Wednesday, February 03, 2021

Deniers, Hoarders, Invincibles, Worriers - the many faces of our COVID-19 tribes

Sixteen faces of COVID-19 “personalities” are emerging around the world as people react to unprecedented weirdness in very different ways.

In work published at last month, Norwegian researcher Mimi Lam identifies 16 COVID-19 personality types that are in evidence across the globe as the pandemic grinds on.

She argues that countries need to understand these "viral identities" and strive to educate people in ways that unite people rather than drive them farther apart, and to use the personality types to improve modelling of how the virus will spread in a specific region or country. "The global COVID-19 pandemic unites us with a common virus, but divides us with emergent viral identities," she notes.

“These emergent viral identities are influencing individual behavioural and government policy responses to the heightened uncertainty posed by COVID-19. Individuals often respond to policies by protecting their values and identities, so for some, COVID-19 has reinforced social and political identities,” writes Lam.

“Social identities foster a sense of belonging via attachment to social groups and their behaviours. Salient identities contribute to common views on policies and shape behaviours to benefit in-groups These salient viral identities have heightened inter-group differentiation and explain the rampant racism against the Chinese, as well as initial policy responses of border closures oriented to protect ‘Us’ against ‘Them.’ “

Here are the 16 personality types:

  • Deniers, who downplay the viral threat
  • Spreaders, who want the virus to spread, herd immunity to develop, and normality to return
  • Harmers, who may spit or cough at others or dub COVID-19 “Boomer Remover”
  • Realists, who recognise the reality of its harm and adjust their behaviours
  • Worriers, who stay informed and safe to manage their uncertainty and viral-induced fear
  • Contemplators, who isolate and reflect on life and the world
  • Hoarders, who panic-buy food, toilet paper, and other products to quell their insecurity
  • Invincibles, often youth, who believe themselves to be immune and flock to beaches and parties
  • Rebels, who defiantly flout social rules restricting their individual freedoms
  • Blamers, who vent their fears and frustrations onto others, discriminating against racial groups or health-care workers
  • Exploiters, who exploit the situation for power or brutality
  • Innovators, who design or repurpose resources, for example, for face masks, ventilators, and other medical
  • Supporters, who show their solidarity in support of others through, for example, claps, songs, and rainbows
  • Altruists, who help the vulnerable, elderly, and isolated
  • Warriors, like the front-line health-care workers who combat its grim reality
  • Veterans, who experienced SARS or MERS and willingly comply with COVID-19 restrictions

Lam notes that using these personality types to refine forecasts of COVID transmission and impact could be an important tool in managing the virus. To forecast viral transmission, for instance, these behaviours can be “clustered by their projected compliance” into the modelling, and will reveal the benefits of not just flattening the viral curve but shifting behaviours.

Deniers, Harmers, Invincibles and Rebels are “non-compliers.” Spreaders, Blamers and Exploiters are “partial compliers.” Realists, Worriers, Contemplators, Hoarders, Innovators, Supporters, Altruists, Warriors and Veterans are “compliers.” What works to shift the behaviours of one group can inflame the mood among another. 

Lam cites the different way that countries reacted to social-distancing measures as exemplifying the need for approaches that recognize the 16 types of COVID personalities and identify strategies and modelling that take into account their very different behaviours during a pandemic.

“UK and US models assumed a uniform 85–90 per cent reduction in social contacts, as reported by Chinese citizens. However, unlike authoritarian regimes, liberal democracies cannot compel their populace to follow state-imposed restrictions. Variance in individual responses and willingness to comply with COVID-19 policy interventions can be captured if epidemiological models group individuals by their salient viral identities, informed by demographic variables.”

Friday, January 29, 2021

Who is Rod Baker?

Up until getting caught this week flying into a tiny Indigenous community in the Yukon to fake his way into an early COVID-19 vaccine, Rod Baker was a very, very wealthy Vancouver man presiding over a casino empire. 

