April 14, 2022

There was a time, in the increasingly-distant past, where I actually imagined this pandemic ending in the blink of an eye… literally instantly. A simple declaration – Hey, it’s all good! – and that would be the end of it. Imagine Tinkerbell flying around in relative darkness, among the shadows… where everything is some gloomy shade of gray. Then, with a simple tap of her tiny magic wand — and a little puff of pixie dust — it all transforms into beautiful colours… and the sun comes out and the sky is blue and the birds are singing and we all live happily ever after.

Unfortunately, life isn’t a fairy tale… and there’s no little fairy to rescue us like that. Indeed, it’s more like a bigger ferry… like the Queen of Esquimalt, when it’s going to dock in Schwartz Bay and suddenly it starts groaning and slowly turning 180 degrees because the cars are all pointing the wrong way. And everyone on board also starts groaning. Oh no, this is going to take forever! We’re going be late for our Tea At The Empress™!

Somewhere between the fairy and the ferry lies our reality; it’s not instant, and it’s a slow turn… but, eventually, we get there. We’re in the midst of that turn right now, but unfortunately, it’s very foggy and we can’t really see how far we’ve gone… nor how far we have to go.

This sort of reminds me about the whole pot ordeal of recent decades. For a long time, it was totally illegal. Today, it’s totally legal. Do you remember the many years of ambiguity? Hey, that guy is standing in the street smoking a joint. Is that legal? Can he do that? Well, maybe he can if he’s not selling it. Really? Who knows? Who cares?

It’s the “who cares” that’s a bit of an issue these days, because while a lot of people do indeed not care anymore, many still do. Also, there are some loud and credible voices stating in no uncertain terms: Hey, this isn’t over. Far from it…. while, at the same time, there are equally loud voices carrying a message that raises some eyebrows: Yeah, it’s over… if for no other reason than we’ve had enough and we’re not doing this anymore. Anyway, look at the numbers. What’s the big deal? Life goes on.

Who do you believe? Who do you want to believe? Every single day, you can choose what you want to believe and there will be a credible source to back you. Today, a Russian warship sank. The Russians say a fire accidentally broke out and detonated some ammunition. The Ukrainians say they hit it with a missile.

Like “Where are we at?” and like getting reliable news out of Ukraine/Russia, the pandemic analysis has also gotten murkier. Attached are numbers and graphs as best as I can do these days, which isn’t much because reliable data is few and far between. Most of it (what’s in italics) is extrapolated. I’ve done away entirely with the vaccination data because, as important as it as and as transfixed as I was every day watching the vaccination percentages creep upwards… now, the numbers are meaningless. From that aspect, we’ve done all we can. Anyone who wants a shot or two or three can get one almost immediately.

In summary, numbers are up, but just a little up. In BC, hospitalizations are close to where they were a month ago, but they’d dipped two weeks ago. ICU numbers continue to drop. In Ontario and Quebec, they’re in the midst of a sixth wave… and of course, what Toronto and Montreal dictate must apply to the rest of the country… so I guess we are too. But while hospitalizations are up, ICU numbers aren’t growing appreciably; in fact, down slightly. Everything is a lot better than it was at the start of the year, but arguably, headed in the wrong direction.

It’s all ambigious and uneasy and, to some extent, ends up being what you want it to be… which, for the present day, is probably as good as it’s going to get. It takes a while to turn the ferry around because if you don’t do it right… like, too quickly, you end up with a big mess on board and lots of complaints. Do it too slowly and there will also be complaints. Hey man, we have reservations, you know?

Well… I’m pretty sure… that if you’re going to be paying $89 per person for Tea At The Empress™, they’ll hold the reservation for you, even if you’re going to be a bit late. And, don’t worry… the ferry will get turned around, docked, and you’ll get there… eventually. Yes, you wish a little magic wand could get you there instantly. I also wish it could get us all there instantly, too… wherever that ultimate “there” is.

But, again, life isn’t a fairy tale. More like a ferry tale, I guess.

February 14, 2022

Happy Valentine’s Day!

