May 24, 2021

These long weekends used to scare me a bit because it’s like flying blind for a few days. We might wake up Tuesday morning to find 3,000 dead and 400,000 new cases. It never happened (not even close), thankfully, and I guess that’s why when B.C. decided to pull the plug on weekend updates, they never came back. But I certainly appreciated they updated numbers today… and they were as good as we can hope for… beautifully following that descent to zero. Today’s less-than-300 new cases was the lowest since Feb. 1st… before the 3rd wave.

For the most part, the other interesting numbers to follow these days (barring a 4th wave appearing suddenly and out of nowhere) are the vaccination numbers. On a per-capita basis, we’ve pulled ahead of our southern neighbours, and it’s to no great surprise. We are vaccinating as fast as we can; they are not.

Other broad brush strokes… our military is 85% vaccinated, and that number would be higher were it not for logistics… so it’ll keep rising. On the flip side, the American military refusal rate is somewhere between 33% and 50%, depending who you ask.

Military aside, what about the general population?

In the U.S., it looks like this…

Democrats: 67% vaccinated + 24% asap or waiting = up to 92% eventually, with 8% saying never.

Republicans: 46% vaccinated + 22% asap or waiting = up to 68% eventually, with 32% saying never.

In Canada, it looks like this…

Already vaccinated or will eventually / outright refusal:

NDP: 79% / 9%

Liberal: 84% / 5%

Conservative: 69% / 19%

Seriously, what is it with right-leaning mindsets? Why does conservative equal vaccine hesitancy? Is it because they don’t trust the government? Is it because they don’t trust science? Is it because it’s not in the bible? Or it IS in the bible in some hidden way?

The first time I ran across this sort of horseshit was when I was only 13 and it was pointed out to me that the new American president (Ronald Wilson Reagan) had 6 letters in each of his names. 666… the sign on the beast. Clearly, he was the anti-christ… notwithstanding he was himself a staunch Republican. Seems about as valid as the fact that Reagan can be spelled/pronounced Ray-gun – queue the space lasers and World War III.

If you like this sort of nonsense, get this:

C=3
O=15
R=18
O=15
N=14
A=1
——
6 66 — run for the hills!!!!

… or just trust the science and get vaccinated. Jeez.

April 19, 2021

The “Presidency” of Augusto Pinochet in Chile lasted until early 1990. But you can’t really call him a President, because the Republic of Chile never actually democratically elected him into power.

So… in other words, when I was living there in 1987/1988, life under a military dictatorship was in full swing. It meant that a lot of the civil liberties we take for granted here in Canada simply didn’t exist. But other things, that we do take for granted *not* to exist… did. Such as… checkpoints.

Whenever you run into a checkpoint here… 99.9% of the time it’s to sniff out DUIs. The checkpoints are strategically placed so that if you find yourself heading into one, there’s no escape. Just over the hill on the Granville St. bridge, southbound – heading out of downtown on a Saturday night – is a good example.

And as you approach it, you will feel one of two things. If you’ve been drinking, dread. Fear. A complete freakout. And now you get to pay the steep price for making the poor decisions that put you in this situation.

Or, you haven’t been drinking, and you feel a mix of relief and indignation. Relief that you get to have a brief and friendly chat with the cop before you’re on your merry way… and a bit of indignation. How *dare* they stomp on my civil rights. Who do they think they are. I should be free to drive wherever I want. This is a free country. I should be able to do whatever I want.

We’ve been hearing a lot of those sentences recently, in a very different context… but these two different contexts will be merging a bit on the near future, much to the horror of civil libertarians.

Living under a military dictatorship kept you on edge. Every single time I went through one of those checkpoints… and, might I add, they not only popped-up unexpectedly, but many were semi-permanent. Imagine a checkpoint in the middle of the Lion’s Gate Bridge. In both directions… License and registration and insurance, please. Why isn’t this car in your name. Why are you going downtown. Who do you know on the north shore. How often do you travel this route.

That would be a permanent checkpoint… a little hut in the middle of the bridge, manned by a solider 24/7. Except it wasn’t 24/7… just to mess with you, sometimes the hut was empty and you could just go through. Just to mess you with and keep you on edge.

But usually, it was manned… so, you’d jump through the hoops; you let them execute their little power trip, you acquiesce to their bullshit. And unless you’re actually up to no good, you’re unlikely to have a problem. I was asked a lot of stupid questions… “Where’d you get that car radio?” “Canada? Is that one of those little states way up north?” but it was never more than a few questions before “Have a nice day”.

I’ve been back to Chile many times post-1990, and all of those checkpoints are gone… but the little huts are still there. And I drive by them now and think… what was the point of that. Seriously, what was the point.

