemic response of all the respected industrial democracies.

America I expected to do worst, because they have the worst democracy. We just had our election in BC, and while I didn't like the result, the election mechanics were fine, voting was easy, the result undisputed. No courts will be called, no guns brandished.

In America, what's going on for recent weeks of early-voting, and for a week to come, is a cringeworthy shitshow of endless lineups, threats, fights over process. What other democracy have you seen this in? Nowhere in Europe, nowhere in the developed world. Indeed, right now, Mexican election officials are probably pitying their American counterparts for living in a real shithole.

For all my obsessions about pandemic statistics, I missed the forest for the trees until I looked, just yesterday, at the Big Picture of our two nations' case charts - alternating at left, if your browser does GIF animations.

What I somehow never commented on is the giant hump in the middle of the American graph, where Canada has three months of crushed-curve. Canada is, alas, well into a second wave that's going to go twice as tall as the first. But America is into a third wave, without ever more than mildly depressing the previous waves.

Our "crushed" period, from the first day of Summer to Labour Day, has cases 70% lower than the peak of the first wave; Americans only ever got that first wave down about 30%. Their next wave, more than twice as tall, was only depressed by 40%, that is, to a point higher than the first peak! Which is why some describe the USA as really still in its first wave. (Also, the USA graph has a scale 20X larger than ours, though the population ratio is under nine.)

CCCC readers will know the complexity that the "second wave" was in different states, mostly having their first wave. I wrote about it back in August, when their second wave peaked, and I hoped they would learn from this one (some red states finally realizing it wasn't just filthy big cities), "or it will be a hard Fall". It's a hard Fall. Now the reddest states are getting it, and I wonder if now they will learn.

I figure, not. They won't learn. I don't think they can learn, because so few are accepting new facts any more. Also, the astonishing news that Florida and Ohio are still swing-states, still unclear on who might be better, convinces me that America is a very slow learner indeed.

Is this because they have the worst democracy? Would they be a better, more fact-based nation now if they'd gone with a parliament? The American system is complicated. Complicated things (like tax law) lend themselves to being gamed. Gaming generally requires lying and misdirection.

As the man said, I wouldn't subject that theory to peer-review, but I would subject it to beer-review: I'd argue it in a bar. If I could go to a bar.


October 28: Anger

It's like the stages of grief. Yesterday's theme was "denial".

Last night, we finally got to the 90-minute point in "Totally Under Control", the Alex Gibney documentary on the American pandemic response. We'd reached where Jared Kushner is handed the problem of buying PPE for America. They had an office that normally does that as their area of professional competence, but they were "government".

So, Jared calls friends and has them put the word out for 20-somethings that are willing to work seven days a week for no money. That was how he organized his team. No hiring. Any volunteers accepted, including Max Kennedy, right. (One of those Kennedys, Robert's grandson. Click on him for the story.) They are not given any resources; they use their own laptops and Gmail accounts, and cold-call people to ask how one might buy masks. They are given no purchasing power at all. At one point, Kushner visits, and offers them any support they need; told "the ability to pay up front", he says "Done!", and never follows up in any way - just a show.

The whole effort was just a show. They never bought a single mask, and then the regime blamed the states (you may recall the famous line about "our stockpile").. That was six minutes after we started watching. It then went on into the other Kushner step, which was all the states fighting over PPE, and having to bid over the Feds, having to protect purchases from Fed confiscation. We had to turn it off when it moved on to the miracle drug cures.

But I was still pitying those 19-year-olds with their home laptops, trying to save nurses and doctors with their Gmail accounts, when I came across this George Monbiot column today in The Guardian, about the teenage contact-tracers in Britain.

Once again, people with no skills were hired, though at least on minimum wage rather than free. That wasn't so bad for the job of phoning a list of names to be told to isolate, but then they gave them the medical professional's job of interviewing positives to get all the names. It was, says an informant, a shitshow.

Because of incompetence and graft. Graft? Well, there's twelve billion pounds missing, much of it to private firms doing what government could have done, on no-penalty contracts. It resembles the windfall profits of all those American PPE suppliers that had their prices bid way up.

The finishing touch was election news this morning, about the lead in Wisconsin is "significant", but "narrow" in Michigan, and Ohio is "50/50". How the hell can Americans be so stupid it isn't 70/30 everywhere??.

I don't know which I'm more angry at, the conservative looters, or their willing enablers.


October 27: Covid Denial like Climate Denial

I'm proud of actually stealing a march on the news columnist that I first began reading regularly, Paul Krugman. The man has been good at explaining the infinitely complex topic of economics to non-geniuses for thirty years, now, and it's made him good at explaining less-complex issues even more clearly and succinctly.

I anticipated his column today with my post about "The Great Barrington Merchants of Doubt" nine days back, pointing out that the Barrington Bunch were the same Bunch that worked to sow doubt about global warming, and before that about tobacco health hazards.

What Krugman added today was very short and simple, his great talent. It knocks both denials down to three main points, and they're the same points. These guys use the same strategy, over and over, from cancer to covid.

With climate change, the three points were: (1) climate change isn't even happening; (2) there's nothing we can do about it anyway, without destroying "the economy", and (3) it's being exaggerated by bad-faith scientists that get more (research?) money from claiming there's a problem.

With covid, those three points have all come out now. The denial that the "hoax" is even a real problem started back in January, and continues even today, somehow. The complaint that we can't fight it without the cure being worse because "economy" is identical; and now a rally the other day claimed that coronavirus fatalities are being exaggerated because "doctors get more money and hospitals get more money", Krugman writes, with the above link to the exact quote.

All three issues have in common that it takes science and statistics to be clear on the problem; they involve trust in experts. It seems bizarre now that the link between smoking and cancer was ever a controversy, and of course the similar nonsense about climate and covid will seem just as stupid (to all) in another generation.

Sadly, I'm sure in another generation, there will be some other problem that takes stats to see - and the Merchants of Doubt will be back, denigrating honest scientists, defending "the economy" from people who don't want "the economy" to kill them, and claiming the whole thing is not even happening.


October 26: Grudging Credit Where Due, Jennifer Rubin

I don't want to like Jennifer Rubin, who's just become a superstar for the Washington Post, the last few years. She's a never-Trumper Republican, was totally OK with the Iraq War, torture, Bush and Bombs forever, rah, rah, rah. OK, I exaggerate, but I'm an Iraq-War hardliner, it's binary: you were either against it, to switch away support in time for the 2004 election, or you're Dr. Evil. Whereas Rubin wrote Where are the Iraq War defenders? ... in 2013. So, keeping this short, I hate her, and loathe that her never-Trumping may get her peace-through-bombs philosophy a hearing from the new administration.

But.

She has indeed put out a frightening pace of work, posting blog entries that are printed as separate columns, not just daily, but multiple times per day. They obviously have a staff of researchers feeding her the facts and figures, or she couldn't put out so much work, with links and background. It's good stuff. Because there's so much Rubin, I often avoid clicking on her, looking for other's work (and general antipathy) - then I click on the "top story" link that only has a title, and its Rubin's latest, over and over again. Because it's both good material, with facts and background narrative, and because she's relentlessly caustic and incisive - in the sticking-in-a-knife sense of that word - about the moral dimensions. This is "horse-race coverage" that doesn't forget to mention the one jockey rapes the horse, nightly.

So, today, the story (also linked from her byline, above) on top, was 100% cry-of-outrage, without actual new news. It castigated, not just the administration for the sheer number of dead, the staggering size of their failure, but the media for not holding him responsible enough. Relentless rhetoric: "Even more damning, we hear a confession straight from the lips" (about yesterdays admission of failure to control). "This is simply monstrous", and the charge against the rest of the media is:

In the bizarre effort to maintain "balance," the mainstream media have failed to press the question to Trump: "Aren't you responsible for possibly hundreds of thousands of deaths because you never wanted to admit failure?"

And to her (former, I guess) fellow Republicans:

The question for them is: "How are tax cuts or Supreme Court justices worth the loss of hundreds of thousands of lives?" That is a question that should haunt them forever.
And ends by comparing it to coverage of war, where every (American, at least) death is agonized over:
You would think the death of thousands upon thousands of Americans would top every story and be addressed in every interview with an administration figure and fellow Republicans.
I couldn't have said it better, so, with grudging respect, I've just turned over half the space today, to the columnist that irritates me so.


October 25: Totally Under Control

"Totally Under Control" is the title of the new Alex Gibney documentary on the pandemic; the title is taken from an early White House speech, claiming "total control" when there were very few infections known. "Known", because testing was already a month behind the real story, which is that it was spreading in multiple locations. The documentary deserves multiple blog posts; we're taking it in about 20 minutes a night, to ward off the depression and fury it generates.

I just mention the title today, because of the contrast between two articles. At the Washington Post, Philip Bump reviews the epidemiologist's report on how many American deaths are attributable to the bad response. I had issues with it - Bump failed to compare to Canada, which is a better comparison than any European country (he picked Germany) because we also have the separate health-care officers for every province, as with their states. The analysis gets so muddled with multiple what-ifs that he ends up only concluding that "tens of thousands" of America's 230,000 covid dead (and 300,000 total "excess deaths", I'm glad he brought up) could have been saved. Comparison to Canada indicates it was more than half, that America's response will have cost a good 200,000 and more American lives, by February. ("February" for multiple reasons: no projection can go very far ahead; there will be a new administration; and vaccinations in numbers.)

The second article is on your front page this morning. "We Are Not Going To Control The Pandemic", says the White House Chief of Staff. "Mitigation" will be their whole strategy.

Their plea that the "contagious virus" is inherently uncontrollable sounds pretty weird in comparison to all the other countries that have done exactly that. No doubt, control can be lost again, as it recently has in Spain and Belgium, and certainly Canada and Germany are struggling for it. But star performers New Zealand and South Korea are still totally under control, their "second waves" already crushed.

The plea also sounds weird to anybody who's read the part of Philip Bump's WaPo article about masks: that universal mask usage, alone, could save 100,000 lives in the US, going forward.

Those lives will almost certainly be lost. It can be laid directly at the feet of the federal administration, and many state administrations that have the same "ignore it" philosophy. Laid there along with the 100,000 and more that are already their fault.

It takes your breath away, after years of being "scandalized" by 3,000 deaths on 9/11, and 50 deaths in a shooting incident, or nine deaths in a terrorist attack. Suddenly, we're arguing about whether 100,000 or 200,000 are the fault of this, or that.

It shouldn't be so breath-taking, really: the financial crisis clearly caused tens of thousands of suicides, the opioid crisis will probably cost over 100,000 lives before it even starts to improve, the lack of universal health insurance was estimated to be costing America 45,000 lives per year - during the Obamacare debates ten years ago, so that would have been some 450,000 - just in the meantime. (Obamacare may have cut the rate about in half around 2015.) Those deaths were really just visible to statisticians; the same is half-true now, as the numerical complexities in Philip Bump's article attest, but they're visible enough to the journalists because of health system reports.

The conservatives would like them to vanish again, into a fog of statistics, like the 45,000 they're still fighting to keep killing every year with bad health care. It's not going to work.


October 24: Not Much To Say About "Fatigue"

I'm kind of speechless, today. All the news is bad, in terms of infections: across Europe, America, everywhere it seems, the numbers are up. Worse, one keeps seeing things like "pandemic fatigue" in the papers. Gosh, folks, I'm sorry you're tired of it. Ever wonder if Iraq got "war fatigue" at some point in the last 30 years? Well, they had to get up the next morning and deal with the war, anyway, fatigued or not. They didn't get to pretend it wasn't happening.

We're going to have to keep dealing with it, and that apparently means second lockdowns. Once the cases come too fast to contact-trace and isolate, the old exponentials will soar again, unless you get that Rt back down below 1.0 again, somehow. Maybe heavier mask-use and distancing can do it without lockdown; I sure hope so. Otherwise, it's inevitable; even without orders, people will start staying home out of fear.


October 23: A Mask Argument Without Words

All praise to the Post for getting this one out, today, and far more praise to The "COVIDcast" team at Carnegie-Mellon University. Do click on that last link; it's not just to the source of this graph, but many others, some mesmerizing. Try the "timelapse" feature and watch the cases spread into the central northwest, day by day, over the Fall.

The mask argument needs no words from me. Just look at that; the "R-squared" accuracy measure was only 0.35 for my "2016 vote" graph on the 17th; this is up above 0.7, it's really solid correlation. (Which, yes, is not causation...it just very probably is, so why take the chance?)

My wife is now making many masks, face-fitting and colourful. Our location is not mask-averse, and it means we don't need to feel desperate about those vaccines that may be quite some time, yet.



October 22: Deaths Tick Up Again: Urban in Canada, Rural in the USA

Well, sickness and dying are on the march all over; North America and Europe are both losing one battle after another in this phase of the war. But there's a difference between Canada and the USA.

Both have seen soaring case-loads, and a recent rise in deaths per day. The "deaths per day" has been going down for months; people kind of took the news of rising cases without worry, because the death-rate kept going down as younger people, out at work and school (and parties) were a higher proportion of them.

But, finally, after three weeks since the new cases/day in the USA exceeded the highest numbers of late April, the death-rate went up above 1000/day yesterday. Canada's had been so low for months that ours has more than doubled since then.

Canada's cases and deaths follow the same patterns as the spring: the cities are the worst-hit, and the biggest cities in Ontario and Quebec, the worst of those. But the American cases have now moved out of their most-populous states and into their most-rural areas, as I noted about "Mulish Montana" the other day. The map (right) now looks like a reverse of a population map: bright red through all the emptiest plains.

Again, that's politics, as I noted with my graph of 2016 votes vs 2020 fall infections. Those politics didn't really get going in Canada, so it hasn't killed many of us yet, and it has spared our most-Conservative electoral ridings. Except the Alberta Health Minister. Probably a coincidence. This must cause a struggle for Alberta doctors and nurses; they can hardly laugh at anybody getting covid, but for Tyler Shandro, they must be wrestling with that.

The editorial position of CCCC, is that we do not revel in the sad infection of this total dick. Infection is a serious matter, and any schadenfreude about this loathesome jerk suffering medically, is wholly inappropriate, and not to be tolerated - despite his near-murderous withdrawal of badly-needed medical resources from Alberta's most-vulnerable areas. Covid is not a "just dessert" for him, that being unemployment and infamy.


October 21: "Excess Deaths" Only Add 50% to Virus Toll in USA

The numbers for Canada may come up differently, but the stats for the States are in. The "excess deaths", where deaths by every other cause, from heart and lung to traffic, are up this year, indicating that either covid or the response to it has cost America another 100,000 lives, on top of the 200,000 directly ascribed to the disease.

The headline says "only" because back when I first looked in May, it seemed like the excess deaths might be another 100% added on to the covid toll; so 50% feels like a win.

The headline is that it's actually been worst, in percentage terms, for young people, 25-44, "percentage" because they don't normally do much dying to start with. We older bunch have sharp peaks in the graphs at left, more clearly caused by the first wave in April and May, old people dying of various diseases, with covid helping it along, but going undiagnosed as such.

The 25-44 graph goes right up to 40% higher than "normal" (2015-2019 average) in March and stays up there through August; it's only dropped with the Fall. Theories can abound, but they should wait on data - were these already-unhealthy younger people that had their disease exacerbated by covid, again without diagnosis? People afraid to seek care? Traffic accidents delivering our DoorDash? Staying home and taking too many drugs? We'll eventually get a report on the how the separate causes added up.

The silver lining is that deaths below age 25 actually dropped a bit. Again and again, give thanks, because most of these pandemics are the worst on children, not the best.

I'm very eager to see these stats for Canada. If they're different, it will probably say something about the differences between the health-care systems.

The other stats were by ethnicity, not age, and they show that again, the pandemic has hit communities of colour harder. Most of those peaks were a 100% increase in "excess deaths", not just 50%. Just as bad as feared in May. That probably(?) indicates that these communities have even more trouble being diagnosed with covid, and of course more health risks in general.

But I think all of it is proportional to covid; that is, had the covid toll in the USA been a quarter of what it has (and it could have been) then so would this number be that much smaller. Their Administration has that much more to answer for.


October 20: Home-Made Masks

There's more and more data indicating these are useful, and that vaccines are going to take a while, so we might as well get used to masks as a fashion item. Connie has finally applied her considerable seamstress skills to the problem, and come up with some well-engineered tailoring.

Note the tenting at the nose: these contain wire strips sewn inside the top edge, allowing the wearer to mold the line over the bridge of the nose, so that you don't have twin fountains of steam, on either side of the nose, going straight up into your glasses. The bottom, at your chin, has darts so that the fabric folds over your chin and forces most air to go through the fabric.

The two are different grades, as it were. The upper one is a thinner fabric, right for clothing, could be worn for hours. The lower one is heavy fabric, and it actually does what some anti-maskers complain about: you can only breathe so fast, you couldn't exercise in it. That's my mask for the grocery store when it's at capacity, yikes, and I just want to dodge people, and get through it quickly. My industrial-strength mask, just a step or two below "N95".

I suggested just using a double-fold of twist-tie wire, the lower one has that. Even better was what Connie spotted and put in the upper one: those heavy-wire strips that come at the top of bags of coffee beans, for resealing. That's in the upper one, and it's perfect.

The Vancouver Aquarium has some new designs for sale, too, keeping them, as it were, afloat. That'll give me two Aquarium masks, a Grouse Mountain, these two, and some basic undecorated ones. Those were an early gift, from a neighbour, who started turning them out in numbers, to pass the spring; people who are good with fabric often can't stop at one mask. Check around your friends! If you gotta do it, you might as well have fun.

That said, I still see them as pointless when you are outdoors and a good three metres from everybody. I do wear them on any busy sidewalk, but the much quieter sidewalks near our house, we simply make a show of stepping out into the street to avoid people. There's a cultural value that's flipped: it would have looked insulting a year ago, now it's the polite thing to do.


October 19: Mulish Montana

All the trouble I've gone to, to highlight how bad it is in Montana right now (October 17, below), and all through the barely-inhabited states of the northwest, and the Montanans aren't getting it. There are multiple articles up about how difficult it is to promote masks. The Times has another. Not just the citizens, the sheriffs just decide whether they feel like obeying state orders, are empowered to make public health decisions, apparently, and do. Businesses compromise by getting staff to wear masks, and asking customers to, some of whom instead berate the high-school-aged waitresses for "kneeling to tyranny".

This California publication has a great article on them, from all the many sheriffs that picked this moment to "defend freedom", to the estimates of effectiveness that a universal mask-wearing month would control the American pandemic as well as a vaccine. The story of how Nashville, a city, has half the infection rates of rural counties around it, because it has a mask-mandate and they don't.

Up tomorrow: the cool new fun-masks my wife has been making!


October 18: Great Barrington Merchants of Doubt


CCCC already dismissed the Not-So-Great Barrington Bunch and I would have been content to leave it there. If you want the case against their case, The Guardian made it well, a week ago. Ultra-short version: it's not backed by scientific work or evidence. They may have scientific backgrounds, but they haven't published any of these beliefs in peer-reviewed journals, gathered no data, run no models of their herd-immunity strategy. Scientists don't "declare", they publish data and their work upon it, for study and open criticism. "Scientist" isn't something you inherently are, it's a thing you do, and they ain't doing it. (dusts palms).

I'm glad of a re-run, however, to tout the new Guardian article on the connection between them and the "Merchants of Doubt". That lets me in turn tout The Merchants of Doubt, the 2010 Book and the outstanding 2014 documentary movie about the "scientists" (former, really) that peddled doubt about the dangers of tobacco, and the reality of climate change. (That was when the authors twigged, that these guys fancied themselves "experts" in such different areas.)

I've only seen the movie, but it was so enlightening. Like many, I'd thought they were paid to run around giving these talks an interviews. But no, they were philosophical Libertarians that personally loathed any government activity at all, invented their talks by themselves, did it all for expenses. The Koch brothers, and similar funders, paid for that much through Libertarian "think-tanks" (that is, lobbies and public-relations firms that do no peer-reviewed research at all and do not deserve the term). So it was pretty cheap compared to the profits selling tobacco and oil.

The new article traces how the Barringtons are also funded by the same type of source, a lobby group that openly campaigns for minimal government. It does explain a lot.


October 17: Statistical Proof that GOP States Are Getting Sicker

That map yesterday, showing the worst infection rates up in the hard-red states of Montana and Wyoming as the worst in the country, had me wondering if it was just regional. My fave "worldometers" dashboard doesn't show active cases or new cases on a per-million basis, so I downloaded yesterday's page and did that math. The top of the spreadsheet is at right:

..with the top crowded with safe GOP states like Wyoming and the Dakotas. (Excel file here.)
The "GOP+" column comes from this handy summary of 2016 published by CBS News. That page gives the total votes for Democratic and GOP Presidential candidates in 2016, and my number shows the GOP-Dem difference, divided by total votes, so that negative numbers were Democratic victory states, positive were GOP electoral college wins. The "51%" you see for Wyoming was from 175,000 for the GOP, 56,000 for the Democrats, by far the largest margin in the country. (It's Cheney country, pardner.) It means 51% of the votes cast in Wyoming were GOP votes that were not needed to defeat the Democrat.

The graph at left is simply the full picture, with the "New Cases Yesterday" (per million) as the Y-axis, and the "GOP+" percentage as the determining variable. The R-squared number, the measure of how predictive the GOP vote is, is not that great, but you can absolutely see there's some connection.

What's really interesting is that I also graphed that "Active Cases Per Million" column, and got bupkiss: just a cloud of points with no clear relationship between vote and virus. The "active cases" is kind of a summary of the last three or four weeks of "new cases", before those are closed-out as dead or recovered. (The duller graph is in the spreadsheet, if desired. Also, the one at left has all the states labeled.)

A tentative conclusion would be this: it was true, months ago, that the populous, citified blue states of New York, New Jersey, and Massachusetts were covid hotspots; and as little as a month back, you wouldn't have said that red states were red zones; but in the last few weeks, GOP voting in 2016 has become a useful predictor of sickness.

It's not bright to start drawing conclusions. I don't think there's been a rally in the Dakotas or Nebraska, the three worst, so don't go blaming those rallies. Indeed, if it were any kind of election activity that were causing these cases, they would be highest in swing states, not red states.

No conclusions, but at a guess: it's their behaviour, a guess I am drawn to by the blog motto at top. Covid risk-taking has become a cultural value of the American GOP supporters. In the last few weeks, they have paid for that value with cases; in the next few weeks, some will pay with their lives.

Postscript, Later Same Day

The Post has a good article up, reviewing the possible role of the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in mid-August. Doh. I was not thinking of that kind of rally. It was an epidemiologist's nightmare: 500,000 drinking, partying revellers from half-way across the country, all meeting, then going back to their homes. I'm not sure if motorcycle rallying is associated with voting GOP, but going to this one, this year, probably was.


October 16: "We've done an amazing job. And it's rounding the corner."

Yeah. Right. Congratulations.

What's particularly depressing about the "corner", is that the second wave bottomed out at 36,000 cases/day, over half again the first-wave trough of 21,000; the third wave now building is going to be bigger than the second, which was bigger than the first. It will crest within a month or so, before the first vaccination program starts.

The other corner that has been turned, is from the American coasts to the GOP-voting interior states, as seen at right.

They're so low-population, you don't notice how bad it is there until you correct for it. Montana had 723 cases yesterday. Not much? Well, it has exactly 1/20th the population of Florida, so that's like Florida having 14,460; and Florida actually had 3,356. Montana is five times as bad as Florida today.

Tell them they've "turned a corner".


October 15: Ottawa Puts Thinking Cap On. No, Not The Politicians.

Because of my employment history, these stories will always get prompt promotion here at CCCC: Colby Cosh at the National Post has a story on Ottawa monitoring coronaviruses via wastewater sampling.

I think the guys who write these take a 4-year-old's delight in peppering the story with the word "poo". (The virus, of course, may be coming from other wastes or just water washed off the hands, body, and counters.) Whatever, it's a clever, cheap, easy way to get information. As the article points out, its value in this pandemic may be limited, but the basic idea applies to multiple other public health problems - especially drug consumption.

Bravo, Ottawa: let's make it a national program, and a permanent one.


