December 31, 2021

Talk about a perfect storm… a surging variant, a ridiculous cold snap, and this period of time between Christmas and New Year’s when everyone is barely working… and those who bother showing up are basically phoning it in. The reporting arm of the health department in Alberta has actually given up. “Yeah, we think today’s number is around 4,000… use that for now. Ask us next year. See you January 4th”.

Who can blame them; the temperatures are dipping to the levels where it doesn’t matter whether you measure it in Fahrenheit or Celsius because it’s the same number. You know, sort of like the snowfall forecast we got around here two days ago… you can expect 10 (mumble) of snow. Ten what? Centimetres? Inches? Whatever.

Well… not all things are “whatever”.

The staggering number of new cases around the country (and the entire continent… and, while we’re at it, the entire planet) beg some questions that require some answers but, due to all of the above, the simple responses are not so forthcoming.

Trying to consolidate the numbers with respect to new cases and hospitalizations and ICU admissions has been a real exercise, but what’s most important aren’t actually the case counts; at least, not around here. Dr. Henry made a statement which alluded to the fact that there are far more cases out there than we know about. That’s been the case since the start, but it’s far more pronounced in recent weeks. Her guess is 3x to 5x, but that’s what I’d have guessed months ago. These days, we don’t have the proper testing infrastructure to get accurate numbers and, even if we did, that majority of people aren’t going to get tested. Depending who you ask, in fact… people are being told not to go get tested. You’ve got symptoms? Pretend you have it. Isolate, take care of yourself… and don’t bother us unless you need medical attention. And those who actually tried to go get tested found multi-hour waits, or got sent home with a rapid test, or found that the testing site that’d been shut down because of the cold.

A quick note about those rapid antigen tests: they’re nearly useless. I say nearly, but not entirely… only because they probably work just fine if they’re used correctly, and if the test patient has a high-enough viral load to register. Unfortunately, neither of those things seem to overlap enough to get accurate results. A positive result certainly means you have it, but a negative result doesn’t mean anything.

If you’re taking a rapid-antigen test – and I am speaking now from direct experience, having subjected myself to be a guinea pig for a friend who was trying to figure out the validity of these things – you need to scour deeply — approaching your brain — for ten seconds a nostril, complete with long, uncomfortable swirls — to get a valid result. I took a few of these tests; a gingerly tickle of the inside of your nostril does nothing. Even a medium-sized dip into your nose doesn’t do it. Unless that gargantuan Q-tip makes your eyes tear up and cause you to cough, you didn’t do it right. And it was only when I did that *and* was symptomatic that I got a positive result.

Anyway, that aside, getting a positive test these days is somewhat secondary to what it implies. Around here, with our enviable “fully-vaxxed” rate, it’s pretty good. The daily new case numbers (5,000 on paper, closer to 100,000 in my opinion) are not translating to hospitalizations. At least not yet, but for now, that’s really good news. As a general statement, if you have a normal healthy immune system and you’ve been double-vaxxed or better, the overwhelming evidence implies that you’ll suffer some cold-like symptoms at worst, and that’ll be it. It still needs to be taken very seriously because, of course, you might end up passing it along to someone who wouldn’t handle it so well… and none of that has changed. Older, immune-compromised, at risk people… they’ve been taking the necessary steps to stay safe, and we need to do the same for their benefit.

The relative success story (for now) that we’re seeing here seems to be consistent with other places with high vaccination rates. Those with lower rates are being hit hard, but only because the sheer volume of cases at some point is going to translate to an overwhelming amount of more serious cases.

Looking at the graphs below, you’ll see that hospitalization rates have not gone up dramatically in Western Canada. Ontario and Quebec are indeed seeing more hospitalizations, but barely an increase in ICU cases. Manitoba, too… to a lesser extent. But West of that, numbers are actually down.

I’ve added a third row of graphs today. While the top two rows are the cases, hospitalizations, ICUs and deaths since September 1st, the bottom row are the daily new case counts starting at the very beginning of the pandemic. They’re interesting to look at for numerous reasons… like, you can see clearly the different waves… but have a look at Quebec, from day 1. Near the very beginning, in that first little wave, there’s a notable spike. That spike was from early May, 2020… when over a 3-day period, they saw more than 4,000 new cases and over 300 deaths. It’s interesting to note just how insignificant that little spike looks compared to what came after, especially what’s going on now. But, back then… that was honestly the moment were all thinking that we’re totally screwed. That we, here in BC, were two weeks away from a tidal wave of cases and deaths.

We’ve learned a lot since then, and one of the most important is the realization of just how effective these vaccines are. We see today’s skyrocketing case numbers and we’re nowhere near as freaked out.

On that note… I haven’t written about Trump in a while, but it’s worth mentioning this: For as long as this pandemic has been going on, he’s been talking out of both sides of his mouth. He initially played it down, no big deal, it’ll be gone in a few weeks… and it became the rallying cry of his most-extreme base. His fervent supporters were as anti-mask, anti-vaxx and anti-science as he pretended to be… notwithstanding he took great pride in being responsible for funding Operation Warp Drive which indeed had a lot to do with developing these miraculous vaccines. You know, the ones he claimed we didn’t need and don’t do anything anyway because the virus is no big deal BUT I’ve created the greatest vaccine ever to combat the China virus BUT you don’t really need the vaccine BUT yeah, I got the vaccine, as did my entire family… we all got it quietly while nobody was watching, as did every Republican politician in Washington BUT really, you’re fine, forget vaccines and masks BUT yeah, we all got the booster too BUT….

