26 February 2022

civilization watershed moment - again

Indeed I live in the dark ages!
A guileless word is an absurdity. A smooth forehead betokens
A hard heart. He who laughs
Has not yet heard
The terrible tidings.

Ah, what an age it is
When to speak of trees is almost a crime
For it is a kind of silence about injustice!
And he who walks calmly across the street,
Is he not out of reach of his friends
In trouble?

Bertolt Brecht

The Russian leader has invaded Ukraine, to ‘denazify’ a country led by a man whose Jewish forebears died in the Holocaust. 

Berlin yesterday:

21 February 2022

two voices


First Hisham Ziauddeen

Can I live safely with COVID? 

Take this simple quiz to find out! If you answer 'yes' to a question, just add the score in parentheses to your total. At the end, see what your total means.


1. Are you very rich? (-2) 

2. Can you choose how and where you work?(-1) 

3. Does your work place have protections in place? (-1)

4. Are you disabled? (+1) 

5. Are you immunocompromised or clinically vulnerable/high risk? (+1) 

5. Do you live with someone who is disabled or immunocompromised or clinically vulnerable? 

6. Do you live with a school-going child or are you a school-going child?

7. Are you a healthcare worker? (+1) 

8. Are you a teacher or work in a school? (+1) 

9. Are you unable to be vaccinated or likely to have a poor vaccine response? (+1) 

10. Do you have LongCOVID? (+1) 

11. Are you reliant on having a functioning health service? (+1)

Now calculate your total score.

If your score is 0 or less: You may be able to live with COVID. Continue taking safety measures like high grade masks and work hard to keep your score at or below zero.

If your score is more than zero: Think hard, is there anything you can do to get your score to or below zero? Are you absolutely sure you can't get your score down to or below zero?

In case it is not already clear, this is just an attempt to highlight the stark reality that for a lot of people in our societies, there is no option of living safely with an ongoing pandemic with high levels of transmission.     

We have a large number of disabled, immunocompromised and clinically vulnerable individuals who are at a higher risk of death and serious outcomes should they get COVID.

Many have been shielding for most of two years and under the plans to 'return to normal' and lift all protections, they have essentially no option but to continue to do so, with no end in sight. They have pretty much been written off as acceptable losses by the 'living with the virus' folks. Of course, these individuals are not a separate group in society. They are members of our families and to protect them, their families will need to continue to be very careful.  

Children will continue to be at increased risk given transmission in schools and any delay in vaccinating 5-11 year-olds. Clinically vulnerable children and children in vulnerable families will continue to have their lives significantly limited. 

Teachers and school workers and healthcare workers will continue to have high levels of exposure and be at higher risk. It's going to be tricky to 'return to normal' if you don't have enough staff to keep schools and the health services running properly. If you have or develop a health condition that requires a functioning health service to help you manage it, this will get more difficult. Without any other protections, we're left with a vaccines-alone approach and if you can't get vaccinated or have a poor immune response to vaccines, well... 

Btw, if you are immunocompromised, your vaccine course is 3 doses + booster not 2 + booster.  

Finally, people with LongCOVID are already suffering significantly, and some difficulties may take a long while to be investigated and understood properly, let alone treated. They can't risk getting COVID again. 

In short, getting 'back to normal' is not going to be an option for many people, and pretending that the pandemic is over and life just needs to get back to normal, will make life for many people more difficult and dangerous.

If you're in the 'we need to get back to normal' crowd, at least be honest about the fact that you're ok with lots of other people suffering, becoming ill and/or dying. Don't just leave that important bit of 'we need to get back to normal' remain unspoken. 

Next, Ed Yong

Dispense with the fiction that immunocompromised people are rare, secluded, or easy to identify. There are millions of them. Most don’t live in a bubble. Most look healthy. You probably have friends & colleagues you don’t know are ICd.  

A lot of immunocompromised people respond poorly to COVID vaccines & are mostly unprotected despite their shots. They're in limbo, uncertain about the odds & consequences of infections. Meanwhile, the gulf between them & everyone else widens.  

Policies like mask mandates that helped immunocompromised folks are vanishing. Friends & colleagues are dismissing their remaining risk because of the misleading idea that Omicron is “mild”. To be simply ignored would be bad enough. To be *mocked* is even worse. Many immunocompromised people . . . are tired of pundits who equate risk-aversion with irrationality. They’re sick of being a throwaway clause in someone’s callous op-ed. They’ve been made to feel that they’re holding society back. 

The opposite is true. Losing remote options forces many immunocompromised people into risky situations, "like asking someone who can't swim to jump into the ocean instead of trying a pool.” I spoke to 21 people . . . who are either immunocompromised or caring for those who are. I asked them what they want. Exactly no one said “permanent lockdown”. They want their lives back too. They need the world to be safer.

