There are those words that you say without thinking about, and then one day you think about them, and all you can think about is how weird that word is. "Hunker" is definitely in that category. We are definitely into the "hunker" phase of our global COVID response, in which we are, to use the North American use of the word, taking shelter in a defensive position. See the full definition in the "New Words" section at the end of this post.
With that, greetings from 53.5° north latitude, in a spot in the world where it is still solidly winter with cold temperatures, snow, and ice that can cause both the short of cycling mishaps that rip through two layers of pants and at least one layer of skin, and an intensely beautiful vistas.
The world zipped past 1,000,000 confirmed cases of COVID earlier this week, and passed 1.25 million this morning. There is a growing realization that we will be in this state of isolation until the end of June and that some form of public health measures will extend for some time beyond then.
Even with all of the news, the messages from public health officials, the pleas from celebrities, there are still people who just won't get it. The blistering editorial this week in the Thorsby Target from Thorsby Mayor Rod Raymond this past week was a welcome read. It seems Mayor Raymond does not mince words. Pin heads, indeed!
I talked about the economic impact in the last two weeks [here, and here]. The Edmonton Chamber of Commerce released some staggering survey results this week. Nearly half of Chamber members surveyed feared that their business would not survive, and a quarter surveyed do not have cash to meet their next payroll.
The world will change as a result of this. The world is changing as a result of this. It will be imperative to engage to do as much as possible to influence the changes to be positive and inclusive. If we fail to that, what we are living in now may be the real-world equivalent to the prequel to a haunting dystopian science-fiction story.
I had a good week as far as reading goes. I dove into "War and Peace" and "The Count of Monte Cristo" and should be caught up in the respective Reddit reading groups in a few days. Monte Cristo is revealing itself to be a beautiful book filled with evocative imagery and phrases. Below are two of my favourite from my readings this last week. The first one is strangely recursive, discussing how a heart can break and then itself causing hearts to break.
The heart breaks when it has swelled too much in the warm breath of hope, then finds itself enclosed in cold reality.
The second is darker, highlighting a fatalistic view on the world and the thoughts that maybe the world should just be burned down.
If only the sky would rain gunpowder for two days and fire for an hour, and we could have done with it all.
Beyond those two novels, I did finish another novel this week. Book #12 for 2020 was "Future Home of the Living God" by Louise Erdrich. This was a book that I thought was wonderful as I was in the act of reading it, but as I stepped away from it I reflect on a few flaws. There were a few plot points dropped in and not explored, such as the massively changed fauna (sabre-tooth cat, anyone?). I also would have liked to have the role of the theocratic church explained more, and how the monitoring and surveillance technology was a surprise and also so surprisingly effective. I still don't know with certainty which characters in the book were "good", but I suppose that is no different than real life, where every person we encounter is both wonderful and flawed.
But ignore that. You should read this book even with its flaws. The timeliness of a novel where the protagonist is locked away and isolated is certainly worth reading right now, as are the hints at how quickly and how completely our world could change for the worse. Don't take anything for granted, even those crummy gas station granola bars, and especially the rights of the individuals.
And since I am apparently big on quotes this week, here is one from this book that can hopefully remind us of all that exists that is worth fighting for.
I think we have survived because we love beauty and because we find each other beautiful. I think it may be our strongest quality.
More reading this week, and therefore more new words as well. Plus leading off with that word that seems really weird when you really think about it.
Greetings once again from 53.5° north latitude. This was the first week of several where most of the population is working from home or otherwise isolated. My parents haven't talk to anyone in over two weeks now; our entire family spends nearly the entire day in our house; businesses are either offering curbside pickup or are completely shut down.
It is hard to believe it has only been a week, and that the week before that was the real start of the preparation. Our family seems to be handling the close proximity and change of schedule well so far, but there are several weeks of this to come.
Economy and COVID:
As I mentioned last week, the economy is reeling from the shutdown stores and businesses and the hits to the global supply chain. Of particular interest to Albertans, whose economic well-being is nearly inseparable from the oil and gas sector, the price of oil continues to fall. Take a look at the next two graphics, and see if you can tell the difference between a barrel of Western Canadian Select crude and a Starbucks Iced Cocoa Macchiato.
Now I've never tasted either but I assume the Starbucks drink is more appealing to the palate. But even more disturbing that the thought of drinking crude oil, at least in terms of the Alberta economy, is that on Friday the Starbucks Macchiato cost more than a barrel of crude oil from our province. The impact to Alberta cannot be overstated.
