The Last Post – July 6, 2021

The Last Post.

That’s the piece of music you’ll hear on Remembrance Day, November 11th at 11am, commemorating the end of The Great War.

At my school, there was a Remembrance Day service every year, and the lead trumpet player of the school had the honour of getting up in front of everyone and playing it. In my grade 12 year, that was me… but instead of standing in front of everyone, I did it from the gym next door… where the acoustics allowed me to harmonize with my own notes. As it’s typically played on a bugle (on a trumpet, you simply play it without pressing any valves… it’s all lips and air pressure), there are only three notes to work with… C E and G (in three different octaves)… and, as any musician will tell you, any combination of those notes (including all three) go together very well. Accordingly, my rendition of notes blending and harmonizing with each other was really-well received. A very successful gig – notwithstanding the somber occasion — and the largest crowd I’d ever played to. A few months later, at Expo 86, my Dixieland band played in front of 3,000 people at the Kodak Bowl. My largest and — with the exception of my sister’s wedding — last public appearance as a musician because, the truth is, I’m not a big fan of being on stage.

Which brings us to this particular Last Post.

People have asked me how many people actually read these posts. The answer varies… from a minimum of a few hundred for the lame ones… to thousands for the good ones, and, on a couple of occasions, the number well-exceeded 10,000. The first one of those big ones got close to 500 shares in the first 24 hours, a piece comparing B.C.’s response to that of Louisiana. That was back in April of 2020, when the glaring differences in responses between countries, states and provinces were becoming very apparent, and I didn’t have a lot of great things to say about what they were doing down there.

It was really the first time I realized I was reaching an awful lot more people than I imagined… a few scattered people from some very far-away places, sure… but also large pockets of people in places like Texas, Arizona and Kentucky who… to put it delicately… didn’t really see eye-to-eye with my opinions with respect to American politics and, anyway, what the hell is some Canadian yahoo doing commenting on things he knows nothing about; go build an igloo or race your huskies or whatever, EH.

Still, I prefer this version of being on stage; when you blow a wrong note, there’s always the backspace key; not so in front of a live audience.

I used that key a lot… because, when I started this back on March 17th, 2020, like everyone else, I knew very little about pandemics. And today, we all know much more than we’d ever imagined… knowledge I hope for everyone reading this simply fades away in the future because you won’t need it. One hundred years between these sorts of pandemics seems about right; we all just got a lifetime’s worth of experience and I don’t think any of us have any strong desire to ever re-visit it. Here’s how to properly wash your hands. Here’s how to properly wear a mask. Here’s a safe distance from which you… yeah, yeah… we get it.

So… I picked a good day for this Last Post. Today:

– The Provincial State of Emergency officially ends at midnight

– B.C.’s one-jab percentage went over 70% for the entire population, not just those presently eligible. That’s a magic number in many people’s eyes when it comes to herd immunity

– I’m officially two weeks past my 2nd vaccination (AZ / Moderna)

By those… and a few other different measures… around here, it’s over. And for me, four hundred and seventy-seven straight days of writing about this pandemic – is also over. But, of course, what ostensibly (that’s my niece’s favourite word!) was meant to be a simple little blog about the pandemic and current numbers… morphed into much more.

For me, it was a discipline, a brain dump, a sanity check and a way to make sure I was current with whatever might be important… and a self-imposed 5pm deadline to update the numbers and write something to go along with it. I woke up every morning with my brain rumbling around some ideas… what’s current, what’s important, what’s engaging… and how might some previous experience of mine help explain it. I never knew what I was going to write about, but I never worried about it either. I never approached 5pm panicking, and out of 477 posts, I think only three weren’t within 10 minutes of 5pm… one was a vet emergency, one was getting stuck behind an accident that turned a 15-minute drive into more than an hour, and one was believing my computer when it told me that this little OSX update would only take a few minutes.

And for you?

If putting some complex ideas in a form that made it easier for you to understand… good… I was happy to do it. I’ve certainly found that, for myself, talking through complicated topics in simpler terms helps me understand them as well.