What was going through his head when he chartered a plane into a hamlet of fewer than 100 people and made up a pack of lies so that he and his wife Ekaterina could jump the queue for their vaccinations? We may never know. Baker appears to have kept a low profile before the Beaver Creek scandal, and is certainly keeping one now. 

But poking around in the information that is available on Baker is intriguing, if only to gain a little more understanding of the kind of guy who launches quite an elaborate plot to get himself into a vaccine lineup intended for vulnerable Indigenous elders. 

Baker was president and CEO of the Great Canadian Gaming Corporation up until his abrupt resignation this week after the Beaver Creek story hit the headlines. He has been in that position since 2010, although the "CEO" part of the title wasn't added until 2011. 

Before that, he was the long-time president of the mysterious Ridgeline Corporation, a financial investment and private merchant banking firm that was headquartered in Toronto but whose office is now listed as "permanently closed." No website or corporate information turned up in my searches. Baker led Ridgeline from 1995-2018. 

Not only was Baker the CEO of Great Canadian, he sat on its board. His father Neil Baker was on the board for several years as well, appointed in 2011 and on the Corporate Compliance and Security Committee before leaving the board in 2018.

Rod Baker isn't mentioned in the 2020 financial documents on Great Canadian's website, but he figures prominently in a 2018 "Letter to Shareholders."  The letter notes that Baker owned/controlled 86 per cent of Great Canadian's common shares at that time. His father owned 12 per cent of common shares back when he was appointed to the board in 2011. 

Together, then, father and son owned or controlled 98 per cent of the company's shares - a signal that Great Canadian wasn't a publicly held company in any real sense of the term, but more like a family dynasty. 

That is an important detail to remember when reading that letter to shareholders, in which the company proudly notes its philosophy of "aligning the interests of the executive with the interests of shareholders" as a reason for Baker's multi-million-dollar compensation package. Rod Baker was top executive, member of the board and owner/controller of the majority of shares, rendering him pretty much the living embodiment of aligned interests. 

Notable about the decade of Baker's reign at Great Canadian is the company's prominence in allegations of money laundering. An Oct. 28, 2020 story in the Globe and Mail has this to say about Baker's lack of interest in looking too closely at the source of the mountains of cash that gamblers were bringing into Great Canadian - revenues that were directly tied to how much richer he would get. 

Stone Lee, a long-time investigator with British Columbia Lottery Corp., testified that in 2012 his boss Terry Towns, vice-president of corporate security and compliance at the time, told him and two other money-laundering specialists that they were to stop banning suspicious gamblers spending hundreds of thousands of dollars at River Rock. 

"I recall [Mr. Towns] said, ‘You guys are not police officers. Cut it out. You should not approach patrons, that's not your job. Your job is to observe and report.

Mr. Stone said the order from his boss was a result of Rod Baker, chief executive officer of Great Canadian Gaming Corp., which owns River Rock, complaining to the provincial gambling agency.

Once upon a time, Great Canadian was a small BC company launched to capitalize on the provincial government's growing interest in legalizing gambling. I remember those early casinos, which tended to be sad and scruffy places serving soggy eggroll bites to a handful of desperate-looking people. 

These days, Great Canadian owns gaming operations in four provinces and sold for $3.3 billion four months ago to Apollo Global Management, a "global alternative investment manager firm" out of New York City. Ah, how the times have changed. 

Rod Baker reportedly resigned from Great Canadian after the embarrassing Beaver Creek incident. It's probably safe to consider that a resign-or-we'll-fire-you move, but the wording also might signal that Baker's transgression didn't trigger the "just cause" clause in his contract. 

What does a top dog like Baker get when leaving a company that was essentially all his? That 2018  letter to shareholders estimated the cost of terminating Baker without just cause at $79 million (most of that from stock options).

So maybe this week's shaming stings a little. But it looks like the rent will still be covered. 

Friday, June 12, 2020

The man who refused to kill baby bears: A win in the Court of Right Thinking

A cute bear from Pixabay to stand in 
for the cubs that Casavant saved.
Court judgments are often answering questions that the average person wouldn't possibly think to ask about the issue of the moment, like "Did the judge err in declining to consider the jurisdictional issue on judicial review?"

