Plus ça change …

Continuing …

“… plus c’est la même chose.” – Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr

I begin this post with that quote because at the start of a “new” year it seems most appropriate. Our artificial designation of the calendar change (New Year used to be in March, never mind the change between Julian and Gregorian, adjustments thereto, or the other types of calendars still in use) and our societies’ assumptions of imposing further changes, or at least the hopes and illusions of them, on us … well it’s all really quite ridiculous.

For example; I have now lived in eight different decades.

Yeah, I’ve been around a while.

If I were to write an autobiography it might be called “From Warsaw to 100 Mile House” or something. I wouldn’t because I can’t remember not only fine details of but indeed great huge segments of my life. When I try to make sense of it, it just doesn’t. It’s been weird and at the same time not very interesting, even to me.

The point is, if we may get back on track here (it’s not called Wandering Words for nothing), that things don’t magically change on a particular date because of that date. You are not born on your birthday; rather you are born and that day becomes your birthday. But people are born, they live, and they die. We are acutely aware of the fact and have a psychological need to define the rest of reality in the same terms. That matter and energy can neither be created or destroyed we know, but we can’t come to terms with this because it is contrary to our own personal existence. So we fool ourselves into thinking time is a thing with a beginning and an end that can be quantified and measured and perhaps even traveled through in a direction other than always forward.

We may as well play the game. The consensus of opinion is that 2020 was pretty bad. Some argue from personal experience that it wasn’t, and the media has gone so far as to dredge up some experts to explain that there have been worse years. This is true: there have been worse years, and I’ve lived through several of them so I ought to know. I don’t expect anyone to listen to me (they generally don’t), but gee kids; I am a walking history book. There’s got to be some advantage to being this old, hasn’t there?

Perhaps not.

On a personal level 2020 wasn’t so bad for me. I am perhaps unique in my adaptability to endure a pandemic lock-down situation. I am by nature non-social (as opposed to anti-social, which is quite different) and the one good part of living off retirement income is you don’t get fired from it. In fact I got a lot of work done on the cabin. The worst bits were endless arguments (usually on-line) about the disease and how it was being handled with the hopelessly stupid people who made the situation worse and the empathetic feeling for all those who really did suffer. Very much like the wildfire disaster of 2017. In truth, for me 2019, 2018, and 2017 were all personally much worse than 2020. But if I look at it objectively and holistically with professional detachment as it were, 2020 was indeed a terrible year in general. A true nadir of existence.

It was made worse by a world-wide assortment of inept leaders whose utter lack of useful knowledge of any sort only served to amplify the raving ignorance and wanton stupidity of a population full of morons. Some demonstrations:

Metaphorical; Australian sees wastebasket on fire, grabs extinguisher, puts it out. Canadian waits until house is burning then starts checking the ads to see if there are any extinguishers on sale. American goes out and buys some gasoline to drown the fire with ’cause it’s wet so it ought to work like water, right?

Timing is everything; Virus first rears its ugly head in December 2019. Prime Minister flies planeloads of “trapped”, and potentially infected, citizens home as soon as possible. One year later he thinks about stopping people from getting on planes unless they test negative for the virus which has already become an uncontrolled pandemic.

When you don’t know, lie; Great Orange Leader says it will all be over by Easter, because admitting there is a problem would make him “look bad”. Eight months later his country has the highest infection rate in the world by a factor of 6 as well as 20% of the deaths from the disease despite having only 5% of the world population. His supporters claim he “warned everyone about how dangerous it is” when in fact he did exactly the opposite. The same supporters deny it exists at all, or say that it is no worse than flu. Until they contract it, that is.

Be prepared; Hey, we bought twice as many vaccine doses as needed for the entire population of the country! Uh, they won’t send them to us though. Seems they don’t really exist. Um, anybody got any vaccine for sale?

Financial forecasting; The Economy will be destroyed if we shut things down! Oh never mind: the rich people managed to get even richer after all, and no one else counts.

Progress in millimeters; Canada is pleased to announce they’ve almost vaccinated less than 0.02% of the population. Somewhat shy of the 12 million inoculations needed to break the transmission spread. Maybe some more lock-downs will help?

I did in fact predict quite a lot of this, as well as suggesting plans to re-order society to make things better and prevent future such occurrences. I won’t reiterate or even link to the relevant posts because no one listens anyway.

I guess the one good thing about being old is knowing you won’t be around long enough to see the final collapse of civilization.

On a personal note

There are some amazing similarities between dealing with a viral pandemic and dealing with wildfires.

We’ve already had our first wildfire here this year. It was started by slash burning getting out of control. Burning which shouldn’t have been done because there’s already a ban on such fires. That’s right: someone broke the law, and endangered a lot of other people.

