Friday, December 31, 2021

Grandad at the Disco

I have been at this since 2003, long before I had any other form of social media presence. 

A couple of years ago I acquired a pair of scurvy lurking haters, who used their own social media accounts to mock me as forsaken human remains waiting for blog views.* 

The thing is, the title of my page is a bit of a giveaway when it comes to the solipsism at the heart of the exercise. An audience was always factored in from the start as a bit of a nice to have. 

Still, this year has seen some surprising growth, at least in certain categories of content — my movie musings in particular drawing in an average of five hundred and in some instances over a thousand separate pairs of curious eyeballs. 

I shall be bearing this in mind next time I get excited over 30 likes on an Instagram post

However grandad at the disco** blogging might now seem, I am taking it that this year's viewing stats suggest that in this instance at least, it is still some way from irreversible obsolescence. 

On the subject of social media toxicity, I can strongly recommend David Baddiel's BBC2 investigation of the topic. 

These days the UK even has a HateLab, apparently keeping a watchful eye on the ways that down-melting digital envy and antipathy spill out into noxious behaviours the 'real world'.

Happy New Year to one and troll. 

* They would later inform the authorities rather unconvincingly that they had no idea I even had a blog until a telephone tip-off came in late at night from a friend. 

** This is surely one Hogmanay where grandad would be best advised to stay well clear of the disco. 

Thursday, December 30, 2021


There's a character of that name in The Plague by Camus who is, simply put, a miserable anti-social sod on the verge of topping himself just as the first buboes appear, who yet finds himself wholly reinvigorated by the new situation, as if his standoffish worldview were suddenly validated by being shared — transformed into an unlikely collective imperative.  

Salinas NYC: Gibraltar Negroni, topical novel and souvenir sticker

During the course of the pandemic there have been times when I have more or less identified with Cottard as a kindred spirit, and yet still I warmed to these words from Lara Prendergast in The Spectator festive edition...

As we brace ourselves for another winter of hunkering down and hibernation, I find myself feeling like an apostate. I have started to resent and mistrust anyone who is evangelical about time spent indoors. I’m suspicious of home-comfort obsessives, all of them itching for another lockdown and that nice, nostalgic sense of selfless idleness that defined 2020.



Not leaving Las Vegas

"Omicron is coming!" predicted a friend yesterday, and then reported how people he knew in Vegas had spotted the airport there in a state of near total idleness, plane after plane grounded by a lack of healthy crew members. 

So, it might not be coming from Vegas, at least. 

Two inbound flights of significance were listed as cancelled yesterday at Aurora International: the United flight from Houston and the Copa flight from Panama City. Several others were delayed. 

When I passed through the airport just a few days ago the temperature-checking machine had been unplugged and parked in a corner. 

It would seem that some sort of testing requirement for non-resident foreigners will be re-imposed from January 10 but this will be way too late and possibly still not enough. 

I'm becoming quite a fan of these little TAG jets, but on this occasion many of my fellow passengers were the Guatemalan equivalent of braying public schoolboys, and at least one of them did little more than cough from the moment we were seated. 

Presumably they all had travel-ready, fully-vaccinated status (i.e. not Sputnik V), but were able to enter then without an antigen test and the new rules appear not to change that. 

These are the new positive results that have been officially reported here over the past few days...

26th: 39 new cases

27th: 91 new cases

28th: 597 new cases

29th: 829 new cases...

There's an all too obvious progression that should see us past 2000 by the New Year. 

It's hard not to see Guatemala as a bit of a sitting duck right now — especially after that report suggesting the Russian vaccine produces a zero antibody response to the new variant*. And Delta has not exactly withered on the vine. 

There has been nothing like a word of caution about New Year's Eve aglomeraciones from Dr G or anyone else in the government. Antros with indoor dancefloors in La Antigua — La Casbah and La Sala — to name just a couple, would seem to present near perfect super-spreader environments. 

Omicron is undoubtedly a bit different. 

Wales has exercised comparative caution and shut down its clubs for the 31st ( they're all off to Chester), but has also reduced the self-isolation period from ten to seven days reflecting the sheer number of asymptomatic cases. Nevertheless, hospitalisations have risen in the principality by 49% over the past week, and early data suggests a worrying surge in more severe illness in children. 

