Pause for Thought

I saw a prompt flash by this morning, on which the theme is snippet.

Aw, man, I’ve got to tell you, I am an expert at lockdown! You guys have been living it since March, I’ve been living it since 2016! Every day, recovering from my stroke, those same four walls… Okay, as I improved I did begin to get out of the house a bit, but really a fraction compared to my pre-stroke life.

And the idea that you’re restricted? Well, of course you are, in one sense. But in other respects…

One thing you can do, unlimited, is think. Let me tell you, during my time convalescing, I solved many of the world’s ills. And in terms of recording them – that was one of the reasons for this blog, so there are thoughts on all sorts of subjects!

I’ll even attach one for you to read, if you like, from about 15 months after my stroke. It is a snippet of my politics and, re-reading it, I still agree with it fully. It is about electoral reform in the UK, which I think comes second only to climate change. Frankly, it doesn’t matter whether you agree with me or whether you think I’m a fruitcake – my point is that I thought about it. I have a solution, which works for me.

These downtimes are a gift to us to allow us to get our heads straight!

Electoral Reform

One of my pet crusades is electoral reform. I still think that we need to have two levels of parliament. The lower house (House of Commons) deals with all the day-to-day issues, the party politics, and forms the government. Exactly as today. The role of the upper chamber (House of Lords) is really to sanity-check, … Continue reading “Electoral Reform”

Raging Bull

I tend to follow quite a few blogs, just on the basis that once my appetite is whetted, I’ll think “I’ll just follow then for a short while and see how I like them”.

As it happened, today I was reading a died-in-the wool advocate of a particular political persuasion. They wrote political posts, which I don’t mind because I myself am interested in current affairs. But anybody who is dyed-in-the-wool anything, I’m wary of, because it usually means they’re not prepared to see faults in their own side. I find that if you’re going to look at things objectively, you generally have to be pretty-much independent.

The last straw came this morning when they targetted a politician from the other side, and the first thing they did was to criticise their spelling. And, I just sat there, thinking “would they criticise me for that, too?” With only one usable hand, they wouldn’t believe the gymnastics I need to perform when I write a post. They would not believe the dumb-ass mistakes I make when I first put something down onto paper. They wouldn’t believe the amount of proof-reading that goes on, because the stroke left me with dodgy eyes, too, and typos are embarrassing. Yet there are are still typos in there. They wouldn’t believe that I usually publish my posts privately first, so I can listen to them one last time before I make them public, to make sure they “sound” right. And that nobody else sees each post until about the 12th version.

Ah, well, one less blog to follow…

Coming Out

I don’t pretend that this will be a particularly interesting post, but I just wanted to get these ideas down on paper somewhere. I’m sorry for boring you, but it’s what I’ve been thinking about. Please just skip if not your cup of tea.


The map I use to look at my COVID numbers is quite finely-grained. It splits the UK into about 7,000 zones. The zones vary in physical size, seem to be driven more by population. I estimate that London has about 1,000 of these zones, real examples include South Hampstead or Central Westminster. What we might think of as a “suburb” generally splits into 2 or 3 of these zones.

Out in the countryside, where I am, my zone covers this village and the next. A far bigger area than Westminster or Hampstead.

I’m obviously talking about the UK, but there’s nothing really stopping other countries applying this too. My friend in Australia says he knows COVID data to the postcode level, people in the US say they know at the county level. The point is, it’s quite finely-grained.

On my map, each of these areas has a number of cases, confirmed within the last week. They fuzz up the numbers when they are very low, just because there might be 1 or 2 residual cases, presumably because those few cases are not statistically significant. But 100 cases in that zone, we’d see it!

I don’t think that’s a bad start, but I would sooner see a count of the number of active cases. We can calculate rates just by looking at how these numbers vary over time. I think there is currently an issue that somebody who tested positive eight days ago, who might still be infectious, drops off the official numbers. And I wouldn’t fuzz-out any data, because the agency’s role should be collation and presentation, not interpretation.

And, how do we decide when a case is no longer infectious? On that, I’d take advice.

My idea starts with that kind of granularity. By all means, disseminate these numbers, but I would just use two headline colours to describe one of these zones – “Red” and “Green”.

I see a Green zone would be no COVID cases. Or, very few. There would probably need to be a time element in there, too, like “no cases for the last 4 weeks”. Again, I’d take advice on the exact length of time.

Also, to qualify as being Green, all of the zone’s immediate neighbours should also be Green. Just because it is inevitable that people will travel at least to the next zone.

Inside a Green Zone, shops and businesses open as usual. People can move about their green zone. Masks (and distancing) are optional – neither is necessary if the place is virus-free. If people want to travel, that is up to them, but if they travel into a Red Zone, they should mask up.

A Red Zone, on the other hand, is one where there are COVID cases. Or, has a Red neighbour. Again, because people will move about.

Inside a Red Zone, the advice is to discourage mixing. This might mean people staying home, and some shops and businesses closing their doors, if they cannot operate without mixing.

And, because the goal is to discourage mixing altogether, any rules like “no more than 6” or “no more than 10” go out of the window. Same household only. Quite a grim scene, something looking like March more than September. Travel outside of the zone should be minimised and any excursion to any destination, Red or Green, requires a mask.

