Monthly Archives: July 2021

Proud Dad

Simon Currie said Lowndes was a friend of his for 20 years.

“Jay took me in when nobody else really would,” he told CTV News. “The police need to stop killing Indigenous people.” BCTV

Simon (rose tattoo above) and I disagree on virtually every political point. But he gets the fundamentals right.

Killing anyone who is trapped in a parked car is revolting. No police officer should ever do that unless there is a clear need for self-defence. It is an operational failure and a complete failure in supervision and training.

Jared Lowndes was murdered. The officers who killed him need to be charged with the crime. Usual presumption of innocence but the evidence needs to be tried and a verdict reached.

I’m proud of Simon for standing up and demanding justice for Jared Lowndes.

Interesting: Be Prepared

“In preparation for this change, CDC recommends clinical laboratories and testing sites that have been using the CDC 2019-nCoV RT-PCR assay select and begin their transition to another FDA-authorized COVID-19 test. CDC encourages laboratories to consider adoption of a multiplexed method that can facilitate detection and differentiation of SARS-CoV-2 and influenza viruses. Such assays can facilitate continued testing for both influenza and SARS-CoV-2 and can save both time and resources as we head into influenza season.” CDC: Lab Alert

The PCR test was used all over the world to detect “cases” of COVID. Implied in the CDC notice is that the test detected influenza as well. Which would explain why there was no “flu” this past flu season. If you tested positive on the PCR you were regarded as a case of COVID but you might well have had plain old flu.

[Update: My 20 year old bio-chemist, lawyer and reader, son, Sam, points out that the CDC is pulling one PCR test of 20 or so which are approved. PCR lives! (Still far more cycles than there should be, but he has a point.)]

From Israel, a heavily vaccinated country, we have the Prime Minister stating, “We do not know exactly to what degree the vaccine helps, but it is significantly less…the Delta mutation leaping forward around the world, including in vaccinated countries such as Britain, Israel and the US.”

In BC, having seen our numbers steadily drop heading into summer, our case count is rising again. Given the lifting of virtually all public health restrictions this is not surprising but it is a bit worrying.

The “vaccine will fix everything” strategy is examined by a professor in this Twitter thread. (h/t SDA)

On this beautiful summer day (though some mention the whole drought thing) it is worth thinking a little about what happens next with COVID. The good news on vaccines is that, so far, while they do not stop infection or transmission they do seem to reduce the severity of the symptoms for people who are infected. And, yes, it may well be that even without the jab those people would have had mild infections, but the hospitalization and death numbers seem to be encouraging. The jabs don’t seem to do as well against the variants but that is not yet a huge problem.

At the moment there is a fair bit of media enthusiasm for assorted coercive measures to be taken against the unvaxed. Vaccine passports are all the rage in the dimmer reaches of Ontario and Quebec and Manitoba seems to have implemented such a scheme. It is obvious nonsense from a direct public health perspective because the vaccinated an be infected and spread infection, but it seems to satisfy the more basic urge to “punish” the non-conforming.

The back and forth on testing, case rates, the need for non-pharmacological measures, the efficacy of vaccines and the safety of those vaccines, not to mention treatment and prevention options can make for interesting Twitter threads but there is a real flu season coming up shortly. To prepare for that season is something everyone, every family, can start doing right now.

If COVID and the flu continue to circulate, and there is no reason to believe they will not, jabs not withstanding, there will be non-medical consequences which may be more severe than the illnesses themselves.

Right at the moment, supply chains in BC and in Canada generally, are holding up quite well. However, they have been under considerable stress and the dislocations caused by gov’t reaction to increased case counts could be severe. It would be prudent for families to stock up on non-perishable essential goods. (Looking at the current crop conditions in Canada and much of the US it would be prudent for economic reasons as well.) Simple things like rice, flour, pasta, sugar, salt and beans are a starting point. Canned goods are good to have. A well stocked freezer – on sale ground beef, on sale frozen fruits and vegetables – may come in handy. And, why yes, toilet paper and paper towels are great to have. Cash – and while 100’s a lovely they can be hard to spend if things go sideways. 20’s are more practical.

Believe it or not, now is likely the time to buy PPE – mask, gloves, hand sanitizers. And, yes, indeed, I don’t think any of those items made a speck of difference in the first waves. However, right now they are practically being given away and it is not at all out of the question that the Phi variant or some such will be surface contact transmissable.

Stock up on your vitamins and supplements: Vit D & C, quercetin, zinc. Ivermectin if you can get it. There are plenty around at the moment, that could change.

Now, normally, this is the moment where people say, “And get the vax!” I am still waiting to see how well it performs and what side effects emerge. Your mileage may vary and you may not alreadly lead a largely self-issolated life. You do you.

