Bits of good news about Covid

We’re talking about Covid again, so let’s grab some shreds of good news and pile them up like hamster bedding–only (if I remember my brother’s hamster correctly) not as stale smelling.

 

Shred number one

A study involving older, high-risk adults showed that nasal irrigation reduced the risk of hospitalization and death from Covid and helped people recover faster. 

What does “older” mean if we don’t have a comparison group? C’mon, we all know that in our culture it’s not nice to say someone’s old. They’re trying to be polite. My best guess is, older than the researchers.

Next question: What’s nasal irrigation? An inexpensive and low-tech way of clearing out your sinuses. You squirt a mild sterile saline solution up one nostril, tipping your head so it dribbles helplessly out the other, having found its way via satellite navigation. As the solution falls into the sink, you’ll hear a small voice saying, “You have reached your destination.” 

Irrelevant photo: It must be time for another cat photo. This is Fast Eddie, who doesn’t look like he was assembled correctly but was. Really.

Okay, I asked Lord Google what it involves, and I even tried doing it. It’s mildly off-putting but I’ve done worse things in the name of health. It’s entirely survivable.

But let’s go back to the study: Only 1.3% of the subjects were hospitalized, and none died. Compare that to the control group, where 9.47% were hospitalized and 1.5% died. Group one also got better faster and had fewer symptoms hanging on at the end of two weeks. 

The inspiration behind the study was 1) that saline decreases Covid’s ability to attach to cells–to the ACE2 receptor, in case you’re taking notes and 2) that the larger a person’s viral load is, the sicker they’re likely to be, so if within 24 hours of testing positive (the study’s designers reasonsed) some of the virus was rinsed out, that might reduce Covid’s damage. 

Nasal irrigation is a common practice in Southeast Asia, and interestingly enough death rates from Covid were lower there. That’s not definitive proof, but it’s intriguing enough to make a person design a study around it–if the aforesaid person happens to be in the right line of work, of course. 

Irrigation also helps with colds, postnasal drip,  sinus headaches, and all sorts of fun stuff. It’s said to improve people’s sense of taste and smell and the quality of their sleep. 

I’m starting to sound like a true believer, aren’t I? Sorry. I’ll recover in a minute or two, as soon as I stop this saline solution dribbling out of my left nostril. In the meantime, I can balance things out by admitting that it won’t make you taller or reverse aging.

 

Shred number two

A small study hints that vaccination may be decreasing the number of people who come down with long Covid. The study comes from the long Covid clinic at the Cambridge University Teaching Hospital, which treats people on the severe end of the spectrum. Between August 2021 and June 2022, it saw a 79% drop in referrals compared to August 2020 and July 2021.

That’s not proof that vaccination’s the cause–it’s only correlation–but it does suggest it.

Other studies also show a decrease, although the numbers have been all over the map. One showed a 15% reduction and another 50%. A third showed “eight of the ten most-commonly reported symptoms were reported between 50 and 80% less often.” I’d translate that into a format that parallels the other studies but somebody glued the pieces in place and I can’t. 

The reason the numbers vary so much is that the studies weren’t defining long Covid the same way or following people for the same length of time. 

So does catching Covid multiple times increase your odds of getting long Covid? The assumption has been that with each infection, you roll the dice again, taking the same risk each time. But one author of the study expects that previous infections will have more or less the same impact as vaccination and the risk will turn out to diminish after the first infection.

Probably.

 

Shred number three

The omicron variant may be 20% to 50% less likely to turn into long Covid than the delta variant, depending on a person’s age and how much time has passed since they were last vaccinated. 

But–and isn’t there always a but?–because more people caught the omicron variant than the delta, the absolute number of people in the UK who came down with long Covid as a result was higher. 

Sorry. That second paragraph was as welcome as a thorny old blackberry cane sneaking into the hamster bedding.

 

Shred number four

Allergies might offer some protection against Covid. Do you have hay fever, allergic rhinitis, eczema, dermatitis? Be grateful for your bad luck, because you may be 23% less likely to get infected . Got one of those plus asthma? Be grateful twice: It may have down by 38%. 

That’s not proof, but it’s an interesting possibility.

 

Shred number five

A study estimates that in the first year Covid vaccines were available, they prevented 19.8 million deaths worldwide. Unfortunately, though, because of how unevenly they were distributed, the advantage was heavily skewed toward the richest countries.

You knew it wouldn’t all be good news here, didn’t you? 

During the first Covid wave, before vaccines were available, shutting schools cut daily deaths by 1.23 per million over 24 days and shutting workplaces cut daily deaths by 0.26 per million over 24 days. (Kids were less likely to get sick but they’re generous little creatures and they do like to share their germs.) For a population of 67 million (which just happens to be Britain’s population), that translates to roughly 82 deaths avoided every 24 days by shutting schools and 17 by shutting workplaces.

Lockdowns and restrictions on public transportation didn’t have as significant an impact. The difference is at least partially attributable to vulnerable people not being able to avoid workplaces and schools.  

 

Shred number six

India and China have approved inhalable vaccines, and many medical manufacturers are chasing their own inhalable versions. Injected vaccines concentrate antibodies in our muscles, which is useful, but we catch Covid by inhaling it, so the theory goes that loading the nose and mouth with antibodies could potentially keep us from spreading it. In other words, it really could end the pandemic.

Potentially. I don’t think the data on either of the new vaccines have been made public yet, so keep watching.

 

And now your weekly quota of bad-to-ambiguous news

Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, head of the World Health Organization, said, “Last week, one person died with Covid-19 every 44 seconds. Most of those deaths are avoidable.”

