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Day 48 – May 3, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Politics, Business & Economics, Sports & Gaming, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

In 2012, I was in L.A. to visit a movie set. The hotel was in a nice part of town; the set, perhaps not so much. I ordered an Uber, and a black SUV showed up. The destination (call it “Z”) was already entered into the app, so off we went. It was interesting to note that this driver had his car set up with at least four different phones or devices dangling from the windshield and dashboard. Uber, Nav, Music, actual phone… I don’t know.

But at one point, one of them went out of sync… and he asked, “I thought we’re going to Z”
“That’s right”, I replied.
“Well… this says we’re going somewhere else”

Odd.. some glitch… one of his devices was pointing to some location maybe 20 blocks away from Z. Call it X.

“No… not sure why. It’s Z”
“OK, because I can’t take you to X”
“No worries”

Curious though… so I asked…. “Just wondering, why can’t you take me to X?”
“Sir, I can’t take you to X”
“I understand, and we’re not going to X… I am just wondering what’s the big deal with X and if I wanted to, why you wouldn’t you take me there?”
“Sir, I told you, I will not take you to X”
“I don’t want to go to X. I want to go to Z. I am just curious… if I wanted to go to X, why wouldn’t you take me?”

He pulled the car over.
“I can’t take you to X. I can drop you here and you can find another Uber”
“I don’t think you understand. I don’t want go to X. I’ve never heard of X. I don’t know where or what it is. I am simply wondering what’s so bad with X that you wouldn’t drive me there”
“Sir, you’ll have to get another Uber”

We sat there for a moment, me trying to figure this out. This wasn’t a language issue; he spoke English perfectly. This was just a guy that couldn’t wrap his head around a hypothetical situation. Those two words, which are my favourite when put together… the two words that have led to all of the innovation that’s ever happened in history, when posed by somebody…”What if…” — this guy couldn’t process it; there seemed to be no version of “What if” in his world. I sat there imagining what it might be like to be playing chess against this guy. He moves a piece, you take it. “Oh, darn”. He moves another, and you take it too. “Oh, hmm, you’re good at this”. Well, I’m ok, but it sure helps that I can think ahead more than zero moves. Like I can propose a hypothetical situation in my mind, evaluate it, do that several times and come up with something useful.

But this guy… he just didn’t get it. And maybe he couldn’t.

“Yeah, ok, forget X. Let’s just go to Z”.

And off we went. But there was no more conversation after that, and as much as I really wanted to, I didn’t ask him the same question for the 10th time when we finally arrived. What was the point? He wouldn’t get it. And further to that, I guess the conversation bothered him, because my Uber rating dropped from a perfect 5 stars down to 4.92 after that.

I remember another time a friend sent around an email, asking us to answer a few simple math questions, and explain how we did them in our head. His son was having trouble with math at school, and he was looking for different ways of explaining things. Like, what’s 9+9. I was so surprised to see some answers that came back. Like, for me, it’s just 18. I just know that. But some people were saying… add 1 to each 9, that makes 20, then subtract 2. In their head, they were doing (9+1)+(9+1) – 2. Or 15+8, which for me is just 23, was somehow turned into (15+5)+3 for one person, and (15+10)-2 for another.

There’s obviously nothing wrong with thinking differently. Whatever works for you. But what happens when it doesn’t work?

This was brought to light (and it reminded me of these two examples) by a friend who commented on a recent post of mine, the one about Covidiots. That maybe calling them that was a little harsh; that maybe they not only don’t know any better, but perhaps they *can’t” know any better. Like it’s actually beyond them. There’s possibly some truth to that, and since I’m the biggest proponent of letting people live their lives with freedom and their own particular pursuit of happiness, what’s the big deal… the usual golden rule of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” is actually a bit better if you change it slightly: “don’t do unto others as you wouldn’t have them do unto you.” It’s better because instead of imposing on others what you think is right, this un-imposes anything on anyone, as long as it’s not hurting you.

But that’s the thing. A bunch of people ignoring intelligent, well-thought-out and proven directives… has the potential to affect us all — drastically, and we’re no doubt going to see the results of it in different places.

The state of Oklahoma is opening up; they think they’re in a position to handle things, and reading their planned phase re-opening, I guess it might look good on paper. Oklahoma has a population of 4 million, compared to B.C.’s 5 million. They also have twice as many confirmed cases and twice as many deaths. They’ve already opened up hair salons, barbershops, spas, nail salons. Two days ago… restaurants, movie theatres, entertainment venues, gyms, spotting venues… the list goes on.

In trying to balance out the greater good of business vs. public health, the officials in Oklahoma made it mandatory for clients of the aforementioned businesses to wear masks. As we know, wearing a mask protects others more than it protects you, and it would make sense for the benefit of the workers of all these places that people wear masks. If they’re going to be subjected to hundreds of people, their safety needs to be taken into account.

That mandate lasted about 3 hours before it had to be lifted… as threats, violence and guns all made appearances… as a lot of people who perhaps aren’t quite clear on exactly what the constitution of their country actually says, protested that their rights were being violated. What’s becoming abundantly clear is that there is a group of people incapable of understanding. Their preconceived notions and/or brainwashing seems to preclude any sort of rational thinking. And it’s also clear that there will never be a way to convince them. And that, unfortunately, is putting everyone around them in danger. So let’s leave it at that… you’re free to do whatever you want, but if your ridiculous actions have the possibility of affecting me, then you’re a Covidiot.

A brief note about today’s numbers — there was a huge spike in Quebec’s numbers, apparently due to a computer error that had neglected to count 1,317 cases from the past. Not counting those, their 892 actual new cases for the day looks a lot better… but that jump obviously affects our national numbers as well. And, it’s quiet day in B.C. — I will correct my guess with tomorrow’s real data.

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Day 47 – May 2, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Sports & Gaming, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , |

The first Saturday in May… The Most Exciting Two Minutes in Sport… The Run for the Roses… even if you know nothing whatsoever about horse racing, you’ve heard of it. And if you’ve ever been flipping channels on some random first Saturday in May and stumbled upon it on NBC, perhaps you stopped and took it all in. The Kentucky Derby — up to 20 horses, all of them among the best 3-year-olds in the world.

