September 29, 2020

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

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

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

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

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

Setting aside the cushy job she got in her daddy’s organization, Ivanka Trump was paid an extra \$750,000 in consulting fees. Giving your kids money is no crime. Claiming it as a business expense, however, is quite a different story. What’s slowly coming to light is how many tens of millions of dollars Donald Trump “consulted“ away… when actually, he was just keeping money in the family, but paying no tax on it.

As per emerging facts imply, as bad a businessman as Donald Trump may be, there’s still income from his numerous properties. The ones he didn’t already bankrupt (how do you bankrupt a casino) do generate some sort of revenue. That they’ve all lost money year after year probably means he doesn’t run them too efficiently… and whatever they do make is outweighed by the generous deductions he claims. Again, they either genuinely lose millions of dollars a year of his father’s hard-earned money that he’s slowly squandering… or, they make a bit, and he “cleanly” hides the profits.

As per above, you don’t mess around with the IRS. Around here, the CRA. Same thing… they want their cut, and they’re not happy when you try to hide it, or dance around it. They understand you’re allowed to pay as little tax as possible, as long as it’s legal… but there’s a line, and sometimes, its crossing is just way too blatant.

If Donald Trump doesn’t get re-elected, among the long list of lawsuits he’ll be slammed with… is likely to be the IRS, seeking what they feel is owed to them. Whether it’s criminal tax evasion, or a simple slashing of a bunch of bullshit deductions (\$70,000 a year for hair care?)… remains to be seen. Taxes owed, interest, penalties… on top of the hundreds of millions of dollars of loans he has to repay in the not-too-distant future… to be clear, Donald Trump can’t ride off into the sunset, even if he wants to. He desperately needs the four years of presidential immunity that comes with the job.

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By |2020-10-08T01:08:39-07:00September 29th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Business & Economics|Tags: , , , , , |0 Comments

September 25, 2020

There’s that old parable where, suddenly, people can’t bend their arms. There’s plenty of food to eat, but people are starving… because they can’t reach their mouths.

The parable goes on to explain how, actually, it’s only the self-serving narcissists that are starving. The good people have figured out that all they need to do is feed each other, and everyone will be ok.

To some extent, we’ve been told that masks are sort of like that; you wear one, more than anything, to help others; to avoid you infecting them with your sneezes and coughs… and, as long as everyone is doing that to help others, we all benefit.

For a lot of my life, I thought catching a cold or flu was like getting pregnant; you’re either pregnant or you’re not. Similarly, either you have a cold… or you don’t. Certainly, you can be 7 weeks pregnant vs. 7 months, and it’s a very different experience… just like you can have a mild cold or a really bad cold.

The subtle difference in my mind was this: Once you have a cold, how bad it is depends on that particular cold virus. Some hit you really hard, while some give you little sniffles. Some years it’s really bad, some years… not so much.

What I didn’t understand was the whole concept of viral load. It’s not necessarily the severity of the strain of the virus… it’s also how much of it you got. The actual level of dosage, the actual number of little virus balls you inhaled… like, how badly you were infected… has a huge influence on how it affects you.

This is becoming very evident with the analysis of C19 patients; those exposed with high viral loads have a much more difficult journey. In fact, viral load at the time of diagnosis seems to be, on its own, an independent predictor of mortality.

All of this goes back to masks, and a recent article that pointed out something that should be pretty obvious, but perhaps hasn’t been made abundantly clear: If you wear a mask, you’re not only protecting others, but you’re protecting yourself. Your chances of receiving a lethal infectious dose are dramatically reduced if you’re wearing a mask.

Further to that – a very promising conclusion that follows from that is that by wearing a mask, you may well be creating immunity in yourself. As we know, a vaccine simply stimulates an immunity response… well, guess what… you may already have done that, in small doses. We also know that 80% of cases are asymptomatic, and that may in large part be due to the low viral loads that caused them in the first place. Perhaps the small amount you got from a distant sneeze. Or, perhaps, the small amount you got from someone nearby… but your mask took the hit, and all you got was 1% of the potential viral blast in your face.

And one final (also promising) conjecture… it seems that even tiny viral loads in your body may stimulate strong immune responses. By the time the vaccines roll out, you may already be immune… and only because you’ve been wearing a mask, self-vaccinating yourself in small doses.