In the lead up to Christmas the total number of new cases in the UK had risen to a point where they were significantly more than half of the total in the whole of the US. Both nations were starting to run low on tests. The US has now pushed on impressively, achieving a world record of 465,670 daily positives yesterday. (The UK managed a just-below-PB 183,037.) 

I am feeling increasingly pleased with myself for getting my booster (Pfizer) at what may turn out to be just the right moment. 

But this will continue to be a period to exercise caution. 

Right now Omicron might be staying in Vegas, but these things do tend to get out eventually. 

* Handily the Ruskies have just now delivered the final batch of potentially useless jabs that were paid for ages ago. They at least continue to insist that their vaccine is 'robust' against Omicron, and you would not want to argue with them, would you? 

Wednesday, December 29, 2021

Pyroclastic Flu

Tedros has been at it again.

One feels this tsunami metaphor is already suffering from overuse. Given my location, I'm now leaning towards pyroclastic fluow

Anyway, another handy analogy beckons. In the world of malicious software the anti-virus application that probably came pre-installed on your computer is typically updated via regular patches, almost imperceptibly. 

Contrast the world of biological viruses. The patches are still being produced, but not released. There are many reasons for this, relating in the main to the lengthy approval process (with the Pfizer or OU platforms, around 3 months minimum) and the fact that vaccines and boosters are being delivered slowly and physically, rather than via wifi. 

Updates released in the middle of an existing programme can also be seriously disruptive. (The very same WHO was tut-tutting rather sternly just 8 days ago about the roll-out of boosters in the developed world when large parts of the world remain partially under-covered by the basic jabs.)

But if we need them, the new shots are pretty much there...barring phases 2 and 3 of trials. 

So when the head of the WHO suggests that new variants may evade our existing vaccines, he is basically stating the obvious. If you have never updated your anti-virus package from nearly two years ago, would you really expect it to have remained fully protective? Duh!...right?

Another question we need to ask ourselves — as covid becomes ever more indistinguishable from a bad case of the common lurgies — is do we really have to care all that much? 

In a sense we do, because as the disease itself becomes less severe, its economic impact could turn more lastingly ruinous.  

In 2020 millions of people were temporarily removed from their places of work or conspicuous consumption in a largely artificial and (relatively) coordinated manner and GDP duly shrunk — yet the moment they were released, pretty much everything except supply and demand snapped back to how it was before, often with a nifty little bump from all those accumulated savings (and...ganas.) 

With Omicron and its successors the workforce is likely to shrink less uniformly and in many cases due to actual sickness. For many the pandemic will not now be something that is being kept away at arm's length by the state and the psychological impact of this is unpredictable, but could well exacerbate existing recessionary pressures. 

There is already talk of 'Economic Long-Covid' in the UK, this being the 'dragging on' part of the next phase I alluded to yesterday

And, however much it might resemble a cold, it still won't actually be a cold. 

Tuesday, December 28, 2021

Mediocre, at the point of delivery...

Sir John Bell has made the point here that many have lately seemed determined to dodge — that ever since the majority were at least double-jabbed in the UK, the level of hospitalisation has barely budged, no matter what the variants were up to, reproduction-wise. 

"Nothing is less sensational than pestilence" noted the narrator of The Plague by Camus. 

We've done our best for two years now to sensationalise covid, but as recorded in that novel, the public gradually slip into listless indifference, with feelings of monotony or "dreary perseverance" replacing those of passionate revolt, where whole societies seem "like a railway waiting room" packed with the "exiles of the plague". 

We could be about to enter what Camus pinpointed as the 'mediocre' phase of the plague: epidemic, rather than pandemic, yet perhaps likely to impact more directly on more of us. 

For a long time the majority have been accepting sacrifice on behalf of the few — those for whom covid could be lethal — a tiny minority in the developed world, now less than half of one percent of those infected, though here in Guatemala, fairly shamefully, 2%. 

For the majority of this majority the disease and its symptoms have at timed seemed individually distant, if collectively distressing. Omicron and its successors will at least partially invert this pattern, in its mediocre manner. 

It will become impossible to ignore other minor sicknesses as many share the basic, early-onset symptoms of covid lite. Our noses will not be safe from the ravages of the Q-tip cavity search for many months to come as the disease finally gets its chance to match the disruptive tendencies of government. 

