27 April 2021

Let's start with an image from the garden. It's dated, more than a week old and we all know how spring races on.  Anyway, these beauties (wild tulips) are still flowering all over the place.

I am having a rough old time. What with side effects of this new biological while waiting for it to kick in to show me its promised glorious powers. (I am beginning to have doubts. My inner hypochondriac is having a field day.) But just for the record, four weeks of cortisone therapy, starting high and tapering down to almost nothing, have not only revealed glimpses of my former self - free of all the aches and filled with energy, I was in best form - but also confirmed once again the inflammatory nature of this autoimmune disease. Isn't it a pity that cortisone is such a toxic agent. I could get addicted to it. But for now and following doctor's orders, it's almost gone, I am down to 2.5 mg for another couple of days and the old stiff and tired woman has come shuffling back into my life. And that's not even mentioning the gruesome inflammatory bowel scenario.

Wisely , I postponed my appointment with HR until last week. Any day earlier and I would have thrown any offers of earlier retirement out the window. Me? I would have laughed, look at me, I am in great shape. 

Whereas now, I am stuck with the same old same old. Should I, will I, can I, etc. and on days like today, how much longer, and even louder: when?

 . . . the morality of illness is about seeking to do the right thing, but no single right thing is usually available. Thus 'rising to the occasion' involves living with a combination of uncertainty about what is being done and necessity to do something, since even inaction is a form of doing. The morality of illness means responding to the question: "How do I become the sort of person who has to live with a decision that I never should have had to make?"

Arthur W. Frank, Illness as moral occasion: restoring agency to ill people (in: Health, Vol. 1, No.2, Oct. 1997, pp. 131-148, to read the entire essay, click here)

Anyway, I have a bit of a time to think and throw the dice. A few more consultations with experts. 

Lovely music helps.


18 April 2021

All this is history now.

This week, we finalised my father's exit from his childhood home. It was a complicated affair. 

This was the house where he grew up in from when he was five years old. After he had walked away from his marriage and with the golden handshake he had received at the end of his career, he moved back there. He lived there with my grandmother for a while, but only until he got her safely removed to a care facility. It also was a complicated affair.

He sold the house about twenty years ago securing what in English is called usufruct, a legal right given by an owner to someone who is not the owner, to use the owner's property for a certain period, usually for the remainder of that person's life. This was in fact not at all a complicated affair. Usufruct has been applied since the Middle Ages, especially in rural Germany.

Here he is, the kid on the right watching his uncles and cousins digging the basement foundations.

 
And this is what it looked like after completion in front.


 

And here I am (on the right) with my sister (2nd from left) and cousins on an Easter Sunday visit.

 
 
This is what his sitting room looked like before he moved to the care home last summer.  The woman in the painting is my great grandmother.


. . . and here he is, in the same room, maybe six/seven years old, my sister sold the sideboard today. He is with his first model railway on xmas. All through his and our childhood the model railway was set up for the holidays, with many new additions, which meant that he and we spent a good deal of the xmas holidays gluing together models of this and that and by the time I was about 10 years old, it had become an elaborate affair with tunnels and mountains, churches, cities, motorways, light and sound and all the trimmings you can imagine. It lives now in its own room in my oldest nephew's house.




11 April 2021

As of today, no frosty nights and the two days of snow storms have not fazed the fruit trees! 

The tiny apricots are growing, the greengage and mirabelle plum trees are still flowering with abandon, the rhubarb has shot up and the borders are a colourful tulip, forget-me-knot and grape hyacinth wonderland. The method of frost protection Ellen suggested (spraying the trees with water) is used here by the big commercial orchards and I briefly wondered whether we should get out the sprinkler. I also contemplated the heat methods used by the vine growers in France, which are basically huge candles lit between the rows.


But in the end, we have been lucky and keep our fingers crossed for the next couple of nights and then we should be all clear.

It's a year now since I stopped going to work every day, a year since I have been inside a super market, a restaurant, or anywhere indoors in one room with people. Not a single coffee-to-go cup or take-out sandwich. Not a single trip anywhere except for necessary appointments. Seriously, I don't miss any of it. We have developed ways and means to stay in touch with friends and family and that's the only aspect I will welcome back.

I think the pandemic invites me to take stock. It opens up the opportunity for me to carefully sift through our way of life, piece by piece - and to consider what can go and what we will need in the future. I am making plans. My physical energy is limited and I have found this to be a bonus, strange as it may seem. I have not grown tired of cycling along the same river, through the same forest, around the same suburb.

While many just think about how they want to get back to what was their (seemingly) "normal" before the pandemic, and other are still pretending that nothing really is different, I am convinced that we are at a crossroads in our coexistence with other creatures, and I am certain that most of us feel like that, consciously or unconsciously, in fully formed thoughts or vague notions. And I mean our way of inhabiting this earth as living beings and the way we are sharing it with each other.

This pandemic will not be the last, there will be more in the future. Zoonoses are diseases that jump from animals to humans and some animals carry viruses to which we are not immune. Some of the reasons why this happens are deforestation and factory farming. Both are man-made. The future pandemics will be man-made. There is much to think about, much to get involved in.

I can already hear the whispers and shouts about how we humans cannot help ourselves, how we are going to hell anyway because we are unable to do anything about anything anyway and so on. We have been fed this line of doomsday thinking with climate change. And to an extent, I agree. But I am also deeply hopeful and for that, I don't need all of humanity to understand what is going on and what needs to be done. As with herd immunity, all it takes is a certain percentage, let the rest continue to moan and blame human inabilities. 

It's a handy narrative, doomism, it goes hand in hand with science denial, as explained here:

 

I realise, too, how so much easier this is, if I give up/in, at least I can get on with my comfortable life for the next decade or so before I kick the bucket. And whenever I have a sleepless night about my grandchild's future, I can pull out the handy arguments about humanity being unable and that it's all downhill anyway and that there is nothing I can do.

This from a recent interview with climatologist Michael Mann (to read all of it click here):

Any time you are told a problem is your fault because you are not behaving responsibly, there is a good chance that you are being deflected from systemic solutions and policies. Blaming the individual is a tried and trusted playbook that we have seen in the past with other industries. In the 1970s, Coca Cola and the beverage industry did this very effectively to convince us we don’t need regulations on waste disposal . . .  look at (the fossil fuel industry), which gave us the world’s first individual carbon footprint calculator. Why did they do that? Because (they) wanted us looking at our carbon footprint not theirs.