The symbol of the day is, of course, hearts. Big, red… and/or fluffy and/or chocolate-filled and/or arrow crossed – hearts. We all know what Valentine’s Day looks like.

Funny thing, symbols… how they come into existence and what they mean to people and how, sometimes, they get co-opeted for nefarious means and ruined forever.

There is an ancient Sanskrit symbol used to convey good wishes and well-being that was very popular until relatively recently. You could find it on Coca-Cola bottles. You could find it on bottles of Carlsberg. Even the Boy Scouts used it, and, in fact, the Girls’ Club of America named their magazine after it. Closer to home, many hockey teams named themselves after it and used it as their logo.

The pictures of those teams, though… are all in black and white because all of the above preceded World War II. At that point, the symbol was seized-upon by the Nazis, and the rest, as well as the symbol itself, is history. In common parlance, the swastika has been “canceled” and, unlike some celebrities who manage to claw their way back from permanent exile – for example, Arnold Schwarzenegger – the swastika Won’t Be Back.

For decades, especially after the aforementioned World War, the Canadian Flag has been a world-wide symbol of awesomeness. If you’ve ever backpacked through Europe, hopping from hostel to hostel, you’ll understand the warmth with which you’re received when they see that flag, especially in places like Holland.

Around here, Canadian flags being waved loudly in the streets has always been in celebration. If you’d told me a few months ago that there’d be huge screaming crowds waving flags and dancing in the streets in early February, I certainly would’ve assumed it was sports-related; perhaps because the Canadian women once again won Olympic gold… and/or the men… and/or our national soccer team qualified for the World Cup… that sort of thing. But then you throw in the swastikas and the violence and the “F🍁ck Trudeau” flags and, suddenly, it looks quite different.

I categorically refuse to allow what’s going on these days to tarnish the meaning of our flag and our Maple Leaf. I recognize that the symbolism and what’s behind it isn’t flawless; I certainly recognize that Canada Day is far from something to celebrate for some populations of Canada, but that’s our internally inward-facing problem to acknowledge and respect and make right. Nobody else’s.

So, back to the question… who exactly has seized upon the moment to tarnish our image, both inward and outward-facing, to suit their own particular agenda?

The big news a few hours go was that there was a data leak; that the spreadsheet of all of the truck convoy donors was stolen. Indeed, that happened… and I’ve managed to get a hold of it (don’t ask).

There’s a lot to learn from all that data, but here are the broad brushstrokes:

– around 90,000 individual donors totaling more than $8 million (USD)

– the majority of donors were American (58.8% US vs. 41.2% CA)

– the top donor, a donation of $90,000, came from an American billionaire who’s well known for backing Republican causes

– there were around 50 American donations of $1,000 or more, as opposed to around 150 Canadian donations of $1,000 or more

– the lower the donation amount, the more the quantity seems to skew towards Americans. Like, of donations over $10, there were 46,700 US vs. 35,100 CA. Of donations less than $10, Americans “outweighed” Canadians 5 to 1. In other words, there’s a relatively small group of Canadians who’ve seized upon this “seriously” and have thrown some bigger money at it. The majority of the rest of it comes from down south.

Who the hell are these thousands of Americans throwing $5 or $10 towards this? The answer is pretty obvious, but for those who don’t get it or don’t want to get it, I’ll spell it out for you… it’s the same mindset as the $90k guy at the top, who are interested in pushing their own agendas that have absolutely nothing to do with the pandemic or freedom or whatever else. If you’ve ever wondered who’d ever come into Canada pushing agendas with respect to more guns, less abortions, even fewer vaccines and no masks – it’s these guys.

I’m well aware there are people reading this thinking hell yeah! That’s what we want!

Well… I’ll tell you what: If that’s what you want, go right ahead and do your part trying to vote it in. After all, this is a democracy… and if that’s what most people want, they’ll eventually vote it in and get it.