Many of us will find it hard to reverse out of the mindset where behaviours that were thoroughly normal before now appear abnormal (and possibly amoral). Others will find it hard to readjust from the sensational to the nondescript, particularly as the danger will still be there, just diluted. 

Another report released today demonstrates that Omicron is only really mediocre at the point of delivery. In all other respects it is the "shrewd, unflagging adversary; a skilled organiser, doing his worlk thoroughly and well," praised by that same narrator of The Plague

For how else can we respond to news from South Africa that an infection with the new variant makes one just a little bit more immune to future infections of the same, but a whole lot more immune to infections with Delta?

Don't Look Up (2021)

A dark apocalyptic comedy, that is never quite as dark, apocalyptic or bitingly funny as it promises to be. The overall effect could perhaps be described as gloomy.

It's packed with mega stars, but the only natural comedian among them is Jonah Hill, so the gags seem to be firing closest to optimum whenever he's in a scene. 

And yet, oddly enough, beyond this one funny performance and several others where there was some obvious straining to be funny going on (Meryl Streep, Mark Rylance), I derived greatest pleasure from the more deadpan turns from the likes of Jennifer Lawrence, Timothée Chalamet and, to a lesser extent, Leonardo DiCaprio. 

In essence each of these A-listers brings something to the movie which must have been almost entirely absent in the 'naked' screenplay, and they are not improvising — verbally at least — in the way that Jonah Hill is. 

Perhaps the problem here is that Hollywood has largely forgotten how to do satire. The country is so divided that producers feel obliged to pull their punches artificially in order not to alienate half their market, or at least attempt to disguise the downwardly-directed punches as upwardly-directed ones, but the only authentic way to do this is to punch as hard as you can and in all directions. If nobody is properly offended, it's rarely very funny at all. 

Thursday, December 23, 2021

Good Tidings

The UK Health Security agency has today announced the 'encouraging' finding that those infected with the Omicron variant are 50-70% less likely to need hospital care

My suspicion is that they were in a position to do this before December 23, but needed some residual panic in the air to get Britons to the 44% booster level they now find themselves at. 

Needless to say, this little Christmas 'present' comes with a few strings attached. 

For the foreseeable future there will always be a non-trivial risk of covid complications for certain sections of the population, especially the older, so the Christmas dilemma many currently face is one that they will continue to face all year and for many years. 

The virus will most likely tend to become more contagious and less deadly. The more contagious part not only means that it will often slip past our antibodies, but that it will now also tend to evade the legal measures we have so far employed to prevent it spreading uncontrollably. 

An endemic pathogen is practically lockdown-proof and definitely 'circuit-breaker' proof. To "let it rip" or not will no longer surface as a political schism. It will rip, especially in the temperate zones in the cooler months. 

So called herd immunity will likely surge and dip. Periodic booster campaigns will help, but will probably never be regimented enough to prevent pockets of worrying outbreak for perhaps years to come. 

Rich nations will have full access to the vaccines and treatments like Paxlovid which could potentially put an end to the health service overload problem. Yet people will keep dying and the dent in life expectancy won't be fixed by next Christmas, or the Christmas after that.

At some stage in 2022 we will have updated versions of the major vaccines, more targeted to the Omicron spike protein, but we cannot rule out the emergence of further variants of concern with serious immune evasion tendencies. 

Currently booster effectiveness is said to wane after ten weeks, but new versions of the vaccines may stretch the ideal interval between jabs. 

So this takes us back to the 'common sense' that Boris likes to preach about yet possess so little of himself. There was a moment before they all went out into the number 10 garden with their cheese and wine where they should have thought 'naaaaaah'. 

We will all face similar moments in the years to come and we all have to assess them based on our understanding of both our personal risk and the risk that we could circulate and bring harm to others. 

A clear conscience (and relative freedom of movement) may require us to have an updated vaccine and a booster shot every year — that's three jabs in total. 

Meanwhile, the world may never be our oyster in the same way. Uneven control internationally will mean that travel may never be quite as open and frictionless as it had become by 2019. 

Important sectors of the economy like hospitality and entertainment are going to have to work really hard to reestablish the position they enjoyed pre-pandemic. 

We shall have to adapt and move on because there is no other way. 