October 14: BC Has This Handled

I'm even prouder of BC this morning than yesterday. That said, we didn't even watch all of the debate. Our decisions are made, after all: Horgan must be spanked for even calling the election, so though Dr. Bonnie has made him look good, no votes for him. The Liberals are too conservative. Horgan made a good point that it was the Liberals that let go 10,000 care staff some 17 years back, a funny reminder of Jason Kenney also screwing Alberta with 11,000 medical layoffs this week. (Wilkinson was dumb enough to fail to point out that the NDP has had the last 13 of those 17 years to remedy it, and didn't, arguably a higher degree of culpability.) The green Green leader, Sonia Furstenau, did fine, so, wow, only 5 years in BC, and we're already Greens. This election.

But what has me bursting with pride, is that the debate was mostly not about the pandemic. It was a first topic, but just the one topic, and there was, to repeat yesterday's post, little drama surrounding it.

Maybe it just feels like a big deal because so much dysfunctional, lying, posturing nonsense is going on south of the border this month, but I was almost bouncing on the couch when the debate turned to housing, because pandemic issues, economic and medical, were exhausted.

We were both already laughing excitedly when the moderator got any of them to halt an interruption, by just asking, and a few times we applauded when an answer was on-topic and responsive to the question. We looked at each other, wow, this is just great. It seemed so novel!

As we turned down the sound, we checked our voting cards for tomorrow: a few blocks away, five days of early voting, plus mail voting, we're not expecting a lineup. We switched to some American news, where a guy was doing a selfie as he entered the voting place after 11 hours in line.


October 13: Canada Inferior at Drama?

Relax, CBC. I don't mean "Murdoch Mysteries". I mean our politics.

My wife an I enjoyed the bio-drama "RBG", but I just couldn't stomach paying any attention to the new confirmation stuff that's wall-to-wall on their news all week. I attempted a few lame jokes (Who is "A:B"? Amy Colon Barrett...) and trailed off; it's all such a predictable pantomime, and the stench of BS is so thick. Arm-waving dramatics intended to put a cloud of emotion about hot-button issues around an advance for plutocratic power (Barrett, I gather, is very reliable about taking the side of Money over Labour.)

What I did enjoy was this top-of-page article in the National Post yesterday: "Unlike the U.S., Canada does not do spectacle when it comes to picking Supreme Court judges". Absolutely right. It's the least-appropriate part of government for "spectacle", after all.

And then there's the BC Leader's Debate tonight. We have it set to record, and I realized with a touch of astonishment that I'm genuinely looking forward to it. Pandemic focus has had me looking away from most other Canadian news for months. What are we doing about real estate speculation and money-laundering? In very green BC, what's our climate plan? Does giving Horgan a majority mean he'll OK a pipeline?

The moderator, for her part hopes she won't need her mute button. Which she of course has, because these things are not there to serve the leaders, they exist to serve the needs of the people to be informed. And rules that are enforced promotes that. Which we understand, this being Canada, and "we" includes the Leaders.

It's such a relief. A relief to have real issues that will get some informative debate, in civil tones. Nobody wants "drama" during any other important conversation, with your doctor or banker or even your car-repairman.

The pandemic hook here, for the blog, is of course that nations with the least drama (think Germany, New Zealand) have also had the best pandemic response. Drama in politics is mostly invented; politicians make up "burning issues" to get people out to the polls at all. When a real problem comes along, you have to be able to separate the unimportant, invented "issues" from the real ones.

The States is the worst, of course, because they turned pandemic response into a fake issue; masks are obviously not that oppressive to wear, not if you already put up with swampy underwear on a hot day to obey other social expectations. Their conservatives made it up to have something to complain about, and tens of thousands have died for it.

We here in BC simply produce drama for others to watch, where drama belongs, on the other side of the TV screen. While the Americans are probably wishing for "No-Drama Obama" to come back, at this point.


October 12: Just Give Thanks If You Haven't Caught It

Hard to give thanks in 2020, isn't it?

You pretty much have to be so devout that you give thanks for your chastisement, for being humbled and reminded that pride is a sin. People's plans, not just for the year, but for their education, career, family, all laid waste.

It's a religious occasion, and one is reminded, this year, of the Book of Job: disease, death, and poverty were all rained down upon him, testing his faith.

The descriptions of all the different things that can (low probability) happen to you with a case of covid would have been a harder test for Job. Stories keep coming out of "long-haulers" with months of debilitating symptoms: "brain fog", wracking pains, endless fatigue; apparently permanent losses of hearing, that news yesterday.

The lesson being that it can always get worse. Be thankful that covid barely touches children, again and again. Be thankful if nobody you know has caught it - and with only a few percent of Western Canada infected, that's true of most of us. Be thankful it's not like AIDS, where there's been no vaccine in 35 years of trying.

It's not a good time to sit beside one of those care-home beds, watching a life get worse and worse, and then it's gone. But it does drive home that it can always get worse. So celebrate what you do have, of life, health, family, shelter, clothing, food. Not everybody is so lucky. Especially this year.

And don't just give thanks. Give. The food bank is our favourite. Especially this year.


October 11: Who's Zoomin' Who?

I do too much journalism around here; sometimes, blogging is about doing some research and presentation, mostly it's about dashing off a cranky opinion and letting everybody get on with their day, especially me.

Today's cranky opinion is that the price of virtual commerce is shirking. Every office has people that find ways to avoid real work, but how much easier is it to do that from home? I chatted the other day with parents who found that one of their kids' teachers was really good at tasking and tracking the virtual students in her class, one adequate, and one so lax "we're not sure if he's going to learn anything this year"...and it was all about diligence, something hard for a school principal to monitor, except over time.

Bad employees happen, weak team members are on nearly every team. The job of a boss is to put together strong teams. Virtual offices just make that way harder. It's hard to guess where that goes. Modern business is terrible at rewarding real competence, and punishing performance that is merely poor. The change to virtual hits it in weak spot.

It'll raise the value of a really good supervisor, one who can spot BS over a bad connection, when most can't spot it being thrown in their face. Ambitious employees have a new skillset to develop.


October 10: American Carnage Now Baked-In Through Their Election Day

The three-weeks-to-go day, next Tuesday, would have been a rounder day to pick, I guess, but epidemic arithmetic isn't that exact.

The progress of Covid-19 is such that the dying on Halloween Day will happen to people infected this last week, or the next few days. It was possible to hold out faint hope for sanity until this week, and indeed, their president's own sufferings presented a possibility of a sudden turnaround.

I read just yesterday of Florida's largest retirement community, heavy GOP voters in '16, suddenly wanting masks at gatherings, one interviewee saying, "it was a hoax until he got it". (Their state has 15,000 dead, so he must have thought it a very clever "hoax" indeed...)

So what is baked-in? A national death rate of between 700 and 750 per day; Johns Hopkins should be giving a figure of 230,000 dead. It'll be possible to argue that the bungled response has killed a round 200,000 people, perhaps 10,000 of them under the age of 50. Worse for the incumbents running for the GOP, the dying will be highly concentrated in some of their hardest fights: Florida, and amazingly, Texas.

Texas would be quite the electoral coup. It's now the second-most-populous state, at 29 million. It was considered "not in play" before the pandemic, and now the GOP may actually lose their crown jewel. In that regard, the coronavirus has a well-known liberal bias: it's "conservative" down there to pretend it doesn't exist, so when it goes right on existing and killing people, every coffin is a message that "The GOP sucks at their job." And Texas has leveled off at about 100/day, so there will be over 2,000 repetitions of the message "The GOP killed me." At least, if the Democrats are marginally competent at that message translation.

Florida is not a huge coup, in the sense that it's been a swing-state for decades, but the odds of a swing away from the GOP are helped by it having the actual highest death-rate, despite lower population than Texas. Theirs is still declining, slowly, will be under 100/day soon - but both states will be close to 20,000 dead, each, when the polls open. If the Democrats win both states, then the four most-populous states in the Union (California, Texas, Florida, New York).

Personally, I've gone beyond shock at American attitudes and values. Four years back, I wrote about how 2016 shouldn't even have come close, it should have been 80/20 against the corrupt con-man rapist, etc etc. Now, I'm watching polls that say maybe Ohio will actually cross the 50% line, maybe, maybe. Each percentage point costing thousands dead.

The coronavirus is moving America towards liberalism like bouncers manhandling a fighting, ranting drunk out of a bar, resisting them to the last. I suppose their Democrats will cheer their mighty victory, but all I see is a dysfunctional family where the one least-crazy member managed to put out the fire started in the kitchen by the drunken ones. It'll still be the same family in the morning, and the drinking will start right after breakfast.


October 9: Doesn't Suck To Be Us

The news is pretty much all bad, this morning:
  • Only two US states have falling disease rates
     
  • America has little hope of relief with their nominal leader crazed by steroids and attempting, I suspect with little hope of success, to turn the conversation back to Hillary Clinton's Emails.
     
  • Alberta, where I don't get my dang Thanksgiving with badly-missed family, just posted a shocking 364 cases in one day; even if an artifact of held-back data, the 7-day average is now over 200, heading for the peak of late April.
     
  • Ontario just came close to 1,000 in a day, sending the provincial cabinet into emergency discussion, presumably about lockdown.
     
  • I can't even draw some lame "Conservative governments screw up pandemics" moral from the last two, because lefty Quebec got back up to 1,000/day, with a lower population, days ago.
     
Oh, and it's raining. I'm not even allowed to complain about that, as a Vancouverite. Douglas Coupland even put a number on it in his book about his hometown, "City of Glass": we aren't allowed to complain about rain for the first sixty consecutive days.

But here's the thing: a month ago, I was very worried about BC hitting 100 new cases/day, and we're still around that number. Relatively speaking, that's feeling like success just now. The case-load is controllable with contact-tracing, just; as noted the other day. The "rest of Canada", by the way, is even better off; much.

Especially as the news from the States goes into Tom-Clancy-novel territory, I'm very conscious that the biggest problem in BC right now is that John Horgan is going to be rewarded for his perfidy, the cynical, faithless, public-endangering sumbitch.

Ordinarily, I'd be a lot more upset by that, but 2020 has given me perspective.


October 8: Barringtons Not So Great

Because of the incessant din of a certain other news item, this story is mercifully getting a short shrift.

The three initiators of "The Great Barrington Declaration" (from a place called "Great Barrington"; the declaration, not so great) are epidemiologists, so it's polite to give them a hearing. That thousands of other "health professionals" (self-declared) have signed it, is pretty meaningless. I could call myself an "engineering professional" on a declaration against PCB chemicals; but the fact is, that I've never studied chemical toxin problems, and know nothing I haven't read in the news about them. It's empty grandiosity to flout your credentials outside your area: "I got a degree and am smart about something else", is all you're saying.

We have Sweden's experience: twice Canada's death-rate, five times Germany's. We kind of know the costs of their plan, already. They aren't suggesting anything Sweden hasn't tried, to limit the casualties. They are right, that we could split the population into older people that are locked down, and younger that are not. But for the USA, for instance, that would still mean sacrificing tens of thousands more, just between the ages of 25-44.

Their arguments, that the costs of getting to herd immunity are lower than the costs of restrictions, just don't hold water with me. Yes, there will be deaths from other diseases, from suicide and conflict, but they just don't compare. Significantly, the GBD doesn't include any kind of estimate of the death toll under their recommendations. If they're such great epidemiologists, where's their "Great Barrington Model"? They don't have one, because they know it would end the argument when people saw it.

Produce your estimate, gentlemen: show me your butcher's bill before you ask me to join in.


October 7: It's a Nice Day

It's a crisp morning in early Fall, the leaves are turning, the birds are chirping. The kids are in school, and pretty safe there, as noted yesterday.

The Vancouver fog is burning off, and it'll be a lovely sunny afternoon; that mean little man, Stephen Miller, has coronavirus, and the brilliant legal mind of Sandy Garossino, at the National Observer, has argued well that I should have permission to just enjoy it.

...so All is Right with the World.


October 6: Humble Pie

It's time for a serving. After 3 straight days of attention to America's tiresome celebrity dramas, the news back home is good, when I was predicting bad. It's so great to be wrong.

At least for now, anyway: the schools, so far, are not becoming covid hotbeds. I thought our schools were run by fools, but the staff and students (I'm crediting them, not the hapless planners) have managed to keep their distance and keep their health for a month. There have been cases, but no serious outbreaks, they've kept the lid on it. Most of the kids testing positive (0.7%) actually got it at home.

I do credit the kids, not in jest. We have this image of them as crawling over each other like puppies, but we hosted a 9-year-old for two weeks this summer, and it was she that sharply reminded us about hand-washing all the time. Her covid distancing on outings was impeccable. The Kids Are Alright.

Indeed, the report yesterday was all good. Well, sort of: still up at 120 cases/day, on average, but I trust Dr. H that the second derivative has now gone negative; we're just past the hump of the curve. They used to say you can only see the peak in the rear-view. I think their greater knowledge, and especially testing - the good part of the case-news was that positivity is now back to 1% - let their models spot it earlier, now.

Too bad about the locations for larger gatherings, but it seems preventing the super-spreads is the real key. Or the real "k". A recommended article is at the Atlantic on the "k factor", how much of spreading is in clusters. Of course, here at CCCC, it was dubbed "The Pareto Pandemic" (80% of infections from 20% of spreaders) when this was first spotted four months ago. Just sayin', to get over my serving of humble pie.)

Everybody in media is talking about the clusterf**k in the White House, of course. It's like slipping into a calming bath surrounded by candles to get a briefing from Bonnie Henry. That quiet, clear, calm voice telling you that science analysed the problem, found the minimum-trouble tweaks to make that would have the most effect, applied them, and they worked...and the danger is already receding.


October 5: Do Not Expect Change from the GOP

When a big celebrity gets ill with Covid, it makes the disease more "real" to people who haven't had a family or friend catch it yet, hopefully inspires a greater sense of awareness, presence-of-mind, better behaviour for a while. The celebrity towards which all American Republicans turn for sunlight is down with the bug. Will it change them? Will we see Republicans all in masks now, distancing, changing their positions on activity restrictions?

Dream on. Even the noisy, dancing "vigil" outside Walter Reed is maskless.

It's funny, having had to reference my very first post just the other day to help estimate the fatality odds of Patient One, I now have to reference my second, from six months back, about "GOP Resists Torture" (by the facts). I wrote that it's hard to keep denying the seriousness of the pandemic as the bodies pile up. At that time, April second, the USA was at 7,676 bodies. It seemed large at the time, but it was 207,000+ bodies ago.

The GOP torture continued for half a year, shaving away at even their adamantine 42% support. Finally, the other day, I saw a poll that was 53%/39% - dropped 3% after 200,000 dead. It shaved off one GOP fan in fifty, every time another Vietnam War's worth of dead bodies went by. Man, that's commitment to the Cause.

So, no, this won't break into their shell, either. If it did, that would be kind of disgusting, meaning that a single individual mattered more to them than 200,000, many from their own neighbourhood. Much of that 3% drop, which is recent, may be because the pandemic finally made it to red states in a big way: the highest active cases/million right now is Mr. McConnell's Arizona.

With all that, with all that, don't expect to see new behaviours, do expect to see fiercer denials, hope at best for another "amazing" drop, down to 38%.


October 4: Edgar Allen Poe, Prophet?

The Masque of the Orange Death...
I've been saving this one a long time. You could apply the Poe story as a metaphor for North America: it won't come here, it only affects filthy, diseased foreigners in old countries. Or "Real America": it only affects filthy, diseased, crowded, crime-ridden cities, not our 'burbs and towns.

The story, of course, needs only a brief refresh for anybody who had an English teacher with a dramatic turn, which is nearly everybody. There was a terrible plague, and the heartless Prince Prospero (proud of his "prosperity") gathers all the rich and powerful of his land into his castle to ride it out, above and aloof from the suffering and dying outside.

Indeed, it's a huge party and pageant:

...upon occasion of this great fete; and it was his own guiding taste which had given character to the masqueraders. Be sure they were grotesque. There were much glare and glitter and piquancy and phantasm ... There were delirious fancies such as the madman fashions. There were much of the beautiful, much of the wanton, much of the bizarre, something of the terrible, and not a little of that which might have excited disgust.

At right, lead picture from a Politico article about "Dictator Chic" and how the comical overdecoration and grandiosity of dictators around the world looks similar..and similar to the housing of a certain real-estate heir. Readers who haven't read "Dictator Chic" are encouraged to look through the photos without the name at the bottom, to see if they can distinguish the "taste" of Saddam Hussein, Nicolae Ceausescu, Ferdinand Marcos, and America's current President. Play "Guess the Owner"!

Clearly, the story is best a metaphor for the actual "castle", the heavily-guarded military fortress at 1600 Pennsylvania, with its new 13-foot, anti-antifa fence. The motley crew within had all drunk the Kool-Aid, were having meetings in small rooms every day, acting as if the 13-foot fence were also a giant N95 mask. It can't come to us, because we're clean and white and rich and powerful...is the only thing I can imagine was in their subconscious, though they wouldn't have phrased it like that, out loud.

The story contains its own metaphor, of course: the disease appears at the party, personified as a reveller in a mask, and starts touching people, who fall where they stand. But Poe's personification was an accurate description of exactly what has happened: the Prince Prosperos, both of them, were wrong to imagine you can create a safe place from disease, where behaviour can go on as "normal". It'll sneak in past all your guards, military and medical, as long a your behaviour isn't safe.

It was today's headline, above, about the staff now are "freaking out", that finally made me haul out the Poe reference. "And now was acknowledged the presence of the Red Death. He had come like a thief in the night. And one by one dropped the revellers..." They're "freaking out", partly because their jobs just got very complicated, partly because they weren't allowed to even think about this happening, much less have a PLAN prepared, like they didn't for the peons they pretended to serve...and partly because they might be next up for the Judgement of Covid. They've realized they were at far higher risk on the job than if they worked for an ad agency. Possibly higher risk than at one of those meat plants the Boss kept open, killing people.

This very unsafe place (caused by unsafe behaviours) has inspired me to alter the top line of the blog to show my oft-repeated phrase as the blog motto.

But, still no schadenfreude, I'm afraid. This is as funny as an Edgar Allen Poe story.


October 3: Techno-Thriller with The President as His Own Threat

I once heard that "techno-thriller" is a genre in which American might is celebrated as it protects the President, who is invariably threatened by vile schemes.

The movie title came to mind as it penetrated to me that the big story isn't about the one guy; it's that the whole pack of them were treating their jobs and lives as if they lived on the actual Mount Olympus, above and protected from the seething, diseased masses below their feet. Once the virus got in to such a foolishly-run place, it found easy prey.

Once again, my best line in this whole blog so far, I think, has been: "There are no safe places. There are only safe behaviours". The Post has a long article on the psychology of those who thought they lived in the clouds. It wasn't just the president:

It's the entire senior team around the White House participating in this fiction that, ‘We can ignore it,' ” said Simon Rosenberg, founder of the liberal think tank NDN.

...

"The White House was a petri dish," said Olivia Troye, a former staffer to Vice President Pence, who orchestrated meetings of the White House's coronavirus task force meetings.

Aides were traveling regularly, attending large meetings and rarely wearing masks, Troye said, which made her uncomfortable. "Some of these offices are like closets, with people sitting on top of each other," Troye said.

"The fact of the matter was, 75 percent did not walk around with masks. Maybe 85 percent," she said. "It was a very small percentage of people who wore the masks all the time."

... [A couple of stories about SS agents no longer getting tested after rallies; and The Family hauling them around on multiple trips despite lockdown orders, the kind that UK politicians get in big trouble for violating.]

Secret Service agents expressed their anger and frustration to colleagues and friends Friday, saying that the president's actions have repeatedly put them at risk. "He's never cared about us," one agent told a confidant...

"This administration doesn't care about the Secret Service," one current agent relayed in an internal discussion group. "It's so obvious."

So there's a silver lining here. If the election goes for the Democrats, and the President refuses to come down from Olympus, the Secret Service agents will by vying for who gets that shift, so they can be the one to escort him from the premises.


October 2: Shut UP With Your Schadenfreude

This is probably a disaster.

The odds of a population producing a lot of hospitalizations, especially a population of 74-year-old males, are certain. The odds on any one of them even having a bad time with covid-19, are only 50/50. Hospitalization, a bit over 10%. Maybe 20% odds of needing some clinical support, given age and obesity.

This patient has a large following that are prone to magical thinking. The Republican party has been inculcating them with magical thinking about economics for decades; they've sold wars with magical thinking. So this disease will be, magically, all their diseases.

This could turn out "well". Boris Johnson had a very bad case, hospitalization; came out with all his ideas about "herd immunity", no longer up for herd mentality. The news helped his nation see the disease as serious. Heck, this could save thousands of lives that way. But the odds of a similar happy outcome in the US are only about that 20%.

Almost anything less - if he's not completely off the screen for weeks, unable to make a TV appearance because he's so ill - can be claimed to be a no-problem little cold that he's slaying like a champion. Can only make a 5-minute TV appearance because he's sooo busy coordinating the campaign. The odds of it being mild enough to claim something like that are a good 70%.

Magically, in follower's minds, this will allow two contradictory beliefs to be held as proven before all our eyes:

  1. The Man is a mightly physical specimen, a robust contrast to his frail old opponent;
     
  2. The disease is really nothing, a paper tiger, can only kill those who are weak, and, frankly, deserving of Darwinian Death anyway. We can all forget those masks, let's get back to work.

None of this, by the way, is about the election. That's pretty much a(nother) Lost Cause already. Even the positives from the above "magical thinking" argument probably couldn't save it for the Republicans. This is all about the legacy. Does the election cost that Movement, or galvanize it? The real fight for liberals isn't the election: it's to change their country into one that won't just elect another. Ted Cruz is probably practising his Mussolini in front of a mirror already.

Republicans were already going to proclaim the loss "crooked", now they can just say "would have won without the virus".

Even if that 2% odds, of the Black Queen flipping up from the deck, come to pass, I'm sure he'll be turned into a Sainted Martyr, somehow - would have lived if he hadn't fought so hard for the Lost Cause.

In the very worst case, or in the quite-likely good cases, the movement gets a validation, the philosophy will claim a "win". So, again, two-thirds odds of this being a Bad Thing. You can hope for the good luck if you want; but remember: this is 2020.

(I type this blog into emacs, a text editor with no spell-checking. If I got "Schadenfreude" right in the headline, I want credit.)

Postscript: Afternoon, October 2

I appear to have understated the current odds of a bad outcome. James Hamblin, M.D., writing at The Atlantic has pulled the best-estimate figures. They are worrying, for the patient.

Eight percent of COVID-19 patients ages 65 to 74 die from the disease. Those 75 to 84 are at far higher risk: 18 percent die. And men are significantly more likely to die of COVID-19 than women. Obesity is also predictive of a severe course. Compared with people in the “normal” BMI range, obese patients are 74 percent more likely to be admitted to an ICU and 48 percent more likely to die.
For the borderline between that 8% for those younger, and 18% for those older, it's right to take the geometric mean (12%), not the arithmetic mean (10%), because the fatality odds go up exponentially with age, my very first CCCC post. Clearly, we need to bump up those hospitalization odds to at least 20%, odds of not being able to pretend this is minor probably double that. But still: "back to work by mid-October" is clearly the most-likely outcome.Frankly, "inspiring the followers to be dismissive of the virus" is the most-likely outcome.


October 1: Their Hour Come 'Round at Last

At left, a still from a 48-minute video of a sewer pipe going past. The most mock-worthy part of my career: at the very end, I spent a lot of time working on the "video system" that stored some 30,000 such videos in multiple terabytes of cloud servers, so that any one of them could be brought up by clicking on the inspected sewer pipe on our GIS map.

The videos are shot for structural and operating inspections: is the pipe blocked? Is it cracked, broken, collapsing? Most of my career was spent guessing at the condition of water pipes, which have to be dug up to be inspected - until Alberta companies started inventing tools that could sneak into the water pipe network through the hydrants (they had to be built like a "string of pearls" to go around the 90 degree bends to slip in).

But sewer pipes are dead easy: a manhole at each end. Just drop in the "crawler", a rugged video camera, on a heavy steel tiny-tank. No need for light weight to spare the batteries, they just pulled their power cable, and outgoing video cable, after them and could ram their way through minor obstructions. So there are a couple of "video trucks" that do nothing all day but inspect old sewer pipes. My job was just to process the data and sum up a list of worst-cases for repair.

This trip down a (very gross) memory lane, to emphasize that your municipal government actually has very intimate access to data about your house, business, or campus: they can have crews standing by that, within any given business hour, could grab a sample of your wastewater outflow. (We wouldn't, unless some court ordered us to. We do sample outflow in the manhole, which sums up all the outflows on a block. We do this looking for fats, not disease or drugs; the culprit is generally obvious: the restaurant with the fatty foods. There was this KFC, and a Chinese Buffet, that were notorious. But that is another story.)