Recently, and this is the eyebrow-raising part, Trump has been announcing to his followers that yeah, he got the booster and, you know what, they should get it too. But rather than listen to their fearless leader, they boo him and disagree with him. He, of course, doesn’t care… but why is that? It’s a 180, and it needs to be understood.

From the people’s point of view, they’re so deeply sunk into that mindset that they can’t, at this point, admit it’s wrong. They’ve already drowned in the Kool Aid. A lot of them can be heard saying they’d rather die of Covid than get the vaccine, and many of them will get that wish granted. Trump doesn’t care; he never did. But he does care about making himself reasonable and relevant for 2022 and beyond, so now he’s pandering to the bigger Republic base… those that aren’t so anti-everything. And that leaves those fringe people completely abandoned, discouraged and betrayed. And, in a bit of trouble if they don’t change their mind because that’s the demographic that makes up the vast majority of pandemic-related deaths. The anti-vaxx crowd.

Our BC fully-vaxxed rate is 90%. The majority of people in hospital for Covid come from that remaining 10%. The math isn’t complicated. And the American fully-vaxxed number isn’t even close to 90%… more like 62%. Unfortunately, for some select demographics, it could get quite ugly.

Last year, at exactly this time, I wrote a relatively optimistic piece about how the worst is over. Vaccines are just around the corner, and once we all get them, this will all have been a bad dream. Well, that was a little naïve, but I’m going to say the same thing again. Given the direction of Omicron and where we are with all of this, by this time next year, Covid won’t be a distant nightmare from the past that’s still haunting us. Rather, it’ll be an endemic annoyance for which we’ll have an armada of weapons: Vaccines, treatments, prevention therapies, whatever. Every day is one step closer to C19 becoming the common cold of the future, but we’re not there yet. Next year…

So… wishing you all a Very Happy, Prosperous and – most of all – *Healthy* 2022. All the best… and Cheers!

December 17, 2021

OK – it is indeed time for an update. I meant to do this a couple of days ago, but…

There are a lot of questions floating around these days, and it’s frustrating when, for some of them, there are no real answers. Let’s start with the obvious one… you can guess what that is. It rhymes with notthisshitagainicron.

I am still sticking with the cautious optimism that as contagious as it is, the symptoms are, and will remain, mild. And, on that note…

A few days ago, I started feeling a little under the weather. Headache, fatigue, cough… but also, fever. The sort of thing where in the old days you just bundle up for a day or two and are ok, but these days, our minds go elsewhere. Yesterday afternoon, I went and got tested… and waited in an 80-minute lineup to do so. A week ago, that lineup was three cars when I drove past it.

Test results take 24 hours, but I mentioned this to a friend… who came over with a rapid antigen test – which came back negative. Excellent. I thought so, but better safe than sorry. I was already feeling a little better, and then I had a good night’s sleep. I woke up without a fever and feeling pretty ok.

So… it was a rather blunt kick in the face to receive the official PCR result a few minutes ago: Positive.

Well… shit.

So, now… instead of speculating, here’s what I can tell you. Knock on wood that I’m past the worst of it, because if this is as bad as most double-vaxxed otherwise-healthy people get this thing, we are well on our way to seeing an end to it. I’m looking at the silver lining, which is… now, getting sick, coupled with two shots, I’m good to go – perhaps to the end of this entire nightmare. Like so many others whose second vaccine dose was in late June, I’ll be getting my invitation for the booster next week. I’d been hoping to avoid Omicron for a few more weeks, because the AZ/Moderna/Moderna series seem to be very effective against it, but things don’t always go as planned. Looks like I’ll be developing immunity the old-fashioned way.

But this brings up another of those yet-to-be-answered questions with respect to the mildness of these symptoms… how many people are walking around with Omicron-Covid19 right now? I’m going to guess – a lot. Far more than will ever get tested. I say that because while we all have little slip-ups once in a while, I’m exceptionally careful with respect to masks and open spaces and proximity to people and all the rest of it. Where and when the hell did I get infected? I sincerely don’t know. And if I can get this thing, anyone can get it… and, like I’ve said, it’ll eventually hit us all… though, ideally, when you’ve already received your three-shot course.

Which leads to another question, one I’ve heard 20 versions of… what do we do? And the preamble to that has a lot to do with airline tickets and hotel reservations, many of which at this point are non-refundable. Do we go? Do we bail? Help.

The answer very much depends on a number of variables which are very different and vary wildly from person to person. If you’re not worried about getting sick (and a plane-full of double-vaxxed and masked people heading to a place of warmth and sunshine and outdoor restaurants is actually a pretty safe place), what’s the problem? Well, WestJet threw a valid question back at the government a couple of days ago; where’s the science? Why are you telling people not to travel? They do have a point; on this fourth go-around, the one thing we’ve learned is that travel restrictions do nothing to prevent the spread. If they were perfectly implemented and 100% enforced, they would. But that’s not the case… and as we’ve seen with exponential growth, that 99.9% “good enough” decays to 80%, 30%, zero very quickly. A travel restriction might, at best, delay some numbers for a few days… but as we already have seen, by the time the whistle was blown on Omicron, it was already everywhere. The hastily-imposed travel restrictions on ten African countries have been lifted because they did absolutely nothing.