If displaying colourful numbers and pictures provided you with a centralized place to view the info that, at a glance, you most needed… great. What you saw is what I considered the best way to convey what was most important in the clearest manner possible… an exercise that changed a lot over 16 months. I started with simple charts and graphs for a few different countries… then added Time To Double (TTD) lines to everything when it looked like they might be spiraling out of control… and ultimately got rid of them when things settled down. Then I got rid of the other countries when we needed to worry more about ourselves… and then added other provinces so we could have a holistic view of all of Canada… and, finally, of course… the vaccinations. I loved adding those columns, formulas and graphs… and then watching them – initially with a lot of frustration at how slowly those percentages were going up… but ultimately with joy as those numbers accelerated upwards. I’ve added a fourth row of graphs today; what the pandemic looked like for the U.S., Canada and the provinces… from day 1. It’s incredible to look at the tiny little bump at the far left – the beginning – of the B.C. graph. That tiny little bump is when we were all really, really worried.

And… indeed … if I had any part in holding your hand through this pandemic, and if my posts gave you some comfort and some optimism… I’m really happy to hear it. I’ll be honest; I was scared too. I also looked everywhere for the reassurances we all sought. I had to be the one to talk to my kids and have answers to their questions. When they asked, the first question was always, “How were the numbers?”

Sometimes, those numbers weren’t so good… and that’s where you need to look ahead, to think big-picture, to skate to where the puck is going to be… whatever metaphor you choose; I always felt we’d come out of this ok… but conveying that message wasn’t always so easy… yet I, myself, was comforted by everything I’d learned, and I sincerely hoped I could pass along those feelings. How many times and in how many ways did I say the same thing: There’s a finish line, and we’re all going to get there.

And here we are. If you’re reading this, it’s because I made it… and so did you.

It’s somewhat ironic that The Great War ended largely as a result of the pandemic that began in 1918. The War ended, the pandemic began… because while different countries were all trying to figure out effective ways of killing each other, along came an invisible enemy with an answer for everyone. It’s also somewhat ironic that this particular Last Post is the other way around… that the pandemic might be over in this neck of the woods, but the war rages on in others. A World War of a different sort.

So yeah… around here, no more Provincial State of Emergency… and no more daily posts. But, exactly like Covid-19, I’m not going away entirely… and I’ll pop-up unexpectedly from time to time. I’ve found that this habit of needing to voice my opinion is a tough one to break… so don’t unfollow me quite yet; if you think I’ll have something to say in the future, you’re absolutely right. Just not every day. And especially not in the next week or two, because life is returning to normal… and I am diving head-first into it.

And so… with that – it is I, your humble, faithful and consistent pandemic blogger signing off… and wishing you all the happiest and healthiest and Covid-freest-imaginable — rest of your lives.

Cheers.

July 5, 2021

First things first… the contest! It is indeed a good time to shut it down because now there are far more people guessing than reasonable guesses out there. Special shoutouts to Carey Brown and Kiyomi Hunter whose guesses of 88 missed by one. Also special shoutouts to Claudio Arato and Stephen Silver whose guesses of 86 also missed by one. Extra special shoutout to Lauren Faccin whose guess of 87 was bang-on, but unfortunately… she wasn’t the first to guess that.

That excellent guess was first posted by Sam Ari – so… congrats, Ari! And let me know to where you’d like the $100 donation directed!

It’s a good thing when we’re running out of room for guesses. The last twenty-four hour period saw a grand total of 20 new cases… a number so low it takes a lot of hindsight to find the last time… which was in July of… 2020. See? Good hindsight. Things are very much heading in the right direction. Around here.

But… on that note… a final word about our neighbours to the south…

The pandemic journey of what used to be the most powerful and respected nation in the world has been a bumpy ride, and it’s not over yet. It could be. It would be. For numerous reasons I’ve been hammering for 16 months, it most definitely should be… but it isn’t. It actually might have been… had the virus not adapted faster than the attitudes of so many people. There’s a chance it might have faded away, had the Rø remained what it was figured to be originally. Variants changed that, especially Delta… and there could be others, and hopefully they don’t run out of letters in the Greek alphabet to name them all.

