Tuesday, January 26, 2021

Welcome Back Boring


After a chaotic four years of the previous administration in the United States, it is good that boring is back in the White House. Sustained chaos and crisis is not good, leaving the nation in a mess, its citizens unsure of who and what to believe and everyone feeling exhausted and fearful. Boring is necessary for good governance, says John Dickerson in an article (“Boring is Better;” January 20, 2021). in The Atlantic:
Such a presidency would return the executive branch to its role of informing the public. Briefings, charts, and a parade of forgettable public officials can explain to the citizens of the country—or, more likely, their representatives in the press—what is being done in their name. America showed a distinct preference for this approach during the pandemic. Governors who simply laid out what they knew became heroes. Anthony Fauci inspired such blooming affection throughout the land by explaining what he knew—and where he’d been wrong—that people planted signs thanking him in front of their azalea bushes.

The public craves information. This is the basic lesson of CDC guidelines and emergency-management books: Information, even when it ultimately proves flawed, gives people a sense of control over their lives.

As we saw during the Trump administration, holding a press conference is not the same as informing the public. It is possible, it turns out, to achieve a net reduction in public knowledge with a press conference. Instead, a boring administration must put governing ahead of campaigning, using information to instruct, educate, and build on accumulated knowledge, and not to spin and create a politically favorable refuge.
We always need good governing, but now it is imperative. It will be an uphill climb for awhile, and take much work and effort. It has already begun. President Biden has started the process to put America and its people on steady ground. He seems to have surrounded himself with a good team, including Vice President Harris, which time will show was a very wise and astute choice.

They will have to restore the nation’s trust in government, restore faith that government is good for the people. The doomsdayers and naysayers might say it can’t be done. Yet, I say the Biden Administration can and America will by the end of this year will be on very steady ground, ready to take off and soar—once the pandemic is behind us. In the end, facts are facts; and truth is truth. That’s what the american people need. 

After so much lies and misinformation coming from the White House during the Trump presidency, America is ready for the truth, or at least the majority of the nation wants and welcomes facts over ignorance. It is also ready for normalcy, decency and common good. Boring, perhaps, but all very necessary to bring America back from the brink

Monday, January 25, 2021

A Colorful & Fashionable 2021 Inauguration

 2021 U.S. Presidential Inauguration

Kamala Harris takes vice presidential oath of office; January 20, 2021. The vice president’s regal purple outfit was designed by Christopher John Rogers, a Black designer based in New York and originally from Louisiana.
Photo: Wikipedia

Now for a change of pace; to the color of the 2021 U.S. Presidential Inauguration. I do enjoy beauty, and I do enjoy when people dress with a sense of style and fashion. The fashion outfits worn by Michelle Obama, Jill Biden, Kamala Harris, Lady Gaga, and Amanda Gorman were all striking and beautiful.

I also loved Jennifer Lopez's striking white outfit. As a hat guy, I enjoyed Garth Brooks’ hat. And, of course, Bernie Sanders’ Vermont-made mittens. It made a somber and serious event inspiring and hopeful. A rainbow of color made a beautiful, hopeful and harmonic mosaic. True blue. Royal Purple. Sunshine yellow. 

Despite the somber times (Covid, of course), we can still enjoy beauty and the best that humanity offers. This is part of which inspires and gives us hope. I encourage you to see the photos, and they are worth seeing, as well as read the article (“Joe Biden and Kamala Harris Make Meaning the Hottest Inaugural Fashion Trend;” January 20, 2021), by Vanessa Friedman, in The New York Times.

Sunday, January 24, 2021

The New Covid Variants Are a Real Concern

Variants of Covid-19

I first read about a Covid variant, named B.1.1.7., which was first detected in Britain, in December 2020. This is almost a year after reading about a strange new coronavirus first reported in Wuhan, China, in late December 2019, which was named SARS-CoV-2. The disease that we are all now so familiar with was named Covid-19; now it is just Covid. In the early weeks, we did not know what to expect, but as cases mounted and the virus crossed borders, more information became available. By March 11, the WHO declared Covid a pandemic. And our lives have not been the same since then.