That quote’s from early September .

“You might be tired of hearing me say the pandemic is not over. But I will keep saying it until it is.”

A week later, he said “We have never been in a better position to end the pandemic. We are not there yet, but the end is in sight.”

However, “If we don’t take this opportunity now, we run the risk of more variants, more deaths, more disruption, and more uncertainty.”

WHO is urging countries to continue testing for the virus, to continue sequencing it, and to vaccinate 100% of the most at-risk groups, including health workers and the elderly.

Britain cancels all news out of respect for the queen

In case you managed not to notice, the queen died, but that’s not today’s topic. Let’s talk about Britain’s response, which–depending on your point of view–has been either moving and full of pageantry or expensive and over the top. 

Let’s go straight to the over-the-top stuff. 

News outlets more or less abandoned real news, giving us day after day after day of queen-is-dead coverage, and journalists were driven to such extremes in their efforts to find new angles that on the day of the funeral I found a headline that read, “Viewers left shocked after spider crawls across queen’s coffin during funeral.”

Yes, whatever else you can say, the country’s papers know breaking news when they see it.

Irrelevant photo: Nicotiana–and if it looks like I photoshopped a frowny face into the center, I didn’t. The flower grew that all by its glorious self.

The award for worst managed respectful gesture

Centre Parcs–a chain of holiday villages–first announced that they’d have to kick everyone out on the night of the queen’s funeral because they were closing down. When that got bad publicity, they changed their minds (“We recognise leaving the village for one night is an inconvenience”) but told guests they’d have to stay in their lodges, because the place was still closed. 

That led some denizens of social media to call it a hostage situation, which should also get an over-the-top award but we’ve run out. Sorry. Still, it was thoughtful of them to join Centre Parcs in that over-the-top space so they wouldn’t be lonesome.

The company later re-clarified the situation: Guests could walk around but the facilities would be closed. They offered a 17% discount. 

Your guess about how they came up with that figure is as good as mine. Given that people go there for the facilities, I’d have thought a 100% refund would be more fitting, but after that the story dropped out of the news. 

 

Gestures that didn’t win awards

From there, the stories get more mundane, but British Cycling–the national body for a sport that I never knew had a national body, or needed one–recommended that no one use their bikes on the day of the funeral.   

Cue bikers threatening to cancel their memberships. Then cue the organization backing down. And apologizing. And clarifying that  “no domestic events should take place on the day of the State Funeral,” whatever that means.

“Any clubs planning rides on the day of the State Funeral may want to consider adjusting their route or ride timings so they do not clash with those of the funeral service and associated processions.

“However, they are under no obligation to do so.”

In other words, please ignore this letter. 

Not to be outdone, the Norwich City Council closed two bike racks from September 9 to September 23, “during the Royal period of Mourning.” 

The British are big on capital Letters.

After a flap, the original sign was taken down and replaced with one explaining that the area would be used for “floral tributes.” But the bike racks are still closed.

In London, the overwhelmed Royal Parks Whatever asked people to please stop leaving Paddington Bears and marmalade sandwiches as tributes. Ditto balloons and candles. Flowers were okay, but without the wrappings, please.

The bears and sandwiches come out of a filmed sketch involving the queen, played by herself, having tea with Paddington Bear, who rumor has it was played by an actor.

The supermarket chain Morrisons showed its respect by turning the beeps on their self-service checkout scanners so low that customers couldn’t hear them and couldn’t tell if their purchases had been scanned or not.

On the day of the funeral, most of the big shops shut for at least part of the day. Most movie theaters also closed,  although a few screened the funeral for free but as a sign of respect weren’t selling popcorn. Or candy, although it’d be funnier to stop at popcorn. 

Cafes and restaurants were mostly closed, but pubs were mostly open. Draw your own conclusions. And Heathrow Airport adjusted its flight patterns and schedule to ensure quiet skies for the funeral. 

 

What happens next? 

Most significantly, Heinz ketchup will have to change its label, and so will hundreds of other food and drink brands. Why? Because they’ve carried the queen’s coat of arms on their packaging, which they can only do if they have a royal warrant, but royal warrants die when a monarch does.

A royal warrant? That doesn’t mean anyone’s getting arrested. Companies who supply “goods and services to the royals” can apply for them. So now they all have to apply to the new monarch and prove that the royal household uses their products regularly. 

Anytime you feel the need to remember the queen was human, just think of her pouring ketchup on her fries. 

Or maybe she had someone to do that for her.

Bank notes will also have to be changed, since they carry an image of the reigning whoever. That’ll take a couple of years. And coins will have to change, along with postage stamps and some flags–the ones outside police stations and in a few other places–since they have the queen’s initials on them. 

The royal arms, which are on many a government building as well as on government stationery, may change, but that’s up to the new king. And since MPs and members of the House of Lords swore an oath to the queen in order to take their seats, they’ll have to swear a new one, to the king this time.

How much will all this (plus the pageantry and its attendant security) cost? You know the old saying, “If you have to ask, you can’t afford it?” I’m asking, as are a fair number of other people. The country’s in a cost-of-living crisis–11 million people are behind on their bills and 5 million have gone without food in an effort to keep up with them–and the government’s made it  plain that it would cost too much to offer any serious level of support. Besides, it doesn’t believe in that sort of thing.

It’s funny that the things governments don’t want to do are always too expensive but they find a way to manage the things they consider important.

 

But not everyone’s a monarchist

Mostly, small-R republicans seem to have kept their heads down and waited out the storm. But a handful of people were arrested for publicly protesting the monarchy, some by shouting and some  by holding up signs. One was threatened with arrest for holding up a blank piece of cardboard.

