Tag Archive: pandemic

Wednesday night.

Suddenly closer to the weekend, for what it’s worth. (Spoiler alert: not a whole lot, really.)

I think my brain is officially digesting itself. I had the strangest dream… One of my stocks went up by 500% and I was running first through my old high school (rural Nevada) gym, then through the streets of New York, clutching my laptop and trying to find a wifi connection to log on and sell the stock. (One time, in real life, I really did lug my laptop around New York – my cellphone provider was too shoddy.) Then I was in a classroom with my old Russian classmates, but all the desks were American-style. We were staring at a blank wall. And then I realized the stock’s fundamentals wouldn’t have supported such a jump in price – and only then realized I was in a dream. So, yeah… My dreamscape is desperate for new experiences, so it’s just stringing along whatever it has handy in ye olde memory archive. Who knows, if I keep up this whole “normal amount of sleep” thing, I might actually learn lucid dreaming.

I’m devolving to the point of just wearing my bathrobe around my studio. When it’s time for a daily webcam call with my warehouse, I just put on a sweater on top and look extra official. Heh. I stopped putting product in my increasingly long hair a month or so ago: now I just put on a cap when it’s webcam time. Going a little bit feral, but I’m sure it’s not just me, eh.

My Internet addiction is becoming a superpower of sorts. While browsing Reddit, I found a very small post promoting an upcoming covid vaccine trial here in Canada. I literally had to go two layers deep to find a guy who gave me two email addresses: one of them replied right away and said he’d put me in touch with their local person here in Toronto. Their site doesn’t mention this particular clinical trial – a bit odd, but really, I’ll take what I can get at this point. A friend of mine in Omaha, Nebraska said that there are about 10 different vaccine trials happening at the same time there. Go figure. (I’m still quite sure I won’t be able to return to Canada if I fly to the US until I get my permanent residency. Best not to risk it.)

A cranberry radler seemed like a good idea when I bought it, and I’ll admit that the taste was quite novel, but that was the first time in almost 14 years that I had to pour my drink down the drain. (Tragic, I know.) The first time was right after my 21st birthday, when I decided to buy my first legal beer at the local store. I was a cheap bastard, so I went with the cheapest beer they had: Pabst Blue Ribbon. That was a huge mistake, and most of that 12-pack went unconsumed. Live and learn, I guess.

More Counter-Strike gaming… I’ve finally discovered my favourite mode and levels (Deathmatch Elimination) that are essentially a non-stop digital Valhalla. You don’t even have to wait for your team to win the round: you just run around, shoot people, and respawn right away as soon as someone else gets you. Dumb but fun, and those 10-minute matches really make the hours fly by. This is just like all the times in the past when I had nothing much going on and wanted to fast-forward through life…

Last night, I joined an online expat community and shared my big idea about contacting US officials about vaccinating expats. The reception was very mixed, to put it mildly. They did convey to me the idea that traditionally, US consulates don’t do much for expats. I guess I’ve still got a ways to go with my cynicism. (Presumably, the same consulate employees who replied to my email yesterday would get vaccinated somehow – but not their compatriots. Ho hum.) On the upside, I did some reading, and that community is filled with fascinating discussions about the peculiar difficulties of being an expat, trying to fit in, and living in multiple countries. I look forward to a very early and dirt-cheap retirement sometime in the near future, and I aspire to become a world traveler at long last, spending a month or two here and there. That community is full of people who already do that. They’re way ahead of me, and their perspectives are fascinating. That’s essentially applied anthropology, distilled to its purest form.

In covid news, a few days ago I wrote about the trivia pub outbreak in British Columbia. I was a bit off: it led to 300 covid exposures, not 300 cases. This infographic sums it up nicely: apparently, all of that happened because just one person at the pub had covid. Yeesh.

Here in Ontario, things are getting pretty funny, in that absurd sort of way. Now that the AstraZeneca vaccine has been approved, Canada will get several hundred thousand doses. (They supposedly arrived earlier today.) Ontario will get over 100,000 doses, but there are two caveats: they shouldn’t be given to folks over 65 (the efficiency in that age group is dubious), and they’ll expire on April 2. That means Ontario will have to scramble to find 100,000 young and middle-aged people and use up all those doses in less than a month. It’s quite telling that the top comment on social media is “Please don’t fuck this up. Please don’t fuck this up.” Heh. I think it’s quite likely that in order to avoid a PR disaster, they will just make it a free-for-all, especially toward the very end of their timeline, in late March or on April 1. That should be interesting. There’s the outside chance that they’ll a) fail to distribute the doses in time and b) have to throw them away, but that might set off actual riots on the streets of Toronto.