Over Easter weekend the firefighters were busy extinguishing a dozen campfires left by law-breakers who shouldn’t have been out camping, much less lighting fires, on account of the fact no one is supposed to go anywhere. But they are more important than anyone else and the rules don’t apply to them so they can do what they want. In normal years they are the ones defying the orders to stay out of the backwoods and not run ATVs and chainsaws and such. These morons think they know more than people who actually deal with fires (or viruses) and understand how easily they start and spread – and how hard it is to put them out.

That’s in a normal year. This is not a normal year. When the fires start we won’t be donning the N95 masks like we usually do because there’s a shortage of them thanks to the viral outbreak. There are even significant issues with trying to fight a fire and maintain social distancing. The short form is, it’s not going to happen. What is going to happen? We don’t know, but it is likely to be bad.

Already we’ve had people violating the fire ban, the travel ban, and the gathering ban. The year is just getting started. There’s another holiday weekend coming up in May, by which time the weather promises to be warm and dry and inviting to outdoor activity. If idiots are willing to go out and break the law for their own selfish amusement when it’s cold and the ground is covered in snow, what do you think will happen when it’s nice outside?

Stupid, selfish people. They are the problem. The “me, me, me” bunch who have no regard or consideration for the rest of society. Guess what kind of leaders they elect. Ours has had to do a turn around on his basic narcissism, but the egomaniac to the south is the embodiment of everything wrong in the world today.

These are not only the ones who break the law for their own fun, but also scam the innocent and rob the beleaguered for personal gain. They aren’t the “I stole because I was hungry” lot, they are the “I stole because I could” lot. We’ve already had break-ins not only at shuttered businesses but also at closed remote cottages and homes. In normal times they are the ones speeding down the highway or texting on their phones while driving. As far as they are concerned the universe exists to accommodate them, and absolutely no one else matters. Does that sound like anyone you know?

Personally I’m good with executing every single one of them. Really. They aren’t part of society, they are parasites living off it. They are the ones crying their liberties are infringed whenever they are told that for their own good they can’t do something just because they want to. Anyone who has ever had a child has experienced this, from about the age of two until they actually mature. Some never do of course, and yet they still manage to get into positions of authority. Possibly even president of a country.

And they come out en force when things get worse for the rest of us, because hard times make it easier for them to prey on us.

They already don’t believe the restrictions to reduce viral transmission are legitimate or even worthwhile. I’ve seen too many accounts of them declaring it only kills old people and so why bother because in their minds old people don’t matter. Thank you very much. I hope the ones with that attitude actually contract the disease and see what it feels like first-hand.

And so this Summer we have the prospect of continued trouble from the virus soon to be made worse by the looming threat of wildfires. With any luck the supply of N95 masks will magically increase, but don’t bet on it. I see nothing good ahead, and I’m pretty good at predicting these things.

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Free Ravens

Clueless in Canada

After listening to our illustrious leaders tell us all about it, one has to wonder if they have any idea what they are talking about. I’m going to have to say “no, they don’t”.

One specific area of interest now is: when will things get back to normal? Our Prime Moron said “that information will be coming soon” which is monkey code for “I haven’t any idea”. I can’t really blame him for this as I doubt anyone has any idea. It’s easy to know that while the disease continues to spread and claim more lives we have to hunker down and try to slow its progress. But at what point does a change in numbers indicate it’s safe to open up the stores again?

Never mind the pendants who argue the numbers are skewed or false: they have no understanding of statistics anyway. In order to be as “accurate” as they demand you’d have to test our over 7 billion people every day. There really is no practical way to get more in-depth information than the imperfect methods we are using. This isn’t about perfection; it’s about having some sort of guideline, arbitrary or not, to give us something to go by. Just as there is no absolute definition of temperature, so we have to make up some sort of scale for case results. Sometimes the methodology will change as we try to refine that scale and get a more accurate picture of the situation, but we should never be foolish enough to believe it is perfect or ever could be.

Thus we take our imperfect understanding of far-from-ideal data and muddle along. One day the numbers will stop going up, and a downward trend will begin. We can then pretend this means we are getting the upper hand with the disease and decide it’s okay to ease the restrictions. But at what point? When it just starts trending downwards? When it’s fallen by 50%? 100%? When there have been no new cases for a year? It is a difficult question, and one made worse by knowing that when the restrictions are eased there inevitably will be a rebound; a resurgence of cases directly related to the newly increased human interactions made possible by the easing of restrictions.

Even if it doesn’t go up immediately, we know it will come back. People will panic and scream and blame everyone. As long as there is no vaccine to truly break the cycle and prevent a resurgence we are living in a precarious situation, disease-wise.

And should we trust our leaders even when they sound the all-clear? Will we? Inevitably the answer to both questions is “no”. After all it was their disregard for the seriousness of the situation and their slow-to-act attitude that made it so bad to begin with. You can start anywhere you like with that too, as the Chinese tried to silence it the minute the problem arose and our own heads of state did no better. You could even blame them for allowing people to continue to promote anti-vaccine nonsense and endangering people with ‘alternative medicine’ rubbish, making society more distrustful of science.