The pandemic news is that, after some successes in American university dorms, the city of Guelph is looking at testing sewage to get a heads-up on coronavirus outbreaks.

Well, about time. Your local sewer department has always been the greatest disease fighter in your town, not the hospitals. What Guelph is doing is the easiest way to use the technology: gather the outflow from one building at a time, the residences.

As mentioned, this follows a successful case in New Jersey.

It should, of course, be extended to public schools, offices, other places where the people infected can be tracked down and contacted. As we look to hyper-sophisticated technology to save us, we shouldn't neglect very simple things we can also be doing.


September 30: Giving Henderson The Tulsa Treatment

Well, enough time has gone by since the Republican Rally in Henderson, a suburb of Las Vegas, NV, on September 13, to look at the subsequent case-counts for Clark County, Nevada, which includes Henderson, Las Vegas, other suburbs, and most of the people who would likely have gone to the rally: a population of over 2 million. The barely-legible data page for it, from Johns Hopkins, at right, is a link to the full-size version. The graph at lower right on it, are the cases for the last 14 days, going back to September 16th, sixty hours after the rally, and the first day a subsequent case could have been reported.

The background to the rally there, is that there are around 60,000 confirmed cases for those 2 million people then, and as that blue chart shows, about 300 per day for the last couple of weeks, giving us 67,000 today. With 300 new ones per day, there are probably about 3000 infectious people on any given day that became cases, and up to 20,000 more that don't become cases: studies have routinely shown that prevalence is 8 or more times as much as is logged as "cases".

A generous, conservative, estimate then, would require assuming that nearly 1% of the population (20,000 out of 2 million) might be able to infect you on a given day - and one should be generous and conservative when estimating for a crowd of Republicans that glory in doing "open" activities, and doing them with no masks or distancing.

The figure "25,000" keeps coming up about the Nevada rally, but that was mostly outside; estimates run about the same as Tulsa, inside: five or six thousand. The fact that the exact number is not known, along with party-contact information and seating assignments, is damning in itself, of course. We should know exactly whom contracted the virus at the rally, by now, from reports and contact-tracing. Instead, we're making do with the chart at left, which is, for the red line at least, a duplicate of the analysis done for the Tulsa rally on July 9th. It doesn't predict numbers, just percentages of the number exposed that show symptoms and could become a "case".

In blue, of course, the actual cases from the Johns Hopkins page above. This time, it's the opposite of Tulsa: there's a bulge in cases just at the time the normal symptom-display statistics would predict one, if the rally caused a bunch of infections. ("Hah! Got him this time!" his accusers chortle.)

Is the hump in cases actually the result of the rally. I think not. Maybe a fraction of it - at most, the fraction showing in the yellow line at bottom. The yellow line is the one you get if you multiply those percentages by a total of 200 cases caused by the rally. I really believe that to be conservative.

If the rally-goers really were way up there at 1% infected, that's still only about 50-60 people of the 5000 or so. While we have heard of these weddings, and the one infamous choir practice that included a meal together, where one person infected dozens, it would mostly be unusual for one person to infect more than three or four in a few hours, in a room with a high ceiling and good air circulation. Fifty times four is 200, and I really think that's an upper bound. So most of that bulge in new cases from September 20-25, about 700 people above the 120-150 a day they were at on September 19-20, cannot be from the rally. If the rally had infected an additional 700 people, we'd all have heard about it: one person in 8 who attended?

The complaint isn't about the exact number infected, though if they did cause even 100 cases, they also killed two people, as Clark county has been running at a 2% case-fatality rate throughout. The complaint is that the cases caused led to more cases, and more cases. The complaint is that they were sent home happily reinforced in their decisions to ignore masks and distances. And infected.

I like to run these numbers, because I'm interested in epidemiology, and how my very rudimentary statistical skills are nonetheless enough to follow along with the experts. But Biden's message, that it was "totally irresponsible", was spot-on. Tulsa gave me the feeling that rallies in very large arenas with a lot of open-air, are at least possible. But packing people together and disdaining masks, that's just crazy talk.

Of course.


September 29: BC Turning the Tide? Maybe not.

So late in the day, today, just off my usual schedule; I figured that at least now I have FOUR days of case-counts from BC. About 280 over the weekend is a little under a hundred a day. That's better than the past week or so? Are we turning the tide?

Then today's count came in at 105, and it seems more like we're hovering around that 100/day figure. That's actually pretty good news. The number is probably within the tracing capability, so we can be considered "Under control", as it were. It's just a number that could so quickly explode if people stop working at it.

Fingers crossed...


September 28: Hail, Africa, The Pandemic Slayer

I'm not sure if I owe any apologies or not for ignoring most of the world, here. The kick-off essay mentioned the "major league", of nations, meaning those with advanced health-care systems, thousands of ventilators, PPE stacked to the ceilings of our hospitals. I certainly wasn't about to mock Bangladesh, or Somalia, for not having good results.

Further, I saw no point at looking at the statistics from poorly-governed regimes that lie constantly. That was a sore point back in January about economically-mighty China, and I haven't covered them, either, because I don't trust the data provided. No great knowledge of about 170 of the worlds 180+ nations, I pretty much stuck to North America, Western Europe, Asian democracies.

Staying within your limits is wise, but I missed how well Africa has been managing, on half a shoestring in most cases. Because they've been the subject of much journalism, I at least did backpat Vietnam and Cuba, tyrannies both, but with a reputation developed for honest reporting of public health issues.

That was almost two months ago, and I failed to think about how many other poor countries would actually be able to do well at pandemic protection, because distance, masks, and willingness to alter commerce patterns, don't require capital. The pandemic is crushingly expensive, but only in terms of lost production. The disease is expensive, all that hospital care - but only if it gets loose to start with.

My lead, buried in this fifth paragraph (the joys of blogging: screw you, Columbia School of Journalism), is an excellent article by Karen Attiah at the Washington Post, about how Africa "defied the covid-19 nightmare scenarios". Some nations' experience with Ebola can be credited for preparing them; with others, it was AIDS. Africa's been fighting various kinds of epidemics - malaria, tuberculosis, cholera, too - for a long time, while we grew stupider and more arrogant in our bubbles of protection.

Many nations of the continent are not providing good reporting, but most are. I should have looked more closely. My go-to, the worldometers site, has a button you can click to pick out a continent. Click on "Africa", and sort by "Deaths/1M pop", and you find the worst case in Africa, South Africa - has only just passed Canada's own 245 deaths/million. Egypt, with over 80 million people, has lost less than 6,000 of them.

In the early days of the pandemic, it was OK to dismiss great performance from small counties with less air traffic, because they hadn't been infected to start with; especially, as they didn't get surprised by the first spread. At this late date, however, every place on Earth has had a few exposures, and after that, it's all about your control of the spread. They've just done very well. If they hadn't, no government could keep a lid on the news. Remember the bodies stacked in the streets in Ecuador?

So, Africa knows how it's done. With no money. We should humbly ask them to send some development workers over and instruct us.


September 27: Finally

Today, I was able to cheer up by reading a Fox News headline. Yes, you read that correctly. I'm sure other papers had this story, but Fox got it to me, they get the link.

I understand if you don't want to click, so I'll just tell you that the offenses were indeed clear, egregious, and repeated, and so he was also fined $5,000 - then will have to do three years of probation after he gets out.

Canada has done everything better than the USA at the pandemic, but this is one area where we need to catch up. Let's jail somebody like this; they get people killed. Most people need only gentle correction and advice, Dr. Bonnie's strong suit. On rare occasions, however, we need to clarify how serious this is.


September 26: Americans Killing Their Young

So I'm just cruising along on my weekend morning, reading a predictable article in the NYT about infections of the young then spreading to their elders - that the recent surges infections of younger adults are followed by a surge in the middle-aged a few weeks later, then a surge in the old a few weeks after that. The American CDC is confirming, basically, what everybody was already sure of, and it seemed thin material for a blog post.

Then I'm stopped by an incongrous number.

Young adults are not immune to the virus themselves. Though older people make up the majority of deaths from the coronavirus, more than 5,000 younger adults between the ages of 25 and 44 have died of the virus, according to C.D.C. figures...
FIVE THOUSAND?? Stop the presses. They've lost more young-to-40ish adults than to the War on Terror when Bush left office? (Figure at left from when total losses were half of today's. They show almost exactly half the young deaths, so the rate is steady.)

Hastily, I look up the Canadian numbers.

We've lost just 75 Canadians between the ages of 20 and 49, a wider age-range.

The great bulk of Canada's losses, I keep repeating, were our care-home disaster in Ontario and Quebec. The United States has lost 2.6 times as many, by population, as Canada, but the ratio could have been over 10:1 - if Ontario and Quebec had protected their care-homes as well as BC did.

STILL! To get how many Americans, 25-44, would have died if they had lived in Canada, you can take the 75 and multiply by 8.76, the ratio of our two populations (These days, 331.5 million vs 37.8 million.) and get 658.

You got that right: overall, 2.6 times as many Americans have died of Covid-19, by population, as Canadians have, but by population of young adults, the disease is 5000/658 = 7.6 times as bad in the United States.

Young Americans could lower their chance of dying from coronavirus by 87% by crossing the border. OK, strictly speaking, they should have crossed it years ago. Much of this staggering difference may come down to the health-care systems, to medical conditions untreated for years.

5000 minus 658 is 4,342 "excess deaths", by Canadian standards. Assuming that trends continue, and eventually over 300,000 Americans die (see post 2 days ago), we can add 50% to that, and get 6,513 young Americans will die from this virus that did not have to, would not have done had they had Canadian health care and public services, were killed by their government. It'll be more than the whole "War on Terror", across its 20 years from 2002-2022, just in their 25-44 age group.

Oh, praise be, for being Canadian. Those poor, poor bastards; my pity for America grows every day.


September 25: Sigh. I Thought Too Highly of British Columbia

Back in my June 25 post, "Officers in Danger" I wrote that "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.", in comparison to the death threats faced by other public health officers.

Oops.

I forgot that many of those threatened officers had surely received "praise and adulation", as well; it just only takes the one, or six, death threats from the whole population to scare somebody out of their job.

Dr. Henry was just shrugging them off and not even complaining about them; just happened to mention it, now. There's a dramatic contrast for you.

If I can stretch a bit to offer BC a kind word, it's likely that the "death threats" she received were judged not serious. In the US, with its gun culture and so many mass shootings, a health officer would do well to take them much more seriously. Henry was able to brush them off and concentrate on working for us.

I'm glad that my June 25 post highlighted how all the most-threatened officers were women. Dr. Henry's news has, bravo, stimulated stories about how women in public positions suffer far more of this than male counterparts. All BC is shamed that it happened here.


September 24: See your 200,000 and raise you another 100,000...or more?

Well, the 200,000 milestone shows that they've quit doing headlines about the numbers themselves. They just started noting "nearly 200,000" some days ago, and switched to "over 200,000" yesterday. The numbers themselves are losing their ability to shock, which is to say, their ability to sell clicks.

It's becoming at least possible (if foolish) to speculate about the ultimate butcher's bill. Foolish, because anybody can screw up and have a whole new wave, and there's plenty of time for a few of them before vaccines come to save us all (fingers crossed on that...)

But if Canada doesn't screw up too badly, we'll probably only continue losing 5-10 people per day for another 200 days, then a slow decline as the vaccination rate takes effect. At very best, we might clock in under 10,000 dead, though over 11,000 is very likely and 12,000 is certainly possible, even without any major waves. We'll never get back the 7,000 lives we lost to our gross failures in long-term care, but we won't repeat such mistakes, either.

If Ontario and Quebec had replicated the performance of BC with long-term care, Canada could have gotten away with under 5,000 dead, certainly, a number comparable to bad flu seasons. It kind of implies that a perfectly-run United States might have seen under 50,000, just by population proportion.

That was never likely, even if their Dr. Fauci had been elected President, instead; and their performance had been optimal for them...because of that awful health-care system of theirs. But still: other nations could have done that well, and unlike us, nations like Australia and Germany actually did.

America is becoming as sadly easy to guess at a number for as Canada: except in their case, it looks like they will have several hundred dead per day on average, rather than 5-10. Two hundred days times five hundred bodies is another 100,000 dead for a total over 300,000(!!)

It's possible that a new administration might bring the numbers down starting in February, but a lot of the damage is in people's minds, treating masks and distancing as offenses; that "damage" won't heal, maybe ever.

The number isn't shocking to news junkies: it's been predicted since early August, not for the whole pandemic, but by December first. That's currently hard to see, with 67 days to go, and well under 1,000 dying per day. But even by the time a new administration takes office, that's another 50 days later, and it's hard to believe it'll be under 300,000.

It could have been 50,000. American incompetence and political posturing will then have killed a over a quarter of a million Americans that would have lived in the best-case scenario. That's more than every American war, ever, combined, if you subtract their Civil War and WW2.

And that is why I do not understand how there are still any states considered "close" in their election.


September 23: Pandemic Patience

I'm always looking for good news on the climate front - which never comes from watching the weather, of course, I mean good news of scientific and engineering developments that provide hope for no-GHG industrial conversion.

A kind of Holy Grail that keeps people clicking on hype YouTube videos and news articles is a distinctly better battery. Industrial analysts have calculated that if batteries came down below $100/kWh of storage capacity (from their $160 at best, today - mostly $180-$200), then electric cars would be as cheap as the regular kind.

That, in turn, is expected to be like when flat-screen monitors became cheaper than the foot-thick tubes, heavy with lead inside. The flat-screens are better in every other way: better colour, lightweight, no distortions; when they were also cheaper, tube monitors vanished in a year. Electric cars are quieter, smell better, have almost-scary acceleration, less maintenance, lower fuel costs.

So yesterday's much-hyped "Tesla Battery Day" had hearts aflutter: a "solid state" battery that can't catch fire, keeps running if punctured? An engineering realization of lab experiments that hint at doubling, maybe quadrupling storage per kilogram? The needed drop below $100/kWh?

Alas, none of the above. Basically, it was a promise that they're sure they can realize significant improvements (no doublings, sorry) over the next three years. They've got it all worked out, just have to build the factories.

That really is good news. Everybody loves a "Eureka! Breakthrough", but nearly all technology improves like this, or slower.

What's my link to climate change, from the pandemic. Well, it's teaching us patience. I hate the term "climate emergency", because the climate-change project will go on for the next three generations. Greta Thunberg will die of old age during the project; so will her kids. "Emergency" denotes something you can just drop everything to fight, put life on hold while the fire is put out and the victims bandaged, then get back to it.

The climate fight, on the other hand, will just be our life. We spent a hundred years building up coal infrastructure, have let most of it decay away, unreplaced as we built up oil infrastrucuture, which will soon be built less and less, and carbon-free, methane-free engineering more and more. And when we're GHG-free...all the GHG will still be in the atmosphere, and we'll need generations of more patience before the climate recovers.

During which time, life must go on, as we've had to figure out ways for life to go on during pandemic protocols and limitations. At least with the pandemic, we only need a year or two of patience; it's a global, species-wide, "starter problem" to get us used to the idea. It's funny that the nations doing the best on the pandemic were also the ones already doing well on climate change. And vice-versa.


September 22: Pandemelection: There Will Be Consequences

Very Small Ones, Probably
Well, I couldn't be more contemptuous. The promise not to do this. The costs of doing it in the pandemic: money costs, time-and-distraction costs, hell, there could be medical costs, infections in a voting line.

The worst part is that we like our MLA from his party, are reluctant to vote against him. But I, for one, just must. Alas, the guy got 60% in the last match, so even the justified anger over this outrage probably won't cost him his seat. Indeed, many think Horgan will be rewarded for his perfidy with a majority. Argh.

The upside is that I kind of have to vote Green. My MLA would get the biggest scare if votes went to his closest challenger last time, a Liberal. But the BC Liberal party is acting as our conservative party these days. We're still mad at them from their last time in power. So it's the Greens, which actually does double-duty of expressing climate-change concerns. After two weeks of smoke (that used to happen much less often), how could we not?

The Greens don't have a very workable industrial-change plan, but they're pushing very hard in the right direction. They have been needed as an influence on more "industry friendly" parties. (That is, green-industry-unfriendly, green-jobs-unfriendly parties.) If any election reminded me that voting can be about strategy, and the enemies-of-my-enemy, rather than idealism, this is the one.

Those were long sentences. But, I can think of a four-word one that ends in "John Horgan". I hope everybody votes that sentence next month.


September 21: Dug Deep and Found Good News

Been busy lately, and I haven't done any analysis projects. I'm not sure what's left to do. We pretty much know what to do now, it's just sticking with it that's been hard.

Scrolling the news to see if there was a story worth highlighting for time-short readers, and it was all increasing case-counts across Canada, outbreaks here and there, schools closing...in short, the same news for the last few weeks: all bad.

Then one from the London Free Press, about "Encouraging Signs" caught my eye, and it seems that London's thriving college party scene was pretty quiet last weekend, the places open were uncrowded, parties around campus were not heard.

Well, they are university students. For all the criticisms we make, they are pretty bright, and possibly they're starting to figure out, from their own bitter experience, the central mental block that everybody has about this danger. People think there are safe places, safe times, that we can make a place safe for some time, and then, it being "safe", you can behave how you want. It had led to folly every time, even in the super-safe places like Australia and New Zealand.

There are no safe times. There are no safe spaces. There are only safe behaviours.


September 20: Johns Hopkins Catches Up to 200 000 - Tomorrow

I've had some distractions today and have no post of substance. So, instead, just a quick note to follow up on September 17, about the newspapers going with Johns Hopkins for the count of American dead. Worldometers is already past 204,000, but Hopkins finished up yesterday at 199,259. Counts are low on the weekends, so today will not take them past the round number. The papers get to start off the week with the 200,000 milestone. Lucky for them, as there are only so many times you can re-read about the death of a judge, or the overwhelming importance of the next one.


September 19: Test Positivity Going Up, Will Get Worse

So there's this government of Canada page at:
https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/diseases/2019-novel-coronavirus-infection.html that was the main source of information when the pandemic started, and it gives the nationwide summary of total tests done, and total positive:

...and I started saving it every day. It helps to have a Unix computer with with "wget" utility, so you can just tell the computer to snapshot the page at 5PM every day and forget about it. Eventually, I typed them all in.

They're the ultimate in "big picture" data, useless for anything else. Agglomerating vastly different health system issues, where the Maritimes have almost no cases, and Quebec had thousands. Then there's time: each day, the new count of positive tests has nothing to do with the count of new tests, because results can take days and more to come back; the positives are for tests from all last week.

So only the big picture over time and space is captured, and Canada, on the whole, as the months go by, had a rise in positivity, then a fall as we beat it down, and now it's steadily coming back and back:

Alas, it seems likely to get worse. Alberta is already reducing testing(!) to save up tests for the Fall surge. (Boy, will I be coming back to that!)

It's right in the article:

Since May 29, when the broad asymptomatic testing was introduced, the province completed about 233,000 such tests, with only 0.07 per cent returning positive - about 163 cases.

The low positivity rate shows this capacity could be better utilized, Hinshaw said.

The asymptomatic-testing program was to get an idea of the prevalence in the general population, and it was diluting the positivity rate. Across the country, it's the generally rising case-rate that's going to bring it up. People in Ontario are waiting several hours for a test already; that's going to cut it down to people with real exposure to worry about.

Anything under 3% is still good news, but Canada is going back to school, and into flu season, in a deteriorating condition from the great place we were in a month back.


September 18: One Step of Progress on Testing

It's not often a blog can do "breaking news", but I dropped reading up on how Australia crushed a second curve the moment it hit the wires that BC has a new test, aimed now at "school-age children".

It's still similar to the brain-scraping swab test, it just gets the gunk out of the back of your throat with gargling instead.

What the announcement is NOT, is any greater availablility of testing. It's only at those 19 centres. It "can be done" without a health professional, but there's nothing to get it into the schools, school staff administering it. There's no indication the results come back any sooner.

It would be nice if this is a real step forward for safety in the schools; but that basically depends on more testing, proactive testing before symptoms, and quicker results, quick enough to get a kid home before they spread it. There's no sign of any of that in the announcement.

Still, any new test being approved at all is a big step forward, intellectually, for the health care bureaucracy that has been so resistant to new products.

Parents should cheer, but go right back to pressing for more tests, proactive tests, faster results. They still haven't got them.


September 17: Newsies Go With Johns Hopkins

The big controversy about counting COVID-19 deaths is really how many we've missed. The numbers for excess deaths are still high, indicating that a lot of people who die of heart attacks and so on are not being tested for whether the virus pushed them into the attack.

But, the news is ever-cautious, and although Worldometers.info was cited in some early journalism, it's ignored now in favour of the Johns Hopkins Mortality Analyses page that keeps a global count of cases and fatalities.

How can I be sure what data source dozens of news organs are using? Nobody has mentioned the USA cracking 200,000 dead yesterday. They really did, as worldometers is pretty careful in adding up all the news announcements, via volunteers. Those announcements are just some days ahead of the "proper, through channels" data-gathering of Johns Hopkins and the health bureaucracy.

At this point, they're nearly a week ahead. JH is still down under 197,000, when worldometers is already past 201,000, with the death-rate down below 800/day, lately.

It was still well over 1000/day during the Democrats' convention a few weeks back, and people laughed at the grimmest political 'joke' in ages: that Michelle Obama was criticized by the president for obviously pre-recording a message that mentioned 150,000 dead, when it was already up to 170,000 - proving he understood there were 170,000 dead, if not that it was going up by nearly 10,000 per week at the time.

It's a dumb, data-collection issue to even remark upon, just that CCCC is out-of-sync on it's "another round number passed" postings with the rest of the media. The real point here is to keep marvelling, in a bad way, at the death-rate, let yourself remain shocked by it, by how it compares with our pearl-clutching when soldiers die in a helicopter crash, or many die in yet another crazed-shooter incident.

The five Canadians that died of it yesterday should be news, by those standards. Instead, we only note the even tens-of-thousands in the USA, now. In Canada, not even a note when we crossed the line to an even 9,000 (August 12 on Worldometers...)

We've become very numb to it. We've had to. We can't become numb to the ongoing risk.


September 16: Australia Completes a Second Wave

Look at that classic shape. If you were trying to illustrate an exponential function that rapidly changed from growing to shrinking on August 5th, you couldn't do better than Australia's second wave, at left.

Of course, the companion function of "dying" indicates this bit of mathematical sculpture cost them 700 lives; they were one of the best in the world, at 102 dead back in June, then they let it get away, and now their total is well over 800.

Of course, they still have us beat all hollow. They have gone way up to the number that we would have had if we'd protected our care homes (down to 2000 from 9000) and also had closed up a week earlier, before Quebec and Ontario had spring break, so that we had just over a thousand lost. If we'd done all that perfectly, we could hold our heads up around Australia.

So, we can't criticize. Indeed, too-close behaviour was something that their previous successes made them vulnerable to: everybody seems to need their noses rubbed very directly in the fact that "it can happen here, too".

Canada's case-chart keeps increasing, but very slowly. Nothing exponential, at least not quite. The last few weeks are looking more like it, though, and we've got to get a grip on it.


September 15: New York City vs Madrid

I keep thinking I'll skip a day on this blog, but stuff keeps coming up. The easiest ones are what most blogs do, just provide the blogger's friends with a favourite link of the day, "read this one". That's today.

A Paul Krugman newsletter (recommended in its own right if you like super-easy explanations of economics) linked to this Twaddler (sp?) thread where Miguel Hernan, Harvard Prof, examines the two situations at left. Hernan specializes in information graphing, a subject I love too, and all in that field agree that the best graphics speak for themselves, as here. (The graphic is the link to his thread.)

So why did Madrid lose control and spike back up in cases? In four words, "too few contact tracers". Though unlocking too quickly was a big problem, too. Hernan writes:

Indoor dining in Madrid was OPEN at 60% capacity in June. Bar service opened too. Protocols weren't aggressively enforced. Since June it has been easy to find crowded bars and tables. The contrast with NY was striking as anyone spending time in both places can tell you.
This allows me to refer back to my own photoessay below about The "passaggiata" culture, the thick crowds of Madrid. Madrid culture was inherently at risk for spreading respiratory disease, just look at those photographs again. Whether they are again gathering outdoors like that, they're definitely crowding into bars and restaurants too much.

