January 31, 2021

Several years ago, I visited the U.S. for about 30 minutes with a process that’s called “Flag poling” – where you in essence cross the border, touch the American flagpole, and hop back into Canada. The reason was to take my nephew who had to re-enter Canada to validate his student visa… which requires entering through some specific port of entry. You can’t do it from within Canada.

The idea was to just drive down, do a U-turn, and come back and do the paperwork. It’s all on the Canadian side; the U.S. doesn’t care at all. Or, shouldn’t.

When we got to Peace Arch, there was a long lineup (this was a Saturday morning) – more than a 90-minute wait… backed up well-past the Duty Free on the right. Which got me to thinking… let’s just walk. Walk into the U.S. enough that we can turn around and walk back into Canada with a little piece of paper proving where we were.

We parked the car in the Duty Free parking lot and set off on foot. It’s not a long walk… and, it’s kinda cool. We did the “haha you’re in Canada and I’m in the States” nonsense and took some pictures. Then, we kept walking, and, as we approached the U.S. border control from the “wrong” side, there was border guard, with a big gun, standing with his back to us. He was staring to the south and couldn’t hear us coming, but the last thing I wanted to do was “surprise” this guy, so… while still walking towards him, when we were about 20 meters away, I coughed loudly. He spun around quickly, both hands on his automatic weapon… which, fortunately, he didn’t point right in our face.

“What are you doing!!”, he screamed at us. I explained.

“You’re doing it wrong!!”, he screamed. Yikes. Welcome to America. OK, noted for future reference… there’s a right way — and a wrong way — to walk into the U.S…

Our wrong way took us not just past the actual Peace Arch but, of course… if you’re there already, you walk through it.

The Peace Arch itself is exactly that, a monument to peace between these two great nations, celebrating the longest unprotected border in the world. Attached to the Peace Arch are some iron gates, and several inscriptions:

“Children of a common mother”

“Brethren dwelling together in unity”

And, of course, the famous “May these gates never be closed”.

Technically, those gates will indeed never be closed; they can’t be, because they’re not hinged… and, they’re solidly bolted onto The Peace Arch. It’s purely symbolic. But the spirit of it is well-understood… and, of course, since last March, they’ve been very-much closed. For how long? Every month, that closure gets extended… currently, till at least Feb 21st… but it’ll be a lot longer than that. On that note, there’s an interesting anniversary coming up in September… when The Peace Arch will turn 100 years old; it was in September of 1921 that it was dedicated. There should be a good party on that lawn that day… weather-permitting. And pandemic-permitting. But for now, it’s as closed as it’s ever been… including, as of today, even more-so to travellers from Mexico and the Caribbean.

As exciting as walking into another country can be, there’s one better… on my to-do list one day is to cross from Spain into Portugal via… zip-line! Yes… from a little hill in Portugal, you can zip-line over the Guadiana river, straight into Spain… a 720-meter ride that takes less than a minute, at speeds up to 80km/h. You even get to cross a time zone. Maybe not for everyone, but it’s better than being yelled at by an American border guard.

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January 30, 2021

If, off the top of your head, you had to guess which three countries in the world had the most cases per 1M of population, you would think about it, come up with three countries, and be completely wrong. It wouldn’t make sense not to include places like U.S, India, Russia, Brazil, U.K, Spain, Italy… etc… on that list of guesses… but again, with exception of the U.S. (which lands in 8th place), none of the others even make the top 10. In fact, with only Spain at number 18, none of the others make the top 20.

The list of the top three countries with the highest case counts on a per-capita basis are: Andorra, Gibraltar and Montenegro.

Wait, you say, those places are barely populated and that skews the numbers. That is correct. Andorra, top of the list, scores 128,000 per million of population who’ve tested positive. Close to 13% of the population. That’d be like Canada having close to 5 million cases (we’re at less than a million). But, of course, Andorra only has a population of 77,000. Only 100 people there have died of C19. Gibraltar has a population of 34,000. Same idea… and, for what it’s worth, both of them share a border with Spain, where, no doubt, all of their cases came from.

So what, you may be asking….

If you look at Europe as a sort of big country, and each individual country as a province, then some issues relevant to Canada come to light.

Like, with respect to vaccinations, guess where in this country we have the highest per-capita vaccination rates. Now you know it’s a bit of a trick question, so perhaps it’s harder to fool you… so if your guesses included places like the three northern territories, you’re correct. By far.

Vaccination rates for a few key provinces…

B.C.: 2.5%
Ontario: 2.2%
Quebec: 2.8%

Vaccination rates for the territories:
Northwest: 21.0%
Nunavut: 13.5%
Yukon: 15.4%

Some say that’s fair. Some say they should be distributing it more evenly. Some say more should be directed to the hotspots. And everyone is a little perturbed with last week’s news… at the start of the week, we heard how we were not getting what we were expecting from Pfizer… and at the end of the week, we heard how we were not getting what we were expecting from Moderna. Too bad. C’est dommage.