Since 1875, every single year… through two world wars, through the great depression… without interruption… until today.

The pomp, the pageantry, the intrigue, the expectations, the finely-tailored suits, the elegant dresses, the big fancy hats, the mint juleps, the magnificent horses, the colourful jockeys, the call to the post, the singing of “My Own Kentucky Home”, the post parade and… of course… the race itself. For the first time since… ever… Churchill Downs is empty today. Louisville, Kentucky, home of the derby (and Muhammad Ali and KFC) is a relative ghost town. All of it postponed until the first Saturday… in September.

NBC, who has held the broadcasting rights to the race since 2001 and who blocked-off the usual 3 hours of coverage, managed to fill it with some excellent content… jumping between past and present day. The only word to describe the opening shots… haunting. The show opened to several pans of Churchill Downs, completely empty. Not a soul in sight. If you’d told me 6 months ago that that’s what we’d be looking at, I’m not sure I could’ve come up with a scenario to explain it, short of World War III — but even then, the previous two didn’t stop it.

There were lots of present-day isolated interviews, a re-run of the 2015 Kentucky Derby, and all of the storylines leading up to its winner (and eventual Triple Crown winner) American Pharoah. And then, the coolest part of it, especially being a tech-guy… they ran a simulated race with the best 13 of the historical winners — all 13 triple-crown winners battling each other. Their lifetime past-performances, meticulously and professionally put together by the folks at The Daily Racing Form, thrown into a simulation and rendered beautifully. I must admit, it was exciting to watch.

Secretariat won this virtual race, really to nobody’s surprise. He was voted “Horse of the Century” for a reason and, again — if you know nothing about horse racing, at least go to YouTube and pull up his Belmont Stakes win in 1973 — that’s all you need to see.

Secretariat was the betting favourite in all but one race he ever ran, and he was the betting favourite today. And… interesting stat, if you look at any racetrack in the world, from any period of time… the rate at which favourites win is remarkably consistent… between 32% and
36%.

An interesting thing about that… odds are not set by a bookie; they’re set by you and me. These days, odds in racing fluctuate as people bet on different horses, and so the horse on which most money is bet… is the favourite. That means, roughly one third of the time, the crowd consensus is right. Which means the majority of the time, like 2 out of 3 times, everyone is wrong. Not totally wrong, because, after all, it’s a horse race, and anything can happen.

Which really summarizes where we all are today. Nobody is at Churchill Downs sipping mint juleps (the provider of mint to the track is stuck with two tons of it). Nobody is anywhere, really… but we’re slowly emerging. So let’s pretend we’re all racehorses, all of us with our individual styles, all of us trying to win. Some of us like to sprint to the front and hope we hang on. Some of us like to sit mid-pack and make a late move. Some of us like to sit far back, let everyone else get tired, and then take a huge run at the end.

There are a few issues that can arise. Like if you are the type that likes to run out in front of everyone, but you had a bad start and after a few steps, everyone is ahead of you. Or you like to come from way behind, but nobody is running that fast and nobody is getting tired enough for you to have a chance to make up ground. Or you’re sitting happily in the middle of the pack, but unfortunately can’t find any room to make a move when it’s time because you’re blocked on all sides, by the rail or other horses. It was a great plan… but now it’s time to course-correct.

Some of us want to sprint back to work, or at least want others to do so. Some of us want to hang back until we feel we’re comfortable making a move. Some of us will just go with the pack and see where it takes us. And some of us, like two thirds of us, if you stick to this metaphor… will probably wind up going about things differently than we’d planned. And, of course, this is a humungous racetrack that’s thousands of miles all around, with 7 billion horses and staggered starts and a lot of conflicting bets and misaligned interests… so yes, the metaphor falls apart, but the general idea of it is the same… we’re all running in the same direction trying to reach a common goal. The biggest difference is that this race can have lots of winners, not just one… and the strategy that we run with (or is imposed upon us) can make a huge difference. It will make a big difference — all the difference.

Let’s all run an intelligent race, and get to that finish line safely.

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Day 46 – May 1, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Politics, Business & Economics, Science of COVID-19, Sports & Gaming, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , |

One Saturday morning in the Summer of 1982, I hopped on a couple of buses and made my way to the Robson Square Media Centre, which at the time was the city’s busiest (and perhaps only) place where conventions were held, located around the perimeter of the skating rink, now part of UBC.

I was there because there was a computer convention going on… one of these pioneer computer shows, long before the rise (and fall) of Comdex.

I went around checking out the cool technology of the day, and gravitated towards a few booths with familiar names. One of them was Microsoft, and I got to chatting with a guy who didn’t look too much older than me, some geeky skinny teenager with whom a I had a great chat about the newly-released Microsoft Flight Simulator… a game which I was a huge fan of, and continue to be. I’m sure if the hours spent on MS FlightSim counted towards real pilot hours, I’d be qualified to fly a 747 by now. I had no idea about that company’s corporate structure or who this guy might be; I just appreciated that somebody “official” with the company found time to chat with this pesky little kid, and listen to his thousand questions and suggestions. Nice guy, whoever he was (his name-tag said “Bill”). A year or two later, I realized who that had been.

Sixteen years later, I was sitting at a $1/$2 limit hold’em table in The Mirage poker room in Las Vegas when the PA system paged “Bill for one-two, Bill for one-two”. And shortly after that, Bill Gates sat down a few seats away from me with a few hundred dollars in chips, just like any other regular Joe. And for the most part, he was treated as such; just one more person trying to play his game. I said “nice hand” to him at some point, after he outplayed me and took some of my money. But that was the extent of my interaction with him, and that was the last time I saw him in person.

My definition of knowing someone might be: When you bump into them on the street (6 feet apart these days!) and you both know each other. There are problems with that definition, because sometimes one person knows the other, but not the other way around. More than once, somebody has come up to me like they’ve known me all their lives with a huge hello, how are you, what’s new, how’s work, etc etc. And I have no idea who they are. They look familiar, sort of… maybe? Awkward. More awkward is when both of you know that you should know each other — and probably you do, from somewhere… but neither is sure…. “Oh yeah, hey… how are you? …how’s… uhhh… the family, yeah the kids, how are the kids, gosh they must be getting so big by now, how old are they? Oh yeah wow, how time flies, hey we should get together and have lunch or something… yeah, for sure, have your people call my people and set something up, haha. Yeah, cool, seeya”….. ok, who the hell was that… Super Awkward.