I’m not sure any of this will change the minds of the ardent anti-maskers, for whom this whole issue is entangled with political (and other) agendas… but if you know any somewhat-reasonable anti-maskers who think it’s not worth it for medical reasons, feel free to pass this along. Or maybe to that “me me me” narcissist who doesn’t feel the need to benefit others, at the expense of their personal comfort. Well, guess what… it may benefit you greatly.

And for the rest of you reasonable people, just keep doing what you’re doing… and wear your mask with the knowledge that your little contribution to the greater good may actually be doing a lot more good than you think.

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By |2020-10-08T01:08:41-07:00September 25th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Science of COVID-19, Philosophy, Art & Literature||17 Comments

September 24, 2020

When I was around 13, my mom’s cousin came to visit – from way far away; he and his family live in an industrial town in Slovakia. It was just him that came to visit, and he spent a week with us. I recall he arrived on Saturday morning, and we spent the weekend taking him around town, hitting a bunch of tourist sites. The beauty of Vancouver made a big impact on him; it was all very different from his typical surroundings.

On Monday morning, we all had breakfast together, and then it was time to go… my sister and I to school, my parents to work. They offered to take him downtown or drop him somewhere to look around, but no… he just wanted to chill at home. No worries. When we all left, he was sitting outside, on the deck, overlooking the backyard… with a cup of coffee and a cigarette in his hand.

Fast forward about 10 hours… I got home before anyone, and there he was, still sitting on the deck… the cup of coffee had transformed into a beer, and the ashtray was now overflowing with cigarette butts.

“Have you been sitting here all day?”

“Absolutely.”

OK… whatever melts your butter, I guess… but at the time, I do remember thinking how insanely boring that must have been. I thought about everything I’d done that day (a lot) and compared it with what he’d done (nothing).

The next day, it was the same thing… a full-on 10-hour chill. A few cups of coffee, a few beers, a pack of smokes… and call it a day. And that was pretty much it for the rest of the week. Every single day, all he did was sit outside and stare into the garden.

The world’s most boring man, I thought, at the time.

I told him, at one point,

“I really can’t understand how you can just sit here all day.”

“One day, you will.”

Over the years, every time I think about it, I have a more profound appreciation for it. This guy flew 8,000km to disconnect from his day-to-day reality, and he did it right. Back home, he was a hard worker with tons of responsibility and stress. And here, well before the era of perpetual connectedness, he’d found his oasis and he milked it for all it was worth.

These days, it’s an inward-facing question I ask myself… when I find myself spending time on something I’d rather not: Would I rather be here, or sitting on a deck, staring off into a garden or ocean or space or whatever…

You don’t need me to tell you that we’re living in a crazy world… and that it’s probably going to get a fair bit crazier before it gets better… which means, more than ever, scheduling those “deck moments” ahead of time. Scheduling an entire week of them is a lofty goal we can only aspire towards, but every little bit helps. As the weather gets worse and the days get shorter and the stresses mount and the case-counts and hospitalizations and ICU admission numbers all rise… find your deck – and visit it as often as you can.

September 18, 2020

Looking at today’s B.C. number is sort of stressful. Although 40 of today’s 179 are “retrofitted” cases… ie cases that should’ve been counted earlier but weren’t… it’s a lot, no matter what.

There’s a well-known test, the 43-question Holmes and Rahe Stress Scale (you can find it online) which adds up different things going on in your life, and lets you know how at-risk you are to get sick, as a result. If you’re presently dealing with that particular issue, you simply add the associated points to your total.

It’s interesting to note that while the majority of points are assigned for negative things, such as:

Death of a spouse – 100
Divorce – 73
Jail term – 63

… many positive things (or, at least, that should be positive) also cause stress:

Marriage – 50
Outstanding personal achievement – 28
Vacation – 13

There’s no broad 5th category that you could label “Pandemic”, but I’ve taken the liberty of filling this out for all of us; we’re all going through some similar things, and here’s how they add up:

Revision of personal habits – 24
Change in work hours or conditions – 20
Change in recreation – 19
Change in social activities – 18
Change in number of family get-togethers – 15
Change in eating habits – 15

All of that adds up to 111, which is, on its own, ok. Anything below 150 puts you in the “only low to moderate chance of becoming ill in the near future”.

Unfortunately, that was painted with pretty broad brushstrokes, and many people are, as a result of the pandemic, also dealing with things like:

Change in health of family member – 44
Change in financial state – 38
Change in number of arguments with spouse – 35
Change in church activities – 19

And the list goes on.