At what point could we conceivably start counting on ourselves for some vaccine? Some homegrown, domestically produced vaccine where we would be first in line?

The only viable possibility would indeed be home-“grown”, and that is Quebec-based Medicago’s tobacco-plant-based vaccine which recently wrapped up phase-2 clinical trials and is about to enter phase 3, involving 30,000 people in 11 countries. For what it’s worth, it’s off to a great start… 100% of people who received the vaccine developed significant antibody responses with no severe side effects. Like Moderna and Pfizer, this one also targets the spike protein, so there’s no real actual virus involved and therefore zero chance on getting sick with C19 from the vaccine. Side-effects – nothing bad so far, and we shall see what phase 3 reveals.

Unfortunately, the earliest we could hope to see this vaccine available to the public would be the second half of the year… but, certainly the government’s order of 76 million doses (and all the money that came with it) is helping push things along. But also, unfortunately, although they’ve been trying to get funding for years, we still don’t have the manufacturing capabilities in place. Medicago reps met with government officials no less than 24 times from 2017 to 2020 trying to find a way to fund the construction of just such a facility. The funding finally came through… in March of last year, when the “Oh shit” moment arrived. At least we’ll be all set for the next pandemic.

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January 29, 2021

There’s an age-old question… would you rather fight a horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?

OK, it’s not an age-old question. It actually materialized in 2003, in a UK newspaper, but really rose to prominence in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread in 2012… where it was a question posed to president Barack Obama. Obama never got around to answering it, but the question wound up on “the crawl” on TV, and the rest is history. Here are my thoughts…

While a 1,000 pound duck would be formidable indeed, it’s one single enemy… and a coordinated, well-timed attack is all you’d need to neutralize it. On the flipside, I know horses… and I can tell you, dealing with a single angry horse is a handful; a potentially dangerous one… and 100 angry little horses would step on you, kick and bite you relentlessly, and not give up… so yeah, I’ll try my luck against the big duck.

Speaking of Reddit, and fights between one big thing vs. lots of little things… you’ve probably recently heard the words GameStop and AMC and short squeeze and hedge funds…

In a nutshell, here’s what’s going on:

The opposite of the well-known game-plan of buying a stock when you think it’s going to go up, holding it, and then selling it for a profit… is what’s called “shorting” the stock… and it’s what you do when you think a certain stock is over-priced. What you do is borrow the shares from “someone”, sell them… and then wait till the price goes down… and then buy it back at the lower price. Then you return the shares you borrowed and pocket the difference.

Huge (multi-billion-dollar) hedge funds like to short stocks here and there… for varying reasons. Given that their mandate is to hedge risk (it’s in the name…), part of that might be to take positions that go contrary to upward market movements… to hedge the risk in case the opposite happens. But also, using the same analytics and metrics they’d use to picks stocks they think will go up, they do it in the opposite direction.

Arguments can be made about the ethics behind shorting stocks to begin with; you’re basically betting and hoping that a company will do poorly. It goes against a lot of principles, like… well, you can’t sell a house or a car or anything else without actually owning it… why is this different? Because, at least for the moment, the people who run the exchanges say it’s ok. It doesn’t go against the principle of making money… therefore, as long as capitalism exists, so will short-selling.

One thing about buying shares and being wrong… the worst thing that can happen is you lose what you put into it. I buy 10 shares of ACME at $100 each and ACME goes bust and the shares become worthless… I’m out $1,000. But if I short 10 shares at $100 and it goes up to $200… well, I need to come up with $2,000 worth of ACME shares to give back to whoever lent them to me… and it means buying them back from the open market. I have the original $1,000 I made from the sale, but now I have to come up with $1,000 out of my own pocket to cover it. And if ACME went up to $900 a share, now I’m out $8,000 of my own money… and here’s a big problem. Zero is the limit on the way down, but there’s no limit on the way up… and what do I do when I see the price crawling upwards…?

There are two options. One is… cut my losses… buy it back at the higher price, give back the shares, and pour a glass of my finest single-malt scotch, while pondering recent life decisions. Or… double-down. Sell more. If I thought selling it at $100 was a good idea, then selling it at $200 must be a better idea… and now, when it goes down, I’ll make even more. Great plan if it actually goes down… but what if it keeps going up? And now everyone who’s short is buying back in, further lifting the price and causing more panic… this is what’s called short-squeeze, and it’s what sends stock prices soaring very quickly. But here’s an additional wrinkle…

Technically, when you short a stock, you would be borrowing the shares to do so. The brokerage house facilitates that for you (and takes a fee, of course). However, these brokerage houses play a little loosey-goosey with that… not too different from the banks, I suppose, in that if everyone suddenly ran to BMO and demanded all their money, there simply wouldn’t be enough to cover it. They’re counting on not everyone needing all of it all at once.