Doom-mongering has overtaken denial as a threat and as a tactic. . . . if people believe there is nothing you can do, they are led down a path of disengagement. They unwittingly do the bidding of fossil fuel interests by giving up.

But “too late” narratives are invariably based on a misunderstanding of science. Many of the prominent doomist narratives - . . . - can be traced back to a false notion that an Arctic methane bomb will cause runaway warming and extinguish all life on earth within 10 years. This is completely wrong. There is no science to support that.

Good people fall victim to doomism. I do too sometimes. It can be enabling and empowering as long as you don’t get stuck there.

 

 


 


 

04 April 2021

here goes the sun

 


( artist: Tom Gauld )

Here we are, in fear of the coming polar vortex, hoping that the flowering fruit trees will be able to handle maybe/hopefully just the one very cold night. I just went and told the little apricots to hang on in there and that they are my personal favourites. Also, earlier this afternoon I cycled against the freezing northerly wind pretending to be fit and healthy. It was nice for a while, only I fell asleep the minute I got home and sat down, which was a bit of an embarrassment because you really look like an old geezer when you snore sitting upright. Anyway, I am now recovering to some form of sanity, awaiting the evening entertainment and drinking tea. The birds are very noisy and busy in the hedge and the sunset is spectacular.

dailigone (Ulster* dialect): dusk; twilight. 

*Ulster is one of the four provinces of Ireland, it is made up of six counties, four of which are part of Northern Ireland.

 

26 March 2021

cold spring

We are waiting for warmth. So far this year, spring has been cold, mostly. Apart from the freak summer for three days in February. My brother, the family expert due to his geophysics degree, mentions the gulf stream tipping point effects, I try not to listen. (He actually manages a bookstore, has been for most of his working life, so much for geophysics. He is a clever man.)

Today, I am to start my new medication regimen. Yet another monoclonal antibody I will inject into my thigh muscle every two weeks on a Friday evening. I asked R to fold the instruction leaflet (it's actually a fat little booklet) in such a way that I can skip the pages and pages and pages with the possible side effects. He offered to rip them out and store them elsewhere. Yes, please. 

As always, I briefly ask myself, what if they're wrong, what if I'm overdiagnosed, what if I'm actually completely healthy?

Still, I have plans, I am so greedy, I want a really amazing life.

This is the time to be slow,
Lie low to the wall
Until the bitter weather passes.

Try, as best you can, not to let
The wire brush of doubt
Scrape from your heart
All sense of yourself
And your hesitant light.

If you remain generous,
Time will come good;
And you will find your feet
Again on fresh pastures of promise,
Where the air will be kind
And blushed with beginning.

John O'Donohue

 

23 March 2021

One of the things I want to experience in real life and never have as yet, is to witness a murmuration. This one comes close to what I expect life has waiting for me somewhere. It'll do for the time being.

 


It was filmed earlier this month in Ireland, on Lough Ennell in Co Westmeath, by Colin Hogg and James Crombie. The story behind this video is here.

Like the fool I am most of the time, I went and got myself yet another vaccine. Yesterday, my GP called to remind me that I only had the first of two shingles vaccines and that this was almost six months ago and hence, time was of the essence. But, but, but, I said. Come in, she replied, it's two weeks since your second covid shot, all will be well. I want you to be covered.

I debated this with my inner idiot and decided that she, the GP, not only has a heart of gold but also that I want to be in her good books so R can get the covid vaccine asap and so I actually baked a tray of oatmeal cookies for her staff last night and this morning cycled over to her office after breakfast. 

After the shot, I sat for the required 15 mins and chatted through the open door with the receptionists about oatmeal cookies. I had no allergic reaction but the ground was somewhat wobbly which I ignored and cycled on to the farmer's market and back home whereupon I went to lie down and fell asleep for a bit few hours. And woke up to the same low bp I had after the covid vaccine. Only this time round, I am ever so cool about it. I even called my father as if I was on top of the world and we debated the failures of our government. We agreed on all points and in the end, he said, and I kid you not, your voice, which is very lively, frees me from some worries.  But he hung up before I could ask him to clarify "worries". 

My brother referes to this as the calendar wisdom replies when the hearing aid shuts down.

Other than that, spring is here. R is digging and potting and as of today, the potatoes are in the ground. I sit and watch the bees pollinating the almond trees. And the pear trees. And the peach trees. Also, the blueberry bushes. Very busy world out there.



21 March 2021

watching

The ultimate, hidden truth of the world is that it is something that we make, and could just as easily make differently.

David Graeber

Over the last two weeks, I have watched the six part documentary by British journalist and film maker Adam Curtis: Can’t Get You Out of My Head: An Emotional History of the Modern World  "that explores how modern society has arrived to the strange place it is today. The series traverses themes of love, power, money, corruption, the ghosts of empire, . . . it deals with the rise of individualism and populism throughout history, and the failures of a wide range of resistance movements throughout time and various countries, pointing to how revolution has been subsumed in various ways by spectacle and culture, because of the way power has been forgotten or given away." (it's available here)

It is overwhelming, ambitious, clever, creative, a rush of images, fragmented shots, music, portraits of strange anti-heroes, Black Panther, psychedelic dogs, Chinese opera, and all in all very very addictive and fun to watch.  Click here for background and the review from the New Yorker.

It starts with the quote above and it ends with the quote above. And thus it ends - at least for me - on a hopeful note because it refuses to accept that we as humans are unable to act transformatively in the world but that instead, political leaders have run out of ideas for what’s next.

Along the way, we learn that the Ku Klux Klan borrowed its emblematic costumes from D.W. Griffith's classic film Birth of a Nation.

We also learn that the first James Bond director made a propaganda film for Saddam Hussein. And we learn that Bob Geldof's "Live Aid" charity for the starving in Africa was hijacked by Ethiopian rulers to eliminate civil war rivals. 

And this:

 

 If almost seven hours is too much, just watch part one and part six.

No easy viewing, no easy answers maybe a whole lot of rubbish, but an experience I would not want to have missed.

With the pandemic, paranoia has accelerated but I don’t think it just came from that. People were so shocked by Brexit and Trump, that they started imagining all kinds of dark theories about Vladimir Putin, rather than facing the reality of politics in power – which is that actually you’ve got a shitty society at the moment and you should do something about it.

