Stephen Rees's blog

Thoughts about the relationships between transport and the urban area it serves

Archive for March 2020

Social Distancing

with 2 comments

There was a little bit of ambivalence for me yesterday. The people who work in our hospitals were posting “Stay Home”

But the official line from Bonnie Henry the Provincial Health Officer is that we can – and should – go for a walk as long as we maintain social distancing. Clearly this is easier to achieve in some places than others. The pictures that accompany this post shows what was going on at Locarno Beach and Spanish Banks yesterday. The logs are now being removed to deter gathering in one spot.

Social Distancing sign
Notice that the Parks Board cannot even get the simplest things right.
Below the City gets it right
See the difference?
Social Distancing 1
Social Distancing 2
Social Distancing 3


Then this morning this appeared on Facebook. Everything below this is a quotation.

————————————————————————–

A good read. Please share Subject: Eye opening

Very, very important information posted by Jonathan Smith:

Hey everybody, as an infectious disease epidemiologist (although a lowly one), at this point feel morally obligated to provide some information on what we are seeing from a transmission dynamic perspective and how they apply to the social distancing measures. Like any good scientist I have noticed two things that are either not articulated or not present in the “literature” of social media. I am also tagging my much smarter infectious disease epidemiologist friends for peer review of this post. Please correct me if I am wrong (seriously).


Specifically, I want to make two aspects of these measures very clear and unambiguous.


First, we are in the very infancy of this epidemic’s trajectory. That means even with these measures we will see cases and deaths continue to rise globally, nationally, and in our own communities in the coming weeks. Our hospitals will be overwhelmed, and people will die that didn’t have to. This may lead some people to think that the social distancing measures are not working. They are. They may feel futile. They aren’t. You will feel discouraged. You should. This is normal in chaos. But this is also normal epidemic trajectory. This enemy that we are facing is very good at what it does; we are not failing. We need everyone to hold the line as the epidemic inevitably gets worse. This is not my opinion; this is the unforgiving math of epidemics for which I and my colleagues have dedicated our lives to understanding with great nuance, and this disease is no exception. We know what will happen; I want to help the community brace for this impact. Stay strong and with solidarity knowing with absolute certainty that what you are doing is saving lives, even as people begin getting sick and dying. You may feel like giving in. Don’t.

Second, although social distancing measures have been (at least temporarily) well-received, there is an obvious-but-overlooked phenomenon when considering groups (i.e. families) in transmission dynamics. While social distancing decreases contact with members of society, it of course increases your contacts with group (i.e. family) members. This small and obvious fact has surprisingly profound implications on disease transmission dynamics. Study after study demonstrates that even if there is only a little bit of connection between groups (i.e. social dinners, playdates/playgrounds, etc.), the epidemic trajectory isn’t much different than if there was no measure in place. The same underlying fundamentals of disease transmission apply, and the result is that the community is left with all of the social and economic disruption but very little public health benefit. You should perceive your entire family to function as a single individual unit; if one person puts themselves at risk, everyone in the unit is at risk. Seemingly small social chains get large and complex with alarming speed. If your son visits his girlfriend, and you later sneak over for coffee with a neighbor, your neighbor is now connected to the infected office worker that your son’s girlfriend’s mother shook hands with. This sounds silly, it’s not. This is not a joke or a hypothetical. We as epidemiologists see it borne out in the data time and time again and no one listens. Conversely, any break in that chain breaks disease transmission along that chain.


In contrast to hand-washing and other personal measures, social distancing measures are not about individuals, they are about societies working in unison. These measures also take a long time to see the results. It is hard (even for me) to conceptualize how ‘one quick little get together’ can undermine the entire framework of a public health intervention, but it does. I promise you it does. I promise. I promise. I promise. You can’t cheat it. People are already itching to cheat on the social distancing precautions just a “little”- a playdate, a haircut, or picking up a needless item at the store, etc. From a transmission dynamics standpoint, this very quickly recreates a highly connected social network that undermines all of the work the community has done so far.

Until we get a viable vaccine this unprecedented outbreak will not be overcome in grand, sweeping gesture, rather only by the collection of individual choices our community makes in the coming months. This virus is unforgiving to unwise choices. My goal in writing this is to prevent communities from getting ‘sucker-punched’ by what the epidemiological community knows will happen in the coming weeks. It will be easy to be drawn to the idea that what we are doing isn’t working and become paralyzed by fear, or to ‘cheat’ a little bit in the coming weeks. By knowing what to expect, and knowing the importance of maintaining these measures, my hope is to encourage continued community spirit, strategizing, and action to persevere in this time of uncertainty.