However, the last thing anyone around here should be welcoming is meddling from the outside. Americans, in general, are notorious for jumping borders and imposing their will. They’re our closest neighbour and biggest trading partner and ally, I know… but I’ve always been a big fan of the 49th parallel and what it’s managed, both physically and spiritually, to keep in and out. America has plenty to offer, but it should always be up to us what we take… because America is also well-known for, after imposing their will, washing their hands of it, walking away, and leaving a huge mess, having achieved whatever it was that they were after. Most countries for whom that’s happened might not have seen it coming. Here, it’s staring us in the headlights. Can we please not let that happen?

If you’re the sort of American that’s happy to share your Super Bowl commercials and commercialized Valentine’s Day, great! Thank you… those of us who want that will take it. I’ll admit to being a fan of at least one of those things.

But if you’re the sort of American who wants to shove their agenda down our throats for your personal benefit, and to hell with us and our symbols and our flags and whatever else we may hold dear… well, I do say this is the most respectful and polite and Canadian way I can: F🍁ck off.

January 6, 2022

Usually I know what I’m talking about (or, at least, think I do)… but I’ve been trying to figure something out, and I am going in circles. Some things require questioning.

There are 2.8 million people in BC who are 50 or older, of which some 700,000 are ages 50 to 60… and this particular demographic (which I’m part of) is the one who got their first shot in late April/early May, their second shot in late June/early July… and, therefore, have become eligible for the booster in recent weeks. The invites may have been sprinkling down like tiny snowflakes at first… but now… we’ve seen in recent days what a real snowfall can look like. Terrific. As soon as you get your invite, book your appointment. Hopefully you can get to it.

But wait… here’s the question: If you recently had Covid, should you wait for the booster? How long should you wait? Why?

So… I’ve asked a lot of people and I’ve read lots of articles and data, and the best response I can formulate when presently asked, is… “Good question!” or “I sincerely don’t know” or “Ask me in 6 months”.

Here in BC, we don’t get to find out what variant we had. They’re obviously collecting the data, but for some reason, don’t want to disclose it. I wish they did, as do many people, because it might make some difference in the chosen course of action, given that the present vaccines are designed for Delta and previous versions; the booster is too. There is no doubt that one, two and three vaccines confer protection against serious illness no matter what version you’re unfortunate enough to contract, so everyone should eventually get all of them. But the issue is… if you’ve recently had Covid as the result of a breakthrough infection (ie 90% of us who got sick in December), when should you get the booster? Pouring a cupful of boiling water into an already-boiling pot doesn’t do much… but if that large pot of water has cooled off a bit, then it does.

I got in a bit of trouble trying to ask this question in one of the BC Covid Facebook groups; the moderators refused to allow it, and gave me pithy and useless one-line responses to my questioning their attitude. Yes, I know you can get the booster 14 days after your symptoms subside. Yes, I know Dr. Henry said just get the booster as soon as you can, no matter what… and I understand where she’s coming from; she doesn’t want to see a flood hospital admissions, and the best way to achieve that given what we don’t yet know – and to umbrella to the whole issue – is to just get everyone as vaccinated as possible… as soon as possible. But that’s not necessarily a medical decision; it’s based on mitigating the local worst-case scenarios with respect to overwhelming the medical infrastructure. My counter-argument would be, “Sure, ok… but maybe someone else needs that booster more at this very moment.” Indeed, there is a lot of talk of “super-immunity” that you have (for a while… how long? A month? Two months? Three?) after a vaccine/vaccine/infection course. If I’m presently “super-immune”, why waste a booster on me right now? Depending who you ask, here are the recommendations:

BC says get it two weeks later.
Ontario says one month.
Quebec says two to three months.
One American article I read said up to six months.

I’m a big fan of Dr. Henry and usually agree with her, so it was interesting to be treated like some sort of anti-vaxxer just because I dared asked a question that threatened to go against the (present-day) gospel of our PHO.

As we all know, science evolves and, as we learn more, so do recommendations. Dr. Henry herself has course-corrected many times, as she should. I suspect this issue will evolve over time as well as more data is collected, analyzed and understood.

But in the meantime, there are all sorts of complicated reasons and mitigating factors going into these various opinions, and there are too many variables… and, of course, different places have different priorities and/or concerns. Vaccine shortages? Bed shortages? Percentage of population vaccinated? Which strain was the infection? Etc etc.

