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COVID-19: Confusion! Finger pointing! Blame!

You know, if there’s one word you hear in damn nearly every news broadcast about COVID-19 these days, it’s the word “confusion” or some variation of it. “People are confused,” the teleprompter reader whines! “The government’s rules are so confusing,” they go on. You know, part of me wants to shout at the TV screen and tell them the only people confused are journalists, not ordinary people. However, probably ordinary people are confused too, some of them because they want to be. It’s their hobby horse, and they’ll ride it until they die.

The bottom line though is pretty damn straightforward:

  • Wash your hands.
  • Don’t congregate in groups.
  • Wear a mask.
  • Keep your contacts down to an absolute minimum and minimise the amount of shopping and other business you need to do.
  • Don’t travel.

There’s absolutely nothing confusing about that.

If you’re in one part of the world and listening to health advice from another region or part of the world, then don’t! That’s why you’re confused! What the public health officer in Turkmenistan (where they apparently claim to have no COVID) says has nothing to do with what the public health officer in Buttfuck, Saskatchewan, has to say and what you should therefore do if that’s where you live!

Businesses

OK, where confusion may start to creep in is if you run a small business. Sure, do you run a gym with spin classes, or do you run some other business which can be run completely online? Or probably something in between? Do you have employees? How many locations? Can your employees work far apart? That, perhaps and to some degree, is where “confusion” can come in. However, if you’re an individual, the rules are not confusing, and perhaps you shouldn’t be patronising certain businesses. That’s not confusing.

But yes, a new disease is always confusing! It’s not the government’s fault it’s confusing; the government is just as confused, but at least they’re doing something! (This statement doesn’t apply if you’re an American. Read above about following the advice pertinent to your jurisdiction.) Don’t get on TV and whine about the government! Sure, talk about what a difficult position you’re in and wish that it was better, but if the government had a magic wand they’d wave it!

Medical face mask.

Medical face mask (ArtJane/Pixabay)

Masks

Masks work; does your brain? A mask is as much of an infringement on your rights — your supposedly god-given rights to do whatever the hell you please at any time and in any place — as requiring you to wear pants, or stop at red traffic lights. Wear a fucking mask when you’re around others outside of your home. It’s not fucking confusing.

It has occurred to me that people who don’t want to wear masks — the so-call anti-maskers — must never have played team sports in their lives. Whether it’s team sports or launching a new business with partners, employees and suppliers, all such activities require team spirit, doing something not just because it benefits you, but because it benefits the team. Wear a goddamned mask. Don’t be a fucking baby and shout at people because you don’t like wearing one, or physically attack people for the same asinine reason. The same applies to all of you who think you literally have the permission of one god or another to do as you please because he’s stronger than the government. If that’s what you believe, who the fuck do you think sent the COVID and where the fuck are his lightning bolts?! Contrary to beliefs among you tin-foil-hat wearers, not everything is a conspiracy by the government against you and your group!

And in the words of Premier Brian Pallister of Manitoba, “If you don’t think that COVID’s real … you’re an idiot.” (Or in the words of Francesco Aquilini, owner of the Vancouver Canucks, “Hey @VancouverSun change the headline to ‘Former Canucks anthem singer.’ #wearamask“, in reaction to Mark Donnelly apparently planning to sing the national anthem for an anti-mask rally.)

Public health

Some people and even countries and provinces don’t seem to understand the concept of “public health”. It’s not about your health, it’s about everyone’s health, and how everyone being healthy contributes to your being healthy and able to do the things you want to do. All these idiots — including Canada’s Trump, Jason Kenney, the premier of Alberta — going on about their individual freedoms being impaired — whether it’s being asked to wear a mask or not to have gatherings — don’t have a clue. In some places and cultures it’s acceptable to spit in public, but even the average idiot in a Western culture would turn their nose up at that and consider it rude. Guess what? That’s because you’ve been “brainwashed” by ancient public-health messages about spitting in public! If you can wrap your head around that, and understand how it means you have to “play ball” on the team to improve public health, then you may be catching on to what the rest of us have understood intuitively since time immemorial.

Hospitals.

Hospitals (Pixnio)

Hospitals

Yes, the hospitals keep claiming they’re going to be “overwhelmed”. And yet somehow, to the untrained eye, they seem to carry on as normal. That’s because they’re going above and beyond to ensure that you and your stubbed toe can get in, despite the fact that they’re overrun with COVID patients. Sure, they don’t all die, but a lot of them do, or come very close to it. Do you really know, in advance, how you’ll fare if you get it? And just because a hospital may not be 100% full, that doesn’t mean they’re not at capacity. A “bed” is not just a piece of furniture; it’s the nurses and doctors that come with it, and if a large number of nurses and doctors (and hospital janitors, etc.) are at home because they’re recovering from COVID, a “bed” might not be available because there aren’t the staff members to support it.