Only science works, people. Only science.

To that end I note there are things which could have been implemented years ago to reduce transmission of many kinds of disease which have still not been put in place despite the pandemic. I despair to see waiting rooms at medical facilities which still haven’t got so much as HEPA filtration in place, never mind the specific UVC lights that can kill viruses without harming humans. Really this sort of thing should be standard practice wherever people gather, especially if they are likely to be ill when gathering there.

But science has been ignored and denied for years because it costs too much. Right. The USA just enacted a bill for $2.2 trillion to make up for the effects of a single virus just in their country, and that won’t be the end of it. As I write this we’ve just hit 1 million reported cases of COVID-19, and the US alone is expecting a quarter of a million dead before it’s over.

Yes, science is too expensive and we’ll just go back to the old ways as soon as we can. Who needs clear skies and clean water anyway?

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A visit to the Dentist

Doorhandles.

Talk to receptionist about a meter away, neither of us wearing masks. Sit in waiting room with other patients and not even a HEPA filter running, never mind any UVC light. Go in to hygienist’s room with her – no masks.

Now to business. She puts her mask on ’cause now, suddenly, I could potentially have the virus. “Please rinse your mouth with this” because the virus doesn’t live in the mouth and probably wouldn’t be killed by this stuff anyway (although it tastes like it would kill anything, possibly even me).

Scrape, scrape, scrape.

Uh, why aren’t we using the water-pick thing which is faster and more efficient and doesn’t hurt so much when your hand slips? “To prevent aerosolization of the virus”. Uh-huh. Somebody might want to go back to medical school and take the virology course over.

Back to receptionist. Schedule next appointment? “Well … we may have to close entirely. Everything is pretty unstable right now.” Well enjoy this payment; it could be your last.

Come home. Look at news. “Dentists instructed to cease all non-essential services.”

So how serious is it?

They’ve closed the parks. ‘Cause you know parks are a major site for viral transmission.

Honestly the Prime Moron’s conference today amounted to “blah, blah, blah, bleeding obvious, blah, blah, blah” which translates to “we’ve utterly screwed this up and now we have no idea what to do so it’s lip service from here on out”.

Trudeau’s policies can be described as “too little, too late, and too stupid”.

I hate to say “I told you so” but …

Actually I love saying that, and I get to quite often.

What should we be doing now?

Open it all back up again and take our lumps, frankly. None of the measures instituted has any serious effect on slowing down the spread because they are all done too late to be effective. The best you can hope for now is to stop murdering the economy and destroying everyone’s life. But you have to accept that more people will get sick and more people will die.

This is true no matter what is or isn’t done. We can now only mitigate the economic effects by ending the control procedures which won’t work anyway.

This won’t happen. They will continue to play their game of make-believe. It has become not a battle of scientific fact to control a disease outbreak but a game of psychological warfare to convince people something is being done. Never mind that it’s the wrong thing and will not have any positive effect.

Worst of all, this unique opportunity to re-arrange society to something more viable will be lost to rhetoric and inaction. Once the crisis is past we will go right back to doing all the wrong things which made us vulnerable to begin with.

The Last Word on The Virus

(I promise to stop writing about COVID-19 soon. Really. After this piece upsets everyone who bothers to read it there won’t be much left to say, unless something significant happens in the world.)

Here we are, almost three months into the outbreak and the government is just starting to do things about it. The wrong things of course, because after all it is the government doing them.

Now they’ve got it into their heads to shut down … well, nearly everything. The idea is if no two people get together the thing can’t be transmitted from one person to another. After all it does not spontaneously generate, although some people don’t seem to understand this. For example we’ve had zero cases in this area, but people are still acting like it’s rampant in the streets (inexplicably taking their kids out of school, hoarding toilet paper, et cetera).

Let’s try to apply some sense.

First, we’ll start with my own test results which were negative. Yes it took over a week to get them back. Right there is a problem; you literally would be over the disease by the time you find out you have it. Strangely the PM’s wife got her results in a day. No inequality there, no sir! Any sense there was went out the window, however, as certain members of our community decided I was infected anyway (despite their utter lack of knowledge about the situation) and spreading it all over. This is known as “lying”, and my attorney assures me it’s actionable. The MLA and the hospital both had to put out statements saying there are NO cases in the area, but people still refuse to believe it. They want Armageddon.

So much for sense.

Now about this plan of closing down everything. There would be sense in that if they’d done this first. As it is they may be doing it last. You stop the spread at the start, when it’s only affecting a few people, not after it’s reached pandemic proportions. Consider Trump’s absurd travel ban plan: restrictions for everyone from Europe – except for citizens, et cetera. As if viruses check your passport before infecting you.

Again, so much for sense.

