27 August 2022



(read about Layli Long Soldier here)

My father is sinking deeper and deeper into some netherworld of dozing and mumbling. I have only the reports from my siblings and the odd picture they sent me. The latter quite frightening, a very old man unravelling, sunk low in his wheelchair, head forward almost on his chest, eyes closed, mouth in a bitter snarl. His waking times, so the reports, he apparently spends being angry, unwilling or unable to cooperate in whatever efforts of personal hygiene are provided to him, drinking and eating sparingly and only because of the threat of an iv feeding tube. Apparently, in one of his awake moments he ordered the nurse to leave him to die in dignity, whereupon she, while picking up the used tissues and cutlery and papers he, according to my sister, purposefully, drops here and there without any care, replied that to get there he first has to behave with dignity. Ha! As if he could!

I know I have to visit him, see if he recognises me, if I can reach him, meet my siblings, who have great hopes that I can talk some sense into him. I don't think my visit will make any difference. I am not expecting anything. But I wonder how he feels, maybe even helpless, lost, and a small part of me hopes that my presence, silly me of all people, could make a positive difference. This of course is a foolish thought. In the world of my father, I am just a daughter and a distant one at that.

When my brother cleared out my father's home, the drawers of his enormous desk, sometime last winter, he found a box of letters, written by quite a number of women, in German, French, Danish, Swedish, the languages of my father, love letters mostly. Adoring middle aged women he probably invited to the opera or an exhibition in Hamburg or Stockholm or Paris, a weekend in a fancy hotel. Imagine, my brother said with a chuckle, he had several lined up at the same time. 

When I visited my father earlier this year and asked about the other residents of the retirement home, he scoffed, old biddies, ugly as hell, and a couple of old forgetful posers.

And yet, I am scared. Not of his death, but that he may have already forgotten me. That he will look at me and see nothing, none of my glorious achievements, nothing to be proud of. Sixty-five years on, I am still hoping for his approval. Searching for whatever it is I can be thankful for.

22 August 2022

Vaxxed and never got infected (- so far)?

In a comment, Ellen asked me to find out some info as to why some people don't seem to get infected with the corona virus. Today, I spent some zoom time with a group of immunology postdocs and in the end I got the chance to ask them for the latest info. This is what they told and sent me.

To properly find out why some people don't get infected once and for all, you really need to do in vivo research and in vivo means with living people. In other words, you need volunteers and to do this, you must follow strict rules (information on ethical principles for medical research involving human subjects is here). This is not something that's easily done, well, maybe the Chinese do it but are not sharing.

I only know of one study which was done with volunteers, 34 volunteers in fact, who were administered virus particles and then tested regularly. Of these, 18 became infected, the rest not.

In several other observational studies, i.e. watching and following real patients, it was checked how often infected people go on to infect their immediate partners. Of 52 infected people, 26 passed on the virus - exactly half.

But these studies are too small to simply be transferred to society and no way can we deduce from them that about half of all people do not get infected.

However, they at least show that it is possible to not become infected despite close risk contact. And that's really interesting stuff.

So a variety of theories are being investigated and bear in mind, it's early days, let's not jump to conclusions but there's potential. (When I refer to the corona virus in the following explanations, I mean the current virus, SARS-CoV-2. There are many other corona viruses which have given us common colds in the past, these I call corona-like viruses.)

Theory 1: T-cell response. T-cells are white blood cells and play a major role in our immune system, they get their name from the thymus gland were they are formed. T-cells are responsible for our body's immune reaction. They have been investigated for quite some time, mostly regarding their role in cancer and MS and obviously in the last two years in relation to covid. It was found quite early on that some people infected with the corona virus appear to have a strong T-cell response, which means their T-cells reacted very quickly to the corona virus and possibly rendered it harmless before it could multiply to such an extent that symptoms appeared or tests turned out positive. The reason for a strong T-cell response can be genetically determined or due to previous infections, like colds triggered by previous corona-like viruses, providing some defence against infection. This is called cross-immunity. That does not automatically mean that past colds with corona-like viruses give you protection against this one, SARS-CoV-2. Not everyone seems to develop cross-immunity. 

Theory 2: Blood group. The connection between blood groups and the severity of a corona disease has been studied quite extensively by now, so there is lots of data to allow agreement that people with blood group A have a higher risk of a severe infection compared to blood group 0. Also, blood group incompatibility between two people could prevent one from infecting the other. Blood group incompatibility simply means that two people who have different blood groups, for example A and 0, have natural antibodies against each other's foreign blood group. And these antibodies we have against foreign blood groups sometimes also seem to be directed against the corona virus. But again, if your partner has 0 and you have A, that does not automatically mean you will not infect each other, because it is not yet clear when this happens and when it does not.