Last week, the U.S. had 12,219 people hospitalized. Today, that number is 12,740. Last week, the U.S. had 3,522 in ICUs… and today, it’s 3,634. This doesn’t imply frightening, scary growth (yet…), but it certainly indicates things trending in the wrong direction. Just look at the U.S. graph of hospitalizations compared to Canada or any of the provinces… there’s a flattening, and then a slight bend up… and all of it driven by places with low vaccination rates. The lecture halls of the future studying this pandemic will see a lot of hands up; there will be a lot of questions. And the vast majority of them will begin with, “Why didn’t they…”

Some questions have no good answers. As much as I actually detest these words, sometimes they’re appropriate: “It is what it is.”

We’ve wrapped up the contest, we’ve wrapped up the provincial and Canadian responses, we’ve wrapped up cases/hospitalizations/ICUs/deaths, we’ve wrapped up vaccinations and we’ve wrapped up the U.S.

Only one thing left to wrap up. See you tomorrow.

July 4, 2021

Alrighty… one last kick at the can. One final shot at fame, fortune and glory. One last grab at all the marbles. Yes indeed… it’s the last ever (please, let’s hope…) “Guess the Weekend Totals!” contest.

For those new to it, it’s pretty simple: In the comments below, write your guess as to what B.C.’s three-day new-cases total will be; the winner will be the person who guesses closest first, and I am almost certain someone will nail it bang-on because, while it’s a lot more difficult when we’re getting 500 cases a day, it becomes a lot easier when we’re below 50.

Indeed, the new-case numbers for the last three days were 43, 49 and 35… which averages to a number very familiar to Douglas Adams fans: 42.

Wow… in “A Hitchhiker’s Guide..”, it took the Deep Thought supercomputer 7.5. million years to come up with that number… and I just did it in my head!

Well… since this is the last one, I’m going to play too. I will take that number, the literal “Answer to the Ultimate Question of Life, The Universe, and Everything”, multiply it by 3, and guess 126.

Now it’s your turn… enter your guess in the comments below, and, as usual, for the final time, it’s not just the bragging rights and glory, but also $100 to the charity of your choice.

Good luck!

July 3, 2021

Death and taxes aren’t actually the only certainties in life, of course… there are a few more… among them:

1. Have you ever had a cold?
2. Have you ever had the flu?
3. Are you presently alive?

The answer is 100% for all three, for everyone reading this… but if you want to argue it’s not, that it’s probably 99.999 something percent, then ok, I’ll mention that not everyone pays taxes either… exhibit A would be the former president of the U.S. and his entire organization… who are about to find out the hard way that you don’t mess with The Tax Man. Al Capone got away with racketeering and bootlegging and murder… for decades. But he couldn’t defend himself against the charges of tax evasion, and that’s what sent him to prison for the rest of his life.

But this article is neither about Trump nor his ill-fated organization. Rather, it’s a discussion about certainties, and what they look like going forward.

Colds are around. The flu is around. Measles and Mumps and Rubella are all around too, but we rarely worry about them… for good reason. They’ve been vaxxed out of our “worry zone”.

There are some important things to note going forward… and that is, that cases of C19 will come and go. Pockets of cases will flare up here and there, like that group of insane anti-vax moms in California responsible for a measles outbreak. Up next, the glorious state of Arkansas with its deplorable vaccination rates; bring on the completely preventable next wave of C19.

Actually, to clarify, we may see flare-ups of cases here too. Should we be concerned? At some point (and we’re at it, of very close to it…), the thing to watch is no longer cases. They become irrelevant. What becomes important are hospitalizations, ICU cases and deaths… numbers which have plummeted, and there’s every expectation they’ll remain low… because, again… you know… vaccinations.

This pandemic turns into an “endemic” in different places at different times. We’re pretty-much there now around here… because once you’ve done everything you can, and the support infrastructure is in place, there’s really not much else. As odd as it sounds, does it actually matter if you catch C19? If you catch it, but you’re asymptomatic and/or non-infectious to others? I’d never really thought of it before all this, but how many times have I had a cold or flu and not even known? Their presentation can also be so mild as to be asymptomatic.

