Well…

I haven’t written anything on this blog for quite some time, but that’s because I’ve spent about a solid month under water. To be sure, I normally spend a lot of time in the ocean but over December and early January, I made a gallant attempt at gaining gills.

And, as it turns out, the small number of people who spent a month underwater are the only people in New South Wales to not catch omicron. The following is a very poorly composed thinking-out-loud post that is little more than a ‘diary entry’ – something that I can refer back to when we’re hunting each other like pack animals in a few months time. Excuse the poor composition.

School is going back at the end of the month, and I have been very much on the fence about whether this is a good idea. Well, it’s a good idea – school is very important and kids like it. We’ve been far too quick to close schools and consider the impact on kids.

I have, however, resigned myself to the reality that there is no controlling omicron, and that being vaccinated gives us the best odds of staving off the most significant implications. We have skin in the game. Our teen is double vaxed, as are we (her parents).

This post is kind of like a brain dump of all the things I am worried about, and my hopefully measured response.

The first thing to note is that humans are giant meat-sacs of disease. We carry the stain of every virus and bacteria we’ve encountered. They shape us in many ways, from schizophrenia, to epilepsy to MS to Rheumatic heart disease to Parkinsons, to our microbiome and our skin and absolutely every other bloody thing. Those of us who’re older carry HPV and herpes viruses like wrinkles. The impacts are different for everyone and depends on your underlying immunity and genetics and age. And luck.

So, I’ve got some appetite for the fact that SarsCov2 might be yet another scourge that leaves a mark. The emerging research this week, after years of epidemiological suspicion, that EBV causes MS is just one example.

And, if we’re being hopeful, there’s pretty good evidence that being healthy is Generally Good. Obviously, it’s too late for the vast majority of people my age who aren’t and don’t have the choice, but at least it’s something. It really does seem that a good proportion of poor outcomes are related to ineffective clearance of the virus – having it sitting in your system, for months. This is a Bad Thing (and happens with other viruses too). It is implicated in auto immune diseases and also generally having a bad time. Vaccination is a very good thing. It’s truly incredible how effective the 2 dose regime of mRNA vaccines are against severe illness. mRNA vaccines are the way of the future.

Here’s my short list of things on the horizon I am genuinely worried about and most fall under the broad category of Long Covid and really, ME/CFS;

  • T cell death (I’m not too worried about this)/lymphocytopenia
  • Vascular/clotting
  • Parkinsons/plaques in the brain
  • Auto immune disease

I could go on about these things but I won’t. My broad interpretation is that omicron will cause long term disease burden in a small number of people, but it will have a big impact because of the number of people getting infected in a short period of time. It’s also difficult to tease out the long term impacts of omicron because it’s only been around for five minutes, and, almost all studies are carried out on unvaccinated people (pre vaccinated – most research reflects work carried out in 2021).

For me, the most interesting thing that’s happened lately is that I have come to question to current public health advice. This has only happened once before during the pandemic, when our Premier told us that outdoor masking was mandatory. This was unfounded in evidence and made no difference to the spread of Delta in Sydney (which abated due to a widespread lockdown in Aug 2021). In all other ways, our public health advice has been founded in evidence and broadly supported.

Now, it’s boosters. We’ve had our interval shortened to 3 months in Australia. That is, we are being entreated to ‘get boosted’ three months after our second shot. This will undoubtedly boost our antibody levels, the aim of which is to arrest the spread of omicron, due to the current strain on the health system. But, there is no discussion about what will happen once these antibodies wane, in about 10 weeks time (according to most data). What will happen then?

It’s well accepted that a longer interval between a second and third dose encourages the immune system to better hone its antibodies. And, that cellular immunity against severe disease remains strong after two doses for those who mount a normal response to the initial doses.

I just want to add here that were it not for vaccines, we would be seeing about 7000 admissions to hospital a day in NSW, during early Jan. Vaccines work. I might also note that a very dear friend who lives in Melbourne came to visit us over Christmas. She grew up in India. She’s a total gorgeous, no bullshit hard-arse, but a couple of her stories of the delta wave were just utterly devastating. Brings tears to my eyes just thinking about it. We are so very, very fortunate to be in the position we are in here in Australia.

Back to boosting……Boosting is an emergency response to an emergency situation brought on by chronic mismanagement of the health care system, which has had two years to prepare for a surge of infections. Most of those in hospital are older vaccinated people for whom cellular immunity is not strong, following two, or even three doses of vaccine (or unvaccinated altogether). These are people who are vulnerable, and our government knew perfectly well that the vaccine regime would not protect them well enough to prevent a surge of hospitalisations, given an increase in cases.

95% of the community got vaccinated to slow the spread, to protect the vulnerable. And that worked, with delta (although who knows how long it would have worked for?). But with omicron, vaccination does not protect against transmission or infection. To be sure, it limits the spread, but the effect is minimal.