And actually, I guess that two very famous people who’ve never met could bump into each other on the street and know exactly who the other is, but they don’t actually know each other.

Anyway, by any definition, I don’t know Bill Gates… but I’ve been following what he’s been up to for most of my life… he’s gone from the guy who co-founded Microsoft to the guy who ran Microsoft to the guy who stepped back from running Microsoft to the guy who retired entirely from Microsoft, to pursue other things. And one of the things he’s pursued is the foundation he set up, along with his wife.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation is involved in sorts of things, many of them hugely ambitious — the sort of thing that requires teams of supremely qualified people, and billions of dollars. Thanks to his life’s work and success, he’s able to provide both… and seeks to tackle things on a global scale: education, health, poverty, access to information and technology. For everyone.

Among his epic pursuits: he seeks to eradicate polio, he pours money into HIV research and treatment and he provides vaccinations for poverty-stricken countries. Thanks to him, deaths from measles in Africa are down 90% in the last 20 years.

So when Bill Gates starts talking about a potential vaccine, it’s worth listening, and he’s had a lot to say. Some of the highlights include his explanation on how a process that can typically take 5 years could be compressed into just 18 months, by overlapping parts of the process that typically would be done sequentially. For example, instead of waiting for a confirmed, tested and approved vaccine before mass-manufacturing, why not scale up the production of it while tests are still ongoing? At worst, it’s not good, and you just throw all that away… but if it works out, you’ve saved months or even years. There’s a cost to that, of course — throwing money at a problem sometimes means throwing the money away, but sometimes money can buy time, and this is one time where we all agree it’s worth it. And where would that money come from? Bill’s foundation is throwing $100 million at it — that’s a good start. Others are joining in as well. There are more than 100 vaccine-seeking research teams hard at work around the world, and probably 10% of them are onto something potentially viable. Human trials have already begun — something way ahead of the usual time-line. All of this, and much more, is worth reading on his blog.

And by the way, it bothers me greatly to hear the stupid nonsense being said about Bill Gates by the conspiracy-fuelled Covidiots whose version of reality somehow involves an evil Bill at the top of a convoluted mess of theories that make no sense at all. They’re not worth repeating, but feel free to “research” it if you want a good head-shake and laugh.

I know some people reading this know Bill Gates personally… a couple from my tech world; fellow geeks who’ve been working closely with Microsoft for decades. And from my horse world; Bill & Melinda’s daughter Jennifer is an accomplished show jumper, and the equestrian world is a small one…. so if any one of you see Bill any time soon, please tell him I say hello, and thank him for what’s he’s doing — from all of us. Of course he’ll have no idea who I am, but that’s ok — truth is, I’d like to “meet” him for a 3rd time in my life. Have his people call my people and set up a lunch, or something.

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Day 45 – April 30, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Life in Vancouver, Sports & Gaming, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , |

On my list of lifetime achievements, there’s one I’m particularly proud of… because it’s one that many people have attempted, but very few have succeeded… and it’s this: I fought a speeding ticket in court, and won. Not because the cop didn’t show up; he did, and we had a nice chat before we went in to the courtroom. I outlined exactly what I was going to say to the judge, and the cop listened thoughtfully to everything I said… and then unilaterally decided to drop the case. We walked into the court, he announced that that crown had chosen not to proceed on these charges, and aside from a rather curious look from the judge (I guess this doesn’t happen that often), that was it. Case dismissed, and I walked out of there 3 points and $138 wealthier than when I walked in.

I had a lot of arguments that I threw at the cop, but I think the one that resonated most was this… that while I was indeed speeding as measured against the number painted on the sign at the side of the road, so was everyone else. In fact, when he stopped me, I asked him… why me? Everyone is going the same speed here. And he agreed; he even said so… “I could’ve pulled over any one of you”.

If you assume, for the most part, that the majority of people aren’t idiots, then you can rightfully assume that, for the most part, people, when acting in their own self-interest, might be mirroring what’s in the best self-interest of the greater good. Yes, I do understand the other point of view… because I often feel it while driving… that guy who’s driving slower than you: idiot. That guy that speeds past you: maniac. Those are the two types of drivers that exist, besides you, who’s the only one doing it properly. But the reality is that at any given point, we’re someone else’s idiot or maniac… and when you average it all out, most of us are in the same boat.

If the speed limit is 50 — well, actually, forget the posted limit for a moment. Granville St. on a quiet sunny Sunday morning at 7am in the middle of Summer… vs. Granville St. at 6pm on Friday in the Winter when it’s dark, maybe icy and cold and rainy and everyone is trying to rush to get home but traffic is a mess. In the first case, mostly open road, it might not feel out of place to be driving 80. In the second case, it’s hard to be going faster than 30, and possibly not safe to do so. In both cases, the posted limit is still 50, but it’s possible in neither case for that to be the appropriate speed at which to be driving.

Indeed, back to the initial crucial point. At any given point on Granville St, measure the average speed that everyone is going over a period of 10 minutes. That’s probably the safest speed. Set that as the speed limit, for the moment, and ticket everyone exceeding it by 20km/h or more. And also, ticket everyone going more than 20km/h slower than that. In my opinion, someone who’s going 30 on Granville and causing an angry back-up of traffic is far more dangerous than one guy who speeds by. Speed differential is the key thing… not just measuring it against an arbitrary number that someone came up with, and which coincidentally is the same speed limit as a tiny side-street a block away. Yeah, the speed limit one block east or west of Granville is 50km/h. Granville is 6 lanes, but a side-street is two at most, with parked cars and oncoming traffic having to wait for you to go by. Try driving 50 there… see how safe that feels; it doesn’t, so people don’t.

