Day 100 – June 24, 2020

And on the 100ᵗʰ day, he rested. Well, not quite… but let’s see where we’re at…

Precisely 100 days ago was St. Patrick’s Day… March 17ᵗʰ. On that day, the number of cases in Italy was spiralling out of control. The case numbers had doubled in less than 5 days, to over 30,000. In the U.S., the case numbers were at 6,500… but had doubled in less than 3 days. I had seen a chart of that, and graphed it. Then I’d adjusted it, to a common starting point. And then, I added in Canada (whose case count was 600, having doubled in about 3 days as well). We were a week behind the U.S., and around 2½ weeks behind Italy. Huh… interesting… I bet other people might be interested in seeing that. So… I posted it. And that generated enough interest that this became a simple exercise of updating those graphs every day, hoping like mad that we wouldn’t be following the U.S., who in turn hopefully wouldn’t be following Italy.

And so began an interesting journey of analysis, introspection and observation. What was intended to be a brief analysis of the numbers and graphs… quickly turned into my ramblings… you know… while I’m here… maybe I have something to say… so now that I have a little soapbox to stand upon, let’s make the most of it. I wasn’t sure how long I could keep up this pace of an entire article a day, about some eclectic topic that may have possessed me… but let’s go with. I’m pretty proud of hitting 100 days in a row… not a single day missed. Even I’m surprised I had so much to say.

This is starting to sound like a goodbye, but it’s not… but just like the frantic nature of this virus in its early days, around here it’s slowing down… and so am I. I’ll continue to post the daily numbers and graphs, because there are actually some people who are viewing this just for that… but the quality and quantity of posts… like what you’re reading right now… will diminish, especially in the near future as it’s summer and I’m making every effort to unplug as much as possible. I will still endeavour to post… whatever I end up posting… consistently at 5pm… but, you know… it’s summer.

If you’re missing the daily fix, it’s interesting to note that many of these articles have aged well. Not that they’re that old to begin with, but I’m happy to announce that these 100 posts… as well as whatever else I write in the future… will also be available on my own web site… which launched about 10 minutes ago. The advantage of reading there is that the posts are searchable… something that after 100 days, I myself have made use of… (“Didn’t I already write about that…?”). If you visit www.kemeny.ca and click on the seal (the red, waxy kind… not the marine animal that can balance a ball kind), it’ll take you to a beautifully formatted version of these 100 posts… and whatever comes after. It’s very trippy reading back on some of these; it reminds me where my brain was at, on those specific days.

Here’s another one of those cool words:

Jouska: (noun) A hypothetical conversation that you compulsively play out in your head.

This blogging thing is kind of fun. Actually, it’s a lot of fun… I guess more than anything, it’s because it’s what that word alludes to… but actually spelled out. A compulsive jumble of thoughts becomes a lot more coherent when you sit down to write it out, word by word, in a form that others will understand. Who knew. It’s given me an urge to write something longer… maybe a book, ideas for which are already brewing. If I mange to get around to it, you will all be the first to know.

Until then… hey, I’m still around… some hopefully interesting content will show up here in the future… I promise… just not every single day. In the meantime, allow me to quote my favourite provincial health officer… whose words should always apply — not just in the midst of a pandemic: Be kind, be calm and be safe.

 

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Day 99 – June 23, 2020

I’ve written before about how sometimes, new words are needed…. to capture an essence that’s only describable by a lengthy paragraph. It’s great to see that such words often already exist.

Here are a few:

Vemödalen: (noun) The frustration of photographing something amazing when thousands of identical photos already exist.

On the surface, this comes to mind when you’re at the Leaning Tower of Pisa or Niagara Falls or any other world-class tourist trap… I suppose these days it doesn’t matter; digital pictures cost nothing. But for those of us who’ve been around long enough to remember that pictures came in expensive packs of 24 or 36, it’s a different story. You used to put a lot of thought before pressing the shutter button. And once those pictures were taken, it was several days before you could see the results. As you might imagine, taking pictures of your food wasn’t really a thing. Neither was taking 150 selfies to get the perfect one. Photography is a totally different experience these days, one we take for granted. But there’s more depth to that definition, and it touches on the entire experience that ends up being encapsulated in that photograph. Especially in an aforementioned tourist trap… where we’re trying to capture something we’d hope is unique to us, but deep down you know you’re just one of the insignificant many trying to capture the same thing so many others have tried. It’s an interesting duality, trying to be unique in a sea of similarity.

Occhiolism: (noun) The awareness of the smallness of your perspective.

I’m a good example… I’m here, happy to share my thoughts, but I’m aware I have a unique point of view; it makes sense for me, and I can defend it to the death, but there are those who’ll disagree and have their own points. I can probably argue their sides too, because I often understand them; I just vehemently disagree with them. But I’m well-aware it’s my unique perspective… one that’s the result of my own life experiences… and if I were able to visualize that, perhaps snap a picture of it, no doubt I’d feel a bit of vemödalen… because there’s nothing so special about it.

Liberosis: (noun) The desire to care less about things.