Well, the point was that they wanted to keep you in fear. They wanted to constantly remind you… don’t forget who’s in charge. We control you. Don’t, for a minute, think you’re free.

It took a radical change in government to get rid of that but, rest assured, the right-wing military junta of Augusto Pinochet had zero in common with today’s NDP government of John Horgan… something to remember when people start screaming about today’s announcements… that for several weeks, travel restrictions… where you simply shouldn’t leave your local area. And you may run into a checkpoint. It’s temporary and it makes sense, but, oh boy… here comes the screaming and yelling from the freedom/liberty crowd.

I don’t expect to get pulled over at any checkpoint because I don’t expect to be transiting from home any time soon… but in a warped way, I’d look forward to it… because I wouldn’t be able to not compare it to my experiences from 30 years ago… the difference between slowly pulling up to a young, potentially itchy-trigger-fingered solider armed with a loaded semi-automatic weapon… and some VPD or RCMP cop whose only job in this context is to try to keep people safe. I’d look at today’s checkpoint and realize that the cop is on my side, that this is temporary, that this is necessary… and resign myself to the fact that we put ourselves in this situation.

It’s more serious than many people realize, but that’s counteracted by the measures already in place which *are* having a positive effect… and warmer weather, and vaccines. The outcome of this collision course is approaching… do we go the Israel route or the Ontario route in the near future?

Well, let’s look at the Chile route. Way ahead on vaccinations, and fully locked up… because they took that freedom and abused the hell out of it and things went from being under control to totally messed up. That’s what can happen. That’s what might happen here if strict and sudden measures weren’t put in place. So ironic that checkpoints in Chile might have prevented their full-on lockdown.

Around here… may I say… temporary. Can I repeat… temporary. As in – what we need to do today, so that we don’t all have to be doing this forever. I’m pretty sure we can do this for just a few short weeks.

I sure hope so. Otherwise, it won’t be short and it won’t be weeks.

April 15, 2021

In answering a lot of “Ask me next year” questions, I can’t help but touch upon a topic I wrote a lot about last year… but haven’t touched recently.

Just my opinion, but the U.S. has gotten itself into quite a pickle. If you’re a typical, normal, right-leaning American who usually votes Republican because, above all, you favour their economic policies, you’re not facing a great situation. You want the Republican party, but you don’t want the racist misogynist narcissist that presently leads it. Your former president is as unhinged as ever, and that will never change… just get worse. From his point of view, you’re with him or you’re against him. His VP, Mike Pence, stuck with him through high and low, but that didn’t stop Trump from sending him to the lions on January 6th.

Mitch McConnell made his own deal with the devil… one he’s very much regretting. True to form, now that he and Trump are on the outs, he’s facing his own version of getting kicked to the curb. A few nights ago, Trump called McConnell a “stone cold loser” and a “dumb son of a bitch”. That honeymoon is certainly over.

The problem is that the populist Trump has a huge crowd of support and, as we’ve all learned, a significant percentage of that crowd is unshakable. And if Trump dumps the GOP and goes Independent, he will take most of those people with him, and those people, at present, make up half of the Republican voting base. In that scenario, if the GOP votes were to be split in half, there’s a reasonable chance the next election might be a 50-state sweep for the Democrats, a scenario no Republican wants to contemplate. Third-party candidates appear all the time, but rarely have a significant impact. One has never swung an American election one way or the other… but Trump certainly would. Sweep or not, the election wouldn’t be close, and it wouldn’t be a reflection of what the majority necessarily want… a scenario that’s actually not so uncommon.

Municipally, left-leaning Kennedy Stewart is the mayor of Vancouver… elected in 2018, having beaten the NPA’s Ken Sim by only 1,000 votes… something like 50,000 votes to 49,000 votes. Wai Young, who’s further to the right than Ken Sim, got close to 12,000 votes… the vast majority of which would’ve gone to Ken Sim.

Provincially, we saw it here in 1996 when the right-wing split-vote brought in a Glen Clark NDP government with only 39% percent of the popular vote.

Chile similarly saw it in 1970 when Salvador Allende won that election with only 37% percent of the popular vote, the right-wing having split the other 63%.

The U.S. could be next… so, for the moment, the GOP is stuck with Trump… and their bigger problem is that with cult populists, it doesn’t necessarily go away when the head guy goes away. We’re living it here, where the ghost of Pierre Trudeau lives on in Justin. In the U.S., there can potentially be 8 years of Don Jr. followed by 8 years of Ivanka followed by 8 years of Eric. By then, Barron will be over 40 and it can be his turn. Don’t think this isn’t exactly what they’re try to do.

Indeed, now that the cult of Trump is well-entrenched in the Republican party, those who don’t like it find themselves in quite a conundrum… because, perhaps, there’s no way out. But that’s what happens when you dance with the devil. Sometimes you wind up in a mortal embrace. And then you get burned.

