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The COVID vaccine is less effective against SARS-COV-2 variant B.1.351. The virus will continue to evolve. Pfizer is working to adapt the vaccine.

2021-04-19

A study of neutralizing antibodies to SARS-COV-2 variants in vaccinated people and those who had recovered from natural infection was published in “Nature Medicine” on March 26, 2021. The conclusions of the study are troubling: vaccination (from Pfizer) produced less neutralizing antibody against the B.1.351 variant from South Africa, suggesting that it will be less effective.

The abstract of the study is worth quoting in full:

Severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 variants were first identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa, respectively, and have since spread to many countries. These variants harboring diverse mutations in the gene encoding the spike protein raise important concerns about their immune evasion potential. Here, we isolated infectious B.1.1.7 and B.1.351 strains from acutely infected individuals. We examined sensitivity of the two variants to SARS-CoV-2 antibodies present in sera and nasal swabs from individuals infected with previously circulating strains or who were recently vaccinated, in comparison with a D614G reference virus. We utilized a new rapid neutralization assay, based on reporter cells that become positive for GFP after overnight infection. Sera from 58 convalescent individuals collected up to 9 months after symptoms, similarly neutralized B.1.1.7 and D614G. In contrast, after 9 months, convalescent sera had a mean sixfold reduction in neutralizing titers, and 40% of the samples lacked any activity against B.1.351. Sera from 19 individuals vaccinated twice with Pfizer Cominarty, longitudinally tested up to 6 weeks after vaccination, were similarly potent against B.1.1.7 but less efficacious against B.1.351, when compared to D614G. Neutralizing titers increased after the second vaccine dose, but remained 14-fold lower against B.1.351. In contrast, sera from convalescent or vaccinated individuals similarly bound the three spike proteins in a flow cytometry-based serological assay. Neutralizing antibodies were rarely detected in nasal swabs from vaccinees. Thus, faster-spreading SARS-CoV-2 variants acquired a partial resistance to neutralizing antibodies generated by natural infection or vaccination, which was most frequently detected in individuals with low antibody levels. Our results indicate that B1.351, but not B.1.1.7, may increase the risk of infection in immunized individuals.

https://www.nature.com/articles/s41591-021-01318-5

(I have added emphasis to some statements in order to make a point)

The South African variant may escape antibodies produced by vaccination in some cases, leading to productive infection. A Pfizer press release claims that the vaccine is fully effective against this variant, although it admits that antibody levels are lower.

The presence of lower neutralizing antibody titers warns us that a new vaccine will be necessary in a few months. Officials are saying that a “booster” shot will be given in six months to a year after the initial two-dose vaccination. They have not stated what the booster would consist of, but it is clear that the vaccine will have to be changed to reflect the RNA sequence of the South African variant and possibly other variants that will appear in the next few months.

<p value="<amp-fit-text layout="fixed-height" min-font-size="6" max-font-size="72" height="80">Another<a rel="noreferrer noopener" href="https://www.pfizer.com/news/press-release/press-release-detail/pfizer-and-biontech-initiate-study-part-broad-development&quot; target="_blank"> Pfizer press release</a> posted February 25, 2021 proposes to produce variations of the vaccine to adjust to the changes seen in B.1.351..Another Pfizer press release posted February 25, 2021 proposes to produce variations of the vaccine to adjust to the changes seen in B.1.351..

The coronavirus represents a moving target. Vaccines will only be effective for a year or even less. Until the spread of the virus has been stopped, it will continue producing variations that elude our best efforts at vaccination. The uncontrolled spread of the virus has allowed it wide latitude to evolve, especially when it infects people with weak immune systems and continues to percolate for months within compromised hosts.

Another concerning issue is the absence of neutralizing antibody in the nasal secretions of immunized people. This may allow virus to replicate in the nasopharynx (although it may not be able to invade the body). The implications of this finding are equally troubling. It is possible that immunized people may asymptomatically carry virus in the nasal cavity and allow it to spread to others.

The answer to this conundrum may be found by challenging immunized people with live virus in the nose– how will their bodies respond and how long will they carry replicating virus? We need to know this, and the only way to find out is to look at the responses of immunized people to exposure. Perhaps testing all immunized people to see if they ever carry the virus in the nose will help– although very large numbers of subjects will be needed to determine what happens under natural conditions.

