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Day 40 -April 25, 2020

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

When I was a kid, I used to ride my bike all over the place… without a helmet. Also, when I was a kid, I was taken to many soccer practices and games in the back of a station wagon — the coach’s car served as a sort of team bus… and since I was near the end of the “bus route”… I’d end up thrown in the back, along with the soccer balls and oranges… all of us bouncing along to the endless rhythm of a creaky suspension. And… quick right turns and pot holes… often, the trip to and from the field bruised me up more than the soccer itself.

Such was the spirit of how it was in the late 70s, so it won’t surprise anyone to learn that flying in those days was also a little more lax. On family trips where the plane’s seating configuration was 3-4-3, we would be in that middle section… my parents on the aisles, my sister and I trapped in the middle… and that was ok, because on long flights, one of us would curl up on the two middle seats, and the other on the floor. And, to be honest, I preferred the floor. There was more room there… and sometimes, if we had the bulkhead, we’d both wind up there… sleeping on the floor, for hours. Seatbelts? LOL. The flight attendants would provide us extra pillows and blankets and smile at the cute little kids sprawled out on the carpet.

Back then, you could smoke on planes, and many people did. In my earliest memories, the entire plane was one large smoking pit. But I have an excellent memory of when they instituted a no-smoking section, at the back of the plane. My parents booked seats back there, but when got to our four seats, every other seat around us was already occupied, many of them with people smoking. My father found a flight attendant and asked… aren’t these supposed to be no-smoking? “Oh sorry… yes….” she replied, and then proceeded to velcro onto our four headrests these little fabric “No Smoking” logos. Perfect… problem solved.

I remember that flight in particular… because I sat there, unable to sleep, and inhaling 2nd-hand smoke for 8 hours. And I remember that whole charade of the the no-smoking nonsense…. like, forget the ridiculous and meaningless logos attached to our seats, ironically perhaps, given that we were the only people within 3 rows either way who didn’t smoke… but, seriously, what difference is it going to make anyway. If one single person on this plane is smoking, we’re all smoking. It’s not like we can open a window, and there’s only so much recirculated air filtering can do with that volume of smoke. On top of that, we were so far back, we couldn’t see the movie… which was one big crappy projection screen 30 rows ahead of us, blocked by 100 heads, faded and scratched with time, barely visible through the haze of smoke… and the sound wasn’t electronic headphones but rather these plastic tubes that conducted sound via air, not electrons. The whole thing sucked.

It’s ludicrous to imagine that, with a straight face, an airline can offer a no-smoking section… like rows 10 to 29 are smoking, but 30 to 50 are not. The guy in row 31 has a pretty valid complaint when he says he didn’t sign up for this.

Similarly, today… the guy who lives in Alabama, but near the Georgia border…

OK, let’s back up a bit and expand my little airplane metaphor. What if this 50-row plane was… umm, “governed” by 50 different flight attendants. And each flight attendant could make their own rules about what gets to happen on their particular row. Row 11 is no smoking, but free drinks. Row 14 is smoking but no drinking. Row 17 allows smoking, but only cigars and pipes. Row 20 was promised as no smoking and no drinking, but the raucous from the 10 rows in front of it are making it an unpleasant journey for those folks.

To a great extent, when everyone booked their seat, they really didn’t know what rules would apply, nor did they realize that they might change “on the fly (haha)”, but many are complaining that it’s not fair that row 25 gets this, but row 29 does not. The plane hasn’t even taken off yet, and it’s chaos… and, typically, when there’s confusion in the cabin, the flight attendants look to the captain and co-pilot for guidance… but let’s not go there again.

Back on the ground, the state Georgia, as of yesterday, is back in business. Some of it, anyway… including gyms, fitness centers, bowling alleys, body-art studios, barbers, cosmetologists, hair designers, nail care artists, estheticians and massage therapists. It’s a curious list… gyms? Fitness centres? Bowling alleys? Places where lots of people breathe hard, touch common surfaces and are in close quarters? Should be fine.

Since there is no relevant leadership at the federal level, and no federal guidance… it’s up to the 50 states to decide what they want to do. Given the individual differences and motivations and lobbying efforts at the state level (Gyms? Bowling alleys?), things will be 50 versions of different. And that can turn out to be a pretty serious problem, because the cigarette smoke from Georgia will most certainly drift into Alabama. And Florida, and Tennessee, and the Carolinas.

There is understandably a tremendous amount of pressure to get things going again. Around here, there’s a plan in place, based on what we’re seeing and expect to see in the near future. Today’s jump in numbers in B.C. can be attributed largely to the breakouts in known clusters, in this case, a correctional facility. That’s one number to look at, but just as important are hospitalizations and ICU cases. There’s no jump there. And generally speaking, across the country today, encouraging signs that the trend continues to show a slowing of growth. TTD numbers used to be a few days… and now they are a few weeks. This is exactly what we want to see to line things up for re-opening the province… and the country.

But doing so requires a coordinated effort, with buy-in from everyone.

Looking below the 49th, doing it differently all over the place guarantees one thing: everyone, doing something different, can’t all be right. Which means in some places it will be wrong… how wrong, and the effects of that… remain to be seen.

Fasten your seatbelts, my American friends… there’s turbulence ahead. Rest assured, the plane will eventually land safely… but it’ll be a bumpy ride.

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Day 39 – April 24, 2020

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

Yesterday, I talked about the dinosaur apocalypse… how they were all wiped out. But, to reiterate, the only ones that were fully wiped out were the ones on the ground. As hard as it is to believe, and I know some will take exception to this… but… birds… are not descendants of dinosaurs. They are dinosaurs… the ones that survived that cataclysmic event 65… sorry, 66 million years go.

That cataclysmic event was so… umm, cataclysmic… that it wiped out 75% of all species on earth. That was fortunate for those who survived, because it gave them the evolutionary advantage to thrive, among them… mammals.

It’s a long line of evolution between those mammals and the first hominoids… but it does beg an interesting question; has the human race ever been close to extinction? Terrestrial dinosaurs were around for close to 200 million years. Humans have only been around… well, depends how you look at it. With broad brush strokes, the human animal… maybe 300,000 years… but we only began to exhibit what you might call “modern behaviour” around 100,000 years ago.

