Showing posts with label COVID. Show all posts
Showing posts with label COVID. Show all posts

10 August 2022

This Immense World


 

I’ve been reading a book a friend gave me called An Immense World, by the British science writer Ed Yong.  If the name sounds familiar, it’s because he’s a regular at The Atlantic, and won the Pulitzer for his writing about COVID over the past two years, an island of common sense and clarity in the general chaos of misinformation.  I might go so far as to say Ed Yong’s columns kept me sane. 

The central theme of An Immense World is how we encounter our immediate environment, how we separate the familiar from threat, how we register light, heat, pain, movement, and even magnetic fields – and by we, it includes every creature of the earth, the air, or the oceans.  The immense world is exactly that, not confined to our species alone.

Yong borrows a conceit called Umwelt from the German, the world which appears to us, and each of these worlds appears differently to different animals.  But our world feels to us like the whole world: since it’s all we know, he writes, we easily mistake it for all there is to know. 

Light is electromagnetic radiation.  Sound is pressure waves.  Smells are small molecules.  Our senses transform those signals into a sunrise, a voice, the scent of baking bread.  Biology tames physics.  It turns external stimuli into information we can act on, to eat, to find shelter, to survive, and reproduce, and to evolve.

[The above is not me writing; I’m paraphrasing Yong.]

No animal can respond to everything, too much information is as bad as too little.  We imagine it to be a superpower, that Spidey sense, but it would be overwhelming.  So each animal filters their signals at the source.  Which work to our advantage, which work against us?  Natural selection is the obvious mechanism.  If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.

What fascinates me about this is how clearly it applies to human social interactions, how it’s a physical model for relationships, functional and not so.  If this is the way the brain works, the way it processes signals from the physical world, and makes them kinetic – fight or flight, for example – is this also the way the brain processes what we might call the less substantial world, language, ritual and religious belief, the interpretation of spirits, family and kinship?  Does it develop from our sensory input?

Yong has an example from neurobiology.  400 million years ago, certain species of fish left the water to live on land.  In the open air, they evolved to see longer distances than they could underwater, and he suggests this spurred a greater adaptive leap.  By seeing farther ahead they could think farther ahead; they could plan, instead of simply reacting to what was immediately in front of them. 

This isn’t biological determinism, that’s not where I’m going.  I’m talking about the common tendency we have to analyze other people’s behavior in terms of our own.  I see you acting in such-and-such a way, and if it were me, my motive or reason would be thus-and-so.  I therefore ascribe that motive or reason to you – and I’m totally off-base. 

The metaphor Yong puts forward (he credits Jakob von Uexküll, fabulous name) is a house with windows overlooking a garden, and each window has a different view, so our perspective of the garden shifts from window to window – a smell, a sound, a touch – but the garden we sense is the only real garden.  The garden from a tick’s point of view, or a bee’s, or a sparrow’s, will be different from ours, but just as real.  We’re each of us inside the house, looking out on a landscape.  The windows are of course our physical senses.  Is it plausible that the reach, or limits, of those senses, are reflected in the reach, or limits, of our imagination, our myth-making, our theology - our understanding of human destiny? 

Our world feels to us like the whole world, and if it’s all we know, we easily mistake it for all there is to know. 



10 July 2022

Crime and no punishment: Public Health


When Leigh kindly invited me to write crime/mystery articles from a medical viewpoint, he certainly wasn’t expecting me to colour wildly, and enthusiastically, outside the lines of my mandate. Both he and Rob have been infinitely patient with me and I owe them an apology, because here I go again.

In my defence, crime can be seen through many lens: breaking the law, injustice and even awful things that happen.

I’ve been thinking a lot about awful things that are happening. They’re not a crimes in the sense of breaking a law. They do, however, result in death and, from a certain point of view, can be seen as murder. Mass murder.

What are these awful things?

Lousy Public Health decisions.

Public health is defined as the organized effort to keep people healthy and prevent injury, illness and premature death. This field was once relegated to textbooks, articles and conferences enthusiastically attended by nerds in the field.

What is this Public Health thing that most of us happily ignored for so long and why is it messing with our lives?

The reality is that Public Health has always messed with our lives. From the 1800s, the sanitary reform movement, spurred on by new understanding of disease transmission, helped create sewage treatment infrastructure alongside water filtration systems to provide clean drinking water. This sounds very technical, but imagine drinking water filled with feces and urine— it’s a great way to spread disease and, seriously, totally gross as well.

From food safety standards to policies for disease mitigation, from mass vaccination to public education, Public Health has been there for us. Before mass vaccination programs, diseases like smallpox, polio and diphtheria were rampant. Before changes in hygiene standards, your surgeon would operate with bare, unwashed hands and your food was prepared and served without hand washing too. Again – gross.

What seems self-evident now, was not always so. In fact, when the Canadian Public Health Association was created in 1910, the early founders were determined to bring about change, “come hell or high water.”

Sounds like fighting words to me and suggest that, even then, the pushback they faced was serious.

Fast forward to 2022 and we see many Public Health decisions move from the ‘hell or high water’ fight to a ‘paddling in leaky canoe and ignoring the tidal waves’ approach.

Harsh?

Hardly.

In my home province of Ontario, we have a surge in the new omicron variant, BA.5 and yet, public health has removed masks mandates, even for hospitals, allowing our most vulnerable patients to get infected. We have vaccines but anyone under 60 is being denied their fourth dose, despite the fact that third doses have long since waned for most people. Allowing BA.5 to infect our citizens by refusing to institute even the minimum of mask mandates or updating much needed vaccines is harsh and unethical. People will die. My statements are mild in comparison.

During COVID-19, decisions that endanger and kill people are being made not just in my backyard - they are being made all over the world.

Some will ask, “Isn’t this politics?” Yes. Of course it is. But here’s the rub: all of these decisions are presented to us by a M.D. who is the Chief Medical Officer. His M.D. gives him credibility – imagine how many would listen to him if he had a botany degree? So, these are Public Health decisions presented by a M.D. and this makes all the difference. If a doctor makes a decision knowing this will endanger or kill a patient, they can and should lose their licence. If a doctor makes a decision that endangers or kills many - give them a title of ‘medical officer of health’ and they have impunity.

Even a non-MD who makes a decision knowing others can be harmed or killed is held accountable - think of a driver who is drunk, drives a car and hits a pedestrian. We hold them accountable for the harm and death they cause. Crimes that can be legally prosecuted apparently are very different than awful things that happen to people. Mass harm and mass murder are O.K. if they are a ‘policy’ decision.

In 2020, I was concerned but optimistic. In 2021, I was worn out and somewhat discouraged. Now, I’ve reached the level of being sad and furious.

Awful things knowingly dumped upon us by Public Health should be crimes.

They are not.

And that is a crime.

