Sunday, February 28, 2021

A Brand New Faux Immigration Problem?


A golden statue of Donald Trump that has caused a stir at the annual US gathering of conservatives was made in Mexico – a country the former president frequently demonized.

The statue is larger than life, with a golden head and Trump’s trademark suit jacket with white shirt and red tie. Video and pictures of the tribute being wheeled through the halls of the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in Orlando, Florida, went viral on Friday...


How long before there are caravans of the things streaming over the border?

Subheader earworm stirring?...This!


Saturday, February 27, 2021

But What About The BJST?


Back in the days when C. and I used to spend a whole lot of time in the left field stands of a previous incarnation of Vancouver's Nat Bailey Stadium, a place that current Canadians' president Andy Dunn once described as 'more like a saloon than a baseball stadium', my editor at the time would constantly rail against the Toronto major league team's domination of all things diamond in Canada.

In fact, when he wasn't trying to shag fungoes against the night sky, deal with the ghost of Alonzo Powell, figure out the flavour of Ron Kittle's bubblegum, and/or plumb the depths of the twisted psyche of one Marvelous Marv Foley, that same editor would also try to convince me, often during one of those late night fungo sessions, that the Prime Minister of the time was sure to soon institute a national Blue Jays Sales Tax.


With spring training set to open tomorrow, it would appear that the Blue Jays skullduggery continues unabated, even now:

...In an effort to minimize travel and closely adhere to team, league, and government protocols related to the pandemic, Sportsnet will be streamlining production for the 2021 season by simulcasting TV broadcasts on Sportsnet 590 The FAN and across the Sportsnet Radio Network...

In other words, no more real radio play-by-play.


One can only wonder what Jerry Howarth thinks of this latest development.

Additionally, a separate bit of new-fangled baseball-wide skullduggery is the re-vamping of the minor leagues. I must confess to having mixed feelings about this given the fact that the Canadians' new 'High A' designation means that they will be moving from 76 to 132 games per season, which is scheduled to start in May...Heckfire, once the the COVID clears, this, along with the improved quality of play, just might get me to visit the family friendly Nat Bailey more regularly once again.


Friday, February 26, 2021

Direct Assessment Of Asymptomatic Subjects Suggests That Pfizer Vaccine Decreases Viral Transmission.


A group from Cambridge in the UK directly determined the presence or absence of SARS-CoV-2 virus, by PCR test, of health care workers (HCWs) in Cambridge that either had been or had not been dosed, one time, with the Pfizer mRNA vaccine (BnT162b2). They conclude the following in their paper that has been posted on a pre-print server (but has not yet been peer-reviewed):

...26/3,252 (0·80%) tests from unvaccinated HCWs were positive (Ct<36), compared to 13/3,535 (0·37%) from HCWs <12 days post-vaccination and 4/1,989 (0·20%) tests from HCWs ≥12 days post-vaccination (p=0·023 and p=0·004, respectively; Fisher’s exact test, Figure). This suggests a four-fold decrease in the risk of asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection amongst HCWs ≥12 days post-vaccination, compared to unvaccinated HCWs, with an intermediate effect amongst HCWs <12 days post-vaccination...


...We therefore provide real-world evidence for a high level of protection against asymptomatic SARS-CoV-2 infection after a single dose of BNT162b2 vaccine, at a time of predominant transmission of the UK COVID-19 variant of concern 202012/01 (lineage B.1.1.7), and amongst a population with a relatively low frequency of prior infection (7.2% antibody positive)...

This is a big deal and, assuming that everything was done properly as will be determined by expert peer reviewers, it strongly suggests that a single shot of this vaccine significantly decreases viral transmission in otherwise healthy subjects in addition to preventing folks from getting sick once they have been infected with the virus (which is what was originally tested in the clinical trials and has since been confirmed in Israel). 

I'm noting this here, based on a pre-print, given that I've fussed previously here and here about potential over interpretation by some, including some proMedia, of previous studies where viral transmission in all asymptomatic subjects was not directly tested.

Note that this study was done at a time when the UK variant (lineage B.1.1.7) was already known to be prevalent in Britain, which is another good thing...For the PCR aficionados out there, the authors found significant differences between the unvaccinated and vaccinated subjects with Ct values of less than and greater than 36...
Here in BC, this is further good news for our initial one shot strategy for folks in long term care where the vaccination rate is already very high.


It's A Marvelous Day For A Picnic...


In case you missed it, the Westerlies are up in Lotusland and surrounding coastal environs.

Which means it must be a marvellous day for a picnic down at Clover Point!


The shovelling of sunken mega-costs will continue, unabated, into that giant made-in-B.C. money pit that is already lined with fallen sparkle ponies...

The AZ two shot adenoviral-based vaccine has been approved in Canada.

And, in the exact opposite of greed merchanteering-mediated queue jumping, internet crowd sourcing can still be used for (very, very, very) good.


Thursday, February 25, 2021

Sunday Set - February Sliding On By...


It's pretty much a lullaby set, through and through...

Starts out with an ode to folks down in Texas, even though the tune was was originally written about the Abilene located in Kansas.

Next comes the Drive By Truckers' tune, written by Jason Isbell, about the collectively owned and operated Tennessee Valley (Power) Authority called 'Thank God for the TVA'.

This is followed by an early Springsteen song called 'New York City Serenade' which, despite the fact that it has become an E Street Warhorse live has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with Superbowl Ads and/or Jeeps.

Finally, a mash-up, 'Lullaby in E', which consists of strung together fragments of tunes from the Mountain Goats, the Frames, the Clancy Brothers, Mic Christopher and Aaron Neville.