And lastly, NACI (National Advisory Committee on Immunization) has gone full YOLO with their official rationale for extending the gap between vaccine shots from three weeks to four months. (Or maybe longer, depending on how terrible the supply issues get.) They admit that the one-shot vaccination campaign is solely to cover as many people as possible. They also admit that “The duration of protection from one or two doses of COVID-19 vaccines is currently unknown.” Some prominent scientists on social media have already called them out for these risky lapses of logic…

If you’re reading this in the future, you probably already know how the four-month-gap approach played out: whether it worked fine or became an unmitigated disaster. Here and now, no one is really sure. We’re witnessing the scientific process – and, to be fair, a giant gamble – in real time, and it’s a hot mess. Should something go wrong, anti-vaxxers will gladly use that as a talking point forevermore. We’ll see. Here is hoping that vaccine trial reaches out to me, eh?

Good night, y’all. Stay safe.

Tuesday night.

This is the kind of busy, work-jammed week where you have to stop and check to see what day this is. It is, in fact, Tuesday.

…it will never cease to amaze me that if you want to buy a six-pack of cider after a particularly stressful day here in Canada, you have to get to the nearest government-run alcohol distribution centre (closed at night and on holidays) instead of, say, just walking up to the nearest convenience store. Heh.

I might have discovered a fun new hobby. Last night, I saw someone on social media mention a US consulate, and it hit me. I’m a US citizen, I still pay my US taxes, so maybe the consulate can help me, right? (Spoiler alert: wrong.) The good news is that they replied to my email (“covid-19 vaccinations for US citizens in Toronto?”) in record time: I emailed them at night and got the reply at 8am. The bad news is that they told me to get lost. Officially, what they told me was “The United States Government does not plan to provide COVID-19 vaccinations to private U.S. citizens overseas. Please follow Canadian developments and guidelines for COVID-19 vaccination.” Unofficially, they may as well have told me to stop bothering them.

According to this federal report, as of 2018 there were over 860,000 Americans living in Canada. That’s more than the population of Wyoming. And because America is such an odd animal, all American expats must pay US taxes forevermore unless they surrender their citizenship. Can you imagine the sheer outrage if the White House told Wyoming that it wouldn’t get any vaccines? Yeah, me neither.

So, righteously pissed off and all, I decided to do something I’ve never, ever done before: contact my elected representatives. I sent out requests for help to my congresswoman, to both of my senators (I still pay property taxes on my condo near Seattle, damn it), and tweeted at the US embassy in Canada. (The US is currently in between ambassadors.) The embassy itself doesn’t stay open 24/7, apparently, so I’ll call them again tomorrow. I really, really don’t want to turn into a male version of Karen (albeit one with a poli-sci degree), but I’m not proud, and I’ll take any option I can think of when the main stratagem fails. And once those options fail, I’ll think of some more. To be fair, I think there’s a low chance of this working out – but this chance is greater than zero. I don’t want to have to wait until September to get my first dose, followed by four more months for the second dose in goddamn January – and that’s assuming their logistical desperation doesn’t spawn any more brilliant ideas. I can just imagine them trying to keep a straight face while telling the cameras that actually, one year between two shots is the optimal way to go.

Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe I’m overreacting. Maybe Canada will get it together and get everyone vaccinated by June, just barely behind the US. So far, though, there hasn’t been a single logistical success. All the current official timelines say either September or “don’t you worry your pretty little head about that” when folks ask general Hillier when Ontarians under 60 might get vaccinated. I’m tired of complacency.

In covid news, a fun two-fer development from the US. First, Dr Fauci very politely said that there’s no way the US is jumping aboard the crazy train with the four-month vaccine gap suggestion. He politely but strongly rebuked that suggestion and said, “What we have right now, and what we must go with, is the scientific data that we’ve accumulated. And it’s really solid.” Meanwhile, Biden announced that the US would have enough Covid-19 vaccine doses for every adult American by the end of May. (That’s just the supply, though. It’ll take longer to distribute them.) He also said that Merck would help manufacture Johnson&Johnson’s vaccine to help make as many doses as possible. I don’t know much about pharmaceutical companies, but that sounds like a very rare kind of partnership. Good for them, eh.

And almost forgot – Texas keeps fighting Florida for the title of the stupidest state in the union. Texas governor Greg Abbott signed an executive order that would do away with masks entirely (can’t penalize anti-maskers, so it’s basically free for all) and would open up all businesses. The sole tiny concession to sanity is that local authorities can still limit business capacity if their county has a lot of covid hospitalizations, but even then they can’t limit a business’s capacity by more than 50%. This is madness. All of this is because Texas has managed to vaccinate 20% of its population. A karaoke bar that’s half-full can still generate new covid clusters. People will almost certainly die because of this, because he couldn’t wait just a couple more months. Abbott’s reelection will be next November, which is no time at all in political terms. Does he really think people will remember his so-called leadership positively? Hell, maybe he’s right. Maybe they’ll only remember that he let them out to party months ahead of schedule (woo, spring break!) while also ignoring the fact that their grandma died two weeks later.

Stay safe and out of Texas, y’all, eh?

Monday night.