What would’ve happened if a pandemic-capable virus had shown up? Not much, because there was next to no overlap of communities distanced by geography. It makes one wonder, how often have there been these sorts of viruses over the centuries? Probably lots. But it was localized, there was no treatment, there was no social distancing… all that happened was a big wave of very sick people dying, and eventually through herd immunity and/or lots of death, the virus made its way through everyone it could, and then disappeared from existence.

But the human race actually did come close to extinction, and it wasn’t that long ago, geologically speaking. Well, this is one theory. It’s interesting, as usual, to research things on the Internet because you can always tell where the conformation bias lies. You can tell what people want to believe, and how they conform their evidence to support their side.

Around 75.000 years ago, there was a massive volcanic eruption — one of the biggest ever. The Toba Supereruption (Lake Toba, Sumatra, Indonesia) erupted and ejected some 2,800 cubic kilometres of magma. That is a staggeringly huge cube of hot, melted rock… and it left behind something the same size as the crater that took out the dinosaurs… an enormous 100 x 30 km caldera complex. Once again, it messed with the environment very significantly… the six billion tons of sulphur dioxide that were ejected into the atmosphere caused a global cooling of up to 15 degrees all around the planet for at least a few years, and it was many decades before things returned to normal. This lowered the tree line and snow line by about 10,000 feet… and for humans who were used to a dry, temperate climate, years of perpetual snow did not sit well.

There is a genetic bottleneck at the time when looking back at humans, meaning it seems we can all trace our DNA back to a small group (like a few thousand humans) who made it through that. The rest were wiped out. And to some extent, if that’s what happened, you have to assume we’ve all evolved from a pretty tough group of humans. This was survival of the fittest imposed in the harshest of ways.

This is one theory, and it’s very interesting. There is another group of scientists who claim that’s hogwash, and that the evidence doesn’t necessarily imply any of that.

Whatever the case, all of that I learned yesterday while digging into dinosaurs… you know how the internet can be… one moment you’re reading about what you were researching, like dinosaurs and their extinction… and 40 minutes later you’re reading about mentally ill monarchs throughout human history.

That’s a good little segue onto a topic I really don’t want to touch here. I had a whole thing written out, and indeed, I could write a book on my thoughts with respect to American politics of the day, but this is a scientific and statistical endeavour, ostensibly aimed at keeping track where we are with respect to this pandemic. On that note, it’s not irrelevant to point out, as I have earlier, the shortcomings I see when it comes to leadership pulling in different directions, etc etc. But I just deleted many paragraphs that delve into far more detail, and will leave it at that.

OK, one paragraph. I worry greatly for the great country of the United States of America. Every single day, thanks to the actions or words of just one man, the chasm that separates two groups (big broad brushstrokes here: Republicans and Democrats) — gets a little bigger. It started on day 1, lying about the inauguration crowd size. “Who really cares” is really what should have been the answer, but he chose to lie about it, then double down on his lies, then make others lie for him… it was bewildering, to be honest. What the hell is going on? There was incontrovertible evidence… pictures and witnesses and everyone who was there… but no. It ended up with “alternative facts” trying to be jammed down our throats. All of this on day 1 of his presidency. And since that day, whenever he says or does something that is completely unpresidential, both sides rise to the challenge. And while the argument rages on about who’s right and who’s wrong, the country slides a little bit more downhill. This is not to bash on Republicans and Democrats… there was a time when both those parties worked in harmony for the greater good of the country, especially in times of crisis. I really wonder how repairable this is now. Long after Trump is gone, the degree of bipartisanship needed to successfully guide a country — may not be achieved for many, many years. And I’m not interested in the bullshit arguments of what a great job he’s presently doing. He’s not. I don’t use vague handwaving and gut feel to come to my conclusions, I use hard facts. As you may recall, this entire project of charts and graphs and light commentary started with a simple exercise of trying to track Canada’s response to this crisis as measured by comparing the U.S. and how they were doing. And comparing them to Italy, who was ahead of them. The short answer now is: Awful. Brutal. Look at the numbers, look at the graphs. This isn’t fake news, this isn’t opinion. These are their numbers. These are confused people. These are hospitals that can’t keep up. These are states and leaders with mixed messages. These are deaths. These are the preventable disastrous blue line and its associated numbers, towering over the green, red and black ones below it. This is failed leadership, from the very top.

Sorry for the long paragraph… but I did say, just one paragraph. But, some numbers… Canada, today, flat or better growth all across the country. U.S…. more deaths today than the number of new cases in Canada. Also U.S., more deaths today than the entire number of known cases seen in B.C., active or resolved, since the beginning of this pandemic. And finally, U.S., more new cases today than all of what Canada has seen, combined, since day one. By the end of the weekend, the U.S. will have seen its one millionth case. Canada will be below 50,000. That same proportion maps to deaths. And some quick math for you… no, the population of the U.S. is not 20 times that of Canada. Not even 10. As President Trump likes to sign at the end of many of his Tweets: Sad.

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Day 38 – April 23, 2020

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

When I was a kid, I was taught that the dinosaurs died out sixty-five million years ago. More recently, my kids, when they were in elementary school studying dinosaurs… were taught that they died out sixty-six million years ago. How exactly did a million years elapse in less than 50? Was it at 65,999,980 in the late 70s, and it just recently “rolled” over to 66?

No… but something must have changed, and it did, from various directions. Geophysicists, geologists, palaeontologists and other researchers… all working on completely different things — some drilling for oil in the Gulf of Mexico, some working on hypotheses regarding the mass-extinction event from around 65 million years ago, some researching a very thin but fossil-diverse soil layer in New Jersey from around that time period… at some point, in the early 80s, someone asked the “what if…?” of a meteor/asteroid/comet slamming into earth might hold some explanations… and indeed, the puzzle pieces all fit. And, further to that, if that were the case, we should also be finding other things, specifically… well, this and that, and when “this and that” were searched for, they were found. Including dating that massive crater to just over 66 million years.

That crater (the Chicxulub crater — 100km wide, 30km deep) was caused by a piece of rock somewhere between 11 and 81 km in diameter, slamming into the earth with a force of somewhere around 500 billion Hiroshima A-bombs. That’s a lot of bombs… so let’s do some ridiculous math…

Each bomb is 3 metres long…. so if we line them up, end to end, that’s 1.5 billion km. That’s from earth, to the sun… and back. Five times. Or back and forth to Mars, four times. Or one, nice long line of A-bombs… from here to Saturn.