And so it is with 3 territories, 10 provinces, 50 states and 200 countries all giving conflicting directives as to how to behave. Many people in places with questionable directives have taken it upon themselves to govern themselves according to what makes sense to them. The state says it’s ok to go to gyms and bowling alleys and nightclubs? Nice, but I think I’ll stay away. The country says going to pubs and restaurants and church is no big deal? Sure, but maybe we’ll keep a social distance and not take grandma with us.

There’s still a lot of emerging data and opinion as to what’s safe and what isn’t. The “better safe than sorry” playbook, now shifting to “cautious optimism” has been very successful here in B.C., and our reward is an emerging opening-up — one we’ve earned, and will get to enjoy as long as we follow the rules we have in place which, at least around here — fortunately — make a lot of sense.

I’ll drive 30 when it makes sense, and I’ll drive 70 when it makes sense… not because I’m happy to go about breaking laws, but because it’s what reasonably makes sense to me at that time, and I’m happy to explain my reasons, and I’m happy that there are people around here who’ll listen to reason and go along with it. And if all 5 million people in B.C. and 38 million people in Canada think that way, we’ll be ok. And to be clear, I’m not suggesting you go speeding everywhere. But if everyone around you is “speeding” and if everyone is choosing to not gather in large groups or go to gyms — if you’re not sure how it’s supposed to work, look around. Most of us are OK drivers. And most of us understand what we need to do these days. Just go with that.

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Day 44 – April 29, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Business & Economics, Science of COVID-19, Travel Stories, Sports & Gaming, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

It’s an interesting thing, this North American attitude… often found in sports. The great American pastime, baseball… there are no ties. The game can go into extra innings, which in turn can end up going on longer than the original game itself. In playoff hockey, same thing… full 20-minute periods until someone scores. Recall the famous Canucks/Stars playoff game that went into a 4th overtime — more OT than the 3 periods that preceded it. And hockey is a good example; there used to be ties in the regular season. And then… no, let’s decide this… they added overtime… and for a while, if the game ended in a tie after overtime, it remained a tie. But that wasn’t good enough… so, shootout. There will never be a tie again. There must be a winner. The most American of all games… the NFL actually allows ties, but there’s OT, with rules that make it almost certain one team will win. The only reason it can’t go on forever is that after more than 4 quarters of football, injuries are far more likely. There’s maybe one tie a year in the NFL; It’s rare, and nobody likes it when it happens. And NBA basketball? They will play overtime forever until there’s a winner.

On the flipside, the most popular sport outside of North America — soccer (fútbol!) — allows ties. What’s the difference in attitude?

I used to think it was attention span. Soccer holds your attention, sometimes for several minutes, between whistles. Hockey, same thing, which is perhaps why it’s not as popular as some of the others (especially in the U.S.). But football, baseball and basketball… endless time between action; time to discuss what just happened. Time to analyze it. Time to replay it, in slow motion, from different angles. That’s what I used to think, but no. What it simply is…. is that we just like to have a winner. After the big battle, a tie is just too unsatisfying.

It’s going to turn out that this virus is not as lethal as we initially thought… but, also…. it’s nowhere near as safe as a common cold or flu. The typical flu kills 0.1% of those it infects. COVID-19 seems to be somewhere between 0.4% and 3.4%. Let’s call it 2% for the moment. That makes it 20 times worse than a common flu. But also, nowhere near as bad as SARS (15% mortality) or Ebola (50% mortality).

The end result, somewhere in the middle, is the worst case scenario for the “I told you so!!!” crowds, because it means everyone can think they were right, and everyone else was wrong. It’s a sort of a tie that nobody likes, and both sides have plenty of ammunition to throw at each other.

In places that evidently haven’t been hit hard (B.C., prime example) the screaming about how we’ve wrecked our economy for nothing. Lockdown/shutdown — why? Look…for 100 dead people, most of them old or unhealthy to begin with? All of this suffering? For what?

On the flipside, places like Northern Italy and Spain and New York, who didn’t or couldn’t do enough to prevent the wave of catastrophic exponential growth in serious cases that led to a complete overwhelming of the medical system. And lots of deaths… multiples of excess deaths over the typical expected numbers.

Let’s look at some real numbers, implied by the general assumptions we think we know about this virus. The chart below shows ranges of age, and next to them, the mortality rate associated to that age group. Next to that, last year’s numbers for Canada’s population, followed by extending that mortality rate to our population. Knowing what we know today, if we were all infected and untreated, 750,000 of us would die, most of those being elderly. 750,000 people out of 37,500,000 = … 2%.

Age Mortality Canada Deaths
80+ 14.80% 1,614,000 238,872
70-79 8.00% 2,870,000 229,600
60-69 3.60% 4,607,000 165,852
50-59 1.30% 5,251,000 68,263
40-49 0.40% 4,817,000 19,268
30-39 0.20% 5,183,000 10,366
20-29 0.20% 5,101,000 10,202
10-19 0.18% 4,145,000 7,461
0-9 0.00% 3,982,000 0

TOTAL 2 .00% 37,570,000 749,884

That would never happen here, yells one side. That’s exactly what would’ve happened, yells the other.

On Friday, we will hear two things from Dr. Henry — one, that we have done our part and should continue to do so, and given what we’ve achieved, here are the first steps in the plan of re-opening our lives. And two, keep at it — an integral part of the new normal, at least until a vaccine shows up, will be maintaining the very things that have led to this success in the first place. That’s the side I’m on… and I’d like to think my side has done so well, that, by now, there’s probably enough hospital capacity to house the covidiots marching and protesting on Beach Ave. I’d like to think a small handful of morons isn’t enough to blow this for all of us… but time will tell.

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Day 43 – April 28, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Business & Economics, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , |

Our local numbers shot up a bit today, but it’s a lot less concerning that in might have been a month ago, because we know exactly where and why this is happening… almost entirely due to known clusters playing themselves out — and play themselves out they do… some clusters have vanished, some care homes are down to zero and, for the most part, we have a really good handle on things. Things are on their way to re-opening.

Let’s also talk about some different numbers today, and what they imply.

In general, people talk about the stock market being up or down. Also, in general, it’s well understood that it’s good when the market is up, and and bad when it’s down. How does that apply to what’s going on these days?

First of all, let’s quickly define what we mean by “the market”. Everyone has heard of “The Dow”, and how it goes up and down.