Between what we all have in common, and 150, there isn’t much wiggle room; just 39 points to cram in all your other stresses, because north of 150 is categorized as “moderate to high chance of becoming ill in the near future”.

Something not on that list is “Heading a national strategy for combating a global pandemic”… but if I had to assign a score to it, I’d give it a 185… and I totally understand the resignation of the president of the Canadian Public Health Agency, whose outgoing letter could be distilled down to three words: “I’m burnt out.” We get it… and, as per above, so are most of us.

What can we do? Hang in there, and keep doing the right things… and do your part in avoiding adding this to your life… or to anyone else’s:

Personal injury or illness – 53

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By |2020-10-08T01:08:44-07:00September 18th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics||5 Comments

August 25, 2020

We’ve all heard the joke about the guy who calls in a computer expert to fix some problem. The expert comes in, hits a few keys, problem solved. He then hands the guy a bill for \$1,000.

“Outrageous!!”, screams the guy, “How do you justify that?!”

“\$1 to hit the keys, \$999 to know which keys to hit.”

I was reminded of this joke, dealing with some emails today.

Actually, a somewhat-related story from ages ago… a prof telling me about how when he used to work for some big company back in the 1960s, and they had some fancy, big, expensive IBM adding machines… which were available in three different models… and to simplify things, it was something like the basic model cost \$1,000 and ran 1,000 calculations per second. The next model up cost \$2,000 and ran 2,000 c/s… and the fanciest model cost \$3,000 and ran 3,000 c/s.

Those numbers are off, but you get the idea. And, IBM offered upgrades… if you wanted to go from 1k to 3k, no problem… just pay the difference.

These days, where everything is digital, this is easy to do. Most software can be upgraded online.

But how did that work in the real world? As he told me, when they upgraded from 1k to 3k, an IBM mechanic showed up, broke the official IBM seal, used an IBM-specific tool to open the machine… and then moved a belt… from one small pulley to a bigger pulley. It took two minutes.

Exact same machine… like, identical. Just running faster. Functional pricing at its finest.

If you watched that happened and didn’t quite understand the engineering and backstory, you might feel like it’s a complete rip-off… but the truth is the exact opposite. The guys paying the bills just want a faster machine, and they got it (instantly). How it got there doesn’t matter.

The expert that came in and restored that one corrupted operating system file… that suddenly fixed everything… how much was that guy worth?

Real expertise has a cost, whether mechanical or digital. Lifetime accumulation of knowledge and experience is worth what the guy (or company) providing it thinks… not what you think, just because it looks easy. When it comes to real expertise, typically… the easier it looks, the harder it actually is.

Yadda yadda… it often makes sense to listen to experts; it's often more than just a fancy opinion.

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By |2020-10-08T01:09:43-07:00August 25th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report|Tags: , , , |1 Comment

August 23, 2020

On one hand, I’d like it if B.C. and Alberta, like they used to, reported numbers over the weekend… it’d help keep things up to date… and I like accuracy. On the other hand, if one or both resorted to that, it’d imply things are getting out of hand enough that it’s important to do so… which means, for now, I guess we’re happy to have to wait for Monday. Even today’s U.S. numbers look suspicious (I’ll correct everything later, or tomorrow).

Even so, unraveling the weekend data into component bits isn’t always easy when, sometimes, single clumped numbers are reported on Mondays. “356 new cases and 5 deaths since Friday.” Great… Where? Who? When? This is like the mechanic saying, “Yeah, we fixed everything… that’ll be \$4,500” and you asking “What and why!? What did you do? Where’s the breakdown of the parts and labour??” and they say, “Yeah… well, don’t worry about it… it’s kind of technical and very complicated.”

I do worry about it; even if I don’t understand what they’re talking about… even if it’s complete B.S…. “Yeah, see… the muffler bearing was rubbing up against the flywheel bracket… and your car… it’s a model without an exhaust impeller, so we had to machine not only the suspension elbow and rotary pistons, but also replace the fuel pump linkage.” I’d prefer that nonsense to just a single final obscure total.

Speaking of cars… here’s the story of my first car…

I bought it in 1986. I’d been saving up money over the years, and was actually still a couple of thousand short for what I wanted… when, that Summer — and all the racetrack people here will appreciate this – I hit the Sweep Six. This is the wager at the track where you try to pick the winning horse in six consecutive races. It’s obviously hard to do, and very lucrative when you manage it. The few thousand dollars I picked up for that put me over the top.