Common wisdom is that conventional oil in Alberta costs about $40 per barrel to produce. The provincial budget for 2020 forecast oil to be at around $58 per barrel. A fifty dollar differential is the difference between having social programs that the government is looking to radically overhaul and not having any social programs at all..
We have already seen calls from US President Trump to "restart" the US economy, citing concerns that America “cannot” let the cure be worse than the problem itself.” I am certain that there are grave economic concerns in the US, but I doubt that the combined impact of COVID and low oil prices has a bigger impact in any jurisdiction in the US than it does in Alberta. So far, Alberta politicians have not called for economic considerations to take precedence over public health considerations. So far.
With that news, I am impressed that I only had one new beer this week. I have posted about Collective Arts previously and I contend that they are one of the best breweries in Canada.
It was with this pedigree in mind that earlier this week I tried their Lunch Money American Blond. A handsome looking beer in a beautiful can, so everything started out well. Unfortunately, this beer doesn't stack up with the rest of the Collective Arts lineup and was pretty generic stuff. It wasn't poorly done, but didn't have much to keep me interested. (3.0 / 5)
On a different note, I received the "Here's To You (Level 5)" badge from Untappd, signifying five years of logging my beers on that site. In those five years, I have logged 645 unique beers or an average of one new beer every 2.84 days. Since my first post on this site one year ago, I have logged 111 new beers or an average of one every 3.35 days. My beer consumption is going down, and at this rate, I'll never meet my personal quest of drinking one of every beer in the world.
Very little reading this week, so only a single new word.
And what a week it was.
Greetings from 53.5° north latitude. We are still in the throes of winter with temperatures well below normal, and with lots of snow and ice on the ground. Most years that would be enough to qualify for making a bad week, but of course this year is different.
We have now finished our first week after shit-got-real, with school closures, store closures, transit service decreases, and more.
There is definitely an impact to us locally, with 226 confirmed cases in Alberta and one death. The measures we are taking will hopefully limit the spread at best and at worst will flatten the curve so that our healthcare system can get through the presumed massive numbers of people who will require hospitalization.
What we of course want to prevent is the absolute terror of the situation in Italy. As I planned this week's entry over the past few days, I wrote myself a note that said: "Italy on track to have more COVID deaths than China." That milestone was passed on Friday and now two days later, Italy has greatly surpassed China. Looking back at what I posted last week, there have been 45 deaths in China in the last week, but a staggering 3,016 deaths in Italy. To put that into perspective, there have been almost as many people die in Italy IN THE LAST WEEK than have died in China since the start of this outbreak.
As has been reported in multiple media [1, 2], Italy is a well-developed country with excellent hospitals and healthcare, but the massive volumes are crushing the system. The virus is undoubtedly deadly but the compound effects of a crippled healthcare system are even more frightening. Measures being taken here in Alberta to ensure there is capacity in the hospitals include postponing elective and scheduled surgeries and opening drive-through assessment centers, The steps we take now can hopefully shield us from what Italy is experiencing and what China experienced.
It is important to understand that Italy is not the only country in trouble right now. Reported cases are spiking in Spain and the US as you can see on the image above, and Spain is warning that the "worst is yet to come". There is an extensive lockdown in Spain right now, much more than what we are experiencing.
Even measures as strict as what Spain are instituting might not be enough though. The Washington Post opened the story that image came from with a warning from the World Health Organization saying that "such measures alone are not sufficient" and "that the disease could jump back after movement restrictions are lifted."
And then there is the impact to the economy.
All those store closures, and the impact to the global supply chain that Harvard Business Review predicted at the end of February, is killing economies around the world. The Indicator from Planet Money is only talking about COVID-related indicators and stories now, and their episode on Friday was particularly telling. The Indicator is a pretty light economics show, much more so than EconTalk or even Freakonomics so I don't expect major pronouncements or severe warnings on the show. On Friday however, co-host Cardiff Garcia said he was "terrified" of the impact to small business. His economic indicator for Friday's episode was that most small businesses only have 27 days of cash flow. After that, they have to shut down. To prolong their survival past 27 days, they could cut costs but that means more people unemployed, which means less money circulating in the economy, which means less spending, which means more impact to the economy.