26 February 2022

What do we DO about Covid in our Fiction Manuscripts? Three Ideas for Authors


So here's a predicament.  You are writing a book that takes place in contemporary times.  You know it will probably hit the shelves two years from the time you start writing.  (Because that is the reality of this biz.  A year to write an 80,000 word novel, and at least a year for your publisher to get it out there.)

What, I ask you, WHAT do you do about Covid?


My authors friends and I have been perplexed by this for 18 months.  In the beginning (nearly two years ago) we thought it would be a passing thing, like SARS 1.  (Which by the way, I contracted in 2003 while supervising hospital staff.  It was pure hell.  Think cut glass in your lungs, for weeks and weeks.)

By the summer of 2020, I remember having Zoom discussions with writer friends about what the Thunderin' Jesus we were supposed to do with a worldwide pandemic in our novels.  Could we ignore it - blithely pretend it didn't happen?

But then the darn thing didn't end.

So here we are, two years after the start of Covid 19, still wondering when the bloody thing is going to be over, stuck in between a rock and a hard place when it comes to treating it in fiction.

Thing is, you can't ignore it now.  Covid 19 has been the most significant thing to affect all mankind, or even just our little niche in the world, since WW11.  Imagine being in Britain during WW11.  Six years of war hell.  And then a book comes out in 1947 that is supposed to be contemporary, but doesn't even mention the war years?  It's unthinkable!

So what to do?

1.  Pretend it's Over

Include it in your novel, with characters very grateful to be over the Covid years. 

But there's a problem with that.  What if Covid isn't over by the time your novel comes out?

That's what has happened to one writer I know.  His latest release talks about the bad Covid times of 2020 and 2021, and the bad times are over by the time his protagonist is telling this latest story in early 2022.

Except they aren't.  And I am sure said author (whom I adore) wished he could pull back that release until our Covid days are over.  (Yes, I know this will turn from pandemic to endemic, and likely to be with us for some time.  I'm a career health care executive, after all.  But you know what I mean.  Until a time we feel safe returning to normal, because God knows, I don't now.)

2.  Go Historical

That's what I've done.  Okay, I planned this book back in 2019 long before the word Covid was in our lexicon.  But after 16 published novels that take place in contemporary times, this was quite a departure for me.  You might also say it was prescient.  (Perhaps I should be dropping big money on lottery tickets...)

Writing a novel that takes place in the past is a perfect solution for a writer today.  You know how the world turns out. And there is a certain comfort for the reader in that.

Which will be the subject of a future blog on here, by the way.

3.  Do as another author friend of mine did:  Switch to Fantasy!

The ultimate cop-out!  Go different planet, Alt World, different time, different physical rules (magic etc.)  The desire for fantasy novels and fantasy shows on TV has never been greater.  We need a break from reality.  You'll be safe in a world you invent yourself.

How about you, seasoned Sleuthsayer authors?  What have you done to address Covid in your fiction?  We are all stumbling through this.  Comments welcome!

Melodie Campbell stumbles around the Toronto area, writing largely loopy fiction involving heists and capers that don't go according to plan.  You can get her books at all the usual suspects.  www.melodiecampbell.com




 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

13 February 2022

Ottawa Protest: It's not what it seems.



Canada’s capital, Ottawa, finds itself in the midst of a protest and, like Alice in Wonderland, in a situation that gets curiouser and curiouser.


During my decades of living in Ottawa, protests have come and gone. Never has any protest disrupted the city and terrorized its occupants. There is something very different about this. 


There are presently about 400+ trucks in Ottawa and a group of people that varies from hundreds to a few thousand who claim they are protesting vaccine mandates for truckers who cross the border.


For perspective, Canada has 38 million citizens, and at least 85% have had one dose of their COVID-19 vaccine and over 80% are fully vaccinated. In Ottawa, 91% of residents have their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and 88% are fully vaccinated. Further, I can walk into any grocery store or pharmacy in Ottawa and find everyone masked and happily shopping. As one of the most vaccinated countries in the world, Canada has also enjoyed one the most peaceful acceptance of mask mandates in world. 


So, what has changed? Is it just the rebellious 9-15% taking a stand against vaccine mandates for truckers? Maybe. But it’s doubtful. In fact they may not even be truckers, “90 percent of Canadian truckers are vaccinated and the Canadian Trucking Alliance, which represents the industry in the country and does not support the convoy, has said most of the people in and around the protests “do not have a connection to the trucking industry.” 

It’s also important to note that the United States has its own mandate about vaccination - so getting rid of Canada’s mandates wouldn’t allow these truckers to cross the border anyway, but I digress. 


To understand what’s going on in Ottawa - a situation that has inflamed the world and resulted in copycat protests - you need to dissect it, look on the ground and look at how it evolved. 

When these protesters first came into Ottawa, it looked like any other protest. People with an opinion that differed from the federal government. They appeared to have a lot of support online and financially - this was to be proven incorrect. 


Our first sense of real trouble came from reports from Centretown - the area in close proximity to this protest, where 50,000 residents live. The protesters swarmed in on our largest mall, defying the mask mandates for indoor spaces, with large groups of them shouting at minimum wage store clerks to take off their masks and be ‘free’. What a store-clerk removing her or his mask has to do with vaccine mandates for truckers to cross the border is perplexing, but here we were. The mall shut down and remained closed to protect their employees. 


These protesters, angry about being shut out of restaurants with mask mandates, went to our most vulnerable and demanded food from soup kitchens. The frightened volunteers, unequipped to refuse, fed them. 


Reports started to flood in about gangs of protesters yelling at residents to remove they masks and join the protests. People started to hide in their homes rather than venture out. Many complained about the inability to sleep because of the incessant honking all night and those with pets told us about their animals cowering under beds, shaking from the noise. 


This is when Ottawa - a friendly and calm city - became angry. 

Soon reports came in from investigative journalists that the immense 10 million in financial support from Gofundme was not Canadian support, but largely foreign, “Donations from abroad are quite a common part of any large crowdfunding campaign,” Ciaran O’Connor, an expert on online extremism at the Institute for Strategic Dialogue, told Politico. “But the scale of this one is unprecedented.” 

The Gofundme money was stopped - refunded I believe - and yet we saw the protesters go from stealing food from soup kitchens to setting up barbecues for everyone, beside bouncy castles for the children to enjoy. Yes, children, “Almost 25 per cent of the 418 trucks have children living in them — children who could be at risk during a police operation,” 

As well, the apparent online support was largely from troll farms: “groups that weaponize social media to spread misinformation, promote division and influence public opinion.”


As the normally sanguine city of Ottawa got angry, Twitter became full of many who denounced all COVID-19 mandates and others who decried the Ottawa protesters.


As a physician, I’m puzzled what a world without any COVID-19 mandates would look like. Do we have unvaccinated, unmasked healthcare workers looking after children with cancer? 


Even those who are against the protesters goals are at times worrisome - they are generating attacks on our mayor, our police and various levels of government for not being strong enough. It’s a distrust of the very institutions of our democracy at a level that’s new. 