April 8, 2021

A tiny glimpse of visibility with respect to how our federal government presently operates – and why we happen to find ourselves behind the 8-ball with respect to vaccines – is evident in the mandate letter sent to Anita Anand, Minister of Public Services and Procurement by Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, on January 15th.

But, let’s go back a little further… actually, a lot further.

At a gala held at the National Arts Centre on April 14, 1972, when Trudeau was only a year old, visiting U.S. president Richard Nixon famously raised his glass: “I’d like to toast the future prime minister of Canada, to Justin Pierre Trudeau!”, he proclaimed. Nixon was also later caught on his White House tapes, famously deriding that three-day trip: “… wasting three days up there. That trip we needed like a hole in the head.”

Two little take-aways from that… one is that if the person presently holding the office of Prime Minister had a last name like Smith or Jones, he probably wouldn’t be PM. He has a unique last name and the genetics to go with it, and they’ve taken him right to the top. Perhaps it was assumed that what he lacked in qualifications might be made up magically, with that last name… or, with experience, having been immersed in that life as a child, right from day one.

There might be an element of truth to that; if Justin hung around daddy enough back then and asked lots of questions, he’d certainly have had a very privileged viewpoint as to how things work. The problem is that Pierre Elliot Trudeau, love or hate the guy, was a true statesman. Whether he destroyed the country or helped shape it to what it is today – let’s set that argument aside. Either way, he was a true leader… and I suspect if he were in power today, we’d have lots of vaccine at our disposal.

But that aspect of leadership is not learned; it’s a personality type that requires a level of understanding and big-picture thinking that either you have or you don’t.

Which leads to the second little take-away… that a lot of government bullshit is a complete waste of time, but it’s necessary for the optics. Nixon called it for what it was… three wasted days of fluff. A gala? Pat Nixon delivering a stuffed Snoopy to Pierre and Margaret’s little boy? All while Nixon was facing some serious problems back at home. Like, you know, a war he was losing on the other side of the world.

Back to present day, this letter, publicly available of course… and, its optics. It’s a real work of art… and reading it, the first thing that comes to mind is that whoever wrote it knew that this document was going to live forever, and therefore, every single word needs to be perfect. Every single word, well-thought-out. Nothing is missing. It mentions every political issue imaginable, many of them irrelevant to the pressing issue at hand.

Emissions reduction targets, Gender-based Analysis, intersectional lens, Indigenous people, Métis, Inuit, LGBTQ2, persons with disabilities, reconciliation, self-determination, Yes, of course they’re all important issues… but instead of 3 pages on tangential issues, all of which are affected by the pandemic, how about one sentence: “Every Canadian deserves equal access to vaccines, and your job is to get it.”

Completely lacking in that document are actual targets. Zero deliverables. That part of it is difficult to figure out, but that’s the important part of it… not just inclusive (and vague) hand-waving. If I’d had a shot at it, my letter would’ve been a lot shorter:

“Anita, please go find as much vaccine as you can, as quickly as possible. Don’t be ok with signed documents and promises unless those documents have some clout to them; we need hard numbers with respect to delivery schedules, and they should agree to severe repercussions and/or reparations if they fail to live up to their end of it. Don’t be afraid to overpay to secure that – we can afford it. Don’t hesitate to leverage whatever we may have to offer. Trees, water, electricity, whatever. Don’t be afraid to charter some planes and waste some fuel. We can handle the political fallout from dumping excess carbon emissions into the atmosphere. For now, at this moment, this is more important. Getting these vaccines quickly and reliably is all that matters. We are scaling up a national vaccine program like no one has ever seen, and we need the product to fill the pipeline. Vaccine inventory can not be allowed to be the weak link in this chain. We don’t need 10 doses per Canadian next year. We need one dose… now.”

But, no… instead, we get a nice big fluffy document with zero teeth. It, literally, looks good on paper. So does cheque for a million dollars… until you try to cash it, and it bounces.

That’s the thing; it can’t just look good. It needs to actually work. And that’s perhaps the destiny of that mandate letter. It’ll be printed off on a huge sheet of fancy parchment and signed with a big feather and framed for all posterity… so that all of the grandkids of Canadians who survived the great pandemic of 2019-2022 can one day tour the great halls of Parliament Hill and look at it. And, as they slowly walk by it, say something… like… “Huh.”

March 22, 2021

Here’s what seems to be a logical progression… some witty/smart/creative troublemaker comes up with an idea and “puts it out there”. The idea enters an echo chamber of like-minded people who welcome it with open arms. The idea gets tossed around, talked about, enhanced upon… grown in different directions, exaggerated and then commandeered to suit the narrative of whoever is propagating it.