Well, this was exciting. Today’s 90-minute orientation call with the local search&rescue group was probably the first even since August that really broke up the monotony of my new Groundhog-Day-like existence. They had my full and undivided attention, eh. Their team is small (just ~60 rescuers) and scrappy, and does only 8-12 missions per year. That’s quite different from my old crew in Seattle, who had over 600 members and did hundreds of missions per year. Still, that’s a great way to meet likeminded cool people – and I love their occasional missions to hard-hit foreign countries like Haiti or Cambodia (or Florida) to help with disaster relief.

One major downside: I’d have to become a permanent resident to actually join them. The same PR process that was supposed to come to fruition about a month ago. I can still sign up and hope the magic piece of paper makes its way through the bureaucratic maze by late May, but if it doesn’t… Well, I’d have to wait another year to join this quaint little band of badasses, but more importantly, that’ll be quite a blow to my big plan for this year. The only way to win is to keep playing, to wait until the very end of May, and then drop out if I don’t have my residency – but that’d also result in maximum disappointment. The only way is forward, I suppose.

Today is the first of March. Folks online are posting memes congratulating each other on the one-year anniversary of the two-week lockdown. Heh. Bitter humour is just about all folks got left these days.

In covid news… Damn it all to hell. There’s a lot of US/Canada news, and none of it is good. To start with, first British Columbia and then Ontario said they’ll increase the delay between the two shots of mRNA vaccines not just by weeks, but by months. Their new best bad idea is to make the gap four months long. Four goddamn months… The craziest part is that there is no clinical data to show that the first shot’s immunity stays high and strong for months. The only peer-reviewed paper I found was this one: it acknowledges there’s no hard data, but says that to vaccinate the most number of people, the gap should be increased to five weeks. Everyone is citing this paper without reading it as they argue for a gap that would be 12 weeks longer than that. Ye gods.

I’m not the only person that dislikes this proposal. Mona Nemer, Canada’s chief science adviser, reacted with “WTF? WTAF?!” Of course, she put it far more politely: “I think that it’s possible to do it. But it amounts right now to a basically population level experiment. And I think it needs to be done as we expect clinical trials to be carried out.” In other words, no bueno. One shot is better than no shots at all, but when there are pictures of happy-go-lucky Americans getting both shots three weeks apart at drivethrough centers… Technically, Trudeau’s promise that every Canadian would be able to get vaccinated by September would also work if they finished vaccinating you in January 2022. Heh. I don’t yet know how or when, but at some point this year I’ll engage in vaccine tourism to the US – or to any foreign country that has enough for its own people and would give the rest to tourists. I’ve given up a year of my life: even if I give four more months after the first shot (whenever that may be), there’ll be no guarantee it’d be as efficient as two shots three weeks apart. Getting a less-than-perfect result based on wishful thinking and zero clinical data is not my end goal.

One caveat, as always: there’s a chance Canada won’t let me in without my PR. The rules seem a bit ambiguous on whether you can fly back with mere work permit, and Canada is where I keep all my stuff… So much hinges on so little.

The Biden administration said neither Mexico nor Canada will get any vaccines until more Americans are vaccinated. Just as I figured. The really shady part of this, ethically speaking, is that the US also prohibits private companies from fulfilling previously placed orders: not a single dose is leaving the country. I wonder how much that’ll affect the US-Canadian relations in the future, or if people will even remember that far back. (If/when the US decides to start sharing, that might erase all the old memories.) And Canada’s Canada’s National Advisory Committee on Immunization (NACI) is not recommending the AstraZeneca vaccine to folks over 65, citing insufficient data. It’ll be up to the provinces what to do with it, but this is another complication.

In non-US/Canadian news, there’s a bit of a scandal. Frontier Airlines Miami-NYC flight got cancelled because a group of passengers (who happened to be Hasidic Jews) allegedly refused to put on masks. The airline claims that was multiple adults. The adults in question claim it was just a few little children. There are no videos of the actual incident – only of the aftermath. Unless there’s a video recording from the plane’s cameras (and I don’t think those exist), this will turn into a very ugly he-said-she-said incident. The Anti-Defamation league is already calling for an investigation. This probably won’t be the last incident of its kind…

Good night, y’all. Save a couple vaccines for me, would ya?

Plague diaries, Day 351

Sunday night.

I have achieved either peak efficiency or peak laziness. (It can be really hard to tell them apart.) Instead of driving to the grocery store two miles away, I’ve decided to start driving to the store that’s literally three blocks away. It keeps the car battery mildly active, and there’s less risk of getting hit in the crazy Toronto traffic. Besides, there’s only so much food I can carry myself, eh. Ahhh, the adventurous quarantine life…

I’ve dipped into my emergency video game reserves and reinstalled CS:GO (Counter Strike: Global Offensive.) This game was released in 2000, and it’s changed a fair bit since I last played it three years ago. It features the perpetually fighting groups of terrorists and counter-terrorists: there’s essentially zero backstory, no chance to sit down and talk it out, and if you get killed, you’ll just respawn to try again next round. It’s a modern-day Valhalla simulator, just without any feasting or drinking. (You can kill chickens if you’re so inclined.) I remember playing that game in Russian cyber-cafes as a 14-year-old teen… It’s been 20 years now. So much has changed, so much has stayed the same. I wonder if I’ll still dip my toes into those highly addictive CS:GO waters in 2041, in 2061, in 2081… How different will the world be then? Either way, this game alone should help fill many weeks: it was designed to be engaging and addicting, and the occasional headset chatter of fellow players is a nice, if tiny, connection to humanity.

