Jun 292021
 

Temperatures like this just do not exist in Canada.

When you hear that the temperature was within a hair’s breadth of 50 degrees centigrade (well over 120 F) you’d think I am talking about a spot in the Sahara Desert. Or maybe the Australian Outback. Or Death Valley.

But no, this temperature was measured earlier today in Lytton, British Columbia, Canada.

It is surreal. Scary. And deadly: apparently, dozen’s of mostly older people succumbed to this heat wave in BC.

 Posted by at 10:33 pm
Jun 262021
 

Recently, it felt at times almost like a fad: Questioning the legacy of past celebrities, removing statues, renaming institutions.

Often, it seemed like these denounced heroes of the past are held to an impossible standard: Not living up to the changing values of the present.

I questioned the motivation: Was it true concern that we worship the wrong heroes, or just a cheap attempt at “virtue signaling”? I questioned the outcome: Exactly how does renaming a high school or removing a statue from a public park help an Indigenous community get safe drinking water, better jobs, better health care?

But more importantly, I questioned the wisdom of judging the past by the standards of the present. Standards that evolve and (thankfully!) improve, but which, for that very reason, would have been impossible for our past heroes to live up to, as those standards did not yet exist.

Faced with the discovery of the unmarked graves of many hundreds of Canadian children that is reopening the wounds of the despicable residential school system, I was wondering the same thing. Were these schools really the manifestations of evil? Or were they perhaps no different from other residential schools for the poor, for the children of immigrants, for other disadvantaged members of a society that, let’s face it, was quite bigoted by present-day standards?

But now I have my answer. What took place in those schools a century ago was not normal, not acceptable. It was criminal, even by the standards of early-1900s Canada. It’s just that nobody cared.

How do I know? From the accounts of someone who was in a unique position to critique the system: Peter Henderson Bryce, who at one point served as Canada’s Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Immigration.

For many years, Bryce studied the health of Canada’s Indigenous population, specifically the conditions at the residential schools. He was appalled by what he saw as an underfunded system of unsanitary, crowded facilities with shockingly high mortality rates. His report was suppressed and he was instead eventually pushed out of the Civil Service. Refusing to be silenced, he published his report himself.

The title says it all:

A National Crime

So there we have it. We are not misapplying our much improved, enlightened standards of 2021 to judge people and institutions that existed a century ago. What they did back then, how they treated the Indigenous population of Canada was A National Crime even by the standards of a contemporary member of the establishment, a dedicated civil servant who was already a teenager when the Dominion of Canada was established in 1867.

Dr. Peter Bryce, M. D., who passed away in 1932 at the age of 78, is buried not far from our home, right here in Ottawa, in the famed Beechwood Cemetery.

 Posted by at 7:56 pm
Jun 082021
 

I am reacting with horror to the killing of a Muslim family in London, Ontario, by a deranged lunatic who mowed them down with his vehicle.

Yumna Afzaal (15), Madiha Salman (44), Talat Afzaal (74) and Salman Afzaal (46).

What drives a man to massacre an entire family, including children, as they are waiting to cross the street at an intersection?

And how do we fix this?

It is very easy to ascribe the attack to racism or “white grievance” (his race was not publicized but one press image surfaced that shows him to be of European descent) and chances are, it would not be the wrong conclusion. But if we stop there, we have solved nothing. The problems will persist, more people will die, and our society will become more polarized over time.

That is not to suggest that I know how to solve this problem. But I know what not to do. This is best illustrated by a quote that is often wrongly attributed to Nelson Mandela (it actually comes from a human rights activist named Mohamad Safa):

Our world is not divided by race, color, gender or religion. Our world is divided into wise people and fools. And fools divide themselves by race, color, gender, or religion.

I agree with the sentiment, but I ask a question that, in my opinion, is really the key to it all: How do we convince wise people (or people who think of themselves as wise) not to divide us into wise people and fools?

 Posted by at 6:04 pm
Apr 282021
 

The CBC just published a very informative article on the history of vaccine manufacturing in Canada, explaining why this G7 country, one of the top industrialized nations on Earth, is entirely dependent on imports when it comes to COVID-19 vaccinations.

It really is disgraceful. Canada’s Connaught Labs, founded in 1914, was at the forefront of global vaccine production for many decades.

But then came the decline. Vaccine production is not always a profitable enterprise. Connaught Labs was eventually nationalized by Pierre Trudeau’s government but then, as far as I am concerned inexplicably, the emphasis for this now Crown corporation was to turn a profit!

Why???