I paid cash, exactly \$9,200 for that new red Ford Mustang LX, and over the next 12 years, put over 280,000km on it. I could write a book on all the memories that car provided me.

By 1998, it was time for a new car… and I’d been so happy with this one, the next one was also a Mustang… a blue 1998 GT.

The old one sat in my parents’ driveway for a while… my intention was to sell it privately, thinking I could get a lot more for it than the trade-in value that I’d been offered. It sat there for weeks… months… my parents over time wondering when I’d remove it, gently asking when I’d sell it, implying in stronger language that it’s time to get rid of it, and finally telling me to get it the hell out of there already.

One summer morning in 1998, I decided it was a good day to do this: I would drive up Kingsway, which is littered with used-car lots, and simply sell it to the first place that would offer me what I was after. I wanted \$2,000 for it (yeah, I know, ha ha).

The first place offered me \$500 cash. I was offended and laughed at that. The guy laughed back.

The next place didn’t want it. Nor did the place after that. And after that… place after place, not interested, or ridiculous low-ball offers like \$100 or \$200.

By then, I’d reached the intersection of Kingsway and Victoria. That’s the intersection where the McDonalds is, but kitty-corner to that, there used to be the best Indian food in town, a restaurant called Rubina Tandoori. I had a sudden idea… for sure I was going to spend a bunch of money there in the future; why not trade the car for some Rubina credit?

So I wandered in there and spoke to guy who greeted me, and explained my offer… \$1,000 of Indian food credit for the car. He didn’t know what to think, but he went and got his father, the owner of the place.

Then the three of us went outside, where the two hummed and hawed and inspected the car… they popped the hood, literally kicked the tires, scratched their chins, hummed and hawed some more, but ultimately… decided they didn’t want it. I dropped my offer down to \$500 worth of credit but they still didn’t want it. And that was that.

I did U-turn, went back to the first place, and told the guy I’d take \$500. Nah, he said… I changed my mind. I don’t want it.

So back on the road I went, past Rubina, heading towards Burnaby and New West, and zero luck. I got all the way to the end, and to say I was upset about how this day had turned out… would be an understatement.

Give up or continue? It was now late afternoon… I decided to give it one more shot, and crossed the bridge into Surrey. I stopped at the first lot I found, and while waiting for someone to attend to me, an older lady who was there looking for a car approached me. She offered me \$400 for the car. I’ll take it, I said.

“Well, I only have \$200 cash with me, but I can give you some post-dated cheques.”

“Sure”, I said… “No problem.” Ha ha.

Conveniently, she had all the necessary papers to sign over the car… so we filled it all out, right there on the hood of the car, signed everything… and that was that. I sold my car for \$200 in cash, \$200 in cheques, and a ride to the SkyTrain.

But the story doesn’t quite end there.

First of all, the cheques all bounced, and I was unsuccessful in tracking her down… so I guess I actually sold the car for \$200. But that’s not all.

About a year later, I got a frantic call from an insurance agent in Surrey. Apparently, this woman was trying to renew the insurance on the car… but couldn’t, because the car was still in my name. Whatever paperwork we’d done didn’t properly transfer the car to her, and she’d somehow been driving my car, with NO insurance, for a year. I hightailed it over there and signed what was needed.

Many great memories with that car… and I still have the license plates, hanging on the wall in my garage: SWEPT 6

Look, I managed to write a whole update without mentioning Trump… and barely mentioning the pandemic. Sometimes, it’s nice to set aside the present day and dig up some good old memories. There are plenty to choose from. And there are also plenty of new ones, waiting to be made.

August 5, 2020

The plot device known as “deus ex machina” was invented by the Greeks, ages ago. It literally translates to “god from the machine”, where back in ancient Greek theatre, the actors playing the role would be hanging from ropes, or some sort of machine, sweeping in to save the day, in whatever context was needed.

From a literary/artistic point of view, this has its detractors… for obvious reasons. It has the potential to wreck an otherwise excellent story with a convenient miracle to undo the entire struggle that led to that point. William Golding was criticized for this in “Lord of the Flies”… after building up an incredible narrative with intriguing and insightful and though-provoking ideas… suddenly, in a just a few pages, a ship arrives, rescues the boys, The End.