Oh, and by the way, you might think that COVID is a hoax, but meanwhile the hospitals are busy treating actual COVID patients. When you or your grandmother show up at the hospital with your heart attack, you’re going to find the nurses are a little too busy to take you. You may get triaged to the bottom of the list. So much for believing this was all a hoax and it wouldn’t affect you.

Why are the hospitals at capacity? Are they not well managed? The problem is that they are very well managed, but the management plan for the medical system can’t be run on the basis that there could be a pandemic tomorrow. In any given year there are so many broken legs, so many heart attacks and so on, and they’re managed around those numbers. Throw in a pandemic and those numbers are all thrown in the air. Everything changes. And it changes every day now as we learn more about the disease. That’s yet another reason the rules keep changing! It’s not because some hospital CEO wants to “confuse” your poor, fragile, confusable mind!

1+1=4.

Cumulative (1+1=4)

Cumulative measures

Masks are a great idea. However, they are only one idea, one layer of defence. Let’s just pick two layers of defence: masks and distancing. If you’re wearing a mask and are standing with your face right in my face, that’s not good; if you’re mask-less and standing two metres away, that’s not good either. What if you did a radical thing and combined both measures?! Now you’re getting the point. No credible person has suggested that just one measure alone is a silver bullet! It’s all about the cumulative effect of combining the measures!

Double standards for businesses

One area in which I support protests is the double standard in Ontario where small businesses are being closed but big competitors — Walmart, Costco, Home Depot, etc. — are allowed to remain open selling the same goods. Get together with friends and march on Queen’s Park — masked and distanced — and tell Premier Doug Ford that he is pandering to his friends running the big businesses if he doesn’t implement the same measures as have been implemented in Manitoba (I believe it is) where non-essential goods are cordoned off (and not for sale) in the big shops. Ford claims it’s too difficult for the big-box stores to do this; more whining, this time by the leader of a government!

Loopholes

Here’s one I love: “I’m not allowed to do X in this region, so I’ll just go to the neighbouring region and do it there.” Here, please take this dunce cap and go and sit in the corner for the rest of the pandemic … with your mask on.

Elders treated as superfluous

Certainly in Canada, it has become painfully obvious how little value is put on the lives of the elderly and others who are in long-term care. Either something should be done about this — it obviously hasn’t been, as we can see from the same shit happening in the second wave — or society should just be honest about what they do and don’t care about. “Logan’s Run“, anyone?

Apparently about a quarter of all Canadians in long-term care at the moment will have their last Christmas this year; think about that, “Mr./Mrs. I can’t possibly think about spending Christmas day just with my immediate family for once in my goddamned selfish life”.

Trevi Fountain.

Trevi Fountain (Thomas Wolf, CC BY-SA 3.0 DE)

Travel restrictions

Apparently something like 15% (can’t remember the exact number off the top of my head) of Canadians are planning to travel this Christmas. That’s close to six million idiots who can’t take a one-time (in their lifetimes) break. (In the United States this year’s Thanksgiving looked like any other, with everyone going somewhere else, but their idiocy explains why the American numbers are so fucking bad.) Hey, I’d love to have the Trevi Fountain to myself right now, but I’m not so fucking selfish that I would use my connections to do that. Whether you’re planning to go to Italy or planning to drive to Buttfuck, Saskatchewan, take a break this year! How hard can it be for you to do that? Some families won’t get to celebrate Christmas this year (or any year in the future) with a loved one because others were too selfish to stay the fuck home or put on a mask!

Lack of resilience

I received a Christmas letter from a friend recently with this comment:

And overall we have the very definite impression that Icelanders are coping with this whole situation rather better than the populations of many other countries — there’s almost no talk of people being “fed up”, “depressed”, etc. Perhaps being isolated on a rock in the middle of the North Atlantic together with the cold and dark every winter helps people more easily cope with the restrictions imposed by the current pandemic.

This sums up what my thinking has been for some time. Modern people seem to be almost entirely composed of people who expect everything to be “easy” and everything to be handed to them on a silver platter. Look, I realise that there are almost as many exceptions to rules as there are rules, but for the vast majority of us we’re the architects of our own demise. Grab a backbone and a mask, and do your part to keep our species alive to rape and pillage the Earth for a while longer.