At the moment, something like 150% of GameStop shares are short. In other words, more shares of GameStop have been sold than actually exist. So… when the people who actually own shares, or own call options (which give them the right to purchase shares at a specified price) suddenly say “Hey, I’d like my shares now” – those shares are nowhere to be found. Frantic buyers who need to come up with them will just keep driving the price higher and higher.

An army of Redditors (from /r/WallStreetBets) decided months ago that if enough people bought up certain heavily-shorted stocks and/or call options (GameStop, AMC and some others) and then promised to hold them, it would drive up prices significantly. One of their targets, GameStop, was being shorted incessantly by a huge $13-billion hedge fund called Melvin Capital.

Shares in GameStop were below $3 last year… and not long ago (early November) were trading at around $10 a share. Then, the Reddit army started buying it up, feeding into the Melvin shorts. The prices started going up… and up…. and more up. And Melvin, instead of covering their losses and taking a bit of a hit… sold more, where it was quickly gobbled up. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This morning, GameStop shares opened at $380. They went as low as $250 and as high as $414 before closing out the week at $325. And there are still a colossal amount of open shorts that will need to cover eventually.

A lot of these stock-dabbling Redditors, swearing to hold it till the cows come home, have made thousands of dollars. Some have made millions. Melvin Capital has lost $5 billion. And it’s not over yet.

Let’s rephrase the original question… and remove the human… who would win the fight, one big duck or an army of little horses?

Perhaps I’m a little biased because I’ve been betting horses all my life, but this is no different… and it’s not 100 of them; it’s literally millions. The big old-school Wall-Street Scrooge McDuck might not have that huge pit of money to swim around in much longer.

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January 28, 2021

There’s a lot of vaccine news these days… perhaps too much to accurately convey in a short space… but I’ll take a jab at it…

Like in the Seinfeld episode where they’re arguing about the rental car… it’s easy to book a reservation. Having it honoured is a whole different thing. At present, although Canada is at the top of the list with respect to reserving (“procuring”) vaccine, we’re 20th on the list for vaccinations per million, and that number is going to drop further… because every time there’s going to be a delay in deliveries, it seems like we’re part of it. We’ve “reserved” 10 doses per person, more than any other country… but we’re not getting the stuff. It’s clearly understood that there’s a world-wide demand, and everyone wants as much as they can get, as quickly as they can get it… but it’s not difficult to see what this would look like if the countries were personified into a crowded pub where everyone wants a drink, and is storming the bar, much to the concern of the two bartenders who are feeling totally overwhelmed.

Some countries would be pushing their way to the front, shoving others out of the way… “Hey, gimme two hundred million vodka sodas!” – while Canada would be standing near the back wall, timidly raising its hand… “Umm… excuse me… umm… sorry, could I get… oh, sorry, no, you go ahead… yes, of course… sorry.” So… we politely standby while everyone else gets served.

We’re told it’s just a little bump in the road… we’re told we’ll effectively get it all at the pace we were promised, just not at the rate we thought. Try to parse some sense into that… implying we’ll hit the finish line when we were promised, just not at the speed we need to get there.

Or… throw all that away, because there’s a report today that completely contradicts PM Trudeau’s promise that most of us will be vaccinated by September. The report claims it’ll be “well into 2022” before most Canadians get their shot… and that’s because countries like the U.S., the U.K. and all of the E.U. come first. Maybe you need a “U” in your name to get attention. Hey, Canaduh would like a drink.

It’s interesting how that report paints us as a bit “behind” those aforementioned countries… where we’re in a secondary bracket, along with Australia and Japan.

Pfizer, trying to capitalize on our politeness, has gently suggested that since we’ve intelligently managed to extract 6 doses out of each vial instead of 5, how about they just label each vial with a 6 instead of a 5, and that way, we…

… oh, you thought I was going to say, “that way we get more doses.” – but no. Actually, that way, Pfizer can just send us less vials and still deliver the same number of doses they promised. Canada is balking at that, but of course… we’ll eventually cave, because it’s the polite thing to do. But if you’re wondering where the 3.5M doses we’re getting vs. the 4M that were promised comes from, it’s that.

In the meantime, the E.U. is trying block exports of E.U. produced vaccines, namely the UK-based AstraZeneca vaccine which they want ahead of anyone else. Of course, the U.K themselves want it ahead of everyone, even the E.U…. and contracts be damned. Visions of a bar-fight, as everyone jockeys for position, and to hell with everyone else.