Everyone has their list of what’s important and what isn’t. The tops and bottoms of those lists are easy to define, or at least… should be. Your close family, top of the list. The idiot who cut you off and caused your blood pressure to blow up and caused you to yell a profanity… near the bottom. It’s the stuff in the middle, the stuff that could go either way, that often confounds us. Maybe we end up worrying too much or wasting a lot of time on something that ultimately isn’t so important. I try to apply a rule… don’t spend more than N minutes right now on something that won’t matter in N months. Easier said than done, perhaps due to my occhiolism — and the inability to be truly objective.

Combining all three of those is a good summary of my thinking these days, as I watch the world in what could only be described as a bad movie script. The sort where the writer walks into the meeting with a potential producer, and is laughed out of the office, being told to either write something that’s truly real, or pure science-fiction/fantasy. You can’t have both. A president too narcissistic to see or care that he’s destroying the fabric of his country? A global pandemic that many people aren’t taking seriously? Come on man… why not throw in some out-of-control wildfires in Australia, a near nuclear war with Iran and, for a bit of extra seasoning and comic relief, murder hornets. Get real.

So here we are… I think like many of you, I shake my head at what I’m seeing around me and am frustrated that the people who are supposed to be responsible and in charge and making such a mess of it. It’s not a movie I’d like to see, let alone be a part of. This whole thing is certainly not playing out like a Hollywood movie; maybe one of those dark foreign films, with a lot of black-and-white cut scenes of the past, hallucinogenic, colourful dream sequences, and, of course, lots of fancy, obscure words. The whole thing sometimes adds up to a worthwhile experience. In this case though, when we’ve come to the conclusion that the movie sucks, we can’t just walk out.

One last word:

Énouement: (noun) The bittersweetness of having arrived in the future, seeing how things turn out, but not being able to tell your past self.

Yeah, let’s all learn that one… you think it’s relevant now… just wait a few years. Or maybe weeks.

 

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Day 98 – June 22, 2020

The numbers don’t lie. They can be twisted into statistics, which certainly can… depending how you paint them. But the raw numbers don’t lie.

Cases per million

Tests per million

Deaths per million

Deaths per case

Deaths per test

This list of malleable statistics is informative, but at the end of the day, there are some hard numbers that make up what feeds all these different angles of looking at the same thing. In my opinion, when all is said and done, excess deaths will have to be the numbers that get broken down. Those are not difficult numbers to pin down. Every jurisdiction knows, or should know, how many people die every day, week or month. That’s easily compared to the same period last year, whether as raw numbers or as a percentage of the population. These little graphs are showing up all over the place, and, as expected, show bumps starting in March.

The retro-analysis of these numbers will yield results that will get argued about, but those arguments will start falling flat the year after a vaccine shows up and things are fully back to normal. Certainly, they’re not all COVID deaths… but once you weed through cases of people who avoided the hospital out of fear and things like that, there won’t be another explanation.

In the meantime, we can only gauge where we’re at with numbers we can try to make as current as possible. Test positive cases is one. Virus-attributable deaths is another. Yes, we’re not testing enough. Or, as The President might suggest, we’re testing too much. Yes, some old people would’ve died anyway. Or, believe it or not, some old people can survive common colds or flus. Arguments on both sides, for now… but it’ll be hard to dispute ultimate deaths.

One number that we’ve all gotten used to is now changing… which is the average age of test-positive cases. How serious that turns out to be remains to be seen, but a lot more younger people are getting this. It’s no real surprise the Florida is turning into its own micro-disaster zone. Their governor (falsely) announced the curve was flattened, and things should head back to normal. Now we’re seeing the effects of what happens when you do that. The message that hasn’t been hammered home enough seems to be that until this thing is gone, it’s here. It ain’t over till it’s over. And I suppose the one thing about the presentation of this virus that makes it so difficult is how it skirts the line of “very serious” and “no big deal” so effectively, catering to both sides who’ve chosen what to believe. It’s at least 40x more lethal than a common flu, but it’s not 1,000x worse.

You may have noticed that my graphs and data have changed. I’ve removed Italy and South Korea. Both have been there from the start, because the entire reason I started writing was to track the path we (Canada) were on, as compared to others. There’s no longer much to learn from those two, because in three months, we’ve clearly defined our own track, both nationally and provincially. Thank you Italy and South Korea for providing us with data with which to compare, and congratulations on flattening your curves effectively.

What’s left now is the U.S to compare against. There was a time we were following them lockstep; fortunately for us, that deviated a while back. But what’s going on south of the border is still very important to us, so I’ve not only kept the U.S., but I’ve also added in the same level of detail as the Canadian national and provincial data. I’ve also removed the Time To Double (TTD) of 2 and added a TTD of 20. Indeed, things have flattened beyond the initial crisis. But as we’re learning, things can change. Numbers don’t lie.

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Day 97 – June 21, 2020

Many years ago, well before my ownership of horses entitled me to free parking, I found a great place to park when going to Hastings Park or the PNE.