So imagine all that firepower concentrated in one spot, all blowing up at once. It’s a wonder the earth itself survived. It did, though the massive earthquakes and tsunamis and acid rain and volcanic eruptions and blocked-out sun for years… did not make for great living conditions. All of the terrestrial-based dinosaurs were wiped out, and all that’s left of them are the ones that could literally fly above disaster below. Indeed, from a dinosaur’s point of view, we are all living in a post-apocalyptic world.

And how do we know all this? Science. Knowledge attained through study and practice. Knowledge acquired through the rigours of scientific testing, which itself implies a methodology that includes proving hypotheses though experimentation, data-collection and analysis. It’s not vague hand-waving and guesswork.

Which is why it’s getting a little frustrating listening to some of the nonsense spewing out of the mouths of some politicians and business leaders from around the world. Yeah, we get it — the economy is in shambles. We need to get back to normal. Everybody is suffering. But when the vast majority of scientists agree on something, they’re probably right. And when it’s not what you want to hear, that doesn’t make them the bad guy. Listen to them. Don’t fire them. We are all suffering through this present situation, and the virus doesn’t care who you are, what your political motivations are, how much money you’re losing every day. But the virus does care about surviving…if it could think, that’s the only thing it would care about. In fact, if it could survive without causing you any bad side-effects, it’d probably choose that, because then it could propagate further and guarantee its survival. Either way, it’s not going to go away on its own… and its efforts to survive hurt us… and if we left it to run wild, we would be in a world of hurt.

Many different scientists are working on this. Not geologists nor palaeontologists. More like epidemiologists, microbiologists, immunologists, virologists and biotechnologists. And a whole host of other “…ists”. Today, they say things like “social distance” and “lockdown”, and for that, they’re the bad guys. One day, when the same people are saying, “here’s a vaccine”, they will be heroes.

They’re already heroes, thrown into a spotlight none of them ever wanted. “Leave me alone to do my research for the greater good”, they would tell you… but instead, they seem to face the wrath of those who don’t want to deal with reality because it conflicts with their electorate and/or bottom line.

Once again, and I’ve said this countless times… we’re very lucky around here. We have scientists who know what they’re talking about and we have politicians who listen to them and we have business leaders who understand the big picture. Looking around the world, we seem to be in a fortunate bubble of intelligence, harmony and cooperation… which is why if we do what they say, we will all get out of this sooner. And today is a good example; only 29 new cases here in B.C., including cases in known clusters… which means, at most, only a handful of new community cases. No jumps in hospitalizations or ICU cases. Steady as she goes.

And by the way, scientists… you managed to adjust that dinosaur number by a million years… we’ve been at this for about 4 months now… and back then, we were being told a vaccine in 12 to 18 months away. Can we adjust that a bit…? How about 8 to 14 months?

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Day 37 – April 22, 2020

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

I left the house yesterday, for the first time in a while. Some things need to be done in person… I drove downtown to my bank’s main branch, one of the few that’s open. With all of it pre-arranged, I put on a mask, gloves… walked in, put down a piece of paper, grabbed some cash and left. It took less than 2 minutes. I’d like to pretend the mask was so they wouldn’t know who I am, and the gloves so I wouldn’t leave fingerprints. The piece of paper would’ve been a stick-up note, of course… I was alone, so I just went back to the car and drove home… but I wish I’d have had a driver, so I could’ve jumped into the car and screamed, “Step on it!!” — because that whole episode was about as close as I’ll ever come to robbing a bank.

The drive home reminded me of when I got my first car in 1986. Driving up and down Granville St. in the middle of the day with so little traffic — that’s what it used to feel like driving here 30+ years ago. It also reminded me of how I used to drive in those days… in an effort to always be able to speed off with no traffic in front of me. Like, if you’re on a road with two lanes going your way and you’re approaching a red light, and there’s a car stopped there in one of the lanes, you change to the open lane. Or if there are already two cars there, pick the one that’s likelier to go faster than the other, so you can find that space to go around both of them. Switch lanes to follow the faster car. When one is a truck and the other is a Ferrari, it’s easy. Or when the guy in the left lane is turning… or the one in the right lane is turning, but there are pedestrians. Whatever the case, pick the lane that’ll open up quicker.

But what happens when both are the same car, like identical? And you didn’t notice which one approached the light quicker. It could go either way… so you have to make a simple guess. And if someone behind you is also approaching the light, and they think the same way you do, they’ll see two cars in one lane and one in the other, and simply pick the emptier one. Now that guy is next to you, and neither of you knows who’s going to go faster.

What’s interesting about that situation is that you got to go first in making your decision… but it might not be to your advantage. You zigged, so he zagged in response. You acted, he reacted. Going second is often the easier choice, especially if there’s something to learn from the guy who went first… but even if there’s nothing to learn, the guy going first isn’t always right, and when he’s wrong, you get to be right. And when you do get to learn something… well, imagine a game of Rock-Paper-Scissors where you get to go second… a moment after your opponent has thrown their move. Not much of a game.

It’s generally accepted that going first in chess gives you an advantage, at least initially. White gets to go first, and most chess players prefer white. That was easy. But when it comes to handling the huge unknowns of a global pandemic… things aren’t as simple as Chess Club.

The world has given us plenty of examples. There’s a “let’s learn from the others” club. Canada is part of that club. New Zealand as well, one of its proudest members.

There’s the “we’ll do it our way” club, with the U.K. as the charter member, and Sweden joining in later, even after the founding nation cancelled its membership.

There’s the “we’re too unorganized to respond properly, for a variety of reasons”, where the U.S. is the predominant member, but others are scrambling to join.

There is also the “we knew what was coming and saw all of the examples but still didn’t respond properly” club, and its newest member is Mexico. They are suddenly realizing a lot more could have (and should have) been done, but now it’s looking like that lack of flattening the curve will lead to a situation where their medical infrastructure can’t handle it. Or, conversely, as other sources claim, there’s no problem that can’t be handled. And into the mix, no mandatory isolation… and public fighting between the private sector and the government, with some business leaders demanding the country stay open and urging people to ignore suggestions from the health minister. Throw into the mix the drug cartel, who themselves are handing out care packages to people (rice, pasta, cooking oil, toilet paper) with pictures of “El Chapo” on them… against the expressed wishes of the government. The model where everyone is pulling in different directions, to better serve their own individual needs or beliefs… has not worked well. Here comes one more member for that particular club… one you don’t want to join.