(SARS-COV-2 EM photo courtesy NIAID)

Microplastic is raining down upon you. Right now. Everywhere. From article in WIRED and PNAS: plastic in the air, from the sea and land.

2021-04-18

A new report in “Wired” describes microplastics floating in the sky and raining down upon everyone, even in the most apparently pristine wilderness. The report describes a modeling study published in “Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences” on April 11, 2021. The model “constrains” the source of the roughly 1,100 tons of plastics suspended in the air over the western United States (US) at any given time.

Since the appearance of microplastics is anonymous (only tire dust can be distinguished from other types of plastics) it was incumbent upon the researchers to calculate the sources from various parameters. For example, once suspended in air, the average plastic particle remains floating for about a week. Circulation of the air, therefore, suggests that a large proportion of plastic in the air comes from the marine environment and is probably launched by wave action from the sea.

Plastic dust from land sources is probably launched into the air by car and truck tires on the roads. Some of this dust comes from the tires themselves. A significant amount of plastic comes from cloth: tiny particles break off when you wash your clothes and are suspended in the water, then go to waste treatment plants and end up in the sewage sludge which is spread on fields as fertilizer. Much of the rest is produced by degrading plastic debris left as trash on the roadsides.

Despite these uncertainties, the authors of the study say: ” Results suggest that atmospheric microplastics in the western United States are primarily derived from secondary re-emission sources including roads (84%), the ocean (11%), and agricultural soil dust (5%).”

Studies of this type are necessary because microplastics have become an universal scourge of the twenty-first century. Plastic debris is everywhere, especially in the ocean, and the amount in circulation increases every year. No effective, practical means has yet been found to remove significant amounts of plastic waste from the ocean. Organisms from single-cell to whales ingest plastic, often mistaking it for food. Malnourished or starving fish, birds, and marine mammals wash up on beaches with their stomachs full of plastic, especially plastic bags.

Over the next few years, our planet will be increasingly blanketed with invisible microplastics. Unsightly plastic bags, toys, shoes, and other debris will appear more and more often on our beaches. Often, animals will choke on larger pieces of plastic or be strangled by plastic objects (like the rings that hold six-packs of beer together).

Micro-organisms that use plastic as a source of energy (that is, feed on plastic) are evolving only too slowly. We can encourage this evolution by searching for these “bugs” and seeding them into environments that are already saturated with plastic debris. Before spreading such organisms we will need to test them to make sure they are benign.

We can imagine a nightmare scenario in which plastic boat hulls will suddenly begin to disintegrate in seas that are overtaken by plastic-eating bacteria. The alternative will be malnourished fish and birds and ugliness over all our coastlines.

Overpopulation and “convenience” have led to ubiquitous plastic littering our planet. People must do our best to try to clean up the environment, literally by picking up after ourselves.

(seagull by Eveline de Bruin courtesy of Pixabay.com)

Unusual sequelae of COVID-19: Texas Roadhouse CEO Kent Taylor kills himself after persistent tinnitus from COVID. Is suicide a complication of this virus?

2021-03-23

A 65 year old man came down with COVID-19 a few months ago. He recovered, mostly, but suffered from debilitating tinnitus and other post-COVID symptoms afterwards. He killed himself a few days ago. This blog post is based on a report in the Washington Post.

This man was very successful, rich even. He worked hard all his life as a restaurant entrepeneur, becoming known as the CEO of a chain, the Texas Roadhouse. When his company went public in 2004, he got a $60 million payout. He was said to have sacrificed part of his fortune to support the employees of his restaurants when they were hit by the pandemic, showing his humanity and empathy.

His death highlights some of the more painful aspects of the last year. Reports of mental illness or emotional distress have dramatically increased since the pandemic encouraged shutdowns all over the world. Suicides have increased both among those affected only by isolation and among those with persistent COVID symptoms.

What is tinnitus?

Tinnitus (the sensation of hearing a noise when there is no sound, derived from the Latin word which means “tinkling” or “ringing”) is a common symptom that can be trivial or completely debilitating. It is most often a consequence of hearing loss due to exposure to loud noises, like gunfire or music, but can also be caused by ear canal blockage, middle ear infections, medications, or, rarely, brain disorders.

