Tuesday, 21 April 2020

Opinions on SARS-CoV-2: How Long Should We Hide?

Moments may fly whilst the weeks drag.
Asian countries are now seeing second waves of the virus [1] after easing lockdown. Long term the only solution is herd immunity, either through most people catching it or a vaccine. Then the virus dies out, until the next one or it mutates. That's assuming you can only catch it once and we'll develop a vaccine, neither is guaranteed but both seem likely.

For the furloughed middle class, sitting at home, the virus is a scary inconvenience. For others the lockdown is bringing ruin, delayed treatment, mental health problems, increased abuse, destroyed businesses and families and even suicide. Poverty kills, stress kills, lockdown kills too.

Meanwhile it's still the case that something like 9 out of 10 deaths due to COVID-19 (SARS-CoV-2) are people with other serious health complications [2][3]. It's also the case that the mortality rate is a lot lower than reported because we're doing so little testing and a lot of people who have it are asymptomatic (maybe half according to an Italian study - or vastly more than half according to the recent - and probably flawed - Stanford study. [4][5][6][7])

The bug is dangerous, but only substantially if you're in one of the vulnerable categories. If you're not it's likely unpleasant at worst, unnoticed at best. If this is true this is very good news, for the mortality rate to be much lower than we've assumed and to already be more widespread than we were aware might make fighting it harder but it would also mean it's less of a danger than we think.

If that's true, for vulnerable people the best policy could be for them to stay isolated and everyone else to go out (gradually - managed), get the bug, develop herd immunity. Let the virus burn itself out. Sacrifice the strong to save the weak. You'd need "cold zones" in hospitals to protect the very vulnerable from catching it, something they're trying to do at the moment.

This is the approach countries like Sweden and Belarus are taking and was what the UK government, under scientific advice, was trying to do but the public baulked. [8]

Currently it's that or hide forever.

If the lockdown lasts until June OBR (Office for Budget Responsibility) estimates we'll see GDP down 35%, unemployment up to 10% and huge public debt [9]. That's serious.

There are experts who agree and experts who don't. Make your own mind up what you think and let's see how it plays out. Nothing else we can do really. 

But don't worry, in the meantime we can always borrow more money from our children to get us through these times (and pay the interest on it - government debt is borrowing from the future and Britain used to have a budget surplus!) and blame the government for a global shortage of PPE. Be thankful you don't live in the US where they're already spending most of their budget on interest payments [10] whilst borrowing more, their healthcare costs are out of control and who knows what will happen with COVID-19, plus their military spending is vast and fails every audit. That house of cards comes crashing down some day and who knows what else falls with it.

California is a beautiful metaphor for the US, so wealthy but bleeding itself dry to make almond milk.

"But secondly, nine in 10 did have pre-existing illnesses, such as heart disease and respiratory problems that put them at heightened risk of death anyway."

[3]These figures say about 8 out of 10, but including some "unknown".

[3] Reference for the Italian study (not yet peer reviewed): https://www.medrxiv.org/content/10.1101/2020.04.17.20053157v1

[4] Here's a link to a South Korean study of 140 000 people finding a mortality rate of 0.6% https://www.businessinsider.com/south-korea-coronavirus-testing-death-rate-2020-3?r=US&IR=T

[5] A link to a BBC article with an interesting snippet about Swine Flue (H1N1):
One example is the H1N1 pandemic of 2009, known as swine flu. Early case fatality rate estimates were inflated by a factor of more than 10. Even 10 weeks into the epidemic, estimates varied widely between countries, coming in between 0.1% and 5.1%. When medics later had a chance to go through case documents and evaluate cases, the actual H1N1 case death rate was far lower, at 0.02%.

[6] 21 days ago, and things change quickly, but this article shows varying mortality rates by age.

A recent study of COVID-19 cases in the United States estimated a mortality rate of 10% to 27% for those ages 85 and over, 3% to 11% for those ages 65 to 84, 1% to 3% for those ages 55 to 64 and less than 1% for those ages 20 to 54.
[7] All the figures also show higher mortality rates, for example Italy, when the health service is overrun. Flattening the curve is not useless, but there is a cost - it prolongs the virus and the lockdown.