All of the PNE lands are bordered to the north by McGill Street, and to the north of McGill street is New Brighton Park. And whereas parking at the PNE was $10, parking at New Brighton was only $2. There was a guy there, orange vest and little pad of paper, wad of cash for change if needed… he’d take your two bucks and let you in. It was a bit of a hike, because you had to walk up, and all the way around.. but no big deal; it saved a significant amount of money, especially if you added it up over time… and this went on for years.

One day, the PNE called up the City of Vancouver and said to them, hey… your guy at New Brighton… he should be charging more. And the City of Vancouver replied… what guy? And so unravelled what can only be labelled as an excellent example of opportunistic creative entrepreneurship… or simply, a scam.

Scammers come in all sorts of shapes a sizes… an infinite array of criminal opportunists. A very common one these days involves scam emails. Nigerian princes with fortunes to hide, Powerball winners with millions to give away, ex-army officials with bricks of gold to launder… an endless list of creative criminals.

I have an email address — fake name, fake address… that I use exclusively for mailing lists and subscriptions where I want to read content, but not interact. They don’t need to know who I am. As you might imagine, this email address has become polluted with spam…. and scam emails. At least one a week… some version of “I have millions of dollars to send you; please send me some small amount of money so we can process it”. I sometimes reply with one sentence, and it turns into a conversation until they eventually figure out I’m just wasting their time. But two relevant stories… one was years ago… here’s what happened:

The guy (in Nigeria) wanted to send me a gift card with $200,000 on it… but needed me to send him $50 to pay for shipping it to me. That there are people who would fall for this baffles me. But anyway, I said to him… sure… I sent you the money… here’s the Western Union MTCN number… and made up a string of digits. He wrote back and told me he went to WU and tried to cash it in… but the number I’d sent was no good. It was only 9 digits, and the MTCN should be 10. Oh… I’m sorry, you’re right, I missed a digit. Here’s the correct number… and I just added an extra digit in the middle of it.

He wrote back two days later, angry that he’d once again gone to WU, and been rejected. I told him I’m so sorry… looking at it now, I think I said 4 to one of the digits, but it’s probably a 9. Bad handwriting from the WU clerk.

Two days later he wrote back… very angry. He’d gone again, been rejected of course, and been told that if he shows up again trying to scam WU, he’d be arrested. Then he gave me a whole sob story… how he’s an old man, he has to take a bus 90 minutes into Abuja to get to Western Union, he doesn’t time for this and so on. Oh… I felt bad. Poor scammer.

So I got an official WU form and filled it out with great precision. Even the handwritten MTCN number, with a digit that could be either a 4 or a 9. I made it look official, put some official time stamps and everything on it. It was a real work of art. Then I sent him an angry email, with a scan of my masterpiece… saying… listen you idiot, I’m not sure if you or the Western Union people are the brainless ones. Here’s the official paperwork I got when I sent the money. Take this to WU… and go get your money and send me my giftcard. Jeez.

Well… I never heard from him again. And there are a few possible scenarios, one of which is he’s in jail. I hope so. One less scammer preying on gullible people.

The second story is happening right now, and I’m not sure what to do. I recently answered one of these scammers with a sort of “I already sent you the money” email. Note… this is an excellent way to engage… because if they fall for it, they’ll think they’ve got “a live one” on the hook. I sent that message, and it turned into a back-and-forth, but what happened recently was this… I told her I’d send the money again, and she said great… and sent me all of her banking info. Real name, real home address and bank account info. Huh… now what. Call the cops? FBI? Ship her a glitter-bomb? Blackmail her? So many possibilities!

The vast majority of the time, the scams are all about money. Follow the money, and you will find the scammer. But once in a while, it’s about something totally different.

Such was the case last week and yesterday, with a bunch of teenagers using TikTok and other social media, and totally scamming the Trump presidential campaign. It fooled everyone, including me. I thought there would be hundreds of thousands of people crowding downtown Tulsa, because we were told how much interest there was in that rally. They had expected to fill 22,000 seats inside, and an extra overflow of 40,000 outside. In the end, the inside had a little over 6,000 people. The outside was cancelled.

Ironic of course, that the rally was to pay homage to the biggest scammer of all. And interestingly — perhaps appropriately — this rally might actually end up being the beginning of the end. There’s only so much people can take, and every time Trump goes off-script, all bets are off. He’s said many stupid things “off the cuff”, when he switches from the teleprompter to his brain, and usually the damage control can take care of it. But this time? Even his own people had nothing. They served up the lamest of the lame excuses, the one that works ok in grade 1… when you don’t quite get it… when you’re still refining your sense of humour. When Jimmy has dipped Cindy’s ponytail into paste, thinking it’s funny. But it’s not, and she’s crying… so Jimmy serves up the good old “I was just kidding”.

Well… what are they going to say, to remove the Trumpian foot out of his mouth? There’s nothing to say. “I was just kidding” isn’t going to fly; not because it’s not funny, but simply because he wasn’t kidding.

What Trump said basically was… “My reelection is so much more important than all of you, that I really don’t care if you all die… well, ha ha, not all of you… but let’s not go crazy testing you all… because we will see numbers that will make me look bad. So let’s just slow down this testing, and pretend things are not as bad as they are.”

