Some More Wild Guesses on CoVid-19


There has been a lot of second guessing recently about the optimal timing for shutting down and reopening the “non-essential” components of our economy in order to minimize death from CoVid-19 without causing economic hardship disproportionate to the direct suffering from the pandemic that is avoided by these measures.

Mostly, we still (still!) have no idea who is and is not infected and infectious with this disease. Our testing was and is woefully inadequate, even pathetic, and everyone’s ducking for cover when this fact comes up because no one wants the blame for our utter lack of preparation for this inevitable outbreak laid on them.

If we knew, like a few countries have and do, precisely and promptly who was infected and infectious (through frequent and continuous universal testing, tracing, isolating and other things libertarians fear and loathe) then we could reopen everything immediately and just focus on the very few who are contagious (which is and has almost always been less than 1% of the population). In fact we wouldn’t have had to lock everything down in the first place, and we could have saved hundreds of thousands of lives. But we don’t know who is infectious. We have, mostly, no idea.

We can, however, start to make some educated guesses as to how many are infectious. It’s a very poor surrogate for who is infectious, when making lockdown and reopening decisions, but it’s better than the whims of politicians currently governing these decisions. I decided to come up with such an estimate, which is shown in the chart above.

Here are the very uncertain assumptions that underlie this chart:

  1. The mortality rate is somewhere in the area of 1.0% of those infected. This could change yet again (initially it was estimated to be 3%, then 0.2%, now 1% or a bit higher). It’s based on a growing series of serology (antibody) tests of broad populations, giving us a rough idea of how many have actually been infected, from which the mortality rate can be measured.
  2. Infected citizens are infectious to others for about 14 days. There’s a lot of uncertainty about this, but it still seems to be the consensus of the medical community.
  3. Those dying of the virus die on average 21 days after initial infection. Again, this seems a reasonable assumption, but there’s still great uncertainty about it.
  4. The actual number of deaths from the virus is 50% higher than the official reports in most developed countries with competent, open reporting systems. The “excess deaths” research to date suggests it could be considerably higher than this, and there’s endless debate about how many “excess deaths” were avoided by reduced travel and hazardous work and how many of the “excess deaths” were due to people being afraid or unable to go to hospitals, but these other factors may balance out, so the 1/3 under-reporting statistic seems reasonable.
  5. Future deaths will be close to those currently projected by the UW/IHME model. It’s been off in both directions, usually underestimating, but it’s the best we have to work with.

If any of these assumptions turns out to be significantly off, it will significantly affect the chart above, and I will make changes to it accordingly, at least for the next month or so (after which hopefully it will become useful only in hindsight).

So I started with the reported and UW/IHME forecast cumulative deaths on each day, and increased all these numbers by 50% (assumptions 4 and 5). Then I divided these by 1% (ie by 0.01) to estimate the number of infected-to-date as of 21 days earlier (assumptions 1 and 3). Then I computed the number currently infectious each day as the difference between the computed infected-to-date on that day, and on the date 14 days earlier (assumption 2). Those are the numbers plotted on the chart for Canada and the US above, shown as a percentage of the latest census numbers.

The daily number of deaths peaked much earlier in the US than in Canada, and was much more pronounced. That suggests that infections likely did likewise in the several weeks before the peak deaths.

One recent article suggested that politics, not hesitation, was behind the delay between California’s lockdown and New York’s. Another study, from Princeton, suggested that US deaths might have been halved if lockdowns had occurred even four days earlier, and reduced by 80% if they had occurred two weeks earlier. This would seem to jibe with the chart above — note the steep slope in the chart in the week between the California and New York/most-of-US/Canada shutdown dates. The likely number of infectious citizens doubled in both countries in that week.

What is notable about the chart above is that the current rate of decline in the number of infectious people has been much more gradual than the earlier rate of increase. This was seemingly part of the problem with earlier optimistic forecasts of an almost ‘normal’ curve of deaths. It also really shows the dangers of reopening so soon, especially when we still have no idea who is infected and who is infectious.

Of course, the percentages on this chart are just averages. In many areas, it is likely that no one within miles is infectious, while in others, especially in areas with vulnerable local populations, as many as 10% could be. We just don’t know. At any rate, it seems reasonable to suggest that in early April about 1.5% of all Americans were infectious (ie had been newly infected in the last 14 days), and, at the end of April, about 1% of all Canadians were likewise infectious. Can you imagine what would have happened without lockdowns and social distancing?

If this chart is at all accurate, reopening businesses, stadiums, and other high-density meeting-places, as is starting to happen all over the US and Canada, seems premature and perilous. But I guess we’ll see. If we see an uptick in daily deaths 3 weeks from now or so, we’ll know.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | Leave a comment

Links of the Month: May 2020


(Reza at poorlydrawnlines has a new book)

Last month I led off the monthly links post with the lyrics to “When’s It Going to End?” So maybe I’ll lead this one off with another song about bewilderment and uncertainty, Bob Dylan’s Ballad of a Thin Man:

You walk into the room with your pencil in your hand
You see somebody naked and you say, “Who is that man?”
You try so hard but you don’t understand
Just what you will say when you get home
Because something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
You raise up your head and you ask, “Is this where it is?”
And somebody points to you and says, “It’s his”
And you say, “What’s mine?” and somebody else says, “Well, what is?”
And you say, “Oh my God, am I here all alone?”
But something is happening and you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
You hand in your ticket and you go watch the geek
Who immediately walks up to you when he hears you speak
And says, “How does it feel to be such a freak?”
And you say, “Impossible!” as he hands you a bone
And something is happening here but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
You have many contacts among the lumberjacks
To get you facts when someone attacks your imagination
But nobody has any respect, anyway they already expect you to all give a check
To tax-deductible charity organizations
Ah, you’ve been with the professors and they’ve all liked your looks
With great lawyers you have discussed lepers and crooks
You’ve been through all of F. Scott Fitzgerald’s books
You’re very well-read, it’s well-known
But something is happening here and you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
Well, the sword swallower, he comes up to you and then he kneels
He crosses himself and then he clicks his high heels
And without further notice, he asks you how it feels
And he says, “Here is your throat back, thanks for the loan”
And you know something is happening but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
Now, you see this one-eyed midget shouting the word “Now”
And you say, “For what reason?” and he says, “How”
And you say, “What does this mean?” and he screams back, “You’re a cow!
Give me some milk or else go home”
And you know something’s happening but you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?
Well, you walk into the room like a camel, and then you frown
You put your eyes in your pocket and your nose on the ground
There ought to be a law against you comin’ around
You should be made to wear earphones
‘Cause something is happening and you don’t know what it is
Do you, Mr. Jones?


CIVILIZATION’S ACCELERATING COLLAPSE

What would a real green new deal look like?: Megan Seibert lists what we would really have to do, immediately, to have any chance of bringing a halt to the sixth great extinction of life on earth. It’s an inspiring list. It’s also totally impossible. But good to know. Thanks to Michael Dowd for the link.

The coming Greater Depression: Nouriel Roubini predicts a slow “U-shaped” recovery from CoVid-19, followed almost immediately by an economic depression longer and deeper than any we have ever seen mid-decade. Payback time. You can watch the video or read the article.

The end of the “human climate niche”: Even with prosthetic technologies, humans (and their food crops) can only survive, in any numbers, in climates with an average annual temperature between about 11º and 15ºC. Given current temperature rise forecasts, that means between 1.5 billion and 3.5 billion climate refugees by 2070.

Planet of the Humans: I haven’t watched Michael Moore’s latest film, because his blame-y, in-your-face style grates on me. But I’ve read enough foaming-at-the-mouth criticisms and reviews by both sides to know that despite its oversimplifications and obsolete assertions, its fundamental arguments — that we can’t innovate (with “renewable” energy) our way out of climate collapse, that an immediate and drastic reduction in consumption, a massive redistribution of wealth, and a coordinated effort to humanely reduce human numbers are absolute preconditions for even mitigating collapse, and that capitalism has completely coopted the “environmental movement” — are sound.


LIVING BETTER


cartoon in the New Yorker by Teresa Burns Parkhurst (if you don’t get the joke, look again)

Exit, stage four: PS Pirro relates our responses to CoVid-19 to the notorious five-stages-of-grief model. Republicans are still at stage 1 (denial) and 2 (anger), and progressives are mired in stage 3 (depression) or 4 (bargaining). Pretty much where they stand on climate collapse, too. Peggy, ever the wise poet, gets it exactly: “Covid is just the guy with the broom at the end of the cartoon, sweeping the dust from the stage.”

A coping strategy: An acquaintance, April Rinne, describes a process of internal self-examination and self-awareness:  challenging our assumptions (and hence our fears) about the future, focusing on our collective rather than personal opportunities for improving things (and accepting our responsibility to the collective), and taking advantage of the current slowdown to, well, slow down, to deal with current and looming crises.

Never going back: Canadian E-Commerce firm Shopify, which recently (and improbably) became the highest valued company in Canada (such is the mad state of the stock market), has decided that it’s going to make its new work-from-home processes its permanent default. So has Twitter, apparently, though there there’s a catch: a pay cut.

Mayors are doin’ it for themselves: Forty mayors of the world’s most progressive large cities, responding to the absence of national and state leadership, have coalesced to produce a joint recovery task force and framework. They’re using Kate Raworth’s Doughnut Economics model as a guide, which is great. Thanks to my Municipalities in Transition colleagues for the link.

And so are some small cities: Maricá, Brasil is using the pandemic to deepen and advance economic reforms under the Solidarity Economy umbrella: guaranteed annual income, support for the poor, education reforms, a local currency, and support for workers and collective production. Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.

Gut resistance: If you want your body and immune system to be able to fend off disease, you might consider switching to a whole plant-food diet.

Going the distance: If you have irresponsible neighbours, now might be a good time to practice social, economic and political distancing.

Food for thought: Liminal offers up concise (30 min), novel podcasts with some of the world’s brightest and most creative thinkers.


POLITICS AND ECONOMICS AS USUAL


cartoon by Dave Granlund

The wacky US mercenary plot to kidnap Maduro: As if politics weren’t strange enough, apparently the Venezuelan opposition leaders signed a contract with a bunch of mercenaries in Florida to abduct Venezuelan President Nicolás Maduro as part of a coup. But the hired Rambos botched the job, and now the Venezuelan opposition is pretending they didn’t know them. Still, Western leaders refuse to stay neutral in this horrible mess; we will never learn.


COVID CORNER


cartoon in the New Yorker by Adrian Tomine

Why are we really in lockdown?: Jemima Kelly writes a great exposé on the life and death politics of CoVid-19. The moral calculus we employ in balancing death with economic depression includes: how many of the dead would have died anyway, and how soon (provisional answer: not many, and not soon); what the “excess deaths” really died from (provisional answer: mostly but not all CoVid-19 related); the economic and social consequences if the hospitals are overwhelmed to the point of chaos, health worker walkouts and dieoffs, and massive death tolls (provisional answer: too high to risk); and the economic ‘value’ versus ‘cost’ of preserving and prolonging life (too complex to provide any provisional answer on); the “rule of rescue” (that we’re mostly and illogically willing to pay a lot more to save someone from imminent death than to prevent the need to save them from arising); and how we innately care about one stranger in peril right in front of us than a thousand or a million in peril we don’t see. The majority’s answers to these questions will likely determine how we will deal with the immense moral questions we will face as we shift into the second wave. Well worth a read, and a ponder.

Meanwhile in the CoVid-altered-for-now world:


FUN AND INSPIRATION


natural materials sculpture by Sophie Prestigiacomo (thanks to Jae Mather for the link)

The company meeting: Idled sports commentator Andrew Cotter, renowned for his lockdown-era commentaries about the ‘sports’ his two dogs engage in, now has his dogs playing the roles of staff members in his corporate Zoom meeting. Really funny.

The great disappointments: The Onion interviews a man disappointed to discover that being idled by CoVid-19 hasn’t jump-started his creativity. Thank to Tree Bressen for the link, and the one that follows.

Social distancing vs baby foxes: Authorities had to erect fencing and screens to prevent a family of foxes and an adoring audience from admiring each other in Toronto. They claim to have used modern “conditioning theory” to ensure the creatures did not get too habituated to close contact and consequently become dependent. They were apparently referring to the foxes.

The Aurora Australis in Antarctica: Stunning video showing a full Aurora and the Milky Way at the same time.

Jelle’s marble runs: For five years Nederlander Jelle Bakker has been running and videoing a series of “races” of marbles, including courses modelled on Formula One tracks and 120m-long outdoor sand tracks. If you’re like me (or author/Vlog brother John Green, or humourist John Oliver, or any of the million plus subscribers) you find these things addictive to watch. Here are samples of my favourite indoor and outdoor series, but he has hundreds.

The ultimate conspiracy theory: Satirist Andy Borowitz starts the rumour that enemies of the US developed Trump in a lab.

I got a cat: Gabrielle Bell’s cartoon strips are beautiful, raw, and alternately charming and disturbing. Her newest one describes her bonding, sort of, with a new cat.

Learning about viruses and pandemics: If you’re like me and one of your coping mechanisms is learning everything you can about a challenging subject, here are some useful links to information on past pandemics, and a website that lets you simulate their spread:


RADICAL NON-DUALITY STUFF


Calvin & Hobbes cartoon by Bill Watterson

Now that there is no longer, apparently, a self named Frank McCaughey, though there never really was, the things that that character is saying and writing are seemingly very different from what they were ‘before’, such as:

Then, there is a suggestion, that there is no you, now nor ever,
doing that feeling of apartness.
No you seeking.
Only that sense arising. And Falling.
In everything. For no one.

More empty than yesterday’s dream for tomorrow
and full to the brim of all that appears to be happening.

This ‘you’
that seeks to be at ‘one’ with ‘everything’
is everything being that.

Already. You are not.
Already
this is nowhere.

Otherwise ‘Frank’ is the same as ‘always’. Meanwhile Tim Cliss is doing weekly Zoom videos for now, and I feel almost like part of his ‘family’. Or perhaps it’s more like a support group. Frank is also ‘hosting’ Tony Parsons’ Zoom meetings now; this one is especially good at conveying the Radical Non-Duality message. Jim Newman’s next Zoom session is June 7th.