19 February 2022

We are the only animal that in the face of trauma continues to retraumatise itself, playing and replaying that which has already happened to frighten us.
Mark Epstein

I have led a sheltered life. In comparison. I have never ever been desperately short of money or work or friends. I was never stranded, lost or destitute, in a material sense. I never needed to pick myself off the ground all alone, there has always been someone around to lend a hand pulling me up.

But neither was I ever pampered or spoiled or handed opportunities, advantages, secret handshakes, that kind of thing, no family connections were played out for my benefit.

Mostly by my own choosing, naivete, ignorance or simply life, I have found myself in a couple of dodgy situations and sometimes, I could get quite scared remembering, imagining what could have happened. 

And then of course, I have had a smattering share of scary matters of life and health and death. Haven't we all.

But the most scary, frightening thing that ever happened to me is this - and while it happened a long time ago, the memory is as vivid and immediate as if it had happened yesterday.

I am in my early 20s. At this stage in my life, I am working as a bookseller and the local radical bookseller's association (yes, this was something that proudly existed at the time), has financed a trip for me to attend the annual feminist book fair. It is sometime after midnight and I am on the bus from Wales, where I disembarked the night boat from Ireland, to London. I am seasick and sit in the front near the door. The bus stops in a couple of places along the way and I hop out for a breath of fresh air when I get a chance. At one of these stops, literally seconds before the bus leaves, two men push something onto the seat across the aisle from me and quickly run away. It's not something, it's someone. A middle aged woman in a stylish coat, long hair, sunglasses. She has lost one shoe, wearing only one black boot with a high heel. A large handbag. And she is drunk. Absolutely, completely, utterly drunk. For the next five or so hours, we travel through the night and I am terrified. I force myself to stop looking, watching her as she mutters and curses, drops her bag and spills the contents, picks some of them up, lets her body fall forward and sideways, almost slipping off the seat, cries and finally, seemingly, falls asleep for a while. I am covered in sweat, paralysed by the fear of a lifetime growing up with an addict. Like the child I once was, not too many years ago, I am hiding, afraid she might discover me across from her, look at me, speak to me, ask for help. For, of course, this woman in her smart clothes, her shaky hands searching for her lighter, her cigarettes, that last bottle, trying to brush her hair, this wreck of a person is my mother. At least for a couple of hours on a night bus. 

I cannot remember what happened when the bus arrived. I know I met friends, attended the book fair, bought stuff, danced in a club, the usual.

How alone we are in the vast universe. 

my mother, my brother, me

06 February 2022

what else is new

Sunday is exhaustion recovery day, when I remain inside my dressing gown for a very long time. As always, I have made a list of stuff I want to do on the weekend, ranging from the sublime (baking, cooking, writing invoices for editorial work) to the ridiculous (clean bathroom, cut fringe, sort out fridge) and weather permitting, cycle for a bit before sundown. Weather is currently not permitting, we have storm force gusts of wind.

So far, I have managed to drink lots of tea while looking out into the middle distance, or rather the garden where the pigeons are mating aggressively. Also, one of the almond trees, the one closest to the side of the house, has started to bud and even produced a first few leaves.

Life is full of surprises. One of them is that I have to have yet another MRI. I could pretend it's fun, maybe I will. 

Of course there is the pandemic, we haven't forgotten that pesky virus. How could we. I am now double-boostered, as in four (4) jabs. Because contrary to what was believed a few months ago, the booster is not merely a booster vaccination that restores the number of antibodies that have evaporated a few months after the second dose. No. The vaccination is only complete after three doses, just like the vaccination against polio or tetanus. This means that with the booster, a protective effect is achieved that was still not there two weeks after the second dose.
Apparently, this is especially true for omicron, even though the booster has not yet been adapted to this variant. The risk of being hospitalised is half that of twice-vaccinated people. In addition, triple-vaccinated people are less likely to pass the virus on to each other, even within a family. (If anybody needs the source of my claims, let me know, there's tons of published study material out there.)

And since my booster (aka third jab) was way back in September, I was given another one. Just so, I didn't even have to sit around for 15 mins afterwards. I just cycled home and washed out the cold frames for the new seeds. Let the 2022 garden season begin.

I finished watching Station Eleven and I cried a good bit, especially during the episode when all the babies are born. But also because it is such an unbelievably hopeful ending. Once the emotional stirrings had calmed down, I reviewed it with my clever daughter and we agreed that even 20 years after a mind boggling all consuming planet wide pandemic, women - who are all courageous and powerful - appear to have access to excellent make-up produce and stuff to diligently shave their legs and other body parts while men - who on the whole are a bit lost, but strive to be wise and kind - have taken on a hairy, disheveled hobbit-like appearance. We left it at that. It's good tv.

Other than that, I am almost 65 years old, my mother has been dead for 22 years and I am still learning that I don't owe my parents anything, that, however unhappy my father is right now, it's not my fault.

Here's another nice video for distraction.