The Dow (which refers to the Dow Jones Industrial Average — which is important to note, because there are other “less famous” Dow Jones averages) is an index that tracks, in real-time, the stock prices of a variety of big American companies, including Apple, McDonald's, Exxon, Boeing, Pfizer, Nike, Visa,, Walmart and Coca-Cola. That’s a little cross-section of the bigger mix… a variety of big industry. There are 30 companies that comprise the index, and you have heard of all of them. They are industry leaders, and how they’re doing is a reflection on the economy as a whole, at any given moment. On some days, when things are good and everything is way up, and the Dow will reflect that. Or the opposite, of course.

Today is a good day to use as an example, because it’s a mixed bag. Technology stocks (Microsoft, Apple, Google, Facebook) are all down. Financials (JP Morgan, Bank of America, Morgan Stanley, American Express) are all up. Consumer retail shares are a mix (Walmart, Proctor & Gamble are up, Amazon is down). Telecomm is also mixed bag (AT&T is up, T-Mobile is down, Verizon is flat).

Average it all out today, and the Dow is up… a little bit. There are other indexes to look at; the S&P 500 is the next most-commonly known, and it has a broader inclusion of the top 500 listed companies. It’s perhaps the best representation of the market as a whole. It’s also up a little today. Its little cousin, the S&P 100, which lists an arbitrary sample of those 500, is slightly down today.

At any given moment, what defines the price of an individual stock? It’s the equilibrium point where at that exact point in time, someone thinks buying those shares at that price is a good idea… while someone else thinks it’s the right time and price to sell. And these days, that someone is just as likely to be a big, intelligent computer.

Tens of thousands of shares are being traded every second, so when things get quiet (from a broad market price point-of-view), it’s an interesting oasis of calm before the next storm. Like, briefly, for a moment, everyone knows where things are at. Or, think they do…

Imagine you’ve been sitting on a little seesaw in the park, quietly enjoying smooth ups and downs with your friend. Suddenly, instantly, the seesaw grows to 20 metres long… and your friend is replaced by some gigantic bully that seizes his end of the seesaw and starts slamming it up and down, as hard as he can. You hold on for dear life, understanding that jumping off may hurt you more than just hanging on… and you just hope this giant jerk will eventually tire and go away, hopefully leaving you gently on the ground. This is what it’s felt like to be an investor these days.

The all-time high for the Dow was recent… before things came crashing down. On Feb 12th, the Dow closed at 29,551. From there began a bumpy ride that saw it lose 5,000 points over the next couple of weeks, before bouncing back up a bit. Then, in early March, all hell broke loose, and the wild swings of thousand-point gains and losses began, bottoming out at the lowest of lows, hitting 18,214 on March 23rd. And from there, it shot-up to 22,500. It’s presently sitting at 24,100… still well-off the high, but also significantly higher than that bottom. A 20% “off the high” is still alarmingly awful in such a short time, but it’s twice as good as the 40% bottom from a month ago.

Many people are saying it shouldn’t have dropped that far. Many are saying it should have dropped a lot further, and still could. Many are saying there’s no reason it should have recovered this much already. As per above, for everyone who thinks it should be higher, someone else thinks it should be lower. Those two people are presently buying/selling to/from each other, and that’s why it’s exactly where it’s at.

What caused these drastic moves? Unexpected news, rumours, fear… and, of course, real-world disclosures regarding the long-term effects of shutting down significant parts of the economy. And everyone absorbing that information, independently interpreting it and acting accordingly.

When things move that quickly, it rarely has anything to do with fundamentals. Nobody is looking at price:earnings ratios or dividend streams… more like trying to figure out market sentiment and just riding it out till things settle down.

At some point, when it’s fallen that far, a bounce is not just expected, but possibly predicted. The technical traders — those who care nothing about underlying companies but just analyze the numbers themselves… they love to pick resistance points… and identify trends in the market by when prices bounce off a price, or power through it. One of the most famous ones is based on the Golden Ratio — a relationship found all over nature. Flowers, pine cones, sea shells, dolphins, penguins… all have proportions and other fundamental constructs based on it. The magic numbers there are 61.8% and its converse, 38.2%… and whenever a market tanks, the first thing to look for is a “bounce off the 618” — which is exactly what happened to the Dow in my example above. Which further leads me to accurately assume that really, nobody knows what’s going on fundamentally, so when trying to figure out when to buy back in, “let’s just go with that”. When the Dow hit that 618 retracement, a lot of buying stepping in.

There is another index… it’s called the VIX… and if you Google VIX, you can instantly pull up a chart of it and how it looks. The VIX measures volatility, ie just how wildly things are swinging. The bigger the number, the wilder the ride.

The VIX never broke 20 in all of 2019… like you and your friend on the seesaw, quiet ups and downs. When the insanity began last month, that VIX shot up and broke 80 at one point, and has consistently been over 50 most of March. It’s recently started coming down, which is optimistically implying that things will settle down, at least to the point where maybe there’s some idea of what’s really going on. Call it cautious optimism as places start opening up and life shows some promise of taking its first steps towards normality.

And that’s market sentiment in a nutshell — nobody knows. Especially these days. Even in the best of the quietest times, there are always people on both sides of the seesaw. But the level of “unknown” these days is unprecedented… but I will tell you this, with certainty. The market will be hitting new highs… when? I don’t know. I will say September of 2022. But it could also be a lot sooner than that. Or, it could be a lot later. See what I mean?

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Day 42 – April 27, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Business & Economics, Travel Stories, Sports & Gaming, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

Purely for the sake of creating examples, I am going to once again virtually kill a lot of people. Please don’t be sad… this is all made up as I go along.

  • Older lady, sheltering with family. All of them became a little sick, but not sick enough to get tested. Some fevers and coughs. She dies in her sleep, but doesn’t get tested. A few weeks later, the family is tested and they’ve all had it.
    – Young man, smoker, high blood pressure. Has a heart attack and dies. Tested and found to have had the virus.
    – Elderly man, tested positive, was doing ok at home, but breathing is becoming difficult. Gets in the car, speeding to the hospital, blows a red light and gets T-boned by a truck. Killed instantly.
    – Young man who, as a result of the lockdown, lost his business and is now losing his home, history of depression, commits suicide. Tests negative.
    – Same example as above, but tests positive.
    – Middle-aged man has a heart attack, rushed to hospital, but massive delay at ER… and dies while waiting for admission. Tests positive. Or negative. Whatever.