Eventually, it was reprivatized by Mr. Mulroney, who promised that the action will bring “net benefits” to Canadians.

Yeah, right.

The federal government is now investing serious monies to expand capabilities for future pandemics. I can only hope that this lesson is not going to be forgotten anytime soon.

 Posted by at 11:34 am
Apr 042021
 

You know, I am beginning to sympathize with all those Trumpists, Fake News afficionados, anti-vaxxers, flat Earthers and the like.

The other day, I commented on a post concerning the 34 Ottawa area pharmacies that are designated as AstraZeneca vaccination sites by Doug Ford’s government.

I disagreed that this was a political decision, despite the fact that I didn’t vote for Mr. Ford, and that, in fact, I voted for the MPP in question who raised this issue in the first place. I suggested that we should leave such hyperpartisan politicking to our American friends. Last but not least, I was able to find some mapping data from StatCan and from a Twitter post (which I can no longer find — thanks for nothing, Facebook!) that, when overlaid, showed that the vaccination sites roughly correspond to the population density map of the Ottawa region.

Facebook, unfortunately, concluded that my post goes against their community guidelines as spam, despite the fact that (I swear!) I was not trying to sell any Russian brides, fake PPE, dubious cryptocurrency investment schemes, or steal anyone’s social insurance number.

None of it ever stopped Facebook from delivering Trumpist garbage, genuine Fake News, anti-vaxxer nonsense, even flat Earth propaganda to my account.

So dear Facebook… You played an instrumental part in turning America into a lunatic asylum, you played an instrumental part in helping the January 6 insurrection happen, you continue to play an instrumental part in radicalizing America and the world, you continue to let Putin’s trolls and China’s agents provocateurs own you, not to mention losing the personal data of more than 500 million of us… but you censor my post as spam because of your broken algorithms? Forgive the strong language but please, just fuck off.

I wonder if this blog post survives on Facebook or gets censored as well…

 Posted by at 8:15 pm
Mar 272021
 

Bald eagles have a fearsome reputation as predators of the sky. They also symbolize the great United States of America.

Canada geese? Not so fearsome. They are best known for pooping a lot. (If you ever walked through an Ottawa park after it was visited by a flock of geese, you know what I am talking about.)

Yet just like the country that they are named after, these geese are not so timid after all. Here is a recent series of images (and if you search online, you see that this by no means is an exception) captured by a PEI photographer of a Canada goose, fighting off a bald eagle:

Reader’s Digest version: The eagle remained hungry that day.

 Posted by at 12:03 am
Mar 062021
 

I just came across this painting on Twitter.

I find it poignantly beautiful. According to the description by the artist, Antony John, the cow in the painting is old, on her last pregnancy, as she stares outside at a late winter Southwestern Ontario landscape. The equipment in the room may appear scary but it is nothing sinister. It is used to help with difficult pregnancies; the artist also intended it as a metaphor representing the inexorable pull of time.

I fell in love with this painting the moment I saw it.

 Posted by at 5:20 pm
Feb 062021
 

In recent days, especially in light of the sudden drop in vaccine deliveries in Canada, I saw a lot of criticism aimed at the Canadian government and its perceived failure to secure vaccine supplies or vaccine manufacturing in Canada.

Reality is a little bit more nuanced. Manufacturing a 21st century vaccine is not exactly something that can be done anywhere. The fact that Canada doesn’t presently have the expertise or infrastructure is lamentable but that’s the result of a decades-long trend, not the decisions of the past several months.

Meanwhile in Hungary, Orban’s government is criticized for telling people that they will be vaccinated with whichever vaccine is available at the time; if you don’t like the vaccine being offered, you’re sent to the back of the line. A bit harsh, to be sure, but this is a bleeping global health emergency. Orban’s government may be criticized for acting in haste when they approved the Chinese and Russian vaccines (although the Russian vaccine seems effective; the Chinese vaccine is probably also fine, what is questionable is the ethical shortcuts they took with the testing and approval process). But acting in an authoritarian fashion when there is a global health emergency is precisely what even the most liberal, most democratic governments are expected to do. Orban can, and should, be criticized for undermining the country’s democratic institutions, its press freedoms, its judicial independence, its constitutional principles, but not for acting decisively when decisive action is needed during a pandemic.

 Posted by at 6:29 pm
Oct 312020
 

Would you like me to scare you into offering me some Halloween candy?

Here are some plots from the spreadsheet that I’ve been using to keep track of COVID-19 numbers since the spring.