Scientists today know a lot about Covid, and so does the public through media reports. If the public wants to be informed, they can be. There are no shortage of excellent news sites and reportage. For example, in the last month or so, there have been Covid variants reported in South Africa and in Brazil. Scientists are naturally concerned. There are two stories, both in The New Yorker, which caught my attention. The first is about Britain, where the first variant was detected and reported.

In “The New Covid-19 Variant Sends Britain Into a Crisis,” published online in The New Yorker (January 21, 2021), Anna Russell writes:

Much of that number can be traced back to the government’s slow response to the emergence of a new variant of the virus, known as B.1.1.7, which has ripped through Britain in recent weeks. First detected in the south of England in late September, B.1.1.7. is between thirty and fifty per cent more transmissible than previous forms of covid-19, scientists estimate. Its rise has been startling. On December 14th, the health secretary, Matt Hancock, alerted Parliament to the existence of the strain. Days later, Sir Patrick Vallance, the chief scientific adviser, warned that it was “becoming the dominant variant,” “beating all the others.” On December 22nd, sage scientists called for an increase in restrictions to slow the new variant’s spread. Still, in many parts of the country, families were allowed to gather for Christmas. A national lockdown didn’t come into effect until January 4th, by which point hospitals in England were seeing forty per cent more covid-19 cases than during the April peak. In a pandemic, every day counts.

There is no evidence that the U.K. variant is more deadly, or that it will be resistant to a vaccine. Still, Martin McKee, a professor of European public health at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, called B.1.1.7 “very, very worrying.” “What seems to be happening with it is people infected with it are having a higher viral load,” he told me. The new variant may cause more of the virus to lodge in the upper respiratory tract, making transmission through conversation or, heaven forbid, a cough, more probable. There’s also some evidence that B.1.1.7 can get into cells more easily, through a mutation in the spike protein. All of these factors push the transmission rate, or the “R number,” beyond the point at which the U.K.’s current restrictions are effective in bringing down the numbers, McKee, who is also a member of Independent sage, said. “That’s the really alarming thing.

It is easy to understand the disappointment in the language, in that simple statement. There has been effort made, even great effort made in vaccine distribution and getting people vaccinated, but perhaps not enough in convincing the public. What is particularly lacking is the public accepting and trusting the governments in where they reside when they say this is a severe and serious virus. The straightforward message is not working; this is compounded by blatantly false information, put out there by conspiracy theorists and non-scientists. In other words, by those not in the know. 

That in itself is a concern, since there are other variants or strains first detected in South Africa and in Brazil. This is discussed in another article, also published in the January 21, 2021, online issue of The New Yorker, this one by Lawrence Wright, and entitled, “Can the Covid-19 Vaccine Beat the Proliferation of New Virus Mutations”:

A month after the new variant was uncovered in England, a similar lineage emerged in South Africa, called B.1.351.It quickly became the dominant variant in that country and began its own tour of the world. It has the same mutation as B.1.1.7, which allows it to adhere more tightly to the ace2 receptors, but it also carries an additional mutation that is far more concerning. The mutation is denominated E484K, meaning that the amino acid, glutamic acid (code letter E), has been replaced by another, lysine (code letter K), in position 484 of the genetic sequence of the spike protein. This tiny alteration may possibly make the vaccine less effective against it. In a lab experiment, the E484K mutation caused greater than tenfold drop of immunity in the antibodies of some covid-19 survivors. The vaccines that are being deployed now should still be effective, researchers have said, but clearly the virus is evolving new strategies that make it more contagious and less able to be corralled by a vaccine.
Yet another dangerous variant, B.1.1.28, turned up in Brazil. A forty-five-year-old health-care worker in the northeastern part of the country, who had no comorbidities, got covid-19 in May of 2020. She was sick for a week with diarrhea, muscle aches, exhaustion, and pain while swallowing, but she fully recovered. Then, in October, a hundred and fifty-three days later, she fell ill again with covid-19, and, this time, the disease was more severe.
Worrisome. What is going on here? Well, say scientists who study viruses, this is perfectly predictable and normal for viruses. They mutate, so as to increase their chances of survival, by changing their structure and finding new human hosts to attach to and thus replicate. So, we now know of three variants: B.1.1.7 from Britain, B.1.351 (also called 501Y. V2) from South Africa, and B.1.1.28 from Brazil, each which could prove problematic to efforts to reducing transmission, to reducing illness, to reducing hospitalizations, and to reducing mortality. It is easy to say this is not at all good news in the battle against Covid, because it isn’t. 