Most Australians under the age of 60 were not at risk of severe disease from Covid19 before vaccination. Most people got vaccinated to protect the community, if not through herd immunity (a concept that was sensibly dismissed early on by our health experts) but with a general tamping down of infection. This was viewed as an acceptable cost, by most, especially given that we were in lockdown at the time.

Get vaccinated = get out of lockdown. It worked.

But now? Vaccination does not confer protection from infection. Even booster shots, that limit infection and spread, do not halt it, as they did with Delta.

And, in the case of the UK, many people’s booster shots are now waning.

(Booster shots are academic in my area anyway – there are no appointments until late Feb).

Re-boosting every ten weeks is not an option. So what is?

I have misgivings about the continued spread of omicron. On my good days, I think, ‘Well, it’s just another thing that humans take on board and deal with in our own way’. On my bad days, I worry about the long term health implications for my kid, and all the kids. I feel reasonably confident that children, especially when vaccinated, will deal with the virus in the same way they do other viruses. The evidence points in this direction. But there are unknowns. However, there are many unknowns about life. We are poorly adapted to our living conditions, and much disease arises from this alone. I read that 88% of Americans live with ‘metabolic disease’. 88%!

And one thing is for sure – we will encounter omicron, and so in a sense, the only thing to do now is research potential treatments for those who suffer its longer term effects.

Also, the peak will pass, and quite soon. And, there will be another rise in cases when school returns, but it will not be as big as the initial rise in January. And omicron is more mild, although it’s still a complete fucker. Mild is a medical term, not a colloquial one.

To finish, I’ll just add a quick story.

Last weekend we went and saw friends. The Mum had been ill with mild flu like illness, lots of coughing, sneezing, aching and generally feeling crap for about four days. She’d had three negative RA tests, but pretty classic omicron symptoms. No-one else was ill. So, we spent a couple of hours together, in their house, with her sneezing and coughing, with no precautions, although we didn’t hug each other (as we normally would!). The kids played outside, for ages. It was great. The following day, Mum tested positive on a RA test and called us.

Two days later my husbo had a sore throat and got PCR tested. And, the next day, I had sinus pain and general feeling of getting a cold. We all isolated and awaited results. Another day later the PCR came in as negative. One day later, we felt fine.

We both had our second shot Pfizer 4 months ago. I suspect we were exposed to omicron and ‘fought off’ a mild infection. And, I also suspect we’ve been exposed a few more times over the last month or so, in shops and generally through talking to people. It’s around.

I draw no conclusion from this anecdote, but it did change my outlook somewhat, which was interesting in itself. Although I consider myself not prone to anxiety about stuff in general, it made me realise that I’d probably dedicated an outsize amount to thinking about omicron (to be fair, it is tangentially related to my area of work).

And with that, I am getting back in the sea.

Solving problems, Pacific style

Today’s rapidly scrawled epistle involves a confluence of interesting things without any sensible conclusion.

I have a friend with an ageing Border Collie called Lucy. Lucy is a large, ill tempered dowager who alerts her young and frisky compatriots to their imminent fate by gently showing her teeth and giving them The Look. She has no time for yappy fluffies, and even less tolerance for rudeness (overly forward Kelpies). After three years, she now, very occasionally, will accept a short pat from me, purely for ceremonial reasons.

It goes without saying that I love Lucy unconditionally.

Lucy’s owner is a sailor, and has traveled fairly extensively around the Pacific. And one of the things he’s told me over the years is that although he’d always considered European colonisation a retrograde step, a couple of his mates in New Britain pointed out to him that the arrival of (what amounted to) police meant that people could move from their defensible hill camps back down to the open coast, because there would be less chance of violence. Most importantly, this spelled relief from the endless curtains of mosquitoes.

At this point it would be easy for me to posture about the politics of who is speaking to and for whom and also to wade in with post colonial notions of correctness. Perhaps I’ll just say that I’m not one to accept the European colonisation of the Pacific as a peculiar socio-cultural flourishing, in part to do with heaps of murdering and stuff.

That said, the idea that people across the Pacific moved from coastal settlements up into more easily defensible dwellings, (well before European colonisation) is reasonably well attended. Generally it’s argued that this was to do with all the regular reasons – competition for resources following population pressure. But, this overlooks a couple of other interesting factors, the Medieval Warming Period and Little Ice Age, both of which occurred recently. I suppose my focus was always on the ‘big’ climactic stuff (land bridges and what not) overlooking the other more recent impacts of big climactic factors.

To offensively over simplify, the general theory seems to be that the rapid cooling during LIA caused an equally rapid retreat in sea level, making the surrounding reefs significantly less productive. This was on the back of the impact of the MWP, where water was scarce, which had caused smaller, coastal groups to band together into larger populations, with a focus on building and sharing water infrastructure. So large, coastal groups of people had gathered together to more successfully grow food in times of water shortage, were then faced with a huge impact to their main source of protein (fish). This caused movement inland to more defensible, often valley positions.