Theory 3: Sex. More and more research is confirming sex-specific differences in susceptibility to the corona virus. Researchers see a connection with sex hormones such as estrogen and androgen. The current state of knowledge is that women are probably better protected against infections due to a more effective hormone-related immune response - and if they do become infected, they seem to be less prone to so-called systemic inflammation, meaning that most inflammation remains localised, i.e. to the nose or throat,  and can be kept in check by the body's immune response, whereas systemic inflammation is something the body is unable to contain without help, so it spreads to other areas.

Theory 4: Age. Our immune response changes throughout life and tends to weaken with age, regardless of sex. Older people often not only have a more severe disease as a result, but could also be more likely to get infected and have a longer recovery period.

Theory 5: Viral load. The viral load reflects how much virus an infected person has taken in. The viral load can be quite high in the throat or nose. It is generally assumed that high viral loads are also associated with being more infectious. But not every infected person sheds the same amount of virus. Studies of large corona outbreaks have shown that the virus was sometimes spread by only a few individuals who infected many others at once. And symptoms are not a measure of viral load, asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic but infected people have been shown to have high viral loads. So far, only the Ct value of the PCR test can give an approximate reflection of whether someone is infectious or not. (Ct stands for cycle threshold and it indicates how many cycles a PCR test must run in order to detect viral material. The more cycles are necessary, the less viral material is found in the sample.)

Important: These theories do not stand on their own, they play together and strengthen or weaken each other. If you have not been infected so far, you must not assume that you are fundamentally immune. The conditions can be different the next time there is a risk contact - and then infection can occur. Also, this virus is a tricky bastard. But then again, all viruses are.

I can provide a list of reference to published research for anybody who wants sources etc.


19 August 2022

I am done in. For the first time in two years I worked a full week at the campus, no home office. And because it has been - and still is - so hot, I started real early every day. The work was not different but there's the commute, 40 minutes each way. I managed to cycle most days, trying to dodge the heat by going the long way through the forest and racing through the bits of heavy traffic. 

The best part? Giving the finger to car drivers who act as if they own public streets, as if cars are somehow above cyclists in some imagined transport mode hierarchy, that is still a wonderfully liberating gesture. And cursing at the top of my voice, oh how I've missed doing that!

It was only for a week, subbing for a colleague in dire straits.

As much as I love watching this video, I cannot stop wondering how many people came away infected. Because whatever the current mood, the virus doesn’t “spread”. We spread it. We cough, sneeze, sing, shout and breathe it on each other. Without people, this virus would not have a chance.

My father recovered from his second covid infection (brought to him thanks to the lifting of mask and testing requirements for visitors to care homes in the federal state of Bavaria) which was just as mild as his pre-vaccine one but this one has left him confused, disoriented, often unable to speak and he is rapidly losing weight.

14 August 2022

Thousands have lived without love, not one without water (W.H. Auden)

Did you know, that there is more water in the clouds and vapour above us than in all the rivers and oceans on our planet at any given time? If only it would rain. I lived in Ireland for many years and took rain for granted. I watched the film mentioned above here last night, an inspiration.

Because nutrients cycle through the ocean (the process of organisms eating organisms is the cycling of nutrients through the ocean), the atoms of those people who were thrown overboard are out there in the ocean even today. They were eaten, organisms processed them, and those organisms were in turn eaten and processed, and the cycle continues. Around 90 to 95 percent of the tissues of things that are eaten in the water column get recycled.

The sodium of human blood . . . (has) a residence time (the amount of time it takes for a substance to enter the ocean and then leave the ocean) of 260 million years.

Daisy Hildyard (from an essay found here

About thirty years ago, a friend was lost at sea. To be correct, a possible friend was lost at sea. When this happened, we were still at the greeting and recognition state that is common when non-African (white) people meet in the tiny African island paradise we were living at the time. It was only a few weeks or maybe a month since he had arrived with his family, just as we did a few years earlier.

We were in the early stage of getting ready to leave for India, packing and selling stuff, when we got the news. It was evening, we were sharing a dinner with a group of friends when someone mentioned that the boat he had hired had not come in before sunset. What followed were harrowing days and evenings taking turns sitting with the family, making tea, cooking dinners nobody ate, distracting children with endless games of volleyball underneath the jacaranda trees.