Eventually, the original source of the idea backs away… but that’s now irrelevant. Those who need the idea to exist hold onto it and continue to manipulate it to their heart’s content. When logical people argue against it, they get shot down. When those believers are told it was all made up and whatever was said originally simply isn’t true, they refuse to accept it. When the original guy comes out and says, ”Hey, I was kidding”… believers will assume he’s bought out/paid off/threatened… whatever. Then that person backs away from the mess they’ve created, and all that’s left is a big mess of people believing nonsense they want to believe.

Every single conspiracy theory imaginable can trace its origins to something like this. Some religions as well.

But also… good old common fake news.

The former president of the US made “fake news” a thing. I don’t think any of us had heard those words until Donald Trump began uttering them on an hourly basis, a response to anything that didn’t fit his narrative. And now it’s become the de-facto argument for when people disagree with something to which they have no counterargument.

This follows-up on yesterday’s post, because in reading what people have to say about the AstraZeneca vaccine, one thing is now clear. It was smeared briefly with misinformation, and that smear, for those who want to believe it, will never get polished off. There is no science, no data, no version of facts that can now be presented to someone that’d decided that the AZ vaccine causes blood clots. AZ vaccine causes blood clots in the same way water and fresh air and blinking causes blood clots, but nobody wants to hear that. If vaccines are evil, here’s one more gargantuan piece of evidence. Forget that it’s wrong; that doesn’t matter. Of course, scientists will tell you it’s safe, etc etc.

What can you do? Actually, nothing. I saw a piece of a reported wandering into a restaurant in a very red state; a 90% Trump-voting district. He went in there and asked for a show of hands… “Who’ll be getting the vaccine?”

Not a single hand from the dozens of unmasked people. Not one. He then interviewed a few of them and asked why not… and got the usual answers you’d expect… they’re trying to poison us, they’re trying to control us, they’re trying to kill us… or, it was rushed, it’s not safe, there’s no covid, fake news, etc.
One person was asked the exact question I wanted to hear answered: “If Donald Trump today came out and said to do it… like he did… he got the vaccine, albeit quietly without telling anyone… would you then get the vaccine?”

That particular answer: “No way… why would I listen to Trump? He’s a Liberal New Yorker. Can’t trust him!”.

“But you voted for him.”

“Whatever.”

This is not a “steep uphill”… it’s a vertical, slick and slippery and unclimbable wall. Not even worth trying.

March 13, 2021

There’s a lot to be said with meeting someone in person, looking them in the eye, giving them a firm handshake and knowing that you’re not leaving the room till you get what you want. Obviously, a lot more can be achieved in person than online.

As introverted as I may be, I miss those in-person meetings… in the same way I miss being able to properly hang up a phone. A real phone. At the end of an unpleasant conversation, there was nothing more satisfying than slamming the receiver down onto the cradle. Those Bell phones were made of nuclear-war-resilient plastic. Unbreakable. My uncle in Chile a few times lost his temper on whatever was on the other side of the call and flung his phone out of a second-story office window. The cord ripped away, but the phones always survived. Clicking the [Leave Meeting] on Zoom angrily is a far cry indeed.

Speaking of Chile and doing business, specifically the sort of business that has them pretty close to the top of the list of vaccinations… perhaps my post a few days ago seemed to allude to the fact that perhaps there was some sort of funny business that may have occurred when those Chileans flew out for those in-person meetings and got those vaccine agreements. A little nudge, a little bribe, a little kick-back. I didn’t mean to imply that; I meant to state it unequivocally. Of course that’s what happened. I don’t have any proof of it, of course, and what does it matter… it’s just my opinion. But I also understand what greases the wheels… what gets slow-moving government bureaucracy going in a hurry. What jumps the queue. What gets it done.

My first experience with government corruption occurred when I was quite young… 12 or 13. I had a friend who lived nearby, and his dad put up a basketball hoop in the back lane, hung up over the garage door. The lane was flat and paved… and it was great. We were out there for hours the first week… playing one-on-one and every variation of P-I-G and H-O-R-S-E you can imagine. One day, the neighbour’s wife came out to see what was causing all this racket. The next day, her husband came out to have a look… watched us play a bit… didn’t say much, just went back inside. Oh, did I mention that guy was an Alderman for the city of Vancouver?

Two days later, when we got there after school, there were two freshly-laid speed bumps in the lane, perfectly placed and wide enough to completely destroy our basketball court. It still smelled of freshly-poured tar. Not a single other speed bump in any back lane for 10 blocks around. And not like there were ever any speeding cars there to begin with. What the hell. Is this how things work?