So why advise people not to travel? There may be many reasons such as the pressure on the testing infrastructure and the risk of being stranded overseas and the risk of wherever you’re going imposing some unforeseen restrictions on you; all of those are valid concerns, but they have nothing to do with preventing the spread of the disease. Questions related to needing to be back on a certain day or you’ll lose your job – are perhaps more relevant. At the end of the day, the government has to do *something* — so, we get travel advisories if for no other reason than if this all goes to hell, they can say they didn’t do *nothing*.

Can it all go to hell? Unfortunately, yes. I am basing this on my now-personal experience that Omicron symptoms are generally mild. If that turns out not to be the case, given how contagious it is, we could overrun our health-care system… and that’s what they’re trying to avoid. Dr. Henry’s rather specific list of restrictions imposed today target the sorts of gatherings that are highest risk; she just wants to be sure we don’t run out of hospital beds. Fair enough.

For the moment, this eternal optimism of mine always tries to look at the bright side, and while we see a frightening rise in cases, we’re far from seeing a frightening rise in hospitalizations and ICU admissions. On the contrary; the numbers are significantly down over the last 10 days. Around here, with our excellent vaccination rate, we’re in good shape. Red states down south? It remains to be seen. Around here, new-case numbers will go up, as they are all across Canada. The implications of that remain to be seen. But if you look at the pretty picture, while the unprecedent growth in new cases is alarming, look below it to hospitalizations and ICU cases. It’s a good counterpoint.

As far as I’m concerned, my positive test has certainly derailed our holiday plans, but whatever… we’ll make the best of it. On that note, let’s try to turn my positive test into a positive for you.

I have two pairs of tickets (great ones: center-ice row-3 club seats) for this Sunday’s Canucks game (7pm against the Coyotes) that I suddenly won’t be using… so let’s have a good old-fashioned contest like the old days. I’d base it on BC numbers, but they don’t publish over the weekend… so our neighbours to the east will help us out. Over the last three days, here are the new-case numbers:

Ontario: 1,808 2,421 3,124
Quebec: 2,386 2,736 3,768

The complete list since Nov 29th is on the pretty picture.

So, guess away! Submit two guesses per entry – your guess for Saturday’s numbers for Ontario and also for Quebec. Something like “ON: 4,000 / QC: 5,000” and whoever is closest for each province wins a pair of tickets. Ties go to whoever guessed first.

See? Here’s how we make lemonade out my particularly lemony test result… good luck!

And now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go off and curl up in bed for 10 days.

October 26, 2021

The numbers fluctuate a bit… but, generally speaking, if the question is “How many people under the age of 50 currently in the ICU battling Covid are unvaccinated?”, the answer is… “All of them.”

It’s been 100% before. At this very moment, it’s 94.4%… specifically, 34 out of 36 here in B.C.

And here’s a simple example… easy to wrap your head around:

Imagine there are 100 people. Of them, 99 are fully vaccinated. One of them is not.

Two of them wind up in hospital. One of them is the unvaccinated person. The other is one of the 99 that unfortunately got a breakthrough infection. For what it’s worth, that vaccinated person in hospital has a much better prognosis than the unvaccinated one, but that’s not the point.

Some people… they will scream and yell… “See?!? Half the people in hospital are vaccinated!! 50/50!! Vaccines are useless!! It makes no difference!!”

Indeed, when you have a pre-determined conclusion you wish to reach, and your grasp on numbers and their interpretation isn’t your strongest suit… yep, that’s what you can come up with. In fact, in the idyllic situation where vaccination rates are 100%, that would also be the percentage of hospitalized patients who are vaccinated. All of them; 100%. “Check it out!! Every single hospitalized Covid patient has been vaccinated!! In fact, I bet it’s the vaccines that got them sick!!”

That is a good example of what I would call “true” misinformation, similar to something like… 99.8% of people who die in skydiving accidents at some point got some professional instruction on how to do it. Conclusion: It’s much safer to jump out of a plane without having someone tell you what to do.

Be very careful reading interpretations of data… because the data may be perfectly correct, but the messenger may be presenting it in a very disingenuous fashion. I should backtrack a bit… the people who believe this sort of data are in many cases simply incapable of understanding what they’re seeing and reading. They’re the smaller part of the problem. The bigger part are those who are creating and spreading this misinformation, with their fancy fonts and glossy graphs and astonishingly professional productions.

Yes… mangling facts into some grotesque representation of reality has truly become an art form. The most ridiculous, absurd content imaginable comes presented with such a slick and sophisticated look that it could pretty-much fool anyone. And if it happens to agree with whatever you already think, you won’t dig too deep. You won’t question it at all. You’ll Like it and Repost it. Just one more official confirmation of what you already know, and now you’re doing your part just passing it along, It’s unfortunately all too easy, and we’re all suffering the consequences; still in a pandemic that would’ve and could’ve and should’ve been over long ago.