The sensation of tinnitus is usually described as a buzzing noise, roaring, ringing, clicking, or humming. The sound of tinnitus may be constant or intermittent. It is most obvious (and distressing) in quiet places and at night. There are no really good treatments for tinnitus, but the most effective remedy in mild or moderate cases is to have a blocking noise going– like music, or specially adapted hearing aids that produce a buzzing sound.

The symptoms of tinnitus may be completely destructive to a person’s feeling of well-being or even sanity. There are anecdotes of people committing suicide because they cannot tolerate the symptoms. Another Washington Post article on tinnitus and COVID states that 50 million Americans have experiences with tinnitus, and some 2 million have “extreme and debilitating cases” that could cause severe distress.

Does COVID cause tinnitus or predispose to suicide?

The virus can cause damage to the audio-vestibular system, which helps us with standing upright and maintaining our balance as well as hearing. This systematic review discusses what is known about COVID and the audio-vestibular system.

This being said, one wonders whether the single symptom of tinnitus alone could cause a person to kill themselves unless the sensation is overwhelming. Surely there are contributing symptoms that lead to the decision to end your life? Despair, self-hatred, failure, unrelenting pain, loss of loved ones?

A famous case of suicide occurred many months ago, at the beginning of the pandemic: a highly accomplished, young emergency room physician who appeared to recover quickly from the virus returned to work but was unable to tolerate it or even fulfill the functions of her job. She killed herself within a few weeks after coming down with COVID. She was said to have no prior history of depression (although no-one knows for sure about this subtle and often hidden symptom.)

COVID and psychosis

What if COVID itself is the cause of this psychotic breakdown?

I raise this possibility because it has been raised by others, including in the comments section to the article in the Washington Post. Many people have suffered neurological and psychological problems related to COVID, so it is not outside the realm of possibility that suicidal depression could be caused by the virus as well.

Even a commenter to the above-mentioned article mentioned that they had remarkably strange dreams for months after a severe bout of COVID. They were hospitalized with pneumonia but recovered, apparently completely. The only residual was a new onset of frighteningly strange, memorable dreams. It may be that this person remembered their dreams for the first time– after all, dreams are strange, even scary, routinely, but you normally don’t remember them at all or only in scraps.

Other people have had psychotic episodes labelled as schizophrenia with no remission (yet)– see, again, the comment section of the above-mentioned article.

The possibility that infection with this virus leads to a risk of depression and suicidal impulses deserves to be carefully researched. If a causative relation can be found, it may be advisable to closely observe recovered patients for subtle signs of depression. Close observation is essential because symptoms may be covered up or unrecognized by the patient.

Remember, if you yourself or a close one (or even someone you just care about) feels suicidal, help is always available. If worse comes to worst, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255.

(photo by Jakub Orisek courtesy of pixabay.com)

Comment of the Day: Total US tax receipts are 16% of GDP– down from 20% in 2001. The US is one of the least taxed countries in the developed world.

2021-03-11

This comment was attached to an article in the New York TImes. The article points out that some $570 billion dollars in taxes are not collected each year in the United States, in part because the IRS has been systematically starved of funds for enforcement. The agency has been “increasingly unable to detect or address blatant tax cheating by high-income filers and the largest businesses. In February, the IRS commissioner, Charles P. Rettig, told Congress that about $570 billion in taxes owed in 2018 were not paid. That tax gap is projected to total about $7.5 trillion over this decade.”

“From 2010 to 2019, lawmakers cut the IRS enforcement budget by more than 20 percent. But Mr. Biden and the Treasury Secretary, Janet Yellen, have pledged to rebalance tax enforcement, and this spring presents a chance to deliver. Any responsible recovery package would include a multiyear stream [of revenue] for rebuilding the IRS. Fully funding the agency would defeat tax cheats while raising revenue for critical investments. It would help the overwhelming majority of Americans who want to pay whatever they owe. It would help honest businesses better thrive and compete. And restaffing the IRS through restored funding would help fight corruption and strengthen the rule of law.”

“… the wealthiest are the prime beneficiaries of the status quo. Estimates suggest that the top 1 percent of filers account for [between 28 and 70 percent of the uncollected taxes]… The wealthiest households and the largest businesses often use a complex maze of financial arrangements and offshore entities that make it incredibly hard and time-consuming for the IRS to untangle what taxes are owed but not paid.”