That’s a heavy dose of reality for a lot of people to wrap their heads around. The guy you’ve been defending for more than four years, telling you, in your face, literally… it’s ok if we don’t know you’re all sick. That’s not as important as my re-election.

Maybe, just maybe… some people will wake up and see… that they’re being scammed, by the greatest scammer of them all.

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Day 96 – June 20, 2020

A couple of weeks ago, a couple of Thai restaurant operators were sentenced to 723 years in prison… each. What egregious crime did they commit to warrant such a sentence? Basically, they lied. False advertising. They sold a bunch of vouchers that they couldn’t possibly honour… things like a full seafood meal for 10 people… for $30. People gobbled up the vouchers, but quickly started running into problems cashing them in… like a waiting list of several months. The restaurant finally pulled the plug and went bankrupt. “Sorry — we can’t keep up with this demand, so we’re outta here”. Not so fast.

This is textbook fraud… fraud 101… and Thai people aren’t quite so tolerant. In 2017, a Thai court sentenced a fraudster to more than 13,000 years in prison.

You don’t just get to say “OK, I lied…”, and move along. And truthfully, around here, lying is a pretty big deal too. A lot of people mess up, and the courts or whatever else deal with it… and that’s that, usually. But if you lie about it, it’s lot more serious. A good example that comes to mind is Martha Stewart… she did something stupid, for a stupid amount of money… a drop in the bucket for her… maybe $50,000. She acted on inside information, and, knowing before the public that a certain stock price was going to drop, sold some shares. So, she didn’t actually make $50,000 — she actually just avoided losing it. Stupid. And she got caught. And if she’d just admitted to it, she would’ve gotten a slap on the wrist, a fine that would also have been nothing more than a drop in the bucket, and the story would’ve been in the news for at most one day. But she lied about it… under oath. And for that, she went to prison for 5 months.

Here’s another word of the day:

Anecdoche: (noun) A conversation in which everyone is talking, but nobody is listening.

There’s a lot of that going on these days. Actually, it’s probably been going on for a long time. There are a lot of people who just like to listen to themselves talk. They often don’t have much of substance to say, but that doesn’t matter… that’s not the issue. They like to talk… at, not “to”, anyone who’ll listen. A room full of those sorts of people is a very special sort of cacophony. But that cacophony is greatly amplified when some of them are liars. And then just change it… it’s not a room of people, who ostensibly could be having real conversations; no… it’s leaders and decision makers… talking to each other, through each other, making it up as they go… contradicting themselves, contradicting reality.

This is what’s it’s like listening to most people with a microphone. This is what it’s like reading most of the news these days. So-and-so said this, so-and-so said that. They talk at each other. They lie. Then couldn’t care less how their exposition is received; they just need to say it, attempt to make it “stick”, and now — frighteningly — do not care when it’s not accepted, because there’s no consequence. There’s no judge, there’s no 5-month prison sentence. There’s nothing. Just take it. Don’t take it. Whatever. Move on.

If these were 5-year-olds, perhaps it’d be fun… watching kids weave their complicated houses of cards… and then watching them get in trouble from the teacher when it all collapses. The thing is, this isn’t kindergarten…. this is the real world, where as a result of lies and the inability or desire to listen, people will die. Lots of them… and some of them, before they die, will feel betrayed and cheated that they were lied to.

My morbid fascination led me to watch a few minutes of this rally in Oklahoma… I was interested to see the background. The crowd behind the speaker (it’s Eric Trump as I write this) is beautifully curated, as always. Lots of red shirts, lots of red hats, lots of white people… but also, strategically placed (perfectly placed, in fact). An Asian guy. A Black guy. Hey, good looking young ethnic people, want to be on TV? Come with me. Very few masks. How do you convince people they’re being lied to… especially when maybe they know, and don’t care? You don’t, I guess. And the consequence of these lies isn’t some ridiculous number of years in prison. It’s serious illness, or worse.

 

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Day 95 – June 19, 2020

Perhaps the craziest coincidence I ever heard of was this: Many years ago, long before cell phones… there was a guy… let’s call him Bob, who worked somewhere downtown, and parked his car in the same reserved spot, in the same multi-story parkade — for years. His spot was near the booth at the entrance, where the booth guy worked many years as well… so the two got to know each other quite well. Always a good morning and good night on the way in and out, and sometimes Bob would stop to chat.

One particular evening, the two were chatting when the phone in the booth rang… which was unusual; there were never many incoming calls. The booth guy said excuse me to Bob and took the call… which was a wrong number, someone looking for “Bob”. As a joke, the booth guy handed the phone to Bob and said “It’s for you.”

Bob laughed and answered the phone…. “Hello…” — and was met by the voice of his wife, asking him to stop at Safeway to pick up a few things because they were having some friends over for dinner. An astonished Bob said sure honey, whatever… but wait… how did you reach me at this number? Turns out the wife had mis-dialled… turns out Bob’s office number and the booth number were very similar, and she’d simply dialled the wrong number… and found who she was looking for anyway. A crazy coincidence.