But here's the quick version of BC conservation officer Bryce Casavant's story: He disobeyed a direct order from his boss to kill two bear cubs and instead took them to a rehabilitation facility (they've since been released back to the wild). He got fired as a result. And now the BC Court of Appeal has overturned that firing.

It wasn't overturned for the reasons that I would have overturned it, which would have been around things like questioning why you'd fire a guy who made an informed decision that saved wildlife without harming the public. That would be the Court of Right Thinking, and we don't have one of those.

But hurrah for all the complicated legal arguments the court cited that still ended up with Casavant winning his appeal. I like a conservation officer who tries to conserve.

The story starts out pretty low-key. Casavant was working in Port Hardy back in 2015 and got a call from a resident that a mother black bear and her two cubs were rummaging through the resident's garbage.

Casavant was told by his superiors to kill all three bears because they'd been habituated to eating human food and would continue to be nuisances. The resident said she hadn't seen the cubs eating garbage, so Casavant killed the mother and took the two cubs to a veterinarian for assessment. Deemed healthy, they were transferred to a wild animal recovery centre and would be eventually released back to the wild.

Then all hell broke loose back at Casavant's workplace, and he ended up being dismissed from his conservation job and told he was now working for the Forests Ministry. "The hope is that in your new position, given the different nature of the work involved, you will not suffer from the same inability to follow instructions and policies," his superiors wrote, citing two other incidents when he didn't follow their orders.

Much conflict and union involvement later, Casavant lost a lower court case about his dismissal and took it to the BC Court of Appeal. The court battle was all based on high-faluting legal arguments that had nothing to do with sparing the lives of two perfectly healthy bear cubs, but the upshot is that Casavant won, though perhaps only because the discipline procedure was messed up.

"In my view the best that can be done in these circumstances is to declare that the proceedings before the arbitrator and Board were a nullity, to confirm that Mr. Casavant’s dismissal should have been addressed under the Police Act, Special Provincial Constable Complaint Procedure Regulation, and to leave the parties to sort out the consequences of those declarations, if any, on the settlement agreement," wrote Justice Lauri Ann Fenlon in a June 4 unanimous decision.

No doubt the questionable psychologist's report used to justify firing Casavant because he was unfit for the work played a role in the appeal court's thinking. Asked to perform a general workplace environment assessment, the psychologist "instead provided an opinion about Mr. Casavant’s suitability for his position (a report for which the psychologist was eventually sanctioned by the College of Psychologists, which found the report to be unreliable and improperly obtained)."

Conservation officers play difficult roles mediating the relationship between wildlife and the public. Complex legal arguments aside, Casavant's case highlights that officers appear to be governed in quasi-military fashion, taking their orders from someone who isn't at the scene, didn't talk to the affected residents, and perhaps isn't even trained in conservation. (Haven't we all had bosses with zero experience in the work they're now supervising?)

Is this how the BC public imagines conservation to work? Surely we want skilled conservation officers able to assess the situation in that moment and make a decision that saves wild animals whenever possible. Casavant didn't win his appeal on that argument, but the Court of Right Thinking is feeling good about this decision.

Tuesday, April 07, 2020

Letter from Copan: The COVID crisis in Honduras

Casita Copan kids making puzzles during my 2016 visit
My partner and I lived and worked in Central America for the better part of five years, and I visited many development projects in Honduras and Nicaragua as part of our work with Cuso International in those years. But few projects have stuck with me like Casita Copan, in our old home town of Copan Ruinas, Honduras.

Started by a young American woman, Emily Monroe, Casita Copan began as a way of helping abandoned children in Emily's adopted home of Copan Ruinas. I've watched her lead that marvelous project for seven years now, and see it as a gold standard for addressing poverty and need not just for children removed from their families, but to prevent child abandonment. There's nothing like it in the country - or in Canada, for that matter.