It’s not always that blunt, but you get the idea… and it fit well with the narratives of Greek Tragedies (and comedies)… and since then, it’s appeared all over the place. H.G. Wells’s “The War of the Worlds”… big, powerful aliens have the technology to travel across the universe with a battle fleet ready to destroy earth… until they themselves are destroyed by bacteria. Actually, almost identically, Will Smith’s aliens in “Independence Day” – and a computer virus.

You get the idea; it’s when something appears out of nowhere, just in the nick of time… to save the day, like divine intervention.

There are a few versions of this these days to consider. One, of course, is Donald Trump’s hope that this is what will resolve the giant mess his country finds itself in, much of which is his responsibility. Numerous times, he’s stated how it’ll just go away, like a miracle, burn itself out, vanish overnight, whatever. Unfortunately for him, the real world doesn’t operate that way; even the ancient Greeks knew that.

More recently, Trump did an interview with Jonathan Swan on HBO, and the entire thing is now available on YouTube. It is an astonishing 40 minutes of incoherent, delusional nonsense. And great kudos to Mr. Swan who, unlike pretty-much every other reporter, didn’t acquiesce to Donald Trump’s bullshit. He called him on it, repeatedly… though, as expected, when DT has no answer, he deflects away, onto the next incoherent, irrelevant point. The end result of it was asking yourself… what did I learn from that? The answer will be… not much. There was nothing factually useful in Trump’s responses, other than confirmation that he actually doesn’t understand what he’s talking about. You can’t accuse him of actually lying when he doesn’t actually get it. That much was made obvious when the problems with his fist-full of printouts were explained back to him.

Donald Trump has had a hovering “deus ex machina” all his life. First, it was daddy Fred who handheld his inept narcissist of a son through childhood and adolescence, paving and smoothing-out what otherwise would’ve (and should’ve) been a dead-end path.

Then it was Trump’s problem solvers, many of whom are now in prison, having themselves acquiesced to illegalities to keep their guy happy.

Then it was the Republican party and the White House and all the “yes-men” he could gather… and, as we’ve seen with textbook narcissists, once the “yes” turns into anything but… even a “maybe”, let alone a “no” – you’re out of there. The best people, tremendous people, beautiful people… exit stage left, with a knife in their back and a grade-school cheap insulting nickname to be Twittered about incessantly.

During the interview, you could see Trump looking around at his people. “Help”, his eyes pleaded. Help me. Rescue me. Where’s my DeM? It wouldn’t have been too presidential to stand up, rip off the mic and make a scene, like so many celebrities love doing when they’re asked a question they don’t like… no, The President had to sit through it, very uncomfortably in parts, and hang himself just a little bit more with every astonishing, baseless, irrelevant word.

There are no machines big enough, ropes strong enough, storylines believable enough… that would have a Deus sweep in to save the day for him. His mistakes will follow him into eternity, where maybe he can have a discussion with Deus Himself. That’s Who it’d take to make him understand.

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By |2020-10-08T01:10:32-07:00August 5th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Politics, Space & Astronomy, Philosophy, Art & Literature||8 Comments

July 27, 2020

When I was a kid, there were like 13 TV channels (instead of today’s 1,300), but most of it was crap and/or not interesting to me. But one thing that was never to be missed… Saturday morning cartoons.

One day, I will write about the revolutionary avant-garde music that accompanied many of those cartoons. Pull up any Tom & Jerry cartoon on YouTube, close your eyes and just listen to it. There should be graduate-level courses taught about it. Even without the cartoon, the sounds tell a story of their own, with an incredible, vast range of musical styles — and noise — all crammed into a few minutes.

Anyway, that’s not what this is about… this is actually about Wile E. Coyote and the Road Runner.

Wile Ethelbert Coyote (yes, really… don’t say you never learn anything reading these…) is an interesting character; both genius and stupid, rolled into one.

Here’s his schtick… he comes up with an idea to catch the roadrunner… some ideas are simple, some are super-complicated. Recall the complicated blueprints… and vast array of parts he orders from ACME. He puts together some very sophisticated contraptions, which of course inevitably fail… but here’s the thing… he never follows up on his initial idea. He gives up and moves on to the next one.

Like, think about it… a rocket-powered helmet for forward thrust, and roller skates… and it almost worked… he almost had the roadrunner… until the bird took a sharp turn, right in front of an enormous wall of rock… which the coyote hit with about 500 g of force.

But he’s a cartoon, and he brushes it off, and moves on to the next idea. Hey coyote… come on, man… it almost worked! Don’t give up on it. You know, like next time, fire up the rockets and roller skates somewhere else, when the roadrunner is on a 20-mile straightaway.