The British and South African variants or strains have made their way to Canada, the country where I reside. In an article ( “How the spread of coronavirus variants could completely change the pandemic in Canada;” January 15, 2022), Aaron Miller writes:
Dr. Adalsteinn Brown, dean of the University of Toronto's Dalla Lana School of Public Health and co-chair of Ontario's COVID-19 science advisory table, said if B117 continues to spread in Ontario the rate of new cases could rise to "scary," "almost near-vertical" levels.

"I wouldn't be surprised if by the time we prove that there is community transmission definitively, it's already spread like wildfire," said Hota. "It's just the nature of the beast."

Brown added the variant could already be driving "a very dramatic growth in cases" in certain parts of the province, similar to the way it did in the United Kingdom despite strict public health restrictions.

What many scientists say is that these variants could soon, by March, become the dominant strains of Covid-19, a variant that is more contagious. The solution is to reduce risk by following public health guidelines, notably avoiding large gatherings, wearing a face covering and washing hands. 

And, of great importance, getting vaccinated when it’s your turn. Vaccines train our bodies to build antibodies against a specific virus, which is the case for the Covid vaccines. According to the Vaccine Queue Calculator for Canada (developed by Steven Wooding and Jasmine Mah), based on current vaccine stockpiles, the earliest I will get the vaccine is early July.

Saturday, January 23, 2021

A Report on Covid ‘Long Haulers’

 The Long Road to Recovery

There is another excellent article (“What If You Never Get Better From Covid-19?”), this one by Moises Velasquez-Manoff, and published in The New York Times Magazine on January 21, 2021, on the long-term effects suffered by as many as 10 percent of persons who have contacted Covid-19; the stories of these self-named “long-haulers” are compelling. 

Velasquez-Manoff writes:
These patients have labeled themselves “Covid long-haulers.” What they’re suffering from, they say, is “long Covid.” As a group, they report a strange hodgepodge of symptoms, including fatigue, pain, shortness of breath, light sensitivity, exercise intolerance, insomnia, hearts that race inexplicably, diarrhea and cramping, memory problems and a debilitating “brain fog” that can at times make it hard to put a cogent sentence together. In many cases, these symptoms continue unabated from the acute phase of the illness — as if, on some level, the infection never really went away. And for a subset of patients, new symptoms emerge later, as if a different illness has established itself in their bodies.

This was the experience of Lada Beara Lasic, a nephrologist who contracted the coronavirus in early April and later sought help at Mount Sinai’s post-Covid center. After an initial three-week illness and some shortness of breath, she thought she had mostly recovered. She even returned to work — for one day, before she fell ill again with aches the following day. She tried working from home in May but was troubled by fluctuating symptoms that gradually worsened until, in June, she decided to take a leave of absence from her job to focus on her recovery.

Lasic, who is 54 and has been working a few hours a day from home since September, worries about the long-term consequences of what she suspects is an immune system that can’t calm down. “We know that it’s not good for the body to have inflammation,” she told me. “It may cause scarring, and that means irreversible changes. The longer I have this disease and I’m inflamed, the worse it is for my health in the future.”