UPDATE

It turned out to be difficult to find the source of that piece. One of my readers Barb Meinema was more persistent than I and sent me this email today

Hello!  I reached out to Dr. Bozard, and she was kind enough to respond and too find the original author.  It would be very appreciated if you would please update your post accordingly.  See below.  Thanks so much!


~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ 

From Dr. Smith (Posted on my note to Dr. Bozard)
Hi Barb Cox Meinema and Andrea Collisson – I originally wrote the letter to my small community. Since then it is gotten out on the internet. In an effort for version control, I worked with the editors of Medium to make a public version here: 
https://elemental.medium.com/hold-the-line-17231c48ff17

~~~ ~~~ ~~~ ~~~ 

And, for what it’s worth, the new WordPress block editor made this update much harder to do than the old system. And it inserted typos where there were none before.


Written by Stephen Rees

March 22, 2020 at 12:57 pm

Posted in Pandemic

Tagged with

Empty Shelves

with 2 comments

Paper products
Flour
Canned soup

The local CBC station asked for images of empty shelves in local stores. This is the tiny convenience store section of the pharmacy which has remained open in the Arbutus Mall during redevelopment. Usually the shelves are kept stocked because of the lack of stores in the immediate vicinity for people living in the Village. There is also a considerable volume of trade during the day for the people building the new development.

The mall also manages to attract a steady stream of people in cars because parking is so easy and convenient – and the dance studio and swimming pool are still open for lessons. Though with the closure today of all K-12 schools I do not know if that will continue.

UPDATE

Wednesday March 18

We went to much bigger Safeway on Granville at 70th – and the empty shelves were again much in evidence. Surprisingly for fresh fruit and vegetables – but not organics. Also for fresh bread, packets of cereal, eggs – and not just some types – no eggs at all! This was all mid-afternoon so presumably people who got there early simply swept up all there was.

Some packages carried stickers “limit 2” – because they often do that for sale items. Safeway is not the only retailer, of course, so we found big oranges, jars of marmite and some fresh bread rolls at Choices. There did not seem to be quite the same pressure there.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 17, 2020 at 1:22 pm

Posted in Pandemic

Ending the Gerrymander

leave a comment »

By Elkanah Tisdale (1771-1835) (often falsely attributed to Gilbert Stuart)[1] – Originally published in the Boston Centinel, 1812., Public Domain, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=6030613

I am a regular reader of “This is True”, an email newsletter. Its author, Randy Cassingham also has a podcast. If you read my recent post, you will know that I am not a fan of podcasts, but Cassingham does things differently. He publishes his podcast with a transcript, so you can read it if you prefer and in this case provides lots of links to the original material.

The United States is bedevilled by broken voting systems. One of the oldest is the practice of allowing party politicians to redistrict elections to give their party an unfair advantage. It has long bothered me – and many other people – that since both parties have been doing this for a long time, getting the system reformed seemed highly unlikely. But Colorado has managed that. And you can read about that, or listen to the podcast at https://thisistrue.com/064-line-in-the-sand/ and follow the links there to the original material.

Well done Randy. Well done Colorado. Other states please copy.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 16, 2020 at 6:10 pm

Don’t Bail Out Cruise Ship Companies

with one comment

Eurodam at Vancouver BC
my photo

Capt. Don Marcus, President

International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots 

(representing U.S. sea captains, deck officers and other mariners)

Opposing a Federal Bailout to Cruise Ship Industry

“We should not give one dime in stimulus money to 

‘flag-of-convenience’ party boats…”

President Trump has floated the idea of providing financial assistance to the cruise ship industry, hard hit by the spread of COVID-19. We should not give one dime in stimulus money to ‘flag-of-convenience’ party boats; they should be the last on the list for a federal bailout.

The major cruise lines have owners who live in the United States, but they register their vessels in foreign countries and sail under foreign flags. They utilize flags-of-convenience laws to avoid hiring American crews and adhering to American labor laws and standards, as well as environmental codes. These “operators” depend on the U.S. Navy and Coast Guard for protection while avoiding paying taxes to the U.S. Treasury.

Over the weekend, Vice President Pence described the cruise lines as “great companies.”  They’re not. American taxpayers should not be sending their hard earned dollars to an industry that freeloads off of our government and is notorious for exploiting low-cost foreign crews.

If Congress and the White House want to protect American interests, foster an economic recovery, and help the maritime community, monies would be better spent assisting ferry systems such as the Alaska Marine Highway System now taking a double blow from the economic downturn and the decline in oil revenue. Assistance also should be offered to commuter ferries such as the Washington State Ferries and Staten Island Ferry that have suffered a loss of commuter traffic. The domestic ferry systems employ American workers, and they are an essential part of our transportation infrastructure.