Adam Curtis

 



16 March 2021

not out of the woods or beware of the mutations

One week since the second vaccine. I just filled out the requested report on the side effects for the vaccination center which will be part of yet another study on this pandemic.

This is what happened: first six hours, i.e. Tuesday afternoon after the jab, tired and nauseous, nothing dramatic. During the night, shivers, sweating, no fever, more nausea, headache. Next morning massive vertigo, unable to walk straight, headache, nausea, shivers, slept mostly. Second night same story as first. Vertigo and headache stayed with me until Sunday, and by Thursday, that is day two post vaccine, my blood pressure had gone down well below 90/60 every time we checked and my GP ordered me to drink tea, lick some salt and walk around and upstairs when possible to get things going. That eventually did the trick, yesterday was the first fairly normal reading but bp is still dropping from time to time.

It all felt like hard work was going on. 

So, what else. My country has suspended the astra seneca vaccine for the time being, hopefully just for a matter of days. Here, there have been by now seven cases of a rare type of thrombosis, the so-called sinus vein thrombosis - usually there are less than 50 cases/annually.  Six of them were women of younger to middle age.  All cases occurred between 4 and 16 days after vaccination and three of the seven people have died.  In such a rare disease, seven cases within such a short time is significant and coincidence is highly unlikely. My uneducated guess is co-factors (possibly contraceptive pill plus smoking plus autoimmunity plus whatever) and/or vaccine batch related.

And now it's all down to risk assessment.

Then there is this from a brand new publication (read here) by a team of researchers from Harvard, Berlin and S. Africa, not yet completely peer-reviewed (the bold highlights are mine):

Vaccination elicits immune responses capable of potently neutralizing SARS-CoV-2. However, ongoing surveillance has revealed the emergence of variants harboring mutations in spike, the main target of neutralizing antibodies. To understand the impact of these variants, we evaluated the neutralization potency of 99 individuals that received one or two doses of either BNT162b2 or mRNA-1273 vaccines against pseudoviruses representing 10 globally circulating strains of SARS-CoV-2. Five of the 10 pseudoviruses, ..., were highly resistant to neutralization. Cross-neutralization of B.1.351 variants was comparable to SARS-CoV and bat-derived WIV1-CoV, suggesting that a relatively small number of mutations can mediate potent escape from vaccine responses. While the clinical impact of neutralization resistance remains uncertain, these results highlight the potential for variants to escape from neutralizing humoral immunity and emphasize the need to develop broadly protective interventions against the evolving pandemic.

In other words, the vaccine may not (immediately, eventually, yet) bring the desired salvation, "neutralization" means vaccine, "broadly protective interventions" could mean anything from vaccine boosters to ongoing mask wearing and distancing and oh well, have a think.

I went to the farmer's market today and distance-met with a friend in bad shape, someone working in the field of arts, freelance, successful, so busy, we rarely had time to meet. We recalled the years we each happily lived in far away tropical places with the ever present threat of debilitating illnesses. Her years were spent in places far more dangerous than where we lived.

Trying to remain level headed, we agreed that basically we are acting like angry spoiled kids because a virus is messing with our comfort zones. This actually cheered us both up. Go figure.

On a more cheerful note, here is Curt Smith, of the 1980s band Tears for Fears, and his daughter Diva with one of the big Tears for Fears songs that made me swing my toddler on my hips around the room.

15 March 2021

when you have raised a daughter

We women. We don’t have for ever. Some of us don’t have another week or another day to take time for you to discuss whatever it is that will enable you to go out into those streets and do something ... And I want one day of respite, one day off, one day in which no new bodies are piled up, one day in which no new agony is added to the old, and I am asking you to give it to me. And how could I ask you for less – it is so little. And how could you offer me less: it is so little.

Andrea Dworkin

 


 

11 March 2021

bear with me

My lovely GP called and ordered me to stay home and DO NOTHING until Sunday night. Just as I had put down the phone, I got an email from the top boss which I opened with the usual sense of resignation and duty only to read that his reaction to the second jab must have been even worse than mine, because, reader, he told me that he himself is staying home DOING NOTHING. 

The earth moved under my feet.

So what does it look like, doing nothing. I edited an urgent research grant application and read through a couple of first results from one of the research projects I have been assigned to. Then I went back to sleep for a while. 

R made lunch and decent coffee and I read all the news, incl. the stuff about the fairy tale people with the netflix deal. This is the stuff I usually read in waiting rooms and I just realised how I miss that kind of "news".

This is a good summary, from an Irish perspective - which I am unashamedly adopting just for a second now:

Having a monarchy next door is a little like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and has daubed their house with clown murals, displays clown dolls in each window and has an insatiable desire to hear about and discuss clown-related news stories. More specifically, for the Irish, it’s like having a neighbour who’s really into clowns and, also, your grandfather was murdered by a clown.

Beyond this, it’s the stuff of children’s stories. Having a queen as head of state is like having a pirate or a mermaid or Ewok as head of state. What’s the logic? Bees have queens, but the queen bee lays all of the eggs in the hive. The queen of the Britons has laid just four British eggs, and one of those is the sweatless creep Prince Andrew, so it’s hardly deserving of applause.

I  vaguely remember a debate in secondary school about the pros and cons of monarchy and although we had to do this in English (a foreign language I was more or less unable to handle at the time), there was a lot of derision and mentioning of colonialism and slavery. We were pretty awake at the time.



immune response at work

Got the second vaccine jab yesterday after lunch. This is nothing, I said to myself about three hours later and cycled for a short while through the rain. 

Little did she know . . . 

At around dinner time, I got the shivers and the headache.  Went to sleep. 

Woke up today with massive vertigo, more headache, nausea and possibly every other side effect in the book for the Moderna vaccine. R kindly read them all out to me in a show of concern or possibly because he's mad that he - who is so much older than me - has yet to wait for his appointment.  This is where a rare chronic illness comes up a treat for once. Not that we are competing here.

Called in sick and found out that almost all of my colleagues who got the jab yesterday are out sick as well. 

So I tried the distraction method.  It sort of worked, I continued the ongoing argument with my sister via email and tried to listen to a podcast but found it to blown up, lots of fillers and repeats, how about some editing, I shouted. 