Closer to home… there was a spike in new cases, but it was to be expected. The outbreak in the poultry facility is just one cluster where testing is catching up to the outbreak… so we may see bigger numbers in the coming days, but they don’t necessarily reflect a bad trend; in fact, hospitalizations and ICU cases are at their lowest levels for the month. But… it does imply… we have a ways to go before the real openings can begin. These numbers need to go down, steadily… not just keep level. Let’s all keep doing what we’re doing… as fruitless as it sometimes seems, because things are going so well around here; it’s because of what we’re doing that they are… and let’s not wreck it. We’re getting there. But you want it to be over now, and I get that too. Join the club.

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Day 36 – April 21, 2020

Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, The First 100 Days, Science of COVID-19, Space & Astronomy, Philosophy, Art & Literature|Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , |

The answer to the question…. “Where are you finding all this time to research and write?” — is every simple. All the time I spent driving, parking, walking… from meeting to meeting to lunch to meeting to meeting to whatever… well, when all of that travel can be measured in centimetres and the time it takes in seconds… here we are. These scribbles are the result of free time that never used to exist. Also, the length of many of these meetings now can quickly be trimmed… well, jeez darn it, looks like the WiFi is crapping out, gonna have to let you go, my people will call your people, yeah ok, bye.

I don’t do a lot of that… I’m too polite. That’s never really an option when it’s in person, but when you’re behind a screen and keyboard… it’s tempting. In any event, you can always check your brain out of a meeting, and that often happens when I’ve lost interest… which sometimes happens right off the bat. I listen to a lot of ideas and proposals, but certainly one way to get me to hang up my brain is to throw lots of buzzwords at me.

“Hey Horatio, thanks so much for taking the time to talk to me. I know you’re busy so I’ll get right to it. What our app intends to do is to disrupt the market, to shift the blockchain paradigm by leveraging existing synergies in the deep learning space and employing best practices to scale-up the mission-critical algorithms that’ll fuel the next generation of mobile.”

Dude, you’re a paragraph in, and you’ve already lost me.

And this is the same filter I’m using while trying to wade through the colossal amount of information with which we’re being bombarded these days. More than three buzzwords in one breath equals nonsense.

Self-serving, bias-conforming, buzzword-infested “reports” that magically wind up at the conclusion that perfectly aligns with the author’s intended audience, political beliefs, click-bait potential… whatever. If you want to believe that this virus was caused by reptilian aliens who’ve arrived on earth, and who’ve activated it with their nefarious 5G signals so as to expose Bill Gates’s agenda of GMO’ing vaccines because he’s just a pawn for big pharma who already have the vaccine because they’re in cahoots with the aforementioned aliens… yeah, I guess there’s not much I can say that’ll change your mind. That’s an extreme example of the crap that’s out there… but since it’s on a well-designed website with a very trustworthy-looking font… well, it might be true, right? Yeah… no… why don’t you just take that paradigm and shift it, if you know what I mean.

But once in a while, credible reports — from credible sources — arrive at similar conclusions, having started at very different points. And those are always interesting because they, unless they’re referencing each other, might offer some unbiased, independent… dare I say it… truth.

There’s this famous Stanford report that’s buzzing around these days… claiming that recently, while Santa Clara county had only 1,094 confirmed cases, antibody tests suggest that the number was somewhere between 48,000 and 81,000. The range of that number is wide enough that it makes one wonder about the inherent problems of the test sample. I have no idea, but that’s a pretty big error range. Nevertheless, let’s go with it and just pick the average… 48+81 = 129….. 129k ÷ 2 = 64,500…. and 64,500 ÷ 1,094 = 59x. If we apply a 59x factor here in B.C., that’s 59 x 1,724 cases… which is around 100,000… which is 2% of our population of 5,000,000.

Independently, the WHO have announced that they’ve found that 2% to 3% of the population they’ve tested has antibodies.

And independent of that, a study in the Netherlands of 7,000 blood donors found that 3% had antibodies.

Which brings up the discussion of one of the buzzwords-of-the-day: herd immunity.

Herd immunity is where enough people of a population are immune; immune enough that the infection will not spread within that group. The more infectious a disease, the higher that percentage has to be. For example, mumps is very contagious… Rø of 10 to 12, meaning every infected person will infect, on average, 10 to 12 others. Left unchecked, this would lead to 95% of the population getting infected. The other 5% inherit the benefit of the herd immunity that provides, because eventually there’s no one to catch it from. That herd-immunity threshold can only be reached via vaccination because allowing everyone to catch it is not an option. It’s a horrible disease, and these days, completely preventable.

For COVID-19, the Rø number is much lower… around 3, which implies a herd immunity percentage of around 70%. Which unfortunately, is well above the natural 2% to 3% that may be occurring.

Germany claims the “cases in the wild” number to be higher than that… a little over 10%. Better, but still far from what’s needed… which is a vaccine, which would launch that number into the high 90s and that would be the end of this pandemic.

Until that happens, the best thing to do is not catch this and/or give it to someone else.

BUT — and this is a big but, in two parts… IF you are already one of those 3% and IF having antibodies grants you immunity, then your individual life going forward does look a little different. For one thing, you can stop worrying about catching it.

There is no general agreement yet on how much immunity these antibodies confer, but some… for sure. What concentration you need in your blood, how long it lasts… all of that remains to be seen. I’m not sure who gets those antibody tests and when, but they’ll be arriving here in B.C….. soon. Sign me up.

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Day 35 April 20, 2020

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

On the evening of March 23, 1989, Captain Joseph Hazelwood retired to his stateroom for the night, leaving his ship, the 987-foot, 240,000-ton Exxon Valdez, in the less-than-capable hands of his (unlicensed) 3rd mate. Shortly after midnight, the oil tanker fetched up on Bligh Reef, cracked open and, over 3 days, spilled almost 11 million gallons of crude oil into the pristine waters of Prince William Sound, contaminating more than 1,000 miles of coast line, 200 of it very badly… damage still evident today. Hundreds of thousands of animals — fish, birds, otters — lost their lives, in what must have been viewed from their eyes, their own hellish pandemic. A literal Black Death oozing towards them, like some Stephen King horror swamp creature brought to life.