As you can imagine, the spectre of COVID-19 is terrifying in a country like Honduras. BC has half the population of Honduras but more than seven times the number of ventilators in our hospitals: 732 compared to a paltry 102, and all but 12 of those 102 in private hospitals where poor people can't seek care. Because of the dire shortage of equipment, the country is on restrictive shelter-in-place rules enforced by police and the military. People aren't allowed to leave their homes.

This letter I've just received from Emily - who continues to live in Copan with her husband and young son - is a startling reminder of situations in low-income countries that have virtually no ability to deal with a pandemic. If you can, please send a donation her way. Money isn't going to get Casita Copan out of this pandemic, but it will help get things back on track more quickly when restrictions lift.

The sawdust alfombras depicting Easter
scenes that normally decorate Copan Ruinas
streets at this time of year.
First, I would like to send my very best to you and your loved ones during this difficult time, especially those who are working on the front lines, risking their lives to protect the most vulnerable. I wanted to share with you what is happening here in Honduras and at Casita Copán, as we face the unprecedented challenge of navigating a global pandemic.

I’m writing this from Copán Ruinas, Honduras, my home for the last ten years. This week is Semana Santa, “Holy Week,” traditionally a culturally rich time that draws tourists from around Honduras and the world to our little town. It’s the hottest time of the year, and in other years, we’d be taking the kids for a picnic by the river to cool off and share watermelon. Then we’d go into town to see the alfombras, brightly colored “carpets” of dyed sawdust painstakingly arranged by local artisans to create stunning designs in celebration of the holidays. 

Instead, we are inside, respecting the government’s mandatory shelter-in-place order, now in week four.

It was necessary for Honduras to take strict preventative measures in response to COVID-19 because the country’s healthcare system is the weakest in the region. The public hospital system for the entire country only has 12 ventilators; the private hospitals report approximately another 90. Because of the high rate of poverty, many people in Honduras suffer from preexisting conditions caused by poor nutrition and are particularly vulnerable. Weak infrastructure also means that many affected will be unable to access the care they need, especially those in rural communities like ours.

Here in Copán, we are currently in the eye of the storm. Safe for now, but preparing and waiting for what’s to come. We had to close our Children’s Center, the major source of food, education, recreation, and community for our children and families. We are still sending out packets of food since the majority of our moms are unable to work because of the government restrictions. While all of the kids in our Children’s Center are safe at home with their families, they are still lacking the daily support, education, and loving care that our center provides.

Here in Copán, we are not allowed to go out for a walk. Adults have one day a week (assigned by the last digit of our identification number) where we are allowed to go to the grocery store or pharmacy. Temperatures right now are in the 90s, and the majority of our Casita Copan Children’s Center families live in cramped one-room homes, often with only one bed for everyone. Mothers are unable to work because nearly all businesses are closed and movement is restricted, and if they don’t work, they don’t get paid. If you are caught outside past 6 pm, you can be arrested and forced to spend the night in jail. Rates of domestic violence have always been high in this area, and I am afraid of what the anxiety caused by this situation will provoke.

The children in our foster care program are safe and will still receive food, shelter, love, medical care, educational programs, and attention just as before, even if the routine is a bit different. So far, all of our staff are still receiving their full paycheck and benefits, though their daily responsibilities have changed due to the crisis. We will continue to do everything in our power to provide the maximum number of services possible to our children and families during this time. We don’t know what the future will hold, but we anticipate a serious blow to our local economy that will affect many families, businesses, and organizations. While this crisis will force us to make tough decisions, we will continue to uphold the values that Casita Copán was founded on – solidarity, transparency, responsibility, discipline, respect, and love.

Thank you for taking the time to read about what is going on here in Honduras. I truly hope that you and your loved ones are safe. Please reach out if you would like to hear more details about what is going on. We are busy but happy to get in touch when we can!!

One positive thing I can say that has emerged from this crisis is the realization of how interconnected we truly are. We are all in this together and we truly thank you for your support and compassion during this unprecedented time.