    I can come up with lots of “edge cases”, but perhaps they don’t serve much purpose other than to spark an interesting conversation. Some of these are obvious, some are not, and some, one could argue, should be… but aren’t.

    The question you might think I’m about to pose is… what counts as a COVID-19 death… and yes, that’s part of it… but trying to answer just that question… can be quite problematic.

    At the moment, there is confusion and disagreement with respect to what counts and what doesn’t. There is a certainly a big difference between dying of COVID-19, and dying with it. And there’s a lot of grey area in-between the obvious cases.

    To compound the confusion, different jurisdictions have different ways of counting things… and many of them have changed their method as time has progressed. On April 14th, the state of New York changed what counts as a COVID-19 death, adding 3,700 to their count. More recently, Pennsylvania made adjustments that lowered their number by 200.

    My examples above are only a tiny fraction of the sorts of cases one could argue one way or the other, and my examples are pretty superficial. When it comes to categorizing deaths where there were pre-exisitng conditions, it requires real medical knowledge, and even then… one lung is full of fluid but the other is not, patient was positive but that’s an unusual presentation of the virus, plus this, minus that… it’s up for debate among medical professionals, let alone everyone else who may have a vested interest in that number being higher or lower.

    It’s complicated. And, obviously, necessary to standardize in the long run so everyone can be talking about the same thing. But in the meantime, there’s another number that’s very telling and, to a great extent, indisputable.

    If you want to shut up the “it’s just a seasonal flu” crowd, and the “the death rate is like 0.04% because everyone already has it” crowd… look no further than excess deaths.

    Excess deaths is exactly what is sounds like… if in a certain place, on average, N people die in the month of March, and historically that’s held quite accurately as X% of the population, then you have a pretty good argument for COVID-19 deaths when that number is N+2,000. Even if the official tally says only 1,500 virus deaths, you know it’s been understated by up to 500… which would indicate undercounting by 33%

    You can then set aside the differences between states and countries as to what counts and what doesn’t, because after you factor out the obvious ones such as accidents, you have a bunch of deaths that are generally unaccounted for, with no category. There’s a good chance that this virus is their category.

    This has been going on long enough that we can actually start looking at those numbers, to see if they reveal anything of value.

    Note that there are times when averages are worth talking about… and there are times when they are not. Averaging the ages of passengers on a school bus full of kindergarten kids and their grandparents… tells us little. The average of 20 5-year-olds and 20 people aged 68 to 82… is about 40. And nobody on that bus is anywhere near that age. Two averages tell us a lot more… like one average is 5, and the other is 75.

    Keeping that in mind… is there any consistency with respect to excess deaths?

    Europe is a good place to look, with its diversity of population and experience during this pandemic. The average excess death percentage across 13 countries is 49%… which means for every two documented COVID-19 deaths, there was an additional one that flew under the radar.

    As one might expect, the hardest hit places were Italy (90%) and Spain (51%). Those are two places where things got out of control quickly… and also where there is already enough data to make sweeping generalizations. If you look at graphs of what this looks like, The Financial Times, at ft.com, has an article titled “Global coronavirus death toll could be 60% higher than reported” with lots of little graphs, per country, to look at.

    Note that this still isn’t apples to apples, because Spain and Italy were first, and are much further along their pandemic trajectory than others. In comparison, you might be tempted to look at other countries and think it doesn’t look so bad, but this is something to revisit in the future, when more than one month of data is available. Those graphs, per country, all show a series of flat, grey lines (previous years) and then the red 2020 line… which goes along quietly on top of the others and then suddenly spikes, sharply and quite alarmingly in most cases. What’s interesting to see is that these spikes are like ocean waves… and there’s no way to tell if that wave is crashing, or whether it’s the first part of the wall of a tsunami. Ideally, it spikes right back down again… and Spain and Italy may well be doing that. The others; the jury is still out. The England/Wales number is “only” 37%, but that graph looks ready to continue to rise, and/or at least continue to fill a long red section. As do many others.

    And when you drill down to certain, known areas of concern… New York City — forget the official stats… they have a 300% excess death-rate to look at. London, 96%. Paris, 122%. Stockholm, 75%. And if you look at Northern Italy, specifically the hard-hit Bergamo province… 464%.

    He are some raw and indisputable numbers of how it looks when things don’t get clamped down. Lots more people die, directly or indirectly, as a result of this virus.

These places seems distant and irrelevant to some of us here, lucky enough to live in a place with 39 new cases yesterday and only 11 today. And that’s a result of doing things right. It’s not just luck.

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Day 41 – April 26, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Travel Stories, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , |

Today is the quiet day with numbers, so not much to say except let’s see how tomorrow pans out. Yesterday’s spike around here is mostly attributable to a few known and developing clusters, but we’re at the edge of the 14-day window after the Easter long weekend… so its effects, if any, may also be coming to light. I’ve just guessed at today’s B.C. number, but for what it’s worth, Ontario today saw it’s lowest numbers for new cases and deaths in two weeks; more signs of everything going in the right direction.

I’ll adjust numbers tomorrow when we get a real update, but for now, with not much more to add, writing yesterday’s airplane post reminded me of something that happened about 20 years ago… just before 9/11, when there was a whole lot less security… almost non-existent in some airports. So I’ll tell you about that.

I was traveling from Chile to Costa Rica, via a brief stop-over in Lima, Peru. The usual pit-stop for fuel and more passengers.

The city of Lima is right on the coast, and the airport is next to the water. Having stopped there before, I knew there had been a time when they'd make you get off the plane and go to the waiting area, where they'd hoped you’d spend your hard-earned dollars on low-grade over-priced Peruvian artisan crap. I guess nobody ever bought anything because now they’d given up; now you wait on the plane. In fact, as punishment, except for those whose final destination was Lima, nobody was allowed off the plane.