For what it’s worth, I’m leaning towards waiting a month to six weeks. I’m pretty certain I got Omicron given the symptoms, lack of symptoms, and course of the illness… and, that being the case, that covers me (for a while) from all presently-known strains. Certainly, I should be good till the end of the month, and then I’ll reconsider. Or, of course, I might read something in an hour that’ll change my mind. I’m counting on the fact that actual data and facts on the topic will emerge every day, and my (and everyone else’s) opinions and decision making won’t be based on just rudimentary data, speculation and gut feel. And if you’re in the same boat, please feel free to share your thoughts in the comments; I’d love to hear where you’re thinking is at.

On a separate note, one that requires no speculation or changing opinions… we’ve been hearing for a long time that if you’re sick and/or unvaccinated, stay away from people who may have compromised immune systems. As healthy and immune as you may be from contracting the illness, not everyone is so lucky. So, stay away.

Even if you choose not to stay away, the potential victim usually has a say. If you’re not vaxxed but your relative is, and they tell you to stay the hell away, they themselves can flee the scene if you’re so entitled as to impose yourself upon their presence.

But… that’s not always the case, and the specific case I want to talk about are babies.

Human babies are pathetically frail when compared to other mammals. Some animals are good to go on their own mere hours after being born. It’s only humans that rely on parental protection for so long. Years, not hours. Babies depend on us to keep them safe, and the reason I mention this is that a recent article pointed out a very simple stat that speaks for itself: All of the babies presently hospitalized in Ontario due to complications from Covid-19… are from unvaccinated mothers. All of them. One hundred percent.

Yes… some other things don’t require any questioning at all.

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 23, 2021

There are some words you never hear. We’re all familiar with “overwhelmed” and “underwhelmed”, but what about just whelmed? What does it even mean?

The words originate from the marine world and have been around for centuries, and these days, whelmed means where the water is coming right up to the sides of the boat, and some of it is splashing onto the deck… but it’s no big deal. Overwhelmed is where the water is pouring in from all sides, and things are heading in a catastrophic direction, ie. sinking or capsizing. And underwhelmed, of course, means nothing too exciting is going on.

We hear a lot about our medical system being at risk of being overwhelmed, but it’s not just hospital beds at risk. Long before a Covid case gets to hospital, there’s a lot that needs to happen… and every step of the way is potentially at risk of becoming a choke point. And once you have a choke point, the effects spill over to other areas.

What happens when the choke point is right at the beginning of the sequence? What if the boat is overwhelmed before it even leaves the harbour?

Two weeks ago, I drove by the Covid testing centre that’s been set up in the parking lot of St. Vincent’s Hospital. You head down 33rd, westbound, and turn right, into the lot. There were three cars waiting in line… probably a 5-minute wait. When I went to get my test a week ago, the lineup went all the way up to Cambie and then occupied the right-most southbound lane for about a block-and-a-half down. I joined the line at around Cambie and 31st, and from there it took close to 90 minutes to get tested.

I happened to drive by there today, and the lineup not only spilled onto Cambie; it now took up the two right lanes. And it went all the way down, past 26th Ave, almost to the intersection of King Ed. Two solid lanes for eight blocks, and that’s before the right turn onto 33rd for the final little bit.

My understanding is that people were being told it’s a close-to 6 hour wait.

So, here is exhibit A of an overwhelmed system. Funny how, two weeks ago, driving by there, I thought… huh, so much infrastructure for so little. A couple of piddly little cars waiting…and, for that… all these cops and nurses and tents and generators and infrastructure. It’s way too much. Ha Ha. And now, there’s only one word that applies. Overwhelmed. And here’s a spillover effect that has nothing to do with Covid: Cambie street is a designated emergency corridor. Indeed, if you’re downtown and need to get to… City Hall? VGH? The airport? It’s that straight line which, ostensibly, always has an open lane… just in case. But not today; two-thirds of the southbound lanes are a 6-hour line-up, and the other single lane is occupied by traffic which, of course, needing 300% of the allocated space, was backed up all the way to the Cambie Bridge. This would be a really bad time for an earthquake.