Dr. Bonnie Henry may have been a little bit ahead of her time when she came up with the “Be kind, be calm, be safe” thing. Like, we’re slowly going to get to the two-year mark of hearing that little refrain, and when we started hearing it initially, I recall thinking “Do we really need to hear this?” – you know, we’re mostly Canadians around here, or, at least, Canadian-minded… to the extent that we’re so programmed to be kind to each other, we apologize to everyone (and everything) for, often, no reason at all. I’ve been known to apologize to a door after absentmindedly walking into it.

But yeah… 19 months later, perhaps we all need to listen to those words, and I count myself among those. My patience is running out, and, along with it, the kindness I may have offered that crowd at some point.

There was a time when the reasonable, educated, scientifically-minded, masked and vaccinated people would, at worst, roll their eyes at the ignorant, anti-vax, anti-mask, anti-science crowd. “Yeah, you’re entitled to your opinion… sure, if it makes you happy… whatever.”

But, as time has gone on, it’s become abundantly clear that while it’s entirely appropriate to offer everyone a right to their own opinion, there’s absolutely nothing that says those opinions are to be equally respected. Some opinions are worthless and dangerous, and to consider them as simply an equally valid opposing side… is a big mistake.

My sympathy for that crowd has waned its way down substantially, because their bullshit is affecting me, my friends, my family and my freedom to enjoy life. You can’t go to your favourite restaurant or sporting event because, as of yesterday, you’re not fully vaccinated? You’re a healthcare worker who, as of today, can’t work because you’re not vaccinated? You’re the electrician’s assistant who was supposed to come do some work at the house today, but I won’t let you in… because you’re not vaccinated? See the little dot under the question mark at the end of this sentence? That’s the size of the violin I’m playing for you; take its sad, little song and wallow in its misery.

I get it… nothing will change your mind, and, at this point, it’d be almost impossible. Admitting you’re wrong now would mean admitting you’ve been wrong all along, and the “I’m right and you’re all wrong” crowd is well-known for being particularly stubborn on that point.

Society has offered you many outs; get vaccinated so you can enjoy life. Get vaccinated so you can work. As per the implication of the top paragraph, get vaccinated so that if you do get Covid, it won’t be so serious.

Are we actually at the finish line of discussion? It’s starting to feel that way. What else is there to talk about? Be part of the solution or be part of the problem? That’s no longer the discussion. The anti-vax anti-science anti-common-sense crowd isn’t part of the problem. They *are* the problem, and some problems can’t be solved, just managed… which leads to the unfortunate truth as to why we’re all going to be stuck in this for a lot longer than we ever thought.

That being said, I’ll be at the Canucks home opener tonight, along with 19,000 other fully-vaccinated people. Life does indeed go on, at least for most of us. And for those who, because of their choices, it doesn’t… notwithstanding I feel like I’m wasting space saying the same thing over and over… here it is again, and it’s just a suggestion because, I know, you don’t like listening to people telling you what to do because freedom and all that… but anyway, you know, it’s not a bad idea… at all: Go get vaccinated.

October 5, 2021

Well… I guess it depends how you look at it.

A little over 20 years ago, a group of terrorists took over four planes with the intention of crashing them into buildings. Three of them succeeded. So… what was the death toll? If you count the total of passengers, crew and terrorists on the planes, they add up to 284. Is it fair to say the death toll of 9/11 was 284? Of course not. We also have to count all of those on the ground.

Do we count the hundreds that were killed instantly upon impact? Do we count those that were killed trying to escape their building but were caught when it collapsed? Do we count those that preferred to jump, and die on their own accord, with a final breath of fresh air instead of being burned alive? Do we count the hundreds of firemen who lost their lives trying to rescue all of the aforementioned people? The answer to all of that is agreed upon to be yes… and it adds up to just under 3,000.

But many of those people that survived that day succumbed to injuries later. Many rescue workers developed respiratory problems and cancer due to the toxicity of Ground Zero. And how many suicides emerged from the shattered lives of those left behind? Do we count those?

And, of course, 9/11 launched a war, one that lasted twenty years. Add all of those casualties – military, civilian, other… and now we’re well over 70,000. Did those terrorists kill over 70,000 people? I don’t know where you want to draw the line, but here’s a simple fact: Were it not for the terrorists, most of those 70,000 would be alive today.

Closer to home… when this pandemic began, the “it’s no big deal” crowd loved throwing out bullshit numbers like “Covid has only killed 0.0000234%” of the population. With a bit of time and science behind us, we can get a pretty accurate feel for where things are actually at… and where they’re going.

To begin with, like my 9/11 example above, there are complicated philosophical arguments that can be made as to what counts and what doesn’t. There are also abhorrent arguments that can be made like “old people were going to die anyway, so if it’s from Covid, it shouldn’t count.” Tell that to a 9/11 widow whose husband took his own life a year after the attacks because he just couldn’t handle it.