Canada, being a robust democracy, does not allow politicians to direct the police. Thank goodness because this could be abused. So, what about the police? Again, in a democracy, the police have limited powers (again, thank goodness) and are constrained by the budgets elected officials give them, limiting their numbers. 


A democracy has certain tools and one of them is declaring a state of emergency. This allows the police more powers (not to be taken lightly) and also an increase in their numbers by drawing from other police forces. This is one thing that should have been done much earlier since the Ottawa police chief has been clear: he doesn’t have enough police to enforce even the laws he has at his disposal. We have never seen this large a group of protesters and Ottawa simply doesn't have the police numbers to manage to remove them. Rather than distrust the police, we should be giving them the help they have asked for repeatedly. 


Luckily, we now have a declared state of emergency in our city and province, to give the police more powers. And hopefully Ottawa will get more policing help. 


Michael Kempa - a professor of criminology at University of Ottawa - has helped to make a very curious situation much more understandable. 


He identifies two distinct groups involved in the Ottawa protest. The first group are the ones we have been seeing on the news, alternating between yelling at the citizens and the media, to grilling burgers and setting up bouncy castles. They are the public face of this protest. A diverse group - only a few actually concerned about vaccine mandates for truckers at the border, some concerned with any mandates from vaccines to masks, some bringing their own issues like the need to fly a Nazi flag. 


The group that worries Michael Kempa more are the ones we don’t see in the command centres of the protest. They are hard-core, long time anti-democratic organizers who fund, fuel and strategize for the protest in Ottawa and elsewhere. They don’t care about vaccines and mandates because they have been planning this trucker convoy since before COVID-19. Their goal is to damage our democracy by damaging our citizens trust in its institutions and to replace it with a far right, more authoritarian system.


With the new powers given to police under the declaration of a state of emergency both in Ottawa and in the province, Kempa is heartened that “Canada is starting to demonstrate that the institutions of democracy are strong, and capable of dealing the with the radicalized political threat…we cannot give the organizers the image that Canada’s institutions are too weak to handle their challenge of misinformation and mobilizing people to fight their battles for them at the front line of protest.” 


This explains why a protest about truckers and vaccines has gone so out of control and why it has spread so quickly. For the organizers this was never about vaccine mandates and they have been planning this attack on our democracy for a long time.


To regain trust in our institutions, police need new powers but they also need larger numbers. After years of police cuts, it’s time to put enough police in play to protect against this new threat and fulfil the promise of the Canadian Constitution: Peace, order and good government. 



23 October 2021

Wanna Be A Paperback Writer? The Truth about Author Incomes


 My last post on leaving my day job behind to become a full-time author with a traditional publishing house garnered a lot of comments to my social media feeds.  The question most frequently asked (besides ways in which to kill your agent, editor, reviewers, and not get caught) is - can the average author really make a living writing fiction?


We're talking average author with a traditional house here.  Not someone like Linwood Barclay or
Stephen King, or Janet Evanvich (who Library Journal once compare me to. They didn't look at our bank accounts, obviously.)  These people make the big advances we all dream of.

I'm still dreaming.  By average author, I'm talking about someone like me, with sixteen books published, and ten awards you might recognize.  Someone who occasionally hits the Amazon top 100 list of all books with a new release, and then drops out of sight after a couple of weeks.  We used to be called 'mid-list' authors. I kind of like that term, so you'll hear it again today.

I'm here to tell you the truth.  Some of it hurts, and some of it may be encouraging - you can judge.

Really, I'd be more comfortable giving you my bra size than spilling the financial numbers (38 Long is a hard size to find, by the way) but here goes.

In my last post, I quoted the UK, where recent reports say the average income of a paperback writer (note how I use the Beatles here and in the title) has dropped from 8000 pounds a year (maybe 15000 Canadian dollars) to 4000 pounds a year (more like 7000 Canadian dollars.)  Point is, the average fiction novelist is earning way less than 15 years ago.

Our Canadian stats measure pretty closely.  I do better than that - or have until now - probably because I have a backlist of fifteen books, several from series.  If someone picks up the latest book in The Goddaughter series, they may go back and pick up all five books that came before (bless their little hearts.)  That's how I've managed to sort of make a living - on royalties from backlist books.

But back to the stats.  Hold on as I try to be honest:

In my best year, I made 33,000 from my books.  If you add in teaching writing courses at college, and workshops at libraries and conferences, plus author appearances, I made about 50,000 in total.

But that was my best year.  I won The Derringer that year, and the Crime Writers of Canada Award of Excellence.  I also won the Hamilton Reads award (the city I border on.)  USA Today featured one of my books, and that shot me to the Amazon Top 100 list between Nora Roberts and Tom Clancy for a few weeks.

Thing is, that isn't a typical year.

My advances usually run about 5000 a book.  If I'm lucky, I get two contracts a year and write two books a year.  That's $10,000.

I have to 'sell through' those advances before I see any royalties.  Since my books sell for 10 bucks, and I get a dollar a book, that means I have to sell 5000 books of each before I get any royalties.  That's considered a best-seller in Canada.

So advances of 10,000 a year, in a good year.  And maybe royalties of a little less than that.  In a good year.  Add in teaching - another 6000. A few short story sales - (I can hear you laughing from here.)

Last year I made 21,000 from my books.  A lot less than my best year.

Covid has definitely played a part.  My last book came out the week of first lockdown. Every event and book tour was cancelled.  It'll be a while before I earn back that advance!  How do you promote a book if you can't get out there?  And when every other writer on the planet is anxiously spamming social media?

My point through this exercise today has been to lay bare the financial realities of a mid-list author as I have experienced them.  It sobers me sometimes to think that the assistant to the assistant at a publishing house makes more than the writer does.

This month, I signed for a new series with my third publishing house.  This one is bigger and more prestigious than the previous two, so I'm on a high.  I'm also scared to death.  The stakes are higher now, the expectations greater.  I'll let you know next fall if the financial rewards match my dreams <wink>

Melodie Campbell is a paperback writer of  multiple genres, south of Toronto.  You'll find her books at all the usual suspects.

Last Goddaughter book...(crime)


 

Her last book...(Rom-Com)




 




08 September 2021

Battle Fatigue


Still thinking about A Song for the Dark Times, the Ian Rankin book I talked up a couple of weeks ago, I realize that it’s effectively the first COVID story I’ve read, although not self-consciously so.  Rankin tells us in an afterword that he began the novel before the pandemic got legs, but the quarantine caught up with him.  Suffice it to say that while COVID doesn’t make a literal appearance, it makes itself felt.  The characters all seem to be overtaken by tremendous weariness, utterly exhausted, savage and strung out and wired, their default mechanism an unprovoked strike at soft tissue.