One Note Of Caution On The Big 'Real World' Assessment of Pfizer Vaccine Effectiveness.



Update: Friday Feb 26th...A direct assessment of asymptomatic subject strongly suggests one dose of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine strongly suppresses viral transmission...Details here.

There is was a big peer-reviewed paper that came out in the New England Journal of Medicine yesterday on the effectiveness of the massive roll out of the Pfizer mRNA-based vaccine in Israel.

Helen Branswell, who is an excellent science journalist, has an solid first pass summary  STAT News. This is her lede:

Pfizer and BioNTech’s Covid-19 vaccine performed as well in the real world as it did in the clinical trial that led to its use, a large study conducted in Israel concluded.

The study, published Wednesday in the New England Journal of Medicine, is the largest to date assessing the effectiveness of the vaccine, comparing all illness, severe illness, and hospitalizations as well as deaths between 600,000 pairs of vaccinated and unvaccinated people...

All in all it's a great story in that vaccine effectiveness against symptomatic disease in the real world matches up well with what was found in the original phase III clinical trial.


Now, there are some data in the paper on the reduction of viral infections that they were able to document. This led a few folks to take a leap re: effectiveness at preventing total viral infections (such a leap is something that I commented upon earlier on the basis of a different 'leaked' report). 

One of the authors of the New England Journal paper, Marc Lipsitch, who is an epidemiologist at Harvard, jumped in on a twitter thread to make the following very important cautionary point in that regard:

So, again, and this time according to an expert who was involved in yesterday's peer-reviewed, published study, the science is not yet settled regarding the ability of the Pfizer vaccine to prevent viral transmission that generates both symptomatic infections (easier to track) and asymptomatic infections (harder to track).

That does not mean that things do not look promising, as Dr. Lipsitch himself thinks that the overall protection against viral transmission by the mRNA vaccine is 80% or more. It's just that he does not believe we actually have the data to be sure about the number:

For more on the need for caution on claims of a specific rate of vaccine-mediated infection suppression (based on the data so far) see this very recent, solid piece by Megan Molteni in Wired.
Just to take off my science-guy hat for a moment and return to the usual discussion about what does or does not get wurlitzered in the public prints and/or social media...Dr. Lizsitch posted these comments late on Wednesday...I'm typing this late on Thursday and note how few retweets, etc. his comments, which are comments that actually matter, have received compared to, say, the usual suspects blathering on about essentially nothing....Just one of those things that makes you nod your head, eh?


Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Sober Assessment Of J&J Vaccine Based On FDA Briefing Documents.


We spoke generally about the adenovirus-based J&J vaccine yesterday.

Today, Derek Lowe, who is veteran drug development guy has demonstrated his bona fides around here many times, weighs in on three important aspects of the vaccine's efficacy, in its single shot form, based on an analysis of the briefing documents for the company's hearing before the US Food and Drug Administration that will be held on Friday.

First, Lowe notes that the J&J vaccine does well preventing severe disease onset and death:

...Like every other vaccine that we’ve seen the clinical data on, this one also seems to completely prevent deaths from the coronavirus. I might be mistaken, but so far I don’t think we’ve seen a single SARS-Cov-2 fatality in the treatment group of any of the Phase III trials. As for severe disease, this one had a strong effect as well, but it might take a bit to kick in completely. 14 days after the single dose, there were 29 people hospitalized with coronavirus in the placebo group and only 2 in the treatment group, but if you look at the 28-day mark there were zero hospitalizations at all...

Second, the J&J vaccine did reasonably well in locations where viral variants were emerging at the time of the trials:

...The coronavirus landscape has changed since the earlier (clinical trials with the mRNA) vaccines, and you can see some of that in the way that the J&J data break out their South African trial. Overall vaccine efficacy was 72% in the US versus 58% in South Africa, where there’s been a lot more B.1.351 variant circulating. But they also have data from Brazil, where the P.2 variant there doesn’t seem to have made much of a difference, and the B.1.1.7 variant first noted in the UK doesn’t seem to be a problem, either...

Third, there is some evidence (but it is still not yet a for sure, settled thing as we also noted previously) that the J&J vaccine provides some protection against viral transmission:

...Of the roughly 10,000 people in the treatment arm of the trial, 2892 of them were tested with or without symptoms for signs of coronavirus infection. The FDA’s take on the data (see numbered page 35 of this document) is that there is weak-to-no evidence of such protection out to day 29, and around 60 to 70% efficacy in the post day-29 data. Like the other trials, it seems very likely that all of this will also reduce transmission of the virus, although the study isn’t designed to track that specifically...

So, like many other knowledgable commentators, Dr. Lowe concludes that it is likely that the J&J vaccine will receive emergency use authorization in the U.S. soon after hearing on Friday. If this occurs it is likely Canada will soon follow suit. A note of caution, here, however, is that the company has been slow to ramp up production, although Lowe notes that it is now starting catching up.

Thus, it looks like good news, overall, that we in Canada will soon have a third vaccine, likely starting in April, with a solid efficacy profile is coming.

Until then, mask up and socially distance at all times!

J&J also has a 2 dose clinical trial going that should produce data by May of this year.


Tuesday, February 23, 2021

What Will Happen If And When The Third Vaccine Arrives?


It looks like the single shot adenoviral-based vaccine from Johnson and Johnson may soon be approved for emergency use in the United States and Canada according to various new report, including one from John Paul Tasker at the CBC:

Public Services and Procurement Minister Anita Anand said today that Canada is ready to deploy a new COVID vaccine from Johnson & Johnson's pharmaceutical division, Janssen, once it receives regulatory approval from Health Canada — but she couldn't say how many shots will be available in the coming weeks.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration's vaccines and related biological products advisory committee will meet Friday to review the clinical trial data for this vaccine. A final U.S. decision on issuing emergency use authorization (EUA) could follow as early as this weekend...