If any of this is of interest to you, email me and we can chat about it. Not trying to sell anything, but I find it fun, and strangely calming. Even though it’s hopeless, and meaningless, and there is no path.


THOUGHTS FOR THE MONTH


New Yorker cartoon by Christopher Weyant

From an unknown author, cited by Marj Plumb on Facebook (thanks to Alison Rose Levy for the link):

If a medically-informed response to a pandemic creates economic hardship so serious that the economic impacts are more deadly than the virus, you change your fucking economic system not your response to disease.

And from US health journalist Alison Rose Levy herself, on Facebook:

I’d like to see the health community signing on for Medicare for All. I’d like to see a prominent spokesperson promote that. Once the health insurance companies are out of the way, we can talk about health promoting strategies. Until then it’s just a lot of hot air leading towards the perpetuation of an unjust two-tiered health system. If you won’t take some basic steps to protect others, just take a seat. 

From New Jersey (on “loan” from Minnesota) emergency ICU health-care worker Kristen Martins (thanks to Paul Cienfuegos for the link):

My message to those protesting the stay-at-home orders in Minnesota, Tennessee, Washington, Colorado, Florida, Illinois, California, Arizona, Montana, and any other state & to Trump:

Come take a step into my daily hell. Come tell me to my face that “fear is worse than the virus!” Come walk into the trailer full of dead, rotting humans, and I will pick out a spot for your body, since it is “your body, your right”. If “Jesus is your vaccine”, tell me why I am taking the rosary off my patient’s lifeless body?

Anyone protesting should forfeit their rights to receive any medical care. NONE. You are putting the lives of anyone you come into contact with because of your boredom and selfishness. You are putting every single healthcare worker’s life not only at an increased risk, but your disrespect for humankind because of your ignorance and stupidity is beyond appalling. 

From Chinese poet Li Po (thanks to Georgette Rudigoz for the link)

On Drinking Alone by Moonlight

Here are flowers and here is wine, but where’s a friend with me to join
Hand in hand and heart to heart in one full cup before we part?
Rather than to drink alone I’ll make bold to ask the moon
To condescend to lend her face the hour and the scene to grace.

Lo, she answers, and she brings my shadow on her silver wings;
That makes three, and we shall be, I ween, a merry company.
The modest moon declines the cup, but shadow promptly takes it up,
And when I dance my shadow fleet keeps measure with my flying feet.

But though the moon declines to tipple, she dances in yon shining ripple,
And when I sing, my festive song, the echoes of the moon prolong.
Say, when shall we next meet together? Surely not in cloudy weather,
For you my boon companions dear come only when the sky is clear.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End, Radical Non-Duality | 1 Comment

The Tragic Spread of CoVid-19 Misinformation


image from wikimedia — cc-A-SA 4.0

If you work for any progressive organizations, you’ve probably faced some situations where zealots with whom you usually agree are egregiously, even dangerously misinformed on some issue that ends up driving a wedge between you.

As someone loath to blame people or suspect their motives, I generally try to resolve these issues dispassionately, with information, facts and sensible arguments. But there are times when this approach fails, particularly when their belief has been engendered by someone they deeply admire and trust, through very slick and carefully worded campaigns.

Typical examples of such ‘wedge’ issues for progressives include EMF/5G, GMOs, and vaccines. Our trust of governments, regulators and corporations is at such a low ebb (for perfectly understandable reasons, given the seemingly boundless levels of corruption, incompetence, and overt greediness that has seemingly infiltrated too many public and private organizations), that we are now especially vulnerable to stories of government and corporate conspiracies, misconduct and cover-ups. And the fact that many in some countries cannot afford professional health care and have had to turn to largely-unregulated ‘alternative’ care practitioners who are often overtly hostile to the medical profession, doesn’t help the situation.

This distrust plays perfectly into the hands of terrified, bewildered, right-wing libertarian elements who want government and regulation completely dismantled and want everything privatized, no matter what its cost. They fear and distrust and work to dismantle almost every level of government, public service organization, and regulatory authority, and impugn highly-visible public servants, hoping, as they themselves openly admit, to be able to then “drown [government] in a bathtub”. The current fear-consumed US president has taken this hatchet-jobbery to an art form.

Of course, conspiracy theories always have a grain of truth to them, enough to duplicitously cast just a little doubt on everything that the target group or organization does. And conspiracy theory perpetrators and champions don’t last long unless they’ve polished their pitch and delivery and engrained their presentations with enough obvious secondary truths (and other beguiling logical fallacies and tricks) to the point just about anyone can be taken in. And the perpetrators’ sincerity is usually not in question — quite often they have themselves been duped by others they trust with compelling stories and misinformation designed to evoke a powerful emotional response (enough to overwhelm critical thinking).

The challenge with all conspiracy theories, unfortunately, is that it is exceedingly difficult to prove something is not true or did not happen. So when the conspiracy theorist tells a series of emotional stories, and then trots out some data that seems to support the conspiracy (which is usually a citation of some other article that cites some other article that either actually doesn’t back up the alleged data or cites a ‘scientific’ study that is bogus or biased or which doesn’t support the data at all), you sound like a knob for saying you can’t believe it (or you are gaslighted into thinking it just might be true). And then the misinformation is repeated by those gullible enough and predisposed to believe it, until it’s nearly impossible to refute. So you are left in the impossible defensive position of trying to argue that the conspiracy is not real.

This has worked for UFO and 9/11 type conspiracy theories for years, and has now paralyzed the climate crisis debate — “just prove to me that this didn’t happen, that this one study or story is not true or factual” — but in past the victims have usually been paranoid right-wingers predisposed to accept the worst about human (and alien) behaviour, and predisposed to accept anything that reinforces their beliefs and fears and is supported by their religion or ideology.

Recently, however, as more and more authority has been taken over by conservative and neoliberal individuals and their organizations, it’s some progressives who are now starting to see the hint of conspiracies everywhere.

We saw this first with GMOs. I don’t happen to like or buy foods with GMO components in them, but it’s not really because I think their genetically modified nature will make me sick. I oppose them because they’re patently (if you’ll excuse the pun) anti-democratic, and because the Roundup and other toxins that are subsequently sprayed on the plants that are genetically modified to be resistant to them) are not something I want to ingest. Although I am inclined to distrust products exclusively produced by Big Agra, I have to reluctantly accept that there is insufficient compelling data that shows these foods themselves to be ‘Frankenfoods’ that, in moderation, cause disease or health imbalances. I avoid them for my own reasons, but don’t think this is a useful battle for progressives when there are so many important ones to fight.

Likewise with 5G. I know people who are absolutely convinced that EMF makes them ill. I have no doubt they feel ill when they know they’re in the presence of EMF. But the science is absolutely and overwhelmingly clear, based on hundreds of not-sponsored-by-telecom studies, that EMF is not harmful, even in 5G doses. There are of course a few anecdotal studies that say otherwise, and I cannot disprove them, but the preponderance of evidence is clear. Again, I don’t like 5G, but that’s because it’s an atrociously expensive technology (and guess who will pay the insane costs for installing it?), for a negligible benefit, not because it’s a significant health hazard.

And then there are the anti-vaxxers, each with a personal story of woe that I cannot refute. But again, the overwhelming preponderance of evidence is that vaccines have saved hundreds of millions of lives and prevented even more from crippling and immiserating chronic diseases.

Of course vaccines are unnatural, and there’s where the terrain gets really slippery. The underlying assumption of anti-vaxxers is that the types of viruses and bacteria that cause pandemics and horrific suffering are, somehow, natural. They are not. While there are thousands of types of both, endemic in much of our world, they are in most circumstances exclusively present in and targeted to a single species. Crossing the species barrier is extremely rare, or was, until we humans started invading remote areas where we have no natural immunity to these particular viruses, and started farming and eating exotic species, and started factory farms that crowd billions of animals of species that we regularly eat into confined spaces soaked in antibiotics. The viruses and bacteria that breed and spread in these unnatural conditions mutate and reassemble quickly and readily, and it is these viruses and bacterial strains that are unnatural.

So vaccines are an unnatural response to an unnatural and lethal threat, mostly of our own making. And there is evidence that, until we introduced unnatural ways of relating to other animals, and began to congregate ourselves in unnatural densities, there simply were no pandemics. They are, like anthropogenic climate change and other human-created aspects of the sixth great extinction, a modern, unnatural phenomenon. And until we can find a way to live more naturally on the planet, in balance and relationship with other species (don’t hold your breath) we have no alternative but to use unnatural ‘antiseptics’ and vaccines to control the unnatural diseases we have created. By the 1980s this seemed to be a winning strategy — almost all infectious (to humans) diseases on the planet had been substantially eradicated. But then in the last few decades as factory farms and poaching and transport of exotic species have proliferated globally, there has been a huge new spike in infectious diseases. We know why, and there’s nothing natural about it.

So now we come to the latest battleground of truthiness that is poisoning and polarizing and distracting progressives and reasonable thinkers everywhere — ‘truths’ about CoVid-19.

It is really easy to spread misinformation about this virus and disease because we really know very little about it, and in particular how it is killing us. This is the perfect environment for conspiracy theories to emerge, especially when it’s concurrent with an era of massive fear and distrust of authorities of every kind.

There are three heroes of progressives, each with an army of faithful devotees, who have done particular damage to the progressive cause with reckless and dangerous and unsubstantiated claims about CoVid-19 in the last month or two. I have no doubt that, like the UFO believers and the 5G haters, they are sincere in their beliefs. But what they are saying is unsubstantiated or untrue, and their misinformation is dangerous.

Let’s take them one at a time — three sacred cows at once is too many, even though there are some overlaps between the sources of their misinformation.

First up is Charles Eisenstein. Charles wrote a wonderful book called Sacred Economics that explained in layperson’s terms how and why untrammelled capitalistic policies are bad for most of humanity, and how a better economic system might work. But once his crowds of adulating fans swelled to the millions, he began to believe his own press and soon started writing and speaking on just about any subject he was asked about. Two of his recent books — The Ascent of Humanity, and The More Beautiful World Our Hearts Know is Possible — lay out his humanist vision of a possible (perhaps even inevitable) global human spiritual uprising and reconnection with all life on earth, leading to a reinvention of all human systems and, as the title says, a better world. They are essentially religious tracts, very appealing if you share a humanist worldview, and underlying them is the same humans-are-the-chosen-species dogma that underlies most of the world’s religions. They were well received because so many people desperately want to believe this dogma of human specialness and limitless possibility ‘if only we put our minds to it and work together’.

As a result of these books his popularity soared further and he now essentially preaches sermons rather than providing us with any new or practical information. I keep expecting him to start wearing long silk robes.

I have no problem with preachers, as long as they don’t misinform people about the facts. But now this is precisely what the new guru of humanism has started to do.

In a wacky essay called The Coronation, he immediately launches into the core humanist dogma: “Covid-19 is showing us that when humanity is united in common cause, phenomenally rapid change is possible. None of the world’s problems are technically difficult to solve; they originate in human disagreement. In coherency, humanity’s creative powers are boundless.” If you don’t buy that, you are unlikely to read further, and if you do buy it, you’re likely to be willing to buy anything he says thereafter, no matter how ludicrous. What he says is:

  • The mortality rate is likely “less than 0.1%” (strangely, he writes it as “0.1$” which presumably is a typo). The truth is it is likely more than 1.0%, as I’ve explained elsewhere.
  • Our response to CoVid sets a precedent for the total suspension of civil liberties, total loss of personal privacy, state tracking of everyone’s movements, and state sovereignty over our own bodies (compulsory vaccination etc). It has nothing to do with public safety or welfare, apparently.
  • “Those who administer civilization” (They’re not clearly identified, but apparently they include Bill Gates) will use CoVid-19 to seize complete control because that is “in civilization’s DNA”.
  • Then, in one of the most manipulative, Trumpian statements I have ever read, he sets the reader up by saying this: “What I will say next is relevant whether or not SARS-CoV2 is a genetically engineered bioweapon, is related to 5G rollout, is being used to prevent ‘disclosure,’ is a Trojan horse for totalitarian world government, is more deadly than we’ve been told, is less deadly than we’ve been told, originated in a Wuhan biolab, originated at Fort Detrick, or is exactly as the CDC and WHO have been telling us.” Of course, he says he doesn’t know if any of this is true. He’s just sowing ideas in your head, especially if, like many of his adoring fans, you’re predisposed to believe one or more of these conspiracy theories. Nope, Charles isn’t saying he believes these conspiracy theories. He’s just throwing them out there for… what reason?
  • We then get a laundry list of state interventions, real, possible and imagined, that impose controls on us or limit our freedoms. Lots of scary stuff.
  • He then throws out some truly Orwellian stuff, bafflegab worthy of a Jordan Peterson, such as “A life saved actually means a death postponed.” Oh, OK then, no point in trying to save lives. “Totalitarianism – the perfection of control – is the inevitable end product of the mythology of the separate self.” Really? We should believe this unequivocal statement why? “Covid-19 will eventually subside, but the threat of infectious disease is permanent.” This is completely untrue. As noted above, infectious diseases were almost completely eradicated until we very recently globalized factory farming and exotic animal harvesting. And unlike Charles, I can provide credible citations to support that claim.
  • And then: “Regimes of antibiotics, vaccines, antivirals, and other medicines wreak havoc on body ecology, which is the foundation of strong immunity.” Presumably then, since human activity created the infectious diseases that these human treatments attempt to mitigate, the right answer isn’t to fix the problem that produced the diseases, but to just stop treating them? I wondered how soon Charles would raise the anti-vaxxer flag.
  • Next he does the straw man “it isn’t hard to imagine” ploy of painting a completely fearful, totalitarian future, presumably unless we accept what he says must be done (or will magically and inevitably happen). This is the stuff of cult leaders.
  • Now we’re told that pandemic viruses aren’t unnatural (I dealt with that nonsense earlier), and that this one is really a messenger from nature telling us to shake off our shackles and rise up and create the “More Beautiful World Our Hearts… etc”. The people who died were, apparently, mostly sick and miserable anyway. In other words, our sick, un-free lifestyle has made their lives no better than death so let them die. And some technologies used to try to save lives might not have helped, so, I guess, why even try to use them? And, we’re told, herbs and “alternative modalities” have been unfairly ridiculed when there’s apparently lots of science that supports their use, so there must presumably be a conspiracy by “those who administer civilization” to force people to suffer and die needlessly by using dangerous commercial drugs and interventions instead. Really?
  • Then, just before the end, comes the reassurance: “I’m not telling you to run out right now and buy NAC or any other supplement, nor that we as a society should abruptly shift our response, cease social distancing immediately, and start taking supplements instead.” Just as he’s not telling you CoVid-19 isn’t a GM bioweapon or a Trojan horse or the result of 5G. What he’s not telling you is, well, pretty telling.
  • A coronation, of course, is the crowning of a new authoritarian leader. It’s a particularly maladroit title for an article ostensibly about throwing off authoritarian control. But of course the article doesn’t tell you how to create this “More Beautiful World etc”. As with all religions, the Humanist Coronation will seemingly happen through a spontaneous occurrence when the time is right (which is presumably now), when all of us will innately know just what to do. With the right spiritual leadership of course.

