Friday, July 2, 2021

So is it "herd immunity" for kids?

We're close to all adults vaccinated for covid now in the UK. Magnificent achievement, well done. Here in Scotland our First Minister today announced  "walk-in coronavirus vaccination centres will be open in every part of mainland Scotland from Monday.

All mainland health boards will offer drop-in clinics as the rollout nears the target of all Scottish adults receiving at least one dose.

Everyone aged 18 and over will be able to attend one of the walk-in centres for their first jag or – if eight weeks have passed – their second dose without needing an appointment. "

What, though, are we doing about the under 18s?

Are we just going to say job done and leave them?



This can't be the right policy. For a start there are disabled and sick kids that are clinically vulnerable to covid. For them it isn't a choice between a miniscule chance of a vaccine-related blood clot or a miniscule chance of a covid-related death. They are in real danger and have been for a year and a half. It's unconscionable that children at heightened risk of serious illness or death from covid should be denied vaccination.

Vaccines are offered to children aged 12-15 with severe neuro-disabilities but that is a tiny part of the vulnerable disabled children at heightened risk. When the pandemic hit, 53,000 under-18s in England with disabilities that made them vulnerable to coronavirus began to shield away at home.

More generally should it not be up to the parents? I can see a case for, where a parent is against vaccination and the benefit is minimal, respecting the parents' wishes. Those parents are a tiny minority.


 And here are some of the other arguments for vaccinating kids:

- the kids and the parents want to be vaccinated. 9 in 10 of parents in England approve of covid jabs for children.

- we are still telling kids to isolate if there's an outbreak. This is perhaps because we're pretending we're not just abandoning kids to covid while in effect pursuing a herd immunity policy that means exactly that.

- the risk to teachers and other school staff.

- the risk that a high rate of infected kids sees new variants that (from the virus's point of view) work better. Perhaps even becoming more dangerous for children.

- it slows down society returning to normal. Just jab them. It could take months for enough kids to have caught covid to the point where it can be reliably claimed that herd immunity is established.

- Unvaccinated people may face discrimination. Even vaccinated parents could be excluded from activities for vaccinated people only if their children aren't vaccinated.

- Some kids will die. In addition to the prospect of wholesale carnage among disabled kids, a prospect that doesn't even appear to be on the government's radar, every kid that dies, however statistically anomalous is a tragedy, a heartbreak for their family and the waste of a young life.

- Israel, USA, Canada and Europe are vaccinating their kids.

Monday, May 10, 2021

The Labour Party should support Scottish independence

After a bruising week the Labour Party is due to do some soul searching. One of the questions it should consider is whether to continue as a unionist party on the issue of Scottish independence.



  • Independence is the right way forward for Scotland. Countries like Nigeria, India, even the United States have all prospered after leaving the British Empire. None of them want to rejoin.

  • The Labour Party stands for modern progressive democratic values. Scotland wants to be independent to pursue our modern progressive democratic values. Even inside the straightjacket of union the Scottish government has introduced free prescriptions, free university education and the Scottish Child Payment. Why would Labour want to be an obstacle to more such policies?

  • It's clearly better democracy to have the country of Scotland represented internationally by a Scottish leader of a Scottish government. Local concerns can be better raised in a polity of 5 million people instead of lost among the concerns of 65 million.

  • I'll give a specific example of where the UK government has thrown Scottish interests under the bus. Whisky. Trump imposed a 25% tariff on single malt Scotch whisky which cost the industry millions. No one was there to stand up for Scotland when this trade war broke out. In fact, given a range of options it's possible that the UK negotiating team felt Scotch whisky was the best option because "Scotland's half out anyway." Then Brexit happened. Whisky exports to the EU went from £100m in Jan 2020 to £34m in Jan 2021. Another trade deal negotiated where the UK did nothing to protect our interests.

  • There will be a place for Labour in an independent Scotland. A new Scotland-specific party could in fact do rather well once the SNP is no longer carried by the independence question but rises or falls on the quality of its government. Historically Labour has done very well here.

  • Independence is not about punishing the rest of the UK. It's about building an amazing country that will be an example to the world, including offering hope and an excellent example to the rest of the UK. In time things will be better in places like Hartlepool if Scotland becomes independent, prospers, and shows people that there's an achievable progressive and fair society that can be attained just by voting for it. We will be your prosperous successful cousins next door who will show ordinary British people that there's no need to settle for two lost decades.

  • a sizeable chunk of the Labour party quietly supports independence or at least believes that Scotland should be allowed to choose.

  • it's an awful look to be siding so closely with the Tories, you encouraged Labour voters to vote Tory to block the SNP and you may never get them back. It looks like policies imposed by London on Scottish Labour politicians who cringe at having to defend them.

  • the solution Labour proposes from time to time of some sort of enhanced devolution or federalism is a solution no one asked for, no one wants and shows a top down out of touch managerialism which is something we've seen in Labour before and which voters across Britain really dislike. If you really want to annoy voters then mansplaining your wonkish ivory tower technocracies is the way to do it. Don't tell us, listen to us.