What are we going to do? Sue? Years of litigation when all we really want is the vaccine that we contractually bound ourselves to purchase?

We have no leverage here. We will take what we can get, or what… we will pout and we will be disappointed, yet somehow, we’ll still be apologizing. And, no matter what, we will be patiently waiting.

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January 27, 2021

Today is Holocaust Remembrance Day… recognized every January 27th because it was on this day in 1945 that the Auschwitz-Birkenau death camp was liberated.

For all my Jewish friends and family, there isn’t much I could write here that they don’t already know… but this is going out more to everyone else, because I want to touch on the topic in a way that involves everyone… because, at the end of the day, this affects everyone, not just the unfortunate 6,000,000.

In second place to the most easily disprovable conspiracy theory (flat earth being number one) is holocaust denial. And while flat earthers just amuse me and make me a little sad, holocaust deniers get me angry. Very angry. There’s a video clip somewhere of some idiot “Moon Landings Were Faked” conspiracy theorist hounding Buzz Aldrin on the street, trying to shove a bible in his face and trying to make him swear on it that he actually walked on the moon. Calling him a liar and a thief. Buzz tries to get away from him, can’t… and eventually loses his cool and punches the guy in the face. I get it. It’s what anyone can expect from me as well if you question something that’s, unfortunately, far too close to home; going back on both sides of my family, more perished than survived the holocaust… and some entire branches in Auschwitz itself.

Hearing the nonsensical “here’s an aerial view of the camp… there’s no way that blah blah blah….” type of arguments… and setting aside the overwhelming quantities of first-hand evidence and eyewitness accounts… here’s a simple question in return: The well-documented and widely published European census of 1933 counted 9.5 million Jews. In 1945, that number was around 3.5 million. It’s really a very simple question… where did all those people go? If this was a big conspiracy, where did they all hide? Six million people is a lot… where are their kids and grandkids? The world population of Jews was 16.6 million just before WWII, and it still hasn’t recovered. Today, it’s still less than 15 million.

At the insurrection at The Capitol three weeks ago, there was a guy with a “Camp Auschwitz” t-shirt. There was a guy with a shirt that stated “6 million wasn’t enough”… and that right there answers the question, if there was any doubt, as to why we need a Holocaust Remembrance Day. It is, of course, first and foremost… to recognize, remember and honour those 6 million… but part of that is remembering for the future; spreading the message far and wide… not only did this happen, but it can happen again. And not just with Jews, but with anyone. Yeah, anyone… consider the fact that Jews weren’t geographically tied to any place. There’s never justification for genocide, but at least you can understand the tribalism when one group of people who look a certain way march into the territory of others who don’t look like them and decide to get rid of them all and take everything. It’s not a justification, but perhaps an explanation deep-rooted in the human animal of survival of the fittest.

But in this case, Jews were a thriving part of society… making up roughly 2% of the population and immersed within it at every level. Why target them? You know who else is 2% of the population? Red-haired people. Gingers. What would happen if some psychotic military leader somewhere in the world today decided that red-haired people are clearly soulless, devil incarnates, and we need to get rid of them. Unfortunately, the events of three weeks ago leads me to believe that a not-insignificant population of brain-washed zombies might buy in. Yeah, it’s for the greater good… and hey, it’s not us they’re coming after… so, sure.

The motto of this day is “Never Again”… but the frightening part – perhaps the most impactful part – perhaps the most important and persistent legacy of Holocaust Remembrance Day – it needs to be this, and I will quote another Jew who managed to survive the holocaust… Albert Einstein: “The world will not be destroyed by those who do evil, but by those who watch them without doing anything.”

You’ve all read that poem… which to summarize, talks about how first they came for some guy, and nobody said or did anything… and then they came for some other guy and, again, nobody did or said anything…and eventually they came for me, and there was nobody left to help me.

This is why it’s critically important, not just to passively remember, but to actively be engaged at forging a future that can’t repeat the past… like throw the book at Donald Trump. And at the insurrectionists. And at the lawmakers who supported them. Because anything less is a tacit acknowledgement that as long as it doesn’t affect “me”… well then, whatever. It’s not my problem. This is the key that needs to be hammered home, and America almost got a taste of it… that by the time you’re saying, “Holy shit, what’s going on?!” – it might be too late. Everyone has to remember…it’s not just a question of letting people think it’s ok to get away with things when you think it doesn’t affect you; at the end of the day, it most certainly could. “If only we’d…” are not thoughts you ever want to be having when it affects your country, your home, your family.