If anyone is interested, here’s a pretty good summary;

Nunn, PD, Hunter-Anderson, R, Carson, MT, Thomas, F, Ulm, S & Rowland, MJ 2007, ‘Times of Plenty, Times of Less: Last-Millennium Societal Disruption in the Pacific Basin’, Human ecology : an interdisciplinary journal, vol. 35, no. 4, pp. 385–401.

Reality, but make it fashun

I’ve only got five minutes to write today but last night my kid was harassing me about climate change, and some of the pretty scary science that describes it. And it is scary, to be sure, but there’s also the issue of doomerism, uncertainty and the very real fact that we’re aware of the impact of burning fossil fuels and gradually, in a half-arsed, we’re cocking it up, shambling, bitching pissing and moaning kind of way, doing something about it.

It will always be too little, and will it always be too late to return us to what went before, but that’s extremism talking. And extremism, where we must have the absolute answer, the absolute solution, the absolute position to the exclusion of all others, is very much the vibe of the moment. And it’s a product of manipulation. It is how we are being taught to think about problems.

I’m increasingly seeing the media’s portrayal of all issues as either reality-driven or anti reality. We’ve been coddled into this. Ten years of inspirational Instagram tiles telling us to, ‘make our own truth’ and ‘be who we want to be’, to ‘manifest our destiny’. People who think this New Age fuckspeak is without consequences are foolish in the extreme. And it’s not a modern phenomenon either. In the 80s I remember all those books and movies about how the winsome protagonist made his dreams happen because he believed in himself. It’s the lynchpin of shifting the focus from the macro (large organisations, corporates, governments) to the micro (individuals). And now we’ve cultivated the individual so much so that we think we can bend reality. I distinctly remember going to a friend’s place to watch Live Aid, on the tele, interspersed with footage all those poor wee kids with their swollen tummies who had failed to believe in themselves.

A friend’s social media post yesterday alerted me to the newest Covid fad – the Event 401. ‘Look it up! It’s all right there, people just can’t be bothered to even look, they’re such sheep!’

Event 401 was a tabletop exercise run by Johns Hopkins in 2019, aimed at hypothetically testing global preparedness for a SARS-like pandemic.

If you recall, SARS (and MERS) were a bit of a bugger. The global response was broadly effective, albeit in the usual shambling kind of way. And then, when it all died down, everyone got together and went,

‘Phew, that was ugly, thank goodness it will never, ever happen again!’

Oh, hang on. No, that’s not quite right.

In actual fact, they got together and said, ‘Given what we know about the conditions under which SARS and MERS emerged, we should expect another zoonotic to human pandemic within the next 20 years. Let’s prepare for it (including the development of potential vaccines)’.

If Event 401 is supposed to prove that Covid19 is a hoax then I can’t wait to see these idiots discover earthquakes.

But this is where we’re at. We are at the point where completely predictable, observable reality is positioned as proof of a hoax.

“See that? It’s rain! it’s raining!”

“Yes, it is”

“Toldya. Sheep”

I’m now watching my friends argue on instagram about the participation of permaculture activists in the Melbourne protests.

‘You’re protesting with Nazis! And you’re being manipulated by Clive Palmer!’

It perfectly encapsulates the two characteristics of modern thinking about these problems; You have a tribe, and the price of allegiance is to forsake all others. If you’re anti vaccine mandate, therefore you march with Nazis. Therefore, you are a Nazi. Or, if you believe in permaculture, you don’t believe in science. All these positions, from Nazism to permaculture to anti vax assume one thing – a puritanistic supremacy of the individual to force their truth on to reality.

It’s much more nuanced than that. I can understand the position of the permaculture people on vaccines – to see humans as sitting within a web of life, rather than outside of it, and to focus on the web rather than the individual. We are ‘cheating’ nature with vaccines. Nature would have us die. Indeed, nature would have killed somewhere between 15 to 40% of the people at the protests, before they had reached 60. That’s reality.

I’ve personally been saved by modern medicine no less than 8 times in my life, maybe more. And that’s just the direct impact of medicine. And that’s before plumbing.

It’s no good being a puritan about this shit unless you’re willing to accept the endpoint – natural death. But puritan individuality is what we are constantly trained to think about. Because projecting our sense of individual power over our circumstances plays into the biggest fleecing of all – that climate change requires individual rather than systemic change. This cult of the individual is nothing more than fashionable politics. It is adorning oneself with something that makes you feel good, endlessly reinventing yourself in an empowering but ultimately innocuous and futile way. The irony is that it’s often the permaculture/wholeness/wellness people who’re most involved in their own personal identity brands.

We are personalising the political. And it will be the buggering of us.

Season Three; Covid in the Antipodes.

It’s fascinating watching New Zealand’s Covid journey from New South Wales. There’s the sense of watching a TV series for the second time. Oh, here’s the initial panic episode and the strong and comforting central government. Oh, and the one with the lockdown, I loved that one, people are putting teddies in their windows! 