[8] https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/health-51979654

Is the virus bringing forward deaths by a few months? 
Every year, about 600,000 people in the UK die. And the frail and elderly are most at risk, just as they are if they have coronavirus. 
Nearly 10% of people aged over 80 will die in the next year, Prof Sir David Spiegelhalter at the University of Cambridge points out, and the risk of them dying if infected with coronavirus is almost exactly the same

[10] Most is a slight exaggeration. US debt servicing is estimated to be 3% of GDP by 2024. US public debt was $16.8 trillion in 2018/19.

"Deep calls to deep in the roar of your waterfalls;
all your waves and breakers
have swept over me."

Sunday, 19 April 2020

Stuck in the Living Room Dreaming of a New TV

Imagine if normal was a real thing.
The OLED 4K TVs I like, either the LG OLED55C9PLA 55" or the Panasonic TX-55GZ950B 55", have come down in price to around £1300. That's still more than I'd like to spend on a TV but they're gorgeous and we haven't yet made the jump to 4K. The Panasonic has the edge supporting the newer HDR10+ standard for High Dynamic Resolution and better display of blacks in the details. I'll keep the old TV because no-one is really making passive 3D displays any more and I adore Avatar in 3D.

We've been getting by using a PS3 and a 2nd gen Apple TV as media centres. Since we moved the living room around we no longer have an aerial or wired internet to the TV, so no live TV channels and no iPlayer.

Disney+ arrived and is fantastic. We're enjoying the Mandalorian, we've started The Simpsons from the start and there's a good selection of movies. Unfortunately the app didn't stream well from an iPhone to the Apple TV, so in lieu of pulling the trigger on a new TV I bought an Apple TV 4K. I saved a bit of money by buying a refurbished one from Ebay, but it comes without a year's subscription to the Apple services so it was a bit of a false economy. As it's the 4K model it's future proofed against me ever actually buying a new TV.

It's great. It has games on it, which include Jetpack Joyride and Rayman Adventures, both of which I think I'd already bought on the iPhone, and a good selection of free games and apps. There's even a Wii style tennis game using the Apple TV controller as a motion sensor racket.

It has Disney+, Amazon Prime, Netflix, Sky News and CNN News and BBC iPlayer, plus the ITV, channel four and five catchup apps which I doubt we'll use.

We're still using the PS3 as a blu-ray player and are finally working our way through our extensive and mostly unwatched collection. Ben has now mastered all of the Little Big Planet games on the PS3 and I'm playing Portal 2 with him. Irina has Animal Crossing on the Switch which mostly occupies her.

When the PS5 finally comes out I might make the jump to the PS4. At the moment I'm still loving the PS3. Anyone want to play the Modern Warfare 2 co-op missions?

One confounder is that when VR is ready, and it so nearly is the Occulus Quest is great fun, it would be nice to have a single VR/gaming/media system instead of the multiple boxes I have or might have. Sony PlayStation is most likely to deliver that although their VR isn't ready yet and I'd want a 4K disk player as well. I like consoles, I like a system that lasts years, I'm not jumping to a PC and having to debug my media player. Oh, the Apple TV has a really nice screensaver and I still have some good music on their system.

I still have work for the UKAEA on the BLUEPRINT fusion reactor design software and that's going fine. Delia is decorating Irina's room and listening to podcasts about something called a Yoni.

We're mostly coping with the isolation. Happy Sunday.

"God" might be the product of evolution. They're how the unconscious mind visualises and interacts with everything. And what the conscious thinks it believes is irrelevant, maybe."

Friday, 10 April 2020

On Being a Wizard or a Witch

A way is the only true way. All ways is the only true way.
I posted this meme on Facebook, I think he's right, and someone made this response about Alan Moore:
I'm going to ignore the fact that this is coming from a man who claims both that he is a wizard, and that the comic book industry was run by the mafia.
Now I'm pretty sure DC and Marvel do in fact count as a mafia. As for calling himself a wizard, that's clever. You don't do it because you believe it, that would be daft it doesn't even mean anything, you do it because some people will believe you and have faith in you which is powerful.