Maybe they didn’t see it coming in Europe. That’s bullshit, but it’s an argument. Then when it arrived, well, maybe nobody knew it was going on. Also bullshit. I don’t buy it for a moment. Also – irrelevant. To some extent, if it’s not already here, it’s coming. It might be tomorrow or it might be in 200 years… but somewhere between those two end points, the “it could never happen here” mantra will be chanted out shortly before whatever *it* is actually happens.

Or, everyone realizes that we’re all in this together, whatever *this* is, and we maintain an active – not passive – role in maintaining it. As we’ve seen recently in countless examples, it takes a lot longer to build something meaningful than to destroy it.

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By |2021-01-27T17:03:01-08:00January 27th, 2021|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics|Tags: , , , , , , |10 Comments

January 26, 2021

There’s an episode of Star Trek:TNG where Captain Picard and the gang happen upon an odd planet… completely devoid of life, save for a small but picturesque patch of land where a peaceful, old couple (of humans) are living.

This guy (let’s call him Kevin) and his wife tell Picard that an alien race came by and wiped out everyone… except, for some unknown reason, them.

There’s far more to the story, but as it turns out, the alien who did the real wiping out was Kevin himself… who only looks human, but actually isn’t. Some aliens did come by and attack the colony… and Kevin’s wife was killed in the attack. Kevin, who’s actually a very powerful alien, took it upon himself to exact revenge by wiping out all of the aliens… and not just the ones that had attacked him, but he scoured the universe and found them all. Fifty billion aliens; the entire species wiped out. And now he was just trying to live his eternal life on this patch of land with a reconstructed illusion of his wife.

What do you do with a being that wipes out 50 billion others? Picard concludes that they, humans, are not qualified to be his judge… because there are no laws to fit the magnitude of the crime. Picard and The Enterprise leave, and he puts out the word to Starfleet; stay away from this planet. Leave Kevin alone. You really don’t want to piss him off.

Indeed, the punishment needs to fit the crime… and there are places in this world where that’s the case. Finland, for example… where in 2015, a successful businessman by the name of Reima Kuisla was caught doing 64MPH in a 50MPH zone… which translates to doing 103km/h in an 80 zone. That’s not even excessive speeding, and I’m sure more than one of you reading this today were on a highway today, where the limit is 80, and where you were exceeding 100. You’re lucky you didn’t get caught; that’s a $173 fine and 3 points.

Mr. Kuisla wasn’t so lucky… he got caught, and because of his Ten Million Dollar income, paid a fine of $80,000. To scale it down, that’s like someone making $50,000 a year being fined $400. Sounds about right… proportional fines, depending on the income of the perpetrator.

There are more extreme examples, but they seem to top out at… one million dollars. Yes, in 2010, a 37-year-old Swede had just taken possession of his new Mercedes SLS AMG in Germany and was driving it home. The cameras that clocked him only go up to 200km/h, which is what they captured… but the Swedish cops that caught up with him clocked him at close to 300km/h. He claimed he thought the speedometer of his new car was broken and that he was just putting it through its paces. Sure. That’ll be a million dollars, please.

Which brings us to a couple of local lowlifes, the ex-CEO and his actress-wife, whose actions have made them front-page news all over the world… and somewhat tarnished the view that all Canadians are thoughtful and polite.

It takes a lot of planning and a lot of disregard for others… to charter a plane, head to the middle of nowhere, lie repeatedly, and get into a vaccine line-up that’s supposed to be for, more than anyone else, indigenous elders. They lied about quarantining, they lied about why they were there, they lied about where they worked. And as soon as they got what they wanted, they high-tailed it out of here. Or, tried to… but that’s where piece-of-shit narcissists usually mess up. They’re so completely caught up in the ME ME ME of their existence that they forget everything and everyone else. Ten seconds after they got their vaccines, you can imagine hearing them saying to each other, “Let’s blow this popsicle stand”… and it was that urgent “straight to the airport” request that made people wonder… ok, who exactly are these people?

They were slapped with $500 fines, which is a joke… but, to some extent, like Picard… I’m not sure we have laws in place to punish this sort of thing appropriately. Like the Finnish businessman, the now-former CEO of Great Canadian Gaming Corp. made $10M last year. Is $80,000 an appropriate fine?

It’s a good start, but there needs to be more. A lot more. There are tens of millions of dollars to follow for that guy, thanks to stock options and the sale of the company… but it’s about a lot more than money. I’m not sure the answer is jail time; I think the answer is community service, and lots of it… and all of it in the community they affected.

Remote communities like Beaver Creek can probably use some help. Wash dishes at the restaurant. Mop up the airport. Or, actually, go work at that famous motel they don’t actually work at — and clean some rooms. Contribute back to the community, given that what you stole from them is difficult to pin a value on. Maybe consult with those indigenous elders from whom you stole the vaccine… and ask them what they need. And, might I suggest… you start with a series of apologies… to them, to their entire community, and to the countless others who deserve and need that vaccine ahead of you… but, like everyone else, are patiently waiting their turn.