Then there’s the self-congratulatory faux humbleness, (surely New Zealand’s strongest suit), the confident commitment to technocratic, sensible management of crises, the endless positive affirmations of kindness and community mindedness. And then there’s the subsequent inevitable unraveling of aforementioned narrative, as pre-existing cracks in the technocracy are rendered not only visible but festering. 

New Zealand is up to the part where Covid illuminates every social faultline; The racism, the hungry kids in garages, the self-aggrandising carpet-baggers, the tragic Facebook warriors and through it all, the monolithic government like a doughty, bristle-lipped governess reminding everyone to be kind and ‘do the right thing’ while nimbly avoiding the service class downstairs. 

It turns out the Team of Five Million is actually more of a round-robin arrangement, and no-one’s washing the jerseys. 

And here’s where our Antipodean Covid TV series differs. New Zealand’s government assumes the best in people and governs in line with its expectations. New South Wales, which, you might recall, stuttered into life as a penal colony, expects the very worst of its citizens and plans accordingly.

Covid in New South Wales was a very Sydney affair. It hit the eastern suburbs and gathered pace, all lip-gloss and lattes, a beautiful, slick and sweaty shambles. Eventually, it crossed the Opal Line into the sprawling Western suburbs and got seriously on the razzle. 

There was a lockdown, for sure, but the Berejiklian government, and NSW Health both seemed to understand one thing; tipping points. That is, once a city reaches a certain size, movement around it will reach a critical mass, a tipping point, even under a lockdown.  

And this is where I think the NSW government got serious and decided to try to ‘vaccinate out’ of the outbreak. From the start, even before the rancorous anti-vaxxers really got cracking, NSW made it clear that if you were offered a vaccine you should bloody well take it, and that this was the key to ‘freedom’. 

Berejiklian’s management of the pandemic was widely supported. She was decisive and did something stunningly obvious but remarkably clever; she presented the virus as immutable. It would move from one person to another regardless of their family arrangements or how essential their work was. The virus doesn’t care about us, we are its environment.

It might seem obvious but compare this to alternatives. 

At the beginning of the first long outbreak in Victoria, workers in Melbourne’s boiler-plate suburbs were diagnosed and ordered to stay home, while other household members continued to attend school and work. This was viewed as reasonable, fair and kind. The reasoning was based on the idea that kids shouldn’t miss out on school, or employees on work. The virus, however, does not care for your feelings or ‘rights’. And so, constraining the movement of some but not others had a punitive feel about it, ‘You caught the virus, but your housemates shouldn’t be punished for it [sotto vocce: but you should]’. It served to further personalise the virus.

And the results of this approach were predictable – further spread of the virus, prolonged restrictions. 

Berejiklian knew her people. She knew that most people would get vaccinated, but worried that the final proportion would be too low to ‘end’ the outbreak in NSW. She also knew that the good burghurs (ratbags, all of us) of Sydney would be unmoved by Strawberry Shortcake moralising. And, most importantly, the Berejiklian government wanted to avoid a situation where citizens attempted to pressure one another socially over vaccination. This is an extremely poisonous situation, still evident in many places even now, where people align themselves into pre-existing ‘camps’ and politicise the shit out of vaccination. This is a very, very dangerous game to play.

The NSW government knew perfectly well that most people would get vaccinated with a bit of a push, and that this was preferable to the damage of a prolonged outbreak combined with the social disruption of pitting one ‘group’ against another. 

A consummate politician, I have no doubt that Berejiklian herself was also well aware of the Australian media’s thirst for whipping up polarising and dangerous debates.    

The government assumed, quite rightly, that people would lose interest in the pandemic once life started to resemble something close to normal. A leader who could make that happen had a lot to gain.

New South Wales had the benefit of watching the pandemic churn its way through similar jurisdictions with lower vaccination rates, and the social consequences of its inevitable politicisation. The wittering pomposity of the middle classes set against the white-hot rage of the disenfranchised, refracted through a prism of ethnic sectarianism that would make the Balkans look frankly vanilla is exactly not what a New South Wales Premier would like for Christmas.

Berejiklian knew that faced with similar circumstances to those overseas, the good people of New South Wales would likely dither over vaccination and ongoing restrictions would fan the embers of pre-exisitng discontents into an inferno. By about mid August, New South Wales had the makings of a nuclear shit-show. 

And so the NSW government went hard on its campaign; Get Vaxxed or Get Fucked. 

And it worked. 

The reason it worked is because it removed the immediate problem – Covid overwhelming the hospital system and people dying as a result. It provided ample opportunity for pissing and moaning about the ‘manufacture of consent’ but the threat was defanged. Suddenly, it seemed, most people couldn’t give much of a toss about Covid, or the vaccine. And many of the ‘social dilemmas’ that were acute at 60% vaccination rate are quite benign at 95%. You might balk at inviting the unvaccinated cousin to Christmas dinner, but no-one’s really going to take it outside. It turned a potentially devastating debate about the social contract into a parlour game for the Twitterati.