It was months later when a merchant vessel picked up the empty boat a very long way north, past the Arabian Sea and the Horn of Africa. I often think of him, out there under the sun in a small boat on the vast Indian Ocean. How happy he was that day we spoke on the most beautiful beach, watching our kids diving in the surf. And I assured him that they all would just love their time here, that the three years of his contract would just fly, that he should cherish every day and so on. I meant it.

And I think of the over 3,000 migrants that died at sea on their way to Europe last year, the 17,000 who lost their lives in the Mediterranean since 2014.

Meanwhile, our rivers are drying out. The glaciers in the Alps are melting at a rate nobody seemed to think possible quite yet. I cycle along my river at around sunset when the temperature has dropped to 30C (85 F). There are still some barges going and ferries but only just and the trees are rapidly dropping their shriveled leaves.

Today, as last week, R joined in a human chain of 35 people collecting 1000 liters of river water in buckets to water the trees in a local park

 The covid patch in the garden looks miserable. But deep underneath the brittle and dry stalks, there is wild thyme and oregano, some small clover and plenty of other greens coming up. I imagine it only needs a bit of rain to see more growth.

And almost a month earlier than usual, we harvested the grapes. According to R's measurements with his hydrometer gadget, they could have stayed on a tiny bit longer for more sweetness but it was us vs. wasps. I fought their corner for about two days.




06 August 2022

 For me, this is an example of true social media. Also, Belgium cities are lovely.

02 August 2022

solutions, solutions, solutions

If you're worried that it's too late to do anything about climate change and we should all just give up, I have great news for you: that day is not coming in your lifetime. As long as you have breath in your body, you will have work to do.

Mary Annaïse Heglar

It's really hot again, the bits of lawn we have left between the flower beds and trees are brown and yellow. Lawn will recover first, I know that, but it looks and feels so bare and brittle. We water as little as possible, mostly with the newfangled drip feeding system R installed earlier this year. The insects love it and sit all along the route. In the morning and evening, when the birds have had their wash, the bees and wasps and all their friends as well as the very small number of butterflies come to the birdbath for a drink. The hedgehog shuffles along after dark to his water bowl. The upstairs bedroom windows are shaded by an almond tree which has been dropping its leaves for the past month but before the sun reaches that part of the house and while I have the windows open, birds sit in it and the robins and some young female blackbirds have started to have a quick look inside, even hopping on the inside window sill possibly for some cooler temps.

We are taking stock for a drought garden future, making lists of what will have to go, what will be replaced with what next year. 

My father has recovered from his second bout of covid and seemingly has decided to stay in bed from now on. He sounds quite content that way but some of my family are quite angry and find it selfish and lazy. Also, if it escalates it could seriously mess up the holiday travel plans of some. My family is so full of surprises.

Back to the reality: There is this fallacy that keeps on coming up. All that talk about how it's too late anyway, that humankind is doomed and people are just stupid and will not change their ways etc. etc. Usually, this is expressed with dramatic sadness and, especially by people of my age set, that tiny bit of relief because we are too old anyway and we know it all. 

I am so sick and tired of it. The way we paralyze ourselves with words because what the heck, giving up meat, flying, driving, all our lovely consumer rituals is much too hard.

So I ask myself: Who do I want to be in this world that is about to ruin itself? Do I want to be someone who carries on with a thousand excuses? Are my life's luxuries more important than my children? Do I want to live in constant and increasing contradiction to my values? - Or should I at least act as if I could contribute to a better future, regardless of whether that future actually happens?

Here is my to-do list, pick at least one that you can do. Sorry, it does not include recycling or plastic waste. It's based on the recommendations of the IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, the intergovernmental body of the United Nations responsible for advancing knowledge on human-induced climate change):

  • Switch so renewable energy sources, even rural peasant farmers in Asia and Africa use solar panels.
  • Conserve and restore forests and ecosystems  (hint: gardens are ecosystems too).
  • Use (and if possible grow) climate-friendly food.
  • Eat much much less meat. In fact, a plant-based diet can save up to 50 percent of a person's greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Define happiness and satisfaction other than through faster, higher, further and ever more.
  • Have hope. Help each other. Love our planet.

This figure is from: IPCC Sixth Assessment Report (for personal, non-commercial usages, reproduction of limited number of figures or short excerpts of IPCC material is authorized free of charge and without formal written permission).