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January 25, 2021

A year ago today, a man who’d recently returned from Wuhan, China, wasn’t feeling well… and wound up at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital, where he became Canada’s first test-positive C19 case.

Hearing that this morning made me think back… what was I doing at the time? Thanks to modern technology, it doesn’t take much to scroll back through recent history.

A year ago last night, I was at the Chan Centre watching my talented nephew, acting in a very engaging and entertaining theatre production. It was excellent, and so, appropriately, the venue was jammed.

A year ago today was a Saturday, and, at 10am, we were back at UBC — at TRIUMF this time — for a couple of lectures. One was about earthquakes – the famous impending “big one” that will hit the south coast, sometime between tonight and 500 years from now. The other was about black holes, cosmic collisions and sensing gravitational waves. Takeaway: If a large earthquake shows up off the south coast, don’t be in Tofino. And, I guess, if a black hole shows up off the south coast, don’t be in Tofino either… but you won’t have much too time to worry about it.

These lectures are super-interesting if you’re into this sort of thing, so, accordingly, it was crowded. Sold out in fact. So sold out we couldn’t get tickets online, and just crashed the venue, hoping we could sneak in. The tickets are free, but seating is limited; fortunately, some people didn’t show up and they let us in.

The kids were there too, and perhaps it took a bit of gentle bartering to get one of them there as well, because we wound up going out for dinner that night, to Kobe. Kobe is excellent, and always crowded as well; you end up sharing a table/cooking surface with complete strangers for a couple of hours.

Talk about taking stuff for granted. Three very different things, but all had one thing in common; hanging out in close proximity with strangers… and thinking nothing of it. That’s how it was.

So, what’s happened in that one year… today also marks another milestone; today, the world went over 100,000,000 known C19 cases. There have been over 2,000,000 deaths. There have also been over 72,000,000 recoveries. In Canada, more than 750,000 cases came after that guy.

My prediction was that here in Canada, we’d be seeing the worst of this pandemic… right about now. Now would be the time when the gradual decline would begin, and while it’d take a long time to snuff it out in due course, it’d never get worse than what we’re experiencing now.

This completely-non-professional opinion was based on the confluence of a few things, but primarily, it’s this: any negative effect that would’ve been caused by the holiday season would now be known and we’d be in the midst of handling. Whether they were supposed to or not, people got together over the holidays. Some of them passed on infections, etc… so how bad was it? Well, it definitely caused a spike, but if you look at the graphs and numbers, things are clearly trending favourably. Couple that with the fact that there are no large family-gathering-type holidays any time soon… and given that vaccines are every day making slow but steady progress into bloodstreams… and that the majority of people and businesses are still towing the party line… put it all together and, optimistically, the worst is behind us. That being said, who could’ve predicted newer mutations that are more virulent, and which could possibly lead to more cases. The answer to that question is epidemiologists… and they did.

We’re far from sounding the all-clear, but the numbers and pictures at the moment tell a cautiously-optimistic story; declines everywhere… ranging from steep (Alberta, Manitoba, Quebec) to moderate (B.C) to mild (Ontario, Saskatchewan)… but the entire country is trending in the right direction. For now.

Today’s versions of cool lectures, theatre productions, and restaurants look nothing like what they did a year ago. There are online and socially-distanced versions of all of that, but they’re nothing like the real thing. A year ago we had the real thing… and every indication is that a year from now, we’ll have it again.

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January 24, 2021

Weird things happen when you’re dealing with big numbers, but when you get to them slowly. Here’s a very basic example, speaking purely with respect to financial wealth:

A man whose net worth is only $1 is not rich. Far from it. Let’s call him poor.

If you take a man who’s poor and give him $1, he’s still poor.

Given those two starting premises, start a little loop. Give the guy another dollar. Is he rich now? No. $3? No. $4? No. But you loop a billion times, and of course, now he is. Somewhere along the line, he went from being poor to being stable… and, continuing, at some point he went from being stable to being well-off. Then he graduated to financially secure… on his way to rich. A dollar a time, he crossed all those lines.

The thing is… it’s difficult to figure out where to draw those lines, because they’re big, wide and blurry. And I don’t mean because everyone would have different definitions and opinions. I mean just you. Pick a number where you’d consider the guy to be unarguably in one of those categories. Now think of a number that’d plant him squarely in the next category up. Those two numbers are far apart. Even if you try to bring them closer together, you’ll still never get to a point where it flips by $1.