To be clear, the New South Wales government forced many people into getting vaccinated, on the basis that it was for the greater good, even if it was unlikely to benefit them personally.

Berejiklian’s Get Vaxxed or Get Fucked campaign was precisely to avoid fostering acrimonious debates about whose individual rights should prevail over the collective, a debate that always taps into the deepest, extant notions of just who has been wronged, like a tongue on an open nerve. No government ever wants to provide the conditions for these kinds of excavations. It bears repeating, there is nothing more corrosive than a deep and searching public discussion over whose individual rights should prevail over the collective. It ferments a kind of toxic grievance-based partisanship that can never, ever end well.

Berejiklian knew that the path to social harmony was not paved with goodwill and community spiritedness (are you listening, NZ?). Rather, it is a gravel road, shellacked with a quick and dirty layer of prosperity and self interest.

I can’t wait to see what Season Four, Covid in Aotearoa brings.  

*to be clear, I am not referring to Ms Ardern as a bristle-lipped governess. I use this term to refer to the government of the day, as is clear in the sentence. It infuriates me no end that Ms Ardern has personal attacks made against her, especially given that she is arguably the best Prime Minister New Zealand has had in recent times.

That burning sensation

Two years ago we were coughing our way through the smoke from the fires to the north of us. I travelled to New Zealand in early December and my flight back into Sydney was immediately followed by a 3 hour bus trip to Canberra then a 9 hour car trip home, through Cooma. The roads south of Sydney were all closed. Normally, the trip from Sydney to our place is about 3.5 hours (it’s not tremendously far, but the road is slow).

The following month the fires made their way to us, in particular, the Currowan fire that ripped through the suburbs immediately to our north. A timely wind change saved our bacon, but others were not so lucky. For the first year I couldn’t think about the fires, or talk about them, without feeling sick. It was relatively simple to ‘do the jobs’ required, at the time, but the impact of others’ fear in particular was something I found quite hard to deal with. Seeing people literally lose their shit was chastening.

Yesterday I hopped out of the ocean and met a friend who had a new dog – her friend’s dog, as it turned out. The friend had gone completely mad after the fires and was having another ‘low ebb’, one that precluded looking after an erratic Jack Russell with a startling moustache.

After two years, I think I’ve come to an accomodation with bushfire. I’ve learned about dryness, foliage, leave litter, water supplies and most importantly, radiant heat. If you’ve not experienced bushfire it’s pretty easy to think of it as a localised thing, ‘If I’m not on fire, and my house isn’t burning down, then it’s all good and if the fire comes, move to somewhere where it isn’t’.

That’s not really how it works. And not all bushfires are the same.

The Currowan fire had been burning for many days, igniting the air ahead of itself, traveling across bare and open paddocks leaving great swathes of scored black grass.

On New Year’s Eve a strong westerly wind blew the Currowan fire to the sea. A suburb just to the north of us, about 60 or so small, cedar and fibro houses mostly built in the 1960s and surrounded by trees, was completely evaporated. It’s still empty – there is some rebuilding, but not much. The entire suburb, which sat on its own small peninsula, disappeared.

Being a peninsula, the suburb is surrounded by sea. The residents ran for the beach. Many found themselves gathered on one of the northern beaches, where they stood, up to their knees in the water and watched one explosion after another pop up through the bush as houses disappeared. They cried and coughed and checked on each other, clutching their dogs.

As the fire drew closer, but still hundreds of metres away, the air on the beach got hotter and hotter. People started moving into the water, but there was a strong swell running with huge, dumping waves. Elderly residents were battered and fell, others trying to help them up, coughing. The air was now unbearably hot, and being completely immersed in the water was literally a matter of life or death. People started to cook.

This is radiant heat. Even as we stood on the roof of our house on New Year’s Eve, watching the fire front move towards us, the heat was incredible. To be sure, it didn’t feel dangerous, more like standing a few metres away from a big bonfire, but at this point the fire was still at least six kilometres to our north.

Radiant heat is just one of the many, many things I’ve learned about. I realised, as we mark almost two years since that day, that I actually feel OK about fire now. It is dangerous but in a knowable way. And the best thing to do is to know when to GTFO.

Panic stations!

Oh my God, what could happen next? I’m freaking out! This article tells me that Singapore, with its extremely high vaccination rate, now has high infection rates and hospitals nearing capacity. This headline intimates that Australia will follow the same path, as waning immunity kicks in at the beginning of winter.

Oh, but then…..

People aged over 60 years make up a much bigger share of Singapore’s unvaccinated population than in Australia. It has put a heavy strain on the country’s hospital system once borders opened and cases began spiking.

Seniors who are unvaccinated and [who] have underlying medical conditions are at much greater risk of severe illness and death,” Singapore’s senior minister of state, Janil Puthucheary, said.