Despite the crippling symptoms, it’s often hard to figure out precisely what is wrong with patients like Lasic. Her blood work, for instance, has shown some signs of inflammation and elevated liver enzymes, but little else. “Many of these patients have had million-dollar work-ups, and nothing comes back abnormal,” says Dayna McCarthy, a rehabilitation specialist at Mount Sinai. Hearts, lungs, brains — all appear to be functioning normally. Among the only things that can be said with any certainty about these patients is that they recently received a diagnosis of Covid-19.

At Mount Sinai, most patients improve with time, McCarthy told me. But the improvements can be maddeningly slow. And they’re not universal. A small minority hasn’t improved in the many months since the first wave of the pandemic crashed into New York City, she says. Some patients, including a few doctors and nurses, can no longer work, because they are too fatigued or have trouble focusing. Others have lost their jobs but can’t get disability benefits because, subjective reports of misery aside, doctors can find nothing wrong with them. “Initially this was sold as a virus infection that only affects the elderly, and that is absolutely not the case,” McCarthy says. “I can’t think of anything worse than this type of symptomology that affects young people.”
When you read this article, it will become clear that the people interviewed are not the elderly, but middle-aged and younger people. As many as 2.5 million Americans “could become afflicted with a disorder that some have argued causes more illness and suffering than H.I.V.,” Velasquez-Manoff writes. 

Some studies, including one in Ireland, say half of Covid patients had long-term symptoms. But even a figure of 10 percent is significant. In Canada, that would equate to more than 70,000 cases and in the world to 10 million cases. This is important to know and state, if only to show that Covid is a serious disease that needs to be taken seriously. Not only that it can cause acute illness, but in a significant part of the population it causes chronic and debilitating illness.

I take away two things after reading this excellent article. The first is that everyone who can should get vaccinated in the long march to achieve herd immunity, which will likely not happen worldwide in 2021, the WHO says, but given what I recently read and will report here, perhaps only in 2022. Herd immunity might require between 85 and 90 percent of the population to be vaccinated, says Anthony Fauci, one of the world’s leading experts on infectious diseases and chief medical advisor to President Biden. That equates to billions of vaccines, and possibly upwards of 16 billion vaccines, if the two-shot Pfizer and Moderna vaccines are used. This is some Herculean feat. 

The combined efforts of Pfizer and Moderna will deliver a total of 2 billion doses worldwide in 2021. Vaccines developed in Britain, China, India and Russia as well as many other potential vaccines in late-stage trials by American companies can be enough to vaccinate one-third of the world this year. Good, but not nearly enough for global herd immunity. Even achieving this in 2022 might seem optimistic. I would like to remain optimistic.

Even so, there’s more to the story. There are some concerns about the latest viral variants, which are more transmissible and thus more contagious. In the case of the South African and Brazilian variants, the concern is greater since early research shows these two Covid variants have evolved to possibly resist the protective effects of current vaccines. Immunity is lessened when people contact these Covid variants. So, it is essentially a race against time. 

Which brings me back to the Covid long haulers and what else I took away from this article. If this is indeed true, instead of 10 million people worldwide who are potentially now Covid long haulers, it might quickly ramp up to double or triple this number, if not more, by the summer. Perhap 100 million people, which is not as far-fetched as this sounds. So, it bears repeating; it’s essentially a race against time. 

While vaccine research and production is the most important and necessary immediate initiative, the second, possibly running parallel, is to undertake a large well-funded international research effort towards a better scientific understanding of the causes of long Covid (a chronic disorder). Such an international effort could lead to a number of good and viable long-term solutions/therapeutics to better the lives of persons afflicted with this disorder. America might be the natural leader/coordinator of this effort, but America cannot do it alone. It will take the world’s best minds.

Covid is a tenacious and determined foe, and we are all tired of it. Yet, complacency is the enemy of scientific victory. The way it seems now is that Covid will be with us in some form for some time, so it is better for us all that we get the science right. And, as well, raise our humanity, our humaneness, to where it needs to be. To the top. 