The virus crisis and our dependence on foreign trade also highlights our nation’s overreliance on foreign cargo fleets, especially those of China, Hong Kong and South Korea. Congress should increase incentives for cargo vessels that fly the American flag for reasons of both national security and the free flow of commerce.

For more information on the International Organization of Masters, Mates & Pilots, please visit www.bridgedeck.org

Written by Stephen Rees

March 16, 2020 at 11:59 am

Posted in Transportation

Insomnia

with one comment

This is very much a personal issue for me. I have had insomnia for a long time and I have tried all sorts of things – but not medications. Cognitive Behavioural Therapy is now being shown to be effective. There is a podcast from the Guardian today.

I have to say that I hate podcasts. I think they work better for other people, but I much prefer to read rather than listen, and this podcast demonstrates very effectively what I find annoying. Firstly there are all sorts of musical interruptions. Secondly it is not one person reading, it is two people having a conversation. And talking about a lot of stuff I already know. Including how, when you go to your doctor, you only have ten minutes per appointment, so you do not want to hear from her what you already know. Just like this ****ing podcast! If I was able to scan down a page of text I could find the information I want. Yes it is in the podcast but towards the end (of course).

Worse than that, the woman on the podcast actually says, “There is a Long Read. Go to the website.” So I do that, and I cannot find a Long Read section of the Guardian – or even a link to the one she is presumably referencing – but I do find all sorts of other stuff not one of which is a Long Read. There are however things called “Long Read Podcasts” – which to me is an oxymoron.

So what I have found so far is this older piece from the Doctor that they talk about Colin Espie which contains a link to a website FOR PEOPLE IN ENGLAND (sleepio.com/nhs) so I am not actually linking to it so you don’t waste your time.

The short answer to what you need to do is set the time you need to get up and stick to that every day. So if you need to get up at 7am on work days, do that every day without variation. Don’t lie in. Don’t nap. Do not lie awake for hours trying to go to sleep: that doesn’t work. Get up and go read. There is some evidence (not mentioned in the podcast) that using screens (computers, tablets, phones, Kindles) that the light will keep you awake, so choose a good dead tree book. The idea is that will stop the squirrel treadmill your mind has been running on. Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep. If your get up time is going to be 7am and you want 8 hours of sleep go to bed at 11pm every night too. And when you go to bed, get up if you haven’t fallen asleep within 15 minutes.

I am going to try this, and I will report back in due course on how it works out for me – but I am not expecting instant results.

I have also learned that longreads.com and Long Reads on the Guardian are two different things.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 16, 2020 at 11:44 am

Posted in personal thoughts

Tagged with

THE ECOLOGICAL DISASTER OF PALM OIL

with one comment

A guest post from Jim Richards

Jim Richards is the CEO of a company. His thoughts were offered free on my email. Since I have never tried his products – indeed he is a total stranger – I am being cautious lest I seem to be promoting him or his company. But he seems to have the palm oil business bracketed. There were no images accompanying his press release


Quantum mechanics proposes that ours is only one of an infinite number of parallel worlds, all of which exist in the same space and time as our own.  Within the infinite possibilities of this theory is an upside-down version of our world, an opposite one, and yet another where everything is identical except the elephants are purple.  Any and every possibility can, and indeed the theory insists, must exist.  Apparently, a version of each of us likely exists in all or most of them also, that bit boggles the mind almost as much as it tickles the ego.  After-all multiple worlds without multiple versions of us could only indicate the bright minds that build quantum mechanics theories veer off into wacky land at times.

Keeping updated on the emerging data of our climate crises and the actions taken to alleviate its impact, permits a similar idea to bud.  Within our own planet, there also exists worlds in parallel, upside-down and opposite worlds. In one the need for immediate and decisive action on the climate crisis is obvious, while another parallel world prefers its citizens just keep calm and carry on.  In one world we are invited to take up the yoke of responsibility and the other world prefers we just leave things and let the-as-yet-unborn deal with it all.  In one, the doctrines and processes of governments and politics employ cemented static mindsets even as the climate proves a tumultuous cascade of dynamic processes potentially propelling us to who knows what.  Parallel but opposite worlds.

Between the extremes is yet another world, the one we common folk commonly inhabit.  It is our neighborhood, where we live and work, our town, our city.  A place mostly comforting and familiar because over time it has been sculpted and shaped by the actions, motives and cares of local people to fit local needs.  This is our sphere of influence and the world we want to preserve.