“Close to 95 per cent of those who died in the last six months were seniors aged 60 and above — 72 per cent of all deceased cases had not been fully vaccinated.

So, maybe, if Australia went back in time with its ‘unvaccinating machine’ and ‘devaccinated’ large segments of the older population, we might follow Singapore’s path.

There is so much hysterical media hyperbole around Covid19 in Australia, it’s entered the realm of clickbait.

Exhibit B;

To be clear, a fourth, or periodic booster is not outside the realms of possibility. As it stands, the vaccines produce high neutralising antibodies, and this response wanes over time. However, the underlying immunity remains protective against severe disease.

The real question is; what are the consequences of any Covid19 infection? This question is not even remotely discussed in this article.

There is some evidence to suggest that infection has both auto-immune and neurological effects. Neither are good news, but there is some suggestion that vaccination precludes both these impacts. Or maybe it doesn’t. Neurological effects stemming from Covid infection may ‘heal’ themselves over months, may only be in those predisposed (who would reasonably be expected to acquire them over a lifetime) or may be an artefact of data noise. There are many viruses that have neurological sequelae, and at the moment we consider this under the broad rubric of ‘ageing’. The point is, we don’t know the answers to these questions yet.

And on a personal level I am not keen to find out. I will happily get ‘boosted’ to avoid acquiring the infection but it’s not because I am worried about severe disease, or to prevent spreading Covid to a large pool of unvaccinated elderly in Australia (because there isn’t one).

The main reason for getting a booster should be to avoid infection, with its as yet unknown consequences.

The reporting of vaccination and its implications in the ABC is terrible. In both articles above the title of the article misrepresents the detail. Sometimes I think the biggest anti vaxxers must work for the ABC but then I remember that controversy creates clicks.

Covid in Regional NSW

Periodically I try to capture a snapshot of where things are at in my bit of regional NSW with Covid, vibrational energies not withstanding.

Generally, our vaccination rate in NSW is high, with just under 95% of people over 16 fully vaccinated. About 80% of children aged 12-16 are also vaccinated, and that number is growing. It’s fascinating watching the discourse play out now. If you’re vaccinated in NSW life is mostly back to normal, with a couple of exceptions – checking into venues, shops etc.,. and wearing a mask in public indoor places (like shops). If you’re unvaccinated, you remain under lockdown, which is having peculiar effects that I have described recently.

The question now is, what will things look like in winter 2022? Increasingly our media seems polarised between the Nordic countries’ experiences and the British Isles. The Danes, Swedes and Norwegians are, we are told, more or less back to normal, with extremely high vaccination rates (although not as high as NSW). As case numbers rise, they are considering bringing back vaccination passports for entry to public places, something I suspect NSW will also consider, although our vaccine mandates potentially mean this won’t be required, as many shops etc.,. have vaccinated staff as well as patrons.

The other pole is Ireland, where cases are rising steeply despite a very high vaccination rate (again, not as high as NSW). The Irish government is apparently considering restrictions again, as their ICUs reach capacity. It’s worth noting that half of those in ICU are unvaccinated. This is truly astonishing, in a country with such high vaccination rates, and suggests that the spread of the virus is now truly ‘finding everyone’.

I suspect our future lies somewhere between the two. Almost all vaccinated people who require hospitalisation with Covid are very old or have multiple pre existing conditions. Australia is already ‘boosting’ those in this category. The unvaccinated will remain the same – those who are now unvaccinated are the small, hardened minority and won’t get the jab under any circumstances. In Australia we should expect them to comprise somewhere between half to about 80% of all ICU cases, over the next year.

Neither the Danish nor the Irish have as high vaccination rates as Australian teenagers. In both of those European countries, schools are significant contributors to the spread. However, the Danish are much healthier than the Irish, and both countries have an older population than Australia.

Both countries have concerns about Covid and the flu, but it remains to be seen how much the latter will impact these societies over winter. I strongly suspect that Covid will be the ‘new’ flu, a much more virulent disease that will carry off many of the people who may have otherwise died of flu. Covid also seems to leave some people with health conditions that will make them more susceptible to flu.

So, what will Australia look like over the next few months? I think we will have our ‘hot vax summer’, and the rates of Covid will remain relatively low. I think NSW will bring in mandatory Covid vaccination for at least high schoolers, and probably primary school children, for 2022. This will bring our vaccination rate up to the likes of places like Malta. Winter will see a resurgence, and Covid will ‘find’ those who’re unvaccinated, and the vulnerable who are ‘un-boosted’. This I think will have a real impact on Aboriginal communities in particular.

And I do think that as numbers rise, there will be inevitable pants-shitting and possibly the vaccine passes (which are still in use now but promised to be ended in mid Dec) will come back into force. Possibly this might be done on a regional basis – for instance, in areas with lower vaccination rates and also a high number of older residents, such as the Northern Rivers.