My crazy coincidence story is not quite so crazy — but it’s pretty good. About 10 years ago, I was in a meeting — one of these big board room meetings, lots of people, lots of lawyers. I was a little early, so I walked in, picked a spot and sat down. I looked around and with a few minutes to spare, doodled a bit and, for fun, started doing some mental math on how much this meeting was costing someone…. that guy is $300/h, that guy is probably $600/h… and that’s one of the partners… I wonder what he bills out at…

Anyway, as I sat there idling my brain, some lawyer sat down next to me an we introduced each other, and get to chatting… he was older… maybe 15 to 20 years older than me; idle chat, turns out he’s from Vancouver, turns out we grew up in the same neighbourhood… and, turns out we grew up on the same street. I ask him where, he says between X and Y streets…. Hey, me too! Which actual house? He gives me the address and… yeah. Wow. The house I grew up in. The house my parents bought in 1974 from a guy… I remember the name… something like let’s say Dr. Smythe… yes, same last name as this lawyer. My parents bought the house from this guy’s dad, so now we’re talking about the house itself and, of course, his bedroom… became my bedroom. How’s that for a crazy coincidence.

Want to know something that isn’t a crazy coincidence? The 4,000 new cases in Florida yesterday. The overcrowded Florida ICUs. The Apple stores, recently re-opened, now shutting down again in a number of states (including Florida), because of alarmingly high rising numbers. Also not a coincidence will be the fallout from tomorrow’s campaign rally in Tulsa.

Whereas in the past, we’ve been able to figure out by careful analysis what “super-spreader” events occurred, leading to massive breakouts… this is the first time we’ll be able to proactively predict one. The volatile, crowded mix of Trump supporters in a closed environment? No masks and lots of yelling? This is COVID-19’s dream scenario. It’s so scary, even if you’re watching from away on a screen… wear a mask.

Oklahoma has a population of 4 million. B.C. has a population of 5 million. No B.C. numbers today, but yesterday… Oklahoma had 450 new cases. B.C. had 8. Let’s re-visit these numbers in a couple of weeks… curious what we’ll see. Oh, big spike in Oklahoma… that’s kind of surprising, right? Hey, remember that rally… think it’s related? Nah. Just a coincidence.

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Day 94 – June 18, 2020

Everyone has heard of Schrödinger’s Cat, but there’s a subtlety to that famous experiment that needs to be clarified… which is… it’s not that when you look into the box, only then do you know whether the cat is alive or not. It’s that until you look into the box, the cat is both dead AND alive. If that has you scratching your head, it’s because of course it’s a non-sensical scenario.

The issue has to do with mapping behaviour in the quantum world… to our visible, relatable world. And I’m not talking about the pseudo-scientific vibration energy healing quantum whatever… I’m talking about actual quantum physics, where things work differently at the subatomic level… and one of those things is that some particles, which can exist in one of two states, seem to exist in both… until you observe them, at which point they pick a side. For example, an electron… it has two levels, spin-up or spin-down. When you observe the electron, you can tell which state it’s in. But until you look at it, it’s spinning both ways. Or the polarization of a single photon… vertical or horizontal. And until you observe it, both. In simpler terms, imagine a coin. You flip it, and it falls to the ground. Now try to imagine that until you look at it, it’s both heads and tails… but the moment you look at it, it’ll pick one or the other. Bizarre.

There are problems with this sort of interpretation, and it’s one of many… but the thing is, this behaviour does exist, and it’s the foundation of the science that takes advantage of quantum mechanics. In a typical computer, data is stored in bits… and each bit is a one or zero. In a quantum computer, you have a Qbit… which can be a one, a zero… or both, simultaneously. A simple example, in a normal computer, a Byte is 8 bits, which can represent 2⁸ different numbers (from 0 to 255). But if that is a QByte (8 Qbits), you could theoretically evaluate all 256 versions at once, which on the surface implies a computer 256 times faster. And now imagine there isn’t just one QByte… but many.

Schrödinger had a problem with that, and came up with his famous thought experiment… which led to years of arguments with the greatest minds of the day, like Einstein, Planck, Bohr and Heisenberg (the theoretical physicist, not the meth cook).

At the end of the day though, what’s clear is that while these are all interesting theoretical discussions, and quantum effects can be exploited down at that level, as baffling as the experiments are (and there are trivially simple experiments you can do to actually see quantum effects)… the real world just doesn’t work this way. The “alternative facts” model of reality doesn’t allow for two things to be true at once, as much as some people would hope. The world’s issues aren’t waiting around for us to observe them before they tip in one or the other direction.

At present, depending how you wish to observe it, you might interpret this pandemic to be over. Or, of course, you realize it’s still very much going… and we need to be cognizant of that and respect it. You can’t have it both ways, but this seems to be what’s going on, depending to whom you listen. Schrödinger’s virus.

"If you look, the numbers are very minuscule compared to what it was. It's dying out.” — said Donald Trump, this morning. “No, it’s not”, says everyone else.