This same concept is what plays with our minds in elections. What difference does my one vote make? We keep getting told that it makes all the difference; every vote counts, etc. But the truth is… all other things being equal, your one little vote doesn’t matter. It’s quite a paradox. Take the last election, wherever you are. Change nothing except your one vote… remove it from the election. Did that change anything? Of course not. But also, of course, everything changes if more people start thinking like that. Many elections went the other way (Hilary 2016 comes to mind) because so many people become convinced that their one little vote wouldn’t matter (like people in Michigan) that they didn’t bother voting. At some point, even though it got there one missed vote at a time, it made a difference.

I’ve been accused of being a bit preachy and/or being a little shame-bashing on those making some individual decisions based on how they’re navigating their lives these days; choices with which I don’t agree with, with respect to travel or socializing or whatever… let alone masks and vaccines… but the intent of this post is not that. I’m just here to share a thought… reflecting on how we suddenly hit tipping points where everything changes… and how we got there.

Most rags-to-riches stories are long and drawn out; tiny, incremental gains over long periods of time. Perhaps not dollar-by-dollar, but it’s not a fine line that was hopped over one particular day.

Similarly, it’s like that with a pandemic. I look at these numbers every day, and there’s micro-movement in some direction. On a day-to-day basis, it doesn’t seem to matter much. But when you take a step back and look at it from a bigger-picture point of view, one day you realize you’re in a totally different place. These days, that looks a lot better than it did just a few short weeks ago. But it’s worth remembering how we got here, and how we’ll get to wherever we’re going next… one dollar or one step or one person… at a time.

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January 23, 2021

We watched a movie the other night… I thought it’d be a waste of time, but the kids really wanted to see it. OK… I can spare an hour and forty minutes, and who knows… it might be amusing. It’s called “Behind the Curve” (Netflix), and it’s all about Flat Earthers – the society whose members genuinely believe that the earth is flat. Or, pretend to. Or, are members for other reasons. OK, queue it up.

My assumption was that it’d be 100 minutes of idiots espousing theories that make no sense. Certainly, that was part of it. But above all that, there’s a genuine sadness to it, and some enlightening points that are incredibly relevant to today.

Of all the conspiracy theories out there, this is the one that’s most easily disprovable. For more than a thousand years, intelligent people have been devising experiments based on heights, distances, shadows and trigonometry… that show that the earth is a sphere. So good were some of these ancient experiments, that they were pretty-accurately able to calculate the diameter and circumference. This throws a bit of a wrench into the flat-earth conspiracy where millions of scientists, NASA employees and pilots are all in on it. You’d have to add Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle and Archimedes to the list, among many others.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter – the details of how a flat earth could even be possible don’t add up, to the extent there’s disagreement within the group. Is there a giant dome, snow-globe-like, covering the heavens? If not, what are all the stars and planets attached to? Queue the internal bickering.

Shortly into the movie, you realize that there’s something a little off about these people. They’re not dangerously crazy… just… off. Something emotional that comes across as almost child-like… and then it becomes obvious. This is a support group for like-minded people who’ve found each other. They feel like they’re part of something big. They feel they get it, and everyone else doesn’t… and it’s their mission to educate the poor, ignorant masses.

They don’t mind being called stupid idiots by the rest of the world… not only because they’re used to it, but because, to some extent, they bask in it. Us versus them. We know. You don’t. And this is where the bigger-picture relevancy comes in. When everyone tells you what you believe in is nonsense, for many people, human nature dictates they double down. They entrench their belief and they will never let go of it and they will build (and share) crazier and crazier ideas to support something that’s actually unsupportable. Queue the madness.

Sound familiar? At least, these guys aren’t storming The Capitol. Let’s talk about a different sort of queue… just Q.

There’s an interesting thing going on in the U.S. (actually, around the world – apparently Japan has a big following as well…) – and I’m talking about Q and QAnon and all that. For years, their now-absent leader Q has been dropping hints about what’s about to happen. The original finish line was January 6th, when Trump would seize control via – heh, we know what that looked like. That didn’t work out so well, so the Qs shifted to believing the failed storming was part of a bigger plan; one that would now allow the president to invoke martial law, take back those key states, and continue the presidency. None of that happened, of course, and the smooth, quiet transition of power took place. Now what.

Typically, when conspiracies hit their finish line, one of a few things can happen. One is that people realize it’s nonsense and bail. Another is that they’re so sunk into it that they will continue the fight, no matter how senseless it might be. And another possibility is that they claim it all actually came to be, just as they said… and most people don’t realize it. There was a lot of that – all of it – in 2012 when the world didn’t end. Some people came to the conclusion it was all nonsense. Some people claim the math was done wrong, and the end is coming.. later in 2012 (didn’t happen) or maybe 2021. I guess if you keep pushing the date further and further, eventually you’ll be right. And, some claim, the world *did* end, and now we’re in some illusionary remnant version. For what it’s worth, if this is The Matrix, give me the blue pill. I’d rather ride out this illusion than battle aliens the rest of my life.

