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Saturday, July 04, 2020

Celebrate 

Trudeau's uplifting message on Canada Day: Biden's inspiring message on Independence Day: Here's another good one, from Arnold Schwarzenegger: And nothing in either of Trump's speeches is worth repeating. But here's a summary, in case you missed them both:

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Sunday, June 28, 2020

Public Health has failed us all 

Over the last week, I have come to understand that the COVID 19 pandemic will be known as the worst North American public health failure ever. 
Here's why:
Remember five months ago, way back in February, when COVID cases first began showing up in North America?  
That is also when doctors in Europe, who were already dealing with dozens of cases, started reporting that, unlike other recent viruses,  transmission of COVID 19 appeared to be happening from people who didn't know they were sick and who did not display any symptoms.
It is impossible to find and quarantine such people, because nobody knows who they are. They themselves don't even know they are carrying the virus.
The only way that someone without symptoms can be stopped from transmitting a respiratory infection is for everyone to wear a mask, so that the infected people are prevented from spraying infectious droplets every time they speak, cough, sneeze, etc. 
So if, back in February, we had all been told to wear homemade masks whenever we were out and about (like many people already do in Asia, by the way) this simple act would have protected the friends and families and coworkers and clients of the hundreds of people across North America who were already infected but didn't know it - the dentists, the doctors, the choir members, the conference attendees, the nursing home staff, the teachers, the social workers, the waitresses, etc etc
And thus, COVID 19 virus would not have infected hundreds of thousands.  And thousands of the people who died would have lived instead.
But what happened when, back in February, European doctors started reporting that symptom-less people were infectious? 
Well, nothing.
Faced with these early reports of symptom-less transmission, public health authorities like the World Health Organization, and the CDC and Canada Public Health did not leap into action. 
They squabbled. They denied the evidence. They quibbled about terminology. The New York Times report goes on:
Interviews with doctors and public health officials in more than a dozen countries show that for two crucial months — and in the face of mounting genetic evidence — Western health officials and political leaders played down or denied the risk of symptomless spreading. 
Leading health agencies including the World Health Organization and the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control provided contradictory and sometimes misleading advice. A crucial public health discussion devolved into a semantic debate over what to call infected people without clear symptoms. 
The two-month delay was a product of faulty scientific assumptions, academic rivalries and, perhaps most important, a reluctance to accept that containing the virus would take drastic measures. 
The resistance to emerging evidence was one part of the world’s sluggish response to the virus. It is impossible to calculate the human toll of that delay, but models suggest that earlier, aggressive action might have saved tens of thousands of lives. 
Countries like Singapore and Australia, which used testing and contact-tracing and moved swiftly to quarantine seemingly healthy travelers, fared far better than those that did not.
And another thing happened too, at the same time. 
Even without a lot of evidence, even without contract tracing and quarantining travelers and other government measures, there was one crucial step that everyone could have taken without any government program at all - wearing a homemade mask. 
It seems like at least some of those who work in public health in North America also believed that the situation with COVID 19 was so urgent that wearing masks couldn't hurt and might help.  
But they decided not tell us. 
While public health officials hesitated, some doctors acted. At a conference in Seattle in mid-February, Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia University professor, said his research suggested that Covid-19’s rapid spread could only be explained if there were infectious patients with unremarkable symptoms or no symptoms at all. 
In the audience that day was Steven Chu, the Nobel-winning physicist and former U.S. energy secretary. “If left to its own devices, this disease will spread through the whole population,” he remembers Professor Shaman warning. 
 Afterward, Dr. Chu began insisting that healthy colleagues at his Stanford University laboratory wear masks. 
Doctors in Cambridge, England, concluded that asymptomatic transmission was a big source of infection and advised local health workers and patients to wear masks, well before the British government acknowledged the risk of silent spreaders.
But back in February, there wasn't enough PPE to go around and all the medical masks we had were desperately needed by medical staff. 
So Public Health authorities had a choice -- they could have been truthful, and told us that masks might help but the general public had to use homemade masks to save the medical ones for the health profession. 
But this message was too complicated and people were already hoarding toilet paper, and homemade masks might "give us a false sense of security" because we're all just so stupid that we wouldn't stay home anymore and besides, we likely wouldn't wear then correctly anyway. So it was just so much easier to us not to bother with masks at all, that they weren't necessary for anyone who wasn't already sick.  
The American authorities, faced with a shortage, actively discouraged the public from buying masks. “Seriously people — STOP BUYING MASKS!” Surgeon General Jerome M. Adams tweeted on Feb. 29.
In other words, they lied to us.
And the politicians those public health authorities were advising -- the governors and premiers and presidents and prime ministers - ended up passing on those lies because they didn't know any better.  
So now here we are in June.
And now the public health authorities say, "Oopsie!!  Hey, you guys, we tell you now that you really should wear masks after all, because everyone would be just so much safer."
Only its too late. Hundreds of thousands have already died. And millions are confused by the changing stories and the untruths and the squabbling and now they don't believe anything that public health authorities are telling them. And the people who own stores and manage events and work in offices and teach in schools are just as confused. So they don't know whether to require masks or not.
Back during the Spanish Flu, public health failed because they just didn't know how to organize public health administration and do the scientific studies and analyze policy options and communicate widely with the public.
Now, we have all that. We have a huge public health infrastructure with thousands of experts worldwide whose whole purpose in life is to keep people safe. 
But in North America, they failed us.
So first they didn't recognize the truth, and then they didn't trust us enough to tell us the truth when we needed it.  
[CDC head] Azar also pushed back on the idea that the new surge in cases is a result of reopening the country too fast, arguing, "That's not so much about what the law says on the reopening than what our behaviors are within that. If we act irresponsibly, if we don't social distance, if we don't use face coverings ... we're going to see spread of disease."