And, while it is not clear how quickly doses will arrive in Canada (we have ordered10 million doses so far), in the States at least the company is ready to start rolling out a significant number of doses quickly:

...Dr. Richard Nettles, vice-president of medical affairs at Janssen, told the U.S. congressional energy and commerce subcommittee today that 4 million doses will shipped to points in the U.S. immediately after it secures an EUA. At least 20 million more will be delivered by end of March, Nettles said...

All of which is good news.

But what about issues with reduced efficacy in the clinical trial compared to those from the mRNA vaccine trials that could cause people to start getting choosy, as if they were picking peanut butter at the supermarket?

Well, Ashish Jha of Brown University made a compelling case in a Washington Post OpEd recently, why, if you are offered the J&J vaccine, you should take it, regardless.

In my opinion he has a strong argument, so I'm going to repeat it here, pretty much in full:

...At first glance, the data on effectiveness for the Johnson & Johnson vaccine looks different. The company’s trials indicate that the vaccine is 66 percent effective at preventing moderate to severe covid-19, and 85 percent effective at preventing severe disease — notably lower than the 95 percent of the mRNA vaccines. But we need to look closer. There are key differences in the underlying trial data that shape the reported effectiveness of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, including the time frame for reporting cases. Unlike the mRNA vaccines, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was tested extensively in three locations globally — the United States, South America and South Africa — and the overall figure on effectiveness (66 percent) is an average of trials against different variants of SARS-CoV-2, including variants from Brazil and South Africa that are now raising concerns. The overall results for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, which were developed and tested before any of these variants appeared, might more closely resemble the J&J vaccine when tested against these variants.

The most important data point is that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is 100 percent effective at preventing hospitalizations and deaths from covid-19: Not one individual in the Phase 3 vaccine study was hospitalized with or died of covid once recipients were 28 days out from their vaccination (it takes time for the vaccine to work). In the context of a pandemic that has killed nearly half a million Americans and more than 2.4 million people globally, this is crucial. Our imperative is to save lives — to stop serious illness and death from covid-19. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine clearly passes that test.

That vaccine also is extremely safe, on par with both the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines. Its trial data shows no instances of severe allergic reactions following vaccination (which has been a concern of some with the mRNA vaccines), and it generally produced fewer and milder side effects than the vaccines currently available. While we await full data analysis by the FDA, the Johnson & Johnson vaccine is also likely to end up being an extremely safe vaccine.

Finally, Johnson & Johnson’s vaccine boasts two crucial qualities that neither the Pfizer nor Moderna vaccine can claim: It is delivered in one dose, and it can remain stable for at least three months at normal refrigeration temperatures. This allows for unprecedented convenience for both health-care professionals and vaccine recipients without sacrificing efficacy against the most severe forms of disease...

Tough to argue with that I reckon.

The point is that right now things are going slow because we don't have enough vaccine. Here's hoping that things don't remain slow in the coming weeks and months because people decide to shop for their favourite vaccine.



Go East Young (Conservative) Man.


You have not read this one before...

Al Jazeera, the Qatar-based news network that has previously sought to become a liberal media force in the US, is launching a platform to target conservatives, it was revealed on Tuesday.

The new effort, called Rightly, will target Republicans who “feel left out of conservative media”, Politico reported, and will be led by a former Fox News journalist...

And no, that bit above does not come from the Onion.

Instead, it is the lede from a piece by Adam Gabbatt in today's Guardian.

Go figure.


Sunday, February 21, 2021

Science By News Cycle Is Not Settled Science.



Update: Friday Feb 26th...A direct assessment of asymptomatic subject strongly suggests one dose of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine strongly suppresses viral transmission...Details here.

This being Sunday and all, you may have not yet seen or heard the big 'news' from Israel.

Which is that the Pfizer mRNA vaccine is, apparently, according to news reports, ~90% effective at preventing SARS-CoV-2 infections.

Why is this a big deal and something you're almost surely very likely to hear about by the end of the news cycle (i.e. by tomorrow morning)?

Because we're talking about stopping viral spread here, in addition to preventing or curtailing serious illness after viral infection.

One of the first reports (although there are others) of this 'finding' is from Naomi Kresge and Jason Gale at Bloomberg.

Here is their lede:

The Pfizer Inc. and BioNTech SE Covid-19 vaccine appeared to stop the vast majority of recipients in Israel becoming infected, providing the first real-world indication that the immunization will curb transmission of the coronavirus.

The vaccine, which was rolled out in a national immunization program that began Dec. 20, was 89.4% effective at preventing laboratory-confirmed infections, according to a copy of a draft publication that was posted on Twitter and confirmed by a person familiar with the work. The companies and Israel’s Health Ministry worked together on the preliminary observational analysis, which has not yet been peer-reviewed...

Now, that last bit about how the 'draft publication' has not been peer reviewed is a red flag, especially given that reporters Kresge and Gale do not appear to have, based on what is in their report at least, spoken to a field-specific expert who has read the draft publication carefully and made a call one way or the other about whether the conclusions made are supported by the data presented (which is, essentially, what peer reviewers do). 

Luckily Eric Topol, the guy from Scripps who helped demonstrate how prevalent asympomatic viral infections are, has identified such an expert who has read the draft carefully.