My own scenarios for the Fall and Winter range from a nothingburger where, like the Great Influenza of 1918, COVID burns itself out and we see no substantial third wave, all the way to “the vaccine has compromised vaxers immunity and, like the ferrets, the vaccinated are all very sick and many of them die.” Being neither a virologist nor an epidemiologist, I have no idea what is going to happen come “seasonal upper respiratory virus” season. And I have no idea what the government/public health reaction is going to be. My only thought is to be prepared for the worst.

Being able to hunker down for a few weeks is never a bad thing. Depending on the severity of the Fall wave, you may want to close your door to the world for a month without the government telling you to.

Meanwhile, good long walks, trimming that last 5, well, 15 really, pounds, avoiding MSM are all useful things to do right now.

With luck, COVID will be a bad memory by Christmas. I hope so.

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Disquieting

There has been a good deal of optimism generated by the growing number of people who have been vaccinated against COVID-19. Despite the fact that the vaccinated can still get COVID and spread COVID, vaccination has been seen as a way out of the COVID mess. Let’s hope so.

However, there seems to be a bit of a problem emerging in such high vax nations as England and the Netherlands are seeing cases, hospitalizations and deaths rise again. Israel, with an over 80% double jab rate, is seeing case numbers rise and attributing that to the “delta variant”.

There is now some talk of the need for a “booster” shot in the Fall.

Not being an epidemiologist I have nothing useful to say about these infection rates in the face of the vaccine. However, from a public policy perspective, it underlines something which has been a weakness from the earliest days of the COVID issue: non-pharmaceutical interventions (masks, social distance, lockdowns) and the arrival and distribution of the vaccine have been the go to public responses. Other responses have largely been ignored.

Were you to rely on the mainstream media and our public health people – not to mention the politicians, you could easily form the impression that there were no other alternatives.

I have banged on about how losing a few pounds, getting outside, taking Vitamin D were all things which, while they will not “prevent” COVID infection, will certainly make you more able to put up a good fight if you happen to catch COVID. (And we are seeing much more evidence that the people who are most at risk of dying with COVID are over 80, often suffering a number of co-morbidities, diabetic or very obese – people at much greater risk of death even before they caught COVID.) Simply encouraging people who can to improve their overall health could significantly reduce the overall risk COVID poses.

Frankly, Public Health officials should have been pushing exercise, weight loss, sun exposure and Vit D pretty much from the go. But there is no reason not to start now. (Especially if the vaccines are not super effective against the delta variant.)

The ivermectin and HCQ questions remain outstanding. It was not helpful that one of what looked like a positive study of ivermectin appears to be an out and out fraud. However, looking at countries and states in which one or both have been used suggests some efficacy. The argument is going to go on for a while but, again from a public policy perspective, it would seem sensible to set up and run proper trials for both substances.

A new entrant, SaNOtize, is an anti-viral nasal spray developed in Vancouver and currently approved for use in Israel. It has been tested and found to reduce viral loads in confirmed COVID-19 cases by 95% in 24 hours and 99% in 72 hours. Here is a report of a double blind clinical trial conducted in England. Is this the silver bullet? I have no idea. However, it shows promise, has been trialed and has a fairly well understood mechanism of action. (And, apparently, no side effects.)

I suspect there are other promising treatments out there which I am unaware of. The point being that we need to be developing alternatives to complete reliance on vaccines which seem to have varying efficacy and worrying side effects which are only now emerging. This is not at all an “anti-vax” position, rather it is a prudent position. If, for some reason, the vaccines’ effectiveness against emerging variants is reduced, having treatment options and a generally healthy population would be, as Martha Stewart used to say, “a good thing”.

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Math

Much has been written about the government of Ontario’s plan to decolonize Grade 9 math in the name of social justice. It is a stupid idea for any number of reasons. Apparently, math as currently taught is too objective which means that it excludes other ways of knowing. And so on.

In the great sorting hat of modern society, math, because it is objective and only partially language based has always been a route forward for immigrants of all hues for generations. You might not speak English very well, but quadratic equations, trigonometry and algebra don’t care. With some hard work, even if your English assignments were terrible, the Vietnamese kid or the Sri Lankan or Filipino student could get an “A” in math and often do well at physics as well.

Being a math nerd is the least discriminatory niche in a high school ecology.

I was never much good at math. In Ontario I would have been decolonized twice because I took Grade 9 math twice – once during regular term and once in the summer following Grade 9 because my parents recognized that my barely passing the first time was going to be a problem going forward. I stumbled along for two more years. In those years I managed to acquire just enough math to be able to understand and enjoy Physics 11 and Physics 12 (both taught by the single best teacher I ever had, R.A. Nordman.) (Later I learned a lot of statistics as an adjunct to a thesis I was trying to write. The thesis came to a sad end when my advisor said, “Oh, that should not be a problem, all you need are a couple of simultaneous differential equations.” I was cooked.)

