Ignoring vacation and Celtic singing

The kid is supposedly 12 years old, but she sure can sing. 

Some time ago I came across this song on YouTube Music, and I thought it was beautiful. At the time, I did not see the video, and I did not know the lyrics. Not listening very closely, I assumed she was singing in Gaelic or some such Island Celtic language. I can’t tell what gave me that impression, maybe her accent, maybe the arrangement, but it was really hard for me to hear that it was English. (In my defense, it is my third language, and I use it mostly for reading and writing.) It was really only when she sang the last line, more slowly and clearly than the rest, that I realized that the song was at least partially in English.

I played it again, but still couldn’t make heads or tails of it, except for that recurring phrase, “away from the role of the sea”. (Roll, actually, but I can’t hear the difference.) There were other scattered words that sounded English, but they did not make sense in context. For instance, “ignoring vacation”? Why would someone ignore vacation in a sea of Gaelic? (Turns out it was “give no indication”, but I still today hear it as “ignoring vacation”, maybe because I have a tendency to do that myself.)

Anyway, it is a beautiful song. The fact that I can sense beauty to some degree gives me a modest hope that my soul is not entirely blackened and shriveled. Although I suppose my liberal friends may be right and I’m just a delusional ape. Eternity will show, or not as the case may be. But that can definitely wait. For now, I’m fine with this preview of the supposed nice version of eternity. Singing, harps, innocent kids. I can think of worse fates.

(Also, I should probably try to get some vacation before the year is over. I have something like 8 weeks left, I think.)

Humans are beautiful

This person does not exist

This person is so ordinary as to not even exist. Still beautiful to me, like millions of others.

I saw a question on Quora, one that appears again in different forms: Why hasn’t evolution made everyone beautiful like supermodels?

Well, supermodels are optimized for photography rather than reproduction, and photography is a very recent invention, so there is that. Also, beauty is not the only thing needed to have surviving grandchildren. There is a lot of hard work between this and that.

And yet, modern humans are for the most part amazingly beautiful. Compare them to the average Neanderthal or other archaic humans, and most humans now are amazingly refined. And things got even better once smallpox, cowpox, chickenpox and whatnot fled before the vaccination needles. These days many people even keep their teeth for decades, which doesn’t hurt their appearance either, I guess. Be that as it may, I sometimes find myself glancing at ordinary humans and admiring how beautiful they are.

If beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I have very beautiful eyes. For it seems to me that ordinary humans are beautiful indeed. If their behavior was as pleasing as their appearance, cities would be like a glimpse of paradise, despite the concrete and steel. (And yet most people truly want to be good, it is just really hard to do and easy to delay. I know, I have tried.) Sigurd Bratlie, the unpaid spiritual leader of Smith’s Friends back before the Revival, once mused that if people actually got a visible halo from being good, they would pay as much attention to their inner life as to their outside.

Yeah, people put in quite a bit of effort to look nice, but they also have a great deal of help from nature. I remember back in my more innocent days of this blog, back when I thought I was a fairly normal human, I wondered why my friend Supergirl made such an effort to paint her face each morning when she was beautiful already at the breakfast table. I don’t see a lot of people straight out of bed (and I never saw her in it, but she was definitely unpainted when she showed up) but from my limited sample, I’d say humans are almost always decorative.

I wish I could live for thousands, no, millions of years, if only so I could gaze on all the beauty of this one world, let alone the countless stars and galaxies beyond our reach. But if science gives humans such a lifespan, it won’t be in my time. And if God gives humans eternal life, it will likely be people more innocent than I. Still, I am glad to see beauty, and I believe it to be a Divine quality. Huston Smith compared it to seeing the sun reflected from a bit of broken glass. Although the broken glass is just broken glass, the light of the Sun is still real, coming from a far greater source. Maybe it really is so with human beauty as well, or maybe it really is in the eye of the beholder, a gift I can only enjoy and not share.

(As for the person in today’s picture, this person does not exist, but is computer-generated from millions of photos. It was the first to come up when I visited the site, and will never appear again. And neither will you, but hopefully you last longer.)

Now with more imiquimod

It’s so great to be alive! Long may it last.

I returned triumphant from the medicine man, who gave me an expensive and painful home treatment aginst the deathmark of the daystar, to stop it before the mark can develop into the consuming death curse.