To put it mildly that expert, who is a faculty member at the University of Maryland School of Public Policy, is concerned that the conclusions made, which are now being trumpeted loudly in the public prints, are an overstatement:



Well, she is concerned with the fact that testing rates differ between vaccinated and unvaccinated people in Israel. As such, she is further concerned that the 'observed' differences in infections between the two groups are not the same as the 'actual' differences. Importantly, the authors of the 'draft publication'/pre-print itself also note this problem:

Thus, the issue that Dr. McLaren has with the draft and, especially the media trumpets, is not whether or not the vaccine helps prevent viral spread but instead what the actual efficacy number is.


This thing gets even more bizarre in that the 'draft publication' is not sitting on a pre-print server for all to see as is the usual way that authors try to get comment/feedback prior to publication...Instead, it was 'leaked' to Israeli journalist Edav Eyal who then posted it, via screenshot, on the Twittmachine. 


Saturday, February 20, 2021

BC's Real World, Data-Driven Story On The Effectiveness Of A Single Shot Of The mRNA Vaccine (So Far).


You may have seen the flurry of proMedia reports earlier this week with titles like 'Researchers urge delaying Pfizer vaccine's second dose as first highly effective'.

Here is that particular story's lede, which was published in Reuters:

The second dose of Pfizer Inc’s COVID-19 vaccine could be delayed in order to cover all priority groups as the first one is highly protective, two Canada-based researchers said in a letter published in the New England Journal of Medicine.

The vaccine had an efficacy of 92.6% after the first dose, Danuta Skowronski and Gaston De Serres said, based on an analysis of the documents submitted by the drugmaker to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)...



Well, in it Drs. Skowronski and De Serres had a 2nd look at previously published clinical trial data as well as data submitted to the US Food and Drug Administration and came to the conclusion that the first shot of the Pfizer mRNA vaccine gave 90%, plus, protection two weeks after it was administered:

...We used documents submitted to the Food and Drug Administration to derive the vaccine efficacy beginning from 2 weeks after the first dose to before the second dose (Table 1). Even before the second dose, BNT162b2 was highly efficacious, with a vaccine efficacy of 92.6%...

Editorializing a little Skowronski and De Serres went on to say the following:

...With such a highly protective first dose, the benefits derived from a scarce supply of vaccine could be maximized by deferring second doses until all priority group members are offered at least one dose...


Importantly, Dr. Skowronski has now generated real world data that the single shot is working in British Columbia's long term care facilities based on a statement from the BC CDC released yesterday:

Early vaccine effectiveness results from British Columbia (B.C.) show the first dose of COVID-19 vaccine reduced the risk of COVID-19 in long term care residents and health care workers by 80 per cent within two to three weeks of receiving the vaccine.

“These findings, based on surveillance data, are very promising and reinforce the substantial benefit provided by the first dose of the mRNA COVID-19 vaccine in these priority populations,” said Dr. Danuta Skowronski, lead for the Influenza and Emerging Respiratory Pathogens Team at the BC Centre for Disease Control (BCCDC). “They also help to answer one of the important unanswered questions after the clinical trials about the effectiveness of the vaccines in the elderly and notably those within long term care.”...


Now, all of this is very good news and it helps justify B.C.'s single shot strategy, especially given the current vaccine shortage.

However, there are (at least) a couple of caveats to consider.

The first comes from the original NEJM letter by Drs. Skowronski and De Serres:

...There may be uncertainty about the duration of protection with a single dose...

The second comes from Dr. Anthony Fauci, speaking to the NY Times, and it involves a subject that we have raised here before:

..(Fauci)...said it was possible that a less-than-optimal (mRNA vaccine) dose might not kill the most powerful variants of the virus, theoretically allowing them to spread more quickly in the population...

Now, I reckon that last bit is the very best reason for us to not relax at this late date. Instead, we should do our best to double down (or mask-up as the case may be) in an effort to ward off the variants by decreasing their community-based transmission to a minimum.


The sub-header to this post is a phrase we bandy about in the lab quite often...Every once in awhile it is used to back a good news story, backed with an Elaine Benes-like exclamation point, as is certainly the case here....However, in the experimental, discovery-based world we work in it is a phrase we most often use when the results are telling us that it is time to abandon, or at least seriously revise, an hypothesis we have fallen in love with...This kind of thing can be really tough on gradual students but it is an important lesson to learn.


Friday, February 19, 2021

Cullen Inquiry, ctd: Mr. Mulgrew Of The VSun Concludes That B.C. Casinos Were Not Well-Oiled Money Laundries.


Last weekend, Ian Mulgrew's opinion piece in the Vancouver Sun made the case that B.C.'s casinos were never major money laundering hubs:

Testimony on gaming is coming to an end at the Inquiry into Money Laundering with the main accusation in tatters that B.C. casinos were well-oiled machines for cleaning Dirty Money.

At worst, they may have been money-pits for proceeds of crime from crooks who liked to gamble, or those who borrowed money from criminals — both mostly losing the ill-gotten gains...

Given all that, what was the real problem 'round here, according to Mr. Mulgrew?

Why, this:

...It seems the problem was not in the casinos — it was and is in the community where problematic cash is available from underground banks and money service businesses...

Of course, underground banks and money laundering in gambling establishments are not necessarily mutually exclusive.

Regardless, as for actual dollar numbers to back his thesis, Mr. Mulgrew offered up the following:

...By the end of 2012, when (current A.G. David) Eby’s consultant Peter German resigned after years as one of B.C.’s top RCMP officers, there were 1,173 suspicious cash transactions reported by casinos totalling $88.7 million.

Which sounds like a lot. But $6 billion annually was sloshing around in the facilities...


Leaving aside the argument that $88 million, plus, is nothing for the moment, it is important to understand that Mr. Mulgrew spends much of the piece trashing casino oversight and enforcement before 2016.