The upshot of this is that, like those people who refuse to treat their children with medicines because their illness is “God’s will”, many of Charles’ acolytes will take him to mean (despite his “not telling you” that) that the agonizing death of 75-80 million people from this plague (ten times more than his calculus) is unimportant, inevitable, a culling, a blessing in disguise. They will take him to mean that they should not social distance, that they should take herbs and not medicines, that they should not listen to medical experts, that they should under no circumstances be vaccinated. They will take him to mean that pandemics are “natural” and should be allowed to take their brutal course. They will take him to mean that there is a group, “those who administer civilization”, who are inherently and deliberately malevolent, who are conspiring to rule the world through secret bioweapons, violence and surveillance, who will exploit and lie about every human crisis solely to further their power, and that this group includes health care leaders.

I found this article manipulative and irresponsible. It’s a sermon with little useful information and considerable misinformation. It’s a disingenuous reinforcement of conspiracy theories. And I don’t even want to imagine the horrible consequences it could produce if enough people buy it. And I’m not the only one saying this.

I should also note that Charles is associated with a psychiatrist that the celebrity Goop group (itself pretty dubious) had to dissociate itself from over her dangerous misinformation and unsupported allegations — rabid anti-vaxxer Kelly Brogan, whose conspiracy theories eerily parallel the ones Charles lists but “isn’t telling you” are true (she blames 5G and the vaccine “industry” for Covid-19), and he’s also associated with her husband Sayer Ji, who runs the conspiracy theory and so-called ‘alternative’ medical information site GreenMedInfo. Enough said.

Next up is Zach Bush. Another young, slick anti-authoritarian pundit. Zach makes a living selling nutritional supplements that are made from… well… dirt, kind of. For $50 a bottle. So you can’t doubt his credentials. Here’s his pitch, in an interview with yet another leading anti-vaxxer, Del Bigtree. The video, like many of Charles’, has over a million views.

Zach is a regular attendee at “integrative medicine” and Autism One (anti-vaccine) conferences along with the likes of “Dr Mercola” and other disreputable health pundits. And what he says at them is not nearly as persuasive as what he says on the Del Bigtree video.

He is likely correct in stating that a whole plant based diet could prevent most of the diseases that are preconditions for CoVid-19 mortality, and that our bodies’ nutritional deficiencies and microbiome poverty are behind our susceptibility to infectious agents that cause many deaths and diseases, and that soil poverty and air and water and solid waste pollution can severely exacerbate our vulnerability to such diseases.

But that’s where we are, and to suggest that we should just reap what we have sown now and accept pandemics as nature’s way of balancing, is completely reckless — as I said, its cost would be about 75-80 million premature deaths (and with much lower life quality in the interim), versus those that have occurred so far with the social distancing and other procedures we’ve used to try to prevent these deaths.

He plays fast and loose with pandemic data, suggesting that because SARS and MERS were so low in transmissability (and hence were contained without the need for social distancing and a vaccine) that the same must surely be true for CoVid-19. He shows a similar ignorance to Charles’ over the likely true mortality rate of CoVid-19. He conflates the millions of harmless (to humans) viruses with the rare pandemic viruses that cross the species barrier and cause massive suffering and death. And his suggestion that the “excess deaths” worldwide since March compared to recent years are due mostly to citizens’ fear of going to hospitals and getting properly treated, rather than to the virus itself, and that the ‘real’ CoVid-19 death rate is probably very low, is unsupported and IMO deplorable.

One of his arguments is that the real syndrome that is present in a significant number of patients testing positive for CoVid-19 is hypoxia. There is in fact evidence that one of the ways CoVid-19 manifests is through clotting in the lungs, which leads to hypoxia, sometimes unnoticeable to the patient until it becomes suddenly fatal. Zach says that for them, hypoxia is the real killer, not the virus. So what if it is, and if so, what caused the hypoxia? Zach isn’t willing to tell us, apparently because he’s “making a movie about it” and because his clinic has been forced to stay closed due to the government lockdown so he can’t prove his hypothesis. Uh huh.

While he is cagey about what he says about vaccines, his statements are almost sure to appeal to and be misconstrued by anti-vaxxers to encourage them to refuse vaccines and hence imperil the rest of us.

His ignorance of epidemiology is dangerous: I worked with epidemiologists in emergency preparedness for a time after SARS, and the suggestion that the spread of viruses through global wind currents is only “a few days slower” than when they are transmitted by airplane travellers is just nonsense. The fact that millions of North America’s First Nations peoples died from infectious diseases brought in by European colonists is just one of many obvious refutations of that absurd claim (and they died long before the days of major air pollution, Roundup and the modern industrial food system that Zach blames for our modern susceptibility).

And his suggestion that CoVid-19 is just a catalyst that accelerates deaths that would have occurred soon enough already, due to patients’ poor nutrition, unhealthy lifestyles (and hence compromised immune systems) and local air pollution, is simply not supported by the data. The areas where CoVid-19 has hit hardest does not correlate at all precisely with either the areas with poorest nutrition or the areas with the worst air pollution. But he very selectively chooses correlations that support his reckless it’s-natural, let-it-take-its-course ideology.

But I’m sure he’s just as sincere as Charles.

Third in our Progressive Rogues gallery is Chris Martenson, another very persuasive, articulate speaker popular in “collapse” and Transition circles. He has recently used his considerable subscriber base to allege that CoVid-19 must have been manufactured in the level-4 Wuhan lab, and that that lab employed Dr Fauci to do top-secret, possibly nefarious research.

The insinuation is that the virus was caused by a negligent leak of bioweapons research, that there’s now a cover-up, and that CoVid-19 is a deliberately “weaponized” vaccine strain. Chris has apparently been swept up in the anti-Fauci campaign being run by yet more anti-vaxxers who have falsely accused Dr Fauci of abuse of authority during his early career, and have rushed together a conspiracy movie “Plandemic” suggesting that global scientists and certain big corporations are behind CoVid-19 and the authoritarian and “unnecessary” actions that have been taken to protect us from it. Plandemic was viewed by more than eight million people before social media began removing it for blatantly “false information” reasons, but only after Buzzfeed did an exposé on it. The film was boosted by the right-wing conspiracy group QAnon, which has thousands of members including Republican Senate candidates. From there it was picked up by several celebrity anti-vaxxers and by by the Reopen America network, the coordinated group of right-wing pro-militia, pro-gun organizations that orchestrated the recent armed occupations of statehouses.

As for Chris’ obsession with the idea that the “inserted” PRRA RNA sequence must indicate that the CoVid-19 virus was genetically manufactured, and that the only place in Wuhan capable of such manufacture is the one where top-security research was being done with the collaboration of Dr Fauci:

  1. The Wuhan lab, with Dr Fauci’s support, was studying the (unfortunately-named) Gain of Function potential of viruses. While conspiracy theorists equate that with bioweapons research, the US government is (and this site is not new) quite upfront about what Gain of Function research is for — disease prevention, containment and treatment. Pandemics are now a huge threat, and it only makes sense to employ major international collaboration to try to prevent and contain them.
  2. Virologists have been exploring how the CoVid-19 virus might have evolved the unusual PRRA sequence since it was first noticed, including open scientist-to-scientist discussion about whether it was or was not a natural occurrence. Back in early February there was a clear explanation for the PRRA sequence, and the categorical conclusion was: “The preponderance of evidence dictates that the PRRA sequence has been conserved in nCoV2019 from a long ago ancestor virus. It is not of suspicious origin…The definitive source of the pandemic is a mixed infection of viruses similar to SARS-CoV-2 and Bat HKU9 – copy choice error resulting in an insert in SARS-CoV-2 …[patient zero], infected in [a bat cave in] Yunnan, does not spread it there, but goes to Wuhan [new high-speed direct train service began in 2017], where he/she either falls ill or spreads it asymptomatically to another person, initiating the pandemic there. The initial outbreak occurs a short distance from the Wuhan train station for good reason – that is where it arrived. This accidental mixed infection in the wild, and infection of a human by some form of bush meat or bat guano, who carries it by high speed train to Wuhan – this is the most likely series of events leading to the pandemic. The only ‘laboratory’ required is the natural laboratory of the bat cave with multiple species of bats and bat coronaviruses.”

So: It didn’t even originate in “Dr Fauci’s” lab.

It’s a shame Chris has been duped by the forces of misinformation who seem inclined to see conspiracies everywhere, especially when they can pin them on government authorities (or on those who champion vaccines). Chris’ hyperbolic and unsupported accusations about CoVid-19 completely undermine the credibility of his work on collapse.

But — no blame. We can’t afford to waste time dealing with misinformation, and we can’t afford to try to blame any aspect of this horrible pandemic on anyone. And neither can we blame anyone for being taken in by conspiracy theorists, or blame the conspiracy theorists themselves whose only solace from the fears that obsess them is in trying to find simple, obvious explanations for what is harrowing but never simple, and rarely nefarious. We just don’t know enough about this virus yet to blame anyone for their possibly naive but well-meaning beliefs and behaviours. Even the conspiracy theorists are doing their best.

But what we do know (almost assuredly) is that without continued social distancing and other restrictions, and without a gigantic increase in testing and tracking and isolating of infections, and probably without a safe and reliable vaccine (which may never come) tens of millions of people will die horrible deaths prematurely and unnecessarily. We do know that vaccines protect and save many, many times as many lives as they harm, and that they don’t work when a significant proportion of the population refuses to take them for religious or ideological reasons. We do know that tens of thousands of medical workers, and many others, are putting their lives on the line every day to try to mitigate the effects of this pandemic, and that medical and scientific experts are giving us the best available advice on what we can do to help, based on the preponderance of real science available thus far.

So please be careful when someone suggests to you, no matter how persuasively, that pandemics are natural, that medical experts are deliberately lying to us, or that there is a cabal of evil-minded people slowly and surreptitiously taking control of “the world”. We should all know better. And in the present crisis, the cost of getting sucked into such conspiracy theories is far too high.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 3 Comments

There Must Be a Better Way

This is a very long article, about meaningful work and about imagining possibilities. Hope you find it inspiring, and worth the read.


Calgary restaurant workers separate tables to meet new social distancing rules prior to reopening. Image from the CBC’s Bryan Labby.

REIMAGINING OUR WORK

I‘ve written often about our modern world being one of staggering imaginative poverty. The signs of this poverty are everywhere: in the utter unoriginality of almost everything coming out of the film industry, the music industry, arguably most of the creative arts, modern fiction and poetry, philosophy, political and economic thinking, and of course technology, where indices of ‘innovation’ suggest it’s in serious decline.

Instead our energy goes into special effects and other ‘wow’ distractions from the endless bad news of the day, or into self-preoccupation (compare how many modern novels are written in the first person compared to a generation ago — twice the proportion according to a recent study), or into rage against seeming helplessness and hopelessness, or into inventing useless forms of novelty, like financial ‘products’ that repackage worthless investments and other complicated cons in just about every industry. And of course, much of our energy goes into just struggling through the day coping with the dysfunctional way things are.

Most modern entrepreneurs’ dreams of “success” are now seemingly to become  billionaires by starting tech companies and then sell them off and retire at 30. It is not about doing anything of use to anyone, let alone doing anything new or risky.

So now, we’re struggling through a pandemic crisis that has ground most of the things that we do do, to a halt. For many of us in the unnecessariat these are more or less useless, make-work activities anyway (what David Graeber calls Bullshit Jobs). The “flunkies, goons, duct-takers, box-tickers, and task-masters” who do these jobs are understandably nervous — there’s a good chance these jobs will be eliminated permanently, especially as the early-2020s deep economic recession feeds into the predicted mid-2020s Greater Depression.

But a lot of people, many of them in high-risk, low-paid jobs, are and will remain what we are now calling Essential Workers (medical staff, care workers, teachers, garbage collectors, janitors, delivery people, grocery store workers, farmers etc). This is of course not how the government and the powerful define “essential services” (which include their own jobs, the financial and banking industry, the military, the energy industry, the mainstream media, lawyers, the transportation industry, a slew of manufacturing jobs, much of the technology sector, and most of the construction industry, among other jobs that are in no sense actually essential).

And then there is everyone else. Not Essential, and not considered essential by the rich and powerful, but not working in unnecessary, Bullshit Jobs either.

THE SEARCH FOR A BETTER WAY

The question that many of us are now asking (other than How’s it going to end?) is now: Is there a better way? For the truly Essential jobs, that question is being asked with a sense of urgency but not much forward thinking: Is there a better way right now for a while that runs less risk of pandemic infection?

But for many, either laid off at home or with plenty of idle time at workplaces where volume of business is down 50-90%, it’s a deeper, more existential question: Now that I’m not totally preoccupied with doing my job — Is there a better way to do the work I do? Is this really what I’m meant to spend most of my waking hours doing?

If we lived in a world that exercised and practiced our imaginations, as many of us did before technology and entertainment dumbed everything down and replaced the need to imagine with the simpler need just to react, we would probably be very capable of coming up with a ton of better ways to do just about everything. But not anymore.