So… all these people being tested. Let’s start by being very clear that the startling increase in cases in no way reflects the actual reality. There are far, far more new cases today than the already eyebrow-raising 2,000+ would imply. How many people got to the line-up and said to hell with it? And at how many different testing sites? More than stuck around would be my guess. Their thinking makes some sense. Why wait it out? Go home, isolate, etc… we all know what we’re supposed to do. If it gets serious (and, overwhelmingly, if you’re double-vaxxed, it won’t), just go home and ride it out like any illness you’ve ever had. Why stress the overwhelmed infrastructure – and yes, that’s exactly what it is. A six-hour wait to get tested is nobody’s idea of whelmed.

And all of that leads into the topic-du-jour, which is an awful lot of pissed-off people. We heard a lot of “Hopefully by Christmas” ideas until recently. Until it all went to hell. The new restrictions have just added to the confusion and the anger. People have had enough, and it’s psychologically very difficult to keep adjusting to goalposts which seem to move haphazardly, and have been doing so for two years. Gyms are ok, gyms are not ok, family gatherings are not ok, restaurants yes, sort of…, clubs no, etc etc. Who makes these rules? Why are they messing with us?

The science behind these restrictions, as random as it might seem, is entirely based on likelihood of transmission. Closed indoor spaces with bad ventilation, ie gyms, are, with a bug as contagious as Omicron, a bad place to be. Big parties in enclosed restaurant party rooms? If there is one person in that room who has Omicron, after 3 hours of jovial partying, everyone will have come into contact with it. And this time, vaxxed or not, you’re at a much higher risk.

The number of people saying “So what. Enough. Who cares.” is higher than it’s ever been, and why wouldn’t it be. People who’ve been planning for months (if not years). People who’ve heard this version isn’t so serious. People whose airline tickets and hotels have crossed beyond the refundable window, and their measurement of risk/reward makes sense to them.

There are no simple answers. Indeed, there are many scenarios imaginable that technically violate the orders… yet people are comfortably wrapping their heads around ways to justify their decisions.

There are still too many variables to figure out what’s ok and what isn’t. It’ll all shake out in hindsight, but for now, everything in place is there to prevent one thing: overwhelming the medical system. But hey, guess what… the overwhelming is already happening.

The question to which we’d all love an answer is just how, where and what is being overwhelmed. What’s the effect of a virus that’s not as serious but a lot easier to catch? The math of “A third as serious but 10x easier to catch” nets out to more hospitalizations. Enough to break the system?

Around here – in fact, in all of Canada, the staggering growth in cases in not translating to hospitalizations except in Quebec, where they’re seeing a bit of a spike… but still, not even close to proportional to their new cases.

There’s no good summary to any of this; this variant hit at the worst possible time. Here’s another word where perhaps it’s fair to use the less-common form. Whereas in the past, everything we experienced was unprecedented, this is all feeling somewhat precedented at the moment. Hopefully not for long. I’d like to feel gruntled again.

In the meantime… for those who celebrate it, Merry Christmas… and may this be the last of the “memorable” ones, at least in this context.

November 29, 2021

My first thought upon hearing that there’s a new, far-more contagious variant emerging was, “Great… finally.”

Given the world’s sudden panic with respect to it, I guess I should clarify. I’m not some Evil Overlord awaiting the demise of humanity; quite the opposite. So… here’s what comes to mind…

Let’s rewind to the beginning of the pandemic. But no, not this one… the big one a long time ago. And no, not that one either… I’m not talking about the 1918-1919 Spanish flu. Let’s jump further back… and arrive at the 1889-1890 Russian flu pandemic. That pandemic killed around a million people out of a world population of 1.5 billion… roughly 0.7% of everyone which, if you map it to today’s world population, would be a death toll of over 5 million… a number which, unfortunately, has already been far-exceeded by Covid-19.

That flu epidemic has been studied ever since, and it certainly got a closer look in 1918, when scientists were trying to figure out what they were dealing with. As it turns out, after a century of research, with scientists all-along trying to shoehorn in what sort of flu virus that might have been (because nothing made perfect sense, and nothing really fit), a simpler explanation has recently come to light… and it’s become evident that the Russian flu pandemic wasn’t actually the flu after all. It was… yeah, you guessed it.