My favourite astronomer, Dr. Katie Mack, has replied to one of my tweets and retweeted me. Today has been worthwhile. (Well, that, and an investing-related post I made on Reddit got so many virtual awards that it’s basically a Christmas tree now. Yay social media.

In covid news, a lot of press has been about western Europe and North America, with very little coverage for other countries. That seems to be changing somewhat. This report on Tanzania paints a disturbing picture: they haven’t published covid statistics since May, there’s no testing, and their president (John Magufuli, who just won a sketchy reelection) claims the vaccines are dangerous and that prayer can cure covid. There’s much more to dig into there, but purely anecdotally, there sure is a lot of pneumonia deaths in Tanzania… Situations like this one are really skewing Africa’s true covid death toll. Earlier in the pandemic, it was a bit of a mystery why covid largely avoided African countries. Now we know it was most likely just severe under-reporting.

And meanwhile, there’s an unfolding disaster in the Czech Republic, where the covid death rate is among the highest in the world. It looks like their government followed the US closely (intentionally or otherwise): there was no mask mandate, businesses were reopened prematurely, and reactive rather than proactive measures. Their hospitals are overflowing now, and things don’t look that great. I’m not posting these things as some sort of macabre death porn: I’m doing this because it’s important to remember that even as some countries are vaccinating millions of people and aiming to end their pandemic by the end of the year, many others are still struggling to survive and don’t have much to look forward to…

Here is to a whole new month, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 350

Saturday night.

Take a wild guess what I did all day today. If you guessed “gaming, some reading, some Tim Hortons, and social media” – congrats, you guessed correctly! Ye gods, the boredom… I think it’s a lot worse because the people I used to know in real life are getting their vaccine shots in the US – their ticket to freedom. Knowing that something is just there, almost within reach, and that I’ll still have to wait who knows how long… Argh. I might have been happier if I were just sealed in a shipping container (with all the same amenities) but without any Internet access or news, right until a masked medic gave me my shots months later.

It’s a bit like the aftermath of my spontaneous 600-mile roadtrip in October when I delivered a customer’s treadmill from Ottawa to Toronto. I’d been just fine staying solo, but that single day-long adventure, meeting new people, driving for 10 hours – all of that made me stir-crazy in the aftermath. (Right up to the point of almost enrolling in the University of Toronto for fall 2021 because I heard a particularly amazing podcast on CRISPR and the advances in gene editing. Heh.) This is quite similar, only much, much worse.

One minor upside: my first intro call with the local search and rescue group (OVERT) will be in less than 48 hours. Finally, some minor sign of progress: it’ll take a while for the orientation courses to start, but it’ll be something to look forward to. Something to differentiate all these monotone weeks.

Warren Buffett has released his annual letter to Berkshire-Hathaway shareholders earlier today. He’s 90 years old, and his right-hand man, Charlie Munger, is 97. A lot of their Berkshire investments are being managed by their apprentices these days (Buffett never would’ve invested in Apple on his own), but the two still have a wealth of experience. Should be a fun read: if anyone can provide optimistic commentary on the dumpster-fire that was 2020, it’ll be Buffett.

In covid news, the US has set a new daily record for mass vaccinations: 2.4 million Americans got their vaccines in one day. Woooo, go US! On this side of the border, a pub trivia night on February 2nd in British Columbia led to a cluster of 24 cases among the attendees. They ended up infecting those around them (daycare, school, families, work, etc), and now there are 300 cases linked to that single pub night. A game to die for, eh?.. There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on between the province (which allowed bars to reopen), the pub’s owners, those who are outraged at the selfish trivia enthusiasts… There are no good guys here. As always, I hope everyone makes a full and speedy recovery. But if this super-cluster causes even a single death, I hope the pub’s owners and the trivia fans who should have known the risk will live with that guilt. Then again, there’s always the chance that they’re so self-absorbed and arrogant that they’ll just brush it off.

We’re in a strange twilight zone where vaccines are almost here, so tantalizingly close, yet people are still making dumb life choices which create new covid clusters, causing entirely preventable and avoidable misery in their communities. Every covid death is tragic, but those that happened with the vaccines just around the corner somehow feel even more tragic than the rest.

And just to end this on a good note, the FDA has officially approved the Johnson&Johnson vaccine, though it was only a matter of time after their announcement earlier this week. The US government plans to distribute 4 million doses across the country next week, with more to come. I’m blown away by the sheer scale of this rollout. The sooner our yankee neighbours recover, the sooner Canada will be able to piggyback, eh.

Enjoy the second half of your weekend, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 349

Friday evening.