In solidarity,

Tuesday, December 03, 2019

A most unsettling story list of this thing we still call farming

Credit: Moscow Ministry of Agriculture and Food
I'm a loyal reader and financial supporter of the British non-profit news outlet The Guardian, and subscribe to its "Animals Farmed" newsletter. Every couple of months or so, the newsletter arrives in my email inbox with news of the wild, weird world of what we still call farming, but that mostly just looks like mass murder at this point.

Even just reading the little summary blurbs about the stories is an excellent reinforcer of my efforts to ramp back my meat consumption to almost nothing. I used to love my farm set when I was a kid, but realistic play with a modern-day "farm set" would require stuffing your cute plastic animals into an overcrowded, hellish stink-barn for a very short life of misery, with not a whiff of green grass or fresh air to be found.

So let's start there with my first link from this morning's newsletter, about how Russian industrial farms are experimenting with virtual reality for dairy cows, to see if tricking them into thinking they see an open meadow will make them happier. And able to produce better milk, of course. Because it's a given that anything we do in industrial farming that outwardly looks like we're being a bit kinder to the animal is in fact just a way to trick them into giving us better, tastier, or more products from their bodies.

Next time you eat a lamb shawarma in the Middle East, think about the 14,346 Romanian sheep that died last week when the cargo ship they were being carried on overturned. Romania is the third biggest exporter of sheep in the European Union, and the sheep were bound for Saudi Arabia. Speculation is that the ship was overloaded, but at any rate, the sheep were trapped in the hold and didn't stand a chance when the ship flipped.

Only 254 sheep ended up rescued. I'm hoping that none of the dead creatures were among these sheep that passed by us when we were visiting Romania this past spring, but the future's not bright for Romanian sheep overall.

The risk of mass sheep death at sea is not just an issue from "over there," either. More than 22,000 lambs a year make the journey from New Zealand to the United States to satisfy hungry consumers, and that number is up 20 per cent from a decade ago.

And how is life going for our pig friends? Not so good. African Swine Fever is in the process of wiping out what's expected to be a quarter of the world's pigs. In China alone, some 100 million infected pigs were killed last year in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease.

But that's great news for "farmers" of non-infected pigs, who are finding surging global demand and increasing sale prices when piggies go to market nowadays. The value of monthly UK pig exports hit £36.4 million - $63 million in Canadian dollars - in September, a 50 per cent increase over a year ago.

In other pig news, Britain's Conservative Party has backed away from a promise to ban farrowing crates, because they go against everything a mother pig would naturally do to prepare for and care for her piglets. But pig producers have worked equally hard to shut down that conversation.
The crates are small cages that pregnant pigs are kept in from before their piglets are born until they are a month old.

Now let's turn to China, the home of my ancestors but also a country that often seems viciously committed to eating every species from the face of the Earth. That includes donkeys, 4.8 million of whom are killed every year just to satisfy China's demand for a gelatinous traditional medicine called ejaio, which is made from the hides of donkeys. If demand continues apace, half of the world's donkey population will be wiped out within five years.

Bummed out yet? We ought to be. I get that humans are omnivores and have a long history of killing animals for food, but we're so far past any kind of hunter-gatherer framework with modern-day industrial farming. One last link before you go, this one to a deadly algae bloom of "red tide" in Florida that wiped out 200 manatees, 127 dolphins, 589 sea turtles and hundreds of tonnes of fish when it hit in 2018, and is now back again.

It's a naturally occurring phenomenon, but you can likely guess what makes it much, much worse. Yup, industrial farming, which in Florida is flooding the sensitive wetlands with agricultural runoff.

I started into "flexitarianism" mostly because there's only so long you can keep telling yourself that your eating habits are harmless, but reducing our meat intake is also a major step toward reducing our individual (and ultimately, global) carbon footprints. The United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization estimates that industrial livestock production is responsible for 14.5 per cent of human-caused carbon emissions.

Do the right thing. Put peas on your fork.