I guess it’s a good thing we’re not all subatomic particles, waiting to tip one way or the other. It’s good that while we understand there are indeed two (or more) sides to every issue, many of those sides don’t actually exist on top of each other. There’s some certainty to the fact that we’re still in the midst of a pandemic, and there’s no version of political/pseudo-scientific hand-waving that’s going to change that… and we’ll see that in rising numbers as things open back up. Today, Canada went over 100,000 known cases. Let’s hope we’ve all learned something and stick with it… the idea was to get it under control, which, around here, we’ve done. The important thing is to keep it that way. Or we’ll have bigger problems than trying to figure out if some theoretical cat is dead or alive.

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Day 93 – June 17, 2020

Hernán Cortés (1485-1547) was a Spanish Conquistador who led the expedition that led to the downfall of the Aztec Empire. He’s the guy that turned Mexico “Spanish”. As such, depending who you ask, you’ll get very different answers… To the Spanish, he was an adventurous, conquering hero who brought great wealth and pride to his people. To the Aztecs, he was a raping, pillaging, savage barbarian who destroyed and stole their land, their history, their culture and their prized possessions.

That’s a pretty wide and varying difference of opinion, the sort that reminds us that while “History Is Written By The Victors” (Sir Winston Churchill said that, or quoted someone else saying that), it’s not quite so simple. The implication is that when it’s all said and done, those who won get to create the narrative that history will record as facts, shove that truth down the throats of future historians, and that will be that, especially these days.

The obvious example is the current President down south who likes to make things up and hope they stick. This began a few hours after his inauguration, where the relatively trivial and irrelevant claim that his inauguration crowd was the biggest ever — was attempted to be presented as fact. Period. It’s the truth and it’s what’ll go in the history books. Except, of course, it wasn’t true. There were witnesses and cameras and everyone there and pretty much every version of verifiable evidence to contradict that claim, but that hardly seemed to matter. It was presented as “Alternative Facts™”.

Except that the world isn’t quite so gullible. “I guess we’ll move on” seemed to be the general consensus. If the president wants to make things up (3,000,000 illegal voters), etc… we all know it’s not true, so let’s just move on. All the lies are documented, so whatever. One day it might matter; today it doesn’t.

The thing is though, the world seems to be collectively getting sick of alternative facts. False claims, false reports. People are tired of having unverifiable BS jammed down their throats, and the result is an awakening that’s spreading into all sorts of different facets. I’m very interested to see where it all goes. To those who complain we’re erasing history… no, we’re not. Perhaps re-interpreting it, because perhaps the guys who were originally labeled the good guys — the guys who wrote the history… neglected to take into account the other side. We’re not so big on statues around here, but if we were, there’d probably be a few that’d need toppling.

The first one that comes to mind would be Joseph Trutch. Trutch was an English-born Canadian engineer, also surveyor and politician, who served as this province’s first Lieutenant Governor… guiding B.C. during Confederation. So far, so good. But also… Trutch was also horribly racist, and said some things about the Aboriginal peoples that are so vile that I won’t quote them. He also rolled back their previously-agreed-upon land reserves by more than 90%. Maybe in its day, “just the way it is”, but through today’s lens, more than worthy of a good statue-toppling. There’s a Trutch St. on the west side, and there’s one in Victoria. There were some rumblings a couple of years ago… perhaps time to consider changing them. Not much came of it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we start hearing about it again. Uncle Ben’s. Aunt Jemima. They had their day. Time to move on.

All of these changes are occurring at the exact same time, when facts regarding something else that’s critical… our health and our economy and the next several years of existence… are all being argued about, with wide and varying opinions.

At the end of the day, we need to know what’s going on. Transparency, clarity, all the rest of it. There are those “victors” already trying to write today’s history, but fortunately, we’re not all ignorant sheep. You can try to convince someone it’s safe to go back to normal, but don’t expect they’ll just believe it. The Vice President says coronavirus is over. Twenty-one states are reporting rising numbers. Some states are shutting down again, the obvious consequence of opening up too soon. And around here… you know what, not great numbers. We would’ve been very happy with these numbers two months ago, but as far as trends go… it’s creeping in the wrong direction. Again, low two-digit numbers aren’t a calamity, but I prefer high single-digit numbers. Let’s not forget, this thing isn’t over… history needs to be written… just not yet.

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Day 92 – June 16, 2020

A little after 10am on the morning of December 17ᵗʰ, 1903, upon Kill Devil Hills in Kitty Hawk, North Carolina, Wilburn and Orville Wright flipped a coin. Orville won the toss, thus putting him in the historical category reserved for people like Neil Armstrong. Wilbur was the Buzz Aldrin of this metaphor. It’s incredible to think that it was only 66 years between that first powered flight that morning (4 flights that day, Orville and Wilbur alternating turns at the controls), and walking on the moon.

The Wright Brothers had built their flyer in Dayton, Ohio, and secretly moved it to the coast in October, where they rebuilt it and tinkered with it until it was ready. What’s interesting, and what, to me, is perhaps an even better argument against the possibility of time travel (at some point, I wrote about how’d you materialize in the middle of outer space because the earth will have moved — a lot — even if you only travel a tiny fraction of a second), is that when they flew that day, there were only 5 other witnesses. If time travel were possible, what a “time-tourist-destination” that would be. Kill Devil Hills would be covered with millions of people hoping to see this with their own eyes. I’d be one of them.