I also mentioned PTSD in reference to A Song for the Dark Times.  I can’t be the first person to suggest we’ve had a national psychotic episode over the last four years, and that toxicity hit a boiling point in 2020.  There’s a marked difference, though, between Carl Hiaasen’s Squeeze Me, a venomous (excuse the pun) satire of a public con artist known to the Secret Service as Mastodon, and the Rankin book – not least because Hiaasen is laughing through tears of despair, but because of the timing.  Hiaasen got his book to press before COVID, although it came out in 2020, and Rankin broke the tape just a hair after, when the pandemic had begun to tighten its grip.  The full effects weren’t known, of course, but fatigue was clearly manifest already.  We were so sick and tired of the unending vomit skit, that when we actually realized how unprepared we were for genuine political respiratory failure, it fell on us like the Plagues of Egypt.  It was absolutely biblical, you couldn’t help feeling we didn’t deserve it somehow.

All in all, it meets the clinical hallmarks of escaping an abusive relationship.  (Except the guy is still out there haunting us, absent Van Helsing and the stake.)  Looked at in context, it could just as readily be combat stress, or alcoholic parents, the gaslighting husband, predatory manipulation, emotional or sexual, the entire vocabulary of passive-aggressive, narcissistic grievance.  The betrayal of trust, the loss of faith.  You could perhaps survive the death camps, but then be consumed by survivor’s guilt. 

A lot is going to be written about this shitty, corrupt, and incompetent Administration, and history won’t be kind, but I’m wondering more about how we approach the dry heaves and the hangover.  Reading, for example, Jackie Winspear’s Maisie Dobbs books, which take place between the wars, they lean on the horror of the trenches.  Her grandfather, we learn in her memoir, This Time Next Year We’ll Be Laughing, was a shell-shocked veteran of WWI.  (We don’t often get this kind of objective correlative with a writer; in this instance, we get the smell of the hops, and the scent of class difference, nothing if not quietly poisonous.)  Our own history is instructive, how we’ve dealt with race, for example, in literature, or popular culture.  You could make a good argument that Chester Himes writes with more vigor or honesty than some other literary lights, but he wrote in a genre that was below the salt.  Blind Man with a Pistol isn’t a title that conjures up the Pulitzer.  So how do we engage the age of Coronavirus and the collapse of political conversation? 

We can look at Latin American literature, in the shifting squalls of dictatorship and social reform, or perhaps Spain, after the Civil War, the country constipated by Franco.  Socialist Realism.  I’m not joking.  Some animals are more equal than others, Orwell reminds us, and at the moment the Right is squealing, but the Left has played the victim card to similar effect.  Don’t get me wrong, I think the Right is weeping crocodile tears. 

I’m asking a different question, which isn’t about our political sympathies.  What happens when our sympathies are exhausted? 

I remember the AIDS epidemic.  I happened to be living in Provincetown in the 1980’s, and gay guys were dropping like flies.  Some of them were close friends, like Howard Gruber, who owned Front Street, some of them were simply people I knew or worked with, friends of friends.  It was about the math.  Your odds were bad.  You fucked a guy you met at Tea Dance, and you didn’t use a rubber?  Personal liberty, I guess.  Like not wearing a seat belt.  The crazy thing is that it took so long to penetrate.

Elvis Presley posed for his polio shot before he went on Ed Sullivan, in 1956.

How will we address these plague years?  Not so much the crazy, the QAnon and that crap.  There was a time when the John Birch Society told us that fluoridation in the water supply was a Commie plot, and Stalin was in our toothpaste.  How do we make this not seem completely nuts?

On the other hand, how is it not completely nuts? 

07 September 2021

Maps


author Mark Thielman
Mark Thielman

     When my wife and I got married 30+ years ago, our friend Kathy gave us the Complete Atlas of the World as a wedding present. The book is an oversized coffee table volume with a jet-black cover. The blue marble of the world as seen from space adorns the front. It was intended as a metaphor for our new life. Kathy challenged us to explore and to dream of the places we'd go. We thought it was a cool gift at the time. We still do.

    What's interesting about pulling out that old atlas now is to see the changes written across the pages. The book seems heavy, fixed, and permanent. But there on page 50 is the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics, one solid band of unified color spanning a huge piece of Eurasia. Or on page 98, the Africa map with its hard, unchanging boundaries for Ethiopia and Sudan. I could go on but you get the idea.

atlas

    I've been thinking a great deal about travel lately. This was supposed to be my first SleuthSayers blog after Bouchercon. I had assumed I'd jot down some observations about the conference, congratulate the winners, reference the people I'd been able to meet in person, and intersperse those thoughts with the smells, tastes, sights, and sounds of New Orleans. That blog will have to be postponed until after the 2022 conference in Minneapolis. (I anticipate different tastes and smells.)

    I've been looking forward to traveling. I've missed waking up someplace different, knocking about exploring and discovering. I've missed seeing sights and trying foods. A couple of weeks ago in this blog, Robert Lopresti mentioned a bit of a conversation he overheard at a previous Bouchercon. Those lines made their way into a story. Let me add that to the list. I've missed collecting dialogue souvenirs. Not only have I missed going away, but I've also missed returning home to my familiar, and the simple joy of knowing where the things I use to construct my daily life are located.

    Although my wife and I haven't been hermits since the COVID onset, we have limited our venturing out to new places. The question, "where should we go?" as often as not has been replaced by "should we go?" Although the answer has sometimes been yes, spontaneity has seen an additional hurdle placed in its path.

AHMM

    The September/October issue of Alfred Hitchcock Mystery Magazine includes my story, "The Map Dot Murder." The tale is set in a small west Texas town. The high school's social studies teacher is murdered. His classroom is map festooned. Yet, most of the town's inhabitants are people who haven't gone anywhere. They've lived their lives within the town's boundaries. Some residents like it that way. Others resent it. A few have never bothered to think that they might have options.

    Just as I should have been finalizing my plans for Bouchercon– circling topics on the schedule of events, composing snappy answers to questions for my panel, and sending final emails to arrange get-togethers– comes my story about staying put. You know the timeline for stories. Tapping out the story on your keyboard takes a while. Rewrites, edits, and polishing add some more time. Then you send it off, drumming your fingers while waiting for an acceptance email. Finally, the movement to publication requires another chunk of time.

    The story should have come out as I was preparing to travel. Instead, it was published as I was sitting at home, folding my map from the journey I didn't take. Like the Complete Atlas of the World, perhaps it serves as a reminder about the illusion of fixedness.

    I hope you enjoy the story. And, whether you're at home or on the road, stay safe.

    Until next time.

woof

14 March 2021

COVID-19: Lessons learned and justice are not the same


The World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020 and by March 11, 2021, 2.6 million people have died from Covid-19.

On the news and social media on March 11th, 2021, passing the year mark of this pandemic was the subject of numerous discussions. There were many honouring those who died. Many pointed to the tsunami of grief, the bravery of our frontline healthcare workers, the generosity of neighbourhoods, friends and family.

As I was falling asleep that evening my thoughts went to crime and justice. 