In fairness, one protester was later dearrested.

No, I never heard of it either. And at a protest where a number of people held up blank signs, no one was arrested.

But the arrests that were made, what law was that uncer? A recent one that allows the police to limit protests that they think are, or will be, noisy or disruptive, even if they’re peaceful. You could fit a lot of dissent under that leaky umbrella.

The good news is that, although calling for the abolition of the monarchy is technically still treason and carries a life sentence, the law hasn’t been used since 1879.

When England decriminalized heresy

Before we can talk about when heresy stopped being a crime in England, we have to talk about when heresy became a crime. And before we can do that, we have to talk about what heresy was. Or is, if you like. And before we can do that in any thorough way, we need to gather up all the time the world has available and use it to study the subject.

Which we’re not going to, predictably enough. We’ll take the shortcut. 

 

Heresy

For heresy to exist, you need orthodoxy: a set of fixed beliefs–preferably religious and powerful–to not believe in. Or since no one will know what you believe unless you make it public, to disagree with. No public disagreement, no heresy. 

Mind you, you don’t have to be the person making your disagreement public. Some other helpful soul can do that for you. It may or may not match any belief you recognize, but good luck proving that. However it happens, the public ingredient has to be added if we’re going to follow the recipe.

Although multiple religions have their battles over orthodoxy, the word heresy is heavily linked to Christianity, although its root comes from a word with no particular negative connotations that meant cult. From its early days, though, the Catholic Church got to work deciding what the one and only correct set of beliefs was and organizing a way to divide correct beliefs from heretical ones, at which point heresy became ba-a-a-ad.

 

Irrelevant photo: I thought, given the topic, we might need something nice to look at. These are begonias.

In spite of that, believers kept coming up with new and more interesting heretical beliefs. Consult Lord Google on the subject and he’ll lead you to lists: the top 10 heresies of Christianity; the 6 great heresies of the Middle Ages; the complete list of heresies in the Catholic Church. The internet loves lists, especially numbered ones. 

I don’t particularly. We’ll skip them. 

If you’re serious about this, you’ll make a distinction between heresy and schism. I’m not and we’ll skip that too.

I know. You’re disappointed. But let’s define heresy: Canon Law–the ecclesiastical law of medieval Europe–defined it as “error which is voluntarily held in contradiction to a doctrine which has been clearly stated in the creed, and has become part of the defined faith of the church,” and which is “persisted in by a member of the church.”

 

Heresy as a crime

It’s a big jump, though, from heresy being something the church isn’t happy about to heresy becoming a criminal offense. The first step toward that–

Hang on. Can you step toward a jump? Oh, probably. That’s close enough not to mess up my metaphor. 

Onward.

The first step is that state and religion have to meet, mate, and intermingle their DNA. Be careful when someone proposes that, no matter how many good intentions the proposal’s dressed in. It gives religion the state’s power in punishing heresy and the state a claim to god’s endorsement, which in theory at least means it can’t be challenged. On anything. Because god said so. Neither of those things has, historically speaking, brought out the best in the people involved. 

Before Christianity mingled its DNA with state power, back when it was itself a persecuted minority religion, it advocated freedom of conscience and freedom of speech. Once it merged with the state and saw the error of its ways, freedom of conscience lost its appeal and it started to impose its views on everyone, since they were, by definition, the right ones.

But even if you have the authority to stamp out heresy, how do you establish who the heretics are? Let’s quote from T.M. Lindsay’s “Heresy” in the Encyclopedia Britannica, 9th edition, which is in turn in the online encyclopedia. Theodora, (The link’s above if you want it–or if you don’t.)

“Pope Innocent III [1198  to 1216] declared that to lead a solitary life, to refuse to accommodate oneself to the prevailing manners of society, and to frequent unauthorized religious meetings were abundant grounds of suspicion; while later canonists were accustomed to give lists of deeds which made the doers suspect: a priest who did not celebrate mass, a layman who was seen in clerical robes, those who favoured heretics, received them as guests, gave them safe conduct, tolerated them, trusted them, defended them, fought under them or read their books were all to be suspect.” 

To be on the safe side, lay people could follow Pope Alexander IV’s advice and simply not argue about matters of faith. Basically, they could shut up and believe what they were told.

The church had its own laws and legal system, and it could inflict churchly punishments on people–things like excommunication–but you know how sometimes you just feel the need to hit things with a larger hammer? It was like that, and as early as the fourth century, you’ll find Christian emperors putting heretics to death, and as time whent on we can add torture to the list of risks heretics faced. Or people presumed to be heretics.

By the thirteenth century, witchcraft was getting mixed up with heresy (it all had something to do with the devil, so why not?), and by the fifteenth century the belief had taken root deep enough in the culture that when Protestants started rejecting Catholic beliefs, witchcraft never made the reject list. 

 

But weren’t we supposed to talk about England?

Sorry, yes, we were. I was trying to find a starting point for heresy being a crime and ended up on a European tour, but let’s come back to England. 

In 1401, Henry IV introduced de Heretico comburendo into common law, allowing a diocesan to sentence a heretic to burn at the stake without consulting the synod or the crown. 

What’s a diocesan? As far as I can figure out, the bishop in charge of a diocese. What’s a synod? A church assembly of one sort or another. Listen, this isn’t my world and that’s the best I can do at short notice. The point is, the diocesan could pronounce sentence on his own say-so, and the sheriff then had to light the match, or its era-appropriate equivalent, since matches hadn’t been invented. So church and state were joining hands in getting rid of those pesky heretics, who kept cantering past, in spite of centuries of effort to keep everyone inside the orthodox corral.