We care about orangutans, koalas and polar bears, we really do, but the sheer breadth, scale, and complexity of the problems overwhelm. The many eco-urgencies progressively lose impact as they increase in scale and are located far beyond our reach.  Most of us have skill and geographical constraints on our ability to positively impact big issues like rising sea levels, melting glaciers and bleaching corrals.   We are best placed, and frankly most incentivized, to start where we are and work from the bottom up. Where we can be busy is in saving those things near us that we love, and then enlarging the space of our influence as we go.

Of course, we understand ecosystems are not respecters of town boundaries nor do they care about the depth of our attachment to local amenities like river-walks, and parklands.  We know our homes and towns cannot be insulated from the causal network in which everything is bound together.  Yet that same causal network allows that we can remain local and still have global influence if we choose our actions wisely.

Transportation of all forms is the cause of about 15% of the human-generated carbon, and incredibly palm oil production is the cause of about the same amount of carbon going into the sky!

Our use of transport is not always a choice, it is hard to imagine life without some form of transport.  However, our use of palm oil is always a choice furthermore it’s easy to imagine life without it, after-all humans thrived until the 1960s with most not knowing palm oil even existed.  Not only is palm oil a choice, ultimately and critically, but it’s also our choice.

One important reason we need to actively save that which we love is, the actions of one person always influences the information base of another and on and on the impact grows.  Starting one thing will encourage and engage others and collectively we can improve the long-term destiny of our world with our own self-generated cascade of dynamic processes.

Palm oil is an unnecessary and offensive ecological disaster, the production of this one item is causing as much climatic damage as every single motorcycle, car, truck, train, boat, and airplane on earth.  Further tropical forests have been and are being burned recklessly and extensively to make way for ever-more palm oil monoculture.  The palm oil industry is boasting that our demand for palm oil is set to quadruple, vast and beautiful tropical Peat forests will be burnt to meet that demand, our demand, but only if we allow it.  All this mindless destruction is they say just the law of supply and demand in action.

Obviously, we are not consciously demanding millions of acres of tropical forests be burned on our behalf each year – if we could make the rules, we would, in fact, demand the very opposite.   But we do inadvertently incentivize and fund the destruction through our purchase of items made with palm oil – and we purchase lots of them.

Palm oil is in so many products it is really quite hard to avoid.  Manufacturers love to use palm oil because it is quite versatile and very cheap. But of course, Palm oil actually has, a hidden, but extraordinarily high eco-price, it is costing us the earth.

Palm oil is likely an ingredient in most of your favorite brands.  But if we commit to doing this thing, this one hard-ish thing, that will complicate shopping a bit and require persistence on our part – if we switch to palm oil-free products – we, together, will compel a positive and pertinent eco-impact that is equal to shutting down all transportation globally. Without leaving home we collectively can send a crystal-clear message to manufacturers. They respond to dips in their sales and market share with an alacrity and intensity we wish they reserved for measuring and reducing the eco-impact of their ingredients.

We, the people, can create new laws of supply and demand – any company that supplies products containing palm oil will see demand diminish, and their bright cheerful logo can come to symbolize the dark badge of corporate greed.   It is only our patronage and goodwill that gives power to brands, and it is our purchases that gift fortune to the companies behind them – they prosper only as they serve our needs and wants.  Change those wants and we change a great deal besides.

Watch out for claims of sustainable palm oil.  The truth is there is no such thing as sustainable tropical forest destruction.  Call BS on that sort of virtue signaling nonsense.

Not buying palm oil products will demonstrate even the biggest global issues are not beyond our reach or influence.  As we get strategic about palm oil, corals, glaciers, sea levels and even Borneo’s (oxymoron named) pigmy elephants will directly benefit.  Those koalas, polar bears and orangutans we care about will get to breathe easier also, as will we all.

We may have our backs against the climatic wall (so to speak) but neither the scope of the ecological problems, nor our ineffective leaders loitering in their parallel world, should cause us to ignore the problems that we, and possibly only we, can effectively attend.  We may not be able to address everything – but believe me, we can address this one big thing.

Historically the extraordinary courage of ordinary people manifests clearest in crises when we are rising to defend neighbors, neighborhoods, and homes – like now.  The intensity of stubborn determination and ingenuity we common folk can collectively bring to this fight is one of humanity’s super-powers.

Besides, we have to make our infinite number of parallel selves feel good about us, even that fortunate us living in the world populated by cute purple pygmy elephants.

Written by Stephen Rees

March 15, 2020 at 4:12 pm

Posted in Environment