To wit:

...The Joint Illegal Gaming Investigation Team, with the participation of municipal police, the RCMP and the regulator — the Gaming Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB) — was created in April 2016, ending years of law-enforcement indolence...


...There were multiple reports over the years raising the alarm that some large suspicious cash buy-ins may have been the proceeds of crime but police and GPEB did nothing.

The Mounties devoted few resources to money laundering and municipal forces didn’t want to hear about it — both lacked the expertise and funding.

Until 2014, GPEB was dysfunctional — its posse of roughly 30 former cops were cutting-and-pasting reports from the casinos and the B.C. Lottery Corp.

They conducted no real investigations, worked bankers’ hours, and claimed it was too dangerous to talk with gamblers. They fostered a culture of distrust among stakeholders, and the relationship with the BCLC was “poisoned” and “toxic.”

Squabbling between the regulator and Crown corp. became so heated the leaders of GPEB’s investigation division were fired....


If one accepts Mr. Mulgrew's own argument, how can one even begin to put any stock in that $88.7 million dollar figure 'reported by casinos' by the end of 2012?

If you get my drift.

And what part, if any, we who have been paying attention can't help but ask, did the dismantling of IGET in 2009 play in the ensuing years' oversight and enforcement mess that Mr. Mulgrew summarizes? 
Tip 'O The Toque to an Anonymous commenter in the threads (I think) for forcing me to analyze Mr. Mulgrew's piece. I must confess, however, that what I found was, in my opinion at least, a somewhat twisted logic chain, which is not usually a feature of Mr. M's stuff. 


Thursday, February 18, 2021

How Can You Trust A RegimeThat Makes Up An Entire Hospital As Well As Doctors To Commit Fraud?


A couple of weeks ago I wrote the following about a report, published in the Lancet, that announced the 92% efficacy of the adenovirus-based, dual-jab Sputnik V vaccine:

...The Lancet is a top of the ladder clinical research journal so I am confident that the conclusions made are solid based on the data presented.

However, and this is not a scientific opinion but rather a socio-political one, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Russian state actors have fiddled with 'presented' data in other realms when the national interest stakes are high, most notably when it comes to athlete doping.

I really hope I'm wrong about this but, regardless, I think we should wait to see confirming data from trials and/or independently monitored clinical data from other jurisdictions before jumping for joy at that 90+ percent number...


Now, there are indeed ongoing external clinical trials and even a joint trial in which the Sputnik and AstraZeneca vacccines (which is also adenoviral-based) are being combined, so, hopefully, all will be confirmed.

However, having said all that, it is impossible to ignore a report from Tariq Panja in yesterday's NY Times that describes the lengths that the a very fine group of folks from Russia went to cover-up the doping of a single high jumper:

With investigators closing in, the high jumper Danil Lysenko needed a paper trail to support his story. Top Russian track officials provided it by creating a fake hospital...


...The hospital was a lie. So were the tests and the excuses and even the names of the doctors on Lysenko’s medical reports. By the time the scheme fell apart, it involved a half-dozen top Russian track officials and an Olympic hopeful who could clear a two-meter high-jump bar but couldn’t hold up under questioning.

On Wednesday, investigators from track and field’s investigative body — the Athletics Integrity Unit — published the full details of their investigation in the Lysenko case. The report underscored not only how brazen Russia could be in its efforts to obstruct antidoping investigations, and how top Russian officials often played an integral role in such schemes...


If Russian officials will go to extreme lengths to create an artificial data construct for a relatively unimportant case of track and field nationalism, can anyone be vilified for wanting to see independent verification of any and all data supporting a very different, and clearly much more important, type of nationalism?

For those looking for something like it, Derek Lowe has a great, and quite comprehensive piece up on COVID variants...Here.


Wednesday, February 17, 2021

Can Mr. O'Toole Win A Game Played In The Middle'?


It would appear that Erin O'Toole's attempt to re-brand himself has begun.

How else to explain that the theme of his tacking left toward the middle showed up in two publications as disparate as the Toronto Star and The Epoch Times recently:

And then there was Mr. O'Toole's self-initiated re-branding, errrrr... re-introduction on the Twittmachine on the weekend:

Which led former BC Green Party leader Stuart Parker to quip:

Then, with earworm wriggling, I just couldn't help myself:



Monday, February 15, 2021

Once A Busker, Always.


I blame Mr. Hansard and his busking pals for all of it.



Your Family Day Audio...Passenger Side.


I'm sure you all have stories of stupid things you did as a kid that would have worried your loved ones worried sick if they had known even the half of it at the time.

You know, the kind of stuff that, even now, can cause you to break out into a cold sweat when the realization of what could have happened washes over you in the middle of the night.


Here's one of my own stories in that vein:

"When I was a kid I had friend, K.H., whose family had a place across the border on the road up to Mt. Baker.

And when we were in our late teens a small pack of us would head down there on winter weekends to go skiing.

It's something we did reasonably often, sans passports and parents back in those wide-open days.

Most of the time we managed to stay out of trouble despite how easy it was for underaged, pretend hooligans like us to buy all the cheap Raineer beer we could possibly handle (although, for some reason we seemed to prefer that once again recently defunctified brand frum Tumwater in the yellow can).


One evening, for no good reason at all, we decided to take a joyride in K.H.'s own car along the snow-covered logging roads near Glacier, which he actually knew quite well.

Which, I can hear you whispering, is bad enough in and of itself.

But then the real fun began. This involved each of us taking turns climbing up on the roof of the car so that we could hang on to the roof rack while whoever was driving would swerve all over the place to try and throw the rider off.

It was some kind of outdoor version of that Bucking Bronco thing that was all the rage in the bars at the time which, I guess, seemed way less scary than actually going to said bars and trying to meet girls or some such thing.