Or in other words, the doctor confirmed that I had solar keratosis, skin damage caused by being out in the sunlight at various points in my past without sunscreen. (Probably some time ago, since I have avoided sunshine when possible lately to avoid migraines.) This keratosis can worsen over time and turn malignant, that is to say cancerous. Based on the size and appearance he was confident that we caught it in time, despite the appearance of a new blood vessel connecting to it. (Angiogenesis, the creation of new blood vessels, is one of several steps necessary for tumor-forming cancers. I remembered that from back when SuperWoman studied medicine in Germany. Well, also my tendency to remember weird stuff, as you may have noticed.)

The expensive and potentially somewhat painful remedy is imiquimod, which has nothing to do with iniquity (as far as I know) but was a treatment for genital and anal warts (why are these even in the same sentence everywhere) and then was discovered to also kill off skin cancers and pre-cancerous skin changes. It works by riling up the immune system locally, so killer cells attack any cells that look a bit weird. I hate it when people do that, but I guess for cells it is OK, as long as it stays local. When the immune system starts doing this all over the body, you get auto-immune diseases like lupus, which can be painful and even deadly. So this stuff is not something you wash down, it is something you put on your skin in the evening and wash off in the morning. It may still turn the spot red and tender or possibly even painful, but as they used to say in Eastern Europe: “Better red than dead.”

The doctor told me repeatedly that it was expensive, but it turned out to cost barely two full-price expansion packs for Sims 4. (OK, those are hilariously overpriced, but then they don’t treat or prevent cancer.) Medication and medical treatments are heavily subsidized in Norway, but they are not entirely free as some American socialists believe. There is a small copay so people don’t bother doctors and pharmacists on a lark. But there is a pretty low ceiling (approximately 6 expansion packs) on how much you can pay before you get an exemption card for the rest of the calendar year. I’ve had that a couple of times, but most years I don’t even have that much expenses. (I also don’t buy 6 expansion packs for EA games, but I totally would if they cured cancer.)

My next doctor appointment is in November, at which point we are supposed to see if the “sunspot” is gone. Look forward to it? (And possibly to a review of Sims 4 Cottage Living.)

Still mortal (after all these years)

Screenshot anime Hanada Shounen Shi.

Give me immortality or give me resurrection! Death is not on my wishlist at all. Unfortunately, it won’t always be up to me.

“My goal is to be immortal. So far, so good.” Uh, about that…

I am double-vaccinated against COVID-19, but I can still get cancer. And probably have, but we’ll know more about that by the end of August at the earliest. But when I saw the patch of red, scabby skin on my face had grown a new little blood vessel, I did not tarry overlong requesting a doctor appointment. Angiogenesis – the creation of new blood vessels – is not something bacteria or fungi can do, but cancers do this routinely as they mature, because without extra blood supply their growth is limited. So yeah, probably cancer this time, or at least a precancerous growth. Which sucks, but not as much as it did a couple of generations ago.

When I was a kid, the word “cancer” was pretty much a death sentence. But that is no longer the case, especially with cancers that are easily detected, like basal and squamous skin cancers. (This is probably one of those, if it has even advanced to the cancer stage at all.) Today, the greater risk for me is the simple and streamlined structure of Norwegian public health care (which is almost all the health care we have, except for a booming beauty industry).

***

Norwegian health care: Each person is assigned a regular doctor, called “fastlege” in Norwegian. Unfortunately this has nothing to do with the English words “fast” as in speedy, but rather means fixed, immovable doctor. (They can be replaced though, but it is a procedure.) Mine has been looking out for me for many years, most lately by gambling on me getting vaccinated in a far-away location without getting infected along the way. So I’m fine with the system in general. But doctors need a vacation too. Regular doctors, specialists, all kinds of health personnel celebrate the short Norwegian summer by taking a month or so off. Last time I was suspected to have cancer (false alarm, yay) I had to wait a couple of months for further investigation because of summer vacation. This time I am only waiting 1 month for my regular doctor, but of course it feels longer.

After seeing my doctor, he will hopefully apply for an appointment with a dermatologist. (Ideally my local doctor would remove the skin lesion first, but that may be too much to hope for.) Then a couple more months (possibly more since people have stayed away for 18 months during the pandemic). Hopefully the dermatologist will remove the thing and get it checked for cancer. I would like to have this done before Christmas, but again, there is likely a backlog from the pandemic. And I guess I have contributed to that, so fair is fair.