  • it's easy for people in Scotland to feel that some people in Labour in England want to keep us trapped here because we give you 50 seats that won't vote Tory. That's electoral colonialism and is a shameful reason to deny people self-determination.

  • while we're still in the Union friendship with the SNP is of enormous tactical advantage to Labour. In 2019 Jeremy Corbyn ruled out working with the SNP to form a government. Had he agreed to then he would have only needed 278 seats for Labour + SNP to form a coalition government. The bar in 2024 is raised by nearly 50 seats for Labour to win. You do want to win, right? Bringing the SNP on side is your best chance to do that and that means embracing at least our right to self-determine but better supporting our efforts to create an amazing friendly neighbouring country that will be your best achievement in government. Remember Atlee, the PM who created the NHS, considered Indian Independence his 'finest achievement'.



Saturday, May 8, 2021

Poem: swift

 RSPB Scotland asked for something inspired by swifts:

Swift, you give our spirits a lift, you're such a gift, I love the nifty way you bank and then drift, we stare all at your aerial thrift, adrift on wind currents, soaring as they shift, you're wonderful dear darling swift.


Bit silly I know, but it's good to support these things. Here's the twitter link.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Caster of Magic for Windows, turn one

 With the new patch for the classic 1994 Master of Magic we may be seeing some new players so here's a plan of how to do your first turn.

This plan depends on having at least one book in Nature Magic. (If you don't take that you'll need to explore with units).

One book in Nature Magic let's us use one of two powerful map reveals which makes the early landgrab much easier.

Here's our start:

We're going to get a map reveal on turn 2 but until then we have to clear the fog of war by moving our units out. There are no random monsters at this stage so we're fine leaving the capital unguarded.

 Here's it with our units moved.

Next we'll cast one of our map reveal spells. I'm casting Nature's Eye but Earth Lore is also fine.

We don't have enough mana so we'll change how much mana we produce to maximum current mana income abandoning research and spell skill for now. We'll also alchemise most of our gold into power.

That gives a fair amount of mana for this start which is very useful for this build allowing us to cast several spells. As soon as you don't need to cast something you can balance out your mana income later in the game.

Finally we'll do our building. I'm choosing Marketplace into Granary. I don't have Sawmill available otherwise that might be my first pick.

And on turn 2 here's what the map looks like after the reveal.

The highlighting of areas that can be settled is a new feature and quite useful. (It's showing a band at top right and a desert square in the south west).

Hope that helps, enjoy this classic game if you're coming back or just starting it.

Tuesday, May 4, 2021

HSW: poem. Wall

 High Street Writers (HSW) is a local writers' group where we write to prompts. The prompt for this one was wall. Here's my effort:

Wall by SJ


Build your wall,
build it tall.
Your country's pedestal.
Gloat when it appalls us, galls us
That you festoon it with cages
Filled with kids of all ages
While the decent world rages.

Your wall will fall.

We'll watch you bawl
When we end it all.
Your vulgarity, barbarity, and open criminality
Will  never beat humanity.

Your  wall will fall.

Tuesday, April 6, 2021

MTGA: Lessons and Learn spells in Strixhaven.

 A new mechanic in the forthcoming new Magic set is the Learn/Lesson mechanic. Some cards have the keyword Learn which allows you to fetch a Lesson card from your sideboard. If you want you can rummage instead but generally you'll only do that if you're out of Lesson cards.

In Limited this means you need to have both some sources of Learn in your deck and a reasonable collection of Lesson cards to fetch.



Regarding Lessons there are three scenarios:

- you have really good stuff to fetch. Learn cards are a more valuable pick.

- you have stuff to pick that makes the combined value of the Learn card plus the Lesson card above baseline C grade, 20th-23rd pick cards.

- you didn't really get there. You have Learn cards without Lessons or your cards are weak or situational.


So here's the list of Lesson cards. There are 20 Lesson cards. All Lessons are Sorceries.

There is one mythic, Mascot Expedition (above), which is a strong 7 mana finisher. It's strong enough to consider main-decking but fetching it for free off a Lesson is a more attractive option. It's colourless.

There are 5 rares, one in each colour. The black and white ones are situational but the other three are well worth a card. So casting any Learn spell then getting one of the red, green or blue rare lessons is a fine play.

There are 5 uncommons, one in each colour. They are all situational but potentially quite powerful. They remove something usually in return for giving some minor advantage.

There are 9 commons. 5 are dual colour but where you can use either colour to cast. 4 are colourless. They range from clearly not being worth a card to worth a replacement level main deck card (eg a 4/4 creature for 5 mana).

So in deckbuilding you'll need a concept of "Lesson strength." Just how impactful is it when you play a Learn card (based on your pool of Lessons)? If you have an adequate C- grade card as a lesson plus a couple of situational but more powerful cards then Learn cards are ok, that's probably the starting point. If you have a better Lesson pool then you can run worse Learn cards as the Lesson half of the combo is so powerful.