So… with certainty: It’ll be around for a while, but if you’re fully vaxxed and/or fully immune for other reasons, you have little to worry about. The new seasonal cold will likely hit you harder, because for that one, you have no antibodies.

The one group that needs mentioning here are those who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons and/or whose immune systems aren’t up to the task of reacting adequately to the vaccine… a group all of us become part of as we get older… which is why research into this will continue forever… or, until it’s eradicated from existence. We did it with smallpox… and we can certainly do it here too.

July 2, 2021

On the last day of second-year university, I wrote my last exam on a Friday afternoon. That was the last thing after a tumultuous few weeks of final papers, projects and exams. I finished writing it, barely remember driving home, told everyone not to wake me… I’m exhausted, I already ate, leave me alone. I fell asleep around 6pm and woke up the next morning at 11am. That’s 17 hours of glorious, blissful sleep… and I remember it well because it’s, by far, the longest continuous sleep I’ve ever had.

And when I woke up the next day, I suddenly felt like I was in a vacuum. “Now what?!” What paper or project do I work on? What exam do I study for? There were no answers of course, but as the saying goes… when you stare into the abyss, it stares right back at you. Now what?

The government 3pm briefings were something I’d gotten used to. If you were here watching with me, you might have heard me screaming at the screen… not at Dr. Henry or Minister Dix… but rather, at the reporters serving up the softball questions. “Ask him this!” or “Ask her that!” I’d (very ineffectively) yell… and usually, nobody thought to ask what I’d desperately wanted answered. I took to Tweeting certain reporters, and a couple of times, by coincidence or because they listened, my specific questions got asked and answered… but now… this vacuum of silence. This abyss of zero information.

This is, of course, good. No news is good news. Usually. We can all hope we never see Dr. Henry on TV again, except when she’s receiving her well-deserved Order of B.C. and Order of Canada. But perhaps there’s a bit of Stockholm Syndrome as well. This pandemic has held us all hostage for more than a year, and even if it’s letting us go, there’s visible reluctance all around. I’m not saying we’re going to miss it, but certainly parts of it. I’m not saying I need to see the Henry/Dix 3pm gathering every day for the rest of my life, but there’s no doubt it held great importance for many people… and, truthfully, I will miss it. And while we’ve all become very used to masks and distancing, and the mental stranglehold of that – even if Henry/Dix are telling us don’t worry, take them off, gather, whatever – it’s going to take some time. You don’t jump into the abyss… you lower yourself in slowly.

Yes, I do think Dr. Henry will receive (and deserves) those honours. As much as she received criticism and death threats and all the rest of it, in the decades to come, when this whole experience is looked back upon and textbooks are written as to the proper way of dealing with pandemics, British Columbia will be near (if not sitting on) the top of the list. Pandemics incur a lot of collateral damage… lives, businesses, jobs. Mitigating that properly, navigating the subtleties, juggling thirteen flaming chainsaws without getting hurt; it’s no small feat. Look around at the rest of the world for comparison. We, around here, have been very lucky indeed.

I’m going to try to sleep seventeen hours tonight… though I will fail miserably. But one thing that’s changed… I used to go to sleep on Fridays with a bit of dread, not knowing what to expect after the weekend media blackout. That’s now gone, and I certainly won’t miss that.

July 1, 2021

The eclectic collection of friends and people and organizations I associate with has never been made more apparent than sifting through today’s emails. It’s officially Canada Day, of course, and I’m wishing you all a very happy holiday… in whatever way you wish to celebrate and/or recognize it – and of course, for many people, it’s no celebration at all… right up there with Columbus Day and all of its implications, as we all well-know from the emerging dreadful news that’s nowhere near subsiding.

I have emails yelling “Don’t let them take Canada Day away from us!!” and I have emails calmly explaining things, in great detail, from the point of view of many Indigenous Peoples from across the country, eloquently stating why there’s nothing at all to cheer.

The rest are somewhere in between – as am I.