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Wednesday, June 24, 2020

Sports will be back, sort of 

I think the realities of getting back to sports are becoming clearer as we begin to understand that Corona Virus is not going away any time soon.
Yes, we are going to be able to play and watch sports again! 
But no, we won't actually be able to watch the games in person -- though maybe eventually we can as long as absolutely everyone wears a mask absolutely all the time. And no shouting!
Hmm -- would that even work? 
Or would the silence just be too creepy, like those bizarre photos of a chamber orchestra playing to a theatre full of plants?  
I've been watching the Ultimate Tennis Showdown and its fun to see a newer, quicker version of tennis, though its a little odd to hear the fake crowd noises after each shot. 
Likely when sports do get going again, each sport will have to deal with continual interruptions as individual athletes come down with COVID-19 and stop playing until they are well again.
There is one thing about the sports shutdown that I will miss -- the #LifeCommentaries on twitter, when sports announcers kept themselves busy by posting videos narrating ordinary life as sporting events:

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Sunday, June 21, 2020

Funny stuff 

OK, here's some funny stuff I collected over the last while -- particularly enjoyed the last one:

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Sunday, June 14, 2020

Trump is unwell 

After yesterday's West Point debacle - the water glass, the inability to say "McArthur", the ramp, the tweet ABOUT the ramp - #TrumpIsUnwell is trending this morning on twitter. 
Along with all the jokes, there is this: Personally, I believe that Trump has a minor stroke last November - remember the fast and unscheduled "tour" of Walter Reed? - and he still has impairments on his right side. 
 On a lighter note, #ObamaDay is also trending twitter:

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Saturday, June 06, 2020

We are the world 

Saskatoon BLM
Its been quite a week, hasn't it? Even here in Saskatoon, the George Floyd rally on Thursday was attended by hundreds of people, all races and colours. 
And its been like this all around the world. Yes, we have seen Black Lives Matter and police abuse protests before, but this time it feels different. I am amazed that protests about the Floyd homicide have been continuing day after day, and that they have spread so far, so fast.
George Floyd protests break out around the world as anger grows ...  

PHOTOS: Thousands demand justice at global Black Lives Matter ...

So now I am wondering if our shared COVID-19 pandemic experience has changed us in ways we could not have predicted.
For the first time in history, all of the peoples of the world shared the same experience - a two-month shutdown that was virtually unique in our human experience. 
Yes, we were forced to be alone and isolated. We couldn't go out, we couldn't see our family and friends. But everyone around the world was, for the first time ever, dealing with the same emotions, the same fears, the same questions and concerns, the same depths of despair, the same glimmers of hope. 
After this experience, I think the peoples of the world understand each other in a more profound way than we ever did before. 
And perhaps this is why now millions of us are on the same side of these protests.  We get it.
People are standing up in solidarity for Black Lives Matter and against police brutality, in numbers I have never seen before  - generals are apologizing for ever working with Trump, sports leaders like Sydney Crosby are speaking up, Harry and Meghan are too, bike manufactures are suspending sales to police, corporations are making statements, even the NFL is apologizing for the way they treated Kaepernick.  
Wow. Its truly remarkable. This is the way the world changes.