After all is said and done, there’s very little to counteract against the simplest measure of all; Excess Deaths. You can argue that someone with serious pre-existing medical conditions shouldn’t count. You can argue the someone who had mild Covid but died in a car accident on the way to the hospital shouldn’t count. You can argue that a family that died of hunger or misery or loneliness because their sole bread-winner died of Covid – shouldn’t count. There are plenty of arguments that can be made on both sides of those, but it doesn’t matter. At the end of the day, it’s excess deaths. If a certain population typically sees 1,000 people die during a certain period of time but now it’s 1,200, unless you have a very obvious explanation for those 200, if it’s been in the last 18 months, I’m going to assume it’s directly related to Covid.

Globally, the official death count is around 4.8M. That number is way off, and as per all of the above, you can argue what should count and what shouldn’t, but I can tell you this… the real number is around 16 million, with a 95% confidence interval of somewhere between 9.9M and 18.5M. And where exactly do I get this? Excess deaths, of course.

The issue with all of this is that the analysis of this data is only as good as the data itself. From a North American point of view, excess deaths seem to be about 20% above the official C19 numbers… and that’s if you believe the numbers, which generally, you should. There was a period of time when the Trump White House took control of the numbers and everything suddenly dropped. The issue these days is that many sources of data seem to have become less reliable. Nevertheless, at the end of the day, you can’t fudge death numbers. Those are publicly available and out of anyone’s hands to manipulate.

In other places though… China’s official death toll from C19 is… less than 5,000. As you may have noticed, China no longer cares what anyone thinks, nor do they even make an effort to hide behind plausible deniability. They will do and say whatever they want without feeling the need to answer to it, and there’s no better example than the recent hostage exchange. The two Michaels came this way, Meng went that way. Notwithstanding China has been saying for two years how these two are spies and they have evidence and here’s an 11-year sentence, etc… a few minutes after Meng was released, so were they. There was no re-trial. There was no “new evidence” to show their innocence. There wasn’t even a “it’ll take a couple of days to process their release.” Nothing… and to hell with the optics. Here are your prisoners; we’ll take ours. Think whatever you want. We don’t care.

China’s official Covid death toll probably undercounts reality by about 11,000%. Their true death toll is estimated to be between 210,000 and 1.5M. There are countless examples around the world where the official counts are way out of touch with reality… and what’s emerging out of the data is are things like dire humanitarian crises in many countries in Africa. The excess deaths are in many cases, like in China, thousands of percentage points higher than the official numbers. The same can be said about some countries in Latin America.

Anyway… that’s where we’re at, and it’s unfortunately far from over. Or is it? Is there a global light-at-the-end-of-the-tunnel? Like all of the above, it very much depends how you look at it… but that’s a topic for another day.

October 5, 2021

September 20, 2021

Where to start.

Well, it’s election day… if you can, go vote… an awful lot of people in the past gave their lives to offer you the right to vote in a democratic process; something, clearly, that gets taken for granted around here – a fact that becomes very obvious when people start screaming about their rights being taken away from them. To summarize what I wrote about last time… your right to vote is indeed one that, if it were taken away, would be worth complaining about. Your unilateral and thoughtless and stupid decision that’s preventing you from entering your favourite restaurant… isn’t. So, go exercise your actual freedom and right to vote, and if you’d rather not because “they all suck”, keep in mind that not voting is itself a vote – a vote for the status quo. If you want to see some change, go be part of it.

And what exactly has that status quo brought us? Let’s rewind 18 months or so to the start of this pandemic… to the time where we were all freaking out at the single-day case numbers which were really not that high… but we had good reason to freak out. Because in other places around the world – remember Italy and Spain? — things got out of hand very quickly; that’s what happens with exponential growth and when things hit the tipping point.

The horror of what was going on: Hospitals swarmed with cases, packed to capacity. People dying in the corridors. People dying in the parking lot because they couldn’t even make it inside. ER doctors having to make decisions that will haunt them for the rest of their lives: You get to live. You get to die. Come on in; you’re welcome. Sorry… really sorry. Go home. Good luck.

We watched in horror. We hoped whatever the hell our leaders were doing around here, it’d be enough to prevent that from happening locally. Just in case, emergency beds were prepped, among them the 271-bed $2M hospital that was created at the Convention Centre. We hoped it’d never get used (and it never did), but it wasn’t till earlier this year that it was all dismantled for good. So many unknowns.

As time went on and more understanding came to light… the cause, how it spreads, effective treatments and eventually, of course, vaccines, the chances of it spiraling out of control around here diminished. We made it. Phew.

Which is why it’s actually unbelievable what’s going on in Alberta right now. Like, truly. Of all of the possible outcomes, is there any reasonable person who could’ve foreseen this? That 18 months after a few very unlucky places got the crap kicked out of them (and, in hindsight, there was little they could’ve done), that here, in Canada, with first-world medical care, a year and half of history and knowledge, effective treatments and vaccines… we’re at this point? Mind-boggling doesn’t even begin to describe it. I look at the hospitalization / ICU graph below and, honestly, it’s hard to believe. Or is it.