Personally I identify as a Witch, but that's just my religion. My favoured flavour of witchcraft is a syncretism of Druidism and The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. Druidism is the religion of the land of the Britons, from the time of Boudica and now my land. The magical system of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn is based on Hebrew mysticism. I'm Jewish and lived in a Christian cult as a true believer, without money or personal possessions, for ten years. So I know Hebrew mysticism pretty well. So it seemed like a natural fit. According to the Romans the Druids practised human sacrifice. All that is written of the Druids comes handed down to us from the Romans, who got the secrets of the Druids from a traitor and were gleefully published by Julius Caesar. The legend is that it was after slaughtering the Druids, and ending the religion, in Anglesey the Roman legion marched on the Celtic uprising led by Boudica. Julius Caesar and Tacitus were both horrible liars though.

It's perhaps worth noting that Britain has a rich magical history. The term "British Empire" is said to have first been coined by one John Dee, court astrologer and occultist to Queen Elizabeth the First.

The contemporary druid movement is a re-imagining of the religion that has its roots in the nineteenth century European occult revival credited to Eliphas Lévi Zahed, born Alphonse Louis Constant, who wrote in impenetrable high French.

Alphonse Constant was a contemporary of Schopenhaur. Following on from Descartes, who famously in his second meditation concluded that the only possible certainty was I Am, Schopenhaur described all you could know of life as "will and representation". Your capacity to effect change and the forms of the mind. "Therefore despair" was his conclusion although he led a decadent life.

Alphonse Constant came to the same realisation, that all there is is will and imagination, but his conclusion was: therefore magic.

But the ancient gods are shrouded by millennia passed. The Druids now worship the old nameless ones who used to demand human sacrifice. Maybe.

Wizard and witch are both agender terms and are non-exclusive. I'm a witch by religion and a wizard by the practise of a magical system and the development of the same as theory. The study of magic in theory and practise is the purview of the wizard.

The trouble with the term Wizard being agender is that that like the pharaohs before us, in whose tradition we follow, a beard is a tribal identifier. The women pharaohs, of which there were not none, would wear a fake beard to honour the tradition. Hence perhaps the association of the Wizard with the male. (Further addendum. The pharaohs were odd and who knows where the magical tradition originated. The male pharaohs were clean shaven and also wore false beards.)

It was the Egyptian magical system that was defeated by Moses and the Hebrews in the ancient legend of Exodus. This makes it unsurprising that modern mystical systems such as those of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn follow in the footsteps of the Egyptian magical system via Hebrew mysticism.

I am a wizard in the order of Technomancer. Follower of Ganesha, the spiritual archetype of Engineering & Science. The remover of obstacles. As an ordained Dudeist priest I hold the office of Heirophant in the Cult of Isis. The Cult of Isis is a matriarchy, as is my witchcraft, but the Heirophant is a masculine archetype of moral rectitude and right thinking. Matched with a high priestess, of course.

You can trace much of modern Nihilism through Schopenhaur. I much prefer where we have ended up, with Positive Nihilism: the only meaning and purpose that can exist is the meaning and purpose we create amongst ourselves.

"Society is what doesn't fix climate change. Society is what allows homelessness. Society is what oppresses the poor, the non-white, the LGBT community the different. I'm not such a fan of society. I certainly don't feel like I owe it anything."

Vipassana Meditation

Interdisciplinary approaches yield insights

Vipassana Buddhism teaches us that the default state of mind is "monkey mind", jumping from one thing to the next. Vipassana means "insight" or "clear thinking" and is the path of wisdom.

In mindfulness we let go of distraction to return to the breath. After a little while we may enter "access concentration" where we are less distracted.

We may push distractions away so  far they do not return and all there is is breath. Time has stopped, flow state.

This is Dyana or Jhana. The place where you step back into the garden of the mind and the work of tending the garden is the same work as enjoying it.