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Sunday, May 31, 2020

Journalists under attack 

 
In his daily CNN newsletter, Brian Stelter gives a summary of some of the attacks made on journalists over the last few days in the George Lloyd protests across the US:

[there have been a] shocking number of cases of reporters being assaulted and arrested while covering the unrest. This wasn't just a stray rubber bullet here or there -- it seemed, to a lot of people, like targeting of journalists, by both police and in some cases by unruly protesters.

 

Bellingcat identified "at least 50 separate incidents where journalists have been attacked by law enforcement. In these examples journalists have been shot with rubber bullets, targeted with stun grenades, tear gassed, physically attacked, pepper sprayed and arrested."

 

 >> CBS' Michael George tweeted: "I've covered protests for 15 years across the US. This is the first time I’ve ever seen police actively and intentionally target the press with rubber bullets, tear gas, and arrests. Scenes reminiscent of China, Iran. We remain determined to show the country what’s happening here..."

 

 >> On Sunday morning I interviewed LA Times reporter Molly Hennessy-Fiske, who described the moment when Minneapolis police fired rubber bullets Saturday night: "We were shouting 'press' and I was waving my notebook at them. They just kept following us and firing at us..."

 

...

 

As Baltimore Sun media critic David Zurawik wrote in this column, "the question that remains is why we are seeing more physical attacks on the press than we did, say, in 2015 in the uprising in the wake of the death of Freddie Gray." Echoing what he said on CNN, Zurawik wrote, "There are a lot of reasons for the rise, but here's the one I think making the greatest difference: almost four years of the president of the United States demonizing the press, calling reporters 'enemies of the people' and 'scum,' and encouraging rallygoers at his events to intimidate them..."

I am wondering if some police are also blaming the media for what is happening, in a "shoot the messenger" reaction -- maybe they have the idea that they could beat people up any time they wanted, if it weren't for cell phone cameras and reporters publicizing it when they do.
The actual problem, of course, is that police are beating people up. 
And journalists keep on reporting it when it happens.


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Saturday, May 30, 2020

Take off, eh! 




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Monday, May 25, 2020

Say goodbye to choirs for a while 

When I grew up, of course we were all in the Children's Choir at church, and every school grade had its own choir every year to perform at the school Christmas concert. Its how I learned all my carols and Christmas songs
Of course its been years now since I was in a choir, but I do remember once, about 40 years ago, when I participated with hundreds of others in a Sing-Along Messiah at the McPherson Playhouse in Victoria --  what a great experience that was.
Now we are finding out that the recent COVID research says choirs are a prime mode of virus transmission:
It may be the single most famous outbreak in the U.S.: the Skagit County, Wash., choir practice.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention compiled the results of its contact tracing. The choir met every Tuesday evening until March 10. At that last meeting, 61 members were present and chairs were arranged close together in six rows of 20 with many empty chairs. They practiced for 40 minutes together, for 50 minutes separated into two smaller groups, and then for 45 minutes sang together again. There was a 15-minute break between the second and third session for oranges and cookies, but many didn’t eat.  No one reported physical contact between members and most everyone left immediately after practice. Hand sanitizer was distributed. But, in the end, 53 of the 61 contracted the coronavirus. Three were hospitalized, two died.
This seems to happen repeatedly. The Amsterdam Mixed Choir gave a performance March 8; 102 out of 130 singers tested positive. Fifty members of the Berlin Cathedral Choir tested positive as well.
I'll bet it has something to do with the act of singing - maybe the forceful expelling of breath from deep in the lungs spreads the virus droplets further. Who knows? 
Whatever the reason, I think singing together in public is likely not going to be happening anymore, not until a vaccine is available.
So I guess there are going to be no more Choir!Choir!Choir! experiences:


This may be the way choirs will sing together now:


Even the Mormon Tabernacle Choir did an online Sing-Along Messiah this Easter.
But for one last time, here's the real thing:


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Friday, May 22, 2020

Thinking about the future of Canadian food 

CNN has a big story tonight about the future of the US food supply - with more questions than answers:
“We don’t know what the food-service sector will look like,” said Jaime Chamberlain, a fresh-produce importer based in Nogales, Arizona. When the pandemic largely shut down the US in mid-March, “I lost about 96 percent of my food-service contracts from one day to the next. That is an incredible hit to my business.”
Now, Chamberlain asks, “Are people going to go back to cruise lines? Will they go to a restaurant that seats 100 people? Will that restaurant be able to operate with the same amount of seating? Maybe there’ll be no more conventions for 1,000 people… I think people are going to be very reluctant.”
Burkett, speaking by phone from his Mississippi farm, shares those and other worries, and not just on his own account.“As a farmer, the dilemma I’ve got right now, is we don’t have a market. I’ve got crops going to be there to harvest, and I don’t know if we’ll have someone to sell to or not.” In a few weeks, Burkett said he will have more than 120,000 ears of sweet corn to harvest — all meant to go to restaurants that may or may not need them. “My biggest fear is the fear of how long this is going to last. I have to decide now what I’m going to plant in the fall. I’ve got to order seeds, get the ground ready,” Burkett said. He’s decided, for example, to go ahead and plant seedless watermelons, so they’ll be ready to sell this fall to the New Orleans school system — and he’ll have to hope the schools are open.
Canada is going to be having similar problems, because nobody knows what is going to happen.
COVID19 has upended the world, and given Trump's mismanagement in America, which will bleed over into Canada too, we are going to be on our own for a long time, I think.
For us here in the west, the main issue I think is going to be food -- growing it, and importing it.  The food production and distribution and processing chains are in shambles and its going to get worse.
Yes, we are planting a garden this spring after years of not bothering. And yes, we have arranged for weekly vegetable deliveries from the local market garden. And yes, I am hoarding jars so I can freeze and can vegetables and fruit for the first time in a long time. And yes, we know a guy who knows a guy who can get us a side of beef the next time they are culling their herd.
But its not going to be enough.
Especially if the meat plants keep on having to close down because the virus is running rampant through their facilities.  Wait till it gets into the fish plants, and into the fruit and vegetable processing lines.
Has anybody yet figured out the safest ways to seed, fertilize, harvest, and process our Canadian crops this summer?  Will we also have to figure out how to get our Saskatchewan grain to flour mills in Ontario, and move BC apples to the food processors in Quebec, instead of following the usual north-south shipping lanes, selling our food south while eating food imported from the US? 
And hey, funny thing, hoocouldanoode? - but maybe it would have been a good thing to keep the Canadian Wheat Board around for just such an emergency, because the Canadian government could tell them what to do and they sorta had to do it - unlike the grain companies who will happily make a pile of money shipping all our grain production to China or wherever even if Canadians need the bread.
Our remaining other marketing boards might well turn out to be useful for the next few years, too - we will need the eggs, and the milk.
Basically, in the long term, I think Canada will have to get more self-sufficient, both in terms of what we produce, and how we sell it.  It won't be as "efficient" as the globalized food production and distribution system our food producers have spent the last 50 years developing. But at least in a Canada-focused national system, Canadians would be the first in line.
But its going to be a painful time while we sort it out.

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Saturday, May 16, 2020

#ObamaGreat 

Here are Obama's two addresses tonight to the HBCU and high school 2020 graduating classes. 
#ObamaGreat and #ObamaWasBetterAtEverything are now trending around the world. 
And here is what people think about the guy America has got instead:
The contrast is enough to break your heart.


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Tuesday, May 12, 2020

Lost years 

Well, I think we have all realized now there is not going to be any "normal" anymore. 
The hysterical "reopen, damn it!" marches across the continent were a cry of despair against the inevitable, but now I think the truth is sinking in.
There is going to be a new Depression across North America. 
Here's a thread about what we are facing:

Trump's mismanagement - his ignorance about testing, plus his inept and corrupt support programs --will result in successive waves of Covid outbreaks across the US all summer and fall, each one killing thousands more. Everyone will just try to stay home as much as possible, so the US economy will continue to decline. Meanwhile the US government will bankrupt itself as it fights a losing battle to try to shore up the stock markets, the only economic measure Trump thinks is important.
In nine months, Biden will take over, but by then it will be too late for the thousands of businesses and bars and restaurants that will go bankrupt by next fall, after a few miserable months of trying to reopen. The companies that survive will be the ones that continue to have their employees work from home. So the downtown office towers will be empty and the owners of commercial real estate will be going bankrupt too, not to mention everyone from window washers to the people who water office plants.  Farmers across the US will  be watching their restaurant markets disappear, and they won't be able to find immigrant workers to pick their crops. 
Canada's economy won't crash as badly, I don't think -- our more effective and better run federal support programs will cushion the blow a little better for us - but still, its not going to be pretty. The US border won't be reopening for a long time yet, and our biggest trading partner won't be buying nearly as much as they used to. Tourism will be a disaster, our oil and gas industries are in free fall, and we don't know who will be buying all our agricultural exports anymore either.
If we can avoid another Great Depression, we will be lucky, I think. 
Back in 1973, journalist Barry Broadfood published Ten Lost Years - he interviewed hundreds of people about their experiences during the Great Depression and put it all into a book, and for many Canadians, it was the first time we had ever really heard about what happened to ordinary people in Canada during the 1930s, that awful time.
I have been thinking about that book a lot lately.