Or that catapult that looked so good on paper, but fired you straight into the ground… you know, modify it… put a limiter on it. Put something on it that ejects you at the optimum part of the swing. Fiddle with it. Do something. Don’t abandon it. Don’t just let the roadrunner stand there and laugh at you. Meep meep!

This bothered me more than anything… and if I, a seven-year-old-kid, could come up with the rudimentary mechanics of the scientific process just by watching a silly coyote keep “killing” himself, you’d certainly, these days, expect better from an army of “intelligent” adults who have the entire knowledge base of human achievement at their fingertips.

This is the way science works. This is how it progresses. And experimentation is a key part of it, because you’re rarely right the first time.

As a computer programmer, I can count the number of times something worked straight out of the gate. Exactly twice.

I remember the first time it happened; I had a program I wanted to write… I had it all figured out in my head. I sat down at the computer and banged it all out; it took about 3 hours. And then, I hit the [Build] button for the first time. But instead of the inevitable long list of warnings and show-stopping errors, it was zero warnings and zero errors; all I got was a program ready to run. And I ran it, and it worked perfectly. Any other programmers… please feel free to chime in with your opinions as to how often that happens…

We are, today, living in a huge science experiment, and since we’re immersed in it, it’s important to understand the process. There are mistakes all the time, and we learn from them and we course-correct them. The insanity of the sorts of arguments that say things like, “Dr. X, several months ago, said masks were not necessary. Now the doctor is saying they are. The doctor was clearly wrong back then, so how can we trust anything the doctor says?”

Brix, Fauci, Tam… even Henry. Pick your doctor; that statement applies. All of them have made statements which, at the time, agreed with the science. Then, through experimentation and observation, the science changed. And so did their opinions and corresponding directives. That’s how the process works.

Elon Musk has treated us all with first-row tickets to this process. If you’ve been following SpaceX from the start, you’ll have seen countless attempts at recovering a booster rocket by landing it vertically on a ship. Some blew up. Some missed the ship and fell into the ocean. Some landed and tipped over. But these days, they routinely simply fall from the sky, perfectly vertical, and perfectly hit a bullseye on some ship in the middle of nowhere, and, in gymnastic terms, stick the landing. It’s astonishing. As per a previous article, closely indistinguishable from magic.

But it’s not magic; it’s countless iterations of making mistakes, adjusting, trying it again, over and over and over, till you get it right. A couple of times in my life, I’ve hit that [Build] button and it’s just worked. Several thousand other times, I’ve had to hit that [Build] button several hundred times for a single, simple little program. That’s how the world typically works.

And that’s the world we’re presently in; where scientists are making decisions with the best information they have – at this moment. Certainly in hindsight, it might change. But for the moment, who exactly are you going to trust? A scientist with decades of experience? A former reality-show star? An Instagram influencer who has like, omg, so many followers?

It was always amusing to see the coyote go off a cliff… and hang in the sky until he made the mistake of looking down, realizing where he was… and then have gravity kick in… like, if perhaps he hadn’t noticed, things would’ve been ok. Unfortunately, that’s not how the real world works. The bad things — in that case, gravity — will tug at you as soon as you give them a chance.

I think, collectively, it’s best not to have approached the edge of that cliff in the first place. But if you find yourself there, as is the case for many people these days, be careful who you listen to.

Just like what the roadrunner was so good at doing to the coyote… some of them will send you flying off that cliff. Meep meep!

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By |2020-10-08T01:10:34-07:00July 27th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Science of COVID-19, Philosophy, Art & Literature||13 Comments

July 24, 2020

German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche (rhymes with “peachy”) said a lot of interesting things in his life. You’ve certainly heard some of them, even if you don’t know their origin… things like:

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”

“When you stare into the abyss, the abyss stares back at you.”

Less commonly known, here are a couple of other quotes:

“Sometimes people don't want to hear the truth because they don't want their illusions destroyed.”

“Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.”

Those latter two quotes are pretty relevant these days, in light of the ever-widening wedge between reason and insanity.

Interestingly, Nietzsche also said, “There are no facts, only interpretations.”