Mindfulness is the practise of relaxed focus, alert but rested awareness. Mind calm like a still lake, reflecting what it sees. The aim of the practise of mindfulness is the cultivation of the habit of conscious awareness. Habits maketh a person.

I learned Vipassana meditation, both mindfulness of breathing and the Metta Bhavna as taught by the Buddha in his sutras, from the Friends of the Western Buddhist Order when I was in Cambridge at university. I also saw the beauty of Tai Chi as a form of worship with them.

I understood then how mindfulness of breathing worked and why and that it was beautiful. The practise of mindfulness is the practise of relaxed focus, of alert but still concentration.The Metta Bhavana I had a strange relationship with.

Around 2011, about the time of the birth of my first child, I sought to return to my spiritual centre. I pursued my search through the religious practise of mindfulness of breathing meditation, one hour a day, six days a week for seven years or so. Alongside Christian worship as a spiritual practise instead of the Metta Bhavana.

It was transformational.

Tai Chi is also self-defence and Christians see worship as warfare.

Zen is the Japanese form of Buddhism. The Zen meditation is Zazen, which I consider harder than mindfulness of breathing. Zazen is sometimes translated as "just sitting", because that's how you do it. You just sit.
"Not thinking about anything is Zen. Once you know this, walking, sitting, or lying down, everything you do is Zen."
     — Bodhidharma
Not thinking, being.
“Zen does not confuse spirituality with thinking about God while one is peeling potatoes. Zen spirituality is just to peel the potatoes.”
― Alan Watts
But really I think you should say, neither thinking nor not thinking is Zen. Zen merely is.

The Buddha taught living in the now as the path out of suffering, as did another great spiritual teacher.
Matthew 6:34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

"People wield their moral code like weapons. But judging them against their own code usually undoes them. Don't tell them your moral code. None of their business."

Thursday, 2 April 2020

A Few Books that Have Shaped Me

A rigid mind that is unable to change will eventually break.

From when I was a child there were Billy Bunter, Just William, Jennings, Roald Dahl, The Famous Five, The Secret Seven, Swallows and Amazons, The Hardy Brothers, Narnia, The Magic Faraway Tree, The Hobbit, The Stainless Steel Rat, and pretty much all of Robert Heinlein. Those were the days. Wouldn't go back for all the money in the world.

Fast forward a few years and I think my favourite book of all is On the Road, the beat generation classic, the great American novel, a travel book. For a handful of years I would read it every year and I still want to go to Denver. On the Road has my heart but Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas has my spirit.

Then there's Lord of the Rings, Catch-22, anything by Neil Gaiman or Terry Pratchett (I have a copy of Good Omens signed by both and I've read all the Discworld novels and do I get to count the Sandman series as a book?), 100 Years of Solitude, anything by William Gibson (Neuromancer is a work of genius but I like the newer work too - he aged well), Ian and Iain Banks (Excession and The Bridge are my favourites, or possibly Feersum Endjinn, I didnt really enjoy Wasp Factory), anything by Neal Stephenson (starting with Snowcrash), Slaughterhouse Five, and The Plague by Camus. Oh, plus Charles Stross (I might be a cyberpunk geek - Halting State is excellent). Stross used to be a programmer so he gets his tech right and his near future projections can be just the right side of scarily plausible.

Philip K Dick and William Burroughs I adored, but I don't actually recall anything specific of theirs I've read. Naked Lunch and Bladerunner are classic movies and William Burroughs has a sterling walk on part in On the Road (orgones for the win).

Then of course there's Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, which I can still quote passages from. All of the work of Douglas Adams plus Dune are considered by the Technomancers to be amongst the sacred texts of the geeks.

For non-fiction Bill Bryson A Short History of Nearly Everything and Stephen Hawking A Brief History of Time are superlative.

Too many worlds to reminisce over...