I think the main problem with this ‘barring the barn door after the horse has bolted’ tactic is that people do not understand in the first place what is important and what isn’t. So we have the sensible precaution of stopping entertainment events, a non-essential part of life, held on par with the idiotic overreaction of closing schools which are an essential part of life. Businesses and Government offices obviously need to be kept open. Legislatures? Well you can joke about how we’re better off when they aren’t doing anything to us, but really they should be doing their jobs now if they ever do them at all. They won’t and indeed can’t because this is a time when we need smart people who know how to handle the situation, but all we have are politicians who can’t even comprehend the basics of it.

Hey if you want to shut down something to stem the spread of misinformation, you’d better suspend Facebook’s servers. That has become the primary distributor of lies on the Internet (unless you count Trump’s Twitter feed). This applies to more than just the virus situation of course.

There are some characteristics of the infection that give us clues as to what actions we should take. The current proposed measures attempt to isolate and test the entire population, which is impractical in the extreme. Witness the fact that test kits are already in short supply, as are surgical masks (although the latter for no sensible reason). Instead we should isolate the most vulnerable segments of the population; those with other health problems who are at greatest risk of dying from the virus. This is a significantly smaller proportion of society and therefor much easier to look after. They can be effectively isolated, and anyone going near them tested in advance to be sure they are not infectious.

Meanwhile the rest of the populace can take sensible precautions, such as eliminating unnecessary travel and yes shutting down inessential gatherings for a while. It won’t eliminate the economic damage entirely, but it will reduce it and keep society running until this pandemic has passed. It is important that life goes on and that we understand some people will still get sick from this, and yes some more people will die. It is impossible to avoid this; we can only minimize the inevitable effect, including the disruption of daily life. (BTW the “social distancing” practice advocated by some professionals falls apart when you realize they say “1 meter” when we already know the airborne transmission range is nearly twice that.)

While we’re talking about life, let’s mention this mysophobic preoccupation with sanitizing every surface. The compounds being used for this are rarely effective against viruses (except in the form of physically removing them with the liquid used), but they do work on bacteria. Unfortunately not all bacteria are bad, and some are vital. Yes there really is a problem with over-cleaning, and it could be an environmental time bomb. Never mind the fact this is how MRSA developed or that an area free from bacteria can be an unrestricted breeding ground for viruses to mutate in. Yes, you could be making things much worse with all that cleaning.

Meanwhile the economic chaos being wreaked on the investment market should have been stopped with a total shutdown of all exchanges after the first 10% drop. Not some temporary “circuit breaker” interruption, but a permanent closing until the crisis has passed. Sure people would scream about that and complain that it’s “illegal” (it isn’t), but the alternative is proving to be even worse. If the markets were locked down for a couple of months the time could be used to pass legislation that would overhaul the way they work, eliminating the rampantly speculative aspects of investing as it is now.

On that same subject, if ever there was proof of the inequities of the existing financial structure it has come about from this pandemic. The idiotic plummeting of the markets, the massive disruption to business, and the fragility of the economic infrastructure laid bare before us all prove we need a better system. It’s somewhat amusing in fact to see that the people who complain about hourly wage workers and social assistance recipients are now taking it on the chin because those on the lower end of the economic scale aren’t spending their money to keep the wealthy rich. For any economy to work, the money (in all its forms) has to stay in circulation; anyone hoarding it makes everyone poorer, including themselves.

Speaking of hoarding, why are people doing this? I guess they don’t understand that from infection to symptoms is two weeks and from there to clear is another two weeks. In other words, the worst you’re likely to be holed up for is a month. Six weeks tops. The things they choose to hoard are another mystery, which points out they weren’t listening about symptoms or prevention and they also have basically no knowledge of how to manage their daily life without the disease, never mind with it. I strongly suspect there are millions of households out there with cupboards and freezers full of stuff who still have to go out and buy something to eat every day because they don’t know how to handle an inventory, even when it’s their own. Not everything keeps forever, you know. Not even frozen goods. Not even things intended for long-term storage.

Ah, it seems some of the hoarders are doing so to try and create artificial shortages so they can take advantage of their fellow citizens by selling them essential goods and obscene prices. Good ol’ price gouging! I mean entrepreneurialism!  These are one of the kinds of people our sustainable society could do without; the ones who take advantage of others in a crisis. The stores could and should have shut down this hoarding behaviour the moment it was detected, but chose not to. Perhaps we can have an inquiry as to why they didn’t.

What we’re really seeing here is society tearing itself apart. Not from the effects of war or famine or disease, but from the incredibly stupid reactions to a single, relatively insignificant virus. There have been outbreaks in the past, and they were handled better. But we did not learn from them and so when this latest infection came along we still had no plan ready, and this time we haven’t handled it so well. In fact it’s been a bloody awful mess. Even the healthcare professionals are making major mistakes, and the politicians in charge are totally at sea as usual.