I have relatives there, a newborn grandnephew, a toddler grandniece, a brother who recently turned 70. Who loves his favourite bars. So it's worrying. The idiots (RNC) talking like this is as good as over, really need to see this graph.


September 14: Smoke Cloud With a Silver Lining?

I did some running yesterday, worrying family somewhat, I guess it's actually not a great idea in all this smoke. Today, the smoke is distinctly thicker, and I believe I'll mostly stay in.

I notice the streets are pretty quiet, indeed, I think everybody is. And the smoke may be going on, all week. I reflected there's now two things locking me down - fear of virus particles and fear of smoke particles.

It's got me depressed enough that's all I'm going to post today: maybe we'll be able to detect a fall in transmissions in a week or so that comes from the smoke keeping us all in and grumpily watching TV.


September 13: For Some, the Worst Vaccine Would be Better Than None

The New York Times has a wild article on DIY vaccine scientists. They note that Jonas Salk tested his polio vaccine on himself and his family, to show confidence in its safety.

These experiments probably are "safe" by most definitions of the term. Vaccine safety has to work in the hundreds of millions. You probably couldn't inject saline solution into that many people without some bad reactions. So, they set the safety bar very high, because we all know how much trouble vaccines have with public suspicion. Insane, baseless public suspicion, so think what the nuts could do with an actual base for it.

The scientists injecting their experiments into 10 or 100 friends and family, probably have less than one chance in many thousands of causing a really bad reaction. On the other hand, even a vaccine that offered a pathetic 50% reduction in infection odds, worthless as a program, would be a big relief for an individual, compared to zero protection.

I couldn't help contrast the caution of the public health system about this, with the other recent story, in the Post, at left. Because the health regulators are, as usual, siding with the industry, and ignoring the deaths of its low-paid workers, we might see another 200 of them die before they get a properly vetted, safe-for-sure vaccine to stop it.

There was talk earlier on about massive strikes, "for our lives", etc, but I knew the meat plant workers would knuckle under, go back to work, take the risk. They are, of course, poor, many desperately so; nobody who's read Eric Schlosser's "Fast Food Nation", or any other journalism about meat-packing, knows that nobody else will work there to start with. Poor workers, from time immemorial, have risked their lives to keep working. Ask any family with coal miners in their history, like mine. (Grandfather, dead in his 50s. Injuries from a cave-in.)

If you could assume there was a route to safety through PPE and workplace measures, you couldn't suggest the obvious: let the meat plant workers test the vaccines. There are other jobs taking infection risks right now, but the meat-plant workers are by far at the highest risk of it. Their need is greatest, but also they can really put it through the functionality test: far fewer testees would be needed to prove efficacy. As for the dangers of the vaccine itself, they're orders of magnitude lower than the dangers of no vaccine, already demonstrated with 200 coffins.


September 12: Bad, But Not Exponential

As we all await indications of whether the long weekend caused another infection "bump" from parties, and whether the school year is leading to just a few isolations, or a lot of outbreaks, I'm just reading those embarrassing, worst-in-Canada case counts in Alberta and BC, and fighting depression. (The shroud of smoke over the city isn't helping.)

I managed to dredge up one cheery thought: at least when case-loads go up these days, it's not those terrifying exponential curves that lead quickly to jammed ICU beds. Note at left, the red line that generally tracks the sad story of BC since the end of July: six weeks of steadily increasing cases every day. But that's a linear graph, not logarithmic.

The Alberta graph isn't even a steady increase. They actually did this one giant leap in case-counts a few weeks ago and have leveled off, since; the problem being they aren't dropping, either.

This really does put a different complexion on the problem, and perhaps explains why the public-health people aren't panicking and ordering another lockdown, though I noted onAugust 22, "Time to at least Threaten Drastic Measures?" that we were already way above the case-counts we had when the first lockdown was ordered. The difference is that case-counts back then could be expected to increase exponentially, and now they cannot.

Behaviour has changed. I see it in the streets every day, people are hardly noticing as they maneuver away from each other as they pass, now. Our news may be filled with snaps of crowds, but that's because they're all news: the normal routine is spacing.

I'm sure that increases are still actually exponential - that's the way it has to work - but the exponent is far lower; low enough that whole weeks of increase are hard to tell apart from a straight line. Too, if people become more alarmed, less outgoing, and more distancing as numbers rise, and they react to that news - then the exponent would keep dropping and make it even closer to linear.

It would still be really good to see it decrease, though, for the sake of the schools. For BC in particular. It's pretty hard to hold my breath, though, as the news about the long weekend, and about schools, is still to come in.


September 11: Overall Planetary Case Mortality-Rate Dropping

I noted on August 26, "Human Race Starting to Win This" that the overall planetary death-rate was falling. What's become clearer over a few more weeks, is that the infection rate peaked - and stayed there, so far. It's not declining, just the death rate, which is continuing down.

A quarter of a million people will become infected today, but perhaps fewer than 5,000 will die of it. So, adding up the planet, if not just the USA, every day is still worse than that September 11, by a few thousand dead. (The USA alone is now falling below 800 deaths/day, so for them, every day is about a quarter of a 9/11.)

The case-fatality rate, of about 2%, is a fraction of what it was in April, no doubt because cases were not being counted well. But they were counted about as well a month ago as they are today, and the case-fatality rate has dropped since then. I lean to the same explanation I had for falling rates in America: we're protecting the old better, and they are protecting themselves. All around the world, older people who can stay in and limit contacts are doing so, and care facilities for the old (including homes) everywhere are mindfully protecting the elderly within.

This makes the average age of those who are "cases" younger, and of course with COVID-19, that means the fatality rate is much lower. Even a small increase in the proportion of young (here meaning "under 40") infectees would explain the drop so far. In the developed world, especially the USA that are contributing a quarter of the cases right now, there's also credit where due to the gradually improving treatments they're developing.

September 11 is an inherently solemn day, in Chile certainly, and the USA, too. It's nice to read some positive news.


September 10: I Found The "COVID Panic": Turns Out It's Public Health Measures

Attempting (pointlessly, since nobody believed) to downplay health dangers from COVID to avoid creating "panic"? What panic? Did any other nation than the United States "panic" at any point?

When the ambulance sirens were coming just minutes apart in Lombardy, in Brussels, did people take to the streets, mindlessly smashing things? Did anybody shoot anybody else to keep them from coming close, or nail up sufferers in their homes?

What "panic"?

Well, I found it, just a few search terms away. It explains everything. The Mises Institute promotes the ideas of Ludwig von Mises, which is to say, that government is Always Wrong, whereas Rich People Are Always Right. (I'm summarizing; they'd claim that "the market" is what's always right, but we know that comes to the same thing in practice these days, what with a few oligopolies running most markets.)

They've been calling out the "COVID Panic" since early May, the panic that drove nations to prevent people from "looking for work", by "shutting down businesses". Which is to say, public health lockdowns - the crude, but only known way to fight a pandemic without testing everybody every day - are to them a "panic".

"Panic" generally means that people do the worst, dumbest things in crises - panic driving people to run straight into the line-of-fire in a battle; or rip out their air hose while diving. What's the dumb thing that COVID panic caused?

Those in favor of lockdowns and impoverishing millions insist that there is no other way. Unless we outlaw employment for millions, we are told, the death toll will be unacceptable. Of course, when pressed for what death toll is "acceptable," no answer is given. Is it six hundred thousand (the number who die from cancer in the US each year)? Sixty thousand (the number who typically die in the US from flu and pneumonia each year)? Some lesser number? One? This figure remains a great mystery. We are only told that human rights are null and void until the "experts" decide otherwise.
Actually, by May 5, it was two weeks after British epidemiologist Neil Ferguson had changed the Bush/Johnson strategies of "herd immunity" to "lockdown necessary" with one presentation, which calculated that the USA would lose 2.2 million people and 510,000 in the UK. Even those politicians were not ready to champion paying that price, so they flipped their decision overnight.

Defined this way, it's clear that the US administration indeed wanted to avoid "panic" - that is to say, avoid public health measures that shut down businesses for a few months. It's a funny kind of "panic", though, that is openly stated as the intended strategy, years in advance, with a whole Panic Plan in Panic Steps and Panic Phases according to Panic Criteria that are re-evaluated by epidemiologists (they would be "Panic Planners", I guess) every week.

What the Minds of Mises are not going to admit, I suspect, is that in the long-run analyses, the nations that succumbed to that particular kind of "panic" actually will have the best economic outcomes, as well. If they were honest (they're not), they'd look back and say, "We shouldn't have written that. We looked at the plummeting economic indicators and freaked out. We didn't see the 18-month long run; instead, we..."


September 9: Since Mom Is Grounding Us, Consider a Restaurant with More Than Face Shields

When the lockdown started, there was an explainer on TV that showed, not just a curve being crushed, but a succession of waves, the cases coming back and multiple lockdowns needed to crush them. I couldn't believe it. Why would people let it come back? It's like dieting until you decide you have to binge on ice cream and fries. For a week. Then back to another harsh diet? If most dieters aren't that bad, why would a whole society?

Well, it's not another full lockdown, of course, but we finally have "re-opening" halted and reversed, at least to a small extent. Dr. Bonnie Henry finally lost her patience, when the last four days averaged over 100 cases/day (anybody remember when it was under 20? It was last month...) and closed some bars and banquet halls for large gatherings.

Kudos to "Prince George Matters" and cartoonist Geoff Coates for the message at left, which, alas, dates to July 24...but remains true as ever. While it picks on stoned hipsters, those who read the news know that the rolling-eyeball idiots are the ones who presumably spent wedding parties yelling drunkenly at each other from short distances, crowded into bars, and generally forgot the simplest things during gatherings.

But the news link for the day is to "The Tyee", a West Coast journal, with an important article on those restaurant face-masks at right. I've already been served in restaurants where the waiters have this very minimal face shield that looks like it redirects exhalations upward. They likely do keep actual droplets from hitting you, but the article shows studies have found that much of what's exhaled still gets around in the air, and the wearer is little-protected.

Consider hitting restaurants with better protection.


September 8: Get My Flu Shot - When?

The news is full of articles about flu season, the redoubled importance of getting your flu shot, and the increased ordering of the vaccine by the health systems.

All the stories lack one helpful bit of information: when the heck is the flu shot coming? They don't even mention the topic.

Googling didn't help much, it took me to the Government of Canada Flu Page...which had information about last year's flu vaccine. It even shows a page modification date of 2019-August-9. What's thirteen months between friends?

Well, we have something for our readers: and Edmonton Journal article from last year, noting that in Alberta, clinics generally open about October 13, though last year they were delayed to October 21. Let's hope they instead start early this year. 2020 already has all the viruses it needs, thank you.


September 7: Labour Day Brings Expected (Statistical) Pile of Dead Bodies

Well, the day's about over - the rigors of hosting kept me from my morning writing habit - so I won't attempt much of a post today.

But, the results are obviously in on the blog's prediction of 190,000 American dead by Labour Day.

A bit after I forecast that with rough calculations, the CDC came in with "180,000-200,000", not a very courageous prediction, being plus/minus 10,000. My call was dead in the middle, of course, so we're both right.

Worldometers, with it's reliance on calls to local news, has it at 193,500 just now, and Johns Hopkins, ever-further-behind by relying on the slower stats coming in through the medical systems, is still at 188,941 - though by tomorrow, when people currently off work send in numbers, it'll probably prove to be well over 189,000.

So, in short, dead on. Upcoming predictions are apparently actually for a resumption in death-rates, which have been declining for weeks; apparently, case-loads in the mid-west bring fears that it will soon enough start going back up again.

From a cruder standpoint, where you (foolishly) assume the future looks like the recent past, with the death-rate slooowly declining from 966/day two weeks back to about 870/day today, you'd assume an average of 800/day for another 10,000 dead in the next 12 days, and that round 200,000 number that will be the headline, due just before the first day of Fall, September 22.

Will it be round enough, big enough, to change American attitudes? No; it's not about the number you read in the news; it's about whether somebody you know has had a bad time with it. If the rural centre of the nation is finally in for a bad month, it might finally change the last skeptics. (I doubt it.)


September 6: Canada as America's Yardstick

Well, the Covid Cup Concept is finally coming around to American politics. They are famously loath to bring in comparisons to other countries to their political discussions. There's a ritual nod to every other country having universal healthcare, and another to all other rich countries have less military spending, put together - then they eject the rest of the world from the discussion again.

But today, conservative NYT columnist Ross Douthat finally asked the question "How Many Lives Would a More Normal President Have Saved?" by comparing to other countries. After admitting that Germany did well, he wants to point out that Spain and Italy and the UK did not, that America actually looks about "mediocre", rather than "uniquely catastrophic".

Naturally, having followed the whole issue of deaths-per-million as a metric for all this time, I put in an NYT comment that Mr. Douthat was doing the Right a favour by not comparing to Canada, probably the most-similar nation. Same continent, same level of travel, same federal system where the feds have to work through state/provincial health systems. Compared our 242/million (so far, and climbing at several per day) to their 582/million (so far, and climbing at several hundred per day), and computed that if they'd had Canada's pandemic, another 109,000 Americans would still be alive.

Most of the mistakes Canada made were the care homes, of course; without that terrible performance, we'd have lost less than a fifth as many people. In America, it was just 40%. So there's another rubber ruler to stretch up against the problem: if both nations had protected their care-homes well, and the only losses had been to previously basically healthy people, America would still have lost 1110,000 to date, and Canada would have lost under 2,000.

Both nations failed their very old and vulnerable. But in America, if you were not under care, just living your life independently with reasonable health, your chances of dying in the last six months, were six times higher in America than Canada. And rising. That seems "catastrophic" from here.

Just saying.


September 5: All Risk Is Additive (and Subtractive!)

There's a fine article up at The New York Times: "When It Comes to COVID-19, Most of Us Have Risk Exactly Backward", by physician Aaron E. Carroll. I spent much of a career managing risk, and his view is very valuable.

By "backward", he means that once people have taken a risk, they act as if that were some barrier they'd broken through, that now admits them to a new space. If you go to a restaurant, well, you've taken the "restaurant risk", that's a done deal, might as well go to a restaurant every day.

This is precisely like playing a round of Russian Roulette, concluding that you're now a person who can just pull a trigger on yourself and get away with it, and keep playing more rounds. Exactly backward: each round of Russian Roulette is a new, separate risk, like a spin on any Roulette wheel. Having won once, the only winning move is still not to play.

Dr. Carroll counsels you to "counteract" risks you do take by being extra careful to reduce other risks. This doesn't make the risk you're taking any lower, of course, but it helps. Statistically, if everybody does it, we all benefit, too.

So, the kids going to school doesn't give you permission to also put them in team sports. Consider compensating for school by doing something extra-safe on weekends. Look for tradeoffs. You have to add some risks to get on with life, so look for ways to subtract risks, as well.

We have guests for a few days, so I'm going to avoid stores for a few weeks -and be extra-careful and mindful while getting groceries. It's something, at least.


September 4: Degrees of "Precipice"?

My first instinct, on seeing the headline "B.C. on 'a precipice,' provincial health officer warns, as 89 new COVID-19 cases confirmed" this morning, was skepticism.

This applies to both Alberta and BC, which seem to have decided to become the Twin Provinces, as far as "trying to have a second wave" is concerned. Both have been struggling, for six weeks and more now, to hold down case-increases that stubbornly keep rising.

The reasons are various, and it's frustrating that the public health investigators don't talk more about them. They don't break down the reports by how many at restaurants, other stores, how many between business co-workers, and whether those are "office", "retail", or "industrial" environments.

A friend pointed out the other day that Alberta doesn't have so many cases, if you subtract the ones in meat plants that aren't an infection concern outside them. And this may be why they're hauling out the word "precipice".

Normally, I'd figure they were just engaging in fresh rhetoric, to keep people concerned, when vigilance normally flags. After all, epidemiology doesn't have "precipices", it has the same exponential function whether you have 20 cases or 20,000. Exponential functions can LOOK like they have a precipice, and definitely feel that way, when the numbers get frightening.

However, they're tracking the case-load in deep detail that we aren't hearing about. It's possible that they felt for some time that the situation was controllable, because most cases were in places with well-known lists of contacts, like, well, meat plants and businesses. They may be getting more concerned now, not just because of "89 cases a day", but because a much higher proportion of them are the kind of "community" cases where they can't contact-trace and contain.

So take this one seriously. All risk is additive. Society is adding in a lot of risk by going back to school right now. Soon, additional risks will be imposed by fall weather. We need to cut all the other risks, to compensate. Beware gatherings, meet with caution. We do not want another lockdown.


September 3: A Little Space

Frankly, I could use a break. I've been railing about tests, and stupid public health-care bureaucracies and stupid education bureaucracies, and tests, and bureaucracies, for a few weeks now, and every news organ is on about it, making additional efforts pointless.

We have guests right now, from Calgary. We compared a few notes as we looked at the "crowd" on the beach at English Bay, watching the sunset, last night. The "crowd" was a couple of hundred people, all in little pods of two to six, not just two metres apart, but more: everybody had taken as much space as they could. Our guests confirmed that this is standard behaviour in Calgary, these days, too.

I see it when I go out; people swing way to the side of trails as we pass in Stanley Park. If I actually step off a narrow trail into the brush to let somebody pass at more than arm's length, people smile, and thank me for it.

I watched the people in the picture at left meet to decide some outing, in the street below the house, just now. They assumed this spacing quite automatically, without any discussion, or anybody at first standing too close. It's become automatic.

There's a lot of reasons for hope. We should remember, as we rail at the school boards and the partiers, that most people are doing the right thing. Fears of exponential curves taking us back to packed ICUs are very unlikely.

If that doesn't cheer you up, read some American news, keeping mind that you don't live there.


September 2: Perish Forbid A Small Class (in Cities)

I got some editorial advice about yesterday's "Prasad's Law" post, and was at least reassured I was right to look for help - I'd written it upside-down, getting around to schools at the end, when they're the topic. I just really like "Prasad's Law", it explains much of the world to me, so I tend to get diverted on to all the examples of it.

Prasad's Law says that schools will always try to pack the maximum number of kids they can into any classroom, and that goes back for a century. At left, the BC government records for class sizes the other year; they really hate to have classes of under 27.

Notice one thing, of course: that very tall bar for "class sizes under 12", that being the rural schools, I assume. If they're very upset at the lack of remote-learning options out there because their Internet is slow, at least they have the option of a real-life class of ten, the lucky ducks. Everybody else gets as close to 30 as can be arranged.

But how the heck can this mentality survive the concerns about the virus? How can they not be rearranging the whole school, spreading out over rooms, corridors, tents, temporary classrooms like they love to drag into the courtyard when demographics hand the school too many students? Some schools had temporary trailer-classrooms in their yards for years.

My friend with the kids heading off to school, described the first day yesterday as a monumental screw-up, more proof to me that staff positions that could be teachers, are wasted on ever-more administration staff. They had the one job, organize the new return, months to do it, and it was the worst.

The parents were all directed to a "portal" for all information...and then the portal had none. Normally, teachers e-mail the parents about where to bring their kids, to meet their new teacher. No e-mails at all. It's not clear the teachers knew who was in their class: Moms got there to find that three grade-2 classes had been "dissolved" into two, and met the befuddled teacher who'd lost having a class at all (sent home? Reassigned to a new class, cross-town? Who knew?)

The insane incompetence of recombining new classes on the spot, like reassigning Canada to invade a different beach on D-Day, while the boats were crossing the channel, stopped me for a moment. Then it hit me, that rather that accept the gift of having some kids not show up, allowing three smaller classes, they'd made sure there would be just two extra-large classes.

It kind of drops your jaw.

I don't know; maybe the kids can save the adults on this one, by being really careful and good. But unless they grab at that straw for us, it's hard to predict anything but trouble. If so, I just hope the school board sees some consequences.


September 1: Prasad's Law Applies to Schools

Vinay Prasad is a smart guy. He's an oncologist, a hematologist, a professor, and a podcaster that does journalism on health delivery.

He's credited with Prasad's Law, though this hasn't made it to his Wikipedia page yet. In his podcast, he gave examples that summed up to a "law" for some:

Dr Ray Poses, Clinical Associate Professor of Medicine at Brown University, has consolidated this into "Prasad's Law": "Medical goods and services that concentrate wealth can be paid for; medical goods and services that disperse wealth are 'unaffordable.'" ...

The "unaffordable" interventions are things like more nurses, home visitors, and other policies that give small amounts of money to a large number of people to deliver health care.

The hospital will buy a three-million-dollar MRI machine that will save 30 lives at $100,000 each, but it will not hire 50 care-aides at $60,000 each, to save 30 lives. Same evidence, same price, different outcome.

I suspect that a lot of professionals can think of Prasad's Law in their careers. I found that vast sums would be expended on IT to help manage IT - expensive systems to automatically install software, manage licenses, complicated "ticket" systems to manage all help calls. Most of it was thousands of dollars per year per computer-user served, more expensive than just hiring one "computer guy" helper for every 40 or 50 users, to be their local Mr. Fixit. Worse, I saw the local Mr. Fixit hauled away to a pool of people answering "tickets", about 1995. Until then, users of these new "PC" thingies had personal help from a face they knew, knew their area and problems. Personal help was never to return.

Nobody ever checked whether the pool and the ticket-system saved a penny. The important thing was to automate, and reduce staff. Or appear to; when I added up the staff handling tickets, no jobs had actually been reduced. They had to have a new management bureaucracy to oversee the "pool", after all.

People who read about Prasad's Law promptly pointed out that this applies, perhaps even more, to education. Schools have loved buying expensive technology for fifty years. TV teaching, computer teaching with 8-bit, 16-bit, 32-bit generations of computers. They just kept buying and trying. Teachers who started out watching 8-bit Apple IIs fail at teaching in 1981, retired in 2011, watching iPads fail the same way. What they didn't try was smaller class sizes, absolutely proven to improve education outcomes. They would buy machines, but not hire people. Having to buy 30 kids 30 iPads for a year is, what, $30,000? So is a $25/hr classroom aide for 1200 hours. Ask any teacher which they'd prefer.

They were forced to hire some people to deal with special needs kids mainstreamed into regular classes. There's just no machinery that can care for kids. Those extra staff will be a blessing, now. They've had six months to look into hiring more, preferably young, help, at a time when a lot of young people are out of work. It might have been a special grace for tens of thousands out of work, to get a job that happened to last the pandemic, just watching over kids in spread-out classrooms and keeping them on-task, while the teacher shuttled back and forth. It would have been the simplest thing.

But no; it's like a managerial Deep Instinct, for generations now: hiring humans is anathema. Anything but that. The pandemic has shown the broad applications of Prasad's Law much more clearly, and I think it needs to be on his Wikipedia page. And the lips of every politician.


August 31: School: Trepidation, Disappointment, Fatalism

The "trepidation" is the parents. The "disappointment" is in the two provincial health officers that have been held up as such heroes. And the "fatalism" seems to be the attitude of the health officers themselves.

There's disappointment that Dr. Bonnie Henry lent her image to this back-to-school ad. The ad offers the perception that there will be about 7 kids in a classroom; teachers fear that it will be more like 27. A few less at earlier grades, but up to 30 for high school. Distancing is obviously impossible.

Meanwhile, in Alberta, Dr. Deena Henshaw has a "solution" for that: remove the distancing rule.

I didn't need to blog-post this, it's hardly gone without notice; it's the top story on The Herald righ now.

About all I need to add is that this is what happens when a rock meets a very hard place. The rock is the public health bureaucracy that is tasked to fight the pandemic, but doesn't enjoy dictatorial power. The very hard place is the edcucation bureaucracy that simply won't be told to change. And they have one huge advantage that effectively does give them dictatorial power: they are the day-care system that parents need to get back to their jobs.

A friend with 3 kids assures me that she doesn't know a single parent not planning to send their kids back. They have trepidation about the virus, but their whole family needs them on the job.

When the pandemic was younger, there was this great atmosphere of creativity: we'll change society, we'll reform the economic system, we'll permanently go virtual with things. It turns out, that as we near the six-month mark, we can't even re-organize schooling to take advantage of empty buildings; use the gym and other rooms for larger schoolrooms; and so on. It'll be the same old classrooms, with the same old class, packed together. They couldn't even stretch their approach to look at longer hours, create more "space" by creating more classroom "slots".