At work today, my department tried to do something different. Since meeting up in person for a long monthly munch is not an option in this here pandemic, they sent each of us an Uber Eats giftcard instead. We munched on our delivered food in front of webcams and spent an hour talking about absolutely nothing. That was fun. I don’t generally use food delivery service because of bad experiences in the past and because that’s unnecessary up-close contact with another human being, but hey – free food is free food, and I needed a little pick-me-up after this week. I ordered pad thai from a random local restaurant, and made sure to tip both the establishment and the bicycle courier guy. That was the first restaurant-cooked meal I’ve had in almost a year… The delivery was late, the food was lukewarm, the dish wasn’t at all spicy, and it was dry after I microwaved it – but it was nonetheless delicious. Once I adjusted my old expectations to the new reality, it was… not a blast from the past, but an unexpected gust of wind carrying an old, not-quite-forgotten scent evoking memories of yore. It was a lukewarm dry mass-produced pile of noodles with some meat in it, but it was also a small and welcome sign of normalcy, of the way things had been, of the way they someday will be again.

If you’re one of the five poor schmucks reading this blog on regular basis, or if you are by some chance binge-reading through it in the future – I know, this stuff is mighty depressing. (What’s the male version of Debbie Downer?) I know that. I know. Mental states grow like sediment layers: slow and gradual but eventually thick enough that what had been beneath them is long gone. I remember happiness, and not entirely too long ago. After I moved to Canada. Before she killed herself. Before the world as we know it ended. Before we fled. Before this year of solitude. I am aware of my current state and know what could begin to change it. (“Skin hunger,” as we aces put it, or just the simple magic of a human touch.) Once folks get vaccinated, however long that takes. Purely mathematically, I know that this is an equation that can and will be solved. I don’t have to be a prophet to know that at some point in the future I will be free, and immunized, and someplace beautiful and sunny, and sufficiently happy – or close enough to disregard the difference. This here is just the dreadful in-between.

…my sole window faces east. Each day is slightly longer now, with earlier sunrises. It’s almost to the point now where I can watch the full cycle, from the dark sky to the light blue in the background of this cityscape when my alarm goes off at 7 every morning. That’s a very small pleasure, but it’s something. I don’t think I’ve ever had this kind of lazy arrangement where I could simply watch the sunrise while lounging in bed. A whole new experience, eh.

It took me a bit to make the connection, but I think my general lack of enthusiasm this week is caused in part by my Sunday decision to roll back to just one cup of black tea with breakfast instead of several cups of coffee throughout the day. I passed out while reading at 9pm last night, woke up at 2am, and (to be frank) wasted five hours of my life browsing social media. Heh.

In covid news, Health Canada has just approved the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine. It’s a traditional, non-mRNA vaccine that requires two shots and doesn’t need to be stored in a freezer. It’s more efficient than 50%, which is a good start – and if you jab into enough people, it’ll go a long way. There are some doubts whether it’s efficient for folks over 65 since for whatever reason the vaccine hadn’t been tested extensively on that most vulnerable age group. Because of that, France and other countries are not giving the Oxford vaccine to those over 65. The WHO swears that it’s both safe and efficient, but after all of their shenanigans last year, it’s hard not to instinctively do the exact opposite of their suggestions. (Just like selling the stocks that cable news parrots on CNBC tell you to buy, and vice versa.)

Canada has ordered 22 million doses of this vaccine, enough for 11 million people. They will arrive between April and September, but the first shipment of 500,000 doses will arrive on Wednesday, just five days from now. After that, it’ll be up to the provinces and the local health units to distribute them. (And Ontario is not very good at logistics.) The Oxford vaccine may not be quite as effective as Moderna or Pfizer, but it’s a lot better than nothing, and it does prevent serious covid cases: I would take it in a heartbeat, provided I could also load up on that sweet, sweet mRNA goodness in the weeks or months to come.

One interesting caveat: this vaccine is coming from India. Not the EU, not the US, but all the way from India. That is geopolitically fascinating. After the US blocked all exports, after the EU did some frankly shady stuff with shipment scheduling, India just might become Canada’s new BFF. What strange fun new alliances will emerge in this post-covid world…

Online, some are floating an interesting concept: vaccine tourism. Canadian snowbirds are already getting vaccinated en masse in Florida. (After successfully dodging the coughing and infected maskless hordes, I assume.) If some American town that’s hard up for cash but has plenty of mRNA vaccines offered a vacation package consisting of fun in the sun and “shots, shots, shots-shots-shots!” (everybody!), I would be among the first in that line. Sure, hanging out in the same place for three whole weeks to get the second dose would be fairly boring, but why the hell not, eh?