Right now, wearing an N95 grade mask in all crowded situations seems the absolute bare minimum that common sense can ask of us. 

If Guatemalans can do it...

Remaining un-vaxed remains a dumb play...

Tuesday, December 21, 2021

Seasonal Distemper

I’m starting to get the vibe that perhaps much of northern Europe’s covid panic right now is really a case of seasonal Christmas distemper. 

It’s midwinter, cold and dark and it’s the festive season, which means everyone is basically looking for an excuse for being on edge and miserable. 

In essence though, as long as you have had some sort of valid vaccine, it’s the sniffles, not the Black Death. Get over it.

However, if you have not yet been jabbed and boosted, happy travels...

Grand Strategy (1) - Expert Opinion

Gaddis begins here by referencing the work of American political psychologist Phillip E. Tetlock*, who collected hundreds of predictions by experts in government, academia, think-tanks and other institutions in the 80s and found that WHO these experts were, their status, professional background and so on, made no difference to their judgment. 

Nor did the nature of their fundamental biases: liberal or conservative, optimist or pessimist, realist or institutionalist. A relative level of accuracy or ‘good judgment’ came almost entirely from the subject’s style of reasoning, especially when self-deprecating. 

Those bristling with big ideas and explanations, contemptuous of criticism were, quite simply more often than not, plain wrong. 

Tetlock concluded that "self-critical thinkers are better at figuring out the contradictory dynamics of evolving situations, more circumspect about their forecasting prowess, more accurate in recalling mistakes, less prone to rationalise those mistakes, more likely to update their beliefs in a timely fashion...better positioned to affix realistic probabilities in the next round of events”. 

The covid pandemic has seen a multitude of different expert opinions jostling for position, and politicians in many countries have deferred to them, perhaps a little too readily, or at least without discriminating against those who are “prisoners of their preconceptions” as Tetlock put it, as opposed to those with a little bit more “sense and sensitivity”, as Gaddis does, while admitting that the better kind of expert tends to be more discursive and struggles to hold an audience or indeed politicians with short attention spans.

* Ironically enough, the very idea that foxes are better forecasters than hedgehogs has a whiff of TED-talk hedgehoginess about it. 


Arguably, the real plague behind covid has been a plague of selfishness. Individual, collective, international.

It is irredeemably selfish to not even try to participate in collective efforts to inhibit the spread of the pathogen, and a wounded political conscience makes for an especially poor excuse.
Yet it is also selfish to want government to shut down the whole of society just so that one can feel safe — particularly when one has a relatively lockdown-proof source of income.
I was surprised to hear Haruki Murakami apparently suggesting in an interview with La Vanguardia the other day that it is never right for states to restrict individual liberty in the name of a social good. I hadn't previously tagged him as a fan of The Purge franchise.
All civilised modern existence is based on some sort of explicit plus implicit compromise on the above aka the social contract first outlined explicitly for the world by our own great thinker John Locke.
For Locke, as has generally been the case in the United Kingdom, liberty exists primarily as a vehicle for the secure prosperity of all. We are famously the nation of shopkeepers not libertarian fanatics and it this form of liberalism which must now condition our attitudes to the pandemic response at the social level.
Locke's predecessor Thomas Hobbes advocated that the nanniest of states should decide everything, for everyone. Locke understood that we are actually all capable of adjusting our attitudes and behaviours to the situation without the need for constant, absolute and unbending diktats from above. Imperfect perhaps, but generally workable.
Take a look around the world. States are important and carry out valuable functions, but they are clearly not capable of solving humanity's most pressing problems, pandemic included, all by themselves. (And when they try to do it collectively, things often tend to go further downhill.)
And, a gentle reminder to the trumpeteers of personal liberty in the UK, often the same people inclined to tut tut about the 'submission' implied by Islam, have a look at your passport — you are all subjects of Her Majesty, no matter which set of liberal values you personally choose to espouse.

Saturday, December 18, 2021

"I couldn't believe what I was living..."

On a slightly different note, where I am right now it is high party season. The clubs are bursting with maskless revelers, mostly from the USA.

I have long associated this track with Playa, and at this precise moment, more than ever. 

Yet the new case numbers in Quintana Roo have sunk to near zero and the tequila-chugging gringos did not all arrive yesterday.