Generally, our health care has two lanes: Emergency and everything else. Cancer is not an emergency, at least not until it is too late. So it is perfectly normal for people to wait for months to diagnose and remove a small cancer, and then have a fortune of tax money spent trying in vain to get rid of all the metastases that were created during the wait. This may not be perfect, but it is simple and streamlined, the way we like things here in Norway. It wouldn’t be like this unless the people wanted it this way, what with us having a pretty effective democracy as such things go. A small downside of our current democracy is that dead people don’t vote. (Unlike what I hear from some other countries.) So if some feature causes people to get removed from the voting pool, those who suffered from it will not be around to vote against it.

***

Well, it is not like I was in doubt about the mortality of my flesh before. I am that age after all, where I could live another thirty years or another thirty seconds. You have to get used to it. “All flesh is grass” a better prophet than me once said. But episodes like this one remind me of the unofficial motto of the Chaos Node: “We must say all the words that should be spoken, before they are lost forever.” And I wonder if I have done that. Probably, and then some. But as long as you live, there are new things to learn.

Vaccinated, what now?

Selfie with partial QR-code

License to not kill: The small printout is a “corona passport” from the Norwegian authorities, verifying that I am mostly harmless when it comes to transmitting COVID-19. It is a good start, but is it all there is?

So I took the chance to travel a long distance by public bus to get vaccinated, and it paid off: I got injected, not infected. It was a gamble, since there was a major outbreak in the area, and I wish it had not been necessary, but it was, and paid off. In my own municipality, people my age are being given their first dose of vaccine this week, and the second dose in 12 weeks, or around the start of September! By now I have also received the second injection with artificial genes, and recently two weeks have gone since that, so I am no considered as protected against COVID-19 as humanly possible. Presumably getting infected in the supermarket is now less dangerous than drinking the Pepsi I sometimes buy there.

For many people in the same situation, the obvious conclusion is to return to the same lifestyle they had before the pandemic. I am sure there are many who are genuinely hoping for that. But we are also many who think that’s too early, and some of us even suspect that there will be a new normal, one that is different from all that has been before.

But let us take the first thing first. As I mentioned, I was “privileged” with a chronic illness that is usually not hindering a moderately active lifestyle, but which could make COVID-19 even much more dangerous than it already is at my age. That is the reason why I was packed off to another municipality for early vaccination. But all around me here are other people in their 60es who are not vaccinated at all, or so recently that their immune system has not yet been set up properly to recognize the virus. And most people in their 50es don’t even have an appointment yet. But for the last couple of months at least, patients in their 50es have actually been the largest group at the hospitals here in Norway. Very few of them die, but those who get that sick tend to not recover fully in months, if ever.

Here in Norway, we don’t really have a problem with large groups avoiding vaccination because of superstition or following the teachings of insane or evil leaders who relish human suffering. So that’s good, even though we have a tiny minority who are personally too confused in their brain to understand the value of vaccination. And of course, there are a few who simply cannot be immunized, because of some genetic disorder, or because of transplants, or some such. In total, there is a large number of people who can still be infected. And we know that it is possible for a double-vaccinated person to get symptomatic COVID-19, although in Norway at least we have not had any severe cases. But even infections so light that you don’t get symptoms, can still shed virus for a while.

The main purpose of the vaccine is not really to protect us as individuals, although that may be our motivation to get it. It certainly was for me, because I am just that selfish. But the real plan is to achieve herd immunity, where there are so many vaccinated people that the virus simply gives up. We achieved that with smallpox, we almost achieved it with measles and polio before some evil or insane people starting seeding rumors that caused gullible and disturbed souls to reject vaccination. Now we will probably have to be on guard against these diseases for the foreseeable future.

It will probably be something similar for COVID-19, with waves of infections coming to Norway from the USA and developing nations, only to fail after a short time because most people are vaccinated. It seems that many of the vaccinated overcome the virus before it has time to replicate, even if some (especially older people) get sick for a short time. Statistics show that as vaccinations go up (at least with mRNA vaccine), transmission of disease goes down. In Norway, so far around 97% have chosen vaccination among the groups that have had the chance. This should be enough to stop the virus near the border, before it gets a chance to find the few vulnerable.