I am tracking global figures, numbers in the US, Canada, the province of Ontario and my city Ottawa, as well as the country of my birth (and where our elderly parents live), Hungary.

The number of cases needs no explanation. The trends are not good. Hungary, in particular, appears to be a representative case of Europe in general, where the numbers began skyrocketing in recent weeks, per capita figures far exceeding those in Trump’s America. (So perhaps it’s not politics, after all.)

The daily growth rates are also alarming. The only place with a downward trend is Ottawa. Everywhere else, the growth rate is increasing. A constant growth rate in this chart would correspond to an exponential rise in the total number of cases; an increasing growth rate implies super-exponential behavior.

This is also reflected in the doubling rate. In this chart, the higher the number, the better; a high number of days means that the spread is slow. Again, with the exception of Ottawa, the numbers are trending downward (which is bad), or at best, are perhaps stagnating (in Canada and Ontario). And look at Hungary again! According to the latest data, the number of cases there doubles every 16-17 days or so, which is frightening.

These charts show seven-day averages. Again, the usual disclaimers apply. Country-to-country comparisons need to be made with care, due to differences in testing and reporting regimes. But the trends are another matter.

 Posted by at 1:14 pm
Oct 302020
 

The latest figures from the United States are scarier than ever. It appears Dr. Fauci was right when he predicted that the daily number of new cases will reach 100,000; according to the World-o-meter data that I’ve been following, there have been 101,461 new cases in the US today.

Does this mean that the United States officially qualifies as a “shithole country” with regards to how it manages the pandemic?

Not so fast.

Per capita, these figures mean 306 new cases per million people in the past 24 hours.

But look. Here’s my country of birth, Hungary. They were doing well until they weren’t. In the past 24 hours, they produced 3,286 infections. For a country with only 9.65 million people, that’s a lot. So much, in fact, that at 340 cases per million people, they are actually ahead of the United States. (What a relief: America is not number one.)

And wait! Before you jump to the conclusion that Mr. Orban’s illiberal populism is to blame, look at France. In the past 24 hours, they produced a staggering 49,215 new infections. Granted, that’s less than half the number of new cases in the US. But they only have less than one fifth the population! So per capita, their figures translate into a truly whopping 754 new cases per million people.

So perhaps it’s not politics, after all.

None of that excuses Mr. Trump as he mocks experts and holds “super spreader” campaign events. Perhaps 306 is less than 340 or 754, but it is still a lot of people. And as a result, around a thousand Americans die every day who could otherwise have lived. Clearly, the country could do a better job.

Canada, too. Perhaps our statistics look better than American statistics, but there is no room for complacency. This second wave is hitting us hard, much harder than the spring outbreak, and there is no sign of it ending anytime soon. On the national level, the rate of new infections is below 100 per million people, but it’s much higher in hotspots. Today’s breaking news: The province of Manitoba registered 350 cases per million, exceeding the US average.

A vaccine may or may not be coming soon. Even if it does, it will likely be imperfect, offering limited immunity. And it will take months for a mass vaccination program to reach the requisite level for vaccine-induced “herd immunity”. Long story short, the end is not yet in sight. This is likely going to get worse, perhaps a lot worse, before it gets better.

But it’s not politics, people. Wear those damn masks. Wash your hands. Keep away from other people. Resist the temptation to visit grandma on her birthday or hold a large Christmas family dinner. For crying out loud, this is not some backdoor to communism. You are not a lesser human, a less manly man if you wear a mask and keep your “social distance”. This is centuries-old science, which is how human society was able to cope with past epidemics. Ignore it and you may be directly responsible for infecting, perhaps crippling, even killing your loved ones.

 Posted by at 9:55 pm
Sep 242020
 

Reading about Trump’s refusal to commit to the peaceful transfer of power, I suddenly felt the urge to read up on the history of our Canadian provinces during the US Civil War.

As it turns out, Canadian provinces did well economically. And some of Canada’s enduring institutions, seemingly undemocratic yet serving as effective guarantees of political stability and safeguards against excessive partisanship, such as the appointed Senate, were born in the wake of the lessons of that conflict.

Even so, I worry about the future. US elections this November will be unlike any other in living memory, I fear.

 Posted by at 2:06 am
Sep 102020
 

We live in a blessed country. That doesn’t mean that it is a flawless country, not by any means. And we also have occasional cases of political corruption, such as when a leading politician uses his position for partisan advantage.