We have forgotten that the need of the person drilling into wood to make a piece of art or craft is not for a drill — faster, quieter, more efficient, or more ergonomic. It is for a hole. If we want to escape imaginative poverty, we are going to have to relearn and re-practice imagining how else we might meet the need for a hole, rather than how we might add “features” to the drill, or connect it to the internet to do something flashy that could not be done otherwise, just to produce the same damn hole. In many industries, what is called “innovation” has forsaken responding to what is needed in favour of what is possible (which requires much less imagination).

This is true for just about everything we produce, and, as desperate as is our need to produce monumentally less of all the crap we don’t need at all, we also need to rethink — and reimagine — how we produce just about everything, with an eye to increasing local resilience to crises, and at the same time decreasing our ecological footprint.

WHAT DO WE REALLY NEED?

Let’s consider restaurants for example. What are the needs that restaurants meet, in light of our CoVid-19 discovery that they really aren’t Essential Services? Perhaps our longing for their re-opening suggests that the needs they meet aren’t entirely about the food, and that the needs they meet are actually pretty essential to our health.

So rather than thinking just slightly imaginatively about how restaurants could reopen while still protecting staff and customers from pandemic infections, let’s take a step back and ask what the needs are that they fill, how those needs might otherwise be filled, and what are the other important needs (that they have never tried to meet) that they might be able to meet with a little more imagination.

I’m talking here about healthy human needs — those that enrich us, make us genuinely happy, bring real pleasure, heal us from real pain. I’m not talking about pandering to the unhealthy needs that arise when we lose capacity to get what we need in healthy ways — unhealthy needs like escapism, distraction, indulgence, thrill-seeking, or inuring ourselves to reality through acts of violence, anger, vengeance, ruthless competition and hate. We can meet a narcissist’s needs in the short run by indulging them, but in the long run we’re not doing anyone any favours.

Last year I wrote an article that tried to distil, from several lists, what our basic human needs are. I identified eight:

  1. the need to belong to, connect and collaborate with a safe and engaging community, starting with attachment to one’s mother in the critical first years of life
  2. the need for meaning and purpose in one’s life, including meaningful work
  3. the need to be valued, appreciated, and heard
  4. the need to be optimistic about the future for oneself and loved ones
  5. the need for control and a degree of autonomy over one’s life and work
  6. the need to be regularly and closely in touch with beauty, joy, wonder and the natural world
  7. the need for a sense of belonging to place, and home
  8. the need for freedom from chronic stress (financial, physical etc.) and the time and space to recover from it (including getting adequate sleep)

I’m unsure whether the need to create (and to co-create), and the need for the freedom to be authentically oneself, should be added as ninth and tenth essential needs. Let’s add them for the moment.

Some of the obvious ways we meet these needs when we visit restaurants are by providing the pleasures of:

  1. social interaction and social stimulation, including creating and deepening relationships, and finding sounding boards for information, ideas and feelings (sensemaking, dialogue and dialectic) (meets needs #1, #3 and #10)
  2. intellectual stimulation (#1, #2 and #9)
  3. learning and doing new things (#1 and #2)
  4. various forms of play (#1, #2, #6 and #8)
  5. engaging in sensory and aesthetic pleasures (#6)
  6. sharing a joyful, local shared “third place” (#6 and #7)
  7. saving time (preparing meals, which for some is a chore that precludes doing other valued or urgent activities) and giving ourselves a break (#8)

These seven essential pleasures are not unique to restaurants and bars: I would argue they are the drivers for many other activities, from ancient potlatches to modern potlucks and “cocktail parties”, games nights, coffee klatches and coffee houses, tea ceremonies, neighbourhood music jams and song circles, and even a lot of non-food-related activities like yoga, gym workouts, group meditation and chanting circles. In all of these there is a certain sense of collective ritual that pleases and enriches us.

So how might we provide these seven pleasures, perhaps even better than we do now, and even if we have to continue to exercise social distancing? Assume we’re starting with a restaurant or other social gathering place with amenities. How might we better provide these pleasures and hence meet these needs? And what additional, novel opportunities might we start to offer with our reinvented ‘social space’ service that meet these and other essential human needs?

In other words, what’s a better way to do this, to be of use to those we care about with the skills, capacities and resources we have to offer?

Ideally we’d do this investigation with a diverse group, but let me get the ball rolling and, if you’re interested, jump in with your own thoughts.

I’d start by acknowledging that these activities have evolved to be the way they are for a reason, and messing with their essential elements unless we have to, would be an error. We’re not out to change people’s behaviour, we’re looking for, to borrow a bit of business jargon, ways to “enrich the user experience”.

I also think it’s important to acknowledge some needs that these spaces wish they could fulfil, but often cannot:

  • The desire to include all our loved ones, and some people we would love to meet but can’t, in our gatherings, because of physical distance, for example
  • The desire to meet new friends and new partners (both personal and business) in these spaces
  • The desire to be less of a spectator and more of an active participant in these spaces (eg not only eating a great meal, but learning about its ingredients and process)
  • The desire for broader connection (most of the time) with others or even everyone in the place, to make the place a true community space, a place that is collectively “ours” rather than one we just “rent” for a while.

STARTING WITH TECHNOLOGIES: REIMAGINING SHARED SPACES 

Most of our new technologies offer us a slew of new things that can be done, without any reference to whether these things actually have any value. Their lazy and unimaginative offerers simply keep throwing new variations at us, and leave it up to the “market” to see what users seemingly want. Their hope is that the technology will be addictive enough that the want will become a need, and then they can sell out and retire. As a result, most of the technologies in ubiquitous use today are horribly designed and provide an awful user experience, with Facebook and Twitter being the absolute worst.

So, starting with needs — with the hole that is needed and not the drill or any of its fancy attachments — how might we design some technologies to help us ‘reinvent’ the restaurant or other social-gathering experience?

I would start with an appreciation that people want any new technology to emulate as closely as possible the behaviours and actions that it presumes to enhance. That means using it should be as simple and intuitive as opening a door or scanning a menu.

And I would start with the idea of presence. More than just being “immersive”, a well-designed technology would achieve a level and sense of presence nearly indistinguishable from reality (some of us believe our whole sense of reality is actually just a clever wetware illusion produced inside our bodies anyway, so this shouldn’t be too hard a feat to pull off).

But we really can’t hope to capture the sense of presence on the tiny screens of cell phones. If we really want to emulate the sense of being with others using technology, we will need big, ultra high definition monitors. If you’ve watched any videos in 4K, you’ve probably realized that they convey a completely different sense of presence, of actually being there, compared to low-def video. A surprising number of people now have large, inexpensive, 4K-compatible screens, that are used mostly for watching mind-numbing films and pap reality series, but which could be used for a much more powerful connection with people we care about right from our own homes.

But of course a big 4K screen isn’t enough for presence. Until VR technology can evolve past the clunky headsets, what might be useful is technology that monitors what we are specifically looking at and adjusts the screen image to focus on that, to simulate what it is really like to move around in another’s presence. Technology that responds to our head and eye movements in an intuitive way.

Another thing that’s needed (and regular Zoom users can attest to this) is technology that can blend multiple sounds being made simultaneously from different places into a single signal. It’s so artificial when each voice has to end before the next begins, or when two people speak (or sing) at once and the result is an unintelligible screech or pop. There is no reason why we can’t improve our technologies so that their sound closely emulates the conversation (or music) we would hear if we were all in the same room.

Ideally, this higher-quality, more realistic video and audio could be incorporated into a lightweight and unimposing immersive headset that would allow more natural interaction to occur ‘virtually’, but my sense is that’s still a way off, and it may always be too strange for many to ever agree to use. In the meantime, large high-quality video and integrated, high-quality audio could get us most of the way there.

My sense is also that people are rarely focused on one thing at a time in their ‘real’ environment, so even better than one large 4K screen would be two, with each ‘remembering’ one of the last two things you were looking at — your virtual ‘dinner’ colleague and the menu, for example.

The next improvement I’d like to see is shared 4k ‘environments’. As fascinating as it is to look at the living rooms of strangers on Zoom, if I’m sharing a conversational experience with faraway friends, colleagues and family members, it would be wonderful if we could ‘seem’ (from our pictured ‘backgrounds’) to be actually in the same place, with the same background. That could be as mundane as one person’s living room, or as rich as the background of Venice as seen from a virtual canal boat. Imagine taking a 4K virtual ‘tour’ of the Pyramids, or the Moon, ‘with’ a group of people all over the world all hearing and seeing the same thing. The ultimate dinner cruise, even if you each have to cook the same thing in your individual ovens to experience it!

This is what I mean by enhancing the user experience. The shared experience could ‘happen’ in a place that all participants love or fondly remember, or a place that none has ever seen before. It could be a beach in Bali, or, if the experience is to be educational and not just recreational, a factory floor of a world-class manufacturer, or a deepwater undersea exploration, or the rim of a Black Hole. Or something as prosaic as the aisles and shelves of the store one of you is shopping at on behalf of the others. A virtual ‘shared’ space anywhere in the world (or beyond it).

OTHER TECH-ENABLED WAYS OF ENHANCING THE VIRTUAL SHARED-SPACE EXPERIENCE

Since I’m dreaming, here are some more things that could make for a larger-than-life, or better-than-ordinary user experience: The ability to invite people (those you know, those you’d love to get to know, or anyone who might know what you’re trying to find out) to just seamlessly “drop in” to your conversation, based on a very sophisticated form of Invitation. So instead of asking a question on Quora, you could invite people to just drop in on your permaculture garden, look at the setting and the soil nutrient data, and suggest just what is needed to deal with the problem of the wilting plants. Learning how to craft engaging, irresistible invitations is potentially a total game-changer for how we learn, how we meet new people, and how we collaborate. Sites like Quora have destroyed the myth that you need to pay people to get useful (and even expert) counsel, and that the most valuable knowledge is only accessible by the select few. (Sadly, Quora is also drowning in narcissists and awash in unsupported opinions and just plain wrong information. But that’s another problem.)

What else? If your conversation is with people you’ve just met or don’t know well, it would be great to have ‘permissioned’ access to the personal Profiles of everyone in the ‘space’, to scan while you’re talking with them to get a sense of context for where they’re coming from, and how knowledgeable and trustworthy they are about what they’re saying. This is one of the key advantages of another promising but failed “presence” technology, Second Life. Whether you’re just looking for a friendly and knowledgeable conversation or the start of a beautiful relationship, the Profile, if available to browse with a single click, might let you know what you have in common, and what they care about, and hence what is probably most fruitful to talk with them about (avoiding long and awkward silences).

A few years ago there was an independent app developed for Facebook (which Facebook naturally shut down) that scanned all your “friends”, and by looking at those friends’ friends and their overlap, automatically ‘clustered’ those friends into those with the greatest commonality. It couldn’t tell you what they had in common, of course, but for the user it was immediately obvious, and enlightening. I found that my ‘networks‘ were a mix of physical communities (people in each of the places I have lived), communities of practice and capacity (people I have worked or collaborated with on projects or activities or share expertise with), communities of interest (people I share hobbies or affinities with), and communities of identity (people I share beliefs with). What I would love is a tool that would suggest who else might fit into each of these communities that I might want to converse and ‘share space’ with, and how I might, through existing contacts, explore short impromptu meetings with them (yes I know LinkedIn attempted to do this, but hey, we all know it didn’t work because it didn’t acknowledge the reality of power politics).

And I would love a more robust and intuitive way of signalling how I’m feeling, and ‘seeing’ how others in the ‘shared space’ are feeling. The ‘thumbs up’ icon is the right idea but it lacks subtlety and doesn’t begin to cover the range of things I’d like some means to convey. Just like ‘private messages’, such a feature would allow me to be selective in who I signal to.

And I would love to be able to emulate physical actions (hugs, handshakes etc) in virtual spaces in a more realistic way.

So: More natural emulation in ‘virtual’ shared spaces of how we behave in ‘physical’ spaces, including more vivid and natural video and audio, simulation of virtual shared spaces where all participants ‘feel’ they are in one environment (which could be anywhere imaginable), simpler, more powerful capacity to invite others to drop in to the space (and suggestions on who to invite), capacity to ‘sidebar-view’ information about other participants and volunteered information on how they’re feeling, and virtual emulation of a wide range of important and demonstrative physical gestures. Those are just some of the ways I think we could reimagine ‘virtual’ shared spaces to be more natural, more pleasurable, and better able to meet real, healthy human needs.

REIMAGINING THE PHYSICAL SPACE, TOO

There is only so much we can do until we are once again able to convene in real physical spaces again. Once we can, there are plenty of other things we can do to enhance the ‘user experience’ in restaurants and other shared physical spaces.

For example, these establishments could provide additional flexibility in their physical space to allow “breakout rooms” analogous to what Zoom offers. These rooms might allow quiet conversations of a “Philosophers’ Café” style, for example. They could host community events, or open mics, or theatre or film showings, or workshops (playshops) or games nights or cooking presentations by one of the chefs, or other educational, recreational or community-building events. This would require some flexibility in movable walls, or outside tents or other innovative “breakout room” schemes and I’m not expert enough to know how they might happen, but I’m sure the Japanese, for example, would have some ideas, as their homes are often designed to be reconfigurable. This would, of course, sacrifice the noisy and boisterous sports-bar/party atmosphere that some restaurant-goers enjoy, but I think the trade-off would be worth it.

Restaurants could also provide “electronic menus” that would allow diners to learn what the precise ingredients (and even recipes) of their favourite menu items are, the nutritional value “score” of each of the menu options, and/or which menu items have been highest rated by customers over the past 24 hours. They could even offer a “kitchen-cam” that would allow solo diners and prospective gourmets (those for whom the restaurant visit really is mostly about the food) to be able to watch their dishes being cooked.

Speaking of solo diners, I can imagine that some would appreciate an app that would allow people to identify if they might be willing to share dinner with another customer present in the restaurant. This could easily be done in a way that would prevent harassment (eg a 2-step process where one party would volunteer that they’d be willing to meet other diners, and under what circumstances, and then if there was an acceptance, the initial party would have to confirm willingness to dine with the second party that had offered the connection; and a non-confirmation or non-response would be a polite ‘no thanks’, no insult intended).