It isn’t a matter of “letting the disease run its course” as “let” doesn’t enter into it: we have no choice. Without a vaccine to stave off further infection it is going to pass through the whole of society, effecting everyone to a greater or lesser extent (dreadfully it seems to have only two effects; either flu-like symptoms you get over, or death). We can slow it down a bit to mitigate the damage as much as possible and keep some semblance of sanity as life goes on, but we can do no more beyond that.

The good news is: 1). the virus is not that easily transmitted (it is not classified as “airborne”*) and; 2). 98% of people will survive it (the places where the death toll has been much higher have other factors causing the increase). The bad news is viruses don’t just go away because you survived the outbreak; until there is a vaccine the cycle will not be broken and COVID-19 remains a threat year after year.

Contrary to desires, we can not enact any plan that will give us 100% safety and effectively put us back to where we were before. It simply isn’t possible. Life does not have certainties, it has odds. To some extent we can control those odds, play the percentages and improve the probabilities, but never to 100% success. Unfortunately if you say to most people “Here is a wheel with 36 numbers on, you can pick 1 of them. What are your odds of winning?” most of them would say “excellent!” Then when they don’t win they’ll whine it was unfair and the government should do something about it.

All we can do now is accept the situation and learn from it. We see more people “telecommuting” and “tele-learning”, which they should have been doing all along anyway. Conferences as well need not be handled “in person” (especially not those taxpayer funded “working vacation” type meetings politicians are so fond of). We see industries devastated by shutdown, and need to evaluate whether they should alter their fundamental nature, have an over-inflated value to society that needs to be addressed, or indeed are necessary at all. Now is the time to re-evaluate every aspect of our world, and look to a future that makes more sense. Remember: viruses mutate into new forms; surviving this one just means we’re available for the next version. If we don’t learn the essential lessons, we’re still vulnerable. As it is the measures we take are just buying time; without a vaccine to break the cycle COVID-19 remains a threat. (I know I’ve said that twice.)

And yes I realize the likelihood of all this restructuring happening is about the same as that of winning the lottery. Perhaps not even that good. Probably around 7 billion to 1.

(Nota bene: students of history will recognize certain parallels herein to what happened from the Black Death in the 14th century. They are not coincidental.)

Editor’s note: I’ve proof-read, spell-checked, fact-checked, and edited this thing a dozen times already and I’m still not happy with its limited information, awkward structure, and omitted points. But not many people are likely to read it, it won’t change anything even if they do, and no one is paying me to write it so … buggrit.

*The size of the corona virus is large so it does not remain suspended in the air like the smaller rhinovirus does (this is the difference between aerosolized and airborne). This is why it is easier to catch the common cold; it can linger in the air after being exhaled by someone who has since moved from the space. Primary infection of both virus types is by inhaling them, with surface transmission to the respiratory tract secondary (the additional steps involved in moving the virus from an infected to a non-infected person increases the likelihood of removing or killing the virus before transmission occurs).

COVID could be good

The COVID-19 virus outbreak is having the right effect on the world.

Unfortunately it is doing so for all the wrong reasons, and the effect is only temporary. Once the ’emergency’ is over everyone will forget the lessons they should be learning and it will all go back to business as usual. Which is wrong.

So what is good about it?

Let’s start with improved hygiene. Face it, much of the ‘ordinary’ viral illness spread every year could be prevented if people followed the basic procedures they are observing now. Not the ridiculous extremes some people are touting, but the simple acts of cleanliness like washing your hands. It’s somewhat appalling to realize they haven’t been doing this all along anyway. Rhinovirus that causes common colds by the score can be greatly reduced by washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and wiping off dirty surfaces. Never mind the reduction in bacterial transmission. And if you don’t know the difference between bacteria and viruses please learn as it is important. For example that hand sanitizer that is currently selling for $200 an ounce has no effect on a virus, but will kill off bacteria. It’s still just glorified rubbing alcohol, though. Likewise antibiotics will not cure a viral infection, but are sometimes given to stave off a likely secondary bacterial one. In the short form, nothing is really efficacious against a virus save your own immune system, and a few things that would be have a damaging effect on you as well as the germ.

Another benefit has been a great reduction in travel, even locally. What’s so good about that? Less fuel consumption and resulting lower pollution. No, really. The social shutdown is actually showing up already on views of emissions and climate change. Amazingly positive effect in a really short period of time. It really gives you hope for the future of life kind (only we know … it hasn’t got one).

The third major benefit is probably not so obvious, because it looks like an unmitigated disaster: the stock market decline. What’s good about that? Well in the first place no real wealth is affected because real wealth is fixed at the resources available to a given society and that doesn’t change just because of some arbitrary numerical evaluation. No, it doesn’t. What does change is that basically the rich people are eating each other alive financially, and they deserve it. The only reason they are so rich is because of the poverty they’ve inflicted on others. This isn’t some sort of socialist-communist rant, is a factual observation of economics that only con artists try to deny: no one gets rich in a closed resource system (which is any and all of them) without someone else getting poor. Wealth is not “created” (except in terms of falsified statements to convince banks to loan you money by proving you don’t need it), it is redistributed. The billionaires are reverse Robin Hoods, robbing the poor to give to the rich – themselves – like Dennis Moore. (There is a weird paradox that goes along with this wherein the richer they become and the poorer they make others the still richer they must become to be “as rich” because the uneven distribution stifles the economy and drives inflation, making the value of their money go down as the quantity of it goes up.)