We should note here that most wage-earners pay their full assessed share of taxes by virtue of money with-held from their paychecks automatically by their employers, whereas those with independent sources of income are free to keep all of their receipts if they wish, especially if they fail to report their income or use a “dodge” to avoid paying– an incentive to cheat on their taxes.

The Comment, by “Mike” of Tucson:

(One important point, not mentioned in the article, is that we are not heavily taxed in this country.)

  1. Total US tax receipts (federal, state, local, excise, and social insurance) as a percent of GDP is one of the lowest in the OECD (Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development: 37 of the richest nations in the world) with only two nations lower, one being Mexico.
  2. Federal tax receipts as a percent of GDP have fallen from 20% in fiscal year 2001 — which was the last time we had a budget surplus — to 16% today.
  3. Corporate tax receipts are at historic lows at 1.1% of GDP, down almost half from 2001 and only 1/3 of the OECD average.

We are not a highly taxed country by any measure.

(personal note to explain lack of recent posts: I have been seriously ill– not with COVID– and am not fully recovered. New posts will appear on an as-able basis. Fortunately, I have been recently vaccinated against the dread virus.)

(photo by steve buissinne courtesy of pixabay.com)

“T. saw these people as… sympathetic to the idea that the election was stolen.”– Lindsey Graham. Steve Scalise implies election was really stolen.

2021-02-25

Just when you thought the election was over and Biden won fair and square, along comes Steve Scalise who refuses to admit that he didn’t steal the election. During an interview last week, Scalise refused to say: (via Huffpost)

“There were a few states that did not follow their state laws,” Scalise said. “That’s really the dispute that you’ve seen continue on.”

“At the end of the day, when you look at where we are in this country, either we’re going to address the problems that happened with the election that people are still ― millions of people ― are still concerned about,” he added. “The Constitution says state legislatures set the rules for elections. That didn’t happen in a few states.”

The problem with his argument is that this very question was put to the courts, and they disagreed. The courts all said that constitutional rules were followed. Pro-Republican lawyers filed over 60 lawsuits, and they all failed. So the judicial branch of government has decided that Biden didn’t “steal” the election– he won by getting 81 million votes to “the former guy” getting 74 million votes. No matter what Scalise thinks, he can’t go around saying that the Constitution wasn’t followed, because the Courts say it was.

It was T who told everyone the election was going to be “rigged”, and afterwards he insisted that it was “stolen”– the Big Lie. He started it, spread it, insisted on it, and refused to back down when the Courts decided otherwise.

The rioters who breached the Capitol on January 6 were shown live on television and the president was watching with sympathy for his allies who believed the election was stolen. He wasn’t thinking about stopping the riot until he was reminded by his staff.

Somewhere in that delusional journey. Somehow he has won the election, except he didn’t.

So he gets together a mob that he has been carefully preparing for at least the last year, keeping them in conspiracy rabbit-holes. He’s studied the chokepoints in the Constitutional procedure for endorsing elections and he plans to apply pressure to the Congress at their weakest point in the process: the normally formulaic opening and counting of the Electoral College ballots by the Senate.

Electoral counting ceremony is presided over by the Vice President. It has a reputation for being painful to perform when the party of the Vice President loses the election. Nonetheless, Vice Presidents have followed protocol to the letter every time. This time Vice President Pence fully intended to do the same, despite heavy pressure from the president.

Except that the president was giving a speech to a crowd of supporters who immediately marched a mile and a half to the Capitol. The speech was timed to finish before Vice President Pence was due to start counting.

A mob broke into the Capitol building shortly after the president’s speech and forced the Secret Service to rush the Vice President to a secure location. House and Senate members were also sent to secure locations in the basement.

There was a significant delay in calling up the National Guard to help the Capitol Police recover from the assault. The President didn’t order them up; the Vice President was the one who did that. They weren’t called up for over two hours after the breach.

As a result, the outnumbered forces had to push the mob out of the building instead of arresting anyone.

The former president has returned to his private club in Florida, a safe space where he can vent about all the “unfair” treatment he’s received.