The kids who were “good at math” generally went the STEM route in university, we math under achievers went off to the Arts or, sadly, the Faculty of Education where we were rarely troubled by math again.

“The education minister’s spokesperson Caitlin Clark told The Toronto Sun that the new curriculum reflects a changing world.

“We are taking action to ensure all children, especially those facing barriers to success, have meaningful pathways to quality learning, graduation, access to post-secondary education and good-paying jobs,” she said.”

This is reminiscent of the Indiana State Legislature attempting to fix the value of π at 3.2. There may be all sorts of good jobs which do not need a strong grasp of math but there are no jobs where a decolonized version of the subject will give you an edge.

But I may be looking at this through the wrong lens. A more imaginative lens would note that a) there were only so many “good-paying” (yes, the construction does grate but it’s a quote) jobs, b) certain, preferred, racialized groups were not getting an equitable number of those jobs because c) those jobs had the racialist requirement of a grasp of Grade 9 math which, d) was so racist that the preferred racialized groups were doomed by the system to fail. Take down the systemically racist hurdle of the current Grade 9 math curriculum and replace it with “anti-racist, anti-discriminatory learning environments” and “infuse Indigenous knowledges and perspectives meaningfully and authentically into the mathematics program.” Problem solved!

Or something like that.

In fact, all that this sort of nonsense ensures is that smart (and better off) parents – white, black, Asian – send their kids to private school or homeschool them or pay for after school tutoring. When the pure public school victims of this posturing arrive as undergraduates – courtesy of whatever diversity initiative is available – they will have no chance at a STEM education. There is no “Indigenous knowleges” based calculus or computer code or algorithmic logic. In short, the Ontario public education system is rendering its students, apparently all its students, unfit for the modern world.

And, of course, like most such programs the real beneficiaries are those, often already privileged, kids whose parents are able to pay for the Kumon classes or, well, in my case, summer school. The public school victims might get a job as a diversity hire, but someone has to actually write the code, calculate the stresses, figure out the odds and mine the data – and that someone will have a pretty solid grasp of Grade 9 math.

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Hateful

Perhaps not my finest writing but the Lulu girls tossing paint on an East End Vancouver church were revolting examples of ignorance.

However, apparently, calling them “skanks” triggered the Twitter hate patrol. I appealed, the above is a screenshot of Twitter rejecting the appeal. I like Twitter mainly for the tweets of a bunch of people involved in the junior mining industry so I have removed the tweet.

But this is a great example of just how dangerous rules surrounding “hateful conduct” are. Because there is no precise definition of “hateful conduct” pretty much any mildly insulting speech can fall into the bucket. It is completely arbitrary.

Now mothers the world over have admonished their children with “If you have nothing nice to say don’t say anything.” Which is idiocy. Political conversation ranges from compliment to invective. It is in the nature of that conversation to say harsh things both as to their truth and for effect.

The Twitter “hateful conduct” wheeze essentially puts users on notice that if they insult or disparage some identifiable person they may lose access to their account or lose their account altogether. Of course, it is only Twitter and life goes on.

Unfortunately, our Liberal government wants to effectively criminalize a variant of the “hateful conduct” rule. Bill C-36 proposes to include in the Canadian Human Rights Act this:

13 (1) It is a discriminatory practice to communicate or cause to be communicated hate speech by means of the Internet or other means of telecommunication in a context in which the hate speech is likely to foment detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

It tries to narrow the grounds a bit a little further on:

Definition of hate speech(9) 

In this section, hate speech means the content of a communication that expresses detestation or vilification of an individual or group of individuals on the basis of a prohibited ground of discrimination.

Clarification – hate speech(10) 

For greater certainty, the content of a communication does not express detestation or vilification, for the purposes of subsection (9), solely because it expresses mere dislike or disdain or it discredits, humiliates, hurts or offends.

Now, I suspect that my Tweet would not fall afoul of this language but that would not be a bar to an an a complaint being filed.

And the Libs are very keen on the idea of anonymous accusations:

Non-disclosure of identity — Commission(8) 

The Commission may deal with a complaint in relation to a discriminatory practice described in section 13 without disclosing, to the person against whom the complaint was filed or to any other person, the identity of the alleged victim, the individual or group of individuals who has filed the complaint or any individual who has given evidence or assisted the Commission in any way in dealing with the complaint, if the Commission considers that there is a real and substantial risk that any of those individuals will be subjected to threats, intimidation or discrimination.

At the moment, C-36 looks pretty much dead in the water simply because the Libs seem to want this Parliament to die and hold an election. But if they win it will certainly be back.