Captain Hazelwood was crucified in the press and public opinion. Every bad story needs its villain, and he took the hit. Ultimately, the captain is responsible for his ship, period… but for things to go so wrong, there’s usually more to it… and there was, but that didn’t stop the finger pointing, and all of those fingers pointed to him.

More recently, like yesterday at around 4:30pm, The Spirit of Vancouver Island, a B.C. ferry, had a bit of a hard landing in Tsawwassen after its 90-minute journey from Victoria. The ship was slightly damaged, but no oil was spilled and no injuries were reported, and other than the hassle for some people having to wait up to 4 hours to disembark (and completely wrecking the day’s schedule for sailings), that was pretty much it.

I wasn’t on that ferry (and unless you had some urgent business, you shouldn’t have been either), but I can imagine what was going on after that happened. An announcement… “Sorry folks, as I’m sure you realize, blahblahlah, we’ll sort it out”. After that, for the people who were stuck on board, more “sorry” and free juice. At the time it happened, on the bridge, right after that veritable “Oh… shit” moment, someone saying “Sorry… so sorry, my bad”. As the last cars and trucks finally drove off, I’m sure there were more waves from the crew, and “sorry”. After the fact, B.C. Ferries put out at statement saying… yeah, you guessed it.

It is such a Canadian thing; we are known as the kings and queens of sorry, to the extent it may have lost its meaning. You might be standing in the street minding your own business, and some idiot buried in his phone will walk right into you, and you will find yourself saying, “Sorry!” You might be standing in some grocery aisle trying to decide which brand of maple syrup to purchase, and some fool will run his shopping cart into you, causing you to drop your maple-leaf-shaped bottle… but for some reason, you will say “Sorry!” Not too long go, I found myself saying sorry to a door that I’d just bumped. How very Canadian.

But Captain Joseph Hazelwood… he didn’t say sorry. I remember watching an interview when this happened more than 30 years ago, this guy getting grilled by the reporter, and the last question… “Are you sorry?”

You could see it in his eyes, his quivering lip… he desperately wanted to, but couldn’t. Like, of course he was sorry. That’s what he wanted to say… a long, heartfelt apology to the people of Alaska, to his family, to Exxon, to the planet… for screwing up, at least to the extent that he was responsible. But no, because no doubt… some lawyer, before the interview, told him… no matter what… no matter what, Joseph… do not say sorry.

The reason is pretty straightforward… the legal implications. Sorry means: “I know I messed up and therefore it’s my fault and therefore I’m responsible and therefore you may sue me.” This is in the United States, where most certainly, when you screw up and when you’re liable, you will get sued.

Around here, we actually have a law… we needed a law… to allow us to continue to be Canadian, and say sorry, and not incur any liability in doing so. It’s so Canadian, you’d think we’d cover it federally, but we don’t. Each province and territory (except Quebec and the Yukon) have their own version of an Apology Act, which basically lets you say “Sorry!” to anyone and everyone, and not incur the sort of blame that would stand up in court.

South of the border, though… not many apologies and lots of lawsuits. As things continue to go… south… in certain jurisdictions, the finger-pointing will get more aggressive. The blaming will get louder. The alternative-facts will become entrenched and indistinguishable from reality. And there will be lawsuits; many of them. As people die and businesses fail, someone is going to have to take the blame, and it’s always someone else. Cities will blame counties, counties will blame states, states will blame the federal government. But the leader of the executive branch of the federal government is not well known for apologizing or taking blame; indeed, he’s well known for lashing out at anyone who blames him for anything… so where will it lead?

I have no idea, culturally, what “sorry” implies in China. But I do know that a class-action lawsuit (based in the U.S., of course) involving 10,000 claimants from 40 different countries is seeking 6 trillion dollars in damages from China, because the virus is, you know, all their fault. Maybe if that goes through, we can all go after Spain next. With 100 years of interest on top of it.

Six trillion dollars.. I can’t even begin to describe how much money that is, but here’s a visualization. Take a stack of $100 bills… we can all visualize $1,000… just 10 bills. A thousand of those stacks is a million dollars. That stack would be about a metre tall. So a billion dollars would be a stack 1,000 times bigger… a kilometre. And by the way, that’s a pretty good “wow” of just how much bigger a billion is than a million. But a trillion? That’s a stack of bills 1,000km high. That gets you to the International Space Station and back again to the ground and then another 200km back up. Oh, and it’s 6 trillion… a 6,000km stack of $100 bills.

Apologizing went out of style with President Trump, and lawsuits have always been in style… and nobody wants to be the one holding the bag at the end of colossal losses being incurred by a situation that, ironically, perhaps has no nexus of blame. Which means lawsuits, for decades. And no apologies.

For what it’s worth, 20 years later, in 2009 (after all the legal entanglements had been unravelled, and whatever relevant statutes of limitations had expired), Captain Hazelwood did indeed offer a heartfelt apology.

OK, while I’m here… an update on numbers… B.C. is really looking good, on track for some of the mid-May relaxations we’ve been told about if these trends and numbers hold. Let’s wait till 2 weeks after the long weekend to make that judgement. So far, so good… keep at it… that finish line, in whatever form it initially takes… is getting closer.

Finally… like I’ve said before, when I sit down to write this… the intention is to talk about some relevant aspect of the pandemic, but sometimes I’m not really sure where it’s going to wind up. Sometimes it’s current and sometimes it’s thought-provoking and sometimes it’s relevant and sometimes it’s… well, what can I say if it’s none of the above… if you read all that and now wish you had those few minutes of your life back………. sorry!

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Day 34 – April 19, 2020

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

There’s this old joke where a mathematician, a physicist and a statistician go hunting. They’re crawling around for a while, but suddenly see a deer, way off in the distance. “I got this.”, says the mathematician, and he carefully takes aim and pulls the trigger… but misses about 5 feet to the left. The physicist says, “Not bad… but I got it”. He aims his rifle and fires…and misses, 5 feet to the right. The statistician jumps up excitedly… “We got him!”

This game of analyzing numbers can get very convoluted, because there are always different ways of looking at things, and according to something I briefly mentioned yesterday (confirmation bias), we’re often looking to find and interpret data to fit what we believe… or want to believe.