The thing with living day-to-day is that things creep up on you slowly… it’s just one small evolutionary step from yesterday… changes so subtle you don’t notice them and you don’t even think about it… but that sort of short-sighted thinking has no place at any higher level of responsible planning. Pandering to the crowd “today”, for a short-term “gain”, should never be a part of it. At an individual level, every single day, the news has multiple examples of people whose thought process over time went something like this: It’s no big deal, it’s just a flu, I’m young and healthy, I can take care of myself, I don’t trust vaccines, I’m not feeling well, I’m getting checked out just in case, it turns out I have Covid, I’m having trouble breathing, they’re putting me on a ventilator, pray for me. Then a final update from a friend with a GoFundMe link because funerals are expensive, you know, and they left behind a family who’s now pleading to everyone around them to get vaccinated.

But that’s one individual. Actually, unfortunately, many individuals. At ground-level, that’s how it looks.

But from 30,000 feet in the air, looking down at the big picture, to allow a province in Canada to reach this point? It’s not like it crept up on anyone. It’s not like you couldn’t see it coming. It’s not like the world hasn’t been offering numerous, comprehensive examples of exactly how to (and how not to) do things. They didn’t see it coming? Where were they looking?

Perhaps the only thing they saw coming was an election… and that’s relevant because it reminds us all… that we, the innocent people, think that those in charge have our best interests at heart. Don’t get me wrong… in a way, they all do, or at least think they do. But that sentiment is in second place. In first place is a very clear mandate; get elected. Stay elected. Do and say whatever the hell you need to… just get in and stay in.

We have our own little version of Red State / Blue State up here. Alberta, aka Texas of the North, is now facing a potentially catastrophic situation and they have absolutely nobody but themselves to blame.

I think we’re all reminded of the story of the squirrel or a beaver or ant or whatever creature it is that mocks everyone in the summer who’s busy squirreling away nuts for the winter (ok, I guess it’s a squirrel). Who has time to worry about it when the sun is out and there’s fun to be had? Then winter rolls around and the squirrel is starving and cold while all the others are warm and happily being fed from their vast supplies.

I don’t remember in the story whether some other squirrel comes to the rescue or whether the short-sighted squirrel is left to die, but I can tell you that around here, there are no spare ICU beds. There are probably enough to cover our local freedom-seeking non-vaccinated Covidiots, but that’s about it.

Next to oil, Alberta may soon be exporting Covid patients, though to where remains to be seen. It’s sad and pathetic, and as fellow Canadians, they deserve a lot better than that.

September 10, 2021

Hey… it’s been a while! So… sit back and relax, because this is going to be a long one. We have plenty to cover.

I’ll start by glossing over a bit of the current situation, because we’re all familiar with it, and although the numbers continue to provide a glaringly obvious message, there are those who refuse to look at them.

Depending where you look, you’ll find variations on the same theme… and they all say things like your chances with vaccines are not 20% or 60% better… it’s more like 2,000%… or 6,000%. Every single person in BC today in the ICU that’s under the age of 50 is unvaccinated. The vast majority of people in hospital are unvaccinated. We can talk about BC, Alberta, Ontario, Canada, California, Nebraska, Florida, whatever… it’s all the same everywhere; just a different multiplier, often based on vaccination rates. The numbers all range from quite significant to truly significant. There are no exceptions anywhere; the vaccinated population is way, way better off.

I’ve included the usual three rows of graphs, though the top one – the graphs of daily new cases – once, the most important graphs imaginable… are becoming somewhat irrelevant. Much more relevant is who got infected (Vaccinated? Unvaccinated?) and how it’s affecting them. The real numbers to look at (and the graphs that go with it) are hospitalizations and ICU admissions; the bottom row of graphs. There’s certainly a kick upwards, especially in Alberta and Saskatchewan, who are seeing levels comparable to back in May… but for the rest of us, it looks pretty reasonable and no reason to panic. Especially if you’re vaccinated.

In the last three days, the average daily number of C19 deaths in Canada is 34. Since the American population is about 9x ours, you might expect a death rate 9 x 34, which is around 300. But instead, it’s close to 2,500. And needless to say, largely due to overwhelmed hospitals way beyond capacity in jurisdictions with low vaccination rates. No matter how you slice the data, it all points to the same thing.

On that note, the daily vaccination rates show a significant slowdown. That’s the middle row of graphs. It hasn’t totally died out, but we’re nowhere near the rates of early July… though it’s picking up a bit again, and I have something to say about that.

There are a lot of people who’ve recently gotten vaccinated because of the “vaccine passport” that’s coming alive in 72 hours.

Side-note with respect to the rollout; I am an IT/tech/computer guy and I can be as critical as they come, especially when talking about deploying systems to massive amounts of people who’ll all use it simultaneously. I have a lot of experience in that, and I know it’s complicated, so I know what you have to plan for, etc… and so I have to say, Kudos to those involved with this thing. It certainly wasn’t without some initial little hiccups, but that’s to be expected when unprecedented numbers of people suddenly flood to it. In fact, if it hadn’t bent a little under the load, I’d be complaining they spent too much on it. It’s like building a 16-lane Lions Gate Bridge, 8 lanes each way… when it’s only needed for New Year’s Eve. Sure, you’ll never have traffic problems on the bridge itself, but just imagine Georgia St. or Taylor Way. What a mess it’d be without addressing them too.