What’s common law? Oh, please. You don’t want to get into that. At least not now. Can we just pretend we know what we’re talking about and move on? What matters is that being condemned as a heretic was enough to get you killed. For both church and state, that worked well until–

You know how I said that in order to have heresy you have to have orthodoxy? Well, this business about killing heretics became problematic when the definition of orthodoxy turned from a solid to a liquid–in other words, during the Reformation. When England was Catholic Protestants were heretics. But then England became Protestant, and Catholics were the heretics. But nothing’s ever quite that simple, because more Protestantly Protestants were also heretics. And just when you thought you had all that figured out, England went Catholic again. Then it went Protestant again. Then it fought a civil war but both sides were Protestant, by which time everyone was so dizzy they had to sit out a few dances.

While they’re out from underfoot, let’s backtrack a bit: Under Elizabeth I (Protestant) heresy laws were repealed, but the authorities could still dig out that old bit of common law, de Whatsitum in Latinensis,  and get the sheriff to light the match. Which still hadn’t been invented. So the repeal was incomplete.

In 1612, Edward Wightman was burned at the stake for heresy. This happened when James I and VI was the king (Protestant, and he was a single person, not two, in spite of all the numbers he had to drag around). Wightman was the last person burned for heresy in England, but he didn’t know that and for a long time no one else could count on it either.

Now we move forward again. Our dancers have recovered, the civil war’s over and the king’s Protestant. The country’s therefore Protestant, as is parliament. But wait, the king’s heir is Catholic.

Let’s pause there for a moment. The king still had the power to tip the country from  one church into another and no one in power can be sure they wouldn’t be looking at a pile of dry wood and a sheriff fingering his imaginary matchbox when power shifts. They don’t know that Wightman’s the last of his particular brand of martyr.

I know, I’ve changed tenses. Doesn’t it all feel exciting in the present tense?

So in 1677, parliament abolishes burning at the stake as a punishment for heresy. This effectively decriminalizes it. And, not incidentally, takes away a powerful weapon that any future Catholic government, should there be one, could use against their nervously and publicly Protestant selves.

To placate the bishops in parliament, they allowed bishops and ecclesiastical courts to continue punishing heresy, blasphemy, and atheism under ecclesiastical law, but not by death. 

Defenses of the freedom of conscience were in the air, but they weren’t what moved the lawmakers. Self-preservation was.

Prime ministers and oversize vegetables: It’s the news from Britain

Britain has a new prime minister, but before we get depressed let’s change the subject and talk about the man in Hampshire who grew the world’s longest cucumber–3’ 8”, or 1.12 meters if you prefer. It weighed 17 pounds, or 7.7 kilos. Or quite possibly both.

What’s the point of growing a vegetable that big? Well, you could make 400 cucumber sandwiches out of it, but only if you like cucumber sandwiches made with tasteless cukes and have a few hundred close friends who do. 

How do I know it’s tasteless? I don’t. It could be bitter. It could have the texture of cardboard packing material. What I do know (since the article I stole this from said so) is that it’s destined for the compost heap, not the table.

In the meantime, we still have that new prime minister. The last one’s been dumped on the compost heap, but only because we didn’t have the heart to deposit him where he belongs. The current one, I predict, will be as much use as a three-and-a-half-foot cucumber and do considerably more damage. Already she’s put someone who talks about “climate alarmism” in charge of energy and climate change. But then, to be fair, I don’t know that the job description specifies working against climate change. It may not. 

Okay, these are blackberries, not cucumbers, and they’re normal size, but this is as close as we get to a relevant photo around here.

 

What goes into a cucumber sandwich? 

Sliced cukes, preferably with the rind cut off. Butter (or cream cheese). Something herby or some black pepper. One recipe (not the one I’m linking to; it had too many popups) suggests a squeeze of lemon, which sounds like it’ll give you soggy bread, but hey, it’s your sandwich so do what you like. 

Put all that on white bread–lots of white bread–preferably with the crusts cut off so you don’t mistake your 400 sandwiches for anything colorful. Then cut them into triangles, giving you, um, 1,600 sandwich pieces, and you make a huge pot of tea.

If you arrange the triangles on tastefully bleak white plates, they will be practically invisible. 

 

But forget that. Let’s introduce the bike bus

Kids in a Glasgow primary school can ride the bike bus to school on Fridays.

A bike bus is basically a group of kids and parents moving through traffic like a school of fish. It was started by a parent who’d read about something similar in Barcelona. Because impatient drivers were becoming a problem, the lead bike is now rigged with a gizmo that changes the traffic light at a particularly messy intersection for long enough for 50 or so riders to cross. 

Interviews with the kids were predictably informative. One likes ringing his bell. Another likes talking to her friend on the way to school. And a third has a new bike and it’s red and orange. 

 

What’s happening in the rest of the world?

Well, researchers at the University of Michigan (which is not in Britain) have developed a wind turbine blade that can be recycled into gummy bears.

I’m tempted to stop there, leaving you with an image of gummy bears mysteriously falling from the sky in a disorganized gummy rainbow when the blades reach the end of their first life. But (however briefly) I’m having a responsible moment, so I’ll explain.

The blades are made from a mix of glass fibers, a plant-based polymer, and a synthetic polymer. When the blades are ready to be replaced, instead of joining that great wind turbine in the sky, they break down (with a little help from an alkaline solution) into their component parts, which can be used to make new turbine blades, or tail lights, or gummy bears, or sports drinks. To demonstrate how safe that is, one of the researchers, John Dorgan, publicly ate a gummy bear they’d made.