But that is all still in the future. For now, we need to show restraint. Avoid close contact with strangers (“ale and whores” as one says in the roleplaying community), stay home if sick, use masks in dense indoor settings.

The masks are probably come to stay. In East Asia, it has already for a time been normal to wear a mask if you have a cold or people around you have a cold. It is not seen there as a sign of covardice, but of acting responsibly and not causing problems for others. I believe this has a good chance of becoming the rule here in Norway as well. In the USA, it seems masks are now a political symbol, so they are probably going to stay in part of the population for that reason. That’s not how it was supposed to be, but luckily the USA is only 333 million people out of almost 8 billion. From the global perspective, the important thing is to get everyone who wants, vaccinated, and until then be careful to not cause more suffering and death than there has already been.

 

A final (?) hurdle

Friendly bear surrounded by human family

Image taken from YouTube video “15 awkward families you won’t believe actually exist”. The places we will go for our readers… It will all make sense at the end, trust me. 

Anyway, I’m still alive, long may it last. Actually, that’s what I’m writing about today.

My native Norway is frequently mentioned as the world’s best country to live in. And that is probably true if you are a Norwegian, as I am. I am sure most Americans would rather live in America and most Israelites in Israel. Most of my American friends are already vaccinated against COVID-19, while I am not, despite being 62 years old and having paroxysmal atrial fibrillation, a condition associated with severe comorbidity with COVID-19. (Oddly enough my asthma seems to have no such effect.)

But real soon now, on April 29th, I am slated to receive my mRNA vaccine. (The two readily available vector vaccines, from AstraZeneca and Johnson&Johnson, are put on hold indefinitely in Norway because they can cause a fatal autoimmune response in women of fertile age. You don’t mess with our women without someone getting punished. In this case us. Countless men and older women will have to wait longer for their vaccines.) But finally it is my turn. Except of course it is not without a twist.

***

I am not the author of this world, or even the main character. But I am the viewpoint character, the observer who collapses the wave function and open’s the box to see whether Schroedinger’s cat is alive or dead. And it gets personal when the cat is me, and I am about to open that box.

You can’t have a good story without some drama to test the characters, they say. But sometimes this plot point can seem a bit contrived. Just look at this.

I live in Mandal, a sleepy little town on the south coast of Norway. The vaccination center for our town is within walking distance from my home. Not close, certainly, but enough that I would walk there with some regularity to change ownership of the Ingress portal there, back when I played Ingress. So not extremely far. I reasonably assumed that I would go there to get my vaccine, and then go home. But that would not be much of a plot twist, would it?

No, our benevolent government has instead given me an appointment on the opposite side of the nearest city of some size, Kristiansand, roughly an hour and a half away by bus. And bus it is, since I have not needed a car before the pandemic, and a pandemic is not really the time to start learning to drive a car. I could take a taxi, which would cost a lot more (taxi rides are very expensive in Norway) and still carry the risk of infection, just from the driver instead of fellow passengers. There’s no keeping distance in a taxi.

Luckily, Norway has been one of the least infected countries outside Oceania, with its sensible government, affluent population, and lots of space. We’re currently coming down from our fourth wave of the disease, but they have all been moderate by global standards, and we’re almost back down to the level before this wave and the last. So the risk should not be too great? Of course I signed up. The alternative was to go to the back of the line, probably in September sometime.

PLOT TWIST! A wild contagion appears! (“Wild contagion” is the literal translation of the Norwegian word “villsmitte”. In English it is called “community transmission”, which sounds like a collaboration project for making car parts. English is weird, y’all.) Suddenly after I signed up, my quiet little town has its biggest outbreak since the first wave, enough to make it to national newspapers. The Norwegian Institute of Public Health is intervening, there is mass testing and quarantining of contacts, but new cases keep popping up and one health worker is already dead. It is quite Texas here. Meaning anyone boarding that bus along with me could kill me just by breathing. (Unless they were a mask, which very few Norwegians do because it is traditionally associated with crime.) SUSPENSE!

***

As insane as this all seems, I have a pretty good idea of what happened. It is not simply the bureaucracy randomly doing random things. Rather it stems from the way the Norwegian primary health care is organized, with each citizen being assigned to a default doctor. You can choose another one, and you get to choose again every time you move. I lived in the rural municipality of Søgne, between here and Kristiansand, for over 20 years, and got my regular doctor there. That’s the guy who think most problems can be fixed with more exercise, and he is probably right about that. I have at least never had any compelling reason to change, so I kept him even when I moved here. It is certainly not within walking distance, but not very far either.