But before I talk about Canada, let’s talk about Chile a bit – a country many of you possibly barely knew even existed nor cared about… but if you’ve been reading these posts for a while, you’ve seen that name pop up several times. And while I still have my little soap-box to stand upon for a few more days, here’s one last crack at it.

Here is a brief summary of Chile, the country where I was born and where I still have plenty of friends, family and business associates… a place that was one of the very few in the world accepting Jewish refugees during and after WWII. The boat that sailed west with the few members of my family who had enough foresight to get the hell out of Czechoslovakia in 1938 (among them my maternal grandparents) crossed the Atlantic Ocean and attempted to dock in numerous places, among them Halifax. This was during the reign of Canada’s 10th PM, William Lyon Mackenzie King… who, when asked how many Jewish refugees he thought Canada should admit, replied “None is too many”. The ship sailed south, but the U.S. wasn’t open to it either. The ship then crossed the Panama Canal and kept sailing south, now on the Pacific side… until finally Ecuador allowed everyone off the boat… provided they didn’t stay.

But Chile said, yeah… come on down… and welcomed numerous Jewish refugees with open arms. And these are not the sort of war-torn starving desert-dwelling-type refugees you imagine from TV and movies… these were well-educated doctors, lawyers, businessmen, accountants, engineers, etc… whose subsequent involvement in the country helped grow it to be the leading economy of Latin America.

But, times change. Politics evolve. Moods swing. Demographics shift. A recent article voted Santiago, Chile as the number-one antisemitic city in the world… a city with close to 500,000 Palestinians… close to 10% of the population… compared with less than 20,000 Jews (0.4%). And… a very leftist antisemitic presidential candidate – who, if polls are correct – could easily win the election later this year.

This candidate has brought out all of the usual antisemitic rhetoric and has promised to rid the country of Jews. Needless to say, the Jews are becoming increasingly worried. Public displays of antisemitism, violence and vandalism are being seen in record numbers. And if he wins – as the old adage goes – when you lose the support of the government… Run.

If the shit really hits the fan, where will they go?

Well, one very logical place is Canada… among one of the very best places in the world to be Jewish these days. In fact, it’s one of the best places in the world to be *anything* these days.

Indeed, especially for those who are young and haven’t experienced the world outside the bubble that is Canada, it’s hard to relate to how it feels and looks when a country completely derails. We almost got a first-hand look at it on January 6th… and from the sounds of it, things might look very different right now down south if those armed protesters had simply zigged instead of zagged… and wound up face to face with Nancy Pelosi or Mike Pence. Fortunately, it didn’t happen. And it hasn’t happened (yet) in Chile. But it could. It could happen anywhere.

But, these days, it’s unlikely to happen anytime soon in Canada. We read with horror at the emerging evidence of our past, but here’s the thing; this is a great country. Off the top of my head, I can’t think of any country, great or not, that doesn’t have a significant stain in its history. Chile was good for Jews for a while; that may change. Chile has never been good to its Indigenous population. The Spanish showed up a few hundred years ago, conquered them… and they have remained conquered ever since. Yes, they are screaming for their rights, land, restitution and acknowledgment… but they, like many other Indigenous populations around the world, face a steep uphill. Unlike in Canada, where there are still lots of big problems… in the past and in the future… but they are being acknowledged and they will hopefully be dealt with adequately… sooner than later.

Canada, for the moment, is also a great place for Jews. Antisemitism is on the rise, but still… there is full government support. I don’t judge Canada on the words or actions of William Lyon Mackenzie King. I judge it on what it is today… Canada, which, for the moment, faces a historical trauma that’s been known for decades but rarely spoken about till now… a history that needs to be heard, acknowledged and made right. Great countries deal with it. And that’s what we’re doing.

So yeah, the celebration may be understandably muted this year, but let’s not forget that there’s also a future, not just a past. And if we can learn from the past (and there’s plenty to learn) and use it for a better future for all of us – Indigenous, White, Black, Jewish and whoever else… remember… you’re very fortunate to be Canadian… which in itself is certainly something to celebrate.

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