“A carbon atom derived from a plant, like corn or grass, is no different from a carbon atom that came from a fossil fuel,” he said. “It’s all part of the global carbon cycle, and we’ve shown that we can go from biomass in the field to durable plastic materials and back to foodstuffs.”

Turbine blades can be as much as half the length of a football field, making them an awkward addition to a landfill. 

Is that a US football field or what the rest of the world calls a football field and Americans insist is a soccer field? I’m not sure. I’m not even sure how the sizes of the two fields compare. What I do know is that the new blades can be recycled endlessly. Unless you eat them. 

*

The urine of the Southeast Asian binturong smells like buttered popcorn. Why is that true? Because they both contain 2-acetyl-1-pyrroline, which smells the same whether it’s at the movies or being excreted onto dead leaves. 

Did you need to know that? Probably not, but now that you do you can’t unknow it–at least not unless memory does its loving job of erasing it for you.

You can thank the Encyclopedia Britannica’s “One Good Fact” email newsletter for that gem, and I can’t give you a link because it doesn’t work that way. You’ll just have to trust me on this.

 

Copyright news

The copyright’s expiring on some of the classic modern novels, and that means you can buy cheap editions online. 

What do you get for your money? Less than you’d expect, according to a recent (if February is recent) article. An edition of The Great Gatsby ends mid-paragraph and three pages before the author, F. Scott Fitzgerald, thought it did.

Another edition is dedicated not to Fitzgerald’s wife, Zelda, as the original was, but to “Logan and Olivia Barbrook / May your lives be filled with wonderful stories, great adventures and happily-ever-afters, Love Mummy.”

Which somehow doesn’t sound like Fitzgerald. 

One edition changes Fitzgeralds line “At any rate, Miss Baker’s lips fluttered” to “Anyway, Miss Baker’s lipped frizzed.”

Then there’s the cover. One edition showed a couple next to something that looks more or less like a 1980s Dodge Charger. That’s prescient for a book first published in 1925. It’s enough to make your lips frizz.

 

Let’s go back to oversize vegetables

In Nebraska, Duane Hansen paddled 38 miles down the Missouri River in the hollowed-out 846-pound pumpkin that he grew. 

“I probably won’t try this again,” he said, since it was a little cramped in there. However, no politicians were harmed in the setting of what is unquestionably a world record.

 

In which we see humanity at its best

Somewhere above Europe, two Air France pilots got in a fistfight in the cockpit. The cabin crew heard the noise, went in, and broke up the fight, with one of them staying in the cockpit until the plane landed to keep the pilots in their seats and flying the plane.

The BBC tells us that France’s air investigation body said the airline’s culture “lacked rigor when it came to safety procedures.”

Covid: It ain’t over till it’s over…

…as the endlessly quotable Yogi Berra may or may not have said.

But forget Berra. The World Health Organization, a.k.a. WHO, isn’t as much fun to quote but it knows how to do footnotes, and that makes it more impressive. In its opinion, the pandemic isn’t over. Between the beginning of 2022 and late August, at least a million people around the world died of Covid. 

Or if you want to start counting at the beginning of the pandemic, that’s 6.45 million. Both numbers undercount the damage, but never mind that. Let’s work with what we’ve got.

”We have the tools that can actually prevent these deaths,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, WHO’s technical lead on Covid. “A lot of people are talking about living with COVID. But we need to live with this responsibly. A million deaths this year is not living with COVID. Having 15,000 deaths per week is not living with COVID-19 responsibly.”

In one recent week, more than 5.3 million new cases were reported worldwide, a number that doesn’t include people who registered positive only on a home test. Or who never tested.

“These are huge numbers, and that’s an underestimate,” said Van Kerkhove. “We do see this virus circulating really intensely around the world.”

Irrelevant photo: an orchid

*

That brings me to the question of why I keep banging on about Covid. Apologies if I’ve gotten boring–Notes isn’t supposed to be mindless, but it is supposed to be a fun read. The problem is that scientists keep coming up with new information. What I’m saying here is, Blame the scientists. If they weren’t so damn good at this, it wouldn’t end up in your inbox.

And if that isn’t a good enough reason, it’s because it still matters. Living with Covid doesn’t have to mean pretending it’s no danger.

 

Long Covid 

Let’s talk about long Covid. Again. Sorry to keep coming back to it, but not long ago someone challenged me on the extent of the problem (my thanks; it was an interesting discussion) and since long Covid’s hard to define and at least as hard to measure, I didn’t have great statistics to offer. But I have started to see some lately, so let’s play with numbers. They all involve money, since it can be counted, and when you’re dealing with something as hazy as long Covid that’s useful. Besides, as we all know, money matters more than life itself.

So let’s talk money: A report from the US estimates that 4 million people are out of work with long Covid, which could mean $170 billion in lost wages. In a year. The report’s author,  Katie Bach, said, “If this looks like other post-viral illnesses, some people will recover, but there will be this big stock of people who don’t, and it will just continue to grow over time.”

She called it “a shocking number.” 

In mid-2021, the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis estimated that 26% of people with long Covid were out of work or had cut their working hoursAn international survey found that 22% of people with long Covid weren’t working and 45% had cut their hours, and a U.K. survey found 16% had reduced their hours and 20% were on paid sick leave. That was between April and May 2021.

Australia’s treasury reports that the country’s lost 3 million working days to long Covid. Or to put that another way, 31,000 people have missed work every day because of it. 