Indeed, if you were given a time machine, but you could only use it once… go somewhere in time, and then come back today… would you go backwards, as per above… or forward, to see that the future looks like?

To me, it’s a no-brainer… I can read about the past from many different points of view and build some understanding. But the future? Like how incredible would it be to see where things are at in 1,000 years? I’d be all over that. Which brings us to a great word of the day…

Ellipsism: (noun) A sadness that you’ll never be able to know how history will turn out.

I think that’s what I felt this morning reading a very interesting article in The Astrophysical Journal, which talks about another interesting “way-out-there” scientific topic: Life on other planets.

These guys did a lot of fancy math, based on some well-thought-out premises and assumptions, and came up with the number of civilizations in our Milky Way Galaxy capable of interstellar communication. That number turns out to be… 36. Plus 175 or minus 32… so, for sure, somewhere between 4 and 207. And take that “for sure” pretty lightly, because, at the end of the day, who the hell knows.

But man, would I love to know. As far as we know today, there’s almost certainly intelligent life out there. But what we also know, warp drives and other cool science-fiction technology notwithstanding, is that given the fabric of the universe, we may never know. Albert Einstein came up with some theories more than 100 years ago, and no one has managed to prove him wrong. Nobody is exceeding the speed of light anytime soon (ie, ever), so, at best, maybe a few radio communications… and we’ve been sending messages out, on purpose or not, for maybe 100 years. We’ve been listening too, but haven’t really heard much — with a few curious exceptions over the decades… unexplained, but not proof of anything. The best case scenario would be finding intelligent life 4.4 light years away, at our nearest star system (Alpha Centauri, made up of three stars and a bunch of planets). Many people have been listening in that direction, but we’ve heard nothing of interest.

It’s frustrating, because that’d the best case scenario, but it would still take almost a decade for a quick back and forth. And what would that even look like…

Us, in 2020: “Hello, hello, is there anybody out there….”

Aliens, in 2024: “⍝⌷⌿⍝⌵⍰⌼⌹⍊⍠⍏⍛⍘⍙⍎⍜⍁⍚⍎”

Us, 2029: “YES, HELLO!! WE ARE HUMANS ON EARTH!! WHAT’S UP!!”

Aliens, 2033: “⌻⌾⍊⌶⌸⍙⌷⍎⌺⍞⌶⍑⌼⍀⍁⍝⌺⍏⌾⍞⍝⍣⍰⍖⍚⍣⍏⍡⌼⌺⍋⍋⌼⍕⍏⌶⌶⍂⌻⍝⍟⍋⌽⍕⍏⍢⌿⌼⌵⍉⌼⍂⍖⍯⌵⍊⍣⌸⍡⌺⌮⌹⍡⌮⍝⍘⌸⍁⍒⌼⍏⌸⍒⍊⌺⍝⍋⍣⍁⍁⍢⍢⍕⌽⍏⍒⍏⍕⍯⍙⍚⍑⍟⍢⍣⍉⍡⍎⌹⌸⍁⍙⍙⌻⌸⌻⍚⌼⍑⍞⍘⌹⍉⍜⌼⍛⌽⍚⍒⌶⍜⍞⍒⍚⍚⍜⍙⌭⌻⌻⍖⍁⍟⍝⍊⌾⍚⍋⍖⌿⌽⍜⌭⌺⌭⍢⍜⍋⍕⍁⍑⍎⍋⍂⌼”

Us, 2037: (sigh)

And of course, the relevant and expected closing to an essay like this… how can we be searching for intelligent life out there when it’s already so difficult to find around here, ha ha. It’s interesting to think about, how on some alien planet a zillion miles away, aside from the scientific alien-searching intelligent brainy aliens, there are also stupid aliens. Conspiracy-theory-believing aliens. Aliens who won’t wear their version of a mask when out in public, during their alien pandemic. Yeah, that’s a zillion miles away. Much closer to home, 5,000 miles away, is Paris, France… where today, if the video I saw this morning is to be believed, things are “back to normal”. Crowded city streets, crowded cafés. I would’ve thought the video was from last Summer, except for the waiter wearing a mask. I am the first to say, I hope I’m wrong. I hope this doesn’t turn into a complete disaster. Paris had its worst of this in early April, and things look a lot better… but numbers are still going up, and we’ve already seen many examples where the “rush back to normal” is causing problems, so much so that lockdowns might have to happen again. In B.C., unlike many other places, slow and steady is winning the race. But with my daily dash of ellipsism, I really wish I knew how this is going to turn out.

 

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Day 91 – June 15, 2020

It was nice to see Dr. Henry and Adrian Dix back on the podium. It’s been a while — since Thursday, in fact, that we got a live update. There’s something so incredibly calming about the way those two present themselves, and their messages. I suppose it helps that they’re reporting good news. The numbers locally are slightly higher than a week ago, but still nominal. No new deaths since Friday. Green data all across Canada today. Might I add, across the country, the new-cases numbers from yesterday and today (+379, +344), are the lowest since March 22nd… when they were heading very quickly in the other direction.