Many people who are unvaccinated are simply, ‘waiting it out’ – waiting until December the 18th when all restrictions are set to be lifted. They will go back to their casual jobs etc.,. and life will continue as normal, until it is all upended again at the beginning of winter.

May we live in interesting times.

The healing moment

In sailing, the heeling moment is the intersection between the desire of the wind to flatten the sail and tip over the boat, and the countervailing force of the inertia in the keel. Usually, this is around 60 degrees. It is also known as, ‘almost tits up’.

I was wondering what to write about today when I encountered a local woman on the beach. She’s a nice person, and we engaged in chatty and seamanlike banter. We got talking about exercise, and she told me that she was unable to do much as she was slowly healing.

From what? I asked, like a grasping idiot who should know better than to ask random older women these kinds of questions. I present the outcome of this momentary lack of judgement below,

“I’m healing from all kinds of things. First I discovered I’d been exposed to bad things through my house, I think I’ll have to move really”

“Do you have mould in your house? Is it leaking?” I asked, again marvelling at my preening, fathomless stupidity. Never ask these questions. NEVER.

“Yes, well I do. Although not really, not that you can see, but I had a bio engineer look at the house. Well, he didn’t actually look, he’s in Sydney but he works with dousing rods you know, and he told me that my house lies at the intersection of a number of negative energy networks, and also has an ancient water body underneath it”.

“Oh that’s interesting”, I said, roaring ahead, floundering around in the sheep dip of naturopathy, the homeopathic arsenic burning up to the hairline.

“Yes, and he was really good. You know he gave me this, it’s resin -” she pulled a round yellow resin disc tied onto a string out from under her collar – “this prevents the positive…no hang on, this is positively charged. It stops all the negative energies, like the ones he was talking about but also the ones like EMF you know, that are all around”.

“Do go on,” I said, because I’d temporarily forgotten how to say, “For fucks sake pull yourself together”.

“It’s really worked. As soon as I unwrapped it and put it on I felt so much better. I just had a healing moment right then and there”.

The healing moment.

I’ve no doubt she feels better. It stands to reason. She has paid for a man in a second storey brick n tile unit in Miranda to wave a stick in a general southwards direction and also send her a small plastic disc on a string.

It’s a lovely thought, to reassemble the metaphysics of one’s life into something that seems less capable of administering one of life’s many and various fleecings.

But how did we get here? Must we all have a heeling moment? A point where we lurch precipitously to one side and then discover an unseen counterbalance steadying us? How many plastic discs is that worth? Couldn’t we all do with one? Or a couple, even? Or, if we’re being generous, and in consideration of these difficult times, perhaps we could deliver them house to house, on the top of energy containing bottles?

Send money now.

Puppets

A poppet

This is a poppet, a silicon toy that you press to invert. Poppets were initially developed for kids with ‘sensory problems’ – you could purchase them online from sites that provide for kids with special needs. As of November 2021, they are the hottest toy on the street. Over the course of the year large retailers like Kmart started stocking poppets, (all are sold out).

We’re all familiar with toy-fads, from yo yos to BeyBlades. Poppets are interesting though, because their marketing was not through the usual channels – online or TV advertising. The first I became aware of them was when some turned up for a colleague who had ordered them for a session with some special needs children (I should note that I am not a teacher, nor do I have any training in education, definitely not my area).

It’s not hard to imagine how they became popular. First, one or two kids in a class are allowed to play with a toy, while the others are not. These kids, the kids with poppets, no doubt seem much all the other kids. Suddenly, there’s a toy that you’re allowed to play with in class! I want one!

What’s more interesting to me is how these ‘sensory toys’ have become a mainstream, extremely popular category of toys. My kid told me all about their use, about how they’re meant to address fidgety-ness and boredom in class for kids who have special needs. Special needs is positioned as, well, special.

It was only recently that most toys were ‘sensory’, they all provided various levels of enjoyment while playing with them, from slime to playdough to blocks. Basically, anything that required physical interaction was ‘sensory’.

It’s hard not to think about the concept of transhumanism in this context, and the pathologisation of normal human activity. As we increasingly move play online, any playing or toy that it used IRL (in real life) is special. It is ‘sensory’. The real world is becoming fetishised. Kids are increasingly described as ‘sensory seeking’, which often means, ‘unable to sit in front of an iPad for hours on end. As always, this does not apply to all. Some kids display extremely difficult and dangerous behaviour, which might be described as sensory seeking. But most kids are just being….kids.

Is this what happens when we normalise online play?

The crux….

…of what is commonly termed ‘identity politics’ rests on one axiom – the interposition between what one does, and what one is. If a man has sex with a man, this is something he does. When this practice is turned into the basis of an identity, the practice becomes part of ‘who he is’ – how he defines himself. His identity becomes gay.