There are other, established but still rarely-offered restaurant dining innovations such as “long tables” and “nuits blanches” that could be instituted and expanded upon. And participatory events like “murder mystery” dinners.

Or, for busy people who want to grab a bite on the way home but don’t want fast food, restaurants could offer limited-menu “grab-and-go” gourmet takeout selections that would not need pre-ordering.

And finally, there are all sorts of possibilities if restaurants were to put their heads together with other nearby retail businesses and organizations and provide joint offerings — think fashion and art shows, mobile library programs, canning bees, even ask-a-mechanic demonstrations. The possibilities are limitless, but most of us are so focused on our own businesses we don’t think about opportunities for collaboration.

SCENARIO: A REIMAGINED ‘SHARED SPACE’ GATHERING

Here’s a scenario of how this might all come together:

  • It’s a big day for our little island: It’s the official unveiling of the First Nations name for the island alongside the English name, down at the ferry dock where visitors first arrive. Because of the need for social distancing, the celebrations all have to be done virtually.
  • To get ready, six local restaurants, in consultation with First Nations elders, have assembled hundreds of packages for islander pick-up, each containing the measured raw ingredients and step-by-step recipes for First Nations ceremonial foods (enough for two people to cook at home), plus some ceremonial gifts. Six hundred people have picked up the packages in the week leading up to the event.
  • People started to dial in to the event, using the new enhanced technology, hours before the festivities were scheduled to begin. Those “arriving” were immediately immersed in a virtual diorama scene developed by a local artist, picturing how our island cove might have looked 300 years ago. There are several long, rough-hewn, slope-roofed Coast Salish houses and fire pits in this amazing shared ‘background’, with the pounding sea and soaring mountains behind, and when the viewer turns their face, the background swivels to show an astonishing expanse of old growth forest as far as the eye can see.
  • The faces of other attendees in the ‘main space’ can be reordered and re-sized, or moved to my second screen so I can just look at the moving diorama if I so choose. When each person arrives, we are ‘pre-garbed’ in a ceremonial costume, though we can of course choose from any number of other head-and-shoulders outfits from our virtual ‘trunks’, suitable for the occasion.
  • My grandkids, who live thousands of miles away, have ‘joined’ me for this event, and they are partaking of several pre-celebration activities in the event breakout rooms. My granddaughter is virtual-snorkelling in one room, watching 4K narrated footage produced by a celebrated island underwater photographer. She is laughing and jumping around in her virtual headset as a pod of wild seals seemingly cavort all around her. My grandson is learning about carving in another breakout room, practicing with his own tools as a teacher points out the fine points of the art. As they ‘arrived’ I was able to give them virtual ‘hugs’ that used our actual faces to seem surprisingly real and intimate. And I receive notifications of their ’emotional state’ gestures throughout the event to ensure they are safe and happy even when off in other ‘rooms’, and which prompt me to ‘join’ them at appropriate times.
  • As the celebration begins, we are called back to the main ‘room’ on the ‘beach’ where we are immediately assigned to other breakout rooms in groups of eight, each resembling the inside of an ancient canoe, where our First Nations leader instructs us how to use our imaginary ‘oars’ — and we are on our way! The large screen now shows us the view over the front of our ‘canoes’ as we make a narrated, sacred journey to a nearby island where the ‘feast’ will occur. I’m surprised to see that one of the passengers in my canoe is the wife of our Prime Minister (recently recovered from CoVid-19). The Profile Monitor ‘compares’ her interests with mine and prompts that we’re both involved in documenting the genealogy of our respective families, and both fans of complexity theory, Ursula Le Guin’s writing, and the game Pandemic. After a brief chat with her on these topics I invite my sister-in-law, who is a huge fan of hers, and who lives overseas, to ‘drop in’ to our canoe to meet her. The sea around our canoe teems with marine life and birds — whales, sea lions, vast schools of herring, flights of cormorants, gangs of bald eagles — each pointed out by our guide. The sounds and sights are so vivid I can almost feel the motion of the waves.
  • Some of the canoes are set aside for singles, and for international student group meet-ups. In them, some potentially deep and important new relationships are being forged in this enchanting atmosphere.
  • Finally, we arrive at our destination, and as we come ashore (back to the ‘main room’) we are instructed to begin cooking the feast. Each in our own homes, following the instructions of a chef who is cooking ‘live’ on our large screens, we cook the ingredients we’d picked up over the past week. We’ve had the choice to either purchase a ‘ticket’ for this special event, or to participate free (including the food ingredients); in the latter case we view advertisements from the event’s sponsors on part of our smaller screen. The substantial proceeds from ticket sales and sponsors are divided among the participating restaurants, artists and photographers, and several local charities.
  • And now, we break bread together. We can choose a ‘private room’ (made to look like the interior of a longhouse), or ‘outside’ in the main space where singing and dancing occurs, the combined voices and instruments of hundreds of participants creating a spectacular and moving sensory experience of sound, rhythm and harmony.
  • Afterwards, post-event breakout rooms allow First Nations and Second Nations people to gather, learn about and discuss local issues such as how to prevent an LNG facility and terminal that has been proposed for just north of our island. Elected officials are also holding information and engagement sessions on issues of local interest in other breakout rooms.
  • Oh, and there was a game: Three famous Canadians ‘attended’ the event in disguise, and those who were able to pick out Margaret Atwood, David Suzuki and Sarah McLachlan in their strange outfits and affected voices won prizes. Lots of people watched the video recording of the event afterwards and realized they’d been in ‘canoes’ with one of these celebrities and had no idea!
  • I will never look at my island quite the same way again after this. It is now ‘populated’ in my memory with those who give its history, geography and ecology new meaning, people and wild creatures I’d never ‘met’ before. And I’m haunted, as I walk through the lovely but vastly-diminished forests of our island, at the realization of what it must have been like when this island was thick with rainforest, trees hundreds of feet tall and ecosystems as rich and varied as any on earth.

.     .     .     .     .

CONCLUSION: IT COULD BE SO MUCH BETTER THAN THIS

Most of us, of course, are not in the restaurant, or another shared-space-with-amenities, business. But we could do the same kind of imaginative exploration of just about every type of work in our economy. Does it actually meet any real (healthy) needs at all? If it doesn’t, could it? How, with imagination, could it be transformed or replaced with something that does meet a real need? And if the work that you’re doing does meet real needs, what are they, and how, with imagination, could your work be transformed or replaced with work that more effectively meets those, and other, real needs, and do so in a resilient and sustainable way?

It’s a cliché to talk about “outside the box” thinking, but this is what we sorely need to do if we want to find a truly better way to live and make a living, not merely one that reacts to and begrudgingly accommodates some new unpleasant realities. We reacted really badly, and utterly unimaginatively, to 9/11. We owe it to ourselves to find a better way to deal with this new crisis, and the ones to follow. That means nothing less than a war on imaginative poverty, and the shoddy, inferior, mundane products and services it provides.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End, Working Smarter | 2 Comments

Uh Oh… Double CoVid Trouble


author’s rough estimate of current and projected CoVid-19 infection rates, based on data listed above and in the article below; data for the “world” and for Brasil are interpolated from other sources using various assumptions, and are hence much less accurate than other data

A double dose of really bad news today (May 13, 2020) about what the future may hold for the pandemic.

The first news was a set of fairly well-substantiated research data from New York, France and Spain that all came to the same conclusion: The rate of infection so far is a lot lower than we’d thought, and the mortality rate is thus a lot higher than we’d thought.

For New York State, which has a population of about 20 million, the first results of serology (blood testing for CoVid-19 antibodies) suggests that only 15% of the state’s people (about 3 million people) have been infected so far. Official reports are that about 20,000 New Yorkers have died, and a report today in the NYT suggests again that “excess deaths” in New York and in many other states to date are likely in the range of 50% more than the official reports (for understandable reasons I’ve discussed in earlier articles). 30,000 deaths divided by 3 million people = a 1.0% mortality rate, which is 2-5x what most of us were expecting based on the low mortality figures reported to date.

Results for Indiana support this unexpectedly low infection rate: there they have only had 3% of serology tests come back positive, although they’re earlier in the curve than New York State. Likewise it has been estimated that Québec’s infection rate is only about 5%.

For France, which has a population of 60 million and the same death toll as New York State, their serology tests have come back only 5% positive (meaning about 3 million people have been infected in France if the sample is representative). Their official death toll of 20,000 has likewise been shown to be only 2/3 of the “excess death” numbers there for the year to date, compared to recent years, so once again 30,000 deaths divided by 3 million people = 1.0% mortality rate.

The early numbers for Spain are very similar, and data for other countries don’t suggest these numbers are inaccurate.

What does this mean? If the first wave mortality rate had been, say, 0.25% (similar to the mortality rate for measles, as a lot of us were predicting), and the final actual first wave US death toll turns out to be 220,000 (again, assuming 50% more than UW projected “official” numbers) then that would mean 220,000/0.0025 = 88 million Americans would have been infected by this summer. That’s only 27% of the population, but it’s a significant proportion that hopefully would be immune to the next wave. So that’s 220,000 deaths, or 0.07% of the population dying while 27% of the population gets (we hope) immune from further infection.

But if the actual mortality rate is 1.0% (which now appears to be closer to the case) — 4 times higher — that means only 22 million Americans (just 7% of the population) will have developed any immunity by this summer that could protect them (and their contacts) in the face of a potential upsurge from relaxing social distancing too soon (which is already starting to happen), or from the next wave, while the other 93% of Americans now have a four times higher risk of dying from the next upsurge or wave of CoVid-19 than we thought was the case. And it leaves us miles short of the 60-70% minimum proportion with antibodies to the virus needed for so-called herd immunity, even in heavily-hit areas like New York.

The news gets worse. Just a few hours ago, the supreme court of Wisconsin struck down the Governor’s stay-at-home order extension in that state as being unconstitutional. That leaves that state with no legal regulations against pandemic spread whatsoever a week from now when the original period of the order expires, unless the recalcitrant Republican right-libertarian-dominated state house suddenly has a miraculous change of heart. This will almost certainly result in copycat constitutional challenges in every other state, that might spell the end to any systematic social distancing regulations in the US, which already has the world’s highest CoVid-19 death toll.

The disease is presenting us with several simultaneous paradoxes. Clearly, with only 4-7% Americans infected so far (barring more dangerous rulings like the Wisconsin one and commensurate irresponsible behaviour and death spikes), in many parts of the US many people don’t know a single person infected by the disease, and therefore can’t really believe it’s a serious problem. They will only believe their governments, and the stories they hear from hard-hit centres, for so long in the absence of any personal confirmation, before they will tend to fall victim to cynical manipulative politicians and/or conspiracy theorists. Many will become at least sloppy, if not outright defiant, about the kinds of rigorous social distancing that have so far kept the death toll so low.

The situation in other parts of the world is not that different. The infections tend to be extremely localized, principally in areas that have high population density (per household, not per square mile), high mobility, and low incomes requiring people to work long hours often in high-risk positions like private nursing home orderlies, billeted shift workers and slaughterhouse workers. They spread most easily among seniors and those with compromised immune systems, especially when those people are crowded together in sometimes-derelict institutions. For everyone else, the disease may be all but invisible. The nature of this disease is that social distancing seems to work incredibly well at limiting its spread, but in the absence of social distancing it spreads like, well, a plague.

We generally know little about these viruses, such as why they seem to have seasonal peaks and recurrences, and how exactly they make us sick. The probability of us developing a reliable vaccine in the near future is reportedly low, and there is a large enough population who will refuse the vaccine (10% is probably sufficient) that even if it is developed it may not be enough to defeat the disease from coming back again and again, until after our natural or vaccinated immunity has worn off, or the virus has mutated to a new form we are not immune to. For that reason some believe it will become endemic, which means that as many as 1% of the world’s population (78 million people) might eventually die from it, unless it evolves into a weaker form or an effective vaccine is developed. A worst case scenario, of course, but not a highly-improbable one. (This compares to the 3% mortality rate — 50 million people — of history’s most deadly pandemic in 1918. But that 3% was due to its mutation to a virulent second wave form that killed mostly the young and healthy.)

What we do know is that between 90% and 99% of citizens of most developed countries are still likely fully susceptible to CoVid-19 now, exactly when many of their governments, oblivious to the lessons of history, are beginning to ease restrictions that have kept the vast majority of their citizens from getting infected, and of whom about 1% will likely die when they do (that 1% being an average varying greatly depending on age, health and living conditions). That means a virtual certainty of an upswing in cases and deaths to as much as 20 times the current tolls.

We also know that additional waves are likely, and though they are likely to be weaker, there is a chance they may be stronger, or even much stronger. And they are likely to last anywhere from one to three more years. If you’re invested in the stock market, you may want to hope that the majority see no problem with tens of millions dying as the price of restoring economic ‘growth’. That is probably the cost. Whether we will choose to pay it remains to be seen. But the odds of us escaping relatively unscathed are suddenly looking much worse than they did even a few short days ago.

This is the sixth of a series of articles on CoVid-19. The fifth is here. The fourth, with a link to the first three, is here.

Posted in Creative Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 1 Comment

Beyond Belief

This is another post on the subject of radical non-duality. Caveat lector.


image from a reproduction of a destroyed neon work by artist Joe Rees; photo by Steve Rhodes CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

I’ve been thinking about how and why we come to believe what we believe.

Wild creatures, I think, have it right: They believe what they observe, what their senses tell them. Such ‘self-evident’ truths are, literally, obvious.

All creatures are conditioned by their experiences, and for most creatures those experiences are delimited by what their senses tell them has happened. As Melissa Pierson explains: “The same law of behavior affects all creatures’ actions: we do something, it produces pleasure or it produces pain or it produces nothing, and the result determines whether we continue doing it, stop doing it, or do it differently, and these are the only options.”