I then tried to fall asleep listening to Colum McCann reading his latest novel Apeirogon. But no possible with this book. It sinks into your mind. Soon I was almost sobbing. 

Next, I sat down with my knitting project and spent the best part of the remaining day unraveling mistakes because, vertigo and headache. Then the nausea took over. 

Also, I got to sign this memo from the vaccine people:

If a vaccinated person comes into contact with the virus, there is a high probability that they will not get ill. At the moment, however, it is still uncertain to what extent people who have been vaccinated can still temporarily carry the virus after contact with it and infect other people. 

In such a case, a person would temporarily carry the virus, but not get sick and it is assumed that the transmission is reduced due to a lower and / or less long-lasting viral load in the nasal / throat area. 

It is also assumed that vaccination has an effect on community protection, i.e. the more people are vaccinated, the less virus circulates in the population (herd immunity). 

In this way, people could also be protected who cannot be vaccinated themselves. 

Ultimately, however, to date there is a lack of scientific knowledge to assess the extent to which the vaccination reduces transmission. As long as the infection process is as dynamic as it is at the moment, all measures should be observed to push back the pandemic and to protect all people as best as possible from infection. 

Therefore, as a precautionary measure - until further study data are available - vaccinated persons should continue to observe the infection protection measures.


 

 




09 March 2021

where women rule

Yesterday was International Women's Day.  In my younger trade union days, this was usually celebrated - rowdy and cheerful and exclusively female.  We enjoyed it when the big boss would traipse up with a couple of roses, doling them out like diamonds. What a laugh we had and how he would blush in anger - especially when we found out that his wife had bought the bouquet for him.

Silly. Meaningless.

This year, I found out about these islands in the Baltic sea where women rule. The two islands Khinu and Manija. Wikipedia tells me: As the men of Kihnu have been frequently away to sea, women have run everyday life on the island and became the guardians of the island's cultural heritage, which includes handicrafts, dances, games and music. Music is an especially important part of the island's traditions, and accompanies handicrafts, religious feasts and other celebrations. Ancient runo-styled songs are also important, as is traditional clothing adorned with decorations and bright colours. 

These are such magnificent pictures. I borrowed them from here. There are many more to admire. The photographer is Anne Helene Gjelstad. These images have been published in many media outlets.

 

 the men have to wait outside for their turn at funerals

this could be is me knitting for the grandchild


and this is for Mary Moon




03 March 2021

In difficult times you should always carry something beautiful in your mind. 

 

Blaise Pascal

The speed reader in me completed this sentence with "with you" instead of "in your mind". So, yes, it came as a relief to realise it's just in my mind and I don't have to lug around any of the nice trinkets or whatnots that go for beautiful in my life right now.

Difficult times, yes and no. Repetitive, boring times more so for us. Slightly cabin feverish. But seriously, nothing to get worked up about. I had a bit of a row with a friend who lamented the trauma that #thecurrentsituation is inflicting on us. Really? I am not traumatised. Not by a long stretch. But the children, she cried out. Missing school, their career prospects, their social contacts, who will employ them in later life and so on.

Here is what I think. My father missed out on five years of school due to WWII. (Without internet access.) Instead, he was sent to dig air fields, harvest grains, bake bread and clean out stables. He stole stuff, he was often cold and food supply was poor. He also raised chickens in a broken shed, grew tobacco to sell on the black market and discovered his love for agriculture. After the war, he had to wait another year before school could start again. (Without internet access.) And without libraries or any teaching materials because all had been confiscated by the US army to check for nazi content - and why not. By the time he graduated from high school, he had to wait another two years before he could go to university because the returning war prisoners and refugees etc. were first in line. He spent these two years travelling from farm to farm, working and learning. He had a brilliant career as an agricultural scientist, a somewhat patchy one as a father and husband. He had his share of trauma but nothing compared to my mother, who also was an excellent scientist but a most disastrous mother.

When I asked him how his experience compares with what kids are living through right now, he was quiet for a while. I think, he said, I think we must always search for the lessons. There is always something to discover. Don't waste your time feeling sorry. And with that he put down the phone.

Don't get me wrong. I don't want to belittle anybody's fears and worries. I lie awake at night, too. I worry, I fret, I get angry. I am an expert at that. So here is my offer, try to carry something beautiful in my mind.


28 February 2021

Sunday morning perusals

It was Johnny Cash's birthday last week. I have been a fan from early teenage years after I had stumbled on that recording of the concert in Folsom prison late one night when I had sneaked down to watch tv after everybody had gone to bed. In the 1970s, surrounded by serious Genesis, King Crimson, Led Zeppelin etc. fans, that infatuation was not something to share in public.

Oh. What we considered as troublesome then.

Whereas these days . . .

There's the vaccines, which seem to provide immunity of sorts - very hopeful first data - as well as mild disease course if infected and the potential - highly likely but too early to call - of limited or even halted transmission.

And then there's treatment options. Here is my brief and unskilled summary of a brand new publication on promising drugs to help those infected to recover.

For the full article click here.

SARS-CoV-2 is a novel coronavirus responsible for the COVID-19 pandemic, in which acute respiratory infections are associated with high socio-economic burden.

As a complement to the safe and effective vaccines against SARS-CoV-2, the repurposing of existing drugs represents a pragmatic strategy for the treatment of COVID-19 patients. Drug repurposing (drug repositioning) is advantageous in the face of rapidly-spreading emerging diseases.

Multiple ... clinical trials have been initiated in the search for effective treatments against SARS-CoV-2. The individual drugs or combination treatments for these studies have often been selected based on known activities against SARS-CoV, Ebola virus, HIV or Plasmodium spp. ... However, the search for effective drugs against SARS-CoV-2 could extend beyond known antivirals and anti-infectives ...

 A team of virologists, microbiologist, pharmacologists, infectiologists etc.

... applied high-content screening to a well-defined collection of 5632 compounds including 3488 that have undergone previous clinical investigations across 600 indications. The compounds were screened by microscopy for their ability to inhibit SARS-CoV-2 cytopathicity in the human epithelial colorectal adenocarcinoma cell line, Caco-2. 

Cytopathicity is the ability of a virus to produce detrimental changes in cells. So here, over five thousand established drugs (compounds) that have been used and investigated for their efficacy in six hundred diseases were introduced, separately, to a specific human cell line. This cell line has been used in many drug investigation as it shows how and how fast a drug may enter the body via the small intestine. Basically, the Caco-2 cells are our stand-in in drug trials.