If you do decide to collect Learn and Lesson cards you will probably need more Learn cards than Lesson cards. This is because if you draw 20 cards from a 40 card deck (a 13ish turn game) you will only see half of your Learn cards while having access to all your Lesson cards. The value of Learn goes down each time you use it as, presumably, you will take your best Lesson card leaving the remnants.

 Good fixing allows a wider variety of Lesson cards to be viable.

It seems clear that we will have some quite good cards to find if we draft for them or get lucky in our Sealed pools. So let's now look at the Learn cards.



Here is the list of the 21 Learn cards. They are a wide variety of spell types.

No mythics.

There are 5 rares, one in each colour. Each is solidly worth a card even if you have no Lessons to fetch.

There are 6 uncommons. Divide by zero, Igneous Inspiration, and Professor of Symbology are just about worth a card even if you didn't have any lessons to fetch. The other three are useful effects when they also draw a worthwhile Lesson card.

There are 10 commons with 2 blue, 3 black, 2 green, 2 red, 3 white. (That's more than 10 total because some have either/or dual mana costs). Generally they're not cards you would usually include in the deck if they didn't draw you a lesson. The exception is Rise of Extus which would make most black or white decks as 6 mana unconditional removal. Some are fairly bad so a card like Guiding Voice is only worth it if you really need Learn.


In general Learn/Lesson cards are a little below the power level of a typical card - the mechanic depends on the usefulness of drawing the Lesson card to create a situation where the two cards combined are more impactful than other options.

 Learn/Lesson is tempo negative as you have to find the mana to cast two spells, the second being a Sorcery.

There's a real risk of not drawing your Learn cards leaving all your Lessons sidelined. Obviously you can reduce the risk by picking more Learn cards to play or to draft but that risks going down in card quality and/or hitting a point where you've fetched your Lessons and your Learn cards are just mediocre cards with nothing more to fetch.

With Sealed check which Lessons you have then look at your Learn cards. Did you luck into a viable Learn/Lesson strategy?

Draft is much more interesting. You need to decide whether there's a Learn/Lesson subtheme to your deck and draft to support it. It's an element that you should try to keep open to. Eg if there's nothing you particularly want to play take the mediocre Learn card in case you draw a great lesson later in the draft.

Let's consider a difficult decision. Pack 1 pick 1 you have a decent rare Lesson and a really strong Uncommon. Do you take the Lesson? In truth the question can only be answered after format experience but I'm thinking yes, you would take the Lesson. With 21 Learn cards in the format it's reasonable to expect you'll find decent Learn spells as you navigate through the draft. So long as you think a mediocre Learn spell plus your good Lesson rare outpowers the strong Uncommon then it's probably correct to risk it. Another consideration is that you may not draw your Uncommon - it's one card in 40 - but if you end up with 4 Learn cards then any of those will either draw your rare Lesson or will fetch a situationally even better Lesson.

There will be some very difficult, and perhaps risky choices where you have to decide between a card that will be fine if the Learn/Lesson element comes together but which will cost you a decent playable if it doesn't.

In Kaldheim the snow mechanic meant that we often collected cards outside the usual 23 non-land cards we assemble for a limited deck. The Learn/Lesson mechanic is more of the same - we need both a 23 card deck and some Lessons in the sideboard if we're building this type of deck. In Kaldheim (inspired by a Luis Scott-Vargas draft video early in the format) people began to much more aggressively draft snow covered lands. We may see a similar effect in this format with people aggressively drafting Learn/Lesson in pack 1 to make sure that they can operate this mechanic effectively.

Overall it's a fine mechanic that will see many of us deep in thought in the weeks to come.


Happy drafting everyone!

Afterword: I initially made some mistakes which should now be fixed. Thanks to /u/nepetalast and /u/itsdrewmiller from the LR Cast subreddit and to Scrappykid from the Lords of Limited discord.

Tuesday, February 2, 2021

So disabled people? What do you want?

 - World peace. I'd like to see humanity move past war as a means of settling arguments through the creation of or perhaps the adaptation of the UN into a body that mediates international disputes making countries find a peaceful solution using persuasion, censure, cultural and economic sanctions supported by a world of nations working in concert.

- Reversing climate change.

- Curing pain. I'd like to see medicine advance so that no one should have to live in pain or with reduced capacity.

- Ending poverty. There's more than enough for everyone. No, Tarquin, you can't run your private jet while kids down the road are going without food.

- Build communities based on love. Friendship, tolerance, humour, compassion and romance. That's what we all should feel when we think of the place we live.

- Colonise space. Solve the FTL problem and find secure exciting frontier settlements for the adventurous to build new lives.

"Hold on," you say, "how can we possibly give you all that?"

Oh you misunderstand. We're not asking for you to give us all that. We're asking you to stop getting in our way while we work on giving you all that.

You're welcome.

So is it "herd immunity" for kids?

We're close to all adults vaccinated for covid now in the UK. Magnificent achievement, well done. Here in Scotland our First Minister t...