When people die or are harmed by the actions of others, they want justice.

Elderly parents have died in Long Term Care Homes where families felt they were not cared for or protected. Doctors, nurses, personal support workers, paramedics and other have been infected because they did not have adequate personal protective equipment – some have died and others are still suffering from Post-Acute Covid Syndrome. Many others have been infected and died because they were told that they didn’t need masks to protect them from COVID-19, until they were finally told to wear masks. Many are now waiting for available Covid vaccines but some are getting infected and dying while they wait. 

Who is brought to justice when it is clear that deaths are clearly cause by the actions of others? 

There will be commissions on how we care for and protect the elderly. There will be analysis on why aerosol and asymptotic spread were not identified earlier. There will be some form of reckoning on the lack of PPE for healthcare workers who were forced to work without proper protections. These will all be filed under lessons learned to maybe influence how we move forward. And maybe is the operative word.

What I worry about most is whether those who lost loved ones, those who still remain ill from post-acute COVID will feel that justice is served? Lessons learned serve those who come after us, but what about those who bear the scars of this year? What do they need to move forward?

Here I came to my worst conclusion in this line of thought: those responsible for true harm, whether they be politicians, organizations that said they would care for our elderly or those who made decisions that killed our health care workers-will not be held to account. They will be responsible for a large number of deaths through their actions and nothing will come of it. There will be no justice.

Let’s roll back to the beginning: if someone harms another, we demand justice. How does it work if many people make decisions and take actions that harm hundreds if not thousands of people. Under the cover of group work, apparently nothing.

Crimes are punished in part as a deterrent for future crimes. I hope we don’t learn that mistakes that cost lives can be done with impunity if they are done by governments, organizations like Long Term Care Homes and those who are responsible for safely equipping healthcare workers. 

So, at the end of a painful year full of death and suffering, of course my mind turned to crime. The worst kind: those that are not punished. 

As I fell asleep, I thought about how, in a pandemic, we can discuss the bad things that happened. We cannot really get justice. No one is really responsible. We will simply have some large files on lessons learned that may simply be ignored anyway. 

Now, late night thoughts are sometimes morbid. I hope I’m wrong.

14 February 2021

The Pandemic: Babies and Stories


With so much time together with our lovers, many expected a pandemic baby boom, but it is looking more like a bust.

I get it.

My writing fantasy is to have stories - the ones that reveal the places we live and breathe, the dark places, the places of joy - and also the time to write them. 

I now have the time but the onslaught of stories is just too much. The edits on my book are not a boom but a bust. A total bust.

Normally, when I work I shut out the world. Ignore it. However, this is a time in history when absorbing what is going on in the world is needed.

When I sit down to write, my head swirls from the page outward. Perhaps my characters are talking on the phone - I think of all the people isolated by #COVID19 who can only talk to those they love by phone. When my characters sit for coffee, I think of all the lonely people unable to gather and the small coffee shops struggling to survive in this pandemic.

Then there are the elderly in long term care homes, isolated and at times suffering with dementia - how do they make sense of the long days when no familiar faces come? Do they forget them? Do they remember them in their dreams?

The children who once rushed up to playgrounds to do what we have forgotten to do - play with abandon with children they have just met. Now, they are masked and are asked to keep their distance. Will they play with abandon when the virus is gone or will they grow up too soon into the far more distanced adults that surround them? Hell, we are asking them to keep their distance so it would be a small wonder if they don’t.

The lovers, the ones that had planned romantic trips, weddings and parties - what happens when none of that is possible? Do they put that spontaneous side - the most romantic moments - on hold. Can they return?

And then there are those who don’t return at all.  Their families watch them disappear into the bowels of an ambulance or hospital and then can’t see them, hold them before they die. 

I’m bombarded by stories of my colleagues in the #COVID ICUs. They have so many tools to save people but now, their tools are often useless against Covid-19. Death after death. It's everything they've been trained to fight and yet they lose the battle constantly. They are tired and demoralized when one patient dies, the numerous deaths are just too much for them.

And, perhaps a few blocks from these ICUs, people are gathering without masks, perhaps in homes, to have a drink, laugh and spread this damn virus around another room.

Will all the pandemic stories raging around demanding attention finally settle when the worst of this pandemic is over? Will we have time to write them when life returns to normal?

My hope is that these stories will be written and we will take the time to pay tribute to each person we can. There have never in my lifetime been so many stories crying out to be told. There are also so many people who are now no longer with us to tell their story and we need to honour them by telling it.

I have practiced medicine. I have written. Both involve a similar process.

In medicine, the key to a diagnosis is always the story - the more fulsome the story, the more likely the diagnosis will be accurate. And after diagnosis, following the story allows us to assess the treatment and, more importantly, how the patient is doing. 

With writing, the key is always the story and the more fulsome, the more accurate. 

With the pandemic stories that will be written, I hope that that they will be about how we recover, or don’t, from this terrible time in our history. Like a medical story, we need to follow this up. 

At this point in time I have no idea how the story ends for us all.

Oh, and babies. We need to see more babies please. We need a new generation to whom we pass on our stories, because this has been a time of such important stories. But until we pass on our stories, we need the joy of a new beginning.

08 November 2020

Protect your eyes from COVID19 infection.


There’s a saying: if you’re the smartest person in the room, you’re in the wrong room. I recently found myself in the right room—a masked, backyard get-together with close friends.

My husband mentioned he’d added a face shield to his mask in indoor public places, to protect his eyes during the second wave of COVID-19. One of our friends, Brian Foody, said that using a face shield with a mask wouldn’t protect eyes from airborne COVID-19 but goggles would.

This statement was very surprising. Public health experts have been clear, given the airborne transmission of COVID-19, that face shields and goggles protect the eyes equally.

For the public, Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview, “. . . you should protect all of the mucosal surfaces, so if you have goggles or an eye shield, you should use it.”

In healthcare settings, face shields are irreplaceable to protect against splatter during procedures, but face shields and goggles are recommended by public health as interchangeable eye protection.

For protection during aerosol-generating medical procedures, Canadian Public Health recommends, “eye, nose and mouth protection (mask and eye protection, or mask and face shield, or mask with attached shield) that fully covers the eyes, nose and mouth and ensures that no part of the face is exposed.”

The CDC states, “The PPE recommended when caring for a patient with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 includes the following . . . Put on eye protection (i.e., goggles or a face shield that covers the front and sides of the face) upon entry to the patient room or care area.”

If face shields don’t protect the eyes from airborne COVID-19, the definition of “adequate PPE” changes and this may save lives. A large study of healthcare workers showed that they accounted for 10% to 20% of COVID-19 infections and, even more worryingly, “even among frontline healthcare workers reporting adequate PPE, the risk for COVID-19 was increased . . ..”

Given the importance of this issue for the public and for healthcare workers, I interviewed Brian Foody, president and chief executive officer of Iogen Corporation and an MIT-educated mechanical engineer, who specializes in fluid motion.