These people will all need to be tested before departure, so the system should be picking up any spikes from all that carefree mingling. And Playa should be packed with people who can't go home because they failed an antigen test.

I have another pet theory about a dynamic that will affect the course of the pandemic now: all these individuals who behave in a manner that might appear ‘irresponsible’ to a good many of us have been doing it all along.

And so many of them may well have had covid already which, combined with a vaccination, does seem to confer a kind of super-immunity.
Of course some will pointing to the corruption in Quintana Roo and the possibility of under-counting (Or Donald accounting: the more tests you do, the more cases you get.)

But then we enter that absurd world where the numbers are correct when they conform to our present thinking, and emotions, and when they don't, someone must be telling porkies.  


Stupid people say some pretty gormless things with an attitude of smugness. But then so too do clever people. 

Next time you hear an expert or, heaven forbid, a scientist, state that Omicron is going to be far worse than any previous variant because more contagious strains, albeit less severe symptom-wise, will always end up killing more people, you might have to tell them to go and stand in a corner until the pandemic ends.

Don’t let them easily bamboozle you with their cherry-picked and sometimes rather abstract charts. 
If Delta and Omicron were fresh out of natural selection and lined up together on the starting line, rearing to go, the whole of untouched humanity in their sights, then yes, maybe. But that is not the situation we are in.

Delta started earlier and is now perhaps flagging. The human hosts have been transformed into a more complicated set of populations each with their own essential characteristics, acquired protections, pandemic-conditioned behaviours and so on. The differences of culture, season and geography remain. And the variants may vary quite significantly this time in their basic potential to harm us. And we all remain fundamentally ignorant, one way or another.

Chris Witty himself trotted out a version of the faster+weaker=more deadly paradigm and then added something he must have known undermines it: Delta and Omicron are possibly not even racing against each other, but are instead on different racetracks.

Yet that hypothesis, for which the research will have to play catch up, was surely designed to give us the public on the end of it a sense that TWO pandemics operating in parallel were of course going to double the load on the NHS.

At what point to do we start to tune out of all the screaming about record case numbers? Nicola Sturgeon kicked it all off in the UK with her ‘Tsunami’ alert, but has since gone a bit quiet, and for once the Scottish Parliament is not trying to outdo the English with preventative measures.
Meanwhile, London's mayor Sadiq Khan has come up with at least a temporary solution to the absence of a proper crisis, a kind of variation on the Mohammed and the Mountain proverb. If there aren't enough patients heading to the hospitals, don't worry, because the real problem now is that there are now not enough front line staff to receive them due to Omicron-driven absenteeism. 


Guatemala's Booster Bingo

Remember when they told us that if you choose to mix the mRNA vaccines with Astra Zeneca you needed to have had the latter first. Keep remembering?

While some sort of mix and match strategy appears beneficial, especially because of the ‘compressed’ approach to spike protein antibodies in Pfizer and Moderna, it should never be mandatory, especially as we now know Moderna carries an albeit small elevated risk of heart inflammation.

Sputnik V, of course, has its own booster (Sputnik Light) and if anyone has the data on which other jabs combine well with it, Putin isn’t sharing. And Guatemala no longer appears to be buying.

It had been my working assumption that nobody in Guatemala either knew or cared that the Moderna booster dose is different from the first pair. This chart nevertheless suggests that in fact they have a team in a freezer compartment carefully pouring from vial to vial. 

Last time I checked Moderna was the formula Guatemala had the least of. Maybe a little can be made to go a long way.

Giving out a third dose to the few when the initial programme is incomplete seems a tad ruthless, n'est pas? 

The latest Omicron data from South Africa suggests that previous infection gives a high percentage protection from serious illness and death, especially when you are already dead.


Saturday, December 11, 2021

Tsunami or Turning Tide?

The media, vaccine manufacturers and Scottish politicians are currently content to stoke up a pre-Christmas panic about the diabolically transmissible nature of Omicron. 

Viz yesterday both Nicola Sturgeon's 'tsunami' simile and that report about the inmates at a Hong Kong quarantine hotel who had somehow passed the virus between their rooms without ever having left them.

Early data does seem to suggest that Omicron is significantly more transmissible than even Delta 2. But when one looks at the data with a level head — at the household level as opposed to the modelled mass-population level — one finds that the contagion potential is perhaps less seasonally chilling than one might have immediately suspected. 