Last year there was yet another poltically induced reform, merging municipalities, especially towns absorbing the nearby rural communities. Søgne was eaten by Kristiansand which is bigger than Mandal. (Mandal got the villages west of it, and changed name to Lindesnes since tourists know the name. I still say Mandal.)

The government has probably assigned vaccination destination based on where my regular doctor is located, not on where I live. The reason for this is that the regular doctors were asked to go through the lists of citizens and see if there were any who should go ahead in the line. That probably happened to me, because of the heart troubles: The schedule for my municipality says that the last of those over 65 would be vaccinated the first week of May, and I am 62 and it is still April, just barely. So my turn would probably have come sometime in May, if not my friendly regular doctor had remembered me and recommended I be pushed a few weeks forward in the queue. Little did he know that he risked my life by doing so. If I had declined my appointment, I would go to the back of the line, which is currently estimated to be September sometime.

***

A unique Norwegian expression, as far as I know, is “bear service” (in Norwegian “bjørnetjeneste”). It is based on the story of a guy who raised a bear cub. The grown bear was quite fond of the man, and one day when he saw a fly land on the man’s head, he decided to help by swatting the fly. Unfortunately he killed the man in the process. Based on this story, the expression has become a common part of the Norwegian language: To do someone a bear service is to try to help them, but harming them instead. It is quite common and I’m sure I’ve done it myself more than once. But obviously health care is one area where such services have extraordinary effects.

Then again, I may survive. It’s happened before.

I win again, NaNoWriMo!

Screenshot anime Konasuba

Picking up women is overrated. (Screenshot from the anime version of Konasuba, widely seen as the best Isekai parody so far. I am not going to steal the first place this time either. But at least I wrote a whole novel, which is its own kind of heavy lifting unless you have trained long and hard.) 

Purrfect timing, as the resident catgirl of the team would say. On the last day of the (Inter)National Novel Writing Month, I finished the first draft of this year’s project, Crystal Dungeons. A moderately westernized variant of the Isekai Light Novel genre, it fits just fine in 51677 words. I’ve written so many things for so many years, but this is really the first time that I have naturally arrived at the natural conclusion in roughly the allotted size. I mean, the first time in my life, seriously. Usually it needs padding or cutting to get close to the target word count for the type of novel I write. This time, things just fell into place with minimal guidance to the muses. The big boss fight happened where it should, followed by the foreshadowed reveal that throws open the possibility of sequels, while still giving a satisfying ending to the book.
I’m temporarily impressed by myself. I would totally have paid $2.99 for this on Amazon (after proofreading).

Proofreading is tentatively planned for January, if I live and have the health and haven’t forgotten the whole thing. ^_^ If I try to proofread now, I’ll see what is in my head instead of what’s on the screen, because the story is still in there, at least loosely.

***

Isekai novels are a big thing in Japan, I understand, and there is a certain formula that has become very popular. It centers on a young man, typically teenager or early 20es, who is transported to a magical world or allowed to go there after his death. The world is often similar to a computer role-playing game. Due to some contrived circumstance, he is made superior to other people in that world, with exceptional magic and physical skills, and go around casually righting wrongs and assembling a harem of sorts. (There is usually no actual sex in the novels that are translated to English at least, but it is certainly implied that there will be eventually.)

Naturally you can only write the same story in so many ways before it starts to get stale, so we get a lot of branching trends. Some have female protagonists, who typically assemble friends instead of potential lovers. Some have older people as protagonists, but usually they become young again near the start and things proceed much the same way.

Then there are stories that subvert the trope, as we say: The premise is almost the same, but an important detail makes it all different. For instance, two popular series have the protagonist incarnate as low-grade monsters, a slime and a spider respectively. In the end they soon become excessively powerful in their own way, but it is less instantaneous and obviously their new form puts some limits to socialization…

There are edgy stories like Shield Hero, where the hero is rejected and betrayed by the world he came to save, becomes an outcast and does some morally questionable things before gradually being redeemed.

Finally there are outright parodies, like Konasuba, where things go horribly wrong in comical ways, over and over.