If you are not put off by detailed method descriptions of drug testing and the specifics of testing assays and all the technical stuff, this article reads like a thriller where step by step the villain is surrounded by the good guys.

First, anti malarial drugs:

Among the first group of drugs initially reported to show activity against SARS-CoV were anti-malarial compounds such as chloroquine and its close relative hydroxychloroquine, although larger ...  trials indicated they were largely ineffective. We found that ... other anti-malarial compounds ... were inactive ... whereas the chloroquine analog mefloquine showed concentration-dependent activity at the highest compound concentrations.

Next, anti fungal drugs:

 Our hits also included ... anti fungal compounds  all showing ... effective concentrations ...

Then the HIV drugs: 

Several drugs .. developed for the treatment of HIV ... suggesting a possible mechanism for inhibiting viral replication.

Then a couple of others: 

(drugs used) ... for heart disease, impotence, and psychosis, which also inhibit multiple strains of influenza virus (and those) ... with anti cancer activity (and those) ... developed as oral drugs for the treatment of cancer or inflammation.

And, with stubborn dedication (my interpretation) they came closer and closer and - tada! -

...identified 258 hits that inhibited cytopathicity by more than 75%, most of which were not previously known to be active against SARS-CoV-2 ...

I don't have the first clue about what and how they did all this but I am beginning to love science. 

As a side note, the promising drugs may include viagra. Not that it matters to me.


 

24 February 2021

 

Not yet.

21 February 2021

Sunday morning reading

Here is my short version of this peer-reviewed review on immunity, vaccines and the covid. 

(for full article with Figures click here)

Any virus that can cause disease in humans must have at least one immune evasion mechanism—at least one immune evasion “trick.” Without the ability to evade the immune system, a virus is usually harmless. Understanding immune evasion by a virus is frequently important for understanding the (...) virus, as well as understanding challenges faced by the adaptive immune system and any candidate vaccine. In the case of SARS-CoV-2, the virus is clearly unusually effective at evading the triggering of early (...)immune responses (...). It is plausible that much of the nature of COVID-19 as an illness is a consequence of this one big trick of SARS-CoV-2.

In an idealized example of a (...) viral infection, the (...) immune system rapidly recognizes the infection and triggers  “alarm bells”(...). This can occur within a couple of hours of infection.

In a SARS-CoV-2 infection, the virus is particularly effective at avoiding or delaying triggering (...) immune responses (...)  enough to result in asymptomatic infection (...) or clinically mild disease (“mild” is a COVID-19 clinical definition meaning not requiring hospitalization).

If the innate immune response delay is too long—because of particularly efficient evasion by the virus, defective innate immunity, or a combination of both—then the virus (1) gets a large head start in replication in the upper respiratory tract (URT) and lungs, and (2) fails to prime an adaptive immune response for a long time, resulting in conditions that lead to severe enough lung disease for hospitalization (...). These factors can be amplified by challenges of age, as elderly individuals (...) struggle to make a (...) response quickly that can recognize this new virus.

Although lung infection is a major component of severe COVID-19 (and relatively slow), upper respiratory tract (URT) infection is important for transmission. Notably, a vaccine that can prevent severe disease, or even most URT symptomatic diseases, would not necessarily prevent transmission of virus. 

The elderly present particular and important challenges for COVID-19 vaccines. Older individuals are at much higher risk for severe COVID-19. 

One key feature of vaccines is that immunization occurs well in advance of infection, giving the adaptive immune system time to respond, expand, and mature. 

Overall, the interim results from the two COVID-19 RNA vaccine trials were virtually identical, with 94% and 95% efficacy and similar other outcomes. The safety profile of the two vaccines is also excellent, with a combined >70,000 doses administered and no serious adverse events. 

. . . the biggest unknown now is probably the durability of the vaccine-induced immunity. Because there is no licensed RNA vaccine, no clear reference point exists for how durable immunity will be for this vaccine. Are the antibodies durable? Is the T cell memory durable? Is the B cell memory durable? Those are all important questions, and it will take time to answer them.


20 February 2021

so many reasons to be cheerful

 

 


And all of a sudden, spring. The blackbirds are singing their hearts out before sunrise and the woodpeckers are screeching and hammering. And there's what my father-in-law would call that good stretch in the evenings now

All week the cranes have been returning and it's such a welcome sight and sound. This year more so than ever. When I heard the first flock, late afternoon on Monday, we ran outside to watch the enormous flocks high above in their V-shaped formations flying in from the southwest and I noticed that all the neighbours were out there with us and we all were gazing up and clapping and waving. I got on my bicycle and cycled along with them for a while. It was just the best thing.

In the garden it is winter aconite week. I found just the one snowdrop struggling between the thyme bushes, the last of hundreds which, according to the gardener, is due to shrews eating the bulbs and, according to my own humble opinion - which I wisely keep to myself -, due to the gardener digging up the bulbs because he is not fond of them, their messy green leaves taking up space after too short of a bloom. The gardener hates waste. We disagree.

There's just a bit left to harvest, like these fat fellows, which I roasted (cubed) with a bit of miso butter and honey.



Next will be crocus and grape hyacinth week and before we can take a  breath, the full flowering orgy will be upon us. I have been reading about mast years and now have great hopes for the hazel and various plum trees this year after last summer's dismal harvest.

Meanwhile seed propagation is getting out of hand, we transplanted the first batches and they are now happy in the cold frame and the greenhouse but as always, there's more and even more and soon I will have to do a ring-a-round for takers.

The grandchild asked this morning, can you come to my house granny and granddad? And people, we laughed and held our breath for while.


18 February 2021

 

I keep trying to remember that all pandemics are finite. I wonder whether that's a consolation. So history shows that each pandemic ends one way or another. The Spanish flu ended in 1918, as WW I ended, because it was the war that got it going in the first place.

But it's a bit different with the covid. I read and try to understand and what I can figure out is that, yes, we need the vaccines, all of them, but we shouldn't put our hopes on that with a vaccine all will be well.

It doesn't help anyone in the wealthy North/West if we are all vaccinated and the mutations then come to us from Africa because there is a lack of vaccines there.

