16 January 2022

Chaff in the fire

 I have to be careful with metaphors; what makes sense to me doesn't always make sense to other people, or they give me odd looks after awhile and say "how did you think of that?"

That's your caveat.

To a virus, an organism is fuel.

There is no normalcy for fuel in a fire.

The fire goes out on its own when the fuel is exhausted.  (We are not going to get into "heat, fuel, and oxidiser" because this is a metaphor; Aristotelian fire, if you will.)

If we want the pandemic to end, we have to end it.

What we've got right now (I'm in Ontario, Canada) is a government taking the view that using hoses is expensive and disruptive; you only use the hose when the fire is of a certain size and scope, and then you stop instantly when the fire is noticeably smaller.

If someone were to apply this policy to an actual house fire, it would be instantly recognised as lunacy.  You put the fire out, completely and definitively out, as quick as you can by any available means. If you can't put the fire out, you get out as fast as you can.

Since we're all in the position of being piles of dry hay while some spectral lunatic runs around with a lighter, you'd think we'd have noticed this is a problem in some politically meaningful way, but it turns out that we can't.  There's no effective opposition because the entire political system has been captured by mammonite axioms which say that the purpose of government is to guarantee the profitable conduct of business to the benefit of the incumbent rich.  Spending money to support the general prosperity or even keeping people from dying is unacceptable and wrong.

Ending the pandemic takes a bunch of things; they're all well-understood things. (A planned real shutdown for three weeks, which means everyone and everything commercial, which in turn means feeding people/paying them to stay home during; mandatory vaccination delivered to the home as a public service; enforced quarantines at borders with careful testing to exit; widespread and effective testing freely available in the population; track-and-trace with quarantine and enforcement powers; free effective masks for all; universal and continuous mask wearing outside the home; no public gatherings or non-essential human contact until extirpation.)

The critical, core, missing thing is the political will to do it, because an exercise of the civil power capable of ending the pandemic can do other things; it can decide to tax the rich, it can decide to decarbonise, it can decide to consign mammonism -- a belief we are watching unambiguously decide it's fine with killing every living human person if profits increase -- to the ash-heap of history.  Those in control prefer your death to any change in the status quo.

Many have died who need not have died.  Many have been harmed who need not have been harmed.

Our government is incompetent AND malicious.

It's past time to make an end of this.


JReynolds said...

I agree with what you said, but...

If we did this in Ontario only (or Canada only), how long before it would return?

Everybody in the world would have to do this simultaneously, or the problem would come back. If we did it in every country except (say) Burkina Faso, COVID would be back all over the world in a couple of months.

That being said, there's no excuse for not following policies to keep the numbers as low as humanly possible. The overwhelming of hospitals was entirely avoidable.

I'd like to think that Premier Andrea Horwath would have done a better job than DoFo. That's a pretty low bar, however.


Graydon said...


The nice folks in Taiwan have been doing OK in that respect; you put in the border controls and the track and trace and the enforced quarantine and you leave them in until twenty (20) months after global extirpation is declared. Being an island is not all that much of an advantage.

(You also _fund_ global extirpation and otherwise work toward it.)

Dougie has done an actively bad job, so yeah, I think Horwath would have done (or would do) better. What's she's saying is at least much closer to sense.

The core issue is that effective public health is antithetical to doing a mammonism. It's an either-or choice. (Effective public health requires saying "I could make money doing that, but it would be wrong to do that, so I won't" (and then not actually doing it anyway!) and that's the thing the mammonite position literally can't do; any such statement is in serious conflict with their axioms.)

People remark on the economic argument being bogus -- the economy shuts down when people get sick, and both the UK and SA are showing Omicron reinfection at significant and growing rates, this might not be a wave that ends -- but it's _also_ bogus in the sense that most folks will need to change jobs as decarbonisation comes through anyway. Preserving current jobs can't be an objective.

arborman said...

Health Canada's approval of a purportedly effective Covid treatment drug yesterday means that we are very near the end of any attempts to contain or limit the virus.

Honestly I think extirpation as a meaningful option left the room around mid-March 2020. Even an attempt at some kind of autarky would fail given the human ability to get around restrictions.

An 89% effective reduction is hospitalization and severe symptoms (purportedly) changes the calculus such that I suspect we'll see an end to most attempts at containment or quarantine within a month.