Friday, January 22, 2021

A NY Times Reporter’s First Person Account of Covid


Laura M. Holson gives a first-person account of her Covid nightmare, “My ‘Long Covid’ Nightmare: Still Sick After 6 Months;” as reported in The New York Times Magazine on January 21, 2021. It is worth reading if you have the opportunity. Holson starts off with these words:

I remember the second time I thought I would die.
The first time was April 17, 2020, when, after finding out I had Covid-19 nine days earlier with aches and a cough, my fever shot up to 101.8, I could barely breathe, and my family doctor told me I had bacterial pneumonia.

It was a perilous time for New Yorkers. About one in three patients admitted to hospitals with Covid were dying alone in their beds, while refrigerated trucks stood sentry outside to hold the bodies. Some nights I heard as many as seven ambulances an hour on the streets below my Upper West Side apartment. My doctor, who called daily, diagnosed my pneumonia after hearing me breathe over the telephone. She vowed to keep me out of the hospital and prescribed a potent antibiotic that left me weak-kneed and dizzy. Within a few days the pneumonia began to clear, but I was left with a cough, nausea, fever and chest pressure that was so severe at times that it felt as if an anvil had been placed on my rib cage and I couldn’t catch my breath.
The second time I thought I would die was different, yet eerily the same. It was June 22, nearly three months after the initial diagnosis. By then the cough had softened, and I was well past the acute phase of Covid-19, having tested negative twice. The chest tightness had passed, supplanted by a nagging ache. I had lost eight pounds as nausea tamped my appetite, and my heart seemed to race without reason. I was so tired I sometimes fell asleep upright in my chair. And my fever persisted, too.
Everybody should read this personal account, particularly people who think and say Covid is like the flu. It is not, and this story, and that of many others, tell us how dangerous a disease Covid truly is. There are long-term health effects; the Covid long-haulers can vouch for that. I too take viruses seriously, and Covid is as serious as it gets.

We do not yet know enough about all the long-term effects of this virus, but what we do know is enough to tell us that the only way that we can defeat this virus—and it needs to be defeated with scientific efforts—are vaccines. I am a huge advocate of vaccines, and have always been, and more so now than ever before. The sooner we all can get vaccinated, the better it will be for us all.

Whatever risks there are, and from what I have read thus far, they are minimal. Simply put, the benefits to humanity outweigh by far any such risks. Thus, it comes as no surprise that I encourage everyone to get vaccinated.

Thursday, January 21, 2021

Amanda Gorman: The Hill We Climb

 2021 U.S. Inauguration

Amanda Gorman reciting her poem“The Hill We Climb,” yesterday at the 2021 U.S. Presidential Inauguration. Gordon, at 22, is America’s youth poet laureate and the youngest poet ever to grace an inaugural podium. Gorman did an exemplary job, writing quite an inspiring poem and delivering it with poise and grace. The text of the poem can be found [here].
Via: Youtube

The last four years, to put it mildly, have not been good. So, here is an excerpt that I particularly liked:

When day comes we step out of the shade,
aflame and unafraid
The new dawn blooms as we free it
For there is always light,
if only we’re brave enough to see it
If only we’re brave enough to be it

So it might be. Let us all who value liberal democracy and what it stands for heed these words, Let us have courage to stand in the light. In the light of reason and love. Let us have courage to do what is right. The right of justice and mercy.