 

So how many people have long Covid? I’m not sure anybody has a reliable count, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control estimate that 19% of people who’ve had Covid get long Covid symptoms. Unfortunately, the number’s less helpful number than it sounds like, because long Covid’s symptoms range from relatively mild to completely hair-raising and the duration ranges from weeks to the possibility of a life sentence.  

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Are we having fun yet?

Evidence is growing that people who’ve had Covid face an increased risk of neurological and psychiatric problems as much as two years after their infection. That’s not the final word on the subject, but it comes from a study that followed 1.28 million cases over two years. It does seem to be a strong hint. 

The good news? Depression and anxiety are generally gone after two months and are no more common after Covid than after other respiratory infections. And kids are at the lowest risk for kids for later complications. 

End of good news.

Adults 64 and under showed an increased risk of brain fog–640 cases per 10,000 people vs 550 cases per. Over 65s? The number went up to 1,540 per compared to 1,230. For dementia (we’re still talking about the over 65s here) it was 450 instead of 330. Psychiatric disorders? That’s 85 instead of 60. 

Is there anything can we do about it? Hell yes. I’m going to petition the courts to lower my age.

Does the risk end after two years? We haven’t had enough time for anyone to find that out. 

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A theory that’s loose on social media holds microclots responsible for long Covid, and some evidence does back that up, but (as one article says) hematologists worry that enthusiasm for the theory has gotten ahead of the data.

Danny Altmann, an immunologist at Imperial College London, said, “We’ve now got little scattered of bits of evidence. We’re all scuttling to try and put it together in some kind of consensus. We’re so far away from that. It’s very unsatisfying.”

But that’s not stopping a few medical groups from offering treatment to remove the clots, and some people with long Covid are desperate enough to try anything, which I can understand. But at least some treatments to get rid of clots risk messing with the blood’s ability to clot, and that (she said, indulging in a mild understatement) would not be a good thing.

 

How Covid’s changing

Its incubation period—the time between when a person gets infected and when they’re shedding enough of the virus to infect other people—is getting shorter, and the shorter that time that period is, the harder it is for vaccines to keep the virus from spreading.  

Yeah, that was news to me too. Measles and rubella have a two-week incubation period, which allows time for a vaccinated person’s immune memory cells to crank out antibodies and keep the person from passing the bug to other people. So vaccines for those diseases stop the spread. In contrast, a Covid vaccine, although it protects the wearer, doesn’t protect the wearer’s friends. Or enemies. 

On the bright  side, the shorter incubation time means people who test positive might not have to isolate themselves for as long.

Every cloud has a silver lining, but the problem with that is that silver linings are too heavy to float. Watch out for falling silver linings.

 

Expired tests

You may (or may not) remember that a while back I wrote about the expiration dates on Covid tests. After they pass those dates, I led you to believe (if and only if you read it, of course), they start to call in sick and miss work. Well, I need to update that. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration set the expiration dates in the early days of the pandemic, on the basis of the limited information that was available at the time, but manufacturers are testing aging tests them and some turn out to be good beyond their expiration dates.

How do you know if yours still good?

“To check whether your test kit is still good beyond the printed expiration date, you can search on the FDA’s “At-Home OTC COVID-19 Diagnostic Tests” website.

“Type in the brand name on the FDA site, and a link will appear showing a list of updated expiration dates.

“You may have to check the lot number on your package. For instance, say you’re trying to look up an iHealth COVID-19 test kit with lot number 222CO20208. Scroll down the document to find your lot number, and you’ll find that the original expiration date of Aug. 7 has been extended to Feb. 7, 2023.”

Apologies.

 

An update on Hafiza Qasimi

In early August, I wrote about Hafiza Qasimi, a woman artist fleeing Afghanistan after the Taliban destroyed her paintings and left her unable to work. The campaign to raise the 10,000 euros she needed to apply for a German visa has reached its goal. This allows her to demonstrate that she can support herself for her first year in the country. (The amount will be raised to 11,208 in January.)

In the meantime, Qasimi has reached Tehran. I have no idea how she did that. In Afghanistan, women aren’t allowed to either travel or leave the country unless they’re with their husband or a male a relative. But she managed it, she’s safe, and she’s been offered a three-month residency at a German art gallery is she can get that visa.

The group supporting her is trying to raise more than the 10,000 euro minimum so that she can afford health insurance and other basics. They’re also working with her on a grant application that would allow her to study at art school.

“This,” they say, “will provide her with the space she needs, as a free woman, to renew and develop her artistic work. We are full of confidence and look forward with Hafiza to the future.”

Her brother, who lives in Germany, will be flying to Tehran to see her for the first time in eight years.

If you want to contribute to the fundraising campaign, any amount will be welcome. And if you don’t (or would love to but can’t), that’s okay. Do what you can where you can and wish her joy in her freedom.

How to enjoy British politics: Imaginary menu items, hard hats, and triple negatives

As Britain staggers unenthusiastically in the direction of its new prime minister, whoever that turns out to be, the two contenders are telling us how gloriously they’ll govern the country (if give the chance) while ignoring small things like the inflation crisis, the sewage crisis, the housing crisis, the drought crisis, the energy crisis, the environmental crisis, and the crisis crisis.

But one of them, Rishi Sunak, works harder at it. Because he’s ridiculously rich and people know it, he has to prove he could not only govern but is in touch with the real world. 

In pursuit of that image, he recently told the media that he likes McDonald’s breakfast wraps. Isn’t that the kind of thing the common people eat, after all? He and his daughter eat them regularly, he told the media.