Needless to say, we weren’t happy. Our version of petty revenge lasted years. That guy ran in two subsequent elections, and every time an election sign (with his name, of course) popped up in front of his house, we’d replace it with three different ones from various opposition parties. We’d have to venture deep into East Van in the middle of the night to collect all of the colourful alternatives. Totally worth it.

Ok, where was I… yeah, governments. I think it’s no big surprise to learn that there’s corruption at every level. Screwing up a couple of kids’ fun just because you don’t like the sound of a basketball is a small example. Bribing officials, peddling influence, making big promises, forgiving crimes, throwing huge money at certain people and, ultimately, lying… were things Abraham Lincoln did to push through his Emancipation Proclamation and ban slavery in the U.S.

Ah, didn’t see that coming, did you… yes, indeed… sometimes, that corruption is for the greater good… and for those crimes that today would’ve gotten Lincoln jailed for life, he’s instead considered the greatest president in history. Quite a fine line, isn’t it. I don’t know what those Chileans did, and I don’t care, and certainly, the well-vaccinated populace of Chile doesn’t care either.

If you want to argue that Canada should be above that sort of thing, name me a Prime Minister and we can discuss his corruption scandal. Chretien’s helicopters, Mulroney’s Airbuses, Trudeau’s SNC-Lavalin. Closer to home, Glen Clark’s deck/casino, Harcourt’s BingoGate and Vander Zalm’s Fantasy Gardens.

Government corruption has been around forever, and it’s never going away. At the very least, they could put it to use for the greater good… not just individual gain.

Lincoln? Awesome. Chile? Same. The rest of my examples? Brutal.

20 Likes, 3 Shares

March 1, 2021

I’ve been tuning in to the 3pm news updates pretty regularly, especially on Mondays or Tuesdays, so I can get the real weekend numbers. I used to stick around for the whole update, but find myself checking out early, because, like life itself for so many people these days, it’s the same thing over and over… and, when it’s not, it can be easily summarized in a few brief paragraphs.

Today brought news of the vaccine rollout and the AstraZeneca availability… which is a bit of a game-changer. It’s not recommended for those older than 65, but it’s perfectly and conveniently (room temperature) suited for younger front-line workers, and many of them will be getting the option of that vaccine sooner than later. To find out what the vaccine rollout looks like for you, check the BCCDC for the most up-to-date info… but, to summarize, the older you are, the sooner it’ll be. See you in the lineup in July… hopefully.

But what I want to write about today is a topic that came up in conversation recently… how every event these days held in a public place or on TV or anywhere with a microphone… is preceded by an acknowledgment that the event is occurring on unceded land… and names the relevant Indigenous peoples from whom the land was “improperly” ceded.

To be clear, “unceded” really means “stolen”. This is a vast, complicated topic, and to some extent, around here, steps are being taken to alleviate the damage caused by the “winning” side. In the meantime, it’s interesting to read history from both sides. They tell very different stories.

In Canada or the U.S., you might learn about the great Spanish Conquistador Hernán Cortés, who in the early 16th century undertook dangerous expeditions to the New World, conquered huge lands and brought back great riches. In Mexico, I suspect it’s taught a little differently… that this rapist, pillaging, genocidal maniac showed up with his fancy weapons and illnesses, figured out how to make friends turn on each other, caused the Indigenous people to fight each other… and ultimately conquered the Aztec empire.

You can change the names and dates, but that story has taken place from present-day Alaska to present-day Punta Arenas. And everywhere, there’s a different slant on what happened and how to fix it. A literal and figurative whitewashing of history.

To me, there’s something annoying about standing up and just saying those words, as if that’s enough. Actually, as if it means anything at all. We acknowledge we’re on stolen land, and by saying so that makes us awesome responsible outstanding generous and thoughtful people. Now drop the puck and let’s play some hockey.

This perhaps triggers me more than it should, and here’s why. Many centuries ago, I was a student at SFU… and to pass the time during boring lectures, I would read “The Peak” – the SFU student newspaper which was available for free, everywhere on campus. I’d grab one on my way into the lecture hall, much the way we all used to grab a free “Georgia Straight” on the way to our seats at the Capitol-6 or Vancouver Center theatres.

In the course of a one-hour lecture, I’d get through the entire Peak… every single word… I knew more about the Christy Clark Student Society election scandal than anyone.

Every word… including the entire masthead… contact info, phone number, address (some trailers on campus)… and the final little sentence: “Unfortunately, The Peak is not wheelchair-accessible at present.”

Week after week, month after month, year after year. It bothered me, this grandstanding… look at us, we care enough to be aware of something that might be important to someone… but we won’t do anything about it. I wrote letters, which were never published. I actually tried to take it up with the president: During my tenure at SFU, the president was Dr. William Saywell. There was a thing set up… called “Say it to Saywell” where, ostensibly, you could show up on a Wednesday afternoon in a small room in the AQ… where President Saywell would be available to hear student grievances directly. Except… he never showed up. I tried to go like 10 times, and 10 times he cancelled on short notice. And one day, a sign on the door (and an announcement in The Peak) said it was cancelled forever.