This sort of retro-science is obviously much easier in hindsight… indeed, that’s the only way to do it… so when you read about the symptoms of that ancient pandemic these days, and read about the high fever, chest inflammation, respiratory issues, killing predominantly older people, loss of taste and smell… yes, it does all sound somewhat familiar… and it’s not the flu.

As it turns out, the great Russian flu pandemic was actually caused by a coronavirus strain labelled OC43, one that has been found to have jumped into the human population exactly around 1890… and it certainly hit the ground running, infecting and killing countless people.

But here’s an interesting fact, 130 years later… OC43 is one of the leading causes of… the common cold. Has it gotten weaker over the years? Is it now more contagious but less virulent? Are we just more immune to it? Did we acquire some of that immunity from our parents? Are treatments more common and accessible to the extent that it’s no longer a big deal?

Yes – to all of the above. It’s just a common cold. We’ve all been dealing with it all our lives, and it’s generally – the vast majority of the time — not a big deal.

For virus like OC43 to go from killing close to 1% of the population to being no big deal took over a century. These days, we’re not interested in waiting that long. We have nowhere near the attention span. The sort of mindset that demands we be able to binge-watch an entire seven seasons of some show during three days of lockdown is the same mindset that insists everything, including pandemics, be dealt with in a quick and efficient manner.

Nature doesn’t really care what we think, so we simply have to take what we can get… but what we’re getting, as per my opening paragraph is, in my opinion, cautiously optimistic.

Like a common cold, we’re all going to come into contact with it. Everyone scrambling to close their borders? It’s a nice theatrical exercise, but the truth is that the Omicron variant is probably already here. Where’s here? Exactly. Everywhere. Watch for cases to start rising dramatically… everywhere.

And is that a bad thing? Not necessarily. Cases will go up, but far-more-importantly, will hospitalizations? ICU admissions? Deaths?

I won’t go out of my way (yet) to say it’s all a good thing, but there’s one potentially very positive version of this: That this is the virus’s end-game. That this is where it gets a lot more contagious and a lot less virulent. Indeed, if we start getting data that this thing spreads like wildfire but causes only mild symptoms, we’re actually well on our way out of this mess… on a global scale. While it’s still too early to say for certain, initial indications imply a milder disease. While Delta cases cause elevated pulse rates, low oxygen levels and the loss of taste and smell, Omicron cases seem to cause different symptoms: Fatigue, head and body aches, and occasional sore throats and coughs.

And if that’s the extent of it – what sounds like nothing more than a common cold – and if it’s so virulent that we all get it and, with that, develop antibodies against the underlying C19… mission accomplished. Problem solved.

It’s interesting that this variant was first identified in South Africa.

On a somewhat related noted, it’s interesting to note that for the most part, the entire continent of Africa bypassed conventional telephone lines. It just wasn’t worth it to wire the entire country. They missed out on decades of the benefits of telephones in every household… but they’re making up for it now. Cellular infrastructure has arrived and, with it, internet and apps and everything that comes with it. They missed telephony the first time around, but thanks to leapfrogging technology, are pretty-much caught up. They’re exactly where you and I are with mobile phones, and, given how much we pay for cell service around here, probably a bit ahead. They leapfrogged into the cellular age… and they may end up leapfrogging vaccines.

The pathetic vaccination rates in Africa (not because they don’t want it, but because it just hasn’t been made available) might quickly become as irrelevant as an old Bell telephone (you know, the old ones… the ones where you could deliciously slam down the receiver in frustration) – because the prevalence of a mild and very-contagious version of this virus might finally be the thing to slam it out of existence. Africa may immunize themselves out of the pandemic by simply infecting each other with a much milder strain. And if that turns out to be the case, it won’t just be Africa; it’ll be everywhere.

I sincerely hope I’m not completely wrong. It’ll take a bit of time to confirm (or shoot down) some of these assumptions.., but I think it’s fair to put out there that there’s a version of this doom and gloom that’s not so gloomy and doomy. Far from it. The news that initially sent the world into a panic and markets tumbling and airports shutting down flights… might turn out to be a significant positive turning point.