Somehow he’s still fuming about his psychotic fraud allegations and all the traitors who have betrayed him. Meanwhile, Joe Biden is issuing real executive orders and getting ready to pass through Congress a $1.9 trillion cash infusion into the federal budget. The only way to justify this is that it is an emergency, and it is.

Meanwhile, the infection numbers are gradually going down, apparently because people are following isolation rules more carefully– although no-one knows for sure. Hospitalizations have dropped, and even the death rate is subsiding. That sounds like good news, but the economy won’t recover just because the pandemic is receding.

The Republican moderates who met with Joe Biden offered $618 billion. This is not enough. There is a chance that even $1.9 trillion will not be enough. Just hope that the vaccines work. (PS: I got my first shot, by Pfizer, last week.)

(photo courtesy of pixabay.com and Erika Wittlieb)

Human sperm counts have fallen over 50% in the last 50 years. Abnormal sperm cells are increasing. Toxic chemicals in the environment are to blame.

2021-02-25

A systematic analysis of research on sperm counts in humans that was published in 2017 showed that there had been a 59 percent reduction in total sperm counts over the period 1973-2011. The drop in counts was consistent and steady over the 38-year period that data had been collected and was analyzed. This information was reported in the Human Reproduction Update for November-December 2017 published by Oxford Academic Press. In the last ten years the total sperm count in humans has continued to fall unabated.

Little attention was given to this information as the research on sperm counts had been inconsistent and inconclusive for many years. This systematic analysis was the first to show clear, consistent reductions over time associated with increased abnormalities in sperm structure and motility. A book that was published this week describes the current state of research and its dismal implications that are finally clear and convincing.

There are many other signs of deleterious effects of toxic chemicals in our environment, including: the unusual appearance of intersex characteristics among many animal species, including unusually small penises in some species, and individuals with both male and female organs in other species.

A New York Times opinion piece by Nicholas Kristof on February 20 describes the new attention to this research:

Now [Shanna H.] Swan, an epidemiologist at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York, has written a book, “Count Down,” that will be published on Tuesday and sounds a warning bell. Her subtitle is blunt: “How our modern world is threatening sperm counts, altering male and female reproductive development, and imperiling the future of the human race.”

Swan and other experts say the problem is a class of chemicals called endocrine disruptors, which mimic the body’s hormones and thus fool our cells. This is a particular problem for fetuses as they sexually differentiate early in pregnancy. Endocrine disruptors can wreak reproductive havoc.

These endocrine disruptors are everywhere: plastics, shampoos, cosmetics, cushions, pesticides, canned foods and A.T.M. receipts. They often aren’t on labels and can be difficult to avoid.

https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/20/opinion/sunday/endocrine-disruptors-sperm.html

These chemicals are ubiquitous because they are extremely useful for many purposes, readily made from petroleum derivatives, and cheap. But they have not been tested for toxicity consistently. The companies that created and continue to produce these chemicals have prevented large-scale testing of synthetic organic compounds because they superficially appear to be safe and the testing is expensive.

The toxic nature of these chemicals has not been widely appreciated, but there have been recent changes. Research on known endocrine disrupters has revealed the widespread damage they are causing to every multicellular species on Earth.

The chemical companies are trying to prevent further research and regulation of endocrine disrupters because they are making good profits on producing them and don’t want to have this profit line disrupted. In a way, these companies are like the tobacco companies were in the 1960’s: they are powerful, popular, and they support politicians regardless of party. As a result, the US government has not properly evaluated or regulated them.

Now it is past time to study and control these chemicals. There are thousands of them currently produced, and some are potent disrupters of many physiological functions, not just reproduction. Screening of these chemicals and more intensive study of those that appear to be potent toxins is an urgent matter.

The way to regulate chemicals properly is to have a federal government agency sponsor and collate research on them. This must be followed by effective regulation to reduce human and animal exposure to chemicals. especially the more potent ones.

If we do not start the work of research on synthetic organic chemicals now, the effects in 50 or 100 years will be extreme and unknowable. We cannot allow poisons that disrupt normal cellular functions to be dumped into the environment without proper regulation and control.