I don’t get stressed watching these reports any more; very calming… very sophisticated… very cultured. Here in Canada, we might take this sort of demeanour for granted… but elsewhere… you don’t have to look too far to see the way different cultures approach things.

Yeah, you know, I was going to write about the cultural differences, between here and south of the border, but perhaps that particular topic has already gotten enough attention from me. I get it. You get it… cultural thing or not, let’s talk about something else.

Like maybe a little follow-up to a post from a couple of days ago, where I mentioned San José, Costa Rica. I spent a fair bit of time down there at the turn of the century, and it was quite an experience. You don’t have to travel far in this world to collide with significant cultural differences, and as per my usual rant of not being ok with “that’s just the way it is”, that place certainly offerers plenty of opportunity to scratch your head in disbelief.

The first thing is… this is the place that U2 had in mind when they wrote “Where The Streets Have No Name”. The streets, literally, have no names. Destinations are defined by landmarks… like the government office whose official address included the words “behind the papaya/watermelon/cantaloupe stand”. Another one was “200 metres east of the bridge, north 300 metres, left at the Alcoholics Anonymous 100 metres, yellow house”. McDonalds, mango trees, large boulders, Antonio’s house, and, on one occasion, “where the bank used to be” — all parts of official addresses.

Interestingly, at some point, someone decided to try numbering some streets… they did some of “downtown”, but the plan seems like it was ultimately abandoned… and nobody uses the street numbers. Why is that, you might be wondering…

Like every other Latin American city, town or village… you will find, right in the middle, the Central Plaza. From there… avenues that run east-west, and streets that run north-south, nicely numbered. So far so good, right? Except… in San José, the avenues north of the plaza are the odd numbers, and those south of the plaza are the even numbers. Want to go from 5ᵗʰ Ave. to 6ᵗʰ Ave? That’s a 6-block walk. And to keep things ridiculously consistent, same with the streets. West of the plaza, even numbers… east of the plaza, odd numbers. A walk from 12ᵗʰ St. to 13ᵗʰ St. will be a very nice 13-block walk. Back in school, you may have asked the teacher… like, teacher, when am I ever going to use trig in the real world? Well, if you’re a kid in San José, there’s an answer to that. Typical word problem…. If Carlito is walking east on 1st Ave, and he just crossed 14ᵗʰ St, and Juanita is walking west on 4ᵗʰ Ave. and just crossed 11tᵗʰ St, who will reach the Central Plaza first? Well, if you take the cosine of the angle formed by (1,14) and then take the tangent of (4,11) and then… oh, wait… more important point… if the question is, “When/where will they meet?”, and you throw into the mix the fact that one of them got lost and asked for directions, then the answer is… “never”. Because for some reason, the friendly people in San José don’t really like to say “I don’t know”. So when you ask for directions, you will always be given directions… very confidently, with specific instructions and finger pointing. And often, they will be completely wrong, the result of someone just making it up because they don’t want to admit they don’t know. I guess there’s another relevant U2 song that applies to that place… “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For”. I guess it’s a cultural thing.

It reminds me the time there that we went to the beach; me and a couple of friends. It was a “Beautiful Day” (yeah, U2 song), and the beach was quite packed. Curiously, nobody was in the water. And, there was no lifeguard… the lifeguard stand was empty, but had a red flag. Weird… the water looked pretty calm, with “Every Breaking Wave” (U2, of course) but not a single person in there. To hell with it, we thought… we’ll take the risk of these one-foot waves. We went into the water… it was warm and amazing, and we spent a long time in there. A few people looked our way, but nobody else came in, and nobody said a thing. We eventually left, packed our stuff, and found a nice beach-side restaurant for nachos and beer. I was the only one who spoke fluent Spanish, so I was the one who did most of the talking with the waiter… who asked where we were from, etc. I asked him about the beach — so beautiful, calm water… how come nobody was swimming? Oh… he said… yeah, this morning a whole bunch of sharks were spotted in the water. Oh. Yeah… great, thank you. You'd think one of the thousand people on the beach might have said something. I guess it’s a cultural thing.

Actually, same trip — we went snorkelling… this was a few days later, and the shark thing was still on our minds… but the tour guide/captain assured me, where we were going — no sharks. I wasn’t comfortable with the whole thing… I really had no “Desire” to go… but a group of people wanted to go… so, ok, let’s go. We went out in this guy’s boat… put on the equipment and went in. Some jumped in, others lowered themselves in… and somehow, I managed to scrape my leg on the way into the water. It was bleeding, a tiny bit. OK, I thought, there’s no way I should in the water if there’s any chance of a shark nearby. But the captain was adamant… no no, no problem, don’t worry, it’s fine. I vehemently disagreed, but he really said I should go in. Then I said something like, hey buddy… you’re going to get paid either way. The full price, even if we don’t all go in the water. Ooohhh, ok, yes sir… yes, maybe you shouldn’t go in the water. Yeah, thanks man. I guess it’s a cultural thing.

There’s plenty to learn from other cultures… and if you want to go somewhere cool, “I Will Follow”, but certainly one thing I’ve learned over the years, having travelled to many interesting places… I’m always happy to come home. With Or Without You.

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