The question then is to forecast how big the impact will be to the economy of a country. If the analysis from Goldman Sachs is accurate, the US economy is set to shrink by 24%. Think about that. A quarter of the economy of the United States, the largest economy in the world, will be gone. A quarter. I don't have any more words to describe this.
With all of that, with the impact to the entire world and the global economy, we humans still find a way to hate each other instead of pulling together. Some of it is overt, and some of it is more subtle, but none of it is good.
Less problematic if only because of his much smaller presence and influence was Scott Adams' use of the #WuFlu hashtag in his daily podcast updates. To be fair to Adams, he stopped using #WuFlu hashtag a week ago, and he only stopped calling it coronavirus for a few days. but for days he did paint the virus with a particular epithet that could only inflame some people and insult other.
Why come out now after weeks of coverage and call it the "Chinese Virus" or #WuFlu? What is the benefit of tagging this pandemic to a country or a people? I should listen to all of Adams's recent podcasts to see if there is a hint on why the changes were made.
I will leave you with some good news. My friend Tomas highlighted this list of organizations that are doing things to support employees, customers, and people in general, from paying hourly workers even if they are sick, to companies opening up their paywalls to offer content for free. Thanks to Scott Monty for coordinating this work.
I can imagine many of my non-existent readers remotely verbally lambasting my decision to post about the new beers I have had in the past week. The end is nigh, and this yahoo wants to talk about beer?!
I get it. My (tongue-in-cheek) personal goal to drink one of every beer in the world is trite and silly, but it was never meant to be anything more than that. I came up with what I thought was a catchy phrase and I've been using it for five years when I talk about beer. That's all it is meant to be, and that was something that was interesting and important to me in the past.
And that's why it is so important now. The world is different, but that doesn't mean we have to give up on everything. In fact I would argue that we have to hold on to what we had and still have to anchor us and get us through our isolation, our fear, and our anxiety. Recognizing what we have, being content with who we are and what we have, and living in the moment are some of the greatest goals of philosophers from ancient times to present. It is with that that I unabashedly present to you the new beers I had this week.
The first beer was the Prairie Pirate Black IPA from Ribstone Creek Brewery. It was not bad, but had a less texture and taste than I had hoped. I also thought it could have been been hoppier. It was a beautiful looking beer though. (3.25 / 5) The second beer was another Alberta Beer Week collab, this one between Town Square and Sawback out of Red Deer. The Glaze of Glory brown ale was supposed to be full of donut-y flavor, salted caramel, and bacon. I didn't get much of any of those and so was left with just another brown, which is really not a style I like that much. (3.0 / 5). Last up was the Patience Pale Ale from Legend 7. This is the last beer out of a Legend 7 sampler and it unfortunately was my least favorite of the bunch. It was a beer, yes, but wasn't memorable in any way. (3.0 /5)
The vocab muscle didn't get much exercise this past week, and I have a vague recollection of having looked up a couple of them in the past.
Hello from 53.5° north latitude as I sit in my basement on a 20°C day. Many times I feel that being outdoors is essential, and absolutely needed. Other days, like today, I'm happy to be in front of my monitor listening to the new album by The Raconteurs on Tidal. But I am getting ahead of myself.
There have been several disasters in my lifetime that were so significant to have singular names: 9/11 of course; Challenger; Columbia, Air India, Columbine. MH370, the lost Malaysia Airlines flight that disappeared in March, 2014 is also on that list. As that mystery unfolded, I was stunned by how little I knew about that part of the world. For example, that India was totally north of the equator, and just how unimaginably vast the Indian Ocean is.
Reading the article on MH370 released on The Atlantic this week brought back a lot of those thoughts. No wonder authorities didn't know where to look. And no wonder they didn't find any debris for years. But I also had little appreciation for the level of cover-up and incompetence on the investigation. Bitchy flight attendants and extra charges for checking luggage on North American domestic carriers don't seem so bad all of a sudden.
Getting back to MH370, the article supports the theory that the senior pilot acted alone and killed all souls on board with apparent ease before plunging the aircraft into the ocean. The fact that a single actor, a trusted actor at that, could doom all of those people is frightening and it is easy to see how calls might be made for computer overrides or remote interactions. However, thinking about the computerized corrections made on the flight trajectory on the Boeing 737 Max aircraft quickly highlights how reliance on a single control is not feasible. Checks and balances are important. If the pilot was depressed and was harboring suicidal thoughts, the checks and balances in the system needed to identify the risk and get the pilot help before being allowed to fly again. But it appears that the system was flawed, and the culture in Malaysia Airlines and the Malaysian government stifles any willingness or ability to learn from that mistake to prevent future similar disasters.