This is not smallpox or even bubonic plague. You can live in the same house as someone carrying this pathogen and still have a better than 4 in 5 chance of not picking it up.

This thread on Twitter reflects level-headedly on the threat from a South African perspective. 

Relative to the community case rate covid-19 hospitalisation in the country remains low, at least compared to previous surges. The death rate is especially low. 

One can imagine all sorts of reasons why the likes of Pfizer would be encouraging people to have not just three but four jabs now, just to be safe. And as I said a week or so ago, we should begin to start engaging our critical faculties in booster mode when the fourth wave and any measures to flatten its curve are anticipated — especially when the suggestions are being made by entities with skin in the game. 

The South Afican data suggests that Omicron is 5x more antibody-evasive than Beta, but it remains unclear whether individuals possessing relevant antibodies — as say up to 95% of Brits — end up with symptoms little worse than a bad cold. T cells still come into play and may continue to suppress the more damaging consequences of infection. In the UK the current estimate of government advisors is that Omicron is 25-50% less severe. 

So far muscle aches, headaches and lethargy are the most prevalent clinical manifestations of an Omicron infection, which leads me to suspect that I might not even notice that I'd had it.

Plenty of footballers in the UK are flagging as positive right now, but the current rules state that they all need to be tested every day. How many would even have been aware of the virus?

Behind the more naked (private sector) scaremongering, one will also perceive the voice of scientists fretting over the phenomenon illustrated by this chart...

Milder, faster diseases can end up killing more people than deadlier, less transmissible ones. That there is truth in this is confirmed by the history of SARS-Cov-1, a virus that tended to terminate 10% of its hosts. But in absolute terms, its numbers were 'disappointing' relative to the early dread. 

Yet these charts are subtly forcing us to think that Omicron resets the pandemic to zero, when in fact many of the key vulnerabilities have shifted   over the course of two years and governments have had a chance to advance beyond the one-size-fits-all policy package. 

This time, protecting the vulnerable while allowing a milder mutation to pass rapidly through the vaccinated population could be markedly less of a kamikaze option. 

We can see in Japan for example that a set of controlled measures without lockdown has recently led to a drop in case numbers and an even more dramatic suppression of fatalities, and in many different localities the relative death rate (or even ICU rate) amongst those infected has been tailing off for some time. 

Do the un-vaccinated* deserve some sort of protection? I know what I would be inclined to say were it not for the fact that the clogging up of hospitals by these recusants is likely to have a knock-on effect for the standard of care everyone receives, and will also provide the media and others with further grounds for propagating trepidation across the community. 

And regardless of everything said in this post the drift towards complacency in Guatemala is extremely worrying. Even before Omicron I was anticipating a new wave here in late February/early March — it is the heat, not the cold, that drives people indoors and into mass events here. 

The patchy and variegated nature of the vaccine roll-out, coupled with the apparent lack of an imminent, comprehensive booster programme suggests that here, as elsewhere in Latin America, 2022 could be extremely difficult for all sorts of reasons. 

* I'm referring who have had a decent chance to get the basic shots and have no socio-demographic excuses to make. 

2022´s Stag-do

Miltomate growing on the slopes above Chitaburuy (Parramos). 

These little green tomatoes look like becoming the canaries in the coal mine threatened by the impending regional — perhaps global — economic suffocation of stagflation.

In Mexico, where consumer prices were rising at a rate of 7.37% during November, tomatillos already cost 148% more than they did at the start of the year, fresh chiles not far behind at 137% and then avocados at 46% pricier. Latin America, as elsewhere, is experiencing paired inflationary pressures from the global supply chain crisis and an extended period of monetary stimulus, but unlike the governments further north, many administrations in the western hemisphere's less developed economies have already started to lift interest rates, arguably before many small businesses have yet had a chance to fully recover from the pandemic restrictions of 2020. 

Central banks in major economies like Brazil are resorting to rate hikes in part because of the strengthening of the Dollar, yet also in anticipation of an end to the loose fiscal conditions up north — a transition which could result in marked capital outflows, a traditional harbinger of Latin American financial crises.

The worrying thing is that the rate hikes appear not to be making any difference to the surging cost of staples — simultaneously fed by extreme climate events — and food makes up around 25% of the average household budget across the region. 