I've devoted several posts now to castigating the public health bureaucracy for their lack of adaptability: they had a hard time accepting tests that have high false-result rates, in return for being enormously cheaper and faster, so we don't have those. Meanwhile, the other public bureaucracy couldn't envision classrooms spread out over multiple rooms and corridors, teachers assisted by aides and administrators; or just longer hours, or temporary staff...couldn't envision any changes that would have made distancing possible. So now, their charges get neither distance nor tests. In short, they'll get the virus; explain to me how they won't.

The utter failure of the school bureaucracy to adapt at all, save to dump everything on the teachers at the bottom, should really have us all looking at major turnover in the adminstrative ranks. Just save money by concentrating on teachers, teachers, teachers. The upper-crust of the school system might have earned their high-salary keep if they'd been wizard managers that came up with creative ways to organize and teach safely. They've done, basically, nothing.

And now they're arm-twisting public health doctors that know better, to legally let get away with it. Parents should not.


August 30: Well, At Least Somebody Is School Testing (and it's 600,000 students)

Los Angeles United School District is "united" because it combines a number of municipalities in that exurban sprawl, so that 500,000 kids have the same school system. It's the second-largest in America, as large as all of BC and Alberta school districts put together.

And they can see the need for testing. It won't be daily, or even every other day, or anything. Indeed, all they say is that "eventually, all staff and students will be tested, which will be followed by periodic testing".

It's kind of exciting, in a way: with such a huge statistical base, any level at all of regular, pro-active testing is bound to tell us a lot about how risky different behaviours are, what situations it transmits in, and doesn't.

But the very large point here is that Los Angles is proving it can be done. All across Canada, I see nothing but fatalism (and despair) about school; what happens, happens. Fighting it with testing is just too big a job; we can only do a few thousand tests per day for millions kids.

It's still not clear just how many tests they will be doing. The budget so far is $300/student/year. For the current "PCR" tests, at $100 each, that's only 3 tests. But LAUSD is the first customer of "SummerBio" a company that claims "extremely low costs" compared to existing. Presumably that means a fraction, and the kids will get a dozen or more tests in a year. They're being cagey about it, certainly, and cautioning the news that they don't intend to catch every positive, that they are mostly "studying" the pandemic.

But, again, all of these caveats aside: they're doing something. Other school systems are not even trying. Should this bring LA success, when other school openings lead to embarrassing, long-predicted failure, there should be some consequences for the administrators who made the wrong choice, with so much at stake.


August 29: The Plight of the Living Dead

So, the thing I didn't want to write, the thing I put off for months, is that I lost my Mom in a care-home, 17 years ago, and it was a relief when it came.

Nobody wants to write that, even think that. But she had lost her cognitive abilities by then. It happened slowly, over a few years.

The physical and mental health went down apace with each other. The leukemia had come back, after 15 years survived, and soon enough every cold, and touch of flu, was a life-or-death crisis. After a few of them, the last dregs of her ability to consent were carefully probed by those medical ethics specialists, who concluded she was indeed able to sign a DNR for the next time.

Then the next time, bizarrely, did not come for over a year. She was finally moved to one of those care-homes, from the hospital. She sank slowly into a state where she barely knew where she was, or what day it was. She recognized family to the end, but just. When Influenza A of 2003 swept her away, we grieved, but the relief was there, too, unspoken.

Michael Crichton, Harvard Medical grad, wrote once about how colds and flus, that give the elderly terminal pneumonia, have been used for generations by doctors, nurses, and family to quietly provide an escape. They'd just..."leave the window open" for cold draughts. None of us could have done that, to Mom; she was in no pain, and nearly every visit brought some tiny flash, of who she'd been, to light; we'd have fought to give her another day.

I have to admit, though, because of Influenza A, Mom died painlessly before she'd reached...the worse condition of most of the other people in the care home.

The visits got me quite aquainted with the degrees of it. The ones who needed to be fed; the ones who just stared at the opposite wall, all day, would not acknowledge a friendly "hello", though I always tried.

People this far gone from the human community received professional care; all the care-aides do try to engage them, every day, however unrewarded. The place, by the way, was clean, well-run. Mom liked the food. When you hear about hellhole care-homes in Ontario or Quebec, at least be aware that the funds allocated do allow for better. (At least in Alberta...)

These people, however, are the truly forgotten, save by those paid to be attentive. For many, their families have given up, barely visit, forget. It's hardly surprising that the government took the same attitude. Nobody sat around in a Star Chamber, rubbing their hands with unholy glee, that the residents could finally be disposed of. When the pandemic hit, though, the care-homes were just...forgotten. That's the plight of the living dead, who breathe, but don't chat with visitors. They just get... forgotten.

The care-homes have a "grad class" into the mortuaries every year, and respiratory illnesses are probably responsible for half of it. Perhaps nobody is leaving windows open, but it's normal to let it happen in care-homes. Protecting them with all that PPE and protocol was never done in any flu season, was it? So, they weren't set up for it. Zero PPE, zero training.

If you gave Legault and Ford a warning back through time, that they could have saved 5000 lives with some masks and added staff (like Bonnie Henry did), they'd have done it. There was no malice; they just forgot. Oops.

Well, that's my story and my theory. My message today, though, is that everybody should listen to all of the Canadaland podcasts about the Pandemic. They tackle the care-home story head-on. They're all good, but if you must cut the time to the bone, above all, do not miss Episode #2, "When the Plague Came" and then take hope and inspiration from the incredible "happy ending" (sort of) in Episode #12 - The Most Dangerous Story. "Dangerous", only to the intolerable status quo.

It's the best thing Canadaland has done, and that's saying a great deal. I love Canadaland because I often disagree with their take, but I always respect it and want to hear it.


August 28: In Which I Do Simple Divisions To Obtain An Obvious Result

First, let me get the operands of my divisions lined up.
For my numerator:
Two Billion Dollars From Mr. Popular.
For the denominator:
Five Million People in Schools (don't forget the teachers)

Then divide that by:
There are now tests for about $5. Or less. This one.
Paul Hebert has one, Ginkgo Bioworks has one.

Two billion over five million is $400 a student, or eighty tests, around two tests per week, per student, for a whole school year.

But, hey, it's Mr. Trudeau that has all the parents that are "extremely worried". I'm just pointing out the very obvious: Combined with some at-home days, this alone is enough to test every kid every second at-school day. The provinces could easily raise enough more to make it every day, if that were needed.

Every day, while reassuring and affordable, might not prevent that many more infections that every other day. The University of Arizona just stopped an outbreak by testing the sewage outflow from dorms. A positive on the overall dorm got 311 residents tested, two quarantined - before anybody else caught it. Victory! It just needed some pro-active testing.

So does Canada. We need pro-active testing. Pro-active testing is affordable.

It doesn't even take long division to prove it.


August 27: Trudeau Looks Good By Comparison

Call it the "GOP Effect". Not only has this blog sworn a holy oath to give its readers a break from a certain Name, but anything about the American governance really is the fault of the whole party. It's not just all that "enabling"; their current policies are simply the culmination of anti-governance, anti-science, anti-fact trends in that party for decades.

The "GOP Effect" is to make barely competent government look good. If your government is in proximity to Americas, at all judged alongside them, your government probably shines by comparison!

Canada, on the whole, has done pretty well with the pandemic, but only pretty well. Dedicated CCCC readers know that while much of the country has done as well as South Korea and other pandemic stars, Ontario and Quebec (especially) have done nearly as badly as America. But right there, I used "America" as a standard for "bad"; everybody is...and we're right next door.

You wouldn't know we'd only done pretty well from the public's reaction. We, meaning Trudeau and his WE-seiged Liberals, apparently nearly sweep the field at making citizens satisfied. It's not surprising that Australia and Denmark beat us, but baffling that we beat Germany and South Korea. That one I put down to the GOP Effect. Germany and South Korea are not as inundated with American news as we are; we know just how bad we might have had it, how people who look and talk just like us, were made to suffer...pointlessly. Or at least, made to suffer so that somebody else could "look good", when six weeks later, they looked very bad indeed. People are willing to suffer for something, but not for nothing.

Canadian Conservatives shouldn't entirely rage at the injustice of it all; they've had a win, too. Canadaland just put out a new "Wag The Doug" podcast (link from the image) which is saying that Doug Ford, spiralling downwards five months ago, is now broadly popular.

Comically, it's Doug Ford that really rubs it in for the American GOP. Ford, as noted two weeks ago on CCCC, is as similar to the American GOP as we have in Canada, perhaps as we've ever had: political neophyte who barely understands the machine he's operating, dismissive of government itself, a chaser of political shows, not political results. But, given the challenge, he didn't have to do that much, actually, except show humility and step aside in favour of the advice of public health experts. Once he started doing that, Ontario's response improved quickly, and his earliest opposition to lockdowns is already forgotten.

The GOP was probably headed for defeat this November without the pandemic, anyway, said the numbers. But, like Doug Ford, and Justin Trudeau, they could actually have had a boost from the pandemic, without heroics or genius breakthroughs: they just had to follow expert advice. They probably could have won the 2020 election on the strength of their response!

Instead, the defeat will be much larger. (I know, in American politics, that means they'll lose by 4% instead of 2%.) And Peter Navarro's arch-nemesis, the Liberal Party of Canada, will benefit from their folly.

They will blame the pandemic, obviously; that they would have won without the monstrous bad luck to have a huge natural disaster befall their country on their watch. Doug Ford, riding high, will be visible proof of where they might have been instead.


August 26: Human Race Starting To Win This

COVID, Whole Planet
It's 22 days since I wrote "Looking for Good News", that there were signs the overall case-load for the whole planet had peaked, or at least stopped increasing exponentially.

This is again worldometers.info, which is compiled by volunteers from news reports around the world. Data from some corners of it trickles in, and there are places like Iran that occasionally emit news stories like "death toll actually three times higher than admitted", which nonetheless don't change the worldometers numbers, they aren't actual death reports. So it seemed wise to let a few weeks go by to be sure that new, sad, reports didn't come in, pushing the numbers back up again.

Well, adding up the whole planet, which again has nations just starting to have sharp increases, nations in a second wave, regions that are crushing the curve, or not...the grand sum total looks to be peaked and even declining slowly. The daily deaths curve has now followed it, (as they do, three weeks later).

It's not much - we're (knowingly, with records) losing 5600 humans per day this week, but it was nearly 5900 a few weeks ago. That's no big decrease, but the fact that it's going down rather than up, is huge.

Now, I'm just looking for good news about opening schools. For one thing, I'd like some news from recent news from Neustrelitz, that opened with testing, back in May.


August 25: Where's OUR 150-person Gatherings?

Look, journalists, I get it: family funerals are radioactive. Any political criticism of them, near them, is verboten. Simply Not Done, old chap; execrable taste.

But, hang on a minute. The no-mourners funeral stories of April, have not yet ended. The Guardian did one just yesterday.

Further, in Britain, it continues to be a controversy that one official broke quarantine rules, then refused to resign over it. Public officials in democracies are not expected to openly break rules because of their high-status privilege; they're expected to model and exemplify the proper behaviour. That's a huge part of "Law and Order", demonstrating that the Laws and Regulations apply to the high and mighty - indeed, more so. Caesar's wife was expected not just to not have affairs, but to avoid even the appearance of having affairs.

It should be of the highest journalistic interest when a high official uses their status to dodge any societal expectations that apply to the rest of us. Instead, I find that all of the articles on the recent family funeral at the White House, simply mention: "The guest list was limited to about 150 people...Guests did not wear masks at the funeral, but they were given coronavirus tests beforehand".

Well, isn't that nice. How do the rest of us get to have 150-person funerals, and weddings, and barbeques, for that matter? How should the lady who wrote about the lonely funeral in The Guardian just yesterday get that? Maybe she should have run for office so that she could get around the restrictions on available testing, on good reasons for getting access to the scarce resource.

It's not like journalists have left the topic of special access to tests for gathering, entirely alone. Here's Fox News, of all the unlikely police of the plutocracy, with an article about parties in the Hamptons with rapid-testing for all. If you're of the set that says "It's only $500", then away you go with party season: testing in 30 minutes, in your car, then come on in. One of the many concierge doctors now making a fortune doing it, at least admits it's a little shame-worthy: "We've gone to these private, private, private events, where they have me sign a 'nothing you see in this house can be leaked' document," Rashid said. "This is still a party town."

So my post is not so much about that it happened, it's that there hasn't been a single article - unless Google is just not finding me the really rabid left-wing critics - noting that the White House simply ignored all the expectations and norms around this topic. Unlike the Hampton's partiers, they got off scot-free.

Somehow, I suspect that if a Democrat had done the same, they'd be all over it. And they'd demand to see all the emails.


August 24: Talk about Toxic Mask-ulinity...

I'll just jump in with the links to read, as this story is well-covered already. Salon writes about the "alpha male" image that keeps men from wearing masks (20% don't, vs 8% of women), because they fear "looking weak". Vox calls it "performative masculinity". It's the same phenomenon: face right up to every opponent, don't back down, show no fear.

Their leader might be Khal Drogo from Game of Thrones. Remember how he didn't want to take any medical treatment for having a chunk of skin the size of his hand flap down over his chest? Stayed strong-looking and tough, until the bacterial infection made him fall off his horse, his tribe abandoning him to die a few hours later. But, damn, he went down looking tough, didn't he? Let's all give him a hand, folks! Then bury him, he's starting to smell. So is his philosophy.

This kind of "masculinity" has been a liability in the modern world for generations now. It starts wars, prolongs wars, worsens wars. America was afraid to leave Vietnam, and later Iraq, for fear of "looking weak", and thousands died for nothing. Again, this year, thousands will die for nothing, because guys were afraid to look like they're afraid of catching a virus...or does this version of masculinity include being afraid to look like you care about other people catching it? "Not my problem, and it makes me look weak to look considerate"? Seriously? But I have a sinking feeling that's actually part of it.

We've had three seasons with the virus now: Winter, Spring, and Summer. The Fall is to be feared. If only we could leave this kind of masculine display behind in Season Three, like the Khalesi did.


August 23: The Virus Is Beating the US With Guerilla Warfare

I'm being very successful at avoiding a post about care-homes and how they get neglected - it's painful, because I lost my Mom in one 17 years back. Other topics, mercifully, keep coming up.

Just correcting a post from a week back, the American CDC actually agreed with the CCCC estimate of 190,000 deaths by Labour Day. The headlines the next day were a CDC prediction of 200,000. Headline writers take the top number if given a range: the CDC gave them "180,000 to 200,000", which is to say, agreed with me on 190,000.

Now that Labour Day is just 15 days away, the trends are leaning to just over 190,000 on worldomters, which is days ahead of the Johns Hopkins tracker. (Currently worldometers just cracked 180,000, whereas JH is still at 175,000 - about four days behind. Again, worldometers checks the news, JH awaits the public-health department reports to come in.) JH will be just under 190,000, I bet.

You won't get a single American Democratic Party member to say that it's a good thing for their campaign that dying in the hundreds per day, at least, will go on well into the fall. We just all know it's a truth. Any number that stops rising, stops being news, and they need it constantly in the news, because people want to forget it.

The United States is also bad at guerilla warfare. It's beaten them repeatedly now, when Vietnam should have caused their military to develop new strategies. The one generation Got It, but were all retired by the time they hit Iraq and got beaten by it again.

In the link above, historian Gwynne Dyer explains that the ancient principles were recently (1936) codified by Mao Tse Tung in his "Sixteen Character Formula", where a character is a word in Mandarin:

The Enemy advances, We retreat;
The Enemy camps, We harass;
The Enemy tires, We attack;
The Enemy retreats, We pursue

Metaphorically at least, fighting the virus is like fighting guerillas, or fighting mosquitos: you can kill any one, but the rest keep coming back, pressing you constantly like a gas. When you wear down - when you just have to go do something "normal", in this case - it catches you.

The Americans seem to be particularly susceptible, frustrated by conflict that isn't just out in the open, kick-em-in-the-teeth. I keep thinking of Bill Paxton's famous line in Aliens: "Is this gonna be a stand-up fight, sir, or another bug hunt?". Americans want a "stand-up fight". That's why they're so unique in their mask-issues: they want to face it, literally, not run from it.

There's a whole masculinity issue going on there, but that will wait for tomorrow. On Tuesday, I have a funeral to complain about, so that I can await Wednesday for certainty that I can write about the overall global case-load. I should be able to avoid even thinking about care-homes until Thursday. Whew.


August 22: Time to at least THREATEN Drastic Measures?

Naturally, I'm depressed by this week's case-load news from both BC and Alberta; oddly enough, the ravings here at CCCC have failed to successfully get the public to stop giving each other a sometimes-deadly disease. Up and up, the case-load has gone. While still trivial by international standards, Alberta is now worse than Quebec; a state that Albertans are unfamiliar with, and should be ashamed of.

I know that health authorities are just feeling their way along, and trying not to become The Enemy Oppressor - as they have been since March, in much of the USA. However, there's an obvious dissonance between the previous problems that justified lockdown to keep the disease from skyrocketing, versus worse problems today - that only justify the same fine as you get for a minor level of speeding.

I have a P.R. angle to suggest for BC, at least, since the beloved Dr. Bonnie has been taking a little massively-deserved vacation. I would like to suggest that she come back to the podium next week and take the attitude of a Mom that "...left you kids alone for two lousy weeks and this is the house I come back to? What were you thinking? Do you want me to send you all back to your homes with no dessert? Don't make me come over there, house parties!"

Even if it didn't work, man, I could use the laugh.


August 21: Calgary Board of Education Prepares for Failure

I asked the friends I have with kids in K-12, if they had heard anything about the school testing I'm so in favour of. Nothing. Of course. What they have gotten is an update from the CBE, which includes the interesting preparation:
In the event of increased absence by teachers due to COVID-19, we are increasing the number of teachers on our substitute roster by approximately 33 per cent from 1,200 to 1,600.

In short, they figure on having as many as 400 teachers down with COVID-19 at any given time. Granted, "down with" can include "caring for a family member", but as most people get only cold symptoms (maybe a bad cold), the majority would actually be sick. That's "at any time" so the total they are planning to see catch COVID-19, and go on teaching anyway, is more; over a term, that rate could see a couple of 400-teacher cohorts go away for a month, maybe a thousand sick.

For one thing, statistically, if even 400 catch it, that's four dead. And a dozen-odd more with bodily injuries for life.

There are just the 14,000 total staff, for 125,000 students; subtracting for maintenance and cleaning, I think that means about 10,000 classroom teachers. (Rarely that many at any moment; after all, it would mean just 13 kids per class. Teachers get a certain amount of downtime periods, I guess.)

But the upshot is that they are preparing to see several percent of their staff get the virus, be at mortal risk. Currently, just 0.3% of Albertans have caught it, confirmed, though that means over 1% really have.

There's no other way to read this: they expect for teachers to take a risk several times as high as the rest of the Alberta population, to sacrifice themselves for the economic (mostly) and educational (somewhat) benefit of all.

The risk this implies for the students, and their families, in turn, is obvious. The teachers and parents will either put up with this plan, or not. I would not.

Testing. It's possible, it would hugely mitigate the risk, I don't know what else to say.


August 20: Schools and Science

The teacher's union wants masks and smaller class sizes, and that's just common sense. But it's not science, not in the sense that we know the infection rates with and without those things. The teacher's requests will reduce infections, again that's just common sense. But the really relevant question is can anything reduce infections enough to make schooling work for more than a few weeks?

So far, dozens of schools had to close within hours of re-opening, and that's in South Korea(!) In Israel, school was a "disaster". CCCC already noted Etowah High School in Georgia. They did not even follow common sense, but I'm sure that South Korea and Israel were all masked and distanced.

Just in time, science has weighed in, via two studies in The Lancet, no less. Let me attempt actual journalism by claiming to have found the key sentence in that article. Writing about school attendance in NSW, Australia, where they found 27 cases in the school, and contact-traced the bejeezus out of them all, finding:

"...1448 close contacts were identified. Nearly half of these close contacts were tested virologically or serologically, yet only 18 secondary cases were identified. These very low rates of infection need to be interpreted with caution, because mitigation measures were in place: most educational facilities were closed briefly after case identification, and close contacts were expected to home quarantine for 14 days. "

Barely 1% of the people that had come close enough to the infectees to catch it, actually did.

But the even-simpler upshot being reported by CTV and other media is that testing and contact tracing are it. The headline is that schools can re-open with just those two things. Masks and distance will cut down the testing and contact-tracing, of course, but I bet it's only by half, or so.

BC has over 600,000 students; that's 20,000 school rooms of 30 kids each. Just guessing from horseback, does less than 2000 contact-tracers, one per 300 kids, sound like enough? It would be best if there was one per school, at least. 20,000 schoolrooms sounds like the magnitude of the testing should be tens of thousands per day. In the "Testing, Testing" post, I wished for every kid tested every day, which would, I think, get all parents to trust the system and actually send in their kids, whereas right now, it's about 60% planning to. But even 5% of my wishes, for 60% of the kids, that's one test per classroom per day, 20,000 tests. BC tested 2,569 people yesterday. They need to up that game by ten-fold.

August 21 is officially the last third of the month, "Late August", and a month from the first day of Fall, and they've known of this need for months; technologies that can provide it have been coming out all that time. We need an answer for their testing plan.


August 19: Why Real Estate is OK

So, it's the greatest economic collapse ever; everybody's broke and in bread lines, who paid for all those "More Canadian homes sold in July than any other month in the past 40 years"?

The papers have been all focused on the economic bad news, except perhaps for the more clear-eyed view here at CCCC. That May 11 post preceded Paul Krugman at The Times noting similar points about the combination of the Depression and WW2 keeping productive workers out of the economy even deeper, and for much longer. Now, Dr. K has sent his e-mail fans, if not been given space in his column for, this graph at left.

And here's my (less scientific) addition to that graph: most workers in "Leisure, Hospitality, and Retail", aren't the people who can afford homes to start with. Most of those are bad jobs, particuarly the jobs that were laid off. The hotel manager is still in his office. It's the maids who are all laid off, and they're renters, not buyers. Same with wait staff and counter clerks in stores. It's the restaurant managers and store owners that can afford homes, and they have paycheques, if the business is owned by a large corporation, as most are these days.

There are many warnings that worse economic times are to come. You have to rigidly separate your American and Canadian news at that point, of course, as they are the ones cutting benefits needed to hold up spending; cutting aid to tax-broke states and causing public-sector layoffs. Canada seems to be aiming higher.

Our economy is not that badly battered; if the vaccines do work, and hold down most of the damage to one year and a bit, it's not crazy to sign a mortgage. The pent-up demand for housing is real confidence. If you didn't lose your job this year of all years, surely you feel safe! There's all those people working in (booming) high-tech world, or in construction for that matter: construction paused for a few weeks back in the spring, but I haven't seen an idle construction site in months.

As they say in money, there are strong fundamentals out there. Which also means: no government should be afraid of tapping we solvent citizens to pay for all this, as a recovery is navigated.


August 18: Testing, Testing, One, Two Three...

I never let go of that story of Dr. Paul Hebert, the biologist with the remarkable DNA "barcoding" technology that can be adapted to process huge numbers of COVID-19 tests for a fraction of current costs and time. I came back to it later in May, again in June, and then last week.

My diligence was not matched by anybody else; media dropped the story after its 15 minutes. They would have gone back, I'm sure, if Dr. Hebert's idea had been taken up by any provincial health authorities, but I was pretty sure none of them would. I'd had some experience with what happens when a guy from outside a bureaucracy, proposes something that, if it works, will have shown up their own approved methods. They smile and nod and promise to get back, and never do.

So, finally, last week, I just wrote Dr. Hebert, not expecting a reply. He replied promptly and courteously. He asked that his answer to my questions, about how his idea fared with the public health bureaucracies, be off the record. Suffice to say that the only news he had for me was that private interests were interested, and he gave me a link to this Op-Ed he co-wrote for a consulting firm's newsletter.

Which, to me, means that you would be wasting your breath to call your public health authority about testing: they have their own system they know, they are not about to embrace any newfangled ones, and if that means bad service, well, you've already had five months of really bad testing services, so they presume their jobs are safe with that service level.

I would instead counsel readers to call their local school board and ask if your child is safe without daily testing, which is possible and affordable. Ask why they haven't looked into commercial offerings that we're all hearing about.