I knew only a few people in wheelchairs and none of them had anything to do with SFU, but it bothered me that much. This wasn’t some great cause I was championing. I was just annoyed at the smug hypocrisy of acknowledging something and not doing anything about it. If it’s worth mentioning, then do something about it. Or shut up. It clearly still bothers me to this day… perhaps my serious issue with people who blow a lot of hot air but never do anything started there.

Stop talking about it like you care, and just get it done. Sit down at the table, listen, and negotiate. Go out and sign some vaccine agreements that actually have some teeth. And just build a freaking ramp.

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February 17, 2021

There really is no better medium than social media when it comes to stupid arguments. And perhaps the epitome of stupid arguments are these reply-threads that discuss not masks or vaccines or politics… I mean, as misguided as some opinions might be, they’re at least based on some “fact” that someone has latched on to and decides to defend it, no matter what. There are certain personality types who simply can’t admit they’re wrong, and will simply double-down when called on their bullshit. There seem to be more of them these days, no doubt empowered by the former president of the U.S., who, incredibly, was never wrong in four years of power. That he had to descend to incredulous lows to defend his indefensible positions went from confusing to concerning to finally just amusing. Remember that sharpie-modified weather map?

On Facebook, I’ve stepped back from a lot of discussions because they’re not actually discussions; they’re just people trying to bury others with their opinions. Very few are actually listening… even fewer with the mindset that their opinions might even be changed. Just loud echo chambers where everyone either agrees and pats each other on the back… or disagrees, and roasts each other mercilessly.

But then… there are these things that come up for discussion, usually in the context of “Only 5% of people get it right!!” or “Even Einstein was fooled!!” Of course, it’s just click-bait… and it’s usually something like: What is 3 + 6 x 4 ?

They are usually more complicated than that, but that will suffice for my example. Some people will say the answer is 36. Some will say it’s 27. Others will come up with something else… and if you came up with something other than those two numbers, I’d like to hear what you came up with and how you came up with it.

The correct answer here is 27… because there exists an order of operations (you may have learned it as PEDMAS… or, depending where you’re from, PEMDAS, BEDMAS or BODMAS. In the U.K., it’s BIDMAS. No matter what acronym you attach to it, they all say the same thing… and one thing they all say, with respect to my example, is that multiplication gets done first; after that, addition. Accordingly, this example is 3 + (6 x 4) which is 3 + 24 which is 27. If you did this going left-to-right, you’d get 3 + 6 equals 9, and then 9 x 4 = 36. But that is wrong.

And that’s the thing… there are countless message threads with people arguing this, like it’s up for discussion. Like math can change with differing opinions. “Well, that’s the way you do it… but I choose to do it differently.” … or, “I was taught left to right, no matter what” or, even, “PEDMAS didn’t exist when I went to school.”

As infuriating as it might be to engage with an anti-mask or anti-vax proponent, at least they have their misguided facts upon which they can fall back. But there are no opinions when it comes to math… or, at least, there shouldn’t be. But there are, and the name-calling and bullshit is as strong as anywhere else… and, honestly, it drives me even crazier.

It also reminds me.. it’s not up to me to understand why some people refuse to accept facts. These aren’t convoluted, contrived, complicated theorems that take a lot of understanding to unravel. They’re just facts, and they’re indisputable. But people choose to “not believe in it”, because “science is just a theory” and scientists change their minds all the time, so they clearly don’t know what they’re talking about.

Wanna try to convince someone who “doesn’t believe in math” that they should get a vaccine and wear a mask? Yeah… me neither.

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January 29, 2021

There’s an age-old question… would you rather fight a horse-sized duck, or 100 duck-sized horses?

OK, it’s not an age-old question. It actually materialized in 2003, in a UK newspaper, but really rose to prominence in a Reddit “Ask Me Anything” thread in 2012… where it was a question posed to president Barack Obama. Obama never got around to answering it, but the question wound up on “the crawl” on TV, and the rest is history. Here are my thoughts…

While a 1,000 pound duck would be formidable indeed, it’s one single enemy… and a coordinated, well-timed attack is all you’d need to neutralize it. On the flipside, I know horses… and I can tell you, dealing with a single angry horse is a handful; a potentially dangerous one… and 100 angry little horses would step on you, kick and bite you relentlessly, and not give up… so yeah, I’ll try my luck against the big duck.