The Germans have a similar idea, apparently. I haven’t been following the German situation closely, but somehow, some way, they are in even worse boat than Canada, with some Germans being told they won’t get theirs until 2022 due to a remarkable series of procurement screw-ups. If I’m going stir-crazy due to waiting all the way till September, I can’t even begin to imagine what it must feel like to know for a fact that your lockdown would last two whole years. Ye gods… Germany’s largest airline, Lufthansa, is planning to launch a special “Corona Lounge” in a Moscow airport where rich Germans and other foreigners could land, get their jab of the Sputnik V vaccine, and fly home, to return again a few weeks later for the second shot. Sputnik V still sounds incredibly sketchy to me: despite their positive endorsement by Lancet, there has been limited testing and (as far as I know) they never shared their data from phase 3 clinical trials. (Vlad Putin doth protest too much.) But hey, if folks want to pay €1,000 to fly back and forth and improve their chances – shady vaccine or not – more power to them.

And finally, there’s more corruption in Florida’s vaccine rollout. Either there’s a very improbable series of glitches, or The Powers That Be are deliberately setting up pop-up vaccination clinics right where they wealthy buddies and donors live. Remember, this is the state that jailed a woman (after pointing guns in her family’s faces) for the terrible crime of reporting accurate covid numbers on her dashboard. (Remember Rebekah Jones, the rogue data analyst and the Millennial hero.) None of the things this pandemic is revealing are brand new or shocking, but it’s still quite something to see the old suspicions and stereotypes not merely confirmed but reinforced time and again. They aren’t even trying to be subtle about that.

…and with that, time to sign off, continue to digest my pad thai, and see what those crazy kids on r/wallstreetbets are up to after keeping Gamestop above $100 for two days in a row. Have yourselves a fine weekend, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 347

Wednesday evening. Yay hump day.

Working at my company can be stressful. Today, a high-ranking coworker finally snapped under pressure and literally yelled at me via webcam because I’d dared to say that I have zero bandwidth while doing four times more work than my job description entails. That is not what I signed up for… If we weren’t in the Q2 planning stage right now, I probably would’ve used up my personal time and taken the rest of the week off. (How do you like them ̶a̶p̶p̶l̶e̶s̶ bandwidths? Heh.) Alas, I’m cursed with tactical foresight, and I know that there’d be even more stuff to deal with on Monday: it grows exponentially on busy weeks like this one.

That little work laptop is the only real-time human contact I have now. (Not counting the asynchronous communication on social media, which is just text, never sound or video.) To have one of your own coworkers show their ugly side like that… It’s a little ironic, because my productivity got absolutely shot to hell after that morning surprise, and I accomplished even less than I would have otherwise. So it goes. He’s too high-ranking to suffer any consequences from HR, so for now they’ll just assign some other analyst to take over the building ASAP while I concentrate on the other building I support. I’ve been with the company for over 11 years now… Days like this one will make it much easier to quit when the time finally comes. Not yet, but someday soon.

The Big Short movie last night was pretty spectacular. They took a fairly dry financial scheme an wove a great narrative all around it, with brilliant performances by everyone involved. It’s a shame that the only Oscar they got was for the best adapted screenplay: I didn’t even recognize Brad Pitt until well into the second half of the movie. Next up: Modern Times, a 1936 Charlie Chaplin movie. Maybe tomorrow, when I have more energy and/or motivation.

Fun news in the stock market: someway, somehow, the Gamestop stock (GME) took off again. It went up 104% today, going from the low of $44.70 to $91.71. (It also briefly reached $200 in the afterhours.) There’s absolutely no visible catalyst: the media is claiming that it was due to the CFO’s departure, but that happened yesterday and should’ve had zero effect on the spike that began at 2:30pm. (The eternal question: are financial reporters really that stupid or are they throwing everything at the wall in a cynical attempt to find some semi-plausible explanation for the unfathomable forces at work?) This looks to be another epic short squeeze, but it’s unclear what exactly drove it: that could’ve been SEC’s new rule on short-selling, or maybe something else entirely. Alas, I didn’t own any Gamestop this time around, but Blackberry (BB), which I’m currently holding at a small loss, also took off – on a smaller but similar trajectory: up 9% for the day and up another 9.5% on top of that in the afterhours. The $12.50 calls I bought for January 2022 are already up 21% overall: tomorrow will be an interesting day, eh.

In covid news, the FDA is about to approve the Johnson&Johnson vaccine: all that remains now is the final emergency use approval, which is all but guaranteed. The J&J vaccine isn’t quite as effective as Pfizer’s or Moderna’s, but it’s still quite good – and more importantly, it’s a one-shot vaccine which doesn’t need to be stored in a freezer: it can survive up to three months in a regular refrigerator. In other words, this will be a huge game-changer. A one-shot shop could be established just about anywhere, and vaccinate a lot more people without having to worry about scheduling their second appointment.

In Canada, and specifically in Ontario, the local media is confirming that there is, in fact, no enforcement for the supposed quarantine for international travelers. They’re simply walking away. The local police said they don’t detain those who are non-compliant. Evidently, the fine for ignoring the hotel quarantine is just $820 CAD, or less than the cost of the hotel. That is spectacularly bad system design… An attempt was made, eh?