Such as this one, that Dr. Hebert recommended I look at. The company is Ginkgo Bioworks. The link is to a longish article in The Atlantic, about a system where you literally just need a strip of paper and fifteen (15) minutes. The sacrifice is accuracy, the false-results (either positive or negative). The health bureaucracies are steeped in medical traditions, where false results are really terrible things, incompetent and unprofessional practice, intolerable. For testing every kid every day, with a followup test that's more accurate if positive, much higher falsity rates can be tolerated.

The health systems all have a physician/patient outlook; physicians owe their patients high degrees of certainty about their diagnoses, because "first, do no harm" requires being sure of what needs treatment. But a population fighting a pandemic needs a different outlook, where letting a few infections slip past you is certain, and a fair price to pay if you do catch several times as many. False positives, too, are acceptable, especially for kids that lose only a few days of school, while a live-virus test result comes in. Still: no high-volume but lower-accuracy solution has been approved by public health systems, in five months.

So forget them. Call your school board. Talk it over with the teacher and point out that their own health may depend on convincing the upper levels to call up one of these companies.

I just don't want school opening to be a disaster, as seems likely. Let's demand cheap, massive testing.


August 17: Waiting

I want to write some more about care-homes and how we fix them, but the recent history there is a sad topic, I've been avoiding it. I've got a major post I want to do on testing, and I'll get to work on it today. But for this quiet Monday morning, I'm just...waiting.

There's not much more to say about the United States, of such concern; it really seems to me that they've baked-in a terrible end to summer. There's exactly five weeks left of summer, today, and the cases they already have logged, the infection rate that they could hardly stop on a dime now, sentences them to the CDC's "200,000 by Labour Day", and ten or twenty thousand beyond that in September. Like the care-homes, the mind skitters away to any other topic.

Alberta and BC have both developed a system where they don't report on the weekends, and indeed, they wait well into Monday before just giving the figures for three days. So we find out Mondays if the case-count is going up fast or slow. Last Monday was 131 in BC, for three days, which was Not Good (for us). This weekend, we've been treated to more pictures of teens cavorting in the streets, though actually what I saw on TV didn't look all that bad; it was the house-parties that apparently preceeded it that have me figuring today will again be in the 3 figures, maybe over 150.

Alberta was twice as bad, as they generally have been, since it was 20-25/day for BC and 40-50/day for Alberta, back in those happy days of early July. They were 257 last Monday. So I'm just waiting to see if the two provinces are still getting worse every week, imperiling my own travel plans (and school!) or if we've turned it around by just putting warnings on TV. (There have been hardly any tickets or closures; we really do depend upon good attitudes.)

But then, sitting around waiting is the very core of the fight against a pandemic. You'd think I'd be more used to it by now.

I'm not.


August 16: Nobody Drops Around At Work Any More

I'm three years away from the office, but still in touch with many of the Old Gang. Reactions to a full-telework life are mixed, but most say it's harder work. I don't think there will be much trouble bringing most people back, when they can.

It's 30-plus years back, now, to the start of my own career, when Tom Peters' "In Search of Excellence" had a dozen more authors trying to become the fad management inspiration book. Most were about (a) employee "empowerment", of which there is no sign so far; and (b) communication, communication, communication. Which generally stressed that most communication is not even verbal.

Skype-type systems are actually pretty poor at passing along that non-verbal stuff, too; they don't show most of the body - and the body position is constrained by the act of using it, whereas people in real presence look around the room, move their chairs, stand up. You can hardly see what people's hands are doing. And besides, I'm told that nearly all meetings are microphone-only, we don't want to see your workout T-shirt.

But it's more than the communication itself; it's the chance encounters at coffee, or the stop by your desk on the way elsewhere, and the overheard conversation at the next desk that you have to join.

One of the early-90s management articles told a story about a workplace where only the women secretaries (the story dates earlier to the 80s) were up on all the news. Again and again, executives would tell of only hearing about some new development or problem from their secretary. The consultant investigated, and it turned out that the women got together to smoke (again, the story is dated) and gossip. It passed information through the silos, across divisions, across whole departmental lines. Their bosses did not.

This stuff was then used to help sell the "open plan" to us employees. What really sold the open plan, to the bosses, was that it reduced us from 10x10 with walls, to 8x8 without, halving the space costs per employee - just as real estate soared. We were told, of course, that the open plan would "facilitate" all those random encounters that would just magically make the workplace, umm, work better.


August 15: The Canadian App is Safe (Like All Your "Free" Tools are Not)

As a follow-up to yesterday, the American CDC ups my guess on Labour Day by 10,000. Here at CCCC, we make only conservative predictions. They, of course, had the time to run predictions for all 50 states, whereas I did the top five, then doubled that. I'm glad it turned out conservative. If school then starts and causes spikes across the land, they could see a full quarter-million by that Election Day... I've given up guessing what that means; lots of people just harden their loyalty when it's tested.

I've been irritated for some weeks because I either changed some setting inadvertently, or, far more likely, Google just decided I would like to be asked, after every visit everywhere, if I'd like to give a review on the store, library, or even beach I just visited. A constant reminder that they're watching me, and storing everything. And selling it.

I could turn off the Google service that lets me find my phone if I lose it; or possibly find one that didn't take that also as permission to track and sell me; I should, but fact is, I have no secrets worth keeping, and doing it for the value of the "boycott", the #resistance, is entirely pointless. (Excellent article link by Zephyr Teachout.)

While it's weaker on search functions, for a nice map, I actually use OpenStreetMap.org most of the time. You can download maps for everywhere if you pay a couple of bucks, one time.

But for some reason, despite all the evidence that it's costly in other ways to let private business surveil you; despite the fact that the surveillance means you're being surveilled by the government, too, just one supoena (or polite request, even) removed...people are afraid of the government app.

I recommend the fine podcast, Canadaland, OPPO on the subject. Host Sandy Garossino says flat out that she's more afraid of the private companies, and co-host Jen Gerson closely questions Christopher Parsons of The Citizenlab at the Munk School, U of T. Chris goes over the open-source application's verification, how little it collects on you, how it doesn't report; it just provides anybody with exposure the option to let everybody who's been near them for 15 minutes to be aware of it.

That's about it. It won't help much, but it sure won't hurt, and it might help you, specifically; with zero cost and risk. It hasn't become usable in BC yet, but Alberta will be, soon. It would work best if a lot of people use it, so please do.


August 14: 190,000 American Dead by Labour Day

Six days back, I claimed that the passing of peaks in the FATC states allowed a fair guess at each state's case-fatality rate (a function not of the disease, really, when the hospital services and demographics are comparable, but the likelyhood of an infection becoming a "case" in the stats). This number is useful for one thing: short term predictions (before the rate changes) of the next few weeks of dying, from the last few weeks of case-loads.

Florida, for instance, at left, has been coming down off a peak at over 10,000 cases/day 20 days back, seems to be not falling the last few days at 6500.


Arizona is our success story, here: Dr. Bonnie would be proud of them. They've spent the last 20 days heroically accelerating a drop from their peak from about 2500/day down to 1000/day.

What I'm going to do is really rough, because it would be wrong to take each day's infection rate, multiply by the case-fatality rate, and claim that exactly 20 days later, that many will die. They don't die on the "average day", of course. All I'm going to do is take the "average of the 7-day averages" and attempt to get a total. Further, the way I'll average is just to look at it as a straight line down and pick the number 1700/day.

Texas, on the other hand, has had two bad weeks, hovering around 8500/day, and one good one where they've at least gotten it down to 7000. So we'll average them up to 7500/day.

It gets worse: Texas had the highest case-fatality rate, at 2.3%. So 7500 X 0.023 gives us an average death-rate of 172/day for the next 20 days. It dropped, a week back from over 200 to about 180/day, so let's go with it.

California, of course, just had to be contrary. Having taken four months to finally build up a curve, they're already starting on a second. They seemed to be over their peak and heading down, then came August and cases went right back up the last ten days. I guess I can pick the number 7000, and remind everybody again this is very rough work.

So what does it all add up to? Texas, as mentioned, 172/day. California, above, is that 7000 X 1.4%, equals about 100/day. Florida, go with 8500 X 1.5% for 130/day, and Arizona, just 1500 X 2.2% is 33/day. Arizona has done so well that I'd find more trouble looking at Georgia, currently at 3500/day at 70+ deaths. Their case-count has hardly gone down in the whole three weeks, so we can just assign them 70 deaths/day for weeks to come.

It all adds up to the next 20 days clocking in at 500 deaths/day for just those five states, or 10,000 people. With the total official deaths just passing 170,000 today, we'll see it up to 180,000 Labour Day, just from these five states alone. The rest of the country is as much again, so I'm guessing for about 190,000 grand total. (That last sentence was quite the hand-wave; but my impression, looking at the next dozen states down the list from these five, is that only a few are really crushing that curve; and there are large states like Illinois that still have that second curve increasing. This is really why epidemiologists are giving quotes like "we're losing".)

When they'll hit the round number of 200,000 that will make for a lot of headlines, is hardly even guesswork; it all depends on whether these three weeks of continued deaths at 1000/day for their nation smarten anybody up; the death-rate could be plummeting by Labour Day.

This being America in 2020, Topic "A" in their news is of course the election; and the probability of the election not being about "over 200,000 dead", by late-October, is not in the cards. That number is all but guaranteed, given that Americans show no signs of sudden, dramatic behaviour flips; it's just a question of September vs some time in October. The very likely consequences of school-openings suggest September.

American Carnage, indeed.


August 13: For Once, Media Images Reflect the Truth: Please Tattle on Parties

The media are always trying to find a visual language to communicate with. To dramatize the words, they look for images. Alas, the images often tell a different story, one that's simpler, clearer, and wrong.

I've never been that outraged by the video of drum circles and parties; they're generally shot outdoors, where the video doesn't require permission. I've thought it just as likely that the "parties" causing transmissions were a dozen middle-aged people having a dinner party, in a too-small living room, and laughing too much over the wine.

Apparently, they aren't so wrong this time: Dr. Henry is saying the appalling red line at left is from "a majority of cases are linked to young people in the Lower Mainland, with exposure coming from events in the community."

My fears that the August long weekend would bring a jump in transmission, is fully justified. Alberta, meanwhile, "has the highest per capital cases in Canada", and the secondary reason for BC's woes is " a significant number of cases are also linked to travel from outside the province".

What a perfect situation for both provinces to decide to tell us we can't have guests from Alberta in two weeks, or for me to visit family there a few weeks later. I'm about to be screwed because people imagine they can party-hearty, and I object.

Everybody wants to party now and then, and normally, you're being an old, mean, curmudgeon jerk to call the cops on them. Nobody wants to be that guy. Please do it anyway, if you hear a party. If you can hear it, it's loud, and it's making people shout over it. That's the problem.

Do not throw a Molotov cocktail, even though would be much more effective, much more quickly. It is not legal. It's not worth the risk of hurting somebody. Just almost.

When I compare the last two weeks of statistics to those during the BLM protests, I have to recommend that all those restless "young people" burn off that party energy by going to a march instead. They're provably far safer!


August 12: The Number I Didn't Think We'd See

As the number of US dead from COVID-19 soared past their losses in Vietnam, I found the United States Military Casualties of War page on Wikipedia, made a spreadsheet of it, and pushed around the numbers. I thus had a post ready when the death toll hit 102,636, the total losses since WW2: Korea, Vietnam, all the little ones. At the time, the curve was already bending, and there was certainly hope it would be the only one, so I hoped it would never hit 167,013: the total US losses in war, save the three big ones: WW1, WW2, and their Civil War.

If you take the "worldometers.info" dashboard, we hit the number yesterday, when I'd thought they could avoid it. I shouldn't have been so idealistic, thinking that the beating they took in April and May would have smartened them up. The trouble they had in Iraq, since about 2004, didn't smarten them up enough to leave, not even in ten more years.

How dumb are they? Well, we've come to the "Roy reads the morning news and rants" section, but I'll be brief. At left, the headline that made me spit-take, when I realized that "this is no longer a debate" wasn't about requiring masks, but banning them.

American sheriffs are unique in law enforcement: separately elected, and each one a little empire-builder than runs his own jail system, not just cops. Our "wild west" got federal paramiltary law-enforcement before a whole dozen settlers had broken ground. In any event, you won't see any Canadian cops inventing their own public-health policies, based on their cable-TV news habits or anything else.

The news comes as Florida notched up its highest daily death toll ever. There are no words.

Over in Georgia, Cherokee County is closing Etowah High School, going remote. Hardly surprising, really, at right is their opening-day Senior class photograph, from August 3rd.

Georgia had 2,258 new cases that day, bringing the total of active cases to 158,403. BC and Alberta, with the same population as Georgia between them, have 1,400 active cases total. Our high-school kids would have 1% the infection risk, and yet we worry, and should. Etowah, obviously soon had 17 cases, and 300 in quarantine, an eighth of the school. It took less than a week! I'd like to see a new school photo of all the school board members in dunce caps.

I'd like to end by saying "at least we won't see all this plus WW1, another 116,000 dead". But I was wrong last time. Back to Canadian news tomorrow; American news is bad for my mental health. "Hell is the impossibility of reason."


August 11: Massive Testing Needed for School, but Canadian Tests Ignored?

I don't need to expend many words to emphasize how more-possible the desperately-needed school openings would be, given the availablility of massive testing. Ideally, every kid would be tested every day before walking in, the result available before they are settled into a seat; that would be the dream. Second best would be testing during the day, results available before the kids return in the morning.

We've heard lots at this point: every kid spitting into the same test tube, and any positive meaning the whole class got separate tests, that was one. Ever hear about it again? Your kid's school planning on it?

I haven't heard from any parent about any testing at all; the stories run the other way.

Hey, how about some "Canadian Testing Nostalgia"? Let's stroll down Memory Lane to the Spartan Bioscience Cube, an automated testing device that was going to be a "game changer". Notice the story is from April. The last mention I could find in the news was about the agony of Spartan investors, way out on a financial limb and all their sales on hold while they work out glitches, that, as near as I can tell, involve the swab stick being too short. Were their users all out of popsicle sticks and rubber bands?

Much better off, beating out Spartan for contracts, are the test kits from Precision Biomonitoring in Guelph , which left town over a month ago for the boonies: if you don't mine silver and gold, you're unlikely to see these tests. The CEO say that his market is a test that "...could be used outside hospitals, in remote areas where getting tested is not so practical." That's a good description of schools, too: you can't send the kid to school, and a separate clinic visit every day; school tests have to be done on-site. It's not happening from these products because they're too expensive, and we can't do millions of them, even if we had that much money.

One guy has proposed a solution. He got one story in the national press, and even this blog has let his story lie for two months: Paul Hebert of the U. Guelph, Director of the Centre for Biodiversity Genomics. It's three months since his day in the news, and two months since I followed up, with a sigh, that he was unlikely to be tapped for the problem.

My very cynical belief, coming from years of it happening to me at work, is that he's coming from a different bioscience; he's a nature biologist, not a physician, and he strolls into their turf, says he has a better way, a system that will indeed handle literally millions of test results, automatically, for a buck a test. For a scientist, he's a hero. For a bureaucracy, he's a Barbarian at the Gate; I'm sure that every device of bureaucracy was employed to put him off, delay, question, raise "concerns", and, not to put too fine a point on it, deny him all resources and access to develop his idea. There are still zero further stories in the news.

In some ways, the fate of Spartan Bioscience is scandalous enough: why didn't the health care bureaucracy step in to ensure they had massive resources to get around their test-kit problem? Why leave a very small company twisting in the wind, drying up their own limited resources as they frantically try to solve it? This isn't business as usual: we need to open those schools, and it's looking like it. Will. Not. Work.

Without a lot of testing.


August 10: Today Is Just an Ad for CTV

Maybe I'm being lazy, but today I just have the one recommend-and-link. I've relied a lot on CTV for its fine Canada dashboard of COVID-19 cases, and just the other day, I had nothing but CTV stories when they were all bad for BC/Alberta.

Well, this one will cheer you up, if you like schadenfreude (I just spelled that from memory, in an editor with no spell-check, and I'm going with it) and the traditional Canadian pastime of "how we're better than the US, at least".

They have a page up that lets you rate US states and Canadian provinces all on one metric, see who's #1 and who's number #64. (50 states, DC, 10 provinces, 3 territories).

I have previously written about how diverse Canada's results really are: Quebec terrible, Ontario poor, the rest of us close to South Korea. I did something quite similar to this with "If Provinces Were Countries" on July 8th, with Quebec making the overall USA look good, and Ontario about half as bad. Since then, the USA overall has gone from 405 dead/million to 500, but Quebec is still at 650. Canada's overall number of 238 dead/million is only half as bad as the USA, now.

But the CTV rating chart for USA and Canada is not about the CCCC metric of "deaths per million", but just "cases", noted just yesterday as a slippery construct, but hardly useless, especially in fairly similar medical systems. (Afghanistan probably has more bodies than "cases", for lack of doctors.)

For "current cases", unsurprisingly, the whole of Canada is not just down below the "bad" states, but nearly every state. For "current" cases, Alberta, the Worst Place in Canada for that just now, it is between America's Vermont, #50, and Maine, #51. It's only worse than one US state.

For "peak cases" we can finally highlight the failure and perfidy of Quebec and their execrable care-homes (so bad, they are slightly more execrable than all the other Canadian care-homes). Quebec clocks in for "peak cases" just below #38, Indiana, very slightly worse than Pennsylvania, Washington, Minnesota, Montana, significantly worse than 8 others. Indeed, Alberta now shares the shame of being worse than one US state for peak-cases (Maine again, the best American pandemic fighter. Of course, they lack Calgary's giant airport, which handles more paassengers every month than Bangor and Portland handle in a year.)

Or, in short, I'm dunking, here: the news about our increasing cases is depressing, and I'm engaging in the low practice of snarking at somebody else. Mostly, though, it's a powerful reminder than Things Can Always Get Worse. In the USA, they have gotten worse the whole time; the lull in cases and deaths for a month there was just the gathering of the next storm, and some think a third one is coming in their rural midwest. Let us in Canada look hard at that CTV page and count our blessings.


August 9: New US Wave Has Peaked?

As much discussed here, the "curves" of cases for federal states like Canada and the USA are the sum of very different curves across the country: some having a first-wave much later, making a second-wave for the country as a whole.

I had been assuming that deaths would peak about three weeks after "cases" did... with "cases" in quotes because a Texas made clear, "case" is a social construct that is different in different states. (And provinces, and countries).

Well, there's little doubt left with another whole week of stats in: the fatality numbers in Florida, Arizona, and Texas have all peaked and begun to decline; California very likely so. And that's just over two weeks since cases did so.

The other number you can estimate when you see both peaks, is the case-fatality rate, mentioned on July 31. Which makes it time to confess that I sometimes don't have the greatest topic handy, despite an OCD need to post every day. As interviewer Axios interviewer Jonathan Swan instructed his subject the other day, the case-fatality rate is not that important compared to the actual deaths-per-million that is the relevant metric for this blog. "Case-fatality rates" just tell you how many of those social-constructs you're creating by testing and symptoms record-keeping.

A good illustration is looking at the four states that have done most of the dying the last month, at left. I wrote the above before creating the graph, and now I can see, the case-to-fatality intervals hasn't really shortened much from three weeks. California alone looks like two weeks, hinting that I'm wrong seeing the death-rate having peaked there; another week of higher death rates to go?

The probably-pointless case-fatality rates probably say more about the states' medical systems, and probability that a patient will even come in to become a "case", than they do about anything else. California, by the way, with its largest-population and half the peak death rates of Florida and Texas, is way ahead in the Covid Cup ranking of deaths-per-million; it's barely worse than Canada as a whole, which is to say, way better than Ontario.

But the upshot is not the number-wrangling: the upshot is that America's (not really) "second wave" has just crested a week ago (you can only see it in the rear-view mirror, which is why I waited to today to be sure), and perhaps they, and we, can learn from it. If not, then it's going to be a hard Fall.


August 8: How The West Was Lost

Well, it's not quite lost yet, but traitors in our ranks are doing their damnedest. That fingernail-chewing I've been doing for a week about whether our infections would go up or down is at least over. And if it weren't for bad news, we'd have no news at all in BC and Alberta. Get a load of what hit me on my phone this morning, one story after another. They're in the same order as on CTV's mobile pages for phones.

I'm attempting to make a virtue of my 1990s HTML primitives; this text is dodging left and right down the page to avoid these stories, the way my brain is trying to dodge the obvious conclusion they lead me to, from looking at all the other places that have behaved like this a month ago, in Australia, Vietnam, and of course, the Infected States of America.

The outbreaks - don't forget that "outbreak" means they haven't and can't contact-trace where it came from, it's gotten away from them - are mostly in care facilities, but the fact they can happen at all means there's more of it in the community than is safe for visiting. The police catching it on the job says the same, and that these parties they're breaking up are indeed the serious problem. Hence my use of "traitors": those who help the enemy in war.

I stepped into a bar - not on Davie, on Hastings, just the other day. It looked OK at first; the chairs were spaced way out, and there were spacing marks at the till for lineups. But in 20 minutes, there were too many people for the overall atmosphere in there; almost none had masks on, they were talking and laughing into each other's faces; the staff behind the bar didn't have masks on as they talked to customers a metre or so away. I shrank away. People are not taking this seriously enough, and the policing of it isn't stern enough yet. I call for crackdowns.

And all of it leads to the last story on my phone queue, which summed it all up, at left. The guy's right, of course. We're all "infectious disease modellers" these days, in the sense of saying to oneself "this sounds like Florida in June".

For me, personally, the context is that my wife is about to come back from a visit to family in Alberta. There's no point in me going for a month now, to space out the visits; we have guests coming from Alberta right after Labour Day, so I'd figured mid-September or so. Right when the model says that they'll lock us all down again as they admit the curve is going exponential again.

Can we NOT do that? We can still pull these chestnuts from the fire, we can still turn it around. Let's let this rash of headlines be a warning to populace and police alike. We have to get serious.


August 7: School Dazed

Normally a tiny blog should look for the stories others aren't noticing,but today I'll join half the news sites on the continent, with the photo of the crowded Georgia school.

But it's not about the dumbness of the kids and teachers, having no masks, or the already-over story about the student being suspended for publishing the photo (though that was funny).

It's about something much, much dumber than that.

In the first place God made idiots. This was for practice. Then he made School Boards.
- Following the Equator; Pudd'nhead Wilson's New Calendar, Mark Twain
The really dumbfounding part of the story for me, was the explanation for the crowd:

"Class changes at the high school level are a challenge when maintaining a specific schedule.
... Students are in this hallway environment for just a brief period as they move to their next class."
... Watters said the time to move from one class to another only lasts about five minutes...

In short, they haven't changed their schedule. At all. Every student in the entire school, of every grade, is in the hallways for five minutes after every class, hurrying to the next. That's why the crowd.

They have this risk because they can't even stretch their tiny minds to the smallest change that costs zero money, zero infrastructure, nothing but making a few announcements:

  • Grade 10 classes will remain on the same schedule;
  • Grade 11 classes will be shifted 10 minutes back;
  • Grade 12 classes, 20 minutes back.
  • Classes will be five minutes shorter.
  • Students with surnames starting with A-M will leave immediately.
  • Students from N-Z will leave five minutes later.

Done, the hallways have been 83% emptied on any given five-minute period of changeover, and kids get five minutes of free reading time or something at the start or end of each class.

They couldn't even think of that. Man, that's limited bureaucratic thinking that really resists change, when you want your kids so very regimented that they all have to do the exact same thing at the exact same time, no matter what.

As for the no-masks, that's just good 'ol Georgia-grade Republican Insanity, expressed in the school system, as the Superintendent Brian Otott says:

Wearing a mask is a personal choice, and there is no practical way to enforce a mandate to wear them.

I bet the schools of Georgia never took that attitude to any other item of student's clothing, ever. Certainly not to short skirts or revealing tank-tops. Certainly not to T-shirts with obscenities on them. If a kid isn't wearing to the school dress code, they get sent home, that was always the deal. Of course it would work here.

The superintendent is just afraid of backlash, loud crazy-talk backlash, and is taking a chicken's way out that will harm his charges.

But still, the dumbness of risking hundreds of infections because you can't move a schedule by five minutes is really sticking with me.

Wow.


August 6: Why Not Just Admit That Schools Are Day-Cares?

Lots of individual kids have come back from missing a year of school to illness, or had a year of poor schooling because of travel. Most kids can get over this loss.