It’s a pity, pitting people’s mental health against their physical health, but physical health wins out, because of the “infectious” aspect. If someone might have COVID, even though it might help their mental health if they can see other people, they cannot be allowed to spread it. Put in those terms, it becomes a no-brainer. With some things, we just have to say “tough”.

In terms of whether a zone is Red or Green, I’d see those values being calculated daily (numbers are already recorded daily in the UK), everywhere. It’s not as if we require a human to make a decision – it is simply applying a formula, can be recalculated in seconds. A zone is Green or Red because of…. some definite criteria, not somebody’s judgement. And, it is possible for a Green Zone to become Red, as well as the other way around. End dates? Are really for the virus to decide. Right now, a reasonable end date seems “forever”.

There are a million more details to iron out, but those are my top-level thoughts.

First among those details, we need to be sure that the numbers which drive these decisions are as accurate as possible. So, that means lots of testing. Test enough, and we could even scale this down to the Red/Green Household level.

Second, we’re again telling businesses that they must close, telling people to stay home from work, so there are financial implications. I don’t think that locking down automatically means dire financial consequences, as we are all in the same boat. If everybody loses a billion dollars, nobody really loses anything. The difference is that a nation’s approach will dictate the speed at which it comes out of this and gets its economy back on track. And that speed *will* make a difference.

Third, it seems clear to me that, whatever plans we have, we have very little enforcement, at least in the UK. The police were a prime target during austerity. It is far too late this time around, but we should be asking ourselves whether we want enforcement in the future. That might be a pandemic, or it might be something else. And if the answer is “yes”, shouldn’t we be doing something about it? Another pandemic? No way? Well, how many once-in-a-lifetime events have we seen in recent memory?

My Own Provocative Questions

These are not really meant for anybody to answer. I mean, you’re welcome to if you feel the urge (but please don’t try doing so in a comment!), but just some things I’ve been mulling over as a result of an unsatisfactory conversation I had with my doctor’s surgery yesterday.

I am overdue an annual blood test. With the virus, everything has slipped. My wife, who is a nurse at the surgery, offered to take my blood this week, she’d bring the gear home. Initially, I was on for this, but this conversation made me stop and think.

I use my surgery’s portal to order meds each month – the point here is that, security-wise, it is considered safe enough to allow me to log on and order meds, it is happy that I am bona-fide. I notice, on the portal, there is a page for test results. If I click on that page, I get a message that “test results are not enabled on this account”. and that I should contact the surgery to set it up. Fair enough.

Now, I already talked to my wife. I mean, it is somebody else’s job to put the details onto the system, but her gut feel is that our surgery does not make use of this “test result” functionality.

So, playing ignorant, I contacted the surgery. I asked whether it was possible to set me up. My wife was correct in that this was certainly very unusual, and the guy I spoke to had no clue either, but said he’d find out.

In the end, he advised me that it could happen. But… if I wanted to view the results online, I would have to ask the doctor’s permission.

Permission? This made me stop and think. I have a blood test. My blood. The NHS then processes the blood and comes out with a set of numbers. Who then owns those numbers? While the NHS applies the processing, the numbers will be unique to me, in fact, without me, there would be no numbers. So my gut feel is that those numbers belong mostly to me. And, if so, why do I need anybody’s permission to see them? Put another way, what right does a doctor have to deny somebody that permission?

Now, I have to be careful how I go along this route. They could turn around and say, “okay, if you do not have the test, then we cannot safely prescribe any further meds”, and so my supply will dry up. And the conclusion will be that sooner or later, I will have another stroke. So, I need to think about this some.

But it’s an interesting question*. Not one we often think about, but when we have a test (blood or otherwise), who actually owns the results? In some ways, here, a more commercially-oriented system would be better, because the lines are not so blurry. But even in some place like the US, who actually owns the data there? The patient? Or, the insurance company?

And it goes along the same lines as one I thought about as a result of COVID, when people in various places were unable to see their loved-ones bodies after death – who actually owns our body?

I’ve told my wife I’ll hold fire on the test for the moment, I need to puzzle this one out. But I have to say, the more I learn about the NHS, the less I like about it.

* – interesting to a geek like me

Viewing Habits

I think I’m going to have to stop watching what was my favourite news programme.

I started watching the show tonight, as normal, and the main stories are virus-related. The focus tonight was on universities – in the UK they are just about to start up again, several of them are able to implement their own testing (they have their own labs, after all), and several of them have already detected virus outbreaks. Some universities are implementing a “no going out” policy, else they will kick you out. I’m not sure how that would work because universities have no jurisdiction over day-to-day life.

Anyway, a UK tradition is Freshers’ Week. Basically, a week of socialising for new students. Every university has one. When I was at mine, I was not sober for a week.

This year, of course, this is all curtailed.

And they interview a new student. “It’s not fair”, she complains, “we don’t get a Freshers’ Week like they did in other years”.

And I’m sitting here, just thinking: “Fair? For fuck’s sake, it’s not fair that people out there are dying because of this, let alone you being unable to have a piss-up”.

So, my BP goes up a notch.

A few minutes later, they talk to some other students, about this out-of-bounds rule. The two students are studying for Master’s degrees, rather than standard degrees. So, they’re not sure whether the rule applies to them.

Another FFS moment, I’m afraid. They clearly have no idea that these rules are put in place to discourage people from meeting other people. Of course you’re fucking included!

I don’t need to be watching these idiots. What’s on the other side?