How no one was hurt or even killed I'll never know."


Apparently, Jeff Tweedy has memories of bad driving behaviour as a kid also. 

Although, in Tweedy's case it sounds more like the lament of an indy-musician-in-a-tour-van-with-bandmate's-girlfriend-type deal rather than the story of a bunch of hopped-up teenage Cheeseheads run amok in the backwoods of rural Whatcom County, Washington.

Now, for something really crazy...The soundtrack of those ski trips to Baker was Bellingham's KISM (92.9 on your FM dial) which has been the one constant over the ensuing fo(u)try plus years given that the station's playlist today is pretty much exactly the same as what it was in 1979...Go figure.


Sunday, February 14, 2021

Cullen Inquiry, ctd: How Not To Stop The Flow Of Hockey Bag Cash.


On Friday we noted that the Cullen Inguiry had learned that RCMP Senior Operations officer Calvin Chrustie warned the BC Lottery Corporation (BCLC) and the Gambling Policy Enforcement Branch (GPEB) that there were potential ties between organized crime and the cash being used by high rollers at BC casinos back in June of 2015. 

Sam Cooper has followed up with a full report at Global News. Here is his lede:

...A senior RCMP officer alerted B.C. casino officials in June 2015 that he believed Mainland China’s “financial elite” had “close ties to organized crime” and there was concern that massive amounts of cash were flooding into casinos via “capital flight” from China, the province’s money laundering inquiry heard Friday...

Then GPEB director Len Meilleur took notes. Mr. Cooper' piece continues:

...The inquiry also heard of notes that Meilleur took as the RCMP’s investigation continued in fall 2015, after Chrustie’s team had allegedly linked (Paul King) Jin and River Rock VIP gamblers to transnational money laundering and drug-trafficking networks.

According to the notes, RCMP said “at this point in time” no one in B.C. casinos could say they were unaware of the connection between money laundering, casinos and suspected proceeds of crime.

And the RCMP saw a link between casinos and fentanyl trafficking and money laundering. But the Lottery Corp. was still arguing “no one has been convicted in terms of money laundering in casinos,” Meilleur testified...

So. What was done about all this?

...(A)fter fall 2015, according to Meilleur, his boss, branch general manager John Mazure, was asking the BC Liberal minister responsible for gaming, Mike de Jong, to issue a ministerial directive that all large cash transactions include a declaration for source of funds.

If de Jong had issued such a directive, it would have solved B.C. Lottery Corp.’s large cash transaction problem sooner, Meilleur said.

He testified that Mazure had complained to him that de Jong’s office wanted the branch to continue seeking alternatives to large cash transactions, but no one would take the step needed: to order the Lottery Corp. to determine source of funds before accepting cash...


What could have possibly possessed Mr. de Jong's office to seek such 'alternatives'?

Is it possible that the fine folks there including, one can only assume, the good Mr. de Jong himself, were hoping that such alternatives would ensure the continuance of those 'better results' that Mr. Rich Coleman had promised after he shut down the illegal gambling enforcement team (IGET) six years earlier?

Which leads to another question...

Why, exactly, were Mess'rs de Jong and Coleman looking for 'alternatives' and 'better results', in the first place?

Hockey bags
filled with cash for casino high rollers?...You bet.


Friday, February 12, 2021

Cullen Inquiry: Fallout From The Dismantling Of IGET?


As we've discussed previously, Sean Holman first informed us that it was the B.C. Liberal government's minister of 'Everything' at the time, Rich Coleman, who decided to dismantle IGET in 2009:

According to Mr. Coleman himself, in an interview with Sean Holman in 2010, (see video above) the good minister in charge was the person who actually, himself, made the decision to dismantle the integrated 'illegal gambling enforcement team' (IGET) in 2009.

In that interview Mr. Coleman initially tells Mr. Holman that the dismantling occurred because IGET wasn't working. When Mr. Holman informs Mr. Coleman that he possesses government paper that indicates his (i.e. Coleman's) ministry was concerned about the IGET budget, Mr. Coleman pivots slightly and states:

"I had a team that wasn't working (i.e. in 2009) and it was costing the taxpayers money. I decided to do it differently and get better results."


That was then...

But what do we know now about how things turned out after Mr. Coleman decided to 'do it differently'?

Well, according to Global's Sam Cooper former Gambling Policy and Enforcement Branch (GPEB) head Len Meilleur told the Cullen Inquiry the following today:

"The police had been absent (in casinos) for almost 8 years after IIGET departed," he (Meilleur) says. "Our best chance of success was to work directly with police."


What did the police tell the GPEB (and the BCLC) in the ensuing years?

Well, again, according to Global's Sam Cooper:


Large cash transactions that weren't being paid attention to?


Would such a thing be one of the results of a decision to do things differently if, perhaps, said cash arrived at the casinos in, say, hockey bags?


What Willie Said.


Recently, in the comment threads, longtime reader e.a.f. got me thinking about how many of Warren Zevon's songs were recorded by Linda Ronstadt.

Which led to the usual, until I stumbled on this:

You know, I think the red headed stranger, Mr. Nelson, may have been right when he said...

"There are only two kinds of men, those that have a crush on Linda Ronstadt and those who have never heard of her."

Here is Ms. Ronstadt, live, at the top of her first wave game...Many more waves would follow. Unfortunately, she no longer sings due to a neurodegenerative disease that has similarities to Parkinson's.


Thursday, February 11, 2021

Your Evening Audio...'Keep Me In Your Heart'.


Last week I got a one line text message from our oldest kid, Bigger E., that read:

"This week's obsession..." 