And this thing has to not only be its own infrastructure, it has to communicate with varying other older systems and not flood them with too many connections and requests. The queuing system seems to have worked well; I jumped on it the moment I saw the url and found myself in a 17-minute line-up. That queue grew to over an hour at some point, and indeed, some people got 503 errors and gateway timeouts and whatever else. So what. Moments later, it worked. I have yet to hear about anyone who got past the queue and then had a problem, and that implies excellent design. Everything past the choke-point, that single point of failure… so far has been flawless. And, after all of that… at this moment, the wait time is zero and it’s likely to remain that way, even with the flood of people on Monday rushing to get it.

But let’s talk about those people who, today, would get a “No Record Found” if they tried to fetch their card.

For the last two years, there have been those people… well all know a bunch… masks are useless, vaccines are useless, conspiracies and so on. Now, perhaps having done some actual research and listened to some actual reliable sources, maybe they’ve come to the conclusion that getting vaccinated would be the intelligent thing to do. But how can they, without totally losing face? Admitting they’re wrong now would mean admitting they’ve been wrong all along, and that’s a tough pill to swallow. Some people’s egos just can’t take the hit.

Well… now they have the perfect out. They can proudly and loudly announce how they still feel vaccines are useless… but… they just want to live their life in peace and do things they want… so, they just got vaccinated and there’s their little blue vaccine card, and soon, after their second dose, it’ll be green. Yay!

And if you’re one of those people or know someone… yes, do it. Tell them to do it. Go for it. All of your friends and family who’ve been pleading to you to get vaccinated couldn’t care less about your justification, whether it’s the inward-facing or the outward-facing version, however different they may be. Just go get it done. Go right ahead and blame it on anything and everything else. It doesn’t matter. All of those aforementioned people will welcome your decision with open arms.

Looking back at where a lot of this anti-everything came from, and removing Donald Trump’s catastrophic contribution to the public sentiment, in hindsight, there may have been two things that might have “spun” better. Better “optics”. It’s not like pandemics have a PR department, but if they did…

For one thing, naming this a novel coronavirus initially convinced people that this is something new, unseen and a complete mystery. If instead they’d labelled it originally what it really is… a new version of something old, perhaps there’d have been a lot less hesitancy when the vaccines appeared. Everyone understands sequels. Remember SARS from years ago? Well, here’s “SARS 2: The Killer Returns”. And everything we’ve learned from the original SARS we can now put to use. This is not a new story; it’s a continuation of an old one. So instead of a brand new vaccine technology being quickly developed against a pathogen the likes of like we’ve never seen before, people might understand that it’s just a new version of a virus that’s been around for decades, being fought by R&D technology that’s also been around for decades. In Hollywood terms, that story certainly would’ve “tested better.’

That didn’t happen, and that lesson didn’t get learned, and then that skeptical crowd was met with “Vaccine Passports”. Once again, something new, untested and worthy of rebellion.

Calling it was it is – an immunization record – would also have “tested better”. We all already have an immunization record… with words like smallpox and measles and diphtheria and mumps and whatever else in it. We all have it and many of us have needed it. Some employers demand it. Some schools demand it. Some travel destinations demand it. All doggy daycares demand it too. There’s nothing new with immunization records… but you throw the word “passport” in there, and the implications of not having one, and the “Freedom And Rights!!1!1!!!1!!!” crowd shows up.

And on that note… if you think I’m going to voice my disgust at people who picket and protest outside of hospitals, insulting healthcare workers and blocking access for actual patients… I am, but that’s only part of it.

The other part of it is the symbolism associated with it. I happened to see among the pictures of the protesters a person wearing a little yellow star with “Not Vaccinated” written on it, where conventionally you’d expect to see the word “Jude’”.

Cultures these days are up in arms about appropriation. Here’s a cheap dreamcatcher for $5.99, available in the local tourist shop. It’ll look so cute in the window! Here’s a bundle of sage; take it home and light it and wave it around. That’s called smudging. Isn’t that cute? And Woke? We’re *so* Culturally Lit!!

Yeah, one can see how offensive that would be to people who understand the depth and significance of what those things really are. Their history. What they symbolize. What it meant to the people for whom it was intended.

So, let’s talk about that little yellow star. First of all, and this part of it isn’t so well known, that wasn’t the only Nazi-imposed oppressive symbol of The Holocaust. Red triangle? Communist. Brown triangle? Gypsy. Purple triangle? Jehovah’s Witness. Pink inverted triangle? Homosexual.

And for a brief moment, imagine the outrage from the LGBTQ community if that pink triangle were appropriated for this purpose. Idiots screaming about freedom, comparing it to the struggles of a community that’s been marginalized for centuries.

But they’ve chosen that little yellow star to complain about their lack of freedom, so let’s go with that. That little yellow star is indeed a striking symbol of lack of freedom. For those who had to wear it, it meant a loss of freedom, and depending on what year, it meant something different. From 1933 to 1945, at differing times, it meant the loss of freedom to travel. To go to school. To own a business. To operate a business. To own property. To have your own home. To own anything. And finally, to live… slowly and surely, those rights were eroded until there was nothing left. But really, at no point, did it have anything to do with being able to book a table at that sushi place in Yaletown where they make those awesome cube-like nigiri that they roast with a blowtorch. No… the Jews of the Holocaust weren’t worrying too much about stuff like that and, further, if the solution to their problems could’ve been solved by a disease-preventing inoculation, I can think of at least 6 million people who gladly would’ve taken advantage of it.