***

My vague idea for this National Novel Writing Month was a lighthearted half-parody on the standard trope: The main character gets to make requests (wishes) for what powers he wants to have in the magical world, but the requests are interpreted more literally than he expected.
–He wants great magic power, which he gets, but without the ability to actually cast magic spells.
–He wants an ultimate ability that kicks in to let him win life and death fights. This power turns out to be “Death cry”: When he is killed, he revives by draining the lifeforce of those who killed him, basically switching place with their life/death status.
-He wants the chance to pick up women in dungeons. (This is a direct reference to the title of another popular series: “Is It Wrong to Try to Pick Up Girls in a Dungeon?”) This is taken literally by the powers that be, so he ends up carrying around women for one reason or another, and they are rather heavier than he imagined.

In the end, however, while all this is part of the 51677 words I wrote, it ended up not really being a comedy. It is mostly lighthearted, but not laugh-out-loud funny for the most part. There is also drive-by commentary on racism, sexual harassment, worker exploitation, and the fact that the most beautiful people are not necessarily the ones you should trust. But there is plenty of banter, flirting, misunderstandings, and the occasional pun. So, fluffy, but not pure wish-fulfillment.

Looking back at the book I wrote, I suspect that the way the “gods” granted his requests was actually better for all involved than the way he imagined beforehand. So I guess in that one way it is a little autobiographical…

COVID-19: Sing alone, if at all

Screenshot anime MomoKuri

“I’ve disinfected my hands.” Unfortunately, disinfecting your hands may not be enough, or even the most important thing this time.

The COVID-19 pandemic has entered its second wave here in Europe. In much of the Americas and some other parts of the world, the first wave is not even over. Ironically, a vaccine seems to be only a few months away. If only we could keep it away a brief time longer!

At least we know more about how it is transmitted now. Or at least some of us know. So I thought I should say a few words about that. (A few words, hah.)

When the pandemic was new, we were in the strange situation of having its entire genome but not knowing for sure how it spread. This has never happened before, and it may have caused some of the jumping to conclusions that made the first wave so bad. See, the genome showed that the virus was fairly closely related to the original SARS virus from 2002. In fact, the new virus was named SARS-CoV-2 and still is. So it seemed a reasonable assumption that it spread similarly. Not quite the same way obviously, but perhaps that way too.

The original SARS was infamous for spreading by indirect contact. Its first “shock and awe” episode was when several people died after touching the same elevator button as a patient. As a result, some of the first advice was to wash your hands thoroughly and for a long time with soap, disinfect door handles and other shared surfaces, and not touch your face. (Leaving alone the stupidity of telling people to not touch their face, which even the health advisors continued to do at the press conferences where they told people not to do it, it is actually only the eyes, nostrils and mouth that needs avoiding even with surface contamination. Unbroken skin is very resistant to virus infection, even when it is thin.) People were also encouraged to wash perishable food (but not with chemicals!) and disinfect packaging, and let non-perishables stand untouched for three days to let the virus die.

Today we know that while this “hygiene theater” is mostly harmless, it is also mostly useless when it comes to COVID-19. The virus is mostly airborne, and resides in droplets that come out of people’s mouth and occasionally nose. Larger droplets fall to the ground after a distance of around 6 feet or close to 2 meters. But it has gradually become necessary to admit that a main pathway – perhaps THE main pathway – of transmission is aerosols,  or micro-droplets if you will use a more understandable name. These are so small and lightweight, they can float in he air for hours. And they are expelled even when breathing, particularly through the mouth, even more so when breathing heavily or talking, very much when talking loudly, and excessively when singing.

The great “shock and awe” episode of COVID-19, at least in the western world, was when a large part of a choir died after singing together, despite keeping the recommended distance and not facing each other. Similar but lesser episodes have happened elsewhere, among other places in Sweden where a local outbreak started after a song gathering. Here in Norway, a severe outbreak started in a Muslim community and spread to many schools after a festival.

Unlike some virus, the severity of this one seems to depend somewhat on how much virus you inhale, if you have a functioning immune system at all. Inhaling just a few virus seems to not cause infection at all in most, while inhaling a small dose will usually cause a mild disease except in the very old or sickly. Conversely, health workers who are exposed to massive doses of the virus often get critically ill and sometimes die, even when young and healthy.

In this situation, you would expect teachers to die like canaries in a coal mine, given how ubiquitous singing is in especially primary school. But there is one thing that comes to their rescue: The amazing ability of children to infect everyone around them with every germ that comes to town.

