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Yesterdaze: Not all Pebbles Cause Ripples

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Whose idea was the vaxathon? And how did Elvis Presley impersonators undermine Covid modelling in the present day? James Elliott answers pressing questions in his news of the week.

It’s amazing how the ripples spreading out from random pebbles cast into the pond of history can endure through to the present day.

If lockdown has given us anything valuable it’s been the time to ponder how different things might be today if a different pebble had been cast back then. For example, if back in 490BC the Greeks had fought off the Persian invasion at Grammatiko instead of Marathon then tomorrow we would be having a vaxatiko instead of a vaxathon. But as history stands, Philippides ran the 26 miles and 385 yards to Athens from Marathon to proclaim the Greek victory and then drop dead, leaving the “athon” event phenomenon to ripple its way through the centuries that have followed. If only Philippides had known just how many cringeworthy athon events his efforts would spawn in the next 2500 years he might have sauntered rather than slogged his way to Athens.                                   

Although tomorrow’s vaxathon was only announced three days ago by Jacinda Ardern, it already has a contentious history of its own. Following the PM’s vaxathon announcement, Sir John Key declared he was “delighted” that the Government had decided to adopt his idea, a statement that comes up on your screen if you ask Siri to show you an example of world-class passive aggressive trolling.

Based on the astronomical surge in the number of cases of Elvis impersonation between 1977 and 1987, modellers predicted in 1988 that by the year 2017, one in four people on the planet would be an Elvis impersonator. In some respects, it’s a pity they weren’t right.

So whose idea was the vaxathon? Forget KFC contraband, forget Level 3 step 1 picnics, and forget geographically-challenged sex workers – this was the question of the week. And the fourth estate was on to it. The NZ Herald soberly reported that “the Prime Minister’s office has been approached for comment on the origins of the idea”. I haven’t seen any reports of a response by the Prime Minister’s office to that approach but I assume we’ll get to the truth of the matter in August next year when the Prime Minister’s office provides a black toner-draining redacted response to the assumed Official Information Act request.      

In the meantime, and I apologise in advance for using this triggering five-word phrase – I’ve done my own research – it seems that neither Jacinda Ardern nor Sir John Key can claim credit for the vaxathon origin story. Vaxathons have already been held in Manitoba (Canada), Broome (Western Australia), Kelowna County (Canada again), Williamson County (Texas), Wichita Falls (Kansas) and Prince George’s County (Maryland). Worthy of a special mention is Surrey in British Columbia where a 32-hour vaxathon was held in June this year. This vaxathon coincided with Fathers’ Day so there was a “Doses With Dad” component, also musical accompaniment by the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra and a “mask-erade” competition for those who arrived after dark to be jabbed.     

So whose idea was the vaxathon? Forget KFC contraband, forget Level 3 step 1 picnics, and forget geographically-challenged sex workers – this was the question of the week.

New Zealand’s vaxathon tomorrow is part of the drive to vaccinate 90 percent of the vaccine-eligible population. Ninety percent is the vaccination target that most modellers are comfortable with as we effect the Thesaurusian transition away from elimination to words that don’t mean elimination but which aren’t necessarily inconsistent with the idea of elimination. The goal here is to confuse 90 percent of the eligible population as to what the pandemic strategy is while modellers crunch the numbers on my suggested Q2 strategy, quelling and quashing.

I’m not fully up to speed with the mathematical methodologies used by modellers but I assume it means that unlike most of us they know what a lot of the keys in Excel are for. Of course the well-known credibility challenge for pandemic modellers is overcoming public scepticism caused by the infamous Presley Prediction of 1988. Elvis Presley died on August 16, 1977, another stone in the pond of history that rippled out in the form of a burgeoning number of Elvis impersonators. Based on the astronomical surge in the number of cases of Elvis impersonation between 1977 and 1987, modellers predicted in 1988 that by the year 2017, one in four people on the planet would be an Elvis impersonator. In some respects, it’s a pity they weren’t right. I would much prefer the contest for the richest person in the world to be between the maker of rhinestone-studded jumpsuits and the maker of blue suede shoes than Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.     

Finally, on the topic of impersonators, Brian Tamaki. He appeared in court this week on charges of breaching Level 3 lockdown rules. He’s defending the charges and is apparently going to push the envelope by picnicking in the Auckland Domain tomorrow. Query how many people he’s proposing to feed. My modelling strongly suggests that in due course he’ll be a stone that sinks into the pond of history without leaving a single ripple.

Have a peaceful weekend.





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Yesterdaze: Not all Pebbles Cause Ripples

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