Here's a shorter esoteric reading list.
  • The Variety of Religious Experience by William James
  • Essentials of Mysticism by Evelyn Underhill
  • Thinking Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman (yes I think the topic is esoteric)
  • Celestial Heirachy by (pseudo-)Dionysius the Areopagite
  • Beyond Mindfulness in Plain English (best book on meditation and Buddhism that I've read by a country mile)
  • The Celtic Golden Dawn - not least for the introduction chapter that gives a history of the modern Druid movement
I really loved Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance when I was young. I tried to reread it recently and couldn't stand it (technophobe snob).

The Schrodinger Cat Trilogy and The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Diary of a Drug Fiend by Aleister Crowley are great esoteric fiction.

"We're all a collection of habits and neuroses steered by complex and powerful emotions in an uneasy balance."

Wednesday, 1 April 2020

Conversations with the Holy Guardian Angel (or How I Ended Up in Prison)

There's a degree to which fear is a choice. To that degree, choose wisely.
For more tales from the past, short horror stories from my life, see the links and the stories here:

It transpires I've never told the story of how I ended up in prison. Like most stories it's hard to know where it begins, but maybe we can pickup the thread in my darkest hour in Verulamium. There, like the Romans before me, I faced a savage and wild horde of natives before whom I genuinely feared for my life. That is at the Verulam School for Boys in St Albans, the new school I had started at having moved from the northern industrial town of Macclesfield where what childhood idyll I knew remained behind to the commuter town of Harpenden. Full of estate agents and Italian restaurants and a higher class of savage natives than we'd known before.

I had been taught not to fight back, and although I'd been in a few fights I'd always brought them to an end fairly quickly and refused to fight, so I hadn't practised fighting much. When cornered by three savages, who were doubtless brutalised themselves and finding revenge on the world in me, I knew logically I couldn't defeat them and they could kill me. I was so ashamed of the crawling coward I became in those moments of terror.

A mere handful of years later in Cambridge I was falling into madness, my life out of control and my mind merely an observer in the strange chaotic ruins my life was becoming. I was afraid of everything and under magical attack by a Buddhist priest and a couple of punks who were trying to steal my soul. As the curse took hold I knew I needed to defeat it by overcoming my fear of violence stemming back to those days, I needed to punch someone.

For months every contact with every person felt like I was dying spiritually and emotionally, my soul and life eking and ebbing away and all because I wouldn't take the steps I thought were necessary to save my soul. I did try punching a couple of people, but it didn't really work. I spent long day after day for months walking the streets trying to find my way out of that maze.

Eventually something in my mind couldn't cope with that level of constant fear and paranoia and decided I'd been enlightened and that I was going to fulfil revelation. So I walked back to Cambridge from Luton where I was staying in a flat that I hadn't paid any rent on anyway. Needless to say my old friends at Cambridge weren't very excited to see me, so I settled into being the Archangel Michael as part of the homeless community in Cambridge City Centre. I didn't tell anyone I was the Archangel Michael obviously, they would have just assumed I was crazy.

For a little while whilst I walked the streets of Cambridge being Michael, and occasionally begging, a funny short gentleman wearing a green tweed suit and a battered white scooter helmet, on a scooter, would follow me and thrust papers at me wanting me to take them. That seemed odd, so I didn't take the papers. On about the third time this happened he said something and then threw the papers at me. I decided I was better off not knowing and ignored them.

I did make at least one more visit to the college and one occassion a very nice gentleman asked me to pose for a picture.

From that point I got picked up by the police a couple of times, who kept me for a little while and would murmur about papers not being ready and then let me go. In retrospect I think they were giving me a chance to get out of dodge. A chance I didn't take.

It was when wearing roller blades I was picked up for the third time that I learned the story. The college had taken an injunction out against me in civil court. As I'd refused the papers they could proceed without my involvement. After I broke the injunction I didn't know about they went back to the court and had me sentenced to three months in prison, go directly to prison in a G4S van, do not pass go, do not attend a court. I only stayed there for half of it though. Six weeks in Bedford nick.

After that I joined a cult.

"You can't know yourself until you've seen your own shadow. Once you see your shadow, so long as you're willing to be that person, all of your faculties and capabilities are there for the taking. The deepest dreams of the heart can come true."