Whether “it produces pleasure or it produces pain or it produces nothing” is an assessment, for most creatures, based entirely on their observed experience. But when language enters the picture our beliefs can quickly get very complicated. Suddenly we are pressed to believe not only what our own experiences and observations have led us to believe, but also what others we trust (scientists, journalists, and those we have personal relationships with) have observed or experienced.

So when as a small child our observation is that the sun circles the earth, but we are told it’s the other way around, we have to balance the two to decide what we believe. And there are other things we’re told are true (eg religious and moral beliefs) that usually can’t be shown to be true from observation or experience, but which almost everyone we know and trust asserts to be true, based not on evidence but on anecdote or just on faith. Now deciding what to believe gets even harder, and more tenuous.

I used to believe in good and evil, in progress, in humans’ vast capacity to make things better, in the standard cosmological theory of space-time, matter and energy and their origins, in evolution and Gaia theory, in human self-consciousness as an evolutionary advance, in free will and personal responsibility, in life having meaning and purpose.

All of these beliefs were conditioned by my observations and experiences, by trusted others’ observations and experiences, and by what trusted others believed even though they were not subject to direct observation and experience. Our large complex brains, after all, are essentially sense-making machines, and beliefs are how they make sense of things that haven’t been, or can’t be, absolutely known.

So how is it that those creatures whose actions and beliefs are based solely on personal observation and experience seem so much more adept at living successfully and equanimously than our destructive and unhappy species?

I’m the stereotypical Doubting Thomas, always challenging what I’m told and what I believe (I have a poster behind me on Zoom calls that reminds me: “Don’t believe everything you think.”) From a very young age I’ve had a nagging feeling there’s something very wrong with how we humans live, and what we believe, but I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Surely, I keep asking myself, life shouldn’t be this hard, this complicated, this stressful and confusing. All this bewildering complexity, just to survive and struggle in a world where other creatures have thrived for hundreds of millions of years without having to know any of it?

What, I’ve asked myself, if it isn’t actually that hard? What if all of this new knowledge of what to believe and what you ‘should’ do is not actually true, or real, or even necessary? What if what’s actually true is not obvious, and not scientifically verifiable, and does not have to be taken on faith?

This is where I landed when I began exploring radical non-duality. The more I’ve studied and learned, the more I’ve been filled with doubt about what I believe. Astrophysics and quantum science, it turns out, seems to make more sense if there is no such thing as time, and if what we observe as space, and things in it, are actually merely appearances in an infinite field of possibilities. In other words, that everything we call “real” is just an invention of a brain desperately trying to make sense of everything, and hence mistaking a constructed model of reality for the “real” thing.

Neuroscience, at the same time, now seems to posit that there is no such thing as a “self” (the homunculus inside our heads is nowhere to be found), and that there is no such thing as free will. In other words, there is no “you”, and everything “you” seemingly do and believe is simply a conditioned response. Not predetermined, mind you, as an infinite number of unpredictable variables can affect your conditioning, but thence what you do and believe is determined completely by that conditioning. “You” have no say in it.

No time, no space, no free will or choice, and no “you” — this is a loathsome and abhorrent possibility for creatures that seem driven to make sense, to know, and hence to make things better. I did not want to hear this message. It makes no sense. I refused to listen to it for years. It struck me as anti-intuitive, counter to what was observable (I was a phenomenologist), anti-science, unprovable (the ultimate condemnation, to me), and utterly useless.

Two things finally forced me (as I evidently have no free will!) to open myself to the heresy that this possibility, the opposite of all I believed, might actually be true.

The first of these were the glimpses. There have been times when ‘I’ seemingly disappeared, and it was somehow ‘obvious’ (though not to ‘me’ as ‘I’ was not there) that there was only everything, eternal and already perfect, and that this ‘everything’ was just an appearance out of nothing. When the glimpses ended and ‘I’ returned, they were recalled as being wonderful, mystical experiences, but I dismissed them as daydreams, disconnected from reality.

But more recently they have come across differently, as a ‘seeing through’ of the illusions that have dominated my life. It was ‘obvious’ that what was glimpsed was not only true (and everything I had believed to be real and true was false), but always and already there — there was no anxiety about ‘holding on’ to this glimpsed reality because it was already there and already everything, complete. The veil of my self and my separate existence were seen for what they were —illusory and transient, of no importance whatsoever.

I had heard and read descriptions of this from many people, from all walks of life, all over the world, some of them dating back millennia, and while what they were saying varied enormously in how (and how articulately) it was said, it was absolutely clear that they were all describing the same thing. And the reason for the inarticulateness was that what they were describing cannot be described.

The second, more recent discovery is that there are (apparent) people all around us who no longer have (or never had) the illusion of self or separation, but who don’t seem different (or at all dysfunctional) because of it. To the extent it is in their nature to talk about this, I have called them ‘radical’ non-dualists to differentiate them from non-duality ‘teachers’. Almost all of what claims to be ‘non-dual teaching’ is actually utterly dual — it is describing the nature of separation and what can be done to overcome it and become ‘enlightened’ or ‘liberated’ or achieve some ‘higher state’ or other nonsense.

Only a small number are saying what is obvious after a glimpse — that there is no one, no separation, no time (or past or present or ‘now’), no space, no thing ‘real’ at all — just ‘one-ness’ appearing freely as everything, for no reason, always and already. This is excruciatingly difficult to convey — as it cannot be described, this message has to be explained mostly by saying what is not, rather than what is. ‘Meetings’ with radical non-dual messages are just now starting to evolve a common approach and vocabulary to try to articulate this unfathomable message, and to reinforce that all alleged ‘paths’ to seeing this are inherently misleading and futile, and that there is nothing ‘you’ can do to see that there is no ‘you’. There is no ‘teaching’ by the hopeless messengers of radical non-duality.

This is not a ‘theory’ — it is what glimpses show, and what those apparent characters who lack the illusion of self or separation describe, as being obviously, eternally, and already true. They have no axe to grind, nothing to promote, and nothing to gain from conning us.

No ‘one’ can really believe this. It asserts the non-existence of anyone who can believe anything. This message makes no sense. Yet somehow, despite the staggering cognitive dissonance it presents, it is, at least for now, believed here. It has rendered all my other beliefs moot, though this well-conditioned character continues, apparently, to act in accordance with the ‘old’ beliefs. It’s not that I passionately believe this message, a message that makes no sense. It’s more that I can no longer believe in anything else — nothing else makes sense anymore either.

I’m learning to be careful about what I believe. My beliefs have caused me much grief and stress, and they make poor place-holders for what I do not, based on my own direct observation, know to be true. I watch the wild creatures in the forest below my house, and envy their obvious freedom from the need to believe.

Posted in Our Culture / Ourselves, Radical Non-Duality | 7 Comments

The Needs of the Moment


Business ‘experts’, who probably earn million dollar annual salaries for supposedly knowing all about their businesses, were polled by the WEF for the January 2020 Global Risk report, and asked to rank 30 risks in terms of their expected impact on business in the 2020s. Note which risk, just a few months ago, they ranked dead last.

Much has been written about the parallels between our inadequate planning for, and response to, pandemics, and our inadequate planning for, and response to, climate collapse, ecological collapse, economic collapse, earthquakes and other natural disasters etc. Most of the writing has been of the “We told you so” (I actually did, in 2007), or “This is our wake-up call — we need to be prepared for all these things” variety. They may be right, but they’re not particularly helpful.

I think it might be time to acknowledge that it’s just not in our nature, or capacity, to plan for crises in advance. As John Gray puts it in Straw Dogs: “The mass of mankind is ruled not by its own intermittent moral sensations, still less by self-interest, but by the needs of the moment. It seems fated to wreck the balance of life on Earth — and thereby to be the agent of its own destruction.” And past civilizations have seemingly been no better prepared for crises than ours is today.

Of course, if we’re persuaded the risk is both imminent and enormous, we will go through the motions of preparing, at least until the perceived risk seems to be further away, or potentially less catastrophic, after which we slack off and our preparations are largely forgotten. During the Cold War, fallout shelters were popular, but they were designed to appease frightened citizens, not to actually work. Governments have hurricane, tornado, earthquake and other disaster plans, but acknowledge that they have in past done little to reduce death and destruction, and they are likely completely inadequate for “the Really Big Ones“. The massive and enduring American DHS apparatus put in place to address the threat of “terrorism” (ill-defined but “we know it when we see it”) has been astronomically expensive and substantially worthless, possibly the worst project in terms of value-for-money in risk reduction in all of human history.

Preparing for what is inevitable but too far in the future to predict (location, timing or impact) is just not what we humans do — we’re not inclined to do it, and when we do, we do it badly. I worked for a brief period in pandemic monitoring and preparation after the SARS epidemic, and it was eye-opening. We knew what would be required to prevent a future pandemic, but acknowledged that those with the authority and resources to make it happen were not prepared to do so, and that we kind of understood why.

We knew that closing airports and otherwise trying to isolate a highly-contagious disease simply doesn’t work. And that getting institutions and individuals to stockpile PPE and practice using them properly would be as unpopular and impossible to enforce or sustain as the fallout shelter movement. Humans rarely do things “just in case”. The precautionary principle has never really prevailed anywhere in human enterprise. For us to order and maintain billions of disease test kits, and to maintain the infrastructure needed to process the test samples promptly when pandemics struck, was never even a prospect, even though it would be (relatively) inexpensive. It just seems premature, unnecessary, or over the top, until of course it actually happens.

It is possible that we may change our pandemic preparedness for a short while this year, especially while the risk of additional waves and mutations remains so high. We might even be as ready as the Taiwanese and South Koreans for the kind of pandemic we are now facing (though that’s doubtful — too expensive and too inconsistent with our western culture to tolerate this level of government intervention at at time when cynically sowing distrust of everything governments do has become politicians’ favourite maneuver).

But what happens when the vector of transmission next time isn’t from a pangolin or other exotic mammal to a single human and hence, one by one, to a tenth of the human race (which seems to be what happened so far this time around). What happens next time if  the mortality rate isn’t a mere “acceptable” 0.35%? (That’s 2-3 million deaths worldwide first wave; total for all waves perhaps 10x that number depending on continued social distancing and time to inoculate the world with an effective vaccine.) What if next time, or next wave, the mortality rate is 3.5%, or 35% (not unheard of with some viruses)?

What if next time (as epidemiologists tend to believe is more likely) the vector is an H5N1 or H7N9 (ie a non-corona) virus spreading through the 24 billion chickens or the two billion pigs kept in the world’s ghastly factory farms, and then crossing the species barrier from all those dying farm animals to humans? What if, like the wave 2 H1N1 virus in 1918, or the H1N1 “swine flu” pandemic of 2009, the next virus is the type that incites a cytokine storm response in humans, and hence primarily afflicts the young and healthy with strong immune systems instead of the old and compromised?

None of these “what ifs” is highly unlikely, especially given the mutability of viruses and the massive concentration of both humans and farmed animals on our planet. We are prepared for none of them. And we won’t be, even in a couple of years when we start to forget CoVid-19.

It’s simply not in our nature to prepare for unpleasant events (death, divorce or disaster) far in advance, especially if the risk of them happening in the immediate short term is perceived to be low. Just this January, when CoVid-19 was already starting to make the rounds, the gnomes of Davos in their annual Global Risks Report made almost no mention of pandemics as a risk, and business leaders surveyed rated pandemics dead last, the lowest of 30 risks of concern for the 2020s (see chart and link at top of this post). And they made no connection (in their risk interconnectivity chart) between pandemic risk and economic risks. Hard to imagine an assessment being more staggeringly wrong so fast!

Yet it is understandable. Although the 2009 swine flu killed about a half million people worldwide, most of those people were children and young people in struggling nations with suspect data. And it was more than a decade ago. Who can remember? What has that to do with the needs of the moment, here, now?

Here, now, we have to keep our jobs, manage our homes and savings, feed and clothe and educate our children, manage our relationships, protect our companies from fraud, theft and sabotage, worry about whether exploding inequality will lead to political destabilization, “domestic terrorism”, or even insurrection thanks to incompetent and incendiary populist governments.

Who has time or energy to worry about climate collapse, ecological collapse, economic collapse, earthquakes and other seemingly-remote disasters, when these more personal and immediate concerns are haunting us? We have some control over our personal and our business’ challenges, but none at all over these more nebulous, global crises, so we vow to pay more attention to them when we retire. We’ll encourage our kids to protest, and tell them they have our support, but for now we’re too preoccupied with the urgent needs of the moment to join them. Give us a break!

Because we are fixated on the needs of the moment (which has generally been a good evolutionary strategy, except when things have suddenly collapsed), we are not going to do anything to prepare for any of these larger, seemingly uncontrollable and hopefully improbable crisis. We may even acknowledge that we should. But we won’t. And we won’t elect governments that will do anything to prepare or mitigate these crises either — we don’t trust them to do so, we don’t think we can afford to pay for any more government activity, especially when the costs of climate action (and inaction) are measured in the trillions of dollars, and we don’t think even well-meaning elected officials and public servants can really make a difference anyway.

There has been a lot of cautious enthusiasm that, once we learned that it was seemingly possible, at least in the short run, to drastically reduce carbon emissions and our use of hydrocarbons, to give everyone — everyone! — sufficient money to avoid hardship, to operate our economy without the need for commuting to and from horrific workplaces and dysfunctional schools, then maybe, we wondered, we can do more than we thought to change our lifestyles, and even do so permanently. No?

Sadly, no. We fear that the temporary changes CoVid-19 has wrought will come with a massive price tag, one that we may not be able to afford or repay. So our preoccupation, already, with the first wave death toll only half what it is conservatively projected to be by the summer, is to jump-start the global industrial ‘growth’ economy ASAP — now! — and make up for lost time. Our jobs, we fear, depend on that. Our savings, and the value of our homes, we fear, depend on that. Our children’s education, we fear, depends on that. Our supply chains, which provide us with cheap food, clothing and other essentials, we fear, depend on that. (We are already running out of meat, thanks to the (inexplicably?) high rate of CoVid-19 illness and death among factory farm, slaughterhouse, and meat packing workers.)