A Swedish study showed that in a control group who had not had COVID-19, about 1/3 still had T-cells that reacted against the virus. It is believed that these had been exposed to other corona-virus which cause common cold. (Please note that there are many different virus that cause “common cold”, which is merely a set of symptoms and not a particular species of virus.) There are at least four common colds that come from corona-virus, the latest one having split from bovine corona-virus around 1880. It is possible that the current pandemic will eventually join this crowd and become a recurring but mostly harmless cold, but for now it must be taken much more seriously. The good news is that most kids and their teachers probably have some resistance to it already because they have been exposed to related virus.

That said, if at all possible, singing should be suspended for the duration of the pandemic, or until a vaccine or effective treatment is widely available. Locales should be aired as much as feasible, and any activity that can take place outdoors should do so. Outdoors, the micro-droplets will rapidly disperse: Even if there is no breeze, convection and Brownian motion will quickly remove them from face height. This would explain why the large demonstrations in many countries this summer had minimal effect, while weddings and birthday celebrations are pure murder, since they tend to be held indoors in whole or in part.

For more reading, not by me, Elemental has an article on this topic, partly overlapping with mine but with a different focus: The most likely way you’ll get infected with COVID-19

So secure

Screenshot anime Aho-girl

Boys feel insecure unless you tell them with words… and Google feels insecure unless you use SSL. Sometimes I too feel insecure, and need a reminder.

It is way past decent bedtime but I think I have manage to activate SSL to the point where my website defaults to https. Or in other words, hopefully once your cache clears, you should be able to visit Chaosnode.net without your browser screaming “This site has been taken over by the forces of evil! Flee for your life!” as it has done for some time now. I was a bit baffled about this since the site has been encrypted by Let’s Encrypt for, oh, a year or two? But Google still had to be prodded with a cattleprod to have anything to do with it. Hopefully that should end now, because the site is so secure.

***

Speaking of Google, their YouTube thought this was a good time to bring up again some songs I listened to in October last year. I agree, although probably not for the reasons they believe. Perhaps another Big G is also tweaking their routines, who knows. Because a song came up that made me cry then, and it made me cry again tonight. (But I dried my tears and continued to research the SSL, because I love you.)

The song is called You Are The Light and is by Kanon, a Japanese songstress of some good repute. I discovered this song because it is popular the same audience as the song This Is My Road  which was performed in excerpt with the anime Guin Saga, based on a work that was unfortunately left unfinished due to the untimely demise of its author. I guess I should take that as a reminder. “We must say all the words that should be spoken, before they are lost forever” used to be a motto of this site, once upon a time. Once upon a brighter time, I guess we can say.

The refrain of the song goes like this:

You are the light, you are my hope,
I’m so secure ’cause with you now.

I hope you too are so secure  now. And Light willing, I may write more another time. But for now, I uploaded the brief entry I wrote back then, on October 1 last year. Back then, I tried to embed the song and type out the text I heard, even if not much more. I have no idea if those who know me will understand why it hit me like it did. But it is worth a try. Here it is: Singing to the Light, in the dark.

 

COVID-19: Be like Norway, maybe?

“Be like Sweden” they said. “It will be fun, they said.” (Image from the Swedish course on Duolingo.com.)

Since I am still alive (surprise!), I should probably write this. It is still a time of confusion for many, and a time of uncertainty even for me. How long I shall remain in the world of forms is literally up in the air. But at least I am still alive as of writing this. And living in Norway may be a big part of that.

“Be like Sweden” say homemade banners from people who are not usually big fans of the Nordic social democracy. Social Democracy is generally grouped with Socialism among those who have no education in the field beyond hearsay and rumors. So what did Sweden do to summon forth this sudden love? It allowed a few thousand people to die for the economy, it seems.

I should make it clear that we are not talking about “Hey, we have too many old people here, let’s kill some of them off for the good of all of us, except the ones who are dead.” Nope, nothing like that. More like “Some of you are going to die, probably, but that is a sacrifice I am willing to make.” Obviously, with COVID-19 being a brand new disease, nobody knew for sure how many might die, but optimism prevailed. It was thought that children were immune and also could not spread the virus, and that maybe 95% of those infected never developed the disease at all, or not beyond a common cold. Hey, seriously, people believed that for a while. So much like any drunk driver, Sweden took the chance that it would probably be fine. Well, they were kind of right, in that only 5000 have died so far (officially at least) out of 10 million. Of course, those who died might have seen it in a less positive light.