It was followed by a link to Warren Zevon's musical tale of love and dissolution called 'Carmelita' that he wrote very early in his career.


After punching the tune into Google's video playing money-maker I went back to work editing a manuscript that is focused on figuring out how cells move into constricted matrix-lined spaces that are generated in certain pathological states.

Which meant that I quickly lost interest in the music player as the algorithm began to run. 

Then, about half-an-hour later, the thing served up a tune called 'Keep Me In Your Heart' which was written by Zevon  at the very end of his career after he received his mesothelioma diagnosis that would prove fatal. Clearly, it is a letter to the loved ones he knew he would soon part from forever.

Zevon died more than fifteen years ago, but these days Eddie Vedder does a fantastic version of 'Keep Me In Your Heart' that, quite frankly, gives me the chills.

And when I learned to play it this week it brought on a touch of the melancholy for what I can only assume are all the right reasons.

Because our two girls are all grown up and moving through the world pretty much on their own these days. As is the case with parents pretty much everywhere, I sure do hope they will be able to keep a tiny bit of us in their hearts for awhile no matter where they may roam.


Image at the top of the post?... Our two E's on a summer vacation trip down the coast to see our good friends in Mendocino...Bigger E. is the singer, littler e. is the dancer.
The Two E's Grandpops just might know Zevon's Carmelita given that it was first recorded by Murray McLauchlan way, way back in 1972....The wider world probably knows the Linda Ronstadt version best.


The Keef Report: Blue Moon Rising?

I can't believe I'm going to say this, but....

I actually agree with the Keef one thousand percent when it comes to 'Ball Four'.

Although, to be clear, that iron-clad agreement likely has as much to do with our similar vintage it does with Mr. Bouton's literary chops.

My second choice would be a book called 'Seven Days To Sunday' which is an insider/all-access account of a pivotal week for the New York Football Giants during the 1967 season. Fran Tarkenton was the quarterback, Tucker Fredrickson was the runner, Allie Sherman was the coach, and Spider Lockhart was the free safety, an undersized skinny guy I would soon pretend to pattern myself after while playing for the purple and gold of the Oak Bay junior bantam Marauders.

Imagine that!


The Cooling.


It sure is amazing the change for the better a few weeks of peace, order and reasonably good government can bring.


Heckfire, even the U.S. CDC is now getting into the act on the side of actual evidence-based public health:

And please note the two read arrows that I've added to the graph to draw attention to the reduction in sub-micron aerosols if the receiver alone (i.e. the exposed) doubles up and puts a paper medical mask under a well-fitting cloth one (see 'B' in the upper image).

Of course the best for everyone, always is when, of course, everybody masks up as is clear from all three groups in the graph.

Do it!


Wednesday, February 10, 2021

A Musical David And Goliath Story.


According to a story by John Chidley-Hill of the Canadian Press, the remaining members of the Tragically Hip are all hopped up and fixing for a legal fight:

The Tragically Hip are suing a Toronto brewery for alleged trademark infringement in the promotion of its 100th Meridian lager...


What's this one all about Alfie?

Well, according to the band the brewery concerned has attempted to market said suds by linking them to the band's song of the same name:

..."Many of you are probably under the impression that we are associated with Mill Street's 100th Meridian beer — we are not," the band said in a Facebook post on Tuesday.

In its statement of claim, its lawyers say they want the brewery to avoid promoting that lager in a way that may lead to confusion — potentially by renaming it — as well as publicly distance itself from the band and pay more than $500,000 in damages...


...One example cited by the band shows a Facebook post by the Mill Street Brewery in Toronto that says 100th Meridian is "an appropriate beer to celebrate The Tragically Hip playing Yonge and Dundas Square" on Oct. 8, 2014 for the NHL season opener.

Another Facebook post cited in the legal documents is an advertisement from the Mill Street Brewpub in St. John's, N.L., announcing the bar would be broadcasting the Tragically Hip's final concert on Aug. 19, 2016 with a special on pints of 100th Meridian during the show....

But before you get your knickers in a knot about a Canadian musical icon gone off the rails (just like I almost did when I first saw the headline to the CP story) there is a twist in the beer making machinery:

...The legendary Canadian band has filed a suit in Federal Court against Mill Street Brewery, a subsidiary of Labatt, which is owned by Belgian multinational brewer AB InBev...


The Hip taking it to Anheuser Busch/InBev, both for their takeover and fauxification of the microbrewing industry as well as for sneakily trading on the band's unparalleled north, south east and west relationship with their fans?

Don't know about you but I'm all for it!


Sunday, February 07, 2021

Superb Owl Sunday: Who Will Win...A Quarterback Or A Variant?


Tom Brady and Patrick Mahomes will play football later today in front 25,000 fans which will be the largest crowd at an NFL game this year. This, in of itself, is bad enough given that I'm pretty sure that the fans in the stands of a half-full stadium will not be spaced six feet apart for the duration.

But here's the really scary bit about the big event away from the ballpark, according to Cindy Boren writing in the Washington Post:

Although the United States continues to struggle with the coronavirus pandemic, Super Bowl parties will still be a destination for a significant segment of the population.

One-fourth of Americans in a recent Seton Hall Sports Poll indicated that they intend to gather with people from outside their households for Super Bowl LV between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Feb. 7...

Why does this matter right now, more than ever?

Well, as Eric Topol of the Scripps Institute points out, the UK SARS-Cov-2 variant, which is approximately 50% more infectious than the 'original' form of virus, is now in pretty much every state in the U.S.

Which means that asymptomatic variant carriers will likely be getting together, in close proximity for hours, both in the stands in Tampa and in homes and gathering places all over North America.


What's the big deal?