Even the health of our most valued relationships, frayed from being forced into close quarters for long periods of isolation, we fear, depends on that. All of these things that we depend on, depend on the global industrial growth economy, on “business as usual”. Whether we want to admit it or not (as we frown sheepishly at the armed right-wing gangs “occupying” statehouse steps and offices demanding an immediate return to “normality”, expressing their fear rather more baldly than we do) — these are our needs of the moment.

The Ponzi scheme called a stock market has already completely recovered from the 30% drop after the pandemic hit, already pricing in a fast and “full recovery” to business as usual (get ready for a roller coaster, investors). Anything less would be unthinkable. If we want to dream about guaranteed annual income, about 20-hour work-weeks, about clean skies and water and a shift to a renewable energy economy, about changing the way we raise animals for food, we can do all that, later, when these needs of the moment are met.

There will be, there must be, time later to worry about climate crises, ecological crises, economic crises, and preparation for disasters like earthquakes and pandemics. We have to believe that. But they are not the needs of the moment, right now. Now is not their time.

And when their time comes, we will not be ready. We will be dismayed, angry, grief-stricken. No one told us this might happen, and so soon! Who’s accountable for this? Who’s responsible? It’s not our fault, we were just looking after the needs of the moment. La la la la la la I can’t heeeeear you!

It is, after all, no one’s fault. No one is to blame for the combined impact of 7.8B people each looking after their immediate needs. This is our nature, and has always been. It will lead to collapses, halting and tentative and then deeper and cascading, as it always has. And then what is left of life on earth, after this sixth great extinction, will, with or without any humans, pick itself up and start again. As it always has.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End | 1 Comment

How Many Dead + Who’s Social Distancing



Maps created by me using the mapchart.net application. Click on images to view/download a larger version.

Google has just released a mass of downloadable data on how sharply visits to retail, grocery, transportation, workplaces and homes have dropped off in March and April, versus the baseline average for the same time periods in past years. I thought I would map it to show which countries, states and provinces are seemingly doing the most social distancing right now.

So this is what I did: I averaged the drops in these five categories over the past seven days, giving a lower weight to home visits than the other four categories. (Google also shows data for visits to parks, but I chose to exclude them.) I converted the averages into an index that shows roughly how large a % drop there has been in social activities in the last week of April, compared to a typical last week of April, the difference being due presumably to CoVid-19 restrictions.

What the maps tell me is not who’s conscientious and who’s not about social distancing, but rather how hard each area has been hit by the pandemic and how much they are therefore as a result willing to endure and sustain social distancing. So no blaming or shaming here: The fact that the Andean countries in South America have shut down so completely suggests (as the excess deaths data confirms) that everyone in these countries is aware of how many are dying all around them and hence how dangerous it is not to social distance. Likewise the low rates of compliance in the “red states” of the US reflects that they have not (at least yet) been hit in any highly visible way by the pandemic. The hardest-hit countries and states are, for the most part, continuing to do the most social distancing. And generally, they are the most densely-populated and mobile populaces. Each exception — such as California, Scandinavia, South Korea, Japan, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Australia and New Zealand — has a unique and important story to tell us.

Also worth noting is that cities tend to be one full category (10 points) higher in terms of their social distancing score than the rest of the country/state/province in which they’re located, probably for the same reasons. And for some tourist destinations, the drop in activity may be due as much or more to a decrease in visitors as it is to social distancing.


The chart above (click on it to view/download a larger version) [EDIT: Updated with new UW projections May 4th] shows daily reported and projected first wave CoVid-19 deaths for North America and West Coast states and provinces as at April 30, 2020. Data is from a variety of sources including the nCov Dashboard, Johns Hopkins, virusncov, wikipedia and local health departments and media reports. Projects are per the UW/IHME model downloadable data, adjusted when the forecasts for the past three days have been off by more than 30%.

The problems with these data are manifold:

  1. There’s often a long time lag between date of death and reporting the death in the daily reports — an average of 4 days in countries with well-developed reporting, and much longer in struggling nations.
  2. Some regimes are politically motivated to suppress data and find other explanations for deaths.
  3. The research on “excess deaths” (number of March/April 2020 deaths versus the average in the same months in recent years) in many jurisdictions suggests that, principally due to lack of testing capacity and the exclusion of many/most deaths outside of hospitals (even if the coroner’s report lists CoVid-19 as a probable cause), actual death rates attributable directly or indirectly to CoVid-19 are likely between 40-60% higher than reported in developed nations, and as much as 1500% higher than reported in struggling nations (in parts of Ecuador and Indonesia, for example, “excess deaths” are about 15 times the official CoVid-19 death totals, likely for the above reasons).
  4. It is impossible to ascertain how many “excess deaths” are attributable to very sick non-CoVid-19 patients’ inability or willingness to go to overburdened hospitals and therefore dying needlessly or prematurely of other causes at home.
  5. It is also impossible to ascertain how many accidental deaths have been prevented due to workplace shutdowns and less driving during the pandemic.

But taking all the above unknowns together, a best guess might be that instead of 250,000 deaths to date (the current official total), the actual toll is likely closer to a million deaths to date, and that (if the models pan out) the final real death toll will be between two and three million — and that’s just the first wave. Some European models suggest that over the next 2-3 years, as additional waves hit, some of which may occur simultaneously with the “normal” influenza annual peaks and hence create further hospital capacity crises, the total number of deaths from CoVid-19 could be several times larger again, before an effective vaccine is available.

It is also possible that contracting the virus does not confer immunity from reinfection  or reactivation (reactivations are serious infectious flare-ups of the disease in people who had the disease but recovered and were no longer testing positive, until perhaps months or years later falling ill from it again or at least testing positive for it again). That would mean that the antibodies produced on initial infection might not be sufficient to protect the person from getting the disease again.

And that’s to say nothing of the risk of mutations, like the one that killed tens of millions of mostly young healthy people in the latter part of 1918, after the initial spring strain had killed only a few million mostly old people and the virus was considered under control.

It seems increasingly likely that the 0.2% first wave mortality rate I cited in my last article is closer to the true rate than the 1-3% mortality rate initially feared. [EDIT: May 14th: Now it appears the mortality rate is closer to 1.0%; see follow-up here.] If the actual first wave death total is, say 2.5 million, then that means 1.2 billion people (2.5 million/0.2%) will have been infected, or about 1/6 of the global population. Even if that 1/6 of the population does develop immunity from reinfection and reactivation (which is far from a sure bet), then the remaining 5/6 of the population will remain vulnerable to additional waves until and unless an effective, affordable, universally accessible vaccine is developed. This is far below “herd immunity” levels.

The actions that governments, health authorities and citizens would be best to do now were listed in my previous CoVid-19 posts.

EDIT May 2: We still don’t know how CoVid-19 kills us. (Great read about more of the uncertainties and mysteries of this virus; thanks to Tree Bressen for the link.) One of the ironies of this disease is that it’s been so hard to recognize because of the wide variety of symptoms that many (perhaps as much as 40% even in Europe and North America if the “excess deaths” studies pan out) of the people who have and will die from this disease had no idea they had it, and probably never will. That means that probably 100,000 Americans (not 66,000 as currently reported) and 5,000 Canadians (not 3,400 as currently reported) and a million people worldwide (not 250,000 as currently reported) have probably already died from the disease — and the only reason hospitals haven’t been overwhelmed as was feared if numbers got this large is that half of them never even tried to make it to the hospital (their symptoms didn’t match, or weren’t severe enough, or were masked by other pre-existing conditions). Something for the modellers, and the epidemiologists, to think about.

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves | 1 Comment

Links of the Month — April 2020

Too many links to wait ’til quarter’s end again, so I’m planning on reverting to a monthly schedule of the best recent links. Thanks to the many readers who point me to these, so I can almost keep up.


Cartoon by the brilliant Adrienne Hedger

How’s It Gonna End, by Tom Waits & Kathleen Brennan

He had three whole dollars, a worn out car,
and a wife who was leaving for good
Life’s made of trouble, worry, pain and struggle
She wrote ‘good bye’ in the dust on the hood
They found a map of Missouri, lipstick on the glass —
They must of left in the middle of the night

And I want to know the same thing everyone wants to know
How’s it going to end?

Behind a smoke colored curtain, the girl disappeared
They found out that the ring was a fake
A tree born crooked will never grow straight
She sunk like a hammer into the lake
A long lost letter and an old leaky boat —
Promises are never meant to keep

And I want to know the same thing — I want to know
How’s it going to end?

The barn leaned over, the vultures dried their wings
The moon climbed up an empty sky
The sun sank down behind the tree on the hill
There’s a killer and he’s coming through the rye
But maybe he’s the father of that lost little girl
It’s hard to tell in this light

And I want to know the same thing everyone wants to know
How’s it going to end?

Drag your wagon and your plow over the bones of the dead
Out among the roses and the weeds
You can never go back, and the answer is ‘no’
And wishing for it only makes it bleed

Joel Tornabene was broken on the wheel
Shane and Bum Mahoney on the lam
The grain was as gold as Sheila’s hair
All the way from Liverpool, with all we could steal
He was robbed of twenty dollars, his body found stripped
Cast into the harbour there and drowned

And I want to know the same thing we all want to know
How’s it going to end?

The sirens are snaking their way up the hill
It’s last call somewhere in the world
The reptiles blend in with the color of the street
Life is sweet at the edge of a razor
And down in the first row of an old picture show
The old man is asleep, as the credits start to roll

And I want to know the same thing we all want to know
How’s it going to end?


PREPARING FOR CIVILIZATION’S END


Photo from Facebook, source un-cited. Apparently the photo long-precedes the virus.

Much has been written lately about the connection between pandemics and the other harbingers of societal and civilizational collapse. Several writers have been quick to say “I told you so” and predict that the economic collapse that will follow this pandemic will be the first domino in complete civilizational collapse. So while it is true that all of the major potential threats to our civilization’s continuance are interrelated, we’re still (wrongly IMO) predisposed to think of collapse as a sudden, one-shot, one-time thing. (Perhaps that’s why many are also thinking that this pandemic is a once-a-century, one-shot thing, when it surely is not.)

But what we have learned from the demise of past civilizations is that (1) collapse occurs over decades, even centuries, in fits and starts, with partial “recoveries” in between, and attempts (mostly in vain) to shift to a more sustainable way of living, and (2) collapse is not uniform in where and how it strikes. For many people in struggling nations, civilization’s final collapse won’t appear very different from how they’re living now.


LIVING BETTER


Cartoon by Victoria Roberts in The New Yorker

The ultimate remote work policy: In three words: “We trust you.” Most remote workers, from far-flung “help desks” to boiler shop telemarketers, have never been trusted by their employers; they are mostly more like outside contractors, given impossible performance targets, no advancement opportunities, and required to log in and out and produce paperwork to “prove” they’re working. If CoVid-19 has no other positives, it may force a re-think of the value of remote work, and of the value of those doing it. But to expect most large corporations to start trusting their employees, particularly those they can’t keep their eyes on, is probably asking too much. (Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link, and the one that follows.)

Story-based strategy: A change methodology based on undermining dangerous, flawed stories, crafting articulate, compelling alternative stories, and leading with them to advance your activist objectives; the methodology also suggests how and when to intervene to change the status quo.

John Prine’s masterpiece: We just lost John to CoVid-19. Possibly his finest work was Hello in There, a stirring reflection on loneliness and isolation that is especially poignant in these times of anxiety and quarantine, particularly for seniors.


POLITICS & ECONOMICS AS USUAL


Cartoon by Drew Dernavich in the New Yorker

Why Americans are dying of despair: Atul Gawande explains how inequality, precarity, poor nutrition, and the large-scale loss of meaningful work have created a populace dying from the commensurate epidemics of physical, social and mental disease.

The price of oil in the just-in-time economy: I have written before about how our just-in-time economy makes oil prices wildly volatile. We consume globally (in “normal” times) 100 million barrels of oil a day, and our global oil refining capacity is the same, just one day’s supply, but as demand has dropped in recent months by about 20%, refiners have to close down because there is no place to put the excess. Global storage capacity is just 12 days’ supply, and they already have no place to put what is being produced. As a result, crude oil prices fell from an already-low $30/bbl to -$2/bbl recently (ie producers had to pay people to take possession of their surplus oil). Alberta Tar Sands bitumen sludge is still trading at about $0. Fracking operations, which need to get about $60/bbl for their oil to break even, are substantially bankrupt at this stage, after years of massively taxpayer-subsidized production and, reportedly, payment of huge dividends and bonuses to preferred shareholders and executives. What will happen next? Likely, the banks will take them over and operate them until (hopefully) prices recover, or they will be simply shuttered. Then, when demand rises again, the tightness of refining and storage capacity and the loss of affordable sources of supply will mean shortages, and whipsawing prices. (Thanks to Tree Bressen and Paul Cienfuegos for the link, and the one that follows.)

Gaslighting in overdrive: In an age of institutionalized lying, a new word has entered our everyday vocabulary. Gaslighting is obfuscating the truth so persistently and convincingly that the listener doubts their own understanding, or even sanity. It was originally used to explain the trauma that serial abusers inflict on their victims, but thanks to the collapse of political morality, and the unwillingness of social media to stanch the flood of disinformation they host, it is now SOP just about everywhere. And now, with a citizenry frightened and confused about the pandemic, there are unprecedented opportunities for politicians and corporations to gaslight us into believing we’re the problem (and they’re the solution).

Thomas Piketty on our broken economy:The problem is not supply; it’s inequality.” The celebrated economist’s newest book eschews identifying enemies and instead explains how our economic systems have failed because of faulty ideologies, and how they could quickly be improved to everyone’s advantage. Unfortunately, that would require major coordinated, global reforms to tax regimes and debt cancellations; don’t hold your breath.

David Graeber on our broken economy: In a pre-pandemic article, David reviews a new book on economics that shows that most of the anti-Keynesian economic principles now in favour (eg the efficient market hypothesis, the value of austerity, the quantity theory of money, and the presumption that people act generally in their own selfish interest) have never been, and are not, supported by evidence, which actually shows none of them is true. Nevertheless, these wrong-headed principles continue to be cited to support equally wrong-headed practices, while “radical” alternatives (eg blanket debt forgiveness, progressive wealth taxes in place of income tax, guaranteed annual incomes) that have repeatedly been shown to work well are dismissed as “unaffordable” or “unworkable”.