The 2021 U.S. Presidential Inauguration

 U.S. History

The 2021 U.S. Presidential Inauguration of Joseph R. Biden Jr. as the 46th president and Kamala Devi Harris as the first woman, the first Asian American and the first Black American to be elected vice-president. If you missed it yesterday, here is an important moment in history. Yes, it is both historic and memorable. This clip includes Jennifer Lopez singing a medley of “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” and President Biden’s inaugural speech. The full text of the speech can be found [here].
Via: Youtube

Here is an excerpt from President Biden’s inaugural speech, where he lays out some of the problems besetting America and what is required to solve them: unity in resolve and in action. The language of unity in bringing people together toward a common cause:
To overcome these challenges, to restore the soul and secure the future of America, requires so much more than words. It requires the most elusive of all things in a democracy —unity. Unity. In another January on New Year’s Day in 1863 Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. When he put pen to paper the president said, and I quote, “If my name ever goes down in history, it'll be for this act, and my whole soul is in it.”

My whole soul is in it today, on this January day. My whole soul is in this. Bringing America together, uniting our people, uniting our nation. And I ask every American to join me in this cause. Uniting to fight the foes we face—anger, resentment and hatred. Extremism, lawlessness, violence, disease, joblessness, and hopelessness.

With unity we can do great things, important things. We can right wrongs, we can put people to work in good jobs, we can teach our children in safe schools. We can overcome the deadly virus, we can rebuild work, we can rebuild the middle class and make work secure, we can secure racial justice and we can make America once again the leading force for good in the world.

May it be so. 

Wednesday, January 20, 2021

Kool and the Gang: Celebration (1980)


Kool and the Gang: “Celebration” is the first track on the album, Celebrate!, which was released on September 28, 1980. The inauguration of Joe Biden as president and Kamala Harris as vice president has just taken place. This is something to celebrate.
Via: Youtube

With this event, today is a day to celebrate, as America begins its ascent from chaos, confusion and incivility to normalcy, decency and trustworthiness. It is by no means an easy ascent, but an necessary one to rebuild the trust that has so easily been eroded. This is not mere words, but an understanding of the glue that binds society together and gives it its moral strength and character. 

If we have learned anything the last four years is that trust is that important. Trust in the facts and trust in the people who report the facts. It is an America that has faith in its democratic institutions and the people that lead them. This includes its mainstream media, its scientific, business and medical establishments and, of course, its political leaders.

Such an America is important to all peoples of the world who cherish liberal democracy, including this writer. Again, our desire, and this includes the hundreds of millions around the world who care about liberal democracy, is to see President Biden and Vice President Harris succeed in their efforts. Their success is our success. 

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

Fleetwood Mac: Don’t Stop (1977)

 New Beginnings

Fleetwood Mac: Don’t Stop (1977) the fourth song on Side 1 on their maga-album, Rumors, which was released on February 4, 1977. I am thinking about tomorrow—a time of new beginnings. My American friends will finally leave the world of dystopian fiction, and will take a long and healthy trip—perhaps even an inspiring one and a memorable one—on the road of hope, respect, decency, and healing. To progress, not only by looking forward but also by moving forward. That being said, may tomorrow be the encouraging beginning of many good tomorrows for America. It is looking promising. Looking forward to it.
Via: Youtube

Saturday, January 9, 2021

Messiah/Complex: A Modern Handel’s Messiah (2020)

 The Beautiful Creative Spirit

Messiah/Complex is a modern and comprehensive interpretation of Handel’s Messiah by Against the Grain Theatre (AtG) based in Toronto. 
Via: Youtube

It has caught the attention of a number of publications, including The New York Times. Dan Bilefsky writes for “Canada Letter”:

The 80-minute film “Messiah/Complex” — the brainchild of the Toronto-based indie opera company Against the Grain, in collaboration with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra — also reinterprets Handel’s work from the perspective of a gay man in Vancouver and a Muslim woman in a head scarf in Montreal. The production is being streamed, free, on YouTube until the end of the month.

This is a luscious and beautifully shot non-sectarian production, polyglot and gender-inclusive. In other words, it is not solely white Christian, which is the traditional Messiah of the eighteenth century. Some might find it too progressive, but not this writer. 

It is still about suffering, redemption and hope, but a modern one that understands that others suffer too, others who also seek redemption and hope in their way. And also forgiveness and love. What’s not to like?