There’s a big part of me that wants to believe this virus is far more prevalent than has been reported. The implications of that pretty straightforward. At the moment, in Canada, we have around 35,000 confirmed cases. We all know the real number is higher than that, but how much higher, and what does it matter? If the number were 100x, we’d be approaching 10% of the population. If it were 1,000x, we’d be way past the point of herd immunity… the implication would be that we’ve all had it and can pretty much get back to normal, just being extra careful to isolate those who are still at risk, at least until they get it… in whatever form it shows up… knowing full-well the medical system can handle it. We will, in the near future, know exactly what number to attach to that x. Here in B.C., somewhere between 5 and 10 is my guess… which, combined with our effective efforts at flattening the curve, imply we can start along the path of getting back to normal… and the initial easing of restrictions, tentatively scheduled for mid-May, is step one.

There’s a study coming out of Stanford that implies that number may be between 50 and 85. I am suspicious of that number for a few reasons, but we will let the experts sort it out. The sample size and who comprised the test group and a few other things… leads me to think there are a lot of asterisks next to a lot of the findings. I haven’t read the report, but as per above, I hope it’s even a little bit true; the implication that this has been around longer and wider than we think.

That being said, there is no version of reality where this is just like any other seasonal flu. A “bad flu season”, and we’ve had many, does not overrun the medical system like this one has. There is no version of this where “just let it run its course” would make sense. There is a lot of screaming from some people about how we’re destroying our economy and people’s livelihoods for nothing. Well, there will be plenty to learn from all over the world, since there are (unfortunately) jurisdictions that have decided to follow different, less strict routes… some through design (U.K.), some through incompetence (U.S.), and some through sticking their heads in the sand (Sweden). There is a technical/scientific term for when one suddenly realizes the present course of action may not be ideal, and that a drastic course-correction may need to be implanted. It’s called the “Oh… shit” moment.

Two of those jurisdictions have already had their moment. The third is well on its way, and it requires a somewhat different way of thinking about things.

Let’s begin with a bad example of trying to compare apples to apples. What country has the highest confirmed infection rate? Well, it’s the Vatican City… they have a population of 800, and have recorded 8 infections. But 8 out of 800 is the same as 1 out of 100. Which is the same as 10,000 out of a million… which is very, very, high. The U.S. comparative number is 2,300. Canada’s is 922. In fact, given the demographic breakdown of the Vatican population (I’m assuming a disproportionate number of older men)… and the fact that it’s surrounded entirely by Rome, the largest city in Italy (whose comparable number is 3,000), that’s pretty good. To add to the list of interesting but useless numbers, the Vatican has 2.27 Popes per square km.

Part of the challenge of analyzing numbers is being sure you’re comparing apples to apples, and the more I’ve been at this, the more I realize it’s not even apples to oranges… more like apples to bicycles.

Sweden, with a population of 10.2 million, has 14,385 known cases… which equals 879 cases per million… pretty close to Canada. So far so good. Their number of 1,540 confirmed deaths isn’t so great… more than double the U.S, and approaching Italy numbers as a percentage of total population. But not an outlier with respect to other countries. Where things differentiate greatly is the “Resolved” column, and that one is pretty-much apples to apples around the world. No matter how widespread or deficient the testing strategy in any particular jurisdiction, there is a measurable number of test-positive cases, and those cases will resolve: recovered or deceased. This doesn’t have anything to do with assumed cases or Stanford studies. It’s far simpler… at some point, you were tested… and you either recovered or you died. These are the survival rates of identified cases:

Canada: 88.4% (B.C. 92.4%)
United States: 63.6%
South Korea: 97.2%
Spain: 78.4%
Sweden: 26.7%

So what exactly is going on in Sweden? If you look at the distribution of test-positive cases, it’s a pretty standard bell curve. If you look at the distribution of deaths, it’s heavily weighted to older people…. 89% of those deaths are people aged 70 or over. That’s comparable to Canada as well. I think the vast difference may be that a lot of these cases aren’t being identified until they’ve passed away. I’m not sure these cases are entering the system till “after”, and it goes straight into the two stats: positive test plus death. Their medical system is not overwhelmed. It’s a first-world country when it comes to treatment, and they have capacity. So the implication is that the virus is running rampant through the elderly population… and given their strategy, no masks nor gloves nor social distancing (unless you have symptoms) and keeping everything open… this will eventually reach everyone over a certain age. That’s roughly 20% of Sweden’s population, and with a roughly 10% mortality rate for that demographic, that’s more than 200,000 people. That is their trade-off for keeping the economy open.

In Canada, 4 million people are aged 70 or over. So if we did the same here, we’d be looking at roughly 400,000 deaths in that age group alone.

Those are the worst-case scenarios, mitigated by potential treatments, vaccines and changes in policy… but here’s at least one version of an answer to that rhetorical question that’s often getting asked: “What is the trade-off for shutting down our economy?” The answer is… many, many lives.

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Day 33 – April 18, 2020

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

Did you know that the bubonic plague is still around? That pesky little bug that killed up to 200 million people in the Middle Ages still pops up from time to time. A boy in Idaho got it a couple of years ago, I kid you not.

“Hey Jimmy, what’d you do all Summer?”
“Actually, I was sick for most of it with bubonic plague”

It’s almost worth getting, just so you can bring it up in Show’n’Tell. So much better than “Visited the grandparents in Wichita and miked some cows”.

Jimmy (probably not his real name) is fine… completely cured with a routine course of modern antibiotics. Jimmy is lucky he wasn’t born 500 years ago, because his pocket full of posies would have done nothing for his ring around the rosie.

The bacteria that causes bubonic plague has been quietly around for at least 6,000 years, but every once in a while, it makes a big splash. The Black Death, which peaked in the mid-14th century, was the biggest known pandemic of that particular bug, but there have been many outbreaks over the centuries… and while they’ll never achieve the magnitude of what happened in the Middle Ages, two breakouts is 2014 and 2017 in Madagascar killed around 200 people. And it’ll keep showing up, because it’s bacteria and it’s alive.