But…

Here is this news item from The Globe and Mail‘s evening e-mail newsletter that caught my attention:

Morneau breached election laws by using ministerial role to promote Liberal candidates, watchdog says

Commissioner of Canada Elections Yves Côté has found former finance minister Bill Morneau violated federal election laws ahead of the 2019 election by using his government role to promote Liberal candidates.

The decision points to two examples in which Morneau visited Ontario ridings in his capacity as Minister of Finance, but used each visit to promote the local Liberal candidate.

The report determined that the “known quantifiable costs” associated with these events have a commercial value of $1,661. That amount has since been paid back to the government.

So here we have, ladies and gentlemen, a national political scandal, Canada style: it cost Canadian taxpayers the princely sum of $1,661, which has since been paid back to the government.

No, there is no need to remind me that there other, (much) bigger scandals afoot, WE charity and other things, but I still find it encouraging that an ethics lapse amounting to $1,661 is sufficient to rise to the level of national scandal in this country. It reflects a certain degree of innocence that, I hope, will remain a characteristic of Canada for many years to come.

 Posted by at 5:41 pm
Jul 112020
 

Today’s editorial cartoon in the Toronto Star perfectly captures how many Canadians, myself included, feel about the Canada-US border:

What can I say. Things are not looking good in Trumpia. In fact, things are looking so bad that after months of denial, even the narcissist-in-chief decided to wear a bleeping mask today while visiting a hospital.

I have been trying to remember why the American attitudes towards COVID-19 felt vaguely but strangely familiar. It just hit me. It was the 1970s oil crisis, and the general attitude by leaders in the former Soviet Bloc. This was a crisis of the decadent capitalist West, they told us. The pandemic of fuel shortages, mile long lines at gas stations, high energy prices would not reach us, they told us. Well… they were wrong. Just like those Americans who refuse to wear masks, who refuse to take precautions, who refuse to accept the need to shut down nonessential businesses, because, you know, it’s just like a bad case of the flu…

 Posted by at 11:49 pm
Jul 082020
 

I grew up in a country with closed borders. I despise closed borders. I find the right to travel, unimpeded, almost as fundamental as the right to breathe.

Yet… For the time being, I support fully the closure of the US-Canada border. As a matter of fact, I wish it was kept even more tightly closed.

Here is why.

What Americans are doing to themselves is unfathomable. That they have an narcissist idiot, an incompetent imbecile running the White House is one thing. But all the other idiots, from state governors to individual citizens, who ignore the threat, cheer as their nation abandons the World Health Organization, even condemn their immunocompromised children to death?

When you live next to a lunatic asylum, you do want to keep your front door under lock and key.

 Posted by at 1:48 am
Jun 252020
 

Here are the number of new confirmed COVID-19 cases per day, here in the province of Ontario:

In the whole of Canada:

In the great United States:

And in the entire world:

The plots tell the story. I don’t think that there is anything that I can add.

 Posted by at 10:26 pm
Apr 132020
 

I haven’t blogged in two weeks. In my excuse, I was rather busy. The good kind of busy, that is, busy with paying work, busy with scientific research, not busy with illness or anything on that front.

Anyhow, even though I haven’t blogged, I’ve been keeping track of the numbers. And for the past few days, a ray of hope began to emerge.

To make a long story short, there are significant signs that mitigation measures are working. Here, this chart shows the doubling rate of COVID-19 infections worldwide:

Infection rates doubled every 5-6 days back in late March; now, the doubling rate is over 15 days and rapidly rising.

Perhaps the world data are manipulated. But then, here is the doubling rate for Canada. The data are much more noisy (the population is much smaller, so this is to be expected) but the similar trend is unmistakable:

But there is another sign that things just might be working. I’ve been following US data in more detail, and lately, the simple SIR model’s predictions began to match the data rather well. If the model is to be believed, we may not be out of the woods quite yet, but we may be surprisingly close:

What a difference a few weeks make: Back in late March, the same model predicted catastrophic numbers. Now, it seems to tell us that we are mere weeks away from life gradually beginning to return to normal.

I dare not believe it just yet, but it is a ray of hope.

 Posted by at 5:14 pm
Mar 292020
 

While I applaud the fact that there are very few partisan voices in Canada, and that governments at all levels constructively cooperate with each other, I cannot help but wonder if the measures taken are sufficient to fight this demon of a virus, COVID-19.

Take these two notifications that I received on my phone from the Radio Canada app yesterday:

  • 11:23 AM: À compter de lundi midi, les Canadiens ayant des symptômes de la COVID-19 ne pourront plus prendre des vols intérieurs ou le train
  • 11:38 AM: Justin Trudeau affirme qu’Ottawa n’envisage pas de fermer les frontières interprovinciales

My question is… why exactly do we still have non-essential travel within Canada? And why exactly are the interprovincial borders still open?