November 5, 2021

When I was a kid, I thought the little piggy that went to market was going shopping. I imagined the pig, walking upright, dressed nicely, wearing a little hat and pushing a shopping cart in the produce section, judiciously picking out the best cobs of corn. I also imagined that the little piggy that stayed home just didn’t want go shopping. Then there was the little piggy who was eating roast beef, so why would he want to go anywhere… and then the other little piggy who wasn’t hungry. And finally, the little piggy who cried “wee wee wee” all the way home; that didn’t quite add up, because I thought all of them (except the one that went shopping) were already home. But whatever.

Years later, I learned a pig “going to market” means something quite different, and when you read the innocent little nursery rhyme in that context, it all takes on a completely different meaning. The first little piggy is going to slaughter. The second little piggy isn’t quite ready to go to slaughter. The third little piggy needs to be fattened up a bit before it’s his turn. The fourth little piggy needs no more fattening up, and so we all know where he’ll be heading soon.

Distinguished literary scholars have (I suppose), for centuries (the original nursery rhyme is from 1760), been discussing the fifth little piggy. Did he escape from the market and run home, squealing with delight all the way home? Was he taken to market, not purchased, and is now squealing with relief that he gets to go back home, back to his friends… at least temporarily? Or perhaps he was purchased after all, and is now squealing in terror as he’s being taken to his new “home”. We may never know. The questions may linger for another few centuries, but it really doesn’t matter… because that’s totally not the point.

The point is… we learn something initially one way, and sometimes, in due course, as we learn more and new facts emerge, our understanding of what we originally thought gets completely transformed. It took me more than 40 years to understand what’s happening to those five little piggies… and now it’s something you yourself will think about when you’re counting and wiggling the toes of some nearby baby.

Similarly, as this pandemic has progressed, a lot of what we innocently thought we knew has changed dramatically as time has gone by. It bothers me greatly to see conclusions of scientific method and research turned right around… presented as evidence that those conducting the research don’t know what they’re doing. If science and understanding didn’t evolve, then there would be something to complain about, but the reality of the world is the exact opposite. We learn from new facts. We learn when we make mistakes. Nobody has ever been right “all along”.

Starting at the beginning of the pandemic, we were told that with handwashing and social distancing, we’d be ok. No need for masks. Dr. Henry said so. Dr. Fauci said so. They all said so… until the moment science realized that this is an airborne disease after all, and then… a very quick 180 on masks. Yes, indeed, after all… having now studied the matter more and seen more data… masks do make a difference. A big difference. Enclosed spaces? They weren’t talked about much, at least initially. They certainly are now. As the science, data and knowledge have evolved, so have the directives. It’s to be expected. Does this mean they didn’t know what they were talking about? Does it meant they don’t know what they’re talking about now? Of course not.

But sometimes, the science, data and knowledge evolve… and nothing changes, because the initial assumptions were perfectly correct in the first place… and such is the case with vaccinations.

While we’re in the midst of fine-tuning vaccinations… the length of time between doses, the benefits of mixing and matching, the necessity for a booster… this is all just rearranging the furniture and painting the walls… of a solidly-built brick house. The big bad Covid wolf may have been able to blow down the initial straw house and the subsequent house made of sticks, but here we have a rock-solid infrastructure… one in which we can all feel safe. Covid can huff and puff all it likes, but is it likely to kill us? Not by the hair on our chinny chin chins.

Yeah, I know… those three little pigs are very different from the five little ones on your toes, but here’s something worth mentioning: All three pigs in the latter story survive.

The first one, a wolf-denier, built a flimsy house out of straw. The second one was wolf-hesitant and made a bit more of an effort, but sticks aren’t good enough protection. The third little pig understood the big picture and what was at stake, and built his brick fortress… and when the big bad evil Covid wolf came around huffing and puffing and ultimately blowing down those first two houses, its occupants ran screaming to that brick house – whose pig welcomed them with open arms. Finally… a fairy tale with a happy ending, because the good guys survived… even though, initially, they weren’t really deserving. It’s very rare that life, circumstance (and/or fairy tales) reward the “wrong” ones. The whole idea is to learn a lesson. Shouldn’t those first two pigs have been eaten by the wolf? The five little piggies didn’t have a choice… they were all destined for slaughter.