Finally, as I said at the start, don’t take my advice if you don’t live where I live! Frankly, I think it’s good advice wherever you live on this planet, but you should modify it for where you live. In some places the advice might be over the top, and in others it’s not enough. In addition to a mask and a backbone, you need a brain!

Canada-China prisoner swap

Protest sign calling for the release of Kovrig and Spavor.

Protest sign calling for the release of Kovrig and Spavor

It seems bizarre to me to be writing about this kind of medieval or (I suppose) Cold War-type prisoner swap in the 21st century, but it seems that some countries (namely China) are still in that kind of backwards mindset. (This is particularly ironic, given the assertion by the deputy director of the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs Information Department [Zhao Lijian] that other countries [namely the US] suffer from a “Cold-War mentality“! Proof that politicians everywhere talk out of both sides of their mouths.)

I’d like to make clear a few of my assumptions and biases first:

  • I am not under the influence of China or any Chinese pressure groups, and presumably the authors of both of the letters to which I refer below are not either,
  • I travel internationally as much as I can, and although I have travelled to China, I have not (so far) knowingly travelled to any countries where my life or liberty might be in danger,
  • I am a dual citizen.

I have read the letter from the “distinguished Canadians” to Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (cached copy), and I think it forms a basis on which Canada could move forward. It disgusts me that a reasonably civilised country like Canada should be in this position, but it is; it’s similarly repugnant that a country like China, who would like to present themselves to the world as being civilised (all the while acting the global bully wherever it thinks it can get away with it), would do such a thing. But they have, and here we are. And why have they taken hostages? Well, Meng Wanzhou isn’t some low-life drug trafficker or any other alleged common criminal; she seems to be about as close as you can get to royalty in China in the modern age, just without (obviously) the diplomatic immunity. Quite frankly, their taking hostages is the international equivalent of an unhappy child throwing their toys out of their cot!

Among the objections to this course of action are those of Trudeau himself (and presumably therefore the Government of Canada) and 53 signatories of an opposing letter from the Macdonald-Laurier Institute. The objections seem to boil down to three primary issues, with a fourth unstated openly by the Canadian government:

  • Principles: A prisoner swap would weaken Canada’s principles. It matters not that two innocent Canadians have been deprived of their liberty for a year and a half (so far), as long as some unarticulated principle is upheld. I’ll address that shortly.
  • Giving in to hostage takers: I see the value in not giving in to the demands of hostage takers, but in my mind there is a significant difference between a hostage taker that also happens to be a state, and a hostage taker that is an individual or a group (e.g., a terrorist organisation), i.e., not a state. Quite frankly, a state that violates the norms of international practice (if not law) and takes hostages, is a pariah state, and one that should be isolated by all states. Of course, I’m no naïf, and I know that a superpower like China can’t and won’t be isolated by all states, but there are measures that Canada, and others, can take. Also more on that shortly.
  • Endangering travelling Canadians: As if Canadians are somehow magically protected when they’re travelling internationally now, the assertion is made that negotiating the release of Michael Spavor and Michael Kovrig will result in Canadians abroad being taken hostage with more frequency. I feel that theory holds when we’re talking about hostages taken by the aforementioned individuals or groups, but not when we’re talking about hostages taken by states. If the principles of due process, comity and international law are not strong enough to prevent states from exercising their unlimited power within their own borders to arbitrarily detain random foreigners, does anyone really think that an unspoken “disapproval” of hostage taking is going to achieve the same goal?!
  • Canada’s commitment to lawful extraditions, and in particular to the United States: While there is no doubt that following some sort of process to “free” Chinese citizen Meng Wanzhou from Canada’s legal system will royally piss of the Americans, let’s not lose sight of the fact that her arrest under an extradition request is nothing short of the United States using an extradition treaty to prosecute their global foreign policy (particularly against Iran and China in this case) through a third party (Canada), not enforcing criminal law alleged to have been broken on its own soil by one of its own citizens. Now, I don’t claim any expert knowledge of extrajurisdictionality (especially as the principle applies to international sanctions), but it seems to me that this must be considered differently to cases involving the citizens of one’s own country fleeing to other jurisdictions to avoid prosecution in the home jurisdiction. In my opinion the United States and China — their empires colliding — need to use other means to carry out their mutual attempts to exert international control, in ways that don’t compromise their so-called allies … or in the latter’s case, the country that many of their citizens now call home, and will likely be calling home to a greater extent following Beijing’s crackdown on freedom in Hong Kong.