Speaking of Reddit, and fights between one big thing vs. lots of little things… you’ve probably recently heard the words GameStop and AMC and short squeeze and hedge funds…

In a nutshell, here’s what’s going on:

The opposite of the well-known game-plan of buying a stock when you think it’s going to go up, holding it, and then selling it for a profit… is what’s called “shorting” the stock… and it’s what you do when you think a certain stock is over-priced. What you do is borrow the shares from “someone”, sell them… and then wait till the price goes down… and then buy it back at the lower price. Then you return the shares you borrowed and pocket the difference.

Huge (multi-billion-dollar) hedge funds like to short stocks here and there… for varying reasons. Given that their mandate is to hedge risk (it’s in the name…), part of that might be to take positions that go contrary to upward market movements… to hedge the risk in case the opposite happens. But also, using the same analytics and metrics they’d use to picks stocks they think will go up, they do it in the opposite direction.

Arguments can be made about the ethics behind shorting stocks to begin with; you’re basically betting and hoping that a company will do poorly. It goes against a lot of principles, like… well, you can’t sell a house or a car or anything else without actually owning it… why is this different? Because, at least for the moment, the people who run the exchanges say it’s ok. It doesn’t go against the principle of making money… therefore, as long as capitalism exists, so will short-selling.

One thing about buying shares and being wrong… the worst thing that can happen is you lose what you put into it. I buy 10 shares of ACME at $100 each and ACME goes bust and the shares become worthless… I’m out $1,000. But if I short 10 shares at $100 and it goes up to $200… well, I need to come up with $2,000 worth of ACME shares to give back to whoever lent them to me… and it means buying them back from the open market. I have the original $1,000 I made from the sale, but now I have to come up with $1,000 out of my own pocket to cover it. And if ACME went up to $900 a share, now I’m out $8,000 of my own money… and here’s a big problem. Zero is the limit on the way down, but there’s no limit on the way up… and what do I do when I see the price crawling upwards…?

There are two options. One is… cut my losses… buy it back at the higher price, give back the shares, and pour a glass of my finest single-malt scotch, while pondering recent life decisions. Or… double-down. Sell more. If I thought selling it at $100 was a good idea, then selling it at $200 must be a better idea… and now, when it goes down, I’ll make even more. Great plan if it actually goes down… but what if it keeps going up? And now everyone who’s short is buying back in, further lifting the price and causing more panic… this is what’s called short-squeeze, and it’s what sends stock prices soaring very quickly. But here’s an additional wrinkle…

Technically, when you short a stock, you would be borrowing the shares to do so. The brokerage house facilitates that for you (and takes a fee, of course). However, these brokerage houses play a little loosey-goosey with that… not too different from the banks, I suppose, in that if everyone suddenly ran to BMO and demanded all their money, there simply wouldn’t be enough to cover it. They’re counting on not everyone needing all of it all at once.

At the moment, something like 150% of GameStop shares are short. In other words, more shares of GameStop have been sold than actually exist. So… when the people who actually own shares, or own call options (which give them the right to purchase shares at a specified price) suddenly say “Hey, I’d like my shares now” – those shares are nowhere to be found. Frantic buyers who need to come up with them will just keep driving the price higher and higher.

An army of Redditors (from /r/WallStreetBets) decided months ago that if enough people bought up certain heavily-shorted stocks and/or call options (GameStop, AMC and some others) and then promised to hold them, it would drive up prices significantly. One of their targets, GameStop, was being shorted incessantly by a huge $13-billion hedge fund called Melvin Capital.

Shares in GameStop were below $3 last year… and not long ago (early November) were trading at around $10 a share. Then, the Reddit army started buying it up, feeding into the Melvin shorts. The prices started going up… and up…. and more up. And Melvin, instead of covering their losses and taking a bit of a hit… sold more, where it was quickly gobbled up. Lather, rinse, repeat.

This morning, GameStop shares opened at $380. They went as low as $250 and as high as $414 before closing out the week at $325. And there are still a colossal amount of open shorts that will need to cover eventually.

A lot of these stock-dabbling Redditors, swearing to hold it till the cows come home, have made thousands of dollars. Some have made millions. Melvin Capital has lost $5 billion. And it’s not over yet.

Let’s rephrase the original question… and remove the human… who would win the fight, one big duck or an army of little horses?

Perhaps I’m a little biased because I’ve been betting horses all my life, but this is no different… and it’s not 100 of them; it’s literally millions. The big old-school Wall-Street Scrooge McDuck might not have that huge pit of money to swim around in much longer.

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January 23, 2021

We watched a movie the other night… I thought it’d be a waste of time, but the kids really wanted to see it. OK… I can spare an hour and forty minutes, and who knows… it might be amusing. It’s called “Behind the Curve” (Netflix), and it’s all about Flat Earthers – the society whose members genuinely believe that the earth is flat. Or, pretend to. Or, are members for other reasons. OK, queue it up.