This tension between ‘doing’ and ‘being’ is present in all modern arguments and discourses around identity politics. And there are ebbs and flows. Fifteen years ago it was de rigueur to argue that gender was performative. The idea that people play ‘gendered roles’ of masculinity and femininity became uncontroversial. Much questioning of socially constructed roles, homely Mums and provider Dads, previously positioned as innate or moot, ensued.

And now of course we have a melange of the two – being and doing.

NZ’s Bird of the Year, for example, is a bat. The bat can compete with other birds because both birds and bats fly. This is something they ‘do’. Here we see that identity is performative. It is the action that matters, rather than the category, the identity. Until, of course, we think a little harder about this problem. Why can’t a Tuatara win Bird of the Year? Tuatara don’t have wings. Bats do. Wings are a physical characteristic. What about a Boeing 737, which I think we can all agree are very impressive on the wing, and you get cold drinks. Once again, we’re categorising an organism by its physical characteristics, which is a form of essentialism.

This is an inherent tension in gender politics – we’re all familiar with the tired and cruel circular arguments that go something like, ‘Sex doesn’t exist, it is a performative gender role, I am not bound by my physical body but also I would like to take hormones and have an operation to change my body to be the opposite sex’.

This contradiction is endlessly thrashed out in the test kitchen of identity – social media – with lashings of toxic cruelty.

Performative identity is based on either a thought, preference or practice. This is the ultimate in social constructivist identity. I am what I do.

The late 1960s is usually held up at the beginning of identity politics as we know it – a radical rethink and rejection of all social categories. People pushed back on their ascribed identities. Lesbians, for instance, claimed and mobilised around the term lesbian, pushing back against the oppression and persecution meted out to them by a heteronormative society.

The tension between ‘doing’ and ‘being’ brings to mind Foucault. Foucault had no problem with identifying people on the basis of their physical characteristics – man and woman, for instance. However, any project that involved turning practices into the basis of identity was deeply troubling to Foucault.

For Foucault, identity based on action – ‘you’re gay because you have sex with someone of the same sex’ – was a relatively recent form of knowing oneself,

Foucault argued that identities like ‘gay’ were a recent development, born as a result of a growing state. As the state bureaucracy grew and developed in the late 1800s (in Europe), people became its subjects – the state intervened in their lives in wholly novel ways. People’s behaviour, outputs, lifestyles and proclivities were all increasingly codified by the state. Aggregations were identified, organised and capitalised upon. The growing knowledge and creation of information of society, and the ‘will to knowledge’, resulted in a grand naming project, the creation of identities based on actions. The first information society.

Because for Foucault, this creation of identity was an artefact of information – a government increasingly improving and growing its knowledge of the people, codifying their behaviours and ultimately, turning them, quite literally, into its subjects. The government has the power to create categories that are ascribed to people, but also that people opt into themselves. The state makes the normal and the deviant.

It’s hard not to think of the rise of the internet in the 2000s as tracking the same path. For Foucault, the creation of social identities that were still familiar in the 1960s began in the late 1800s and became the principle form of government oppression. For him, identity is a tool of the oppressor.

You name what you own.

Edit;

I finished this post half-cocked. There are a couple of other things I think should be flagged. Foucault, as described above, was not keen on performative identity, that is, one’s practices forming the basis for identity, as he thought that this was buying into state dictated archetypes, and therefore limiting. The criticism, as far as I can see, is that the oppression of groups, from women to gay people to transgender people, was being meted out precisely because of state sponsored archetypes of ‘normal’ and ‘deviant’.

To overlook the violence and oppression and simply say, ‘well, just opt out’ isn’t really feasible. The liberation movements of the 1960s attempted to use the state archetypes, claim them, and mobilise them for freedom and liberation. Foucault may not have been happy about it, but it no doubt benefitted his life. And let’s be clear, as a person of a certain age, I remember the terrible discrimination of the 80s. What sticks in my mind in particular, is the way the HIV/AIDS debate was framed, and the lack of research into the disease itself. It was a holocaust that ran through the gay community, and it is hard for me not to think of this when drug companies fire up and make a vaccine for Covid19 in under a year (although of course, this does not reflect the long lead time of R&D that preceded it).

The second thing I might add refers to the statement above, about how some theorists decided to move the idea of identity based in physical reality (‘I am same sex attracted’) into the non-physical realm (‘performative gender identity’). This is criticised by newer theorists who are concerned about transhumanism, the idea that we are now in an age of distancing ourselves from nature and embedding our identities online, rather than in physical reality.

This is a fascinating idea, and one that resonates strongly with ideas of human exceptionalism, the idea that we can make ourselves anything we want to be, we can ‘produce’ ourselves, we can purchase new identities un-tethered from physical reality. For the critics of transhumanism, this is evidence of a growing dismissal and disrespect for the ‘natural’ or physical world. That is, those that remain bound by physical biology (other organisms like non human mammals for instance) are lesser to humans. It’s a new version of the old Christian ideas of human superiority over the natural world, valued for its use value to humans alone.