Not anymore. Someone did some digging and found that McDonald’s hasn’t sold them for two years

His campaign team leapt to his defense by saying that, um, yeah, well, he ate them when they were on the menu but “he’s barely seen his kids in the last two and a half years.”

Thanks, folks. That really humanized your guy.

He’s also been spotted struggling to figure out how contactless card payments happen (he held the card in front of a barcode scanner) and filling up a car that turned out to be borrowed. His advisors must’ve told him common people do stuff like that. I don’t think he’s been spotted pretending to wash his clothes at a laundromat (called a launderette in Britain) or playing at being a food bank client, but there’s still time.

Irrelevant photo: a neighbor’s dahlia

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The strain between Sunak and his former boss, the multi-vacationing prime minister Boris Johnson, brought us a headline I can’t help but admire, since it manages a triple negative: “PM Refuses to Deny He Is Not Taking Sunak’s Calls.”

In the interests of complete transparency, that’s from the print edition. Once it went online, the PM failed to deny, but it’s still a triple negative.

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But let’s talk about hard hats, because politicians just love to put them on their heads and pose for the press. It makes them look like they’re doing something real. Or at least like they might at any moment.

Knowing that, I asked Lord Google about hard hats and politicians and he led me to a Buzzfeed article that’s well worth a visit: “21 Photos of Politicians in Hard Hats Pointing at Things.”

Call me naive, but I hadn’t noticed what they did after putting on the hats, but I will from now on. So go ahead, follow the link. You know you want to.

I’d tell you what Sunak and Truss are doing and proposing about real-world issues, but it’s all too depressing. And in case it sounds like I think Truss would be less evil or even less absurd, I don’t. I’m damned if I know which will be worse. Both. Either. Sunak just happens to have been funnier lately. I struggle to find a laugh in the Truss stories.

 

The politics of blood

Scotland’s the first country on the planet to provide free universal access to period products, which is a great thing to do, and in that spirit the Tay region appointed someone to promote the dignity of menstruation. 

Who’d they choose

A man. 

Why? 

Because of his long experience of monthly bleeding, of course. And his background in tobacco sales and as a personal trainer. 

The man in question defended his appointment by saying, “I think being a man will help me to break down barriers, reduce stigma, and encourage more open discussions.”

I have little doubt that it also helped him rise up the list of nominees. It happens so quietly and so often, and we’re so used to it, that we barely notice. Until suddenly something like this comes along and we wonder how that happened.

 

The politics of swans

Rumor has it that all swans in Britain belong to the queen, but as so often happens rumor has it wrong. Or partially wrong. She owns the swans that aren’t marked as belonging to someone else, and that gives her the title seigneur of the swans. 

Is seigneur a masculine noun? I’m reasonably sure it is. My French was never impressive, but maybe we’d want to make her the seigneuse of the swans. Or maybe, being a queen and all, she’s above gender. 

That’ll upset the anti-woke warriors. Don’t tell Liz Truss. 

The queen’s staff includes a swan warden.

The tradition of marking–or for that matter, owning–swans goes back to the middle ages, when they were a status symbol and aristocrats wanted to have a pair or three paddling on their rivers and on grand occasions carried onto their dinner tables (to be clear: that’s as food, not as guests), but the right to own them could only be granted by the king and only went to the most important landowners, who marked their ownership by nicking the birds’ beaks in distinctive patterns, which wouldn’t have been a lot of fun for the birds. Or the people doing the nicking.

Owning swans is so deeply embedded in the monarchy that it observes a yearly swan upping. Or maybe it does a swan upping. Or, well, I’m not sure, since I’ve never upped a swan. It sounds like some disreputable thing you’d do in a back alley, not on a river. But I do know that the staff does/observes/whatevers it, not the queen herself. And it does happen on a stretch of the water, since that’s where the birds are.

If you want to learn about swan upping you’ll find an article about it in the Smithsonian magazine. 

 

The politics of money

Britain’s fastening its frayed seat belt and bracing itself for inflation to hit 18% or so, and people who aren’t in Rishi Sunak’s tax bracket are feeling the pinch already, since prices are up 10% from a year ago.  

An assortment of pointing fingers blame the war in Ukraine, Brexit, Covid, the energy crisis, and workers demanding pay increases. If you read enough explanations, you’d be forgiven for thinking that they’re blaming our current inflation on inflation. What’s the cause of inflation? Higher prices on goods from abroad, they answer. Increased cost of supplies. A shortage of workers willing to take low-paid jobs, etc. 

In other words, inflation.

The government–such as it is until we have a new prime minister or the outgoing one comes back from vacation and is jolted awake by his wallpaper, causing him to remember that he’s still the prime minister and is expected to pretend he cares–

Where were we? The government and the contestants in the pre-prime ministerial boxing ring are making a show of pretending they can stop the inflationary cycle by blocking the pay increases unions are demanding, in response to which the unions that aren’t already on strike are making noises that hint they could be soon.  

Which is why a headline saying the average pay of chief executives for Britain’s 100 biggest companies drew my eye went up by 39% last year. That gives them, on average, a take home pay of £3.4 million. Per year. Which is 109 times what the average British worker makes. 

In 2020 it was a modest 79 times the average. 

I don’t believe that includes bonuses. Or perks. And we won’t get into what shareholders make.

But it’s okay, because that doesn’t contribute to the inflationary spiral. 

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How does executive pay get set? Well, children, I’m glad you asked, because at least some of the time, and quite possibly all of it, the pay of one chief exec gets set by chief execs from other companies, who act as non-executive directors on the boards of companies where they’re not CEOs. And of course they get paid for that. 