The article is a long read, but it worth the time.
More on Capitalism:
The reading pile has contained much on capitalism lately. To be more accurate, the general thesis seems to be that capitalism can and could be a force for good across the world, but that neoliberalism is a failed idea that needs to be replaced. Click on "capitalism" in the Categories section of this blog for the full reading list.
The most recent read on this theme was "The Future of Capitalism" by Paul Collier. Keeping with the idea that neoliberalism was flawed, Collier highlighted point solutions that have had limited or local success. I suppose these were ideas that the reader was supposed to derive inspiration from. However, the book was not particularly giving of solutions, and certainly didn't provide a blueprint for going forward and these point solutions were not presented as an actionable whole.
The book did have merit though. One idea that really struck with me were the two scenarios to describe the concept of agglomeration (see definition below). Collier provided two thought experiments - one in which the people in a metropolis have different skills and different needs for housing, and a second where there is a metropolis that needs to rule of law. The punchline is that in both cases there are people that are wholly convinced they uniquely deserve their status and wealth. However, Collier's argument is that everyone, including the most productive, benefit greatly from agglomeration, i.e. the benefits of the critical mass provided to the whole. This might be the largest scale dismantling of the self-made man fallacy.
Collier also proposed that shared reciprocity is the key to a civilized world. We do not need Economic Man, Collier posits, but a form of maternal concern for others. Specifically, he says "shared identity becomes the foundation for farsighted reciprocity".
There are of course detractors and opposition. A quick search shows this article that calls Collier's ideas as "wrong" and "perplexing" and calls for more capitalism and even less of a role for the state in the market, and that there is a "false promise" of centrism. There are that many voices in the business community that act as a powerful lobby to demand unfettered access to the market. Collier tried to show how some state intervention is good and necessary. This is not the nanny state paternalism we have today, but again the maternal intervention borne out of a common desire to see everyone get the help they need.
Collier's book wasn't great; in fact, it was a fairly tedious read. I do think though that it was an important read, and coupled with voices such as Ray Dalio who commented on the need to reform capitalism on 60 Minutes, and Bill Gates who recommended Collier's book on his Summer 2019 Reading list, it will be interesting to see if the voices promoting something other than raw capitalism will gain any momentum with their ideas. (3.0 / 5)
Speaking of capitalism ...
One of the books I read this week was actually one I started in 2007. How do I know that? Well, I was using the receipt for the book as a bookmark.
Simon Winchester's "A Crack in the Edge of the World" was a great read on the 1906 Earthquake in San Francisco. Or maybe more appropriately, the 1906 San Francisco Fire, which some people in the day were trying to promote as the true menace. This was an attempt to tell the world that San Francisco would be fine in the future, because the devastation was due to human carelessness and poor planning which caused the fire to spread so far and fast. This was a direct attempt to make the earthquake - the natural and completely unknowable element - a minor triviality. If the earthquake was only a minor element in the destruction of San Francisco, that meant that people could plan for fire fighting and building codes and quality construction, and voilà, money and people would continue to flow into the great city.
What does this have to do with capitalism? As fate would have it, there was a presentation for a grand urban plan prepared and presented to San Francisco City Council literally the day before the earthquake. The plan called for fountains, and parks, and places to live and meet. As San Francisco regrouped and turned its focus on rebuilding, the businessmen, who were quite literally called the Downtown Business Men's Association, decried the plan, calling for "business" and not "parks and boulevards" to spark the city's rebirth. Who needs niceties and places for leisure? Business is all we need! Et cetera.
This was a good enough book to keep it in the personal library. 4.5 / 5
As an added bonus, the book had a great graphic outlining the various geological eras in the last 545 million years.
I finished three other books in this last week. The first was "Infinite Detail" by Tim Maughan. This was a book about the end of the Internet era as we know it and what comes after. I really enjoyed this story, and was particularly impressed by how Maughan weaved between the Before and After story lines, and then how he ultimately brought them together. I think this is one of those books that are worth re-reading. 4.0 / 5
The next book finished this week was the third book in Terry Pratchett's Discworld series, "Equal Rites". This was an enjoyable and easy read, but wasn't quite as enjoyable for me as the first two in the series. Maybe that was because Luggage didn't make an appearance in this book. (3.0 / 5)
The other "book" I read this week was "The Butcher of Anderson Station", the first short story of the Expanse series. Good stuff. Really short. It provided some nice background of who Fred Anderson is and how he came to the OPA. Really short stories like this are hard to rate, as their re-readability is pretty limited, but let's give it a 4.0 / 5.