Most new infectious diseases are transmitted from animals to humans. In recent years alone: Ebola, Sars, Mers,  Zika. You don't need to be an expert to see how this is due to the ongoing destruction of nature, climate change, extinction of species, factory farming. 

We humans penetrate ever deeper into the natural habitat of wild animal populations. This increases the likelihood that new viral diseases will pass from animals to humans. Even if the fight against this pandemic is currently overshadowing everything, we have to face the larger ecological crisis behind it at the same time.

This is a long-term epidemic, after 12 months, obviously so and it has and will continue to change society and daily life. That's a good thing. I read that the bubonic plague which killed at least a third of the population of Europe in the 14th century (??) is responsible for our concept of public health. Pandemic as formative event, so to speak.

People ask me what I miss most and I am at a loss. Travel, eating out, going to a bookshop, a museum, it all sounds so trivial and vain when I hear of terrible cases of long covid, of family members dying within hours of each other. Of course, I want to visit my daughter, my grandchild. But for much longer than this pandemic, we have been talking about how things were spiralling out of control, have been plotting ways and campaigns and actions to enable our children's and grandchildren's future on a livable planet away from the old destructive normal. 

Because the old normal has put us here, I want to shout. Our silly arrogance, our superiority complex. Let's be a tad more humble here and take our place, our teeny tiny place on the planet with care and responsibility.





 

14 February 2021

First the river flooded and it rained for ever an entire week, then the cold front moved in with an entire week of frost and sunlight and strong northerly wind. The house is pretty crowded with various potted lemon and fig trees sheltering indoors, the window sills are filling up with seed trays. We started six new varieties of tomatoes and a couple of peppers from a seed sharing group. This is what excitement looks like at the onset of year 2 with covid. On Tuesday, I had my first jab (Moderna). I admit that I was watching out for side effects but none appeared.

Yesterday, I just had to cycle, two no-bicycle weeks is a long stretch for me, and I wrapped up in very many layers but had to turn back after maybe six kilometers as my fingers were frozen numb and no amount of cursing and scarf wrapping and hood tightening could get that freezing wind out of my nose and face and neck. I never liked the cold. I don't even like the look of it, the godawful frosty sunlit crunchy lawn with all that stupid glitter.

My childhood winters were snowy and cold, long weeks of ice skating and tobogganing and skiing and snow ball fights. I didn't know it at the time, but I hated it. Truly hated it. What a miserable time! I was often the one who turned back first, walking home through the thick snow banks along the road, stumbling and crying. My feet white and numb, my mother sat me in front of two buckets, one filled with cold water, one with warm water, gave me her watch and I would stick my feet for five minutes first in the warm and then in the cold bucket and back and forth until they started to itch and tingle and come back to life. 

While my siblings could not get outside fast enough, I welcomed every inkling of a sore throat or runny nose, any excuse to be allowed to stay indoors. Looking out into what my mother would call her winter wonderland garden, only let my heart sink. Still does.

I read somewhere something to the effect that we are confirmed, consoled and troubled by the landscapes through which we move in life and the places in which we live and have lived. About the ways our mood and our imagination and our identity has become influenced by the weather and the shapes and the textures and also the people, animals, plants, hills and shores (remembered and actual) of all the places we have inhabited.

It was always the sea I wanted. Even long before I knew much about it. It must have been from a book I read, maybe Pippi Longstocking's father in the South Seas, or one of those Sunday school missionary stories with pictures of children in fishing boats off the coast of Madagascar. Anyway, I would proclaim that I wanted to live by the sea. My parents were amused, what imagination she has and so on.

And then I lived by the sea, within walking distance to two different oceans, one after the other, one more spectacular than the other, for over a decade and it was just, well, normal. Then, I moved to this river valley, which was alien to me for so many years. Every aspect about life here was uninviting, the closeness, the dark hills, the way this big river cut across the landscape so carelessly, flooding and drying out in turn, messing things up. And for a while, occasionally even now, I so much wanted to be back by the sea, move away from what felt so claustrophobic at the time.

Yet, my parents and their parents, my grandparents, had no such longings. In their different ways, they were fiercely attached to a life that included forests and fields and orchards and riverbanks and carp ponds and vegetable gardens. 

In her last years, when she was 100 years old, my grandmother, who then lived in a care home, would still oversee the apple harvest in her garden with angry instructions over the phone to my brother and cousins as to who would get how much and when and where to collect the windfalls for juice making. There were seven varieties of apple trees. I still know their names: Klarapfel, Gravensteiner, one early and one late Renette, Goldparmäne, Boskoop and Berlepsch. On one of my visits, the summer before her death, she scolded me for wearing flimsy sandals. Total waste of money, she told me, not made for walking and certainly useless for working in the garden. in other words, good for nothing.

Years ago, when I was very ill the summer after I had oral surgery, my father took me for a long drive through the hills and forests of Hohenlohe, an area just west of his Franconian homeland, where he had spent many childhood summers with relatives. As we drove through small villages with storks nesting on church steeples and past moated medieval castles, he pointed out the old apple orchards everywhere. See the wealth, the riches, he said. And he was not only referring to the soil that had produced such abundant trees for centuries. What he noted was the windfall apples. In fact, piles of it under every tree. There are so many apples this year, he told me, too many. The farmers won't harvest this year, not worth the effort, better to leave them rot, for the birds, the deer and the soil. 

I could go on, memories of following my grandfather in his three-piece suit, his fob watch and walking stick with the shiny knobbly handle, while he walked deeper and deeper into the forest, pointing out adders and salamander skins, blue jay feathers and broken bird egg shells. My mother and her herb garden, her bean stalks and the way she could imitate bird song.

We are all shaped by the sound of wind, the slant of sunlight by streams of scent flowing faint or sharp in the larger ocean of air.
Barry Lopez

06 February 2021

the wheel

 


 

. . . in the pagan year, there is a ceremony or a ritual or something being marked, every six weeks, across the year, and that that gives hope for anybody who is currently suffering, because you are never far away from the next moment when you can get together and when you can celebrate. But also, it gives you a sense of time passing, which is really helpful when you’re struggling, because time can begin to drag, and you can get mired in hopelessness. But actually, you get a kind of marker of your progress, so the next time that something comes up in the calendar, you can feel how far away you actually are from the last time you celebrated, and that that helps you to move through, and you can start to look towards the next one, and a pleasure in the next one, perhaps, as a way of dividing up those long months.