There is a fourth part as well, and it starts with this Wall Street Syndrome. The fact is that the stock market and its various forms are no longer a means of investing but instead have become the biggest casino on Earth. It’s gambling, not investing. If the profits from the company this quarter aren’t as large as expected (instead of merely present), the stock value goes down. People even wager on that and ‘borrow’ stock they haven’t got to sell at top prices as they expect to cover those sales once the value drops. Almost 2/3 of “investing” these days is really speculation, and not based on any solid financial standing of any given company. The whole system needs a drastic overhaul, with much of the current accepted practices outlawed. This would stabilize the economy as nothing else could, and begin to change the economic mindset from constant demand of ever greater quarterly payouts to long-term consistency and planning.

From there we go to spreading that idea across the whole of society. Not just economically, but holistically. We should realize that the first industries hardest hit by the irrational social effects of this truly insignificant viral outbreak are the ones that need to be re-examined for their sustainability or indeed actual need. (See my earlier piece on a Sustainable Society).

None of this will happen, of course, as the virus is no place near as bad as the hyperbole makes it out to be. So far the world-wide infection rate has been less than 1/100,000 of the population and the unlucky few who have contracted it have a 98% chance of survival. By contrast, influenza which can largely be avoided by vaccine still manages to kill about 300,000 people per year. In more localized statistics, places like Italy and Iran are much worse off and you have to then consider what underlying differences there are to make their infection and death rates so much higher than the ‘norm’.

Once coronavirus is out of the news by dint of its lackluster staying power or is pushed aside by the start of World War III or something everyone will go back to business as usual and we’ll still have the same major problems we had before this insignificant one came along and got promoted as the new Black Death by an ignorant, nay stupid populace. COVID-19 is no place near as dangerous as the idiotic behaviour it has triggered.

Addendum: the amount of utter nonsense I’ve been reading about this and other viruses of late makes me wish it was going to wipe out half the population. Preferably the stupid half. Even when you explain the reality of it, people steadfastly refuse to believe the truth no matter how well-documented the facts or what qualifications the conveyor has. It’s like they have a built-in need to be wrong, or to be scared by something. It’s like with a zombie invasion; you can’t convince them that is impossible either. It is for that reason that I am not uttering one word about my own legitimacy in presenting this essay as factual, because no one would accept any. I can be just as trustworthy as anyone else spewing nonsense on the Internet.

Except in this instance it’s not nonsense.

What’s that phrase they always use? Oh yes: “do your research!” *LOL*

Or to paraphrase Pogo (Walt Kelly): We have met the enemy, and it is us.

 

Still waiting

This, then, is how the world ends: not with a bang but with a virus.

I said I would write something about viruses in general. Well, why not? Everyone else is doing it. And in keeping with the infinite monkey theory I have just as much chance of getting it right. Or having it read. Actually a pretty good chance of the former, but not so much the latter.

As little background as possible: viruses are a weird “pseudo-lifeform” that don’t fit the rules. They propagate in host cells, mutate easily, and are really difficult to kill. While active they cause the host to initiate an immune response to get rid of them producing all those unpleasant symptoms we call illness.

The bad news: that would be the “difficult to kill” bit. Immune systems eventually manage it, usually. But if you’re already in trouble physically … well this is where most of the deaths from COVID-19 have been occurring, and it’s no surprise.

The good news: this new one isn’t really any worse than others, it just looks like it. The media hyperbole and misinformation makes it sound like the new Black Death, but that wiped out half of Europe. Really the death rate of infected individuals now is staying around 3%, which is what we’d expect under the circumstances. Of course if you know one of them or are one of them there is zero comfort in that fact.

The bad news: it’s not easy to prevent the spread. Literally inhaling the same air as an infected person means you have been exposed and could develop the disease. The longer you are exposed or the more intense the exposure (an infected person’s cough will have a higher density of the virus than regular exhaling) the greater the risk.

The good news: just because you’re exposed doesn’t mean you’re going to get it, or even that it will be any worse for you than ordinary flu.

The bad news: it hangs around on surfaces and wiping them down with disinfectant/alcohol won’t kill it.

The good news: wiping the surfaces (and washing your hands) can physically remove the virus. So yes wash your hands, but don’t obsess about needing sanitizer, okay?

Now to get into the more complex aspects of virology, what you need to know is that the damn things can go dormant but remain viable and survive some really severe conditions like the frigid cold and vacuum of space. A certain celebrity moron has stated that once the weather warms up to 80° Fahrenheit COVID-19 will no longer be a problem. This is not so. If the weather warmed up to 800° Fahrenheit we wouldn’t have to worry about it anymore, but it would be small compensation for the buildings burning and cars melting and everything else being dead as well. Viruses do not kill off easily.