Total for the year is now 27 books, which for the first time in my life brings my forecast for the year to be over 50. That would be quite an accomplishment. Let's see how the rest of the year goes and if I can keep up the pace.
The best Star Wars movie ever:
Darth Vader always had the potential to be the scariest villain of all time. However, he seems more frustrated and conflicted than truly evil in the movies. That is absolutely not the case in the recently released unofficial short scene of the battle between Vader and Obi-Wan. The hatred and evil from Vader is palpable, and his power with the force makes the entire concept of Vader to be truly terrifying.
In the intro, I mentioned the new album by The Raconteurs called "Help Us Stranger". This is a pretty good album, with the sort-of title track "Help Me Stranger" being quite awesome. I've listened to it a few times and I think it will grow on me.
Big week for beer with four new brews this week. Well, technically three new with the fourth actually imbibed last Sunday after last week's post was posted.
The beer from last week was the Volfas Engelman Premium Pilsner out of Lithuania. I quite enjoyed this one. (3.75 / 5) Then I had two beers from Banded Peak out of Calgary. The Mt. Crushmore pilsner was pretty good, but not as good as the pilsner from Volfas Engelman. (3.25 / 5). Their Plainsbreaker Hopped Wheat Ale was much better and was one of my favorite beers in the last few months. (4.0 / 5) Last on the list was the Lazy Days sour from Alley Kat. This one was made with passionfruit so it was somewhat sweet as well as quite sour. Good stuff again from Alley Kat. (3.75 / 5)
A noteworthy stat from Untappd is the achievement I received for hitting Level 5 on Beer Connoiseur, meaning that I have logged in beers from 25 different countries. That means there are still have 171 countries that I have not had a beer from.
It's good to have goals.
Lots of reading this week, and therefore lots of new words.
BRITISH, informal, dated
The wisdom of South Park is relevant once again, this time as I resurrected the "Blame Canada" scene while listening to an episode of the Indicator podcast from Planet Money. The episode in particular was from May 23 and was titled "Canada's Tariff Hangover". The episode was about the ending of the trade war and tariffs imposed by the US on Canada and vice versa, and in particular about a small business in Ottawa that was particularly impacted by the tariffs imposed on Magic: The Gathering cards coming in from the US. Near the end of the episode, the hosts drawing the conclusion that the small business owner should be upset with the Canadian government for imposing the retaliatory tariffs. To quote from the transcript:
... the Canadian government is what ended up causing Dave all this harm, if you think about it, because it was Canada's retaliation that imposed those tariffs on Magic cards in the first place. So it kind of shows you that when a country's government retaliates, it can end up really hurting some of its own people."
Trade wars are damaging to both sides. That's why they are called trade wars, and not trade parties, or trade fun-things. And yes, there were damages to Canadian business by the increased tariffs. However, to call out the Canadian government for the particular damage to this one store conveniently omits the fact that the Canadian tariffs were retaliations, meaning of course that they were in response to the opening tariff salvo imposed on Canada by the US.
Blame Canada, indeed.
BYDTWD, or How Much Meta is Too Much Meta?:
In our weekly D&D lunch hour session this week, our PCs encountered some weird elf-spider hybrid who was clearly thousands of years old. In talking to the DM after the session, his inspiration for a lot of this setting is a riff on the drow spider queen, Lolth. However, it isn't the same Lolth that we would see in the Drizzt books or in other canon material in books, game supplements or in computer RPGs.
This is something that is hard for me to wrap my head around. How much should I read about Forgotten Realms if the DM is not going to adhere to what I have read? Sure there is a Nashkel, but it isn't exactly the same as the Nashkel I know from Baldur's Gate. Does the information I know from the game help or hinder me as a player? Am I going to make a bad decision because Quinemin the PC knows a different world from Robert the player? Understanding the world the PC is in is important so that role playing is better, and so that better decisions are made. I just don't know if I am actually going to make better decisions because my context is inconsistent with the actual environment. Or maybe the DM doesn't have the world completely figured out and therefore my knowledge will help guide the game in a good way. Or maybe I should just stop thinking so hard and just play the game.