But the three little pigs… they made choices, and the two that made poor choices almost paid with their lives. Yet… sometimes, real-life echoes the fairy tale. Guess what; it’s not too late. If you’re reading this and realizing you’re metaphorically and presently inhabiting a flimsy house, it’s an easy fix; while building a brick house takes effort, choosing to inhabit one doesn’t… it’s as easy as booking a vaccine appointment.

It’s unfortunately looking a lot like the big bad wolf is going to be around for a while, and you never know when or where he’s going to make an appearance with his huffing and puffing. In which house do you want to be when he shows up?

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 23, 2021

A sincere Thank You to all of you for the kind wishes and messages I received yesterday. It was indeed a Happy Birthday.

Also… now I’m at what I would call a Prime age… for the simple reason that 53 is a prime number. The last time I had one of these ages was six years ago, in 2015, when I turned 47. The next one – knock on wood – will be in 2027 when I’ll be 59.

If you live to the age of 100, you’ll encounter 25 Prime ages… and given the nature of prime numbers, they’re more bunched near the start. There are four (2, 3, 5, 7) before age 10 and there are another four (11, 13, 17, 19) before age 20. There are only two in your 50s and another two (61, 67) in your sixties. And only one in your 90s… and that (97) is a good target.

For whatever reason, these Prime years always seem to be the “A lot has changed” years. 2015 was certainly one of those. I don’t think we need to talk about this one. What’s coming up in 2027? Well, if history is any indication, let’s rewind 10 years… 2011, age 43. Could I have foreseen my life and what it’d look like only four years later? No. A lot changed. And between six years ago and today? A lot changed.

I look back at these specific years in my life, and for whatever reason, they seem to delineate important transformations or revelations or pivots or whatever you want to call them, and most of them… somewhat unforeseeable. So, 2027? Not even gonna try.

What’s interesting is that if you do the same little experiment, you’re likely to find the same thing…and that’s because the human brain likes to find patterns and to try to make sense of things that probably, actually, are completely unrelated… but we need to make it make sense for ourselves.

Sep 22nd, 1968, happened to be New Year’s Day on the Hebrew Calendar. It’s also the cusp between Virgo/Libra. It’s also the Autumnal Equinox. And, as an added bonus, there was a solar eclipse happening at the exact moment I was born. OMG!!

What does all that mean? Nothing, really… but that doesn’t mean some people won’t try to attach meaning to it. Apparently, all of that put together results in a very unique Astrological Chart. Then again, as I like to say, I’m a Virgo… and Virgos don’t believe in Astrology.

Which leads me to comment briefly on Covid data and facts and the ongoing swirling mass of information that everyone has to contend with. We’re at the point where there will be a fact stated and both sides will jump on it, attaching whatever meaning they want. As a simple example, in Israel, the number of new Covid cases in vaccinated people is much higher than unvaccinated people. That’s absolutely true… and the Anti-vaxxers read that, and that’s where they stop reading because that little factoid is just awesome in their eyes. See? SEE?!

Except that… that’s a completely useless number on its own. Extend that to the actual best-case scenario, where 100% of the people are fully vaccinated. In that scenario, guess what… 100% of new infections, as small as that number may be, are in fully-vaccinated people. OMG!!

I get it… it’s hard to wade through this mess of info sometimes… what does it all mean? Sometimes it means a lot. Sometimes it means nothing. Sometimes it looks like it means something, but it absolutely doesn’t because it’s just a finely-crafted manipulation of what someone wants you to believe. Something into which they want you to attach importance.

And you know what… that new year I was born into back in 1968… it was 5729 on the Hebrew calendar. 5+7+2+9 = 23. And 2+3 = 5… and look, I’m posting this at exactly 5pm. Incredible. OMG!!… What can this mean?!?

September 23. 2021

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