On the other hand it is true that weather changes affect viral transmission, and the reasons why are somewhat paradoxical (meaning scientists still argue about it). For example the germs like warm, moist air but not cold, dry air – but the majority of viral infections occur when the weather is cold and dry. Hmm. Why is this? It’s mainly because that inhospitable ambient state is an irritant to our respiratory tract which makes it more susceptible to infection. There is also some claim that the social conditions of Winter – more people huddled together in relatively closed locations – increases the likelihood of spread. A further fact is that viruses have a life cycle like anything else, and generally flourish at certain times of year but remain latent at others – sort of like plants blooming in the Spring. But no one knows yet exactly how COVID-19 will respond to these changes.

Will masks help? Only if they are worn by infected people; they aren’t very effective at stopping you breathing the germs in, only at exhaling them. I guess most people don’t understand that the main reason for “hospital garb” is not to stop the staff from catching diseases from the patients, but to stop the patients from catching diseases from the staff. It is easier to isolate a known infected individual than to apply prophylactic measures to everyone who might catch the virus. Amazingly this novel coronavirus seems to be pretty hard to catch; we’d really expect the infection rates to be much higher with the known proximity factors. I guess it doesn’t ‘travel well’.

There have been a lot of ill-informed commentaries on the COVID-19 virus, ranging from the absurdity of it being “created on purpose” or “weaponized” (it’s a lousy one if they did) to blaming it on the Chinese just because it originated there (hey, notice how it doesn’t care about ethnicity or religion or geographical borders?) to the outrageous and immoral scamming going on with fake ‘cures’ and ‘preventatives’ (or claims of being health authorities) and on to the ridiculous and yet harmful human reactions of hoarding things that won’t really do any good for having them in mass quantity.

Even investors have fallen for this farce, dumping stocks due to fears of global economic collapse despite the fact it is A). not really doing that much damage (except by proxy) and B). inevitably a short-term event. The ironic thing here is that the world will go back to doing business as usual once this episode has passed, not having learned a single lesson from it. This despite the fact we’ve had similar outbreaks in the not-too-distant past which should have prepared us, but we failed to learn the lessons then as well.

People are acting as though this is some air-born pathogen sweeping across the world and devastating the population. This is not the case in any respect, especially not the deadly results part. Remember there are over 7 billion people on this planet now, and we’re going crazy over what is a statistically insignificant infection rate, never mind the fatality rate. Also understand that world travel is rampant and fast these days, so in fact the spread has been amazingly small. The so-called Spanish Flu epidemic of 1918 killed off 50 million people in a world of about 2 billion, and there was no air travel in those days as planes had only just been invented. To relate, COVID-19 would have to kill off 175 million people to be the equivalent, and that is unlikely given the improvements in medical care since the early 20th century.

The pattern of the disease’s progress is exactly what we’d expect to see, with the initial outbreak in China being the most deadly. This is followed by individual travelers taking it to other destinations such as Iran, Italy, the United Kingdom, the United States of America, and yes Canada. Once there we see another ‘blossoming’ of it spreading out from a central location. It is at this point we expect to see a decrease in fatalities, but ultimately this in influenced by quality of care factors in the affected locales.

In opposition, there are people saying that the quarantine procedures being used are “unethical and ineffective”, which shows they know nothing about which they speak. Limiting contact between known or suspected infectious people and others is a sure-fire way of reducing the risk of spread, and from that point alone is therefor ethical. As Dickens said: “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few or the one.” Eventually a vaccine will be produced, although who should get it will remain debatable for some time. I imagine initially it will be one of those “travelers’ vaccines” rather than a common inoculation.

If there is any great risk imperiling us it is not the disease itself, but our society’s inability to cope with the circumstances. I have been waiting days to find out if I really am infected or not, and the symptoms have all but vanished meaning when (or if, knowing the efficacy of our system here) the results come back they will be of moot value. Meanwhile as the cases do mount up (so far no deaths in our country, and less than 50 infections) our government is just getting around to coming up with a committee to deal with it. That’s not how you manage an emergency. The quicker you take action on a potential threat like this the greater the chances of success against it. Controlling the panic in the populace, reassuring them that everything will be alright, would be a lot easier if they had a handle on the situation from the beginning instead of rushing about making contradictory claims and generally presenting an image of utter confusion and idiocy among those who are in charge of handling said situation.

Our provincial government announced one day that there was little risk of it infecting here, and two days later reported the first case. This in a place that regularly has lots of travel to and from China, where the outbreak was first detected. Since then the in-province cases have risen to 27 (really not many for a population of 4.6 million) and the government is just now trying to organize to combat it? If this really were a significant health threat such as some form of biological warfare we’d all be as good as dead by now.