My assumption was that it’d be 100 minutes of idiots espousing theories that make no sense. Certainly, that was part of it. But above all that, there’s a genuine sadness to it, and some enlightening points that are incredibly relevant to today.

Of all the conspiracy theories out there, this is the one that’s most easily disprovable. For more than a thousand years, intelligent people have been devising experiments based on heights, distances, shadows and trigonometry… that show that the earth is a sphere. So good were some of these ancient experiments, that they were pretty-accurately able to calculate the diameter and circumference. This throws a bit of a wrench into the flat-earth conspiracy where millions of scientists, NASA employees and pilots are all in on it. You’d have to add Pythagoras, Plato, Aristotle and Archimedes to the list, among many others.

Anyway, it doesn’t matter – the details of how a flat earth could even be possible don’t add up, to the extent there’s disagreement within the group. Is there a giant dome, snow-globe-like, covering the heavens? If not, what are all the stars and planets attached to? Queue the internal bickering.

Shortly into the movie, you realize that there’s something a little off about these people. They’re not dangerously crazy… just… off. Something emotional that comes across as almost child-like… and then it becomes obvious. This is a support group for like-minded people who’ve found each other. They feel like they’re part of something big. They feel they get it, and everyone else doesn’t… and it’s their mission to educate the poor, ignorant masses.

They don’t mind being called stupid idiots by the rest of the world… not only because they’re used to it, but because, to some extent, they bask in it. Us versus them. We know. You don’t. And this is where the bigger-picture relevancy comes in. When everyone tells you what you believe in is nonsense, for many people, human nature dictates they double down. They entrench their belief and they will never let go of it and they will build (and share) crazier and crazier ideas to support something that’s actually unsupportable. Queue the madness.

Sound familiar? At least, these guys aren’t storming The Capitol. Let’s talk about a different sort of queue… just Q.

There’s an interesting thing going on in the U.S. (actually, around the world – apparently Japan has a big following as well…) – and I’m talking about Q and QAnon and all that. For years, their now-absent leader Q has been dropping hints about what’s about to happen. The original finish line was January 6th, when Trump would seize control via – heh, we know what that looked like. That didn’t work out so well, so the Qs shifted to believing the failed storming was part of a bigger plan; one that would now allow the president to invoke martial law, take back those key states, and continue the presidency. None of that happened, of course, and the smooth, quiet transition of power took place. Now what.

Typically, when conspiracies hit their finish line, one of a few things can happen. One is that people realize it’s nonsense and bail. Another is that they’re so sunk into it that they will continue the fight, no matter how senseless it might be. And another possibility is that they claim it all actually came to be, just as they said… and most people don’t realize it. There was a lot of that – all of it – in 2012 when the world didn’t end. Some people came to the conclusion it was all nonsense. Some people claim the math was done wrong, and the end is coming.. later in 2012 (didn’t happen) or maybe 2021. I guess if you keep pushing the date further and further, eventually you’ll be right. And, some claim, the world *did* end, and now we’re in some illusionary remnant version. For what it’s worth, if this is The Matrix, give me the blue pill. I’d rather ride out this illusion than battle aliens the rest of my life.

Q is seeing a lot of disillusioned people bail on them at present. They realize it must have been nonsense; they were duped. There is no master plan. For those not feeling so rudderless, they will continue the fight, though now I’m sure there’s confusion what that might look like. And… there are some who think it all worked out… and that, I kid you not, Trump is still in fact in the White House, and that he and Biden did some sort of face swap thing like in that John Travolta/Nicholas Cage movie. If you really need to keep holding on to this particular conspiracy, and that things are still in place, that’s where you wind up today.

And with these flat earth people… skirting the fine line between philosophy, art, science and madness… the final scene of the movie – I don’t think I’m giving too much away here by announcing that the earth is, indeed, a sphere (an oblate spheroid if you want to be perfectly technical about it… the earth is a little compressed at the poles and bulging at the equator, due to the spin)… so at the end of the movie, these guys have devised an experiment to prove the earth is flat. It’s pretty straightforward… attach a powerful laser to a stick 15 feet high. Point it to a big poster board a few miles away, also 15 feet high. If the laser hits it, clearly the earth is flat.

This is a sound experiment. At that distance, the curvature of the earth is not irrelevant. If you imagine the curve “kicking in”, that laser should hit about 21 feet high to compensate.

The guys wait for darkness and fire-up their well-calibrated laser. But nothing hits the board. “Jeez, what’s wrong”, they wonder. The laser is on, they really should see it. They move the big poster board around, but nothing.

“Try moving it up”, suggests one guy… so they do… they lift it 6 feet, and the bright laser comes splashing in.

“Oh.” says the guy.

Queue the credits.

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