The plane lands, the doors open, air-stairs pull up. The plane is out in the middle of the tarmac, so they open both the front and back doors, allowing the lovely midday breeze to flow through the plane. The sickly aroma of trash, rotting fish and jet fuel is a "refreshing" change. The holy trifecta of nauseous smells, all conveniently packaged for your travelling convenience.

They leave the doors open because those guys in orange vests and clean-up people and inspectors and whoever are all walking through, and then the new passengers start getting on as well. The plane's air-conditioning hasn't been turned off during any of it, so the smells are well-infused into the system by the time they close the doors.

A few people are complaining about the smell, but the stewardesses are helpless. They shrug their shoulders and make sympathetic noises about spraying deodorizer once we're in the air. I've got my face buried in this little "eye-pillow" — it's not very big, but it's full of Lavender and Sage and other wonderful-smelling herbs.

Fast forward to about an hour into the flight… the smell hasn't gotten any better. In fact, it's worse — especially the fish aspect of it. It's really bad. I'm wondering how it could possibly be getting worse; that doesn't make too much sense. What sort of air system amplifies bad smells?

Suddenly, there's gasping and shouting coming from the back of the plane… and then, the most awful pungent disgusting stench you can possibly imagine overwhelms the entire cabin. Someone had decided to open the overheard compartment to get something. Well, as you well-know, be careful when opening the overhead bins… items may shift during flight…

As it turns out, one very special sort of idiot boarded the plane with fish. Not a fancy wooden box of freeze-dried Canadian Salmon sort-of-thing; not the overpriced touristy last-minute gift-shop vacuum-sealed sample of the local delicacy… not a jar of herring… not a can of sardines… no, not that…

No… this was a good old-fashioned styrofoam box with a loose lid, and a fish or two thrown in it… and the styrofoam box and at least one of its occupants now found themselves on the floor of the plane. I was in the window seat, so really couldn’t see to the back; I was relying on the play-by-play of the lady on the aisle, and here are some of her comments, translated from the original, colourful Spanish:

"For the love of sweet Jesus and his sainted mother, he has a fish!"
"For God's sake, I think the fish is alive, it's moving! Oh, no, it's just that some guy is stepping on it"
"That little girl is going to be sick, I just know it, I can tell, I know these things. See, I told you"

It really is hard to describe. I mean, we've all smelled fish. We've all smelled rotten fish. But if you've ever been in a cigar tube 7 miles above the ground with no opportunity to open a window — well, it does add a whole new dimension to the experience. And add to that, the variety of sounds and smells of other people becoming ill. I recall the guy on the other side of the aisle in the "crash position" with his head between his knees. He was next.

After a lot of hysterics, things got better. They found some plastic wrap and sealed the whole mess. They sprayed some powerful, good-smelling stuff on the fish juice on the floor… and throughout the cabin. And free drinks for everyone. All good.

Thinking back on it… and I realize this was before 9/11, but still… can someone kindly explain to me how someone manages to get a box of fish onto an airplane? Was the guy at the X-ray machine asleep? Didn't care? That X-ray must have been hilarious to see, a literal fish skeleton. Hey sir, mind if we look in the box? What’s in here? Oh, fish, of course, that’s what we thought. I mean, that’s what it looked like and we could smell it a mile away… just wanted to verify! Have a great flight!

Agh.. you know, we were going to order sushi tonight. Now I’m not so sure.

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October 5, 2020

By |October 5th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Life in Vancouver, Sports & Gaming, Philosophy, Art & Literature|6 Comments

In 1981, John Hinckley Jr. attempted to assassinate president Ronald Regan. He opened fire from short range, seriously injuring both Reagan and, even more critically, White House Press Secretary James Brady. Also caught in the crossfire were police officer Thomas Delahanty and Secret Service agent Tim McCarthy.

Tim McCarthy wasn’t even supposed to be working that day. When an extra agent was needed, he and a co-worker flipped a coin. McCarthy lost the toss, and he was the one who, when the shooting started, got in front of president Reagan, made himself as big a shield as he could (while another agent shoved Reagan into the car)… and then, literally, took a bullet for the president. That is indeed part of the job description, and he did it admirably and heroically, for which he was greatly admired and celebrated. It takes quite a mindset and commitment to serve and protect in that capacity.

It brings to mind the guys currently tasked with the job, who might be wondering when they signed up for this particular detail, if taking a bullet from the president was part of it. Throwing a couple of secret service agents into a hermetically sealed and bullet-proof car, as masked and protected as they may have been – just so the president can go for a joyride? Not the heroism they were expecting.

The lunacy of all of this has brought up comparisons with movies; all of them comedies. “Weekend at Bernie’s” comes to mind; how long they’d maintain the charade if he actually died, taking a page out of the Soviet dead-leader playbook. As stated, it’s hard to figure out the truth. The cocktail of medicine administered to Trump has the flavour of “throw everything at him” despair… the antibodies, the remdesivir, the dexamethasone (which has been shown to be life-saving in the sickest of C19 patients, but risky and potentially dangerous if taken earlier in the course of the disease). All of that on top of the other vitamins and medicine he’s been on, perhaps still hydrochloroquine. And don’t forget the Clorox/Ajax/UV IV… all of this implying he’s really sick; on the flipside, he’s demanding to go home, and might already be back at the White House by the time you read this. If this were a movie, … [Continue Reading]

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October 4, 2020

By |October 4th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Our Dog|19 Comments

The messaging coming out of the White House is so contradictory, it’s not even worth trying to figure it out. There’s internal disagreement with what they’re trying to say (forget the truth; that’s irrelevant – this is just about the picture they’re trying to paint). Doctored videos, pictures supposedly taken throughout the day but actually taken 10 minutes apart…. Trump hard at work… signing blank pieces of paper. He’s going home soon; he’s staying in the hospital for a while. Enough already; this isn’t news… just failed propaganda.

Does anyone remember the Soviet leaders that came after Brezhnev (and before Gorbachev)? First there was Yuri Andropov. One day he was fine; the next day, the Kremlin reported he had a bit of a cold. The next day he was dead. Following him came Konstantin Chernenko… fine one day, caught a little cold, died the next day.