If you want to complain about freedoms being ripped away from you, talk to the women of Afghanistan. Hell, you don’t even need to go that far. Talk to the women in Texas… both groups of women who until recently had rights which were ruthlessly and unexpectedly ripped away from them.

So… I look at these despicable people marching with their ignorant, illiterate signs and their tasteless and inappropriate symbols… and here’s what comes to mind: Many years ago, I took a few law courses at VCC… a sort of evening-adult-education thing. It was more about getting familiar with some business law issues, but we covered a bit of criminal law as well. Interesting stuff. One thing I remember is the difference between assault and battery. Those two terms are commonly used somewhat interchangeably, but there is a difference… and the word assault is sometimes used incorrectly. Hitting someone isn’t an assault; that’s the actual battery. There doesn’t need to be any physical contact for there to be an assault… just inducing fear or threats or intimidation; that’s an assault. Of course, it’s hard to hit someone without there having been some element of those three things beforehand, so it’s often assault and battery combined.

Why do I mention this? I mention it only because, in my case, it’ll undoubtedly be both that I’ll be charged with if I see anyone wearing one of these little yellow stars… because I will walk up right up to them and rip the fucking thing right off their shirt or jacket while simultaneously punching them in the face. A very quick one-two.

My thinking is that it’d be so quick that there technically might not be time for it to be an assault. Just battery… for sure. Anyway, nitpicking… but I think everyone who knows me well would be surprised… that the guy who goes out of his way to shoo a fly or bee or even spider out of the house, instead of so-easily squashing them… would be the guy arrested for punching a protester in the face. Truthfully, I haven’t been in an actual fistfight since I was 10 years old. But I’m telling you right now – perhaps somewhat blowing my potential “moment of rage, no pre-meditated intent” defence: If I run into one of these people, they will need to visit the hospital to which moments earlier they’d been blocking access.

Well! You’ll either hear about me in the news… or I’ll be back here in due course with more to say; this has already gotten a bit long. Enough for now. Have a great weekend… till next time!

July 3, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 2, 2021

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

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

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

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

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

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

July 1, 2021

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

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

The rest are somewhere in between – as am I.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

June 30, 2021

I’m overwhelmed by all of the messages I’ve received… thank you. I realize I said my last post is on Tuesday… and some took it to mean yesterday… but I meant next Tuesday – July 6th – the day the official State of Emergency is lifted. That being said, everyone in the news is saying the SoE ends tonight. What’s certainly true is that Phase 3 starts tomorrow… but that’s not necessarily tied to the SoE, which, according to the official government EmergencyInfoBC site… still says July 6th.

… so, guess what… one more week of my ramblings, because I think I have about another 6 days of “wrap-up” to provide… of the “broad brushstrokes” sort… and we can’t end all of this without one final “guess the numbers” contest over the weekend…

So, with that… a final word about vaccines and their effectiveness:

There’s an interesting sort of Darwinism that’s emerging from this pandemic… of the “you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink it” sort. To follow up on that well-known saying, I’ve added a corollary (n. a proposition that follows from (and is often appended to) one already proved) – which is, “you can take that horse’s head and jam it into the water and hold it there… but there are some stubborn old horses that’d rather drown than take a drink.”

I would hope nobody’s tried this experiment, and I should note… I’ve met a lot of horses in my time. Some are very smart. Some are as dumb as a mule… but, to be honest, perhaps all of them would be smart enough to take a drink if that’s what it’d take to not die. But humans, on the other hand… the sort that’d never admit they were wrong… that’s another story.

The data that has emerged is pretty straightforward.

In the U.S., there were 18,000 C19 deaths in May. Of those, around 150 (0.8%) were in fully vaccinated people. I don’t have the age or breakdown of those people, but I’m assuming age and compromised immune systems are part of it for some, if not most.

Also in May, in the U.S., there were 853,000 C19 hospitalizations. Of those, fewer than 1,200 (0.1%) were people who were fully vaccinated.

The U.S. is down to a few hundred deaths a day these days, and virtually all of them are people who are unvaccinated.

In English: Ninety-nine percent of people dying from Covid-19 are unvaccinated. Virtually all of those deaths are preventable.

In mid-January, 4,000 people a day were dying. The significant decrease began exactly at the time the vaccination campaigns began in earnest.

I’m really not entirely sure what more persuasive evidence someone would need. To me, and fortunately, many others… it’s all startlingly obvious.

What can you do…? You can lead a person to a vaccination clinic. But you can’t make them take it.

You know… it’s ok to be wrong. It’s ok to change your mind. As long as your fragile ego can take a hit, and as long as you have the capacity to do some critical thinking, if you haven’t gotten sick… it’s never too late. The overwhelming data coming from every trustable scientific source agrees. The guy in the basement with the red tinfoil hat disagrees.

Horses don’t always have choices, but humans do… and sometimes, they make the right choice. And sometimes, they let Darwin make it for them.

C’est la vie… or, in some unfortunate future cases… lack thereof.

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