The problem of inadequate regulation is pervasive in this country, and it is primarily due to the ability of large companies with big profits to control politics. The Supreme Court decisions that allow big money to influence politics has perverted the purpose of government. Contributions by companies and rich individuals to political parties and politicians have made them beholden to private interests instead of the public interest.

The solution for this problem is better separation of big money from politics. Corporations must not be allowed to contribute to political people or causes. Contributions by individuals must be publicly known and limited to reasonable amounts of money. The current contribution limits are somewhat reasonable. But they are easily circumvented by the use of political action committees (PAC’s) and other gimmicks that allow companies to contribute and allow individuals to anonymously donate vast quantities of money to their favorite causes and people.

The classic example is the tobacco companies’ campaign of lies, subversion, and intimidation that suppressed publicity about the malign effects of tobacco products and prevented effective regulations. This playbook has been followed by every other large company with a questionable product. Fossil fuel companies have used the same techniques, ever since they discovered in the late 1960s through internal research that continuing to burn fuels for energy and transportation would lead to disastrous climate change within a hundred years.

Drug companies that made opioids used the same techniques and brought on a pandemic of overuse of addictive prescription pain killers followed by conversion to heroin use and eventual suicide or drug overdose after vanishing personal productivity and intimate tragedy.

Ubiquitous contamination of the environment by synthetic organic chemicals that produce endocrine disruption, falling sperm counts, infertility, and abnormal sex organs is a result of willful ignorance by companies that produce these chemicals. The companies were aided and abetted in their failure to adequately research the side effects of these chemicals due to lax regulation of chemical production by government agencies. Inadequate regulation was allowed by the malign influence of company money on political systems, particularly in the United States.

Companies that make large profits by production of toxic chemicals have used some of their profits to influence government. By controlling politician responses to publicity about toxic effects of chemicals, they have been able to avoid effective regulation and control of their behavior. The end result has been the conservative dream: privatize profits and socialize costs. “Externalities” have been allowed to wreak havoc on the people while “internalities” have been used to raise stock prices.

(image of sperm and egg cell by Thomas Breyer via pixabay.com)

Jainism– an early parallel to Buddhism and Hinduism. Free Dictionary on Mahavira. If you want more posts like this, please comment.

2021-02-21

Below is a direct copy of the Free Dictionary’s piece on “Mahavira”, the individual person who may have been the spiritual author of Jainism. He was said to have lived contemporaneously (or nearly so) with the Buddha. There are other similarities: he stepped down voluntarily from a high position at a young age and became an ascetic. He spent years practicing “intense meditation and severe austerities” after which he achieved enlightenment and began preaching.

There are differences, too: the four critical points upon which Mahavira insisted are: nonviolence, truth, non-stealing, chastity, and non-attachment (more on these points in a future post). Mahavira’s teachings were transmitted orally at first, making them susceptible to interpretation and confusion with rapid degradation of their meanings.

Mahavira’s teachings became incomprehensible by being scrambled in repeated oral translations before they could be fully written down. Hinduism and Buddhism almost suffered the same fate. The three foundational religions of India, then, are Buddhism, Hinduism, and Jainism. Sikhism arose later. The rest of the common religions of India are not native: Christianity and Islam (Mohammedanism).

Here is what it says in the Free Dictionary:

Mahavira (Mahāvīra), also known as Vardhamāna, was the twenty-fourth Tirthankara (ford maker) of Jainism. In the Jain tradition, it is believed that Mahavira was born in early part of the 6th-century BC into a royal family in what is now BiharIndia. At the age of 30, he left his home in pursuit of spiritual awakening, abandoned all worldly possessions, and became an ascetic. For the next twelve-and-a-half years, Mahavira practiced intense meditation and severe austerities, after which he is believed to have attained Kevala Jnana (omniscience). He preached for 30 years, and is believed by Jains to have died in the 6th-century BC. Outside the Jain tradition, scholars such as Karl Potter consider his biographical details as uncertain,[1] with some suggesting he lived in the 5th-century BC contemporaneously with the Buddha. Mahavira died at the age of 72, and his remains were cremated.[2][3]