We can excuse all that because that was the former Soviet Union, where there was no semblance of free press, and the only source of news came from the government… it wasn’t a question of truth. The “truth” that was rammed down everyone’s throat and expected to be accepted.

That’s not so easy to pull off these days, and it’s making the White House look ridiculous… and questioning the credibility of a number of people, including Trump’s own doctor.

No useful information emerging from there, and nothing too useful around here either since it’s the weekend. Tomorrow, we’ll get an informative over-the-weekend update – for Canada. For the U.S… don’t hold your breath.

The numbers and charts, as incomplete as they will be for today, will be posted shortly… for now, you get a picture of my dog… who also looks like he’s worried about what the heck is going on…


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October 3, 2020

By |October 3rd, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Philosophy, Art & Literature|0 Comments

Sometimes, I write these posts in the morning… sometimes, at the last minute… a few times, the day before. I get the impression I’m going to have to back off trying to be too current, because the news changes almost as fast as I can type… and by the time you’re reading this, it could be largely out of date. In any event, I’m writing this earlier in the day and it might be longer than usual to make up for the fact that I won’t have much time tomorrow… so let’s pack two day’s worth of thoughts into one…

First thing… on this side of the 49th… Ontario increased its C19 death numbers significantly… 111 deaths in two days… but no, it’s not so dire. The vast majority of those were re-classifications from deaths earlier in the year.

South of the border… in the news, and changing by the minute, is the remarkable irony of the White House event which was intended to be the grand introduction of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee… but could turn out to be the very reason why Judge Amy Coney Barrett doesn’t ascend to the Supreme Court… that being that there may not be sufficient votes in person to achieve confirmation… because too many Republican senators will be sick and/or quarantining.

I’ve never been to a White House event, but I can only imagine it’s the sort of get-together that involves exotic teas and tiered platters with egg and cucumber sandwiches (no crust, of course), yummy pastries, scones, whipped butter, jam… you get the idea. The poshest of the posh. Side-note, that really made me hungry – any recommendations for local fancy tea places?

Anyway, that particular event will not go down in history for the fine food that was served, nor for the fine China upon which it was presented. Instead, it will be forever known as the Covid-19 Super-Spreader event that changed the course of American history.

It’s only been a few days, but now we’re getting a very accurate account of how fast this virus spreads when it’s in our midst and not taken seriously. Those Republicans, scoffing at the notion of wearing a mask — lest they be ridiculed by their Fearless Leader – may have screwed themselves out of contention. Their reckless, holier-than-thou attitude … [Continue Reading]

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October 2, 2020

By |October 2nd, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Philosophy, Art & Literature|0 Comments

Given the way he conducts himself in public, it’s surprising it took this long for Donald Trump to test positive. It should’ve happened months ago, but rumour has it that when no one’s looking, he’s a lot more careful. There are those quotes from Bob Woodward that would lead one to believe Trump clearly understood the severity and risks of C19 long ago. Of course, it’s not his outward-facing message… even recently mocking Joe Biden and his big mask… but behind closed doors, he’s been terrified of getting it… as well he should be, since he’s in that high-risk category, for a few reasons, not the least of which are his age, obesity and heart disease.

His people would like you to think he has a 0.0002% chance of dying from it, but the truth is not so favourable. Given the demographic within which he falls, mitigated by the fact that he’s got the most sophisticated medical care at his disposal… and given what’s been learned with respect to treatment… his resolved-case survival rate is probably around 95%, which means a 1 in 20 chance of dying from this. Also concerning is how many important and influential people he’s been around, with his usual wanton recklessness. More than 20 for sure, so within the next couple of weeks, don’t be too surprised at the news of a concerning hospitalization or two.

For now, we wait and see… there are of course a lot of obvious questions… but it’s not really worth wandering down the paths of speculation. What if Biden also got it? What if Trump dies a week before the election? A week after? What if he’s alive but incapacitated but lucid enough to refuse to transfer power? What if he’s really sick and then Pence gets sick? What if this, what if that. There are actually answers to all of the way-out-there possibilities, but all of them would be challenged… in the courts and on the streets.

In any event, it’s a volatile situation that can change by the minute. As I’m writing this, the president is being rushed to the Walter Reed Medical Centre… a trip he’d usually make via a 30-minute drive… but today, it’s a 4-minute helicopter ride.

Up to this moment, nobody is saying much… he was … [Continue Reading]

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October 1, 2020

By |October 1st, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Sports & Gaming|3 Comments

I just got back from the track a few minutes ago (it’s closing day of a very memorably-odd 25-day season… but it was great to see some familiar faces), where I watched my horse “Blueprint” run 2nd in one of the most prestigious races of the year… so that’s good. But that “2” is about the only good number around.

Canada, today, saw its 160,000th C19 case… and recorded 22 deaths, the largest 24-hour total since July. When you look at the chart below, at the Canadian growth numbers, you’ll see them all above 1% over the last 5 days. And if you look further back, you’ll see them all below 1%… going all the way back to May. We slowed it down from the end of May onward, and now it’s crawled back… and, if you look at the corresponding graph, it’s crawling rather steeply.

It’s interesting to look at the trends of the other charts, too. Notably, B.C., which briefly looked like it was going to spiral out of control… hasn’t. Things have tailed off recently. That meteoric rise has slowed and backed off. Maybe Dr. Henry managed to scare us back into order.

Alberta is fighting to keep its growth flat, and while things could be better, they could also be worse. They’re fighting to keep their spread in schools under control, and it’s not looking great; let’s hope for the best.

So what’s driving this national growth? The usual, of course… Ontario and Quebec… who both, at some point, were looking to have things well under control. Not anymore. The numbers, the graphs, the deaths; none of it is good. Everything sliding in the wrong direction.

My horse “Blueprint”, to be honest, is probably not destined for greatness. He really stepped it up today and I’m proud of him… especially because there’s only so much you can do. Our very excellent trainer Dino does what he can to prepare the horse, but once the starting gate springs open, anything can happen.

Similarly, the national blueprint for handling a pandemic requires the involvement of everyone. The trainer does what he can; the jockey does what he can. But it’s ultimately up to the horse… and horses, like people… they can be stubborn.

You can lead a horse to water… you can … [Continue Reading]

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