The movement of COVID-19 infected air is at the heart of this issue.

“Imagine two people wearing face masks, one has on a face shield and the other is wearing goggles, walking into a closed room where the ambient air contains COVID-19 infected aerosols,” Foody explained. “Whose eyes are better protected? For our wearer of the face shield, with every breath, the clean air behind her face shield is ventilated and exchanged with the contaminated ambient air. Because of this ventilation, the air behind the face shield will have the same concentration of aerosols as the rest of the room within a matter of minutes. On the other hand, for our goggle wearer, the clean air behind her goggles is sealed off from the ambient air.”

The mixing of air behind a face shield is based on the basic scientific principles of fluid dynamics: if there are COVID-19 particles, they’ll be drawn into the face shield and up to the eyes.

This behaviour of aerosols is supported by a 2014 study. “Face shields can substantially reduce the short-term exposure of health care workers to large infectious aerosol particles, but smaller particles can remain airborne longer and flow around the face shield more easily to be inhaled,” it noted.

A review of the literature in March, 2020 stated that, “There is a lack of research on the effectiveness of different forms of eye protection.”

And yet, certainly the public health recommendations consider goggles and face shields as equivalent.

I am reminded of the early days when many of us recognized the pattern of airborne transmission of COVID-19 infections and advocated for masks, contradicting public health recommendations. Now the widespread use of masks is recognized as an important tool to limit COVID-19. This information on face shields is just as important: face shields protect from splatter but do not offer eye protection and public health recommendations for the public and healthcare workers must change.

Then Brian asked a crucial question: “What are the chances of getting infected through your eyes?”

To begin to find my way through this issue, I had to enter the right room, so I unabashedly called my friend, Dr. Sherif El-Defrawy, at his cottage on Thanksgiving.

Dr. Sherif El-Defrawy is an ophthalmologist who’s chair of the Department of Ophthalmology at the University of Toronto, before which he held a similar position at Queen’s University. He’s also president of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society and of the Association of Canadian University Professors of Ophthalmology.

In short, Dr. El-Defrawy knows eyes.

“If COVID-19 infects the conjunctiva of the eye, it could travel to the nose via the nasolacrimal duct and colonize the nose or throat,” he explained. “However, we would expect to see conjunctivitis. I find it highly unlikely that there would be enough COVID-19 to cause illness without seeing conjunctivitis.”

He explained that the number of COVID-19 infected patients with conjunctivitis wasn’t that large but it was unclear how many patients were checked for this. Finally, he expressed surprise that goggles were not universally recommended in healthcare settings along with face shields.

So, first things first, I’m not a fan of primate studies but there was one that answered many questions about COVID-19 infection via the eyes, so with great regret I present it here.

Three rhesus macaques were infected with COVID, two via their conjunctiva and one via intratracheal route. The conjunctival swabs were positive for the first day only, “indicating that the inoculated virus may transfer from conjunctiva to respiratory tract and other tissues . . . specific IgG antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 were detected in the rhesus macaques, indicating that the animal was indeed infected with SARS-CoV-2 [showing] that conjunctiva is a route of SARS-CoV-2 transmission.”

A literature review concluded, “The overall prevalence of ocular symptoms in patients with COVID-19 was 11.2%, which is not a common finding. Nevertheless, this reported prevalence might be an underestimation because patients with COVID-19 present with life-threatening clinical scenarios, which may preclude a detailed ocular examination or relevant history.”

Speaking of ophthalmologists, we should acknowledge with deep gratitude that it was the ophthalmologist, Li Wenliang, who was one of the first people who warned the world about the new disease we now call COVID-19. He later succumbed to the disease after contracting the virus seemingly from an asymptomatic glaucoma patient in his clinic.

So, how does eye protection play out on the ground in healthcare settings? Here I turned to information from Dr. Rick MacDonald, a community paediatrician on staff at Halton Healthcare hospitals where he takes call seeing paediatric patients and works in the NICU.

When many other physicians’ offices were largely doing virtual visits, “we decided early on that if we were going to be a useful resource for our paediatric population. . . .We needed to see patients [and] to provide this service, PPE is the most important first step without which it could not be done.”

Dr. MacDonald spent hours sourcing PPE for his office, opting for an N95 and a face shield but now also wears goggles as well. “To [keep our office open] we need full protection. No skimping, no cheating, full attention to detail. . . . Overkill is better and no government official or cloistered ID staff will convince me otherwise.”

He’s correct: protection, including eye protection, is crucial. Doctors are often in closed examining rooms, crowded emergency departments or intensive care units, with potentially large volumes of COVID-19 aerosols. So are nurses, paramedics, respiratory therapists and many others.

Certainly, we could benefit from research on the fluid dynamics of COVID19 aerosols with people wearing face shields and masks. However, we are in the second wave of this pandemic and there are a frightening number of infections in the public and healthcare workers.

I’m asking public health, in light of the basic science of fluid dynamics of aerosols, to change their recommendations:

The public should wear eye protection if they are indoors with others.

Healthcare workers working with patients that are potentially COVID-19 positive, should use face shields for splatter alone. Goggles are the only safe eye protection for aerosols.

13 September 2020

Wearing Masks During COVID19: How Neuroscience Can Help Us.


Never have lives depended so much on getting a buy in from the public to wear masks. The evidence that masks protect us from COVID-19 is clear and unequivocal. In terms of scientific evidence, that is. Where it all falls apart is when emotional arguments are made against wearing masks.

Many argue that we should avoid the emotional aspect of COVID and simply concentrate on the rational arguments for mask use. 

However, this argument falls apart too, because all decisions involve emotions and we can’t keep people safe without appealing to them. Why? Because that’s how our brain works.



In the 1990s, the neuroscientist and physician Antonio Damasio wrote a groundbreaking book, Descartes’ Error: Emotion Reason and the Human Brain. Through studying people with brain lesions he demonstrated how decision making necessitates emotional input: decisions cannot be made without emotional input. 



Much research has supported these findings and this has been taken into the political arena by authors like Westen and Lakoff. The basic conversation in both these books is how all political decisions involve emotional input. 



Some may feel that decision-making that necessitates emotional input is not a good thing. They will side with Descartes and claim that purely rational decision-making exists. Like everything in the human body, from kidney to heart function, one doesn’t get to chose how organs work. The vast amount of evidence from lesion studies proves this to be the way the brain works.

I understand the concern with the idea that decisions are emotionally based - I grew up with scientists who felt emotions should never enter decisions. Emotions were seen as out of control and in need of control. 



Perhaps it would be reassuring to look at the areas of the brain that are involved in emotions - there is a complex, interconnected system that is utterly beautiful. A glance at some of the players may inspire you: these areas respond directly and indirectly to bodily and sensory inputs and coordinate, like a symphony: orbitofrontal cortex, dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, anterior temporal lobe, ventrolateral prefrontal cortex, dorsomedial prefrontal cortex, anterior mid-cingulate cortex , amygdala, anterior insula, anterior cingulate cortex, dorsomedial/dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, medial temporal lobe, retrosplenial cortex/posterior cingulate cortex and periaqueductal gray.