Of course, if it passes, anonymous denunciations can go both ways. The gender critical ladies are certainly the butt of a lot of internet hatred. So are Jews whenever Gaza heats up.

Attempts to police speech, particularly political speech almost always end badly.

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Losing the Thread

Driving past the gas station today Regular is $1.67 a litre. At the grocery store some perfectly ordinary eggs were $8.00 a dozen. Butter is $6.50 when not on sale.

On Canada Day some addled youth decided it would be a good idea to toss the statue of Captain Cook into the Inner Harbour. I rather doubt they had any idea who the great explorer and cartographer was, but he looked very 18th century and that was enough.

Over seven hundred people died during last weeks’ heat wave with around five hundred of those deaths attributed to the heat. Ambulance wait times went to over three hours.

Various polls suggest that Justin Trudeau is within sight of a majority were a federal election to be held now.

The remarkable thing about all of these little snippets of news is that they seem to be regarded as business as usual. Being taxed by an inflation rate which is well into the double digits does not cut through the COVID hype. Vandalism and arson purportedly in rage over residential school deaths which we have known about for decades attracts very little comment – though many First Nations people are not very happy that reservation churches which have served their communities for years are being burnt. People seem to shrug off the heat wave deaths and ambulance delays.

I expect very little from government at any level. A reasonably sound currency, a degree of public order and emergency services which can deal with the inevitable surges in demand.

The emergency services issue is probably the most easily fixed. Yes, having more para-medics is part of the solution but planning a reponse to these sorts of surge emergencies which tries to avoid the need for an ambulance in the first place is important too. Most of the dead were old, in many cases, very old. It should not be impossible to identify those older people and have a plan for these sorts of emergencies. Something as simple as a “Helpful Neighbour” program on a voluntary basis would be a good first step.

Restoring public order is more complicated. First, you have to have the political will to actually take on the problem. As we saw a couple of years ago, when it comes to people purporting to act on behalf of First Nations/environmental causes that will is absent. But even if the politicians decided that enough was enough there needs to be an investigation and an understanding of how the “spontaneous” vandalism and arson and blockades are driven. That is going to require rooting around in the activist community which will be, to say the least, difficult. The people who are actually creating the public disorder pay close attention to operational and communications security. Suffice to say this stuff is not being organized on a Facebook page.

Restoring order is also going to require a look at who benefits from disorder. To take an example: was it co-incidence that the sad fact of the Kamloops residential school graveyard came up just as the inquiry into Canada’s Winnipeg Lab’s connection to the Wuhan virology lab was heating up? The fact of there being a graveyard had been know for decades. The ground radar was being used to determine the boundaries so a new fence could be built. Yet, somehow, the number of bodies became headline news. I suspect, but cannot prove, that this was no accident. Public order will be restored when disorder is no longer in anyone’s interest.

Inflation is more complicated still. First off, the Liberal government and the Bank of Canada seem skeptical that there is any inflation worth mentioning and, if there is, seem convinced that it will be transitory. Second, the Liberals seem to think that with interest rates at record lows, borrowing lots of money makes a ton of sense. Third, the tools available to reduce inflation are all politically painful: reducing deficit spending means saying “no” to program and benefit expansion. Raising interest rates, even a little, would increase the cost of the government’s debt and the debt which Canadians have taken on in buckets during COVID. Plus, there is a federal election coming and no government wants to even tap on the brakes at the risk of losing votes.

In the past, inflation was largely self correcting. At a certain point the government would no longer find buyers for its bonds and would have to raise interest rates until it could. That brake has, to a degree, disappeared now that the Bank of Canada has decided to purchase government debt in apparently unlimited amounts.

The Modern Monetary Theory people will think this printing is a very good thing. I suspect it isn’t. What it creates is asset and price inflation. The $6.50 butter becomes $9.00 and the $1.67 gas becomes $3.00. But wages and salaries and even government benefits, are unlikely to keep pace. This clobbers the benefits, working and middle classes.

At the moment virtually all the Western economies are printing money fast and that means that the Canadian dollar is holding its value relative to other currencies. How long that will be the case remains to be seen. Similarly, interest rates are crawling along at less than 1%. Will that continue? I doubt it.

Bubbles burst. Eventually the dislocations caused by too much money in the marketplace will disturb and then dis-combobulate the system and the inflation will have to be squeezed from that system.

Politically, printing money is much more satisfactory than raising revenue and decreasing expenditures. There will be no action at all taken on inflation before the next federal election and it is not obvious that there will be any taken after. It is not obvious that Trudeau or his Cabinet have the foggiest idea that any of this is a problem. Nor, frankly, is it clear that O’Toole and the CPC would be much better.

The ideas of a stable currency, public order and good emergency services are beginning to sound a bit antique, quaint as it were. However, I suspect we’ll miss them when they’re gone.

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