Here, Mr. Nietzsche and I may have to agree to disagree. Or perhaps he was thinking super-big-picture when he said that, as in when dealing with topics that don’t actually have factual basis. You can discuss things like the merits of democracies vs. benevolent dictatorships, thinking you have all the “facts”, and therefore your opinion, and only your opinion, is “correct”. I think that’s the sort of thing he had in mind, and with that, I don’t disagree. Philosophical “facts” are meant to be discussed and challenged.

But people who feel strongly about the “facts” that they’re defending will rarely change their minds, even when the facts are indisputable… and, for some reason, the less “factual” those facts really are, the more they’re stuck to those opinions. It’s like being right is a necessary part of their existence, and challenging that opinion is basically challenging that person’s right to exist. Go try have a rational discussion with a moon-landing-denier or flat-earther; I dare you. If someone is convinced that two plus two is anything other than four, you need to understand that mindset before challenging it. And in doing so, you might realize that you’re wasting your time.

Such is the mindset of the anti-vaxx, anti-mask, anti-lockdown crowd that’ll insist that “it’s a hoax”, “vaccines are poison”, “vaccines are crowd control”, “masks cause more damage than they prevent”, “things are going great”, “nothing to worry about” and so on. If you’re going to bother trying to engage in an intelligent conversation with any of that on the other side of it, you’ve been warned. I’m speaking from experience here.

A final quote from our friend Nietzsche:

“The snake which cannot cast its skin has to die. As well, the minds which are prevented from changing their opinions; they cease to be mind.”

Agreed.

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By |2020-10-08T01:10:35-07:00July 24th, 2020|Categories: COVID-19 Daily Report, Philosophy, Art & Literature||17 Comments

July 22, 2020

It doesn’t get much more West-Coast-B.C. than Stanley Park’s Third Beach Tuesday night drum circles. Every version of Vancouverite is usually represented, if not as a participant, certainly as an observer. These things have been going on for years, typically May to September, always on sunny Tuesday nights. But the thing with these sorts of somewhat-organized events is that even when the organizers pull the plug on it, not everyone is convinced. Such was the case last night. The people claiming to speak for the event, back on March 19th, announced the thing is on pause till further notice. Sounds good.

But somehow, the “we’ve had enough of this crap” crowd decided it was time… and out went the word, and a lot of people showed up. Social distancing? Masks? Haha.

On sunny summer Tuesday nights, I often time my evening bike rides to wind up down there. It’s a really cool atmosphere, great energy and all the rest of it. But that was last year, and knowing what that space turns into, I wouldn’t consider it these days… because given the space and the crowd, it’s impossible for it to take place under the existing guidelines. And I don’t just mean participating… because when it’s going on, it’s crowded and difficult to walk (let alone, cycle) by on the seawall. The whole thing spills over wherever it can, just like it did last night; What’s been seen and described from last night is pretty-much exactly what you’d expect… especially some of the related attitudes, which are also very West-Coast-B.C…. “Whatever.”

That “Whatever” attitude partly led to today’s unscheduled news conference, which served up some not-so-great-numbers… and new restrictions.

Dr. Henry made it very clear, but here it is in my words: People need to understand and obey the spirit of the rules, not just the technical “here’s what’s written”. Yes, genius, you can get a group of 12 people to reserve two tables of 6 near each other and then table-hop… ohhh, aren’t you clever, being all technically law-abiding and everything. No, actually… you’re not. I feel bad for the servers in these situations, trying to enforce these regulations among people who are clearly too deserving and entitled to follow along like everyone else.

The whole idea of how many people with whom you’re in close contact has everything to do with exactly that… the risks of contact, and… contact tracing. There comes a point when contact tracing goes from manageable to impossible. This is happening in other parts of the world, where things suddenly and so quickly get out of control, that it’s just impossible to follow every lead.

Come on people, we need the vast majority to cooperate, because if we can’t get this under control now, we all know Vancouver weather… come September… back to school, back to grey skies and rain, back to the cold and indoor spaces. And, at this rate, back to Phase 1 lockdowns. Nobody wants that.

Socially distance. Wear a mask if you can’t socially distance. Follow the one-way arrows when you’re shopping. Wash your hands a lot. Don’t be a dick about any of that just because you feel you’re special or whatever. If you want to try to convince everyone that this is a conspiracy or a giant hoax or a Bill Gates 5G world-dominance control thing, that’s just great… do us all a favour and do it from home. Comfortably tuck yourself behind your computer, and watch all those videos, and comment to your heart’s content… and stay the hell away from the rest of us, who are simply trying to get to the finish line by doing the right thing.