And just to make things even more fun, Ontario has botched the local vaccination program, even though there was literally nothing to do but plan during the weeks without Pfizer vaccines. Ontario’s online portal for registering for vaccinations (as well as the call center) will not launch until March 15th, almost three weeks from now. That’s even as other provinces have already launched theirs. (Their launches were buggy, yes, but bugs can be fixed.) Retired general Rick Hillier is the person running Ontario’s vaccination effort. (Why is it always former military people?..) He had some grim news: he would not commit to Trudeau’s promise that any Canadian would be able to get vaccinated by September at the latest. There’s also a chance that folks won’t get their second shot of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine (no J&J approval in Canada yet) if there are supply chain issues. As Hillier said, “The federal government has been saying you can depend on the supply of vaccines now. It is stable and here are the numbers that are coming and more are coming later. Well we are going to take them at their word and starting from here on out, we are not going to be saving them in our freezers, that second needle.”

This is a dumpster fire. Online, my US friends are posting pictures of getting their entire families vaccinated at a drive-through vaccination site: they’ve been running long enough now that one of my friends in Nevada just got the second shot for her entire family earlier today. And that was in Nevada: one of the poorest and lowest-ranked states in the country. I’m not eager to entertain the idea of flying back to the States just to get vaccinated, but it may come to that in a few months. (I’m still and always will be a US citizen, and I still pay taxes to the IRS, so I think I’ll be in the clear, ethically speaking.) Things will get pretty bad here in Canada (and particularly in Ontario) if most people still won’t be able to get their vaccines this coming summer…

Good night, y’all. I hope your day was at least slightly better.

Plague diaries, Day 346

Tuesday night.

Over at my previous place, I might have made some tacos to celebrate Taco Tuesday. Over here, though, in my Studio of Solitude, there are really hefty fines for setting off the fire alarm ($1,300 CAD, I think), so I figure it’s best not to risk it. Besides, fried food is bad for you, etc.

Even with my healthy-ish instapot cooking, though, I’m gaining some weight. It’s nothing by American standards, but not acceptable for myself. I’m 6’1″ and typically weight around 165 lbs, give or take a couple. I hit 171 lbs and 14.5% body fat (up from the usual 13%) a couple of days ago, and there might be a pandemic pouch developing. (Like freshman 15 but in a pandemic, get it?) I’m reasonably certain that extra weight did not come from muscle. Heh. I’m going to be a bit more conscientious about the things I shove in my piehole over the next month or so. That means just one Tim Hortons meal per week (as opposed to random minor celebrations), no more cider or coke or fun flavoured wines (cranberry wine is amazing, y’all), etc. Random dumbbell exercises will continue, but it’s all about how much you eat, eh. I might not come out of this pandemic looking like a bodybuilder, but I can at the very least get out of this in mildly better shape than in early 2020.

In other news, I think my video game distractions are wearing off… Even the beloved zombie game is growing too formulaic. (My character has a slow little motorbike, a pump shotgun, and a cool leather trenchcoat: what else does one need for happiness in the post-apocalyptic world?) New idea, then: I can finally catch up on the very, very long list of popular and/or classic movies that I never got around to watching. I don’t think I have it in me to watch every Bond movie, but stuff like Casablanca and Godfather? Might as well. Tonight’s big show: The Big Short. I lived through the worst of the 2008 bubble back in Reno: I knew things were bad when a bartender at a sushi restaurant offered to sell a mortgage to my friend and I. That was a year before the crash, and my friend and I exuded the aura of broke college students, so you can imagine how wild things had gotten just before the bust. I’d read the book the movie is based on years ago, so I already know how it all plays out, but still – should be entertaining. (And it’s been long enough now that I won’t get filled with rage over the destroyed economy. Maybe.)

In covid news, remember the federal quarantine program for travelers that Canada recently rolled out? It’s not doing so hot. Instead of keeping people at designated hotels for 10-14 days, it’s the worst of all possible worlds. Travelers are supposed to book their own hotels prior to flying back, and they’re supposed to stay there for just three days. After that, they’re released to presumably self-quarantine at home. (Even though this whole program was introduced because people are really bad at self-quarantining.) We’ve know for a very long time now that covid can take as long as 10 days to manifest if you get infected, so the three-day timeout won’t do much to stop every incoming case. It’ll piss off the anti-lockdowners and fail to appease the pro-lockdowners like myself. I suspect it would’ve taken too many resources and people to actually organize something as efficient and strict as Taiwan’s strict but comfy quarantine for all incoming travelers. The intentions were good, I’m sure, but the execution… What a mess, eh. I won’t tempt fate by saying this can’t get any worse, so might as well stop typing here. Heh.

Stay safe, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 345

Monday night.