So, although emotions are often viewed as the basest form of human reaction, they involve complex cascades of brain activity that are crucial for synthesizing social, empathetic and protective aspects of a decision.

This impacts mask wearing because different countries have different emotional narratives to which they generally respond.

All governments are using narratives to explain the spread of COVID-19. In Canada, the narratives of the federal and provincial governments are largely in line with each other and all appeal to a sense of helping others. This narrative has high emotional salience in Canada, where helping others, working together as a country to help each other is the basis of everything from our universal healthcare system to our investment in schooling. It is a core value. Not for everyone, of course, because no country has a homogenous set of values. However, most countries do have some values that are widely shared. 

Even some of the anti-maskers in Canada protest under the banner of “Hugs not masks”. Appealing to a sense of community well-being while spreading the virus may be odd, but it encapsulates the emotional weight of community in Canada. 



South of our border, COVID-19 infections and deaths are mounting, and masks would help limit the spread of this virus. There are many factors involved in this but one factor is the conflicting messaging coming from the federal government and the states. Another factor may well be the emotional weight given to the idea of individual decisions - much of the messaging has actually been against the community well-being by arguing that individuals can’t be forced to do things by others, particularly governments. We have some of that in Canada, but not in such large numbers because the narrative in Canada is that taking care of others is valuable and putting yourself above the health of others is generally frowned upon.

I have thought long and hard about how to encourage people to wear masks south of the border. Many of my colleagues in the United States spend their days and nights caring for COVID patients and then spend their free time on twitter encouraging people to wear masks. 


When I think of appeals that have been made to Americans, this comes to mind:




Or this as a mantra for today:





So many fine and civic minded Americans have called upon Americans to follow their better angels. These appeals are emotional - heck, I’m Canadian and they move me to the core.

Some of my American friends have argued that the population of America has changed and that appealing to better angels will not work because many are driven by anger and fear. The division of people into those who are angry and scared verses those who are rationally following public health measures is a fallacy. We are all scared and we are all angry. These are difficult times and we would be completely detached from reality if our responses to this drastic situation were not intense: remember our emotional systems are nuanced, coordinated and work with reality because they are dependent on input from our senses.

Directing our fear towards its source - this virus - drives many of us to wear masks, wash our hands, keep our distance from people and allows us to stay safe. Anger? That's a great energizer for fear and enables us to fight paralysis by driving us to action. We are seeing governments and others trying to direct anger when infections increase towards those who are infected and, these days, this is often young people who are painted with the narrative that they are selfish and irresponsible. When we direct anger towards our own, it's rarely productive and always divisive. When young people have heard inaccurate information that they are largely unaffected by this virus, we should look to the source of their behaviour and perhaps correct the information they were given, using that anger to drive us, energetically, to educate them and appeal to the values of community and empathy that we have raised them with. 

History has taught us that citizens who have been complicit in terrible things can and have turned things around - think postwar Germany. Surely, we can give our young and our fellow citizens the benefit of the doubt and appeal to their better angels - to their more noble emotions such as empathy. 

One of the bright spots - maybe - is the response Canadians have seen to mask mandates and this might help in America. “An overwhelming 95 per cent of the survey respondents say they now wear a mask on public transit. In mid-July, those numbers were as low as 45 per cent.”  In cities all over Canada, we are seeing similar response to mask mandates. Not certain if this would work with our southern neighbours given the violence that has accompanied masks refusal and the lives that have been lost. But maybe this provides some hope. Along with an emotional appeal to civic duty grounded in empathy. 

I don’t know if this will work. I’m just hoping that we can all turn the rising infections around by standing on the shoulders of scientists, who explained how we make all decisions, including whether to wear masks or not: facts without emotional appeals will simply not work to help people make the right public health decisions. 

19 July 2020

Florida… Oh No, Not Again!


Florida postcard
Florida’s bizarre politicians overshadow our usual weird news. But let’s take a stab at the strange.

Gator Cater

West Palm Beach, Florida.  No, I am NOT the guy who reads and sings to calm alligators not receiving their share of tourists. Everyone knows I can’t sing.

Marathon, Florida.  I also deny knowledge of the iguana that wrestled a guy and his bicycle to the ground. A spokesman for the bicycle said…

Tampa, Florida.  Nor do I have anything to do with neighbors preventing access to a landlocked bird sanctuary. (I have sympathy in this case. Orange County politicians turned over a county road to a private cattle company, preventing property owners access to their land.)

Head Honcho

St. Petersburg, Florida.  A jogger found a human head on a grassy knoll. Police confirm it is not that of Governor DeSantis, who is known for having lost his mind but not his head. Yet.

Softball Questioning

Jacksonville, Florida.  A hard-hitting woman batted eyelashes at her police detective boyfriend, who gave her a pass during a murder investigation. They made it beyond third base but not quite home when they were called out.

The Mother of All Gifts

Clearwater, Florida.  We missed reporting on Mother’s Day that a spitting, angry Pinellas County wife beat her husband for remembering and giving her flowers. Uh wait. I’m guessing she didn’t want flowers.

Clearwater, Florida.  Another woman attacked her man with a candy cane. And a brick. And a pen. Somehow after a brick and a yard-size candy cane, a pen doesn’t seem all that much.

Micanopy, Florida.  So her boyfriend, see, well, she was on her phone, actually, and her boyfriend, just sorta, kinda, tripped on air and fell on a knife, twisted it in maybe, and writhed and stabbed himself umpteen times or not and raccoons attacked… No flowers for her Mother’s Day.

Sanford, Florida.  Lest ye think it only women who’ve gone corona-mad, there’s the crazed man who stabbed a roommate then turned on police, screaming something about Satan and worms and… You see? Some normal Florida things still happen.

Deltona, Florida.  We mustn’t forget another man who attacked a roommate who’d kindly made him breakfast. Oh wait. The breakfast chef woke him at 5am. That’s like the middle of the night. Last time someone woke me at 5am, police found me sharpening my teeth.

coronavirus
Another Reason to Close the Bars

Indialantic, Florida.  She just spread the love or a message or coronavirus. Just because she kissed strangers without a mask, was that any reason to stop a sunny welcome?

Try as I might, I can’t seem to get away from COVID-19 stories.

Taking the Cure


Bradenton, Florida.  The Genesis II Church of Health and Healing continued selling their Miracle COVID Cure after a judge ordered them to stop selling industrial bleach for human consumption. This is the same chemical their leader wrote about to President Trump who subsequently claimed this wonderful detox would knock out the coronavirus in one minute. Side effects include heartburn, death…

Fort Myers, Florida.  That guy in Costco, you know, the dude who felt threatened by a 60-some year old lady who asked him to wear a mask… from Florida, of course. He’s a star insurance salesman; you’d think he’d want everyone to masque up.