Unlike bacteria, viruses aren’t alive in the sense that they can just procreate on their own. They need a host, and in the current case, that host is a human… and in particular, human noses and airways. That’s a relevant point, which differs, for example, from SARS, also a coronavirus… which appeared and died-off in 2003. It incubated deep in people’s lungs. There are many other differences as well. SARS was far deadlier (~10%) but also less contagious. And the biggest difference is that while COVID-19 is still around, SARS-CoV is gone… extinguished from existence, except deeply-buried is research laboratories. Extinguished because of the way it was managed; the same gameplay of testing and isolating until every known host was known, and then kept away from infecting others. No host to jump to means it dies off, and that’s that. As has been widely quoted… if we could 100% isolate everyone on the planet for 14 days (probably a little longer, but not much) and keep completely isolated those who develop symptoms in that time — this thing would be squashed out of existence. That’s impossible to achieve, so the next best thing is a vaccine, which can, in due course, achieve the same thing. Has that ever actually been done?

Yes — and it’s one of the greatest achievements of medicine. Smallpox is gone, entirely, as of 1980, after a concerted effort that took decades. Smallpox was a horrible disease, with awful symptoms and a mortality rate of 30%, and you could catch it from someone coughing or sneezing on you, or touching contaminated surfaces… the usual that we are all familiar with these days.

But back in the day, medieval epidemiologists (heh) did not have a lot at their disposal, and it’s hard to blame them. Germ theory was centuries away from being figured out. Plague doctors wore those famous plague masks with the long noses, full of good-smelling herbs… which, if they didn’t help keep them safe, at least helped mitigate the stench of dying people all around them. In fact, back then, it was thought that illness was transmitted through miasma… bad-smelling air. A kind of chicken-and-egg causality where you assume the bad smell in the air is cause of all this illness… not the result. The name “malaria” literally means “bad air” in latin. But at least to some extent they’d figured out that keeping away from sick people was a good idea; the first versions of social distancing. Those Venetian masks with the long noses? It’s hard to cough/sneeze on someone when you can’t get too close. They understood at least that: stay away. I have this image of a medieval Dr. Henry, standing at the top of the Rialto Bridge, yelling down to the gondoliers on the Grand Canal… “Hey you down there! You shouldn’t be oot and aboot! Go home!” She wouldn’t be yelling, of course… more like softly but strongly suggesting.

Germ theory eventually sorted it out, but there was an interesting little overlap of time where smallpox “vaccines” from the Far East arrived in Europe, and worked… but nobody understood why. That didn’t fit with any known medical knowledge of the time, but it seemed that taking powdered smallpox scabs and inhaling them… would lead you to develop a mild form of the disease, from which you would recover. Well, most of you. There was a 2% mortality rate with that treatment… which is still a lot better than 30% if you get it. Game-theorists of the day could have tried to figure out what gave them better odds… a certain 2% chance of death vs. a N% chance of contracting something with a 30% chance of death. Here, I’ll do the math… if you thought your chances of contracting smallpox were greater than 7% (one in 14), go for the scab inhalation. I’ve bet on enough 14-1 shots in my life to know that I should take my chances with the scabs.

I say all this because the people back then, flying blind as they were, made the best of what they had and what they knew. We are way ahead these days… but as we’re all experiencing, there’s always plenty more to learn… and I think it’s going to really heat up in the next few weeks. We have a perfect storm overlapping of emerging antibody tests, conflicting studies from around the world regarding how widespread this is, data from jurisdictions that are doing things very differently and so on. And much of this is saddled with a conformity bias that makes it very difficult to navigate. When you start with a conclusion you’re hoping to reach, it’s not difficult to find the data to support it. It’s all out there. We will navigate it as best we can.

Speaking of we — we around here, and in Canada in general, saw a good day of numbers… a line of green… everything trending nicely… for now. This week we’ll start seeing the effects, if any (and hopefully, none)… of the long weekend.

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September 30, 2020

By |September 30th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Philosophy, Art & Literature|14 Comments

I should take a step back writing about Donald Trump. I’d been planning to watch the debate and then comment on it, but of course, there was no debate. There was a schoolyard bully, flailing around aimlessly, aggressively, disgustingly and frighteningly. I know the majority of people reading this were as horrified as I was, watching that shitshow… and for those who think otherwise… well, there’s really nothing I can tell you. In talking about Trump, I’m either preaching to the choir or talking to a brick wall. Either way, to a great extent, I’m wasting my time discussing it. All I can say is that if you still support that deplorable, awful excuse of a president, there’s nothing anyone can say that will change your mind. Therefore, I will leave it at that, with one final point:

I’ve said before I don’t watch a lot of TV – not because I don’t want to, but because I just don’t have time. I’d binge watch 12 hours a day for a few weeks, given the opportunity. My “to watch” list grows a lot faster than I can get through it.
As a result, at the moment, I’m a few years behind… and watching the second season of the excellent adaptation of Margaret Atwood’s “A Handmaid’s Tale”.

It’s very good… and very relevant. It deals with a dystopian future, where the first season’s episodes flash forwards and backwards – dystopian future/normal past… but, unlike most SciFi of that genre, the dystopia is not in the distant future; rather, it’s probably no more than 5 years apart… and it all takes place “now”… it could be 2005 to 2010 or it could be 2018 to 2023.

A lot has changed in those 5 years, and the differences are made clear in the first season. But now, in the second season, it’s starting to fill in the blanks… how exactly do we go from a normal society, to a messed-up fascist military occupation based on religious zealotry?

It doesn’t happen overnight, but it doesn’t take long. It’s frightening to see the fiction of the show and compare it to the realities of the U.S. today. While it might sound a little alarmist, if things really derail, it will be impossible for anyone to actually say, “Jeez… … [Continue Reading]

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September 29, 2020

By |September 29th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Business & Economics|0 Comments

Leona Helmsley was a wealthy hotelier, back in the 1980s. In discussing herself and her husband, she once famously said, “We don’t pay taxes; on the little people pay taxes.” Leona was ultimately sentenced to 16 years in prison for federal income tax evasion. And, as you may already know, Al Capone, guilty of every organized crime known to man (bootlegging, prostitution, racketeering, murder, etc.) was ultimately only charged and sentenced for one thing… income tax evasion… which landed him in prison for the rest of his life.

More recently, like a few months ago, I was staring at a math formula that I needed to plug into a spreadsheet. I needed the formula in terms of x, but unfortunately, x was an exponent in an expression that was under a square-root sign, and all of that was the numerator in a bigger expression. After staring at it for a minute, I asked my son, who was sitting nearby, if it he could figure it out… and he promptly did.