As I said, ultimately this will be our undoing – not the disease itself.

 

Going Viral

If it weren’t for the coincidental circumstances, I wouldn’t have thought about it at all. But almost exactly two weeks from the day my wife got back from England I found myself suffering from flu-like symptoms: dry cough, fatigue, aches and pains. Now admittedly this is my normal for daily life, so it makes it a bit difficult to determine whether there’s actually something more wrong or I’m just having a downside to the cycle. When the fever spiked I knew it was beyond the usual muscular whatever.

Now consider that the Mrs. had been to England, a known hot spot for the media’s darling virus, as well as a couple of large airports full of people traveling hither and yon. Never mind the oriental fellow she sat next to on the flight back who was obviously sick with something; he didn’t even have to be there to make it a possibility. So out of the goodness of my heart and concern for the public good and all that, I decided to contact the health authorities and see what was what.

Public Health Line: (Automated nonsense that takes so long you could get an actual medical degree before they figure out what you’re on about. Another fine example of the failure of artificial intelligence.)

Doctor’s Office: Gosh, we don’t know. You should call the hospital and ask for Sharon. She’s the infectious disease expert there.

Hospital: Sharon isn’t here. Just stay in and don’t go anywhere. We probably don’t even have the ability to test for it.

And there was me thinking the government was actually concerned about the possible spread of this virus and they would be eager to send a public health nurse out to test any potential cases. I guess not. Oh well, whatever. I’d been all over town the day before so everyone is probably infected now anyway. Or not (I’ll explain the virus stuff later).

Hospital calls back: Um, actually we’d like you to put on an N95 mask and come in at a specific time for testing. (Hmm. Seems kind of contrary to what they said before.)

Twenty minutes later, clad in one of my wildfire masks (good thing I still had some, eh?) I walk in to the ER – and get stared at. A nurse in full surgical garb comes out to greet me and quickly usher me past the other patients into what passes for an isolation room at a this ‘cottage’ hospital. From the looks on everyone else’s faces you’d think I was Death walking among them; they all knew damn well what the mask meant.

Usual routine of history, symptoms, and taking vitals. No fever at the moment (I wouldn’t have driven in if there had been) but my blood pressure sure was up. Gee, I wonder why? Anyway the nurse disappears and I start waiting. Fever decides to spike a bit and I try not to dissolve into a puddle on the floor.

In comes my own doctor, unrecognizable because he is in full surgical garb too. Yes they want to take a sample, and since he had to read the instructions on the sampling package I guess this was the first time they’d done it there. They should warn people how it is done, as that alone would prevent anyone from admitting to symptoms. Sort of like having an oil drilling rig shoved through your nose. Okay, my nasal passages aren’t nicely straight and open as they should be. It was painful, and it bled.

Home I go to await the results.

Next day. They were going to call, weren’t they? They didn’t. Okay, I’ve got this on-line access to my medical records; maybe something has turned up there? It had: partial results. In 24 hours they were able to determine it is not influenza A or influenza B. That’s good! Or is it? Because if it’s not either of those, what is it? I mean we are concerned about it being the new and nasty one.

Oh, that test takes longer. How much longer? Well by the time they know if it is you’re either over it or dead from it.

It seems to me there’s room for improvement here. I’ve had a lot of medical tests, and they are all pretty far from Dr. McCoy’s tri-corder scan giving results in seconds. They’re more like: “It could be this; let’s see. (Take sample, run test, get results.) Nope. What else? It could be this; let’s see. (Take sample, run test, get results.) Nope. What else? (Lather, rinse, repeat.)” One test won’t tell you what it is, but will tell you what it isn’t. It’s a slow process of elimination, and there has to be a better way. You could run out of blood before they manage to try every test they’ve got (my record draw is 27 vials in one sitting).

It’s days later now and I’m writing this, with no more knowledge than I had at the start. If I was infectious and deadly I could be blithely spreading it all over as people do since we tend to largely ignore any illness symptoms we may have, overcoming them with willpower as the need to get on with daily life’s demands overrules the need to recover.

Meanwhile the world has gone nuts about this disease. The general information given is often grossly inaccurate, the statistics hyperbole, and the government response a joke. For example on January 26 our provincial government said the risk of the virus here was “low”. Less than two months later we’re over 20 cases, that they know of. Considering the amount of travel between BC and China the risk was obviously high, not low, and it’s only the fact that it is not as easily transmitted as most people think that the results aren’t worse. The federal government is just getting around to creating a task force to deal with it. Can you imagine? First of all, such protocols should have been in place years ago: it’s not like this is the first time we’ve had to deal with disease outbreaks (SARS, H1N1 to name two in recent history). Second, the last thing we need is politicians thinking they are capable of understanding medical issues and dealing with them. Nothing in the history of the world would support that conclusion, right up to Trump’s claim that it will all go away once the weather warms up.

You’ve got bunglers everywhere, people, and they are in charge of everything.