Holly Hill, Florida.  The Costco guy wasn’t as nasty as the woman who spit into Walmart’s fruit and vegetable bins ruining $350 or so of foods. Because of the corona hoax, of course.

Homestead, Florida.  A couple wanted soooo bad to visit the Florida Keys, but those stupid Keys officials didn’t want to spread that hoaxy COVID and like all illegally tyrant-like keep non-residents out, which is soooo Naziish. Anyway, this freedom-loving couple took a teenager prisoner and forced her to drive through the checkpoint. They struck such a blow for freedom, not the terrified girl’s, of course, but theirs. Except they’re locked up.

Cadillac atop cars
Hernando, Florida.  Local drivers might not be as bad as Boston’s, but how do you drive backwards and park atop other cars? And we don’t even get snow?

Reedy Creek Control District, Florida.  One guy decided to self-quarantine in Walt Disney World. He shacked up on Discovery Island, Disney’s former zoo of sorts before Animal Kingdom.

Gainesville, Florida.  If you live in Florida and someone removes your testicles, you might be a politician. Or an adopted kitten. Who knew a stuffed dragon might not protect you?

Full Blown Politics

Tallahassee, Florida.  At the same time the White House blames poor coronavirus response on the media for too much coronavirus reporting, Florida’s governor blasts the media for too little reporting. Indeed, Governor DeSantis says the press reported nothing about COVID-19 until April, so he assumed all was okay. Which is weird, because like a kidnap hostage, I can hold up copies of the Orlando Sentinel and Miami Herald dated back in January. Doesn’t he know the Keys have been off limits to visitors since 22 March?

Grim Reaper on Florida beach
© Tampa Bay Times and Shorty Awards
Florida is famous for costumed characters and since February, the Grim Reaper has patrolled Florida’s beaches warning visitors about the virus. In March, that Grim Reaper, revealed as Daniel Uhfelder, Esq, sued the Governor’s office to require face masks. So apparently our Governor doesn’t check the news, he also pays no attention to lawsuits.

Earlier this month when I wrote about Florida landing the sad position of Nº 1 and setting new pandemic records every day, I hadn’t expected the Sunshine State to continue setting new records. As one observer put it, if Florida was a separate nation, it would rank among the worst countries on the planet for infections.

Governor DeSantis calls that ‘a blip’. Because, you know, the Black Plague was ‘a bump’ and reporters ‘a bleep’. Such ingrates! Florida has done soooo much to keep the numbers down. Like firing our heroine, Rebekah Jones, the state’s database administrator who revealed Florida’s government was grossly under-reporting cases. And sheriff offices complain that as infection hotspots soared, the state cut off critical information to police agencies including addresses of known outbreaks. And the state ordered medical examiners not to release autopsy data. Because no info, no problems.

Milledgeville, Georgia.  Above our border, Georgia’s Brian “Screw ’em” Kemp is posing a challenge to Florida’s Ron ‘Who Me?’ DeSantis for dumbest governor, but I’m afraid Georgia will have to settle for Miss Uncongeniality. Kemp is suing cities that require masks in public. Because no masks, no problems.

Oh God, the clowns! We’re all gonna die! But keep shaking your head and laughing.

10 May 2020

COVID19 in America versus Canada


Anger is the biggest difference between America and Canada’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Many people have been discussing the difference between the response to the coronavirus pandemic by the United States and Canada. “When you look at per capita cases and deaths across the course of the entire outbreak, the comparison looks even worse: the United States has over two times as many confirmed coronavirus cases as Canada and roughly twice as many deaths.”

The factors impacting coronavirus infections and deaths in the two countries are complicated and will, I’m certain, be analyzed for years.

What I find impossibly sad is the level of anger in the United States that is not directed at this virus – because we should all be furious at this virus - but at each other.

While both countries are grappling with how to open up the country and help the economy recover, the stories in the two countries couldn’t be more different. As they say, a picture is worth a thousand words. 



In America: 



In Canada:



One obvious difference is that in Canada, we are not allowed to openly carry guns. However, aside from the guns, the differences are crucial and it is in the level of anger and intimidation in the United States.

In Ontario, my home province, the Premier responded to the protests by saying: “Ontario Premier Doug Ford says he’s furious at the “bunch of yahoos” who decided to flout physical distancing measures and emergency laws to protest outside Queen’s Park Saturday afternoon, calling them “irresponsible, reckless and selfish.”

For those who don’t speak Canadian, this is a very, very angry statement by a Canadian Premier. Also - he suggested consequences: “He said he hoped Toronto police would ticket them.
Not keeping at least two metres apart from someone not in your own household currently carries a fine of $880 in Toronto.”

In the end however: “A spokesperson for the Toronto police said no arrests were made and no tickets were issued following the protest, saying the crowd was compliant and exercised good social distancing.”

In other words, fairly polite and compliant protesters. 

It is more than not carrying guns. 

The politeness of Canadians has long been a joke among Americans. Although generalizations are never universally true, there may be something to this. However, there is one picture that explains a great deal:



In the United States, people are out of work and losing their healthcare and the financial assistance given appears to be piecemeal -both federal and state assistance- and many appear to be falling through the cracks.

In Canada, our universal healthcare system means that everyone remains covered for healthcare regardless of their employment status.

The federal government has delivered a strong set of financial protections for employees, self-employed, seniors and students. For example, if you are self-employed and have lost your job, you receive $2,000 per month for 4 months. These financial safety nets during COVID19, allow people to put food on the table. The provinces have all stepped up with other financial supports for citizens. 

In short: it is far easier to be less angry about the financial impacts of COVID in Canada than in the United States. 


There is more though. In Canada, there has been coordination between all levels of government in another area: information.

Our press conferences have been focused on Medical Officers of Health (federal and provincial) giving updates on infections, looking at models and doing the crucial work of informing the public about the new knowledge of this virus. This serves to increase scientific literacy in general. For example, prior to this pandemic, some Canadians did not understand that a virus cannot live outside of a cell for long and that is the reason for physical distancing.

The news in the United States has covered the politics of this pandemic and the disagreements between levels of government and within government. This type of coverage in Canada would be rather short - because there is general agreement about the need for physical distancing and to stay at home to defeat this virus.

So the difference in the two countries could not be more striking. In the United States the coronavirus has been a magnet for political anger. In Canada there is some of that certainly, as evidenced by the protests, but they have been small because, largely, our politicians are not fuelling them.

A virus has no politics, knows no party affiliation. It simply infects and kills. The wartime analogy has been used to describe the fight against this virus but this appears to be a strange war in the US, where there is little agreement if the enemy is dangerous, how to fight it or whether to bother fighting at all.

So, while Americans are dying, they appear to be very angry with each other. I wish they would get angrier at the virus.