 

Katherine May (speaking in "on being" -  a lovely podcast episode)


Time flies, Imbolc is past us. The German feast day on the 2nd of February is called Maria Lichtmess (Mary's candlemass), the day Mary blows out the candle that was lit by St. Martin in November - yet another pagan ritual customized by the churches. Godlovethem. 

My Franconian grandmother would declare, an Lichtmess ich mein Brot bei Licht ess' (on the day of candlemass I can eat dinner by daylight). It is also my sister's birthday and we managed a polite phone call. Even laughter.

My year is usually split into quarter sections dictated by my health insurance. Every three months, I have to show my face and my insurance card to my GP to prove my existence and to collect prescriptions and referrals. And there's the one brief immunologist appointment every three  months.

When I was first diagnosed with my shitty disease, I was in despair about this, waiting from one of these appointments to the next, the gap seemed enormous and so much could happen, what if I go deaf or blind or the kidneys pack it in or what if I die, until I finally accepted that checking on a chronic condition every three months or so is the way it's done. In between, nobody is holding your hand, you just have to make the best of it. (And you are supposed to keep a record of symptoms.)

So, you get quite blasé about it all after a while, you forget about the record soon enough, nothing life threatening happens, and by now you barely register the clumps of blood on your tissue every morning after your sinuses start to clear. Because even if it's a fair bit and has been going on for what, weeks, months (?), it's not a nose bleed, just lumpy stuff, and you know, it's crusts that count. Crusts, you have been told, mean vascular tissue damage, lumpy clumpy stuff is just plain boring bleeding sinus membranes.

Also, the digestive system can be far more variable than you were told to believe. Two weeks of painful bloating nausea is considered acceptable under the circumstances unless it's accompanied by constant constipation and, here we go again, blood. Don't bother to get alarmed.

And anyway, the date for the annual full colonoscopy/endoscopy is set (for June).

Fatigue? Brain fog? Rest is a good thing and don't expect too much at your age. After all, this is a chronic illness.

You scrape by, from day to day, to week to week, quarter to quarter. From Imbolc to Ostara to Beltaine to midsummer. On and on.


31 January 2021

My father now answers the phone with "And who is calling me?" and when I say my name and my greetings, he repeats my name, aha, Sabine on a Sunday, he calls out, and tells me his latest temperature and blood pressure readings. He has well and truly survived the covid infection without any of the expected symptoms. We proceed in the usual manner, he talks, I listen. This is his clever way to cover up the fact that he can no longer really hear what I say. When I make an attempt at conversation, shouting, whatever, he ends the call. Lately, he has begun to thank me for calling before he hangs up, which is most startling. I believe it's purely out of caution since he may not be entirely sure who has called him. Just to be on the safe side, could be someone else, someone important, not one of his children.

Many thanks for all the wonderful comments to my last post about decluttering. You have given me much to think about. The ideas of a bonfire send off was most appealing and I spent a few early morning hours setting the scene, but my family rejected my - already quite elaborate - proposal point blank as it would unnecessarily increase our carbon footprint. 

I have therefore handed over all my grandmother's letters, the ones she wrote to her children during the WWII years, to R for scanning. He has taken to it with great gusto, archiving by year and month. He just informed me that the letters from 1943 - 1945 appear to have been handled and folded many more times than the ones after 1945. We speculate about how many people may have read them and where and when. R wants to find secret codes, suspects that my grandmother attempted to convey secret messages to her two adult children, one a medical student working in field hospitals,  the other about to desert his unit before walking home across eastern Europe. I don't agree, this is not a war movie.

Here's hoping that his enthusiasm will not fade when I open the next steamer trunk.

Earlier today, we distributed another batch of books across the city's open public book shelves (?) or cases (?) whatever you call it. A friend had warned me that my books would not go to readers but that these places are "raided regularly by mean characters with the intention to sell donated books on the black market". Yikes! or rather, good luck, fellows! Whatever it takes.

It has been raining and snowing, today the rivers has bursts its bank. Not much but enough for headlines. On our way back from the book drop, we looked through the hectic wiper business into a grey and cold Sunday afternoon. A few more weeks, we reassured each other. 

There's some good info on this song here.

27 January 2021

Decluttering

Maybe you should let be what has been, maybe you should let be what will be, maybe you should concentrate all your skills on what you have in front of you, on a few rust-red rocks, on a branch of that bush teeming with tiny lice that produce a bubbly, sweet sap? 

Peter Rosei

For the past couple of months I made attempts at decluttering, not in the fashionable sense, I am not a minimalist or whatever, no intentions of creating space for new clear design ideas - the gaps here and there look quite hideous in fact. But for the time being, this is a lockdown space anyway. Who cares, I am not entertaining interior designers.

No it's all a precautionary measure after I read the story of the married couple dying of covid within days of each other. Plus the memory of the day, the morning, it didn't even take a day, after the old man across the road had died and the container which was placed under the balcony and two guys threw all the stuff, everything, sheets and books and china and the tv, into it, showing off their muscles. Also, my only child far away. Also, the virus restrictions. And more.

As of now, I am still at the stage where I take every item into my hands before it goes. 

I sold a mountain of books I obviously will never read again, I immediately invested the money into food and wine, and just a few audio books. I donated another mountain of books to the various open access public libraries we have in parks and along the river promenades. 

There are so many books left. I decided I'll give them a rest for the time being. In other words, I have reached the shelves with the poetry and the Irish authors and the German history (crime and popular fiction was easy).

Instead I am now digging my way through two large old steamer trunks (from my grandparents) full of letters and calendars and diaries. I found the big sheet of cardboard where R timed the contractions during labour and my breastfeeding diary with the weight chart of my premature baby. It's not an accurate record, just a jumble of sheets of paper filled with the scratchy handwriting of a overly tired woman in the early hours of nights spent nursing. I found the big fat sign we made when I started labour, the one I would read over and over and over again for the next 33 hours: "Rain after all is only rain, not bad weather. So also, pain is only pain, unless we resist it, then it becomes torment".

I am trying to figure out what to do with all that. The premature baby is long grown up and gone, with her own birthing and nursing memories. 

This morning, I read a letter my brother wrote to me in the summer before my father did his disappearing act. I was far away on the other side of the equator then. He is not a man of many words, my brother, but there was that: "When she saw us arriving, she tried to walk out to the garden gate but tottered and fell on the way and my first thought was, run, but in the end, I put the kids back in the car and walked over to help her up. She stank of booze. Just be glad you are not here."