I continue to drown myself in video games simply to keep my mind off the state of the world outside my window, and how much longer it’s likely to remain that way. Some interesting news on the gaming front: Blizzard has announced that they’ll release a remastered version of Diablo II, the groundbreaking game released 21 years ago. I never kept track, but I’m pretty sure I spent thousands of hours playing it, especially during some of the more boring and miserable parts of my life. It’s rather uncanny that Blizzard will only update the visuals (with the option to flip to the original) without altering any plot, dialogue, game mechanics, etc. It’s pretty much unheard of in this day and age – resisting the temptation to tweak something to try and make it better. There’s no release date yet, just at some point later this year. A whole lot of gamers will get to relive their 21-year-old nostalgia, and a whole lot more will get to experience this beautiful game for the very first time. Another small thing to look forward to, eh.

The situation in Texas is still a mess: there’s no power, and their local authorities are asking for donations of bottled water while also instructing Texans how to purify their available water with bleach… Whoever works in Humble Bundle’s marketing department is pretty brilliant: the newest ebook bundle is on prepping. I generally just buy the first 4-5 ebooks for a dollar, but I bought the whole $20 thing this time around. A lot of that reading material is quite relevant (i.e., how to maintain situational awareness in common places, such as gas stations or while driving), some ebooks have advanced first aid descriptions, and some are just plain interesting. (I doubt I’ll ever try smoking meat, distilling, or making cheese – but hey, you never know.) These books might not help those who are currently stuck in Texas (unless they fly off to Cancun like senator Ted Cruz), but they might make all the difference if you decide to disaster-proof your home here and now. Check out that ebook bundle, eh.

Daft Punk announced their breakup earlier today. After almost 30 years together, they’re part of pop music history. For a little while today, everyone who ever listened to their music (so basically almost everyone) commiserated in unison. This may become one of those improbable defining events we’ll all use as temporal anchors: Kobe Bryant’s helicopter crash at the very beginning of the pandemic; the time Trump almost died of covid; the time Daft Punk broke up… Heh.

In covid news, Toronto Life has published a long and disturbing article written by a fellow American-Canadian guy who lives in his van and can’t afford to visit his kids. He’s a front-line worker (a pharmacy technician) but apparently can’t afford to rent a place after the child support, the car payments, the monthly storage unit, etc. With the pandemic all around, he can’t find afterhours gigs like washing dishes or offering his handyman services. Some of his writing is eye-opening, some is terrifying. There may be a way out of this for him once life starts to get back to normal, but still – what a horrible existence, and being away from one’s kids… And here I’m complaining how bored I am in my well-heated little studio while thousands of Canadians sleep in their cars. This really does put things in perspective.

Stay safe, y’all.

Plague diaries, Day 344

Sunday night.

I’ve put 14 hours into my zombie game this weekend… That accomplished zero in terms of productivity, but it also distracted from, you know, the plague and all for 14 whole hours. In that respect, at least, it was useful. (Also, my character found a jolly Santa hat. Heh.) This is almost like the pre-plague times when I really needed a quiet weekend, except now it’s by necessity, not by choice. I find myself fantasizing about even the most mundane pre-pandemic interactions, like chatting with store clerks.

Speaking of which, I’m pretty sure I legitimately scared a security guard at the nearby grocery store. I had my usual outfit: two masks, a face shield, and a bottle of alcohol spray in one hand. I wonder if he thought that was overkill or if he thought I’m contagious. Life’s little mysteries, eh? Incidentally, I was the only shopper with that level of precaution. I was in a rush and wasn’t glancing around, but all the folks I saw had just one mask each.

By the end of this all, we’ll all look and act so differently… It’d be like the end of World War I, where every foot soldier had a gas mask (a nasty way to go) and a metal helmet – an artifact of the past made necessary once again by all the artillery. (Shrapnel is a bitch, eh.) A year ago, when so much was still uncertain, no one wore masks at all – not in Toronto, and likely not in the US, either. What sort of panic would arise at the mere sight of a risk-aware 2021 shopper, or the covid-related headlines we have today?.. Here is hoping next year won’t get even more horrifying.

In covid news, as of right now the US is at (or very near) 500,000 covid deaths. As always, that’s just the official count, which doesn’t include undiagnosed deaths, excess mortality caused by overflowing hospitals, delayed surgeries, etc. Even so, that’s more deaths than the grand total of America’s three biggest wars of the 20th century: World War I, World War II, and the Vietnam War. For what it’s worth, this grim occasion was commemorated on the front pages of the biggest newspapers. Will they do the same for 600,000 deaths, which will likely be in less than two months?..

In other news, I have to keep reminding myself to check my privilege… This article is quite eye-opening. More than 130 countries haven’t received any vaccines at all yet, while 10 countries have already distributed 75% of the world’s vaccine supply to their citizens. As inequality goes, this is… “horrific” is not the right word. Grotesque, perhaps. I keep complaining that I’ll get my vaccine in August/September instead of May-June like my US friends and relatives, but billions of people will not get their vaccine this year at all. Their lives will remain the strange game of cat and mouse with the ever-evolving dangerous virus, even as countries like Israel, US, Canada, and others return to normality. That is humbling, and horrifying, and really puts things in perspective, eh?..

Good night, y’all. Stay safe. Stay patient.