My native Norway, Sweden’s smaller brother to the west, was || this close to taking the same path. But our female Prime Minister chickened out and slammed the emergency brakes. As a result Norway could open up again around the time Sweden realized that things were not really going as well as expected.

***

On March 12, the Norwegian government declared the most severe restrictions in peacetime ever. (Arguably the most severe ever, since we’ve only been in war once after our independence in 1905, and then it was the German occupation force that introduced the severity.) Schools and kindergartens were closed down, as were one-on-one services like hairdressers or physical therapy; gatherings of more than 5 people outside the household were forbidden, and travel was severely restricted even inside the country while the borders were closed almost completely. Health personnel were forbidden from leaving the country, and others who crossed the borders were required to quarantine on return.

Groceries and supermarkets were kept open and it was made clear that they would remain so. This prevented most of the hoarding seen in some other nations. Actually, my local supermarket had a sale on toilet paper at the time when lack of toilet paper was a recurring headline in many other countries. There was some extra sale of dry and canned food. (I had shopped that a month or two in advance, since it was glaringly obvious already in January that the pandemic would hit us like a giant wave.)

I had also worked from home for a while when the order came for all office workers to work from home wherever possible. Mass transit was ordered to leave every other seat marked as unavailable. Like that would be enough, as one person sneezing in a bus will reach at least half the bus if not all of it. Data so far imply that mass transit has been the main scene of transmission along with shared workspace, so sending most office workers home was probably the single most effective move, far more than some of the more draconian restrictions.

By the end of April, the first wave of the pandemic was fast receding in Norway, and society began to open up.

***

The re-opening of Norway started with kindergarten, as one could expect since it is quite rare to have stay-at-home parents here, of either gender. If you’ve ever seen pre-school children awake, you probably can imagine what having them around would do for productivity at the home office. Even grade school kids tend to get restless pretty quickly if they don’t get attention (especially if they don’t have the good luck to be born introverts). So a week after their smaller siblings, the first four grades of primary school were off to class, followed by the rest in early May.

Also in early May, gatherings of up to 20 people were allowed, or 50 for formal gatherings in public spaces. Recommended distance was lowered from 2 meters (yards) to 1.

In May, the rapid fall in new infections stopped and the disease stabilized on a very low level, typically 10-20 new cases registered per day, in a population of 5 million. For some reason everyone seems happy with having rolled the boulder almost to the top of the hill and leaving it there, ready to roll all the way back down again, rather than end the threat more definitely. One reason for that can be seen by looking over the border to the east: Neighboring Sweden still had a raging epidemic, even though the top of the first wave had been passed even there. The top was far higher though, and the decline slower. Eradicating the disease in Norway was perhaps pointless if anyone sneaking across the border could set it off again from the start.

***

It is now late June, and contrary to my expectations, we have not had a second wave. The number of infections has increased marginally, occasionally rising above 30 new cases per day. We also know that there are some unregistered cases, because we get new patients who have no idea where they were infected. There are probably some asymptomatic carriers, or people with so mild symptoms that they can’t be bothered to get tested, as well as people who avoid health personnel or anything resembling government for personal reasons. The testing capacity is far, far higher than needed, although there are occasionally unnecessary wait times for results. Mostly just a couple days though.

Norwegians have been encouraged to vacation in Norway, meaning evidently that they are supposed to travel to other parts of Norway on vacation instead of staying at home as would be the sane thing to do. Now they are going to throng together at the popular tourist spots (one of which is right here where I live) and we can expect local outbreaks.

***

Speaking of local outbreaks, one reason the topic came to mind again was that a shop worker sneezed right by me this past Friday. Nobody here wears face masks – by ancient tradition, only criminals wear masks outside certain parts of hospitals – so now I’m waiting to see whether I got COVID-19 or not. A bit of excitement in everyday life, since I’m in a couple risk groups. That said, there’s been like 1 registered case in this province so far in June, so if I get COVID-19 from this episode I think we’ll have to chalk it up to Divine intervention. Which admittedly seems to play a pretty big role in my life, looking back on it, but usually for the better. Starting with the amazingly great fortune of being born into Norwegian citizenship, which is already like winning a lottery.