And many younger consumers have almost no direct personal memories of stagflationary conditions to guide them.

Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Diablo Difunto


This year it seems that the diablo has somewhat prematurely croaked — finally surrendering his long lost, bricks and mortarl soul. This sudden shift to the virtual sees Old Nick in a suitably cheapo box at his usual spot in Barrio La Concepción, lying in Satan, flanked by a guard of dishonour. 

Las malas lenguas murmuran that it must have been covid, but now that we are not quite so all in this together as we were last year there is a growing social stigma surrounding "la gripona", and as Beelzebub and the boys are still running the family firm from home — Pandemonium — it was thought best to put his demise down to metastasizing corruption and thereby not lose any friends over it. In truth his little anti-heart packed it in one weekend watching Antigua GFC. 

Has there ever been a bigger conspiracy theorist? One can imagine what The Father Of Lies thought about the vaccines.  

Like James Bond, he will return. There are after all cien mil diablos.

Back in the day.
(That mask looks oddly familiar...) 

Monday, December 06, 2021


Had time to sleep on events in Jeddah yesterday.

An enthralling piece of entertainment no doubt, perhaps one of the most 'can't take my eyes away' GPs of recent memory, and yet somehow also oddly disappointing and disturbing as a race, leaving an unpleasant sporting aftertaste, especially for the penultimate Grand Prix of the season and one upon which much appeared to hang.

The right result perhaps. Though thanks to a small techicality in the scoring the spectre of a Senna-on-Prost or indeed a Prost-on-Senna conclusion just beyond the grid next Sunday in the Abu Dhabi dusk still lingers.

Why is Christian Horner such a chip-munk? He's not even a former colonial. He's somewhat French president in stature and has much of that knee-jerk stroppiness.

Toto has his moods but still manages to come across as gracious and charming even after those occasional setbacks.

Horner almost never shows appreciation for Lewis as a driver, limiting himself to vague compliments directed at the other lot's car.

I mean, Mercedes vs Red Bull. Anywhere else this would be a no contest.

Leprosy Bell

Professor Tim Spector, founder of the Zoe Covid symptoms app, has just estimated that around a quarter of common colds people have been suffering from in recent months were probably covid. 

There are sometimes not-so-hidden incentives to keep it hidden — unacknowledged, at least in public.

There have been several cases of rather sudden deaths of people we know in the past couple of years which have not been attributed to covid, but perhaps ought to have been.  

There appears to be a social stigma attached to the pandemic pathogen in Guatemala which only seems to worsen as the collective response dissolves into more personal etiquettes. 

Death by covid portends an undignified send off. It can also threaten the livelihoods of surviving close family members, many of whom run businesses out of their homes. 

Attitudes adapt as we are no longer quite so all in this together and the sick and dying pop up as an unfortunate reminder of a not entirely distant threat we are either ignoring or at least being told to ignore as best we can.

Last year it was 'the moment you feel it coming on call us and we will come and pick you up and take you to that nice new facility'. Now it is 'the moment you feel it coming on we don't want to know about you, just stay indoors, out of sight...go away.'

And 'you are probably unvaxed and that has to be your own fault, not ours.'

Azor (2021)

Martin Heidegger suggested that "making itself intelligible is suicide for philosophy" and the same might be said for the very best Argentinian cinema and the Swiss private banking system. 

This film is about the meeting of two cabalistic worlds, that of Yvan de Wiel and his wife Inès, on business from Geneva in the Buenos Aires of 1980 and his family firm's client base from amidst the monied elite there, formerly handled by Yvan's now mysteriously absent partner René Keys. 

From behind layers of symbolism and doggedly obtuse dialogue we are given a fascinating glimpse of the social and commercial underpinnings of South American dictatorship*. (And this is the end-phase, even though none of them seem to know it.) 

Feature-length debutant Andreas Fontana has indirect personal experience of both milieux in this blend, drawing out the creepy adopted amorality and arcane argot of Yvan's business — `Azor' being their handy code word for keep quiet, pretend you haven't really seen or heard — and that insular, sophisticated yet unsophisticated Argentinian establishment, seen here to be consuming itself around the edges as some of its own youth have had to be sacrificed to the need to 're-educate' the nation. 