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Sunday, May 10, 2020

Cast your bread upon the waters 

Ecclesiastes 11 1
Cast your bread upon the waters, for after many days you will find it again.
150 years ago, the Choctaw people collected what was then a grand sum of $170 to send to the people of Ireland, who were starving because of the Potato Famine.  CNN reports that the Choctaw understood starvation because they had experienced it themselves on the Trail of Tears.
Now Irish Times reporter Naomi O'Leary is returning the favour:

Half a million dollars has been raised in Ireland. This isn't the only time that Ireland and the American indigenous people have connected.
The act of kindness was never forgotten, and the solidarity between the Irish and Native Americans has continued over the years.
In 1992, 22 Irish men and women walked the Trail of Tears to raise money for famine relief efforts in Somalia, according to Bunbury. They raised $170,000 -- $1,000 for each dollar the Choctaw gave in 1847. A Choctaw citizen reciprocated by leading a famine walk in Ireland seven years later.
In 2017, the town of Midleton in Ireland unveiled a sculpture commemorating the Choctaw's 1847 gift. In 2018, Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar announced a scholarship program for Choctaw people to study in Ireland while he was visiting the tribal nation in Oklahoma.
The GoFundMe donations are just the latest example of the longstanding relationship. As one Irish donor on the fundraising page wrote:
"You helped us in our darkest hour. Honoured to return the kindness. Ireland remembers, with thanks."
It reminded me of the Nova Scotia Christmas Tree that is send each year to Boston in gratitude for the help that came from Boston after the Halifax explosion:

People will never forget those who helped when they needed it the most.

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Monday, May 04, 2020

Fiddling while America burns 

People in the United States are realizing that Trump and his administration have spent the last two months tweeting and twiddling their thumbs.
And why did they expect anything different?
Trump is utterly incompetent at everything, and the only people he hires are people who won't show him up. So of course he is clueless now and so is everyone else around him. 
If America survives this, it will be because of its governors, who are rapidly forming their own regional associations. But they don't have the authority to deficit spend so we are going to be stuck for the next 9 months watching the US economy implode, until Biden can take over. It isn't going to be pleasant.
Still, its a tricky go, isn't it?  I'm uncertain about our future is, too, but I do have some confidence that the Trudeau government and most of the provinces are on the same page. Though Saskatchewan is reporting new cases, the Maritimes are doing better.
Vox had a big article today comparing Canada and the US:

The American response has become infected by partisan politics and shot through with federal incompetence. Meanwhile, Canada’s policies have been efficiently implemented with support from leaders across the political spectrum. The comparison is a case study in how a dysfunctional political system can quite literally cost lives.
The Canadian approach has not been perfect. Its death rate is currently much higher than best-in-class performers like Germany and South Korea; Canadian officials have fallen down, in particular, when it comes to long-term senior care and the indigenous population. But given the interdependence between these two large neighboring economies, Canadians are not only vulnerable as a result of their own government’s choices but also because of their southern neighbors’ failures.
“The biggest public health threat to Canada right now is importing cases from the United States,” says Steven Hoffman, a political scientist who studies global health at York University.
Yes, its going to be a long time before that border reopens.
I am beginning to worry seriously about Canadian food supplies -- so much of our food is from vegetable and fruit growers in the US, and further south too, and these all depend on an established and predictable supply chain where crops get planted, harvested, processed and transported in an orderly progression.  Canada can produce its own flour and beef and apples, but not oranges. Or bananas.
"Let me tell you about the olden days, children.  Why, there used to be a time when we could get bananas any time we went to the store.  Any time at all!"

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Friday, May 01, 2020

Yes, its about time 

I was computerless for the last week+ so I didn't post, but here I am again.
And I am so glad that Trudeau is banning assault rifles in Canada. I agree with @Dred_Tory:
Here's some funny stuff to end the week:
And a little Jann Arden to finish things off:


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