Well, that increase in transmissibility likely means an exponential growth in infections to come  without stringent public health restrictions.

And I'm almost certain that is the kind of thing that is now keeping public health officers everywhere, including ours here in British Columbia, up at night as they keep on clamping down while they simultaneously hope and pray that the vaccine approvals and shipments start to ramp up in earnest.


Purposeful Typo in the Header
courtesy sister publication the Oak Bay Gazette (which is a fun follow) on the Twittmachine.
Thompson was notorious for not actually showing up to the big games he was 'assigned' to in the early '70's.


Friday, February 05, 2021

The Latest From The Cullen Inquiry: Wink, Wink, Nudge, Nudge.


Sam Cooper gives a short overview of the latest, re: the 2015/16 directive to check the source(s) funds being used by VIP gamblers in British Columbia casinos, from the Cullen Inquiry:

Too bad the folks involved at the time could not/did not contact the good Mr. de Jong directly, in writing, about all this so that they could have determined exactly what the policy/directive was in this regard.

Unfortunately, such an approach would have likely been very difficult, at least digitally, back in the day because, well, you know:

...“Some people are more comfortable with modern technology than others,” said (then premier Christy) Clark. “Mike (de Jong) is a farmer. And I know that some farmers use email, I know that some don’t. And he is one of them. I’m not going to force him to use email. I’m not going to force him to stop using his rotary phone.”...

Imagine that!

The quote, above, taken directly from sound producing device of the Word Saladarian-In-Chief at the time, is from a piece from Cassidy Olivier published in the Province in the spring of 2016 which is precisely when all this apparent 'regulation' of the Whaling Industry was going down...Of course, another possible explanation, as espoused earlier in the life of the BC Liberal government by way of the Dobell Doctrine, is that eliminating Email helps to prevent the generation of a digital, FOIable, paper trail...


The Russian Vaccine.


The Gamaleya Research Institute in Moscow, which operates under the purview of the Russian Health Ministry, has published results of a late stage clinical trial using its two step adenoviral vector-based vaccine in the Lancet.

Here is the kicker from the Summary/Abstract of the paper:

...This interim analysis of the phase 3 trial of Gam-COVID-Vac showed 91·6% efficacy against COVID-19 and was well tolerated in a large cohort...

Derek Lowe summarizes the presented data over at his very well-regarded Science Translational Medicine blog:

In the end, we have data on about 15,000 patients who were vaccinated, and on about 5,000 in the placebo control group. Volunteers got a dose of an adenovirus-26 vector vaccine, followed 21 days later by a dose of the identical construct in an adenovirus-5 vector...


...Counting from the day of the second dose, there were 16 cases of disease in the vaccinated cohort, and 62 cases in the controls. That comes out to a two-dose vaccine efficacy of 91.6%, with a 95% confidence interval of 85.6% to 95.2%. In no subgroup (age, gender, etc.) was it lower than 87%. As with most of the other trials, this is largely based on symptomatic disease – the participants were checked by PCR at the beginning and on the day of the second dose, but at no other times. Importantly, and in line with the other vaccine trial data we’ve seen so far, there were no cases at all of moderate or severe disease in the vaccinated group after the date of the second dose...


So these data look strong, strong enough that a single-dose trial is underway as well (and that will make an interesting comparison with J&J’s Ad26-vector vaccine, for which we have single-dose data with a two-dose trial underway). We’ll be getting more real-world data on this one, as it’s being deployed in several countrie
s , and it will certainly be worth seeing how it handles the variant strains that we’re seeing now....



The Lancet is  a top of the ladder clinical research journal so I am confident that the conclusions made are solid based on the data presented.

However, and this is not a scientific opinion but rather a socio-political one, it is difficult to ignore the fact that Russian state actors have fiddled with 'presented' data in other realms when the national interest stakes are high, most notably when it comes to athlete doping.

I really hope I'm wrong about this but, regardless, I think we should wait to see confirming data from trials and/or independently monitored clinical data from other jurisdictions before jumping for joy at that 90+ percent number. Such additional data will also allow inferences to be made regarding the efficacy of the Sputnik regimen against the COVID variants as Dr. Lowe gently notes.


One other thing
that sticks the craw, particularly when vaccine 'nationalism' may be at play here, is the fact that the Gamaleya Institute explicitly states that it 'is the world's leading research institution'...


Thursday, February 04, 2021

Vaccines Don't Save People, Vaccines In Arms (And Public Health Measures) Do.


Israel, the Palestinian population unfortunately essentially completely excepted so far, has gone all in on COVID vaccination and there have been successes.

Bloomberg's Zev Chafets has the latest:

Israel should be celebrating. More than 20% of its population has been fully vaccinated. Another 15% have been given the first of two jabs and will be protected by mid-February. The government plans to have vaccinated 5 million citizens — well over half the adult population — by mid-March, just before Israel’s next election take places on March 23rd.

Never has a candidate had better talking points on the key issue of the day. Last week the Maccabi health maintenance organization — one of the four HMOs under which Israeli health care is administered — announced that of 163,000 patients who received the full two-shot protocol, 92% were Covid-free after 10 days (and the remaining 8% showed only mild symptoms). Members of a control group of unvaccinated Israelis were found to be 11 times more highly infected...

However, there is, unfortunately, a very predictable fly in the Israeli ointment:

...And yet, Israel is still struggling to contain the virus. This isn’t because the vaccine is failing, but because many Israelis still refuse to follow restrictions imposed to limit the spread of infections...

One can't help but wonder how this type of vaccine vs. public health-type thing will play out in North America, especially with the longer lead time that may facilitate the large scale circulation of more virulent variants come, say summertime.