More verbal diarrhea from Bret Stephens: The NYT’s controversial racist, eugenicist, climate change denier is now calling for an immediate end to the pandemic lockdown outside of New York City. “Balanced” reporting, or what detractors are now calling the NYT’s propensity for “both siding” every issue, does not mean giving dangerous morons a soapbox for unsupported opinions. We need better from you, NYT.

What, a CO2 shortage?: In perhaps the ultimate irony, the impact of CoVid-19 on supply chains has created a shortage of (industrial) CO2 for use in water treatment, food production and preservation.


CO-VID CORNER


Cartoon by Danny Shanahan in The New Yorker

Lost in the mad rush to find ways to detect, protect and vaccinate ourselves against, and defeat CoVid-19, has been much discussion over its causes, or how we might prevent its recurrence. Indeed, the threat of pandemics has been loudly and repeatedly warned about by scientists for decades, but their warnings were conspicuously ignored. And we know that infectious disease pandemics all originate from cross-species migration to humans from hunted “exotic” species and from the massive disease incubators that are factory farms — in other words, from our systematic cruelty to other animals. Yet seemingly we are going to continue to ignore the known cause and the certain recurrence of these ghastly killers of our species, while fruitlessly pursuing unreliable, temporary and colossally expensive tech “fixes”. This is madness on a climate-change denial scale.

Trump’s blockade stops states and hospitals from getting PPE: A gripping report on how the FBI and DHS are interfering with state and hospital authorities’ attempts to get essential supplies for medical workers treating victims.

I am a mad scientist: A NASA scientist rails against anti-science politicians and against scientists too meek to speak the truth to power. (Thanks to Tree Bressen for the link and the one that follows.)

The bottom line on masks and gloves: From an emergency doctor

    • Wear a mask when you are in “exposure” zones (mainly places with other people).
    • Treat your home, car, and yard as safe places (no mask or gloves).
    • Be on high alert on what you are doing with your hands when you are in “danger zones.” This is when you must not touch your face.
    • Consider wearing gloves (even winter gloves or work gloves can be helpful) but only for short periods of time and only when in “touch exposure” danger zones.
    • Remove your gloves (and mask) when you return to your safe place.
    • Wash your hands every single time you take off your gloves or mask or move from a danger zone back to a safe zone.
    • When you are at home and after washing up, you can relax, scratch your nose, rub your eyes and floss your teeth…without worry.

Co-Vid stories: Some of these provide an amazing insight not only into the impact of the pandemic but into the way of life in many countries and communities of the world:

Co-Vid humour:

    • Billions of viruses gather outside Michigan state capitol to demand end of social distancing
    • Governments anxiously await modelling to predict when they can resume cutting health budgets
    • Bank CEO reassures worried Canadians: “I’m going to be okay”.
    • The official Coronavirus Guidelines (shortened and edited from an un-cited list circulating on the internet):
      1. Basically, you can’t leave the house for any reason, but if you have to, then you can.
      2. Masks are useless, but maybe if you have to wear one, it can save you; it is probably ineffective, but it may be mandatory as well.
      3. Stores are closed, except for those that are open.
      4. You should not go to hospitals unless you have to go there. Same applies to doctors, you should only go there in case of emergency, provided you are not too sick.
      5. This virus is deadly but still not too scary, except that it might lead to a global disaster.
      6. Gloves won’t protect you, but they can still help.
      7. Everyone needs to stay HOME, but it’s important to GO OUT.
      8. There is no shortage of groceries in the supermarket, except sometimes in the evening, or when people panic-buy because they fear a shortage of groceries.
      9. The virus has no effect on children except for those it affects.
      10. Animals are not affected, but there is still a cat that tested positive in Belgium in February when no one had been tested, plus a few tigers here and there.
      11. You will have many symptoms when you are sick, but you can also get sick without symptoms, have symptoms without being sick, or be contagious without having symptoms.
      12. In order not to get sick, you have to eat well and exercise, but try to eat whatever you have on hand and it’s better not to go out.
      13. It’s better to get some fresh air, but you will attract unfriendly stares if you do. And don’t go to parks. But if you do, don’t sit down, except that you can do that now if you are old and have to, but not for too long and not if you are pregnant or too old.
      14. The virus remains active on different surfaces for two hours, no, four, no, six, no, we didn’t say hours, maybe days? But it takes a damp environment. But not necessarily.
      15. The virus stays in the air – but maybe only in an enclosed room. And if social distancing fails, all our children were probably already infected at their school before it was closed.
      16. If you stay at the recommended social distance, you’ll be safe, except in certain circumstances you should maintain a greater distance, when, studies show, the virus can travel further, maybe.
      17. We count the number of deaths but we don’t know how many people are infected as we have only tested so far those who were “almost dead” to find out if that’s what they will die of.
      18. We should stay locked down until the virus disappears, but it will only disappear if we achieve collective immunity, which will only happen when we are no longer locked down.

NON-DUALITY STUFF

Dave talks non-duality with Frank McCaughey: My discussion February 5th with Frank, who spent 20 years seeking liberation/awakening/whatever you want to call it, and has interviewed dozens of non-dualists and made several films on the subject. My sense is that Frank has been going through the same “terrifying” loss of the sense of having a self, that other radical non-dualists have described, and that “transition” is finally ending.


FUN & INSPIRATION


Cartoon by Harry Bliss in The New Yorker

Citizen bear: A bear wandering down a deserted highway comes across a traffic cone that’s fallen over

Civilian accidentally ejects himself from fighter jet: He didn’t want to take the flight in the first place, but it was a gift.

Canada’s famous abandoned city: Ocean Falls on the now-remote (ten hours by road and once-a-week ferry) and very rainy (172″/year) central BC coast was once (until 1950) a 3,900-resident thriving mill town with a 400-room hotel, hospital and police force. Its dam, which once controlled water so pure it didn’t need filtering to produce pristine paper, is still used to produce energy for the handful of residents, and for the main remaining business: A bitcoin “mine”.

The existential cat: There are many videos of the famous chat noir Henri, but I think Paw de Deux is the best.

Before there were animals: Scientists think they’ve found the forerunner of all animals, dating back 555 million years. It is, of course, a worm. A gullet and an ass, what more does any animal need? But very quickly more complex animals evolved, so by 450 million years ago we had crinoids, which are still with us, including the spectacular feather stars, with moves that put a ballet star to shame. And then there are the Seussian-looking handfish, the rarest fish in the sea, that don’t swim, for reasons we simply don’t know.

How to sound like Ravel: The inimitable Nahre Sol studies and then composes a delightful song in the style of the famous French composer.

Smarty plants: Biologist Stefano Mancuso explains how plants learn, communicate, and migrate, and how their “decentralized” systems give them an evolutionary advantage.

Living in a ghost town: The Stones go retro for the pandemic.


THOUGHTS OF THE MONTH


Original graphic from Accidental Fire, April 3rd, with my additions over the past 3 weeks

From Dawn Teo on Facebook:

We all have Schrodinger’s Virus now. Because we cannot get tested, we can’t know whether we have the virus or not. We have to act as if we have the virus so that we don’t spread it to others. We have to act as if we’ve never had the virus because if we didn’t have it, we’re not immune. Therefore, we both have and don’t have the virus.
Thus, Schrodinger’s Virus.

From Ben Mikaelsen:

You don’t become a better chair-maker. The chair becomes better.

From veteran Toronto health reporter André Picard:

I hope that this one is so big and so devastating that we actually take advantage of the chance to change things, that we start asking really fundamental questions. Why do we have 400,000 [Canadian] senior citizens in warehouses, where they’re at risk and where many, but not all, of them have horrible lives? We’ve got this bailout with income for people who are not working. So essentially, it’s a basic income plan. Why not just do the full monty and have basic income? We’re housing homeless people during the crisis because it’s unsafe for them to be homeless. We’ve known for 100 years that the solution to homelessness is housing, so let’s finally do it.

Joy Williams’ Eight Essential Attributes Of The Short Story

1. There should be a clean clear surface with much disturbance below.
2. An anagogical level.
3. Sentences that can stand strikingly alone.
4. An animal within to give its blessing.
5. Interior voices which are or become wildly erratically exterior.
6. Control throughout is absolutely necessary.
7. The story’s effect should transcend the naturalness and accessibility of its situation and language.
8. A certain coldness is required in execution. It is not a form that gives itself to consolation but if consolation is offered it should come from an unexpected quarter.

And One Way It Differs From The Novel: A novel wants to befriend you, a short story almost never.

From Kristin Flyntz (thanks to Tree Bressen for the link):

Letter from a Virus

Stop. Just stop.
It is no longer a request. It is a mandate.
We will help you.

We will bring the supersonic, high speed merry-go-round to a halt
We will stop the planes, the trains, the schools, the malls, the meetings,
the frenetic, furied rush of illusions and “obligations” that keep you from hearing our single and shared beating heart,
the way we breathe together, in unison.
Our obligation is to each other,
As it has always been, even if, even though, you have forgotten.

We will interrupt this broadcast, the endless cacophonous broadcast of divisions and distractions,
to bring you this long-breaking news: We are not well.
None of us; all of us are suffering.
Last year, the firestorms that scorched the lungs of the earth
did not give you pause. Nor the typhoons in Africa, China, Japan.
Nor the fevered climates in Japan and India.
You have not been listening.
It is hard to listen when you are so busy all the time, hustling to uphold the comforts and conveniences that scaffold your lives.
But the foundation is giving way,
buckling under the weight of your needs and desires.
We will help you.
We will bring the firestorms to your body
We will bring the fever to your body
We will bring the burning, searing, and flooding to your lungs
that you might hear: We are not well.

Despite what you might think or feel, we are not the enemy.
We are Messenger. We are Ally. We are a balancing force.
We are asking you:
To stop, to be still, to listen;
To move beyond your individual concerns and consider the concerns of all;
To be with your ignorance, to find your humility, to relinquish your thinking minds and travel deep into the mind of the heart;
To look up into the sky, streaked with fewer planes, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, smoky, smoggy, rainy? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy?
To look at a tree, and see it, to notice its condition: how does its health contribute to the health of the sky, to the air you need to be healthy?
To visit a river, and see it, to notice its condition: clear, clean, murky, polluted? How much do you need it to be healthy so that you may also be healthy? How does its health contribute to the health of the tree, who contributes to the health of the sky, so that you may also be healthy?

Many are afraid now.
Do not demonize your fear, and also, do not let it rule you. Instead, let it speak to you—in your stillness, listen for its wisdom.
What might it be telling you about what is at work, at issue, at risk, beyond the threats of personal inconvenience and illness?
As the health of a tree, a river, the sky tells you about quality of your own health, what might the quality of your health tell you about the health of the rivers, the trees, the sky, and all of us who share this planet with you?

Stop. Notice if you are resisting. Notice what you are resisting.
Ask why.

Stop. Just stop. Be still. Listen.
Ask us what we might teach you about illness and healing, about what might be required so that all may be well.
We will help you, if you listen.

(Here’s a somewhat less gentle variation on this theme, from France)

Posted in How the World Really Works, Our Culture / Ourselves, Preparing for Civilization's End, Radical Non-Duality | 2 Comments

Virtual Music

Despite its serious and unresolved failings, YouTube has created an amazing and mostly-free platform for musicians of every stripe to share their recordings with the world, and to be discovered without the need to pander to the decrepit music publishing ‘industry’.

It’s also enabled the development of some amazing products that have resulted from the fusion of music, audio and video technology. As a result, over the last ten years, we have seen the capacity for virtual music collaborations explode. It is no longer necessary for musicians to compose or record in the same space, or even to meet face to face at all. We have seen mashups and remixes that are infinitely better than the originals they have copied from (plagiarized, or built upon, depending on your point of view). We have seen the capacity to alter a musical track’s pitch without affecting its timing, and vice versa, a boon to DJs and mix artists.

These advances have become especially useful during the current pandemic. The technology that enables musicians to send master tracks to performers electronically and then perfectly sync the audio and video tracks of dozens, and even hundreds and thousands, of performers, has enabled the creation of music that simply could never be produced in any real-world production space. It’s extremely challenging: syncing the volumes, tones, pitches and timing of many disparate tracks, dealing with ambient and background noise, and also patching together a sync of all of the performers’ videos, requires incredible skill and patience. But it can be done.

The results can be breath-taking, heart-wrenching, eye-opening, or tremendous fun. Most importantly, they open the door to new possibilities in music creation: You can create virtual choirs, orchestras and bands from members performing in different spaces and at different times, including performers who don’t, and don’t have to, even know each other. You can seemingly make deceased performers perform with live ones. You can enrich music in ways that a decade ago couldn’t even be imagined.

Just as CGI is making it possible to have virtual actors, and to create human and other creatures out of nothing and show them on the screen, new music technologies make it possible to ‘create’ singers, players, and entirely new instruments in the studio, without the need for the ‘real’ thing.

Here are some of the most extraordinary recent ‘virtual’ music performances I’ve seen, all produced in the past month, that show just how far we’ve come:

1. What the World Needs Now — cover, by the Boston Conservatory and Berklee College Virtual Orchestra (pictured above)

2. True Colours — cover, by the Camden Voices UK Virtual Choir

3. Griffenfelt, a ‘virtual’ performance by the Folk All-In Band from Sweden

4. Elgar’s Nimrod Variation, performed by a combined Calgary Philharmonic and Edmonton Symphony Virtual Orchestra

5. Toss the Bach — a Celtic/Classical Mashup, by the Touch of Class Virtual Band from Neenah (Wisconsin) High School

6. Don’t You Worry Child — a Swedish House Mafia cover, by the Kaleidoscope Virtual Orchestra from Manchester UK

7. Strauss’ Also Sprach Zarathustra — the 2001 A Space Odyssey Theme, performed by the Opera North Leeds UK Virtual Orchestra

Awesome stuff. Music is especially important in challenging times like these, and performances like these show what’s possible, and how our hearts and souls can be moved by the collaborative efforts of many artists, even if they can’t meet, and meet with us, in person.

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