I put that letter back in the thick brown envelope where I had stuffed all his other letters, not many, but still. 

Where should this go to? Paper recycle bin? Rubbish? Compost? I asked him, he doesn't want to have any of it.


16 January 2021

behavioral synchrony

. . . or as someone wrote somewhere on social media, finding solace in communal work songs of the perilous and beautiful sea.

 

12 January 2021

The living of life, any life, involves great and private pain, much of which we share with no one. In such places as the Inner Gorge, the pain trails away from you. It is not so quiet there or so removed that you can hear yourself think, that you would even wish to. That comes later. You can hear your heartbeat. That comes first.

Barry Lopez 

As a follow up to my last post, which I wrote after reading that the writer Barry Lopez had died last month, I have been reading excerpts from his book Artic Dreams, which has been hiding under a layer of dust on our bookshelf. And then I found these very moving interviews with him online. (Please be aware that in one of them he talks about being sexually abused as a child - and his recovery.) 

In the beginning of the first interview, he mentions that he had just come out of the Grand Canyon where he had spent time with musicians. This is one of the pieces of music from that experience.

 

09 January 2021

It is more important now to be in love than to be in power.

Evidence of the failure to love is everywhere around us. To contemplate what it is to love today brings us up against reefs of darkness and walls of despair. If we are to manage the havoc—ocean acidification, corporate malfeasance and government corruption, endless war—we have to reimagine what it means to live lives that matter, or we will only continue to push on with the unwarranted hope that things will work out. We need to step into a deeper conversation about enchantment and agape*, and to actively explore a greater capacity to love other humans. The old ideas—the crushing immorality of maintaining the nation-state, the life-destroying belief that to care for others is to be weak, and that to be generous is to be foolish—can have no future with us.

Barry Lopez 

*agape (ἀγάπη) means unconditional love, it stems from the Greek agapan (ἀγαπᾷν), which translates as greet with affection, receive with friendship

This came to mind when I read what Beth wrote a few days ago: "When we rise up against one another, with our righteousness, there is a darkness that overcomes us." 

 

Let me list a couple of nice things that happened in the last week. 

I called my top bosses on Thursday and told them that I want to work from home because, the virus and they said, sure, stay where you are. I have been working two days/week on campus since October because, morale and look what others are risking.

The grandchild has figured out that their name is connected to being an individual person and when asked - which we do ridiculously too often - who's that?, will reply matter of fact with full name and a slight shake of head as in, who are you to have to ask. Also, the repertoire of hand puppets has grown to include a baby owl. (Looks good on whatsapp.)

And this:

After AM sent me her 12 mandalas, I made them into a calendar with the help of an online photo service and today, this came in the post. It hang on the wall above my desk. The picture is shaky. It's a white background with a beige coloured frame. The size is A4.

 Reasons to be cheerful. Stay healthy.


05 January 2021

 

 

It's grey, grey, grey and cold. We are arguing. About the same handful of issues that usually come up from time to time and have been around for the last 40 years. I banged a couple of doors on my way to the bike shed and cycled for 15 fast and furious kilometers along the grey river just before it got dark. Back home, my fingers were so numb, I swear I could have snapped the tops off and the bits of my hair that had escaped the hood were frozen. 

There was tea waiting for me.

A week ago, my father was tested positive for the virus. When my brother messaged me, I was at work in my lonely office on campus, not a soul in the adjoining rooms, and for a second, I was afraid, I might die right here on the spot with no one to find me for hours, days. But only for a second, because I quickly realised once again that I am fully grown up, in fact, an adult for now well over 40 years and that he is a bully and a rude old man who walked out on my mother in the deepest night.

Anyway. He has no symptoms. He is 92 years old and lucky for him and us, one of the staff at his care home was able to replace the batteries of his TV remote control. So all is well. He is in isolation which means, meals are brought into his room and he does not need to roll himself to the dining area.

We set up a phone call rota but he immediately figured out that ruse - obviously - and told us to Get A Grip. Also, we cannot remember him ever being ill - apart from his collection of fractures after various falls in recent years and the odd upset stomach due to the wrong food/drink intake - no fever, running nose, cough, sore throat. Not him. He told me today that he certainly never missed a day at work, that sickness was for ninnies (like me).

I have been reading up on the virus mutation(s). As it stands, the vaccines will remain effective. And well, if you don't like the vaccine, try the disease.

We must slow the spread. Especially now as vaccines are rolled out. The more transmission, the more opportunities for the virus to roam and mutate and evading immunity.  And more mutations could mean less vaccine efficacy.

This article here explains it well.

We are in a new phase of the pandemic. Much will depend on how well and how rapidly the vaccinations take place, but also whether we as a society manage to act in solidarity  - masks, distancing, the whole taking care of each other shebang, and most likely, for months.

We have just been informed that the lock down has been extended until at least the end of January.

Take care. 

01 January 2021

new year resolution

 In the days before smartphones and tiny headphones for children's ears, our car travel with a child often involved all of us listening to cassette tapes of children's stories while we navigated our way towards or back from holiday destinations.

There was a lazy spring afternoon driving along the back roads between Siena and San Giminiano listening to  the adventures of Bilbo Baggins, long hours on French motorways with James and the Giant Peach, and a dark rainy evening drive back from Dublin with The Wind in The Willows. 

Now, The Wind in the Willows has charmed us all, but on tape, we only had an abridged version of "stories from" etc. which was good enough at the time but when S started to read she discovered with surprised outrage that we had "missed huge parts" of it. 

Especially, chapter seven, which to this day, is omitted in some versions, too much mysticism.

What happens in this chapter is Mole and Rat searching for Portly, the youngest otter, who has gone missing. They search most of the night and just before dawn find him asleep at the feet of the piper at the gates of dawn. The piper is of course, Pan, the god of the wild, of nature and of all who roam in and upon her, humans, animals, alone or in herds.

You can read it here, it's just gorgeous. Or you can listen to the gentle voice of Mike Scott from The Waterboys here:



This is January 2021, we have work to do, people. Not just get the vaccine and keep our fingers crossed. Our home, our planet is on fire, we need to wake up. When my grandchild is old enough to read this chapter, I want to be able to say that I tried my hardest.