This virus will not be beaten with half-measures. If we are not able to bring down the infection rate, soon an extremely large number of people will become simultaneously sick, completely overwhelming the intensive care capacity of our health care system. Which means that a great many people who could survive with adequate medical care will die.

SIR model prediction based on US data as of March 28, 2020.

See this simple simulation of the US situation that I put together, using the simplest epidemiological model. If its predictions come true, at one point in late April more than 20% of America’s population will be sick. If 5-10% of these patients require intensive care, that is up to 6 million people or more, only a small fraction of which will receive the care that they will need to stay alive. The rest will die. The same thing can happen here in Canada if we don’t take the necessary measures.

 Posted by at 12:45 pm
Mar 172020
 

A Trumpist friend of mine (yes, I have Trump-supporting friends; I refuse to let politicians, left or right, to make me distrust my neighbor just because our political opinions differ) made a disparaging comment about Justin Trudeau, calling him xenophobic on account of Canada shutting its borders to foreigners.

No, my friend, that is not xenophobic. If you want to know why I call the American president a xenophobic asshole (again, forgive my language, dear readers, but I am done being nice to that boneheaded moron), here is a perfect example:

Yes, this is a tweet by a xenophobic schmuck.

 Posted by at 9:29 am
Mar 142020
 

Businesses appear to be somewhat freaked out by the COVID-19 pandemic. The good news is that many of these businesses choose to act responsibly, in the public interest, as opposed to trying to turn a global health crisis into short-term profiteering.

Several newspapers and magazines made their COVID-19 coverage accessible even for non-subscribers. In Canada, CBC Newsworld is now carried for free by several cable providers. One of the largest GIS software firms, ESRI, is making tools available for free online.

Even smaller firms follow suit. There is StarNet, makers of X-Win32 and FastX, popular software packages that can be used to access UNIX/Linux servers remotely from Windows workstations. They, too, are now offering free 6-month FastX licenses to anyone, to help facilitate work-from-home arrangements. I have liked this company ever since I first became familiar with their products back in the 1990s; now I like them even more (hence my decision to use their product logo to illustrate this post.)These steps, taken by businesses large and small, give me hope, even as I watch that compulsive liar of an infantile US president who cannot even get his story straight and his opposition who think that the impact of the COVID-19 crisis on Trump’s presidency is more important than the number of people the pandemic kills; or as I watch Canadian opposition politicians (looking at your Twitter feed, Andrew Scheer!) who use even COVID-19 as a cheap excuse for Trudeau-bashing. Can you please put this partisan shit aside, follow the lead of the aforementioned businesses, and start acting like, you know, grown-ups?

 Posted by at 11:24 pm
Jan 012020
 

A year ago today, I was looking forward to 2019 with skepticism. I expressed concern about a number of things. Not everything unfolded according to my expectations, and that’s good news. What can I say, I hope 2020 will continue the trend of defying pessimistic predictions.

  • The political crisis in the United States continues to simmer with Trump’s impeachment, but it remains less dramatic than I feared;
  • NATO and the EU remain intact for now, though unresolved issues remain;
  • An orderly Brexit is now possible with Johnson’s election victory; I still think the Brits are shooting themselves in the foot with this idiocy, but an orderly Brexit may be the best possible outcome at this point;
  • Sliding towards authoritarianism in places like Hungary and Poland remains a grave concern, but there is also pushback;
  • Russia continues to muck up things in untoward ways, but there was no significant (e.g., military) escalation;
  • China is ramping up its campaign against the Uyghurs with an ever widening system of concentration camps but there was no significant escalation with respect to their neighbors;
  • Japan, sadly, resumed whaling, but so far I believe the impact is minimal;
  • Brazil continues to wreak havoc in the rain forest, but there is pushback here as well;
  • Lastly, Canada did have elections, but populism was crushed (for now at least) with the defeat of Maxime Bernier’s People’s Party.

And now here we are, entering the roaring twenties! A decade that will bring things like Prohibition and organized crime in the United States, institutionalized antisemitism in Hungary, the rise of fascism in Italy, the Great Depression… no, wait, that was a century ago. Here’s to hoping that humanity got a little wiser in the past 100 years.

Speaking of that century, my wife’s Mom and mine can now both tell us that they lived in every decade of a century, having been born in the 30’s and now living in the 20’s.

 Posted by at 12:33 pm