In hindsight, perhaps I could’ve paid him a consulting fee. What was that worth? Well, like the old joke… from the old “50 cents to push the button, and $999.50 to know which button to push” school-of-thought, $20 wouldn’t have been out of place. Even $100, since I needed it right away.

Wait… maybe I need a mathematician on payroll… I could hire him as a consultant on a monthly retainer. $1,000 a month? How about $10,000, because now I’m thinking tax benefits. How about $500,000,000 a year, and I get to deduct chunks of it for the rest of my life… and since I’m not paying him all of it, it’s of no tax consequence to him. And for me… some fancy accounting showing the liability due, and then claiming the annual credit of $10,000,000 – wow, I’ll never pay taxes again!!

Welcome to the slippery slope of how tax avoidance (totally legal) slides into tax evasion (totally not).

Setting aside the cushy job she got in her daddy’s organization, Ivanka Trump was paid an extra $750,000 in consulting fees. Giving your kids money is no crime. Claiming it as a business expense, however, is quite a different story. What’s slowly coming to light is how many tens of millions of dollars Donald … [Continue Reading]

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September 28, 2020

By |September 28th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Business & Economics|7 Comments

I’m not sure where our family tradition came from… the one where you break this fast, after 24 hours of no food or drink… with a shot of liquor. Single-malt scotch in my case. Let me tell you, that’s one way to shock the system.

Anyway, it’s been a day… did… I… miss… anything?

Exactly a month ago, my closing paragraph was this:

“The President of the United States may not be aware that there are two things in life that are a certainty… death and taxes. You can’t escape either….and history will not be kind in exposing his attempts to cheat on both.”

The gist of that article was more to do with the fake numbers he was now controlling, to direct the C19 narrative… things aren’t so bad, things are getting better, numbers are going down… and so on. Sure they are, Mr. President… they can say whatever you want, when you’re managing it.

I haven’t dug into it yet, but a superficial read on these recent stories implies one of two things: Donald Trump is either among the world’s worst businessmen… or, he ruthlessly cheats on his taxes. I suspect it’s a bit of both, but I’m curious which version his die-hard supporters would prefer? That they were sold a pack of lies? Like the ones who like saying, “Yeah, ok, he’s an abrasive asshole, but at least he knows business and deal-making and all that.”

Or… how about this: “Hey, hardworking American labourer who’s single and made $18,000 last year…you paid more in taxes than your “billionaire” president.

Pick your poison, Trumpers… what do you prefer? The (brutally) inept businessman? Or the ruthless, uncaring tax evader? Tough decision… but, if you have any sort of critical thinking ability left, what shouldn’t be a tough choice is the one you face on November 3rd.

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September 27, 2020

By |September 27th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Philosophy, Art & Literature|15 Comments

Once a year, me and several million like-minded people fast – no food or water – for about 24 hours. For everyone, it’s a different experience… but one thing in common… for all, it’s a period of deep introspection.

If you don’t know what I’m talking about, feel free to Google Yom Kippur.

This Jewish Day of Atonement always comes exactly 10 days after the Jewish New Year (Happy 5781!). Since it’s based on the Hebrew calendar, which is made up exclusively of 28-day months (it always lines up with the moon), these holidays move around with respect to our conventional calendar. In fact, it’s especially nice to have a New Year’s a few months before the end of December… it gives you a second shot at those new year’s resolutions that maybe didn’t stick.

Next year, Yom Kippur will fall mid-September. The year after that, early October. You never know what day of the week you’re going to get. Like all Jewish holidays, it starts the evening before the actual day… which means tonight, in a couple of hours (sunset) – and lasts till tomorrow’s sunset. As I mentioned, for that period of time… it’s a complete fast, which includes switching off all non-critical electronics as well… in an effort to truly disconnect. Accordingly, tomorrow’s update with all the new numbers will have to wait till after sunset… which will be sometime after 7pm.

In the meantime, I’ll be lost in thought… and with no interruptions and with no food or water to balance out the brain chemistry, I’m looking forward to seeing what I come up with. You may be reading about it for weeks.

For all my peeps doing the same, Gmar Chatima Tovah – and may you have an easy fast. See you on the other side.

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September 26, 2020

By |September 26th, 2020|COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Business & Economics, Travel Stories, Humour, Philosophy, Art & Literature|8 Comments

No numbers till Monday… though it’s worth sadly noting that by this time tomorrow, the world will have seen its one millionth C19 death. We have a long way to go with fixing things.

You know… “Fixing things” used to mean something positive… like, you have something, it broke, you fixed it… and now it’s good again.

The word’s more sinister implications… well, you have disgraced and disbarred former attorney Michael Cohen… Trump’s “fixer”… who fixed things like campaign finance violations, tax fraud and bank fraud. Evidently, like cheap scotch tape, his illegal fixes were temporary, and fell apart when put to the test.

I have a particularly fond memory playing poker. A friend went to the washroom, and in the 60 seconds he was gone, we “fixed” the deck. By the end of the hand, he’d put every penny he had into the pot, and lost it all on the last card. He couldn’t believe it, and we couldn’t stop laughing at the emotional rollercoaster we put him through. All in good fun; he was incredibly relieved to hear it was all a set-up, and he hadn’t actually lost his entire net worth. I suspect most fixed poker hands don’t end so well.

When it comes to elections, history has seen plenty of fixes… and some are so blatant, they’re ridiculous.

The Liberian general election of 1927 is a good example. There were 15,000 registered voters. One candidate received 9,000 votes – pretty reasonable. The other candidate received 243,000 (that’s not a typo).

It’s interesting to note that until relatively recently, like the mid-19th century, when you voted, you made your vote public. The British colony of Victoria, ie Australia, adopted a secret voting system in 1856… where a generic paper ballot was produced by an independent third party. Before that, each campaign would produce their own ballot, on a piece of paper with their own colour. To vote, you’d drop your selected coloured ballot… into a glass bowl. Surrounding those glass bowls would be party operatives or even the candidates themselves… persuading, bribing and even threatening the voters. It took guts to vote because, as you might expect, it was frequently a violent undertaking.

Fortunately, neither the American nor Canadian upcoming elections will be people publicly dropping red of blue pieces of paper into large … [Continue Reading]

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