It's the parents everybody is actually more worried about. If the schools don't do their "side-effect" function of being day-cares, the parents can't work. Some creative people with good family and social networks will find solutions: if four friends have seven kids and three jobs between them, they can form one big four-family bubble, and hand the kids over to the one with no job every day. But I doubt even half the families will find such a happy arrangement.

What I don't see anybody admitting are two things:

  • We need to radically improvise more-distant schooling, with all the space and people we can get our hands on;
  • We need to admit schools are also day-cares and just provide pandemic daycare.
The improvised schooling could be looked at: use every church, every community centre, theatres, every mall, especially - plus of course those unused hotels and conference centres. Calgary has 25% of its office space empty; am I the only one to wonder if that's a good thing just now?

Spreading out kids into classes of 15 and less means more people than we can drum up, even calling upon teachers who've left or retired, nearly-finished education students, and so forth. At some point, we'll be asking people without any kind of teaching license or qualifications to, if not teach the kids, keep them amused - and distant.

We can avoid calling them day-cares; the kids would get a mix of qualified teachers giving them useful instruction, and hastily-hired daycare workers that will show them educational video, and have them play games, and run around as much as possible, outdoors as much as possible. In some situations, the mix might only be 30% teacher.

That would still be better than the "distance learning" experiences I've seen had by the 7-, 9-, and 12-year-old I've been Skype-reading to for three months. For single-digit-aged kids, almost any adult in actual presence is going to get more teaching done than a qualified teacher Zooming you for an hour a day.

Alas, this post is hopeless. There's nothing difficult these ideas, but there is no work being done on it. The one link, to the word "theatres" above, is to what will be a failed offer of a very good idea: a movie theatre for 300 would allow 30 or more in class to stay 2m apart. And what a whiteboard! But, the article says, "no area schools have taken [him] up on the offer". They won't. It's too radical, it requires organization, initiative, sudden change - and large bureaucracies suck at that.

None of the other ideas, like malls and conference centres, are even being discussed; all the news is about the necessity, and impossibility, of re-opening schools, with nobody even thinking laterally.

Certainly, it would take a lot of organizing; you'd have to hire as many "teachers" again as we already have. With 5 million kids in school, Canada would need another 150,000 kid-supervisors to get the group-size per adult down to 15. Fortunately, we have millions out of work. Partial re-opening added nearly a million jobs back just in June; 150,000 is not actually that big a societal shift. But it's not even being discussed in the news.

That's just altering the location of schooling. Admitting that schooling is day-care, hiring to suit, is not going to happen from a modern school board. A shame; it's not an embarrassing admission. Schooling is genuinely valuable and a necessity for a modern citizen; it's just, also, day-care.

And it turns out that while schooling is an essential service for the child, in the long run, the day-care is the essential service for society. Next month.


As a follow-up to yesterday's pride in being Canadian, a dry but very complimentary article on how superior Canada's economic pandemic response has been.

August 5: This Is Not Actually Hard

It's important to read Canadian news to counteract the gaslighting of American news. Americans, frankly, are crazy compared to us, and you can be drawn into the craziness, if you read only their news.

The way that American craziness sucks in their own news media was best lampooned by economist/professor/Nobelist Paul Krugman, who's basically had a second career as an economic-science-explainer, repeating the same basic facts for decades, as the American right wing gaslights away. He said that if the Republicans were to come out foursquare for the Flat Earth Theory, and Democrats stuck to the 3-dimensional globe, the New York Times headline would be "Parties Disagree on Shape of Earth".

The need for being at this "centre", even if between facts and fiction, is on display today in the headline at left. This "dispute" doesn't exist in Canada, twice over. First, we didn't put an expiry date on benefits that clearly need to last as long as the emergency does. It's like tossing lifeboats overboard, but with special valves that will deflate them in an hour, so that the captain can review whether the people in the lifeboat still need to float, or not. The boats need to float until the people in them can touch the shore, was that too hard for you?

The "dispute" only exists because the Republicans wanted to keep a leash on the population, a leash with a choke-chain. Renewing it shouldn't be needed at all, and so the renewal should be automatic. Our right-wing can see that, because, while they're not crazy like Americans; it's kind of that simple. If you had to pick a Canadian politician closest to the current American adminstration, you'd go straight to never-in-office-before, populist, anti-immigrant, hard-right-wing (for Canada) Doug Ford, of course. And here are your Doug Ford headlines today:



This, despite Doug Ford being the unquestioned Remedial Reading Class of Canadian Premiers. Doug Ford is a nitwit; a dummy; and a serious jerk who's done extraordinary damage to the Ontario economy, environment, and governance.

Still, even Doug Ford can understand that people need to eat, and pay rent, and that the economy currently can not employ everybody it normally does. Even he understands that the best thing to keep even more businesses from going broke, is to give the jobless enough money to spend in those businesses. He may have a friend who read a Paul Krugman column, or something. Or another who advised him how to not be lynched; because this is Canada, and we aren't crazy, and there are limits to how crazy we let our politicians be.

I read the American headlines, and I'm so proud to be Canadian.


August 4: Looking for Good News

I've finally pulled the retired person screwup: I missed an entire statutory holiday. "Every day is Saturday" for the retired, but we normally notice society's breaks and festivals, honest. I'm just home alone, with the wife visiting Calgary at last, and spent most of it hiding from the heat and doing chores. I just realized it today. There was still no news, from BC or Alberta, on the case statistics - the ones that would tell us if we're starting to clearly push the curve back down, or still have a re-starting epidemic. Last week was ups and downs, but too many ups.

So while I bite my nails, which I will probably be biting for weeks yet, as we find out whether this very holiday has handed the enemy another win, I'm looking for some good news. I hardly dare look for it in the USA, though some of their stats hint that maybe their dying is already cresting, instead of increasing for another week. That's only relatively good news; the pile of cases they have active already means that even the best news would be that they won't lose another 30,000 people in August, just in the mid-twenties.

But I did just spot something that may be a reporting glitch, or a temporary pause, but I'll take it. As much discussed here, the world as a whole is still in a first wave. When one nation crushes a curve, two more have their first increases, like South Africa, covered two days ago, and the world count of cases continues up an exponential curve.

Until last week. It's just a little thing, and I'm probably grasping at a straw, but look at it. (Blowup at far right.) There are some other level stretches on that graph, over a week long, back in May, when daily-case counts did not increase; but this is the first time it's levelled off in three months.

Maybe we're finally getting a grip on it, planet-wide. It would take a major research effort to really clarify that: so much bad reporting, when you get outside the world of advanced democracies. Iran's just been acknowledged to have three times the death toll it previously admitted. So how many cases, really?

But still, the whole worldometers graph has been done under those problems, and may be consistent relatively, if not absolutely. So, let's let some hope in, while we await the verdict on western Canada's August.


August 3: Can Vietnam Ride That Tiger?

Two more nations I'd meant to offer a backpat to, were the commies: Vietnam and Cuba. Both have controlled the virus to an exemplary degree, and both, admittedly, have had great success with tyranny.

I wouldn't want to live in a nation where they can just march your whole family off at gunpoint. But when they march them off (with the guns only implicit, actually) to a hotel until they're sure they're all covid-negative, after any family member turns positive, we're forced to admit it seems to have worked.

The other is Vietnam, where again, the ability to lock down hamlets, with police, means they don't have to lock down whole provinces. But Vietnam is currently riding that tiger a bit askew, losing grip, in danger of falling off, and into one of those exponential curves.

Reminding us all again that world news sells poorly in American papers, the best coverage is in The Guardian. The Guardian, actually, deserves a real shout-out for all their overall virus coverage, it's been exemplary for both science-explainer stories, and world-news stories of the pandemic. It's got excellent coverage of the American political maunure-display, and indeed, catches the major stories from Canada. It's actually what we subscribe to, rather than either the Globe and Mail, or the National Post.

The Guardian reports that Vietnam, perhaps frustrated to have 15 local-transmission cases pop up after a victorious 100 days without any in the country, has hit the outbreak with a massive response. It happened in tourist-hotspot Danang, but they closed the city borders to tourists, evacuated 80,000 tourists that were already there, 14-day stay-home requirement. Foreign travelers have been banned, the few allowed in must quarantine.

Here's the thing about these draconian measures: they know the 15 cases are likely the tip of the iceberg. They don't know where the other 100+ are. So they are hitting the place they probably all are with a full-court press, and that may end it in 14 days flat. If it does, Vietnam will have successfully got back on top of the tiger, and can go back to what was an almost-normal lifestyle they had in mid-July.

Recall that this nation kicked the ass of the world's greatest military power, back when they were about 90% stoop-labour farmers. Now they have the capacity to promise testing for all the million people who live in Danang. Danang me, but that's impressive. My bet's on them.


August 2: Riding the Tiger...and Falling Off

I'm fortunate that I never got around to posts I'd thought of doing to praise South Africa in particular, for controlling the pandemic without even having money or a good medical system; I was also thinking of praising Australia for a great response to their first wave, clamped down upon with great success.

Alas.

Australia is a now a classic example of second wave...worse than the first. Was I saying yesterday that this wasn't happening even in the fumbling, self-harming USA? Well, Australia managed, as the chart at left shows, their second wave is now higher than their first.

"Controlling" the pandemic is like riding a tiger: you're never really more than one slip away from falling off and into the tiger's jaws. It's always trying to squirm away, get out from underneath. Cavalier behaviour, confidence, these are your worst enemies. You can't ever rest easy.

The price is shown at right: the streets of Victoria, totally empty as they go into total lockdown, don't leave your house. I hope this lets them get a grip on it again, back on the Tiger's back. They can do it, they already did; they just have to get back to the same attitudes and cautions that won it the first time.

South Africa, on the other hand, is just having a first wave. They have already gotten past the crest, (see declining cases for two weeks at left), but of course the dying will now follow for the next month, and it's bad. With South Africa, of course, there's also an economy that was never that far from starvation for half the population, and now there are very long lines for direct food handouts, like Times Square in 1932.

South Africa had it under control for so long, hardly a case from February through early May - but when it started up the curve, they couldn't get it back down until it was 13,000 cases per day; the news articles are that they've hit a half-million cases: four times Canada's, though just double the population.

There's no moral fault to find with either country; staying on top of this tiger is just a very hard thing to do. It only fills me with caution and foreboding for Canada. I was depressed yesterday to learn that family who'd been thinking of coming out to see us in August are putting it off, as the rising case-counts in both Alberta and BC are worrying them. Despite how small our numbers are, the really depressing thing is that I find myself in agreement, after reading the news from the southern hemisphere this morning.


August 1: Those "First Wave" States Are The Worst

On July 20, I pulled the case-charts for all 50 US states, and categorized the worst-hit into three types of growth. The American "Second Wave" was really the "first wave" in the places it was mostly happening: states that had not had many cases in the spring were finally having that exponential increase. Eleven days ago, I estimated it was 70% of the dying on July 17th, in those "first wave" states.

Well, by yesterday, it was up to about 80% of America's 1465 deaths per day, the last three days. All the states with over 50 dead per day are "first wave" cases. The worst of the "second wavers", Ohio, Virginia, Louisiana, with about a hundred dead/day between them, have already passed their crest for new cases, and their death-rates are crested or even past. Their deaths/day are about static; the "first wave" states have doubled their death-rates from 620 to over 1200/day.

Why am I on about this "first and second wave" topic? I think it means that we can learn. It's been a worry that the second wave in 1918 was much, much worse than the first. Multiple times as bad. Part of that was seasonal, more was errant stupidity: victory marches for the end of the war, aggressive re-openings.

The United States has been setting a real gold-standard for stupidity, the last quarter. (Brazil has been trying to be as bad, with great "success", but the US is held to a higher standard because of their education and higher technology.) If even they can learn from a first wave, and shorten, depress, and mitigate their second, then I have a lot of hope that we won't have a repeat of 1918. The risks will go way up in the fall; if even America can learn some caution and wisdom by then, it may not be such a bad fall.

It's a lovely, sunny day, here in Vancouver, but it's hard to appreciate it. I've spent too much time staring at dashboards, that say Texas hospitals have been filling a body bag every five minutes for the last 100 hours straight. I needed a cheery thought, and that's it for today.


July 31: Texas About To Provide The New Case-Fatality Rate

Well, the crest is probably here, most sharply for Texas. Texas, with its daily case-load shown at left, is one of the "second wave is the first wave for us" states that I categorized back on July 20th. It clearly crested about July 15 and is headed back down. As Dr. Henry kept repeating to us in the spring, you only see the crest in the rear-view; it takes a week to be sure it's even happening, another to confirm your hopes. (I am still awaiting that second week of Alberta/BC declines, to breathe out again, on our "mini-wave" being wrestled down.)

When the death-count crests, will tell us the new average time between case-confirmation and death-certificate, but it's probably still three weeks. Ish. If so, for Texas, the death-rate will still rise by another third over the next week, then crest itself...but crest over the course of more than a week of a death every few minutes. Because the deaths are spread out over many days - infect 1000 people in the same hour, and the ones that die, go between one week and over a month later. The centre of the widened curve will still likely be late next week. Ish. (For one thing, note that the case-rate turns upwards on June 15, the death-rate on July 5, three weeks later.)

The average time-to-termination can change as the infected population changes. Again, my theory is that by just protecting care-homes, and by at least much of the retired population that can stay in, continuing to do so post re-opening, the demographics will now be younger and have a case-fatality rate a fraction of those in the spring.

But what fraction? At a guess, yesterday's 322 will climb past 400/day for many days.

That's about 4% of cases registered by the medical system, and making it into the stats, "proceeding to termination". (Now I know why doctors use phrases like that; for the emotional distance. This stuff is hard to even type.)

But, of course, "Case" is a social construct, ,, with some systems looking hard to register every one, others only calling you a "case" if you need a doctor's care. So case-fatality rates can be several times infection-fatality rates.

Likely, the social construct is pretty similar across the US, and many other advanced health-care systems, and it will give us some idea how bad the overall "second" wave in the USA is going to be.

At a bet, I don't see any hope of the USA missing 180,000 dead by the end of August, 200,000 by mid-fall. Nearly half of those are already baked-in, and for the rest, there are just too many people there that learn slowly and badly.


July 30: Is 300/day Canada's "Steady State"?

There's a victory lap being claimed, if not by France, then by an American living there, in a Washinton Post article today. Ex-pat Timothy Searchinger writes:
"Over the past six weeks, I've eaten out at restaurants five times, attended two concerts, visited a large, busy indoor mall three times, had two haircuts, and repeatedly watched school kids run around the schoolyard. But that's all been responsible behavior - because instead of being locked down in my house in the D.C. area, I've been in France, where life and the economy are now carrying on close to normal."
...
[History of France having a terrible spring, fought successfully with a draconian lockdown while they built up a massive tracing/testing capability]
...
"Almost exactly two months later, France mostly reopened. And for the last two and a half months, the country has functioned in a primarily open status with around 500 new cases per day and only about 450 deaths in the last month."

Searchinger is describing a "steady state", there: the virus is always attempting to break out, but every case is traced, every outbreak fought back down. The "around" 500 new cases per day goes up and down, but never keeps going up, always suppressed after a week or so.

This may be where Canada has reached. With 67 million people, France's 500 cases per day would be 280/day in Canada. We had it down to that a few weeks back, and have been fighting back against a re-opening increase since then; some epidemiologists are blaming the whole crest on Canada Day parties. `

As the graph at left shows, it may, overall, have crested for Canada, and be on the way back down. Does it need to get down to that 280 again, same as France? It may need to go even lower, or it may be able to be higher, all depending on our testing/tracing capability. If ours were twice as good as France, we could track down twice as many cases-per-million per day; if worse, we can't afford even 280.

That, alas, is an imponderable without a lot more information that I'm sure public health officials are not chatty about. "Testing and tracing capability" will be measured only by the results. Getting this crest back down a bit is encouraging. But every time I think that BC is back down to 20/day, we have a day with 30 or 40; Alberta is the greatest worry in Canada, just now, the most active cases, and still at double its mid-July numbers.

There may be some places in Canada reach a safe "steady state" situation, where they can re-open to whatever extent, and stay on top of the outbreaks that result. Other provinces may cycle up and down, continuing to "tweak", or even re-lockdown. Once there is a steady state, of any kind, economic efforts will prosper within its limits. Business abhors uncertainty; ordering supplies, making contracts: they all depend on being able to assume you won't be surprise locked-down next week. The more testing/tracing we can do, the higher level of steady-state we can support. The more carefully we re-open, with activities resumed, but great care exercised by everybody doing them, the more activity we can handle.

It's a great test of both individuals being responsible, and the nation's systems being good at their job. I have confidence we'll do well relative to others, but will it be good enough economically? I'm chewing fingernails.


July 29: More Number Games

worldometers.info

To repeat, the CCCC blog gets its numbers, as a rule, from "Worldometers.info", a previously-little-known site that mainly had population clocks. Now its case-clocks and death-clocks, as it were, get a lot of clicks.

More august journals, while they have referenced worldometers a few times, are now leaning to the Johns Hopkins project. This worthy is tracking cases and deaths through the medical system; worldometers volunteers are just reading the news, mostly - including local news that's quoting local medical sources. There's some lag in the (no doubt more carefully checked) Johns Hopkins figures, compared to worldometers:

..such that worldometers is about to hit 153,000 American dead, whereas JH has not yet touched that 150,000 round number, though it will today. So today will probably bring the spate of headlines about "150,000 deaths" in America.

Of course, anybody doing any reading at all about the subject knows that we really hit 150,000 many weeks ago, that the real death count will be known in a year or two, when those "excess deaths" are ascribed to the virus or not - statistically, at least, if not individually. Then we can have arguments about whether to include the people who died of other causes because they were afraid to get medical help this year. Depending on those efforts, the death count will more than double, most places.

CCCC, using worldometers, can pick today as another pointless number used only for dramatization: the long-predicted "153,032", which is the total American death toll for WW1 plus Korea. I got into adding up wars when the count first hit the death toll in Vietnam, to the tune of many headlines.

The worse-than-war headline that you might see - at the rate things are going, I'd say August 20 - is for 167,013: the total American losses in war, save for WW1, WW2 and the Civil War. In the meantime, here's an ugly little numbers game "victory" for you: my previous post, Number Games, was June 25, over a month back, and I predicted this "153,032" would be hit "in late July". Nailed that one, when the USA count was 126,726 on that day. It's not a good feeling, being able to predict 26,000 deaths in 34 days, with simple statistics.


July 28: "Our World in Data" has a Nice "Coronavirus Data Explorer"

Coronavirus "dashboards" with the latest stats are becoming quite the industry; there's a bunch of them. I stick with "worldometers.info" for consistency with my earlier data, but there are other very good ones. Today, a recommend for "outworldindata.org".

At left, a half-size snapshot of the "Coronavirus Data Explorer", as tuned to show the EU, Germany, Canada, and the USA. The metric is one I hadn't thought of for some reason, though CCCC is built on the notion that "deaths per million" for each nation would be the measure of their pandemic success: this graph tracks the "deaths per million" per day, so it goes up and down with the death rate in each nation, but normalized to its size.

On this scale, ten is a big number. Worst-performer Belgium peaked at 25/million/day, for a week, reaching worst-case-nation in less than a month of dying.

It really highlights how the USA is doing several times as badly as Canada and the EU, which are twice as bad as Germany alone. You can see the death rate come down for the USA, along with the rest of us, until mid-June, when it began to diverge, no longer falling, then in July start upwards again. A menu at left allows you to turn on and off any nations you're interested in.

And that's it for today, in late with just the one link to recommend. I'm awaiting the days news - both from the US, where it seems certain that the death rate will stay up, if not keep going further upwards; and from Canada. I'm crossing fingers and toes that I'll see that Alberta and BC have gotten a hold of their recent outbreaks; and hauled the case-count back down again. I have friends wanting to come out in a month, and don't want to call it off. So everybody get on it!


July 27: Small Children, Large Numbers

Here's the problem with small fractions: sufficient viral exponentials still multiply them out to real numbers.

Those wanting to dismiss the virus as a minor threat were handed two large gifts by its small mercies. The most serious threats fell upon the oldest and sickest, the most-easily-dismissed as "unworthy victims" (going soon anyway); and almost no threat fell upon those guaranteed to rend hearts as they die: children.

Even those in their twenties do some dying, on the roads, and of unusual diseases; but when the age drops below twenty, much less ten, every death is a news story.

Dismissing the virus turns on the need for the deaths to be statistics, not tragedies. (By the way, Lenin probably didn't say that, and nobody's really sure who did.) The deaths have to be numbers, not names.

It struck me as darkly, bitterly hilarious to see Fox news this morning agonizing over 3 weekend deaths in Chicago...while giving much less prominence to virus stories, certainly none noting that about two thousand Americans are dying of it every weekend these days. More than three in Chicago alone. Violence in Chicago is a story, a tragedy: disease deaths in Chicago, just statistics.

Alas for this narrative, those teeny, tiny fractions of a percent of coronavirus cases in children that become deadly are now being multiplied by large numbers. The FAT states: Florida, Arizona, Texas - are just about to hit one million cases between them. If 20% of infectees are children, and a twentieth of one percent of those die, that's ten dead children. A nine-year-old with no underlying health issues just died in Florida, the fifth child death so far. Just in Florida.

There are now over 300 children in hospital, just in Florida, increase of a third over last week.

Some of those are going to die, too, and more will be arriving at the hospital, and the morgues, for a month to come - even if the American Southerners do manage to change their attitudes and behaviour in this upcoming awful week.

The newspapers should not look away, should indeed use these little faces to gather those clicks. America needs shock treatment at this point, I don't know what else to recommend. At least, with their deaths, they might be heard - where learned scientists are not.


July 26: Tweaks

Bonnie Henry and Deena Henshaw, and their work teams, obviously, have earned a lot of credibility. Maybe more than any other public health officers this side of South Korea and Germany. So I'm going to trust them, trust that they have this situation so well in hand, that we're down to the tweaks.

I've been crying alarm for a week on this blog, deeply worried at the rising case-counts in both provinces...just as I send family off to travel between them.

But the response to the infections, in both provinces, has been...tweaks. No arm-waving about everybody wearing masks everywhere, no party-shaming and calls for officers to ticket, no bars closed down.

Dr. Henry issued the order: to limit the number of guests in vacation rentals and houseboats (exact number worked out with industry by her staff). Those infections in social gatherings? Dr. B's jackbooted thugs will now crack down on your bar, if... you let patrons move around the bar while drinking, or have self-service, or open the dance floor. She also said strongly that we should wear masks on public transit...but still didn't make it a legally-binding public health order.

This is, needless to say, nothing like a return to lockdown. Lockdown is for places that don't know what the problem is. You don't know where the virus is, so you have to shut down everything. What these tweaks tell us is that our recent spikes of infection have all been contact-traced, they have confidence they know why they happened, and they're closing the loopholes that let them through.

There's signs of the numbers already going down, though the weekend is the wrong time to say that; if they're still down next week, then my admiration will be vindicated. We can all go on vacation and go out, confident that a competent army of doctors and contact-tracers have got this, and stand on guard for us all.


July 25: Can Canadians Trust The Instruments and Fly IFR?

Doing this blog has involved a lot of reading of various "dashboards" and reading the comments from epidemiologists who crunch statistics all day. I felt a genuine sense of alarm when I saw the Alberta/BC numbers turn upward over a week ago. It alarmed me to go out on the street and see that most people were not in masks, and even in the grocery store, barely half.

My sense of alarm, of course, came from nothing I saw around me; no bodies in the street, nobody coughing; only in the newspapers, indeed only in specific stories you had to look for, was the looming danger apparent. It just felt real, from all my focus on it.

Today, CBC News has an excellent situation summary article consisting of interviews with several public health officers - every one female, by the way. Dr. Deena Henshaw of Alberta crystallized something for me when she said :

"In some ways, we're a victim of our own success. We have controlled the spread in Alberta relatively well, which means that a lot of people haven't directly experienced the impact of having a loved one with COVID who's become very ill," Hinshaw said in a recent interview.

"I am concerned that people are perhaps relying too much on their own personal observations in their daily lives and feeling that this is something to not be too concerned about."

The pandemic requires that everybody act on advice that comes from outside their daily life. You have to react to threats you cannot see.

It reminds me of the jump that pilots make from VFR to IFR, from "Visual Flight Rules" to "Instrument Flight Rules".

VFR just means flying the plane based on what you see. IFR means it's actually a mistake to look out the window. You have to, have to trust your instruments.