Q is seeing a lot of disillusioned people bail on them at present. They realize it must have been nonsense; they were duped. There is no master plan. For those not feeling so rudderless, they will continue the fight, though now I’m sure there’s confusion what that might look like. And… there are some who think it all worked out… and that, I kid you not, Trump is still in fact in the White House, and that he and Biden did some sort of face swap thing like in that John Travolta/Nicholas Cage movie. If you really need to keep holding on to this particular conspiracy, and that things are still in place, that’s where you wind up today.

And with these flat earth people… skirting the fine line between philosophy, art, science and madness… the final scene of the movie – I don’t think I’m giving too much away here by announcing that the earth is, indeed, a sphere (an oblate spheroid if you want to be perfectly technical about it… the earth is a little compressed at the poles and bulging at the equator, due to the spin)… so at the end of the movie, these guys have devised an experiment to prove the earth is flat. It’s pretty straightforward… attach a powerful laser to a stick 15 feet high. Point it to a big poster board a few miles away, also 15 feet high. If the laser hits it, clearly the earth is flat.

This is a sound experiment. At that distance, the curvature of the earth is not irrelevant. If you imagine the curve “kicking in”, that laser should hit about 21 feet high to compensate.

The guys wait for darkness and fire-up their well-calibrated laser. But nothing hits the board. “Jeez, what’s wrong”, they wonder. The laser is on, they really should see it. They move the big poster board around, but nothing.

“Try moving it up”, suggests one guy… so they do… they lift it 6 feet, and the bright laser comes splashing in.

“Oh.” says the guy.

Queue the credits.

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January 22, 2021

I’ve written about queueing (Oohh! Five vowels in a row!) theory before, but sometimes you don’t need the fancy theory and rocket-science math that goes with it… sometimes, you just need common sense to understand what’s going on.

Example… I own a retail store. I’m open 10 hours a day, and I typically get around 600 customers a day. Conveniently, the math is easy… on average, that’s 60 customers an hour… one per minute.

What happens if I decide to close 3 hours early? Assuming all those customers want their stuff, and they’re all going to show up… now I’m facing 86 customers per hour… a 43% increase.

On Dec. 24th, around 42,000 people showed up a B.C. Liquor Stores. One might expect around the same number of people might go shopping on New Year’s Eve, and one would be correct… it turned out to be around 41,000.

The big difference, of course, is that the window of time they had to do so got shrunk by 3 hours, thanks to an unexpected announcement that materialized the previous day. All liquor sales to end by 8pm, announced Dr. Henry, much to the surprise of everyone… and the panic of those who worked that day, and had planned to swing by in the evening. Ultimately, I assume everyone got their booze… one way or the other; traffic was up 188% in those last few hours.

That part of it did not catch anyone by surprise; certainly not the people who make the decisions. It’s easy to understand what they were weighing: Upsetting a lot of people and having some crowded liquor stores… or having a repeat of Halloween downtown. They voted for the former, knowing full-well there’d be a rush inside those stores… but also knowing there are safeguards and mask policies and all the rest of it… and that the risk of trouble was higher in uncontrolled crowds.

Did that decision cause an appreciable bump in case numbers? See below…

There’s little reason to keep the 2nd-Wave graphs logarithmic, so I’ve now made the Y-axes all linear. It shows a clearer idea of what’s going on. Also, for today, I’ve removed the Deaths and Hospitalizations graphs; it leaves more room for the numbers above… although the graphs below tell the same story.

If you look at the 2nd-Wave graph, there’s the big run up… and then it starts to slide downhill (downhill is good in this context). That downhill started in late November and kept a nice, consistent run down. Then it turned uphill again… about a week after New Year’s, right around the time those effects would be kicking-in. You can see a smaller version of that in Alberta, and a much bigger version in Saskatchewan; the new cases caused by the events of New Year’s.

Was it a catastrophic increase? Certainly not. Was it due to the liquor stores closing early? That’s probably a part of it, but by how much…? Your guess is as good as mine.

But what’s interesting about it is that if you remove the effects of Christmas and New Year’s, you can see where we’d likely be at… just remove the uphill part and slide whatever is to the right of it down. That’s easier to do visually, but the numbers tell the same story, and the implication is that we’d likely be seeing new case counts in the 300s, not 500s… and death counts in the single digits, not double.

These are the sorts of trade-offs we’ll be dealing with until this pandemic is over. Re-openings and softening of restrictions are all based on the risk/reward of doing so. Same with masks in schools and inter-provincial travel. There are strong opinions on both sides of all arguments… and yeah, it’s not rocket science… but they’re not easy decisions either.

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