I present this information without my personal opinion. However, I work in and with the homeless population as a matter of routine. At no point does that work 'go away' nor does it become something that can be done at home.

Graydon said...

The treatment drug is (as I suspect you know) extremely limited in application and won't be available in quantity this year.

Extirpation is about the only option. (and is working fine in other parts of the world; it's obviously not that hard!)

The reason extirpation is about the only option is that COVID is a really spectacularly nasty disease, reinfects easily, and the ten year mortality is unknown. Even the current mortality is under-reported by a factor for two. But, anyway; severity is a function of physiological age, the disease increases physiological age, and you keep getting it; it's the Uncommon Cold. The probable long-term death rate is significant and the disability rate is more significant.

(https://twitter.com/MoriartyLab for the stats on the real versus reported death rates.)

Work with the homeless goes away as soon as we house everybody, as of course you know. I'm well past the point of being willing to chain the cabinet up somewhere outside if anybody in a province is homeless.

arborman said...

Working with the homeless might go away, people needing additional supports to function as a member of society will never go away. The best option is a massive increase in a variety of supportive housing types. All of those require some number of staff on site, usually 24/7. Even in the best case scenarios that need won't go away anytime in the next couple of generations.

I am very much in favour of efforts to limit the impact of the virus, but I'm not so comfortable with the level of repression that would be needed to successfully extirpate the virus in a country such as Canada. Not least because such repression, once in place, would be immediately co-opted for mammonite purposes and centralization of power and control.

The spectrum runs between 'wide open, no testing or control' to 'summary execution of anyone caught outside during a lockdown, as well as any of their contacts'. Neither extreme is remotely acceptable. Once the extremes are rejected we have to find the acceptable balance between human freedom and some form of management of the virus interactions with our population.

Not claiming to have an answer, beyond not being willing to accept much at either end of the above extremes.

Graydon said...


I would say that there's no such thing as human freedom. The concept is a holdover created-world concept that attempts to assert something about the desires of God, just like divine-right monarchy or the great chain of being.

(The thing that gets mistaken for freedom is the agreement of one's community that yeah, you can do that. Which is contextual and complicated and tangles up with its coerced notional equivalent which is about the exercise of power.)

What I do think applies is accessibility to agency. (And how generally, and how evenly distributed, and how realisable it is in practice.)

Given that SARS-CoV-2 is a major disease that's already substantially lowering life expectancy where it circulates, the general constraint on agency from the disease is very large. (And futile, because as an individual you can't take adequate measures. Logistically, you don't have enough agency as an individual to do enough.)

The obvious thing, the appropriate general social goal, is to minimise the area under the constraints-on-agency graph versus time; the way to do that with respect to COVID-19 is extirpation.

The issues with repression generally are structural; deciding that structural malfeasance requires mass death strikes me as solving entirely the wrong problem.

James said...

I think that, at least in Ontario, there's another factor than straight mammonism.

It looks to me as though the government is perfectly willing to see quite a lot of economic disruption (read: bankruptcies and other forms of personal and institutional financial failure) as long as it doesn't look as though it's picking winners and losers. Shutting down certain sorts of activity for good, or enacting permanent constraints which have that effect, is doing precisely that. But from a purely mammonite view it actually preserves more economic activity; as the old adage has it, business as a whole prefers certainty, even negative certainty, to uncertainty.

Graydon said...


I read that a bit differently; I think the Ontario government is paralytic. They have no idea what to do and are terrified of error, so they wind up making major errors through doing nothing. (Stopping testing! The health care system is not doing well. An additional surge from sending children back to in-person school is not going to help.)

How they got paralytic might well have to do with not wanting to pick winners and losers (or not wanting to have to declare a major contributor a loser), but right now all I'm seeing is a complete coping failure.

You're completely correct that some predictability would help, too, but that gets us into having to deal with the disease we've got rather than the disease people feel they can cope with.

JReynolds said...

What kills me (figuratively and perhaps literally) is that the PCPO are really far ahead in the polls right now. According to the 338 poll tracker, if the election were today, they'd have 2:1 odds at forming a majority.

The opposition parties seem to be MIA - haven't heard boo out of either the LPO or NDPO for ages.