And that's us...only our instruments are Deena Henshaw and Bonnie Henry. If they say we're flying into a mountain, then, dammit, we have to turn. Both provinces need a sense of alarm. Today is already late for it.


July 24: I Rip Out the Pound of Flesh Nearest My Heart To Give Credit Where Due

Born and lived in Alberta, whole family still there, retired to BC five years ago: they're all one territory to my family. They're more similar to each other, this pandemic, than to any other provinces, too; similar case-rates and problems. That extended to this month, when both developed the new problem of infection rates abruptly heading upward, after months of progress.

They create such a contrast to tortured America, because they have opposite governments - perhaps Canada's most-conservative (if less nutty than Doug Ford) in Alberta, whereas left-wingery about environment and social-justice issues rules BC,the only province with elected Greens. But their moves on the pandemic have been so similar, and similarly effective.

So the smart public health officers of both provinces are given full support, by left and right alike, and both provinces have been making the same moves. They now face the real hard test of governance: can they get people to tighten up and push down their "re-opened" behaviour patterns to turn it back around, reduce case-rates again?

I'll get into that tomorrow. Today, it's really time for left-wingers to begrudge that Jason Kenney, and even Doug Ford (choke) are simply not idiots of the American conservative variety; they're only idiots in Canada, where we have much higher standards.

They're idiots about societal strategy: both cut education and health-care budgets. Ontario and Alberta would be better off this year if they hadn't; but at societal tactics, their responses have been good.

It hurt to write that, but it's true. American idiots have shown us that it really can always get worse. Relatively speaking, a Canadian idiot is a proud thing to be.

Olive branch and Ford from Wikipedia; Kenney from "voiceonline.com"


July 23: Also, We Need "Roadside Markers", Only For Bars

Yesterday's "Alert Colours", for daily public warnings, allow an active response to news of increased cases. Today's suggestion is fully automatic: the warnings build up by themselves, as cases are traced.

Everybody's seen those "highway roadside memorials", where a fatal crash has occurred. It would be even better if there were some lesser markers just indicating a crash, even if non-fatal. As it is, even fatal crashes can add up over time, and the group of markers becomes an automatic warning that this is a dangerous stretch of road, or a risky intersection.

So here's the new rule: if pandemic cases are traced back to your bar or store, you have to put up markers on the door, or front window, for a year; one per infection. (No special marker like a cross, either, should it later prove fatal; it's the infection that is of public interest.)

A friend noted that people who'd crowd into a bar right now will probably walk in past a cluster of infection-markers, too. But it's certainly worth a try. It just makes people think about it. My hope is that these superspreader events are happening because people are not thinking about it.

It's gentler than shutting the bar down, which is my first angry response. The calm, cautious, kind Dr. Henry doesn't want to do that, as "it just drives activity underground"; but surely the public has a right to know? The conduct of the establishment and its staff has a direct bearing on the risk of the customers.

Ask yourself, before stepping into any building, if you'd like to know whether anybody else was infected there. Wouldn't you?


July 22: NOW We Need Those Stupid Terror Colours

Most remember the remarkable stupidity of the Bush-Era "War On Terror" colour alert system. It was SO stupid, telling people to be afraid without giving them any information that might help them deal with it. What were we supposed to do when they elevated it to Orange, when it was rarely below Yellow? Jump at shadows and loud noises? Commit a few hate crimes against unrelated ethnic groups from Peru? They never did say.

It was 2009 before the guy in charge of it, Tom Ridge, flatly admitted he was pressured to raise the alert when votes were coming up. The whole thing was the Republican strategy of getting votes by inspiring fear in the populace: "Be afraid, be very afraid, and flock to us as your protectors". Of course, Ridge's admission was superfluous: It was already obvious from the timing of the alerts and the 2004 and 2006 elections.

But they popped back into my head, the last few days, as I read all the extremely alarming news from both Alberta and BC, the last week, of soaring case-counts and worried public health officials. I was reflecting that our problems are minor compared to the horrorshow in the southern USA; but, but we need people to feel alarm anyway, because we have to turn it around now. This is the time to change behaviour, while it's cheap and quick. If you were in debt, and the interest was 70% per week(!)... you'd pay it off IMMEDIATELY, no?

And the old terror-alert system, intended not to help Americans, but to put them in a permanent state of caution, an occasional state of alarm and even fear, is exactly the thing we need for pandemics. For this threat, it's the perfect thing: a pandemic is precisely when you need everybody drawing back from nearly everybody else, with caution and concern for their wellbeing, and for the whole of society. Terrorist plots are best found by well-resourced professionals, but pandemics can be fought by everybody, and indeed must be fought by everybody. The terror-alert colours have finally found their job.

If the populace could just pull back a bit this week, avoid all those superspreading locations, put on masks in every enclosed space, just keep an extra half-pace of distance, for a week or so, the fire might start to die back down, get that Rt back down below one.

I feel like literally printing off copies of this joke and posting them around my neighbourhood. Editorial advice on the details is requested! More humour? Less? More actual fear? We need it to catch on, but also not to be laughed off; it's one of those jokes that also serious. Deadly serious.


July 21: After Monday Comes Punday

It's tough for dentists, this year. They're dealing with a lot of PPE, sweating under three layers of masks, and have greatly reduced workloads and incomes.

We all know that most dental visits are not for emergencies or even badly-needed fillings and crowns; their basic, daily, bread-and-butter are the routine cleanings and scalings, which have almost all been canceled, and people probably wouldn't come if they did try to schedule them.

I've got a dental visit coming up in a few days; it's taken over 20 months for me to replace a dental implant that just...got loose and fell into the back of my throat one night, in my sleep. (I woke up and spat it out. Yikes.)

It'll be a relief, but I had a lot of sympathy for my dental team at the first visit to get a mold of the teeth around it; they could have done a spacewalk and not lost pressure, I think.

So, there's no way I'd subject myself to more of that just for cleaning and scaling. It'll wait. There will be lots of cleaning for them in 2021.

That's why I'm looking forward to the dentist's memoir of the pandemic, which, of course, will be called:
"A Journal of the Plaque Year".



July 20: Most of the US "Second Wave" are the "First Wave", For Their States

The image at left is a link to the full grid of the state categorizations, as done by me, looking at the blue line for a moment. (It's not a complex analysis.)

I noticed a week back that the "daily new cases" chart, for most of the states being blamed for America's "Second Wave" of COVID-19 cases, are not, themselves, in their second wave. They are the states that missed the first wave entirely, back in April; it's just that their time has finally come, and they're seeing case-load increases like New York did back then.

I got tired of clicking my way two levels into the worldometers.info "USA" section, scrolling down, making a note, repeat 50 times, getting only three lists. It's good to compare just how U-shaped some states are, which are barely starting their second wave, like Illinois. So, skipping all detail, I was able to automate it and pull out just those graphs.

So, this is just a summarization service for worldometers.info, just as the whole CCCC blog is more-or-less an ad for them. (He said, hoping to avoid piracy complaints.)

The grid contains screen-snaps of the graphs, but if you click on the image, it opens the graph itself, with worldometers javascript code that lets you browse all the data.

The charts are in a grid that takes up the whole width of a widescreen monitor, so please, flip your browser to full-screen before you click on the chart image at upper left. You can also click on this link to a grid with all 50 US states in alphabetical order. Clicking on those images opens up chart after chart in separate browser tabs, so you can build a comparison group of several states you might be interested in.

Nearly All The Dying Is In "Late First Wave" States

The very short version is that states just now hitting their own "first wave", that have been very low case-rates until the last month, were 619 of the deaths on July 17, 2020. The states that had a first-wave, crushed it, and have now started their own local second-wave, were just 149 deaths that day. It was only a little larger than the 101 deaths contributed by states like New York and New Jersey, that had terrible first waves, crushed them, but are still losing tens of citizens per day, just from the ongoing residuals of their first wave.

So, the upshot is that, for July 17:

Late First Wave: 70% of deaths
Actual Second Wave: 17%
Early First Wave Ongoing: 13%

It's all the same mistake, of course, in a way. The states now getting a "first wave" at last, made the same mistake as the actual second-wave states: they "re-opened" too far. They assumed, more easily than the second-wavers, that it was all a bad dream that's over now, and they could just head to the bar.

At least, it's a small minority of the deaths are coming from those who made the mistake after actually crushing a curve first; it makes the USA look less dumb that way. I thought I'd say something nice about them for a change.

They're in for a very bad next few weeks. How bad? This post used the sentence "Just 149 deaths that day", and it's going to get much worse.


July 19: An Easy Sunday Read, Just Compare the Gross World Figures

I'm working on a major post that's taken hours of work: a deep-dive into how much of the USA is in a "second wave" of viral cases, how much is just finally having a "first wave", long-delayed, how many states are actually still OK, with a crushed curve, no new increases.

But there are 51 states and district, it's a bunch of data, I'm still working on it today. But I can do a quick little post about that "death rate versus cases" question that continues to be an American administration claim that "all is well", making their spokesmen look like Kevin Bacon at the end of Animal House.

While I totally agree that the death-rate will now finally be rising because of the flood of new cases some weeks ago, I do disagree a bit with the aforementioned the Alexis Madrigal article in the Atlantic that argued the whole problem has merely been the long delay between "case" and "death". As mentioned before, I'm sure the actual gross mortality rate has dropped, likely because care-homes and retired seniors that can just stay home, are protecting themselves, lowering the age and vulnerability of the average infectee.

I'll be using huge amounts of data from worldometers in the USA analysis, and on my many trips there this week, it finally hit me that you can't imagine the death-rate hasn't dropped when you just look at the whole-planet gross figures for "cases" and deaths at left.

If the mortality rate were a constant, the two charts would have the same general shape. The deaths would be 1% the number of the cases (ish), and would trail the cases by 2 or more weeks, even over a month, but when the cases went up and down, the deaths would follow suit. They don't.

The case chart is just one upswinging curve. The curve up to the start of April seems crazy fast, because the first cases weren't even seen until testing got going in April; but then it's just the familiar exponential increase. The deaths, on the other hand, shoot way up, then decline, and only gently increase the last week or so, with the case-rate over twice what it was in the weeks when the death-rate peaked.

Over much of the world, the care-homes are being protected, and societies of every kind are keeping older people who can afford to stay home, home. We've known since Wuhan that the gross average mortality is around 1%, but when you compare verified "cases" to later deaths, it appears to be 2% and more...because we're missing half or more of the real cases. As we find more and more of them, and as we improve on Wuhan by protecting the old, it'll drop from that apparent 2% to the real 1%, and on down to a half-percent if the average age can drop even ten years.

That's nice, but it doesn't mean we're out the woods. The US, of course, is deeper in the woods than Hansel and Gretl, and some states are still heading deeper in.


July 18: Antidote to Yesterday: Big CBC Article on the "Key Metric"

This link from CCCC to CBC is hardly needed, as the CBC news article is on the top of their page, and the top of the Google-news recommendations this morning. It's about the "key metric", that infectious disease experts recommend one look at. It can predict whether Canada is going to slip down into the COVID death pit that the United States has dug itself into. (A pit they will be a month of restrictions climbing out of, IF they do...)

The metric is the "positivity rate", the number of tests that come back positve for virus. The WHO calculates that if you keep it below 5%, you're actually on top of all the outbreaks, moving fast enough around them that nearly everybody you test hasn't caught it yet, and the odds of virus escaping the contact-trace net are low.

American states have rates over 10%, some over 20%. Only Canada's worst-case scenario, Montreal, has jumped up to 3%, and merits more action. But my fears about Alberta/BC are quelled by our rates holding at 0.8%.

I have known enough about positivity to shut up for a month now about never seeing more than 35,000-40,000 tests per day on the canada.ca page; they've stayed at 0.7%-0.8% as a national average, for the whole time. They haven't been doing those 60,000 tests a day, that were claimed needed in May, because they'd be pointless, over 99.5% negative.

Still.

That doesn't mean the right thing to do, is anything but remain cautious, and perform your caution for others to see. I continue to think the greatest value of a mask is that performance, that declaration, that reminder to others, to be cautious of every other human body around them. I bought two masks in two days, both showy souvenirs of Grouse Mountain and the Aquarium, because they're a costume, a show, more than anything. I'm broadcasting my caution about catching a bad disease, and reminding others it's after them, too, when some would rather not think about it.

Two issues are settled in Canada, and controversial in the US: our universal health-insurance system, and masks. No surprise: masks are the new front-line of our health-care system. It's our attitudes that are protecting us. Keep up the good work.


July 17: I Prefer Our Problems, But, Exponentially Speaking, They're Just as Bad

I love that line in Tom Sawyer where Tom has given offense beyond measure, and just before the retribution falls upon him, Twain ends the chapter with "Let us draw the curtain of charity over this scene."

Let's draw the curtain of charity over Florida and Texas today; every other news medium is staring at the car-wreck, let us go to the real, true Happiest Place On Earth: BC and Alberta. In the middle of our summer, the pandemic largely banished down to a few cases per day, re-opening businesses, fun in the sun.

Alas, there is a snake in our paradise, and it's not just that cliche' metaphor: it's still the virus, and it's growing...

A shout-out for my favourite source on Canadian pandemic stats, the CTV website. I've been watching there for the local summary, and it's been a disquieting couple of weeks. Just to zoom in on BC at left, we held it down to 10 cases/day for over a month, now it has doubled in 10 days. Alberta is worse, much worse, see below at right. Alberta has gone from a seven day average of 17 cases/day at the start of June, to 45 cases per day on July 9th, to 85 cases/day yesterday, a week later.

In short, both provinces are on an exponential curve that doubles every week. That's not as bad as the virus at its worst, when it was doubling twice a week, but it's still terrible.

Second waves happen because people think that low case-rates mean that all-is-well. They don't. Low growth-rates mean that. If you have a high growth-rate, the only difference between Alberta and Florida is time. Four doublings a month; in five weeks, Alberta could have 2720 new cases per day. For Alberta's population, that's Florida's case-rate today. Five Weeks!

Ground that is lost exponentially, has to be gained back arithmetically. It's far worse than breaking a diet to have an 800-calorie piece of cake and reflecting that you've just sentenced yourself to two days of 400-calories-per-day starvation just to get back to before the one piece of cake.

The theory went, that we now had testing and contact-tracing capability to stop new growth as re-opening caused cases to pop up. It hasn't been working to shrink cases for the last month in BC, and it needs to get a grip on this new growth quickly. Alberta is far more concerning still.

If testing and tracing cannot stop this, the time to lock back down is immediately, while it can still be brief. With rates still this low, a mere two-week lockdown would probably put a finger in the dike before the hole grows. Exponentially. (Not apologizing for that cliche' either.)

A short lockdown would also give everybody a smack in the face, remind them they can't change behaviour that much, and that the masks, alas, should not be treated as optionally as I see them on Vancouver's streets - and even buses.

The trick to fighting a pandemic is to panic very early. So the CCCC blog is officially panicking. Tell your neighbours.


July 16: The Second Wave

Today's just a link to a good article, and a comment or two upon it. At The Atlantic, Alexis Madrigal has an excellent article out about the "Second Wave".

I have a few quibbles, and they arise from defense of my post about the death rate last week. My points were that just protecting the care homes, and just having most retired people avoid outside contacts, thus making the average age of a case younger, would bring the fatality-rate down sharply.

Madrigal never mentions care-homes, and he dismisses the younger age a bit cavalierly with "the virus is already spreading to older people"...except the smart ones that are staying inside now, like it was April again. This may be a minority, but I can't help but expect the average age will stay down by several years, which is a big effect.

But let's not quibble over the fatality-rate hopefully being halved or even more; it's appeared for a few weeks as if it had dropped by over an order of magnitude, and that's about to be over with, as the death-rate for the USA is now clearly on an upswing again, a sharp one. It hit a thousand yesterday, and will probably stay there, or higher for weeks before any new behaviour changes can turn it around.

Madrigal shows how it has just been a very delayed effect that everybody should know about by now, and predict, and plan upon, as the epidemiologists have been; he points out that none of them are surprised it has finally begun to rise again, nor by the delay.

The rest of July, and likely well into August, are going to be very bad months across the American South; as today's death-rate was baked-in a few weeks ago, that's baked-in already. Swift action now can turn it back in August, but not sooner. And the idiot Governor of Georgia just forbade cities in Georgia from mandating masks. Arrgh.


July 15: The Provincialism of Plague

There's a nice compliment to Canada in this morning's Washington Post. It re-states what Trudeau said in an interview recently: we may have made mistakes and had failures, but our "coronavirus performance" (or "COVID Cup Standings" as we say here at CCCC) has been far better than theirs.

Two things annoyed me about the article, both of them explaining away Canada's superior work with factors that don't just apply to Canada.

First, "It has less than one-ninth the United States' population...no city here is as densely populated as, say, New York City." True, and not relevant. America's warning outbreak was in low-density Washington state, from which BC took warning, and New York did not. Yes, Toronto has half of New York's population density. Athens, Greece has nearly TWICE New York's population density. Look it up: Athens crowds 664,000 people into just 15 square miles. New York would have 14 million, not 8, were it as packed. Greece has had 19 deaths per million so far, to Canada's 233 and America's 410. It's not density.

Second, "Canada had nearly two decades to prepare for a pandemic. In 2003, the severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS, killed 44 people in Toronto - the most deaths outside Asia." Sorry, the United States did not have the same time to prepare, because SARS happened in another country, so "it can't happen here?" British Columbia, 3000 km away, was able to profit from the SARS warning, and New York, right next door, was not?

I have to admit, that's a persistent theme running through preparations for pandemic. "It's just in China, where they have wet markets and gross habits"..."It's just in Italy, where they kiss each other on the cheeks all the time"..."It's just in Toronto where....well, they're foreign and different, so it's just them."

That sounds crazy when you say it aloud, but it's clearly how the unconscious minds of whole nations work. Nobody has ever believed this pandemic is coming to them, until it's down the street. The WHO called it a "global pandemic" in January, but nobody believed that down in their guts. Six months later, even the mighty Washington Post is still letting copy out the door, that carries the implicit assumption that it was quite reasonable for the USA to take no warning from SARS.


July 14: Your Thought For the Day

Sometimes I write well over my 500-word target. Why not, now and then, utter one interesting fact, and let my audience get on with their day? I just found out yesterday I have another reader! I'm starting to run out of fingers on the one hand; if I count family, I might have to use the thumb! This is getting serious, so I have to be responsible.

So I will turn to the Nobel Memorial Prize winner (there is actually no Nobel Prize for Economics) Paul Krugman, and just quote him in the whole:

At its most severe, the lockdown seems to have reduced G.D.P. by a little over 10 percent. During World War II, America spent more than 30 percent of G.D.P. on defense, for more than three years. Why couldn't we absorb a much smaller cost for a few months?
Now, in the States, it's fashionable to point to the sheer size of the debt, an incomprehensible number, and jump to the statement that "There's no money left", something they also never say in the middle of a war, no matter how pointless, illegal, and immediately stoppable. Once again, they don't have the humility needed to navigate this humbling world.

Canada doesn't have to say things like that. This empowers us to use all our wealth and tools to fight this problem: including the wealth inherent in investors trusting Canada's long-term productivity and profitability, their certainty that our dollar is well-managed, our credit sound.

Across World War 1 and World War 2, the United States spent five years in a state of war, with all the expenses that implies.

Canada spent ten, not being late to either war.

We are very strong indeed. We are stronger than this crisis, including financially stronger. Don't listen to the voices of weakness.


July 13: From the "Well, So Much For That Theory" Dept.

Hey, remember when this question came up back in February, from not just a presidential claim, but the hopes of many?

Remember how April came and went and they were still asking the question in May?
Well, as it turns out, BOTH of these two stories hit the wires on the same day - yesterday.

We've had the super-high infection rate in the one American state that dips into the tropics for weeks, of course. The terrible twin headlines yesterday simply put a dispositive period on the whole question.

I'm not all nose-in-the-air, here; I had some hopes for it, too. But it was always a thin hope, and warmer countries put it to rest months ago.


July 12: Brazil, Worst-Case Scenario?

Posts to CCCC may be spotty this week; we're hosting a young lady getting some in-Canada vacation away from her two annoying brothers, and will be keeping busy.

I was just reading the Post article (linked from photo) about Bolsonaro not doing any distance protocols in the two weeks before, or week after, his diagnosis. I realized that Brazil was getting the USA response, only worse. Further, Brazil has one of the worst income inequality numbers on the planet. That link is way back to April 10th, when many commentators on the pandemic were already remarking that just as income inequality is associated with bad societal performance on nearly every metric of happiness, health, prosperity and success, it'll be associated with bad pandemic performance.

("Associated with", not necessarily "to blame for", of course: correlation, causation, blah blah blah...)

If it is another symptom and not a cause, the cause is surely feudalism, though we say "authoritarianism", these days: either way, it means a very few people are at the top, and stay there by holding everybody else's life cheaply. That's Brazil.

But this is combined with an economy that's been growing a lot, a coming Latin America regional superpower; Brazil is not like India, where very few people make it to old age to start with: 30 million of her 220 million people are over the age of 60.

If the pandemic simply rages through the whole society, unchecked, perhaps 100 million people will catch it, and a million die, in very round numbers. It could be the worst case scenario.

We can prepare for the next pandemic with medicines, equipment, plans, practices. But, really, our best preparation is probably to get our income inequality down. If not a cause by itself, the things that bring the GINI number down are the same things that reduce the vulnerability to plague.


July 11: "Open the Border"? U kidding? Build a Wall!

I was amused to see images like this from the Johns Hopkins University GIS system in a few news stories the other day. It's a terrific example of one of those "higher truths" that show up in the media. That is, it's not very truthful at all, but it conveys to your audience the alarm they are supposed to feel about the actual truth.

The problem with this thing is two-fold: the metric is "cumulative confirmed cases", which is why New York and area are still all-red; it's the whole past experience. Italy and Spain would look even worse, though they are down to very low case-counts and pretty safe to visit, these days. Secondly, the American data is at county level, whereas Canada only gets one big dot for Quebec, another for Ontario. The larger dots mean hundreds of times as many cases as the little dots on most American counties, but the amount of red is not proportional: so splitting America to the county level makes it look much worse.

Then there's the red colour, the red dots remind the unconscious of "pox", diseased skin. Let's try this again, only this time with "incidence rate", the new cases per million, a good measure of your actual risk today; and also with both Canadian and American statistics gathered only to the state/province level.


There, without all that nasty red sending warning signals to your hindbrain, we can relax a bit and measure our real risk, taking this "incidence rate" number as related to risk (which "total cases in history" is certainly not). The yellow dots have some proportionality to the fraction of all the people whose path you cross, on the street, or at a checkout counter, who might breathe virus into your air. Each dot size is about a 50% increase in incidence rate from the size below. The Quebec dot, at top right, is two sizes larger than Ontario's, meaning about double. (It's a little less than that; each size is a wide band of numbers).

Most of the US states have two sizes larger again, nearly the largest dot the map system has available. Only a few US states have risk levels as low as Quebec. Only West Virginia, for some reason, has as low an incidence as Ontario. At the very top left of the map, you can see the tiny dot for Manitoba, the smallest size the system has available, and even that exaggerates your risk in Manitoba, whic is at the bottom range of that dot.

Frankly, your risk at a typical store checkout line, or restaurant, is comparable only between the heart of Toronto and Montreal, to most stores in Pittsburgh or Tulsa.

Yes, Tulsa, cast your eyes over to the dot for Oklahoma: it's one of the smallest on the map. That's one of the reasons the hype about a jump in cases there irked me. By the way, sure enough, if you click on the link from "Tulsa", you'll go back to the live-track of cases in Tulsa county, which are back down to 120-130/day from that brief "Monday Spike" up to 260/day on Monday, July 6...oddly enough after the July 4 weekend backlogged reports for a few days. Sorry. Just thought I'd mention it.

Read correctly, this map, too, is frightening, and absolutely justifies not even discussing re-opening the border.

Of course, I'm just having fun with GIS maps, here. Canadians need none of this, save to dramatize the feelings they already have, from watching the news. They don't need these maps to agree, along with 81% of Canadians that the border must remain closed.


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 9: 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 paycheque. 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" (initial "R") 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 to a lower "Rt" (R at later time) 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 religious meeting that spread one case to 5000, 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 have no thoughtful presenters remain almost unknown. For instance: the factoid that "Wage Theft is Bigger Than All Other Theft" (like bank robberies, store and gas stations, etc, all combined). News to most people.

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, WW1 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