Borges was alive at the time and his affection for unchanging Geneva is noted. The contention, sometimes attributed to him, that "Argentinians are Italians who speak Spanish, think in French and consider themselves English" is solidly illustrated here, along with the sense that the Swiss in particular might find themselves a bit bamboozled by this. 

Not a great deal happens, but there is much menace, especially during a series of set piece interviews between Yvan and his contacts. 

My favourite was an interchange with "his Holiness" Monsignor Tatoski, who speaks of a "purification phase" and "unrecoverable elements", and while noting that the missing Keys was occasionally and atypically indiscrete and Azor-less with regards to local political matters, he apparently liked the cut of his jib when it came to kamikaze forex trading tips. 

I watched that scene three times. Enjoyable too were Yvan's bar room chats with an ambassador and a lawyer called Dekerman, whose principal client is a crass former racing driver turned racehorse owner and would-be politician. 

The drama lies, in a sense, between the lines. As does the black comedy. Nobody is quite saying what they would be expected to under the circumstances. 

This is one of those films one could watch over and over, getting more out of it with each incremental viewing, and yet never fully crack its ciphers. 

With the possible exception of the size and shape of the men's collars, this seems to be an uncannily accurate rendition of a year I have very strong memories of myself. I have lately felt a bit let down by over-stylised recreations of the fairly recent past on both big and small screen, but this is as close to note perfect as one is ever likely to see. 

Pablo Larraín's Tony Manero might make an interesting double bill. 

* It is usually that much more unnerving to be shown the inner workings — the machinations — of evil than its undoubtedly horrific end product. Which is why Javier Bustamente's take on La Llorona (2019) was so striking. 

Thursday, December 02, 2021

Soft Reboot?

Reassuring nosies have been coming out of official sources to the effect that Omicron will not 'reset' the SARS-Cov-2 pandemic. 

To a certain extent that is inevitably true. But hold on. The early signs are that the new variant bypasses the two main vaccines used in certain countries (such as the US), even the three-dosers, and re-infects people that have had covid already. 

So on some levels it does need to be (pre-)considered as a new-ish pathogen. 

The key issue now will be disease severity. Anything equivalent to or worse than Delta will be bad news. Less severe disease might give governments the wriggle room they need to fix the mRNA vaccines by Spring. It may also help get us to where we need to go in terms of endemic, non-pandemic covid. 

The mRNA vaccine tech was exciting and new and does offer concrete possibilities for tackling endemic infectious diseases, but we might have to admit that in the rush to deploy it against the more urgent threat, we neglected to consider how pandemic conditions would expose some of its inherent weaknesses — such as only targeting small sections of the spike protein. (17 in the case of Pfizer, just 11 in the case of Moderna.)

A virus in full Ghengis Khan expansion mode would be enjoying just the right conditions to mutate over and over again and it would only be a matter of time before that part of the vaccines' targeting became compromised. 

It does seem that those who have availed themselves of jabs built upon a more old fashioned antibody arousal system — AZ, J&J, Sputnik, Sinocrap — may be more in a position to consider Omicron as a minor bump in the road.

It currently takes a subset of available PCR tests plus a chunk of time to establish whether any given positive test result was triggered by Omicron. This data then needs to be cross-referenced against vaccination and infection histories before we can fully understand the new situation. The UK — mostly AZ and with a large number of prior infections — could be the canary in the coal mine. 

And good luck to anyone in charge of working out the rules for travel in 2022. 

Perhaps not...


It is surely too soon for anybody to make definitive prognostications about either the healthcare or economic impacts of a potential Omicron surge. 

Nevertheless, both Biden and Boris are starting to make glass-is-half-full statements that they may later regret. Boris fairly typically so. 

The Germans may be getting a bit goose-steppy about this, but they have seen the most alarming increase in case numbers and like the US and Israel, they have largely been Pfizered up to now. (Even the UK is seeing case numbers not seen since July.)

Biden seems suddenly keen to offload his Pfizer stockpile on the ROW! How considerate of him.

Let's just suppose that, worst case, he has to go cap in hand to the Russians, the Chinese or the Brits for an order of one of those oldy worldy, no compression, full spike vaccines, which one do you think he will pick?

Pfizer and Moderna may have a fix by March, but it will still be a JPG not a TIF formula, so the problem might just come around again in 2023.