After he gained Kevala Jnana, Mahavira taught that the observance of the vows ahimsa (non-violence), satya (truth), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (chastity) and aparigraha (non-attachment) is necessary to spiritual liberation. He gave the principle of Anekantavada (many sided reality),[4] Syadvada and Nayavada. The teachings of Mahavira were compiled by Gautama Swami (his chief disciple) and were called Jain Agamas. These texts were transmitted by an oral tradition by Jain monks, but are believed to have been largely lost by about the 1st-century when they were first written down. The surviving versions of the Agamas taught by Mahavira are some of the found-ational texts of Jainism.

https://encyclopedia.thefreedictionary.com/Mahavira

(photograph by Manfred Antranias Zimmer courtesy of pixabay.com)

Wearing two masks and making sure they fit tightly increases protection: experiments by US CDC

2021-02-10

The United States Centers for Disease Control (CDC) conducted experiments in January to determine the effectiveness of wearing a cloth mask over a three-ply medical procedure mask and found them encouraging. They estimated that wearing two masks reduces exposure by more than 90% under laboratory conditions.

If both source and recipient of potentially infected aerosols wear double masks, then exposure is reduced 96%.

The CDC report, dated February 10, 2021, is available here.

(corona photo by mohamed Hassan courtesy of pixabay.com (creative commons))

Vaccines and new variants of SARS-COV-2: already one vaccine is ineffective against South African variant.

2021-02-10

USA Today ran a report that the Astra-Zeneca vaccine was suspended from South Africa because preliminary studies had shown “minimal” effectiveness against the South African variant. The developers plan to adjust their vaccine to better match the genetic makeup of the newer strain.

The virus has had a tremendous opportunity to mutate because there have been so many infections throughout the world, approaching 100 million cases. On top of that, patients who are severely immunosuppressed have been treated with courses of monoclonal antibodies as well as convalescent serum. They often survive for long periods with high levels of virus circulating in their systems, providing an environment in which mutations will thrive.

Frequent changes in vaccines will be needed to suppress new variants. Of course, more virus genome sequencing will be needed to help detect mutations.

In a better development, genome sequencing is taking off in the United States. Federal support for sequencing has begun to develop. Op-eds and opinion pieces have begun to emphasize the need for added resources for sequencing as well.

(SARS-COV-2 Electron Microscopic photo courtesy NIAID

Winston Churchill: “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”– a repost from 2018

2021-02-01

Actually, according to this blog (which looks authoritative), posted by Richard M. Langworth in 2011, Churchill didn’t say that; there are no references available, or no attribution for that statement was found.  Neither is the statement pictured authentic (according to Mr. Langworth), although it is frequently attributed to Churchill as well as Lincoln.  Churchill did, however, say, “…do not be carried away by success into demanding more than is right or prudent.” (He was speaking before the House of Commons in March of 1919, shortly after the Allies had won the First World War.)  Which is not nearly as inspiring although it may be much more practical.

I heartily recommend, despite the error of attribution (the quote titling this post) that occurs at the end, the movie “Darkest Hour”, a dramatization of Churchill’s election as prime minister and the British strategic miracle of Dunkirk– the rescue of nearly 300,000 men from the beaches at Dunkirk was only made possible by the sacrifice of a much-better equipped pocket of 4,000 soldiers at the nearby port of Calais, who provoked the wrath of Hitler’s panzer tank army.  The movie covers Churchill’s speeches to the Commons, including his famous, “We shall fight on the beaches, we shall fight on the landing grounds… we shall fight in the fields; we shall fight on the streets… we shall never surrender.”  Much of the latter part of the movie concerns Churchill’s decision not to negotiate with Hitler (although a channel was opened through Mussolini, Neville Chamberlain decided to go along with Churchill and Lord Halifax, the other powerful pacifist, was exiled to Washington after Churchill’s defiant speech.)

This speech is re-enacted at the end of the movie; the quote attributed to him (mistakenly: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal; it is the courage to continue that counts”) appears at the very end after a few sentences describing the evacuation of Dunkirk after May 28 1940, and, five years later on May 8 1945, the victory over Germany.  Then the text states, “a few months later he was defeated for re-election.”  So that quote fits in that place well in the movie, although it is disappointing to find out a few minutes later through Google that the statement is apocryphal.  The statement actually fits his life quite well too, since he was in the War Cabinet in the First World War and spent the entire peacetime interval between wars as a back-bencher, a lonely bellicose voice. As soon as the war was over, he lost his prominent position in government.