On the part of those advocating something more expedient (so to speak) there are the principles of fairness and humanity. It’s not news to most people that communist systems tend to “[override] individual self-interest and [subjugate] the welfare of the general population to achieve [their] goals“, and it’s quite clear to any observer that the “individual self-interest” of the Two Michaels (or their families) is of no interest to the Chinese Government. Then there’s the degree to which Canada’s foreign policy (especially with respect to China) has been hobbled by their inability to speak more bluntly where China continues to abuse its own citizens ([Hong Kong] (whose refugees will shortly be flooding Canada, the UK and other countries), [Tiananmen Square], etc.), its neighbours ([India], [Taiwan], etc.), and others around the world — as they are doing to Canada right now. If a country’s policy in one area or another is hobbled by an identifiable cause, then it certainly is a matter of national interest and perhaps security to take whatever action is necessary to address the problem!

So what’s my suggestion? Glad you asked. I think Canada should negotiate and implement these points:

  • The last thing Canada should do is simply “free” Meng Wanzhou and then “hope” that China reciprocates. That’s just insanity! Even if they do reciprocate, it could still be years before the Two Michaels are released under one mechanism (also trumped up) or another, simply to show who has the power in the relationship, and to give China the ability to claim (falsely of course) that the release of the Michaels was not connected. No, if China has actually gone as far as to tacitly acknowledge that they have apprehended the Michaels on trumped-up espionage charges, then Canada should publicly state to China that we are ready to negotiate a prisoner swap, and move to begin the negotiations. (To quote China: “Zhao Lijian: … we have also seen reports of an interview with Kovrig’s wife on June 23, during which she said that the Canadian justice minister had the authority to stop Meng Wanzhou’s extradition process at any point; such options are within the rule of law and could open up space for resolution to the situation of the two Canadians.“)
  • The prisoner swap must be very public, and televised on live television in both countries. Since Canada and China don’t share a land border, I suggest that a Royal Canadian Navy ship meet with a PLA Navy ship in the middle of the Pacific Ocean to do the exchange, preferably over a gangplank between the ships. Alternatively, and slightly more practically I suppose, the prisoner exchange could take place on one of China’s land borders, or perhaps in the Korean DMZ.
  • Canada's Hong Kong travel advisory, 2 July 2020.

    Canada’s Hong Kong travel advisory, 2 July 2020

    One of the less obvious unilateral actions that Canada (and actually, all countries) should take in the current international climate is to start negotiating bilateral “non-hostage” treaties with other countries, possibly connected to extradition treaties. How would these work? Well, you simply make a pact with another country that neither of you will take each other’s citizens hostage. Of course, arrests in the course of normal law enforcement would be acceptable, but not arbitrary detentions with no evidence. If Canada doesn’t have such a non-hostage treaty with a country, then the travel advisory for that country would state, in very prominent and unambiguous wording, that a such a treaty does not exist and therefore Canada very strongly warns against travel to that country. (There is currently, as of 10 July 2020, a similar warning on the Government of Canada Hong Kong travel advisory [see screenshot] on the “laws and culture” tab, but it is neither prominent nor strong enough, and there is nothing on the China travel advisory advising against travel there except for COVID-19 reasons.) Without a non-hostage treaty, if a Canadian citizen (for the sake of this example) is arbitrarily detained (taken hostage) then Canada will make attempts to provide consular assistance, but will not try that hard. This is more likely to have a greater effect on dual citizens (of which I am one, I should make clear), especially for those for whom Canadian citizenship is a citizenship of convenience.

I have no doubt that the Government of Canada is indeed “doing” something in the background (as happened in Egypt recently), even if it’s just talking amongst themselves, but to the rest of us beer-swilling plebs in the deserted (at the moment) pubs and stalking the blogosphere, it sure looks like the safety and security of Canadians abroad is not a concern to Canada, contrary to their professions otherwise.

Canada is small potatoes to China, in probably every way you can think of except land mass, coastline and morals, but everyone learns when they are still a child that bullies can be stood up to. This is what Canada and most of the rest of the world must to do to stop, or at least ameliorate, China’s bullying tactics. I don’t in any way suggest that China needs to be stomped down as the “enemy”, but just as happens with individual humans they have become too big for their breeches, and for that there are or need to be consequences. Part of the “problem” with China is not even the fault of the Chinese; it’s the West’s constant obsession with “unlimited growth”. However, that’s a debate for another day.

Collage: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor (the Two Michaels).

Collage: Michael Kovrig and Michael Spavor (the Two Michaels)

Been there, done that, bought the T-shirt!

In the process of moving content from my old website to this, I’ve updated my travel maps. Have a look! 🙂