This comes to light–bear with me while I take a step sideways–because Britain’s privatized water companies are in the news lately. We’re in a serious drought, drawing attention to the 3.2 billion liters of water that leak from the water companies’ pipes every day. That would fill 1,237 Olympic-sized swimming pools but first you’d have to convince the water to jump into them instead of running pointlessly down the nearest gutter.

The water companies have also been dumping raw sewage into the sea, winning the hearts of surfers and swimmers throughout this beshittened isle. Beaches do not have an exemption. So when, say, United Utilities, which is in charge of leaking northwest England’s water and sewage into places it’s not supposed to go, pays its CEO £3.2 million a year, that has a way of making headlines, and even more so when he also gets paid to sit on the remuneration committee at BAE systems. 

Other water company execs sit on other boards, and on the committees that set pay. One is paid £115,000 for sitting on the  International Airlines Group board and another a measly £93,000 for sitting on the Centrica board. 

Please be sympathetic. It’s not easy to live on just one CEO salary. A person needs those little extras.

 

What’s happening in the rest of the world?

The Japanese government wants people to drink more booze

That goes against the tide–most governments are discouraging drinking–but alcohol sales are linked to taxes, and taxes are linked to, um, you know, money. In 1980, alcohol accounted for 5% of tax income. In 2011, that was 3%, and in 2020, 1.7%.

Get out there and drink, people. It may not be good for you, but it’s patriotic.

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In New Zealand, a seal used the cat flap to break into a marine biologist’s house, traumatizing the cat but otherwise doing no damage. The marine biologist wasn’t home, though, leaving his cat, his wife, and his kids to deal with the seal.

This is really the only family emergency where it would be useful to have a marine biologist in the house,” he said. 

The seal was returned to the sea. The cat is receiving therapy and multiple cat treats and is lobbying for one of those high-tech cat flaps that keeps out unchipped intruders.

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Since we’re talking about water, let’s talk about the news that sponges sneeze.

No, not those plasticky things sold as sponges but the real ones that grow on the seabed. They clear their filtration systems of assorted gunk (sorry for the scientific terminology, but you’re tough; you can handle it), shooting it out through small pores called ostia. It takes anywhere between 20 and 50 minutes for a single sneeze, but what else has a sponge got to do with its time? It doesn’t have to punch a clock or catch a train, so why not luxuriate in a long, slow, cleansing sneeze.

The sponges coat the gunk in mucus before they expel it, which temps nearby fish to eat it, proving, in case you were even in doubt, that nature is disgusting.

 

Your heart-warming stories for the week

One: During the pandemic, a ransomware group called Maze promised not to attack health organizations. Sweet, right?

But between last April and the end of June, though, attacks on healthcare organizations rose by 90% compared to the same months the year before. Or I assume it’s the year before. A typo has that reading “compared to the same period in 2022.”

Somebody tell me this is still 2022, please. I’m starting to feel a little dizzy.

Anyway, that’s what you get for telling ransomware companies (and the rest of the population) that the pandemic’s over. They were playing nice for a while there. Really they were.

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That didn’t quite warm your heart? Okay.

Two: The Patmos library in Jamestown, Michigan, was the focus of a year-long campaign by the Jamestown Conservative group, which wanted LGBTQ books taken off its shelves. The books made up, after all, a whopping .015% of the collection. As measured in number of titles, I assume, not weight or word count or font size.

As the Jamestown group explained its objection, “They are trying to groom our children to believe that it’s OK to have these sinful desires. . . . . It’s not a political issue, it’s a Biblical issue.”

The library refused to get rid of the books and in a recent election lost its funding.

Someone or other asked the board president if it was a wake-up call.

“A wake-up call to what? To take LGBTQ books off the shelf and then they will give us money? What do you call that? Ransom? We stand behind the fact that our community is made up of a very diverse group of individuals, and we as a library cater to the diversity of our community.”

Two Jamestown residents responded by starting GoFundMe pages, which in four days raised $59,000 and $2,900, making a total of, um, something larger than either number alone. 

Last I looked, the larger campaign had raised just short of $156,000 and the smaller one had raised over $6,000. 

The tax money the library lost came to $245,000, but the money that’s been raised should keep it open until it can work out a plan, which will probably involve getting tax support on the ballot in a second election. 

BookRiot–a large online site dedicated to books–is calling on readers and writers to support the campaigns and “send a strong message that these tactics don’t work — that they can backfire and provide the library with more support and more funding. And hopefully, next time a book banning group considers defunding the library, they’ll remember Patmos Library.”

 

And from the Department of Gastronomical Karma…

…comes the news that the US pizza chain Domino’s thought it could challenge Italian pizza makers on their home turf. The theory was that people will eat anything–even American pizza–if it’s delivered to their door. This turned out not to be true. All its Italian branches have now closed and the company that held the franchise is filing for bankruptcy. 

A quick history of the Chartist movement

Britain’s Chartist movement was one of those inspirational failures that people who try, against all the odds, to change the world love to talk about. They remind us not to count the game as lost until several generations after our deaths. At which point we can pretty well count on not knowing or caring who won.

Okay, that was more downbeat than I meant it to be. The Chartists lost but in some very real ways they also won. 

 

The basics

The Chartist movement began in 1838 with a People’s Charter, drafted by the London Working Men’s Association. It demanded six things:

  • Universal manhood suffrage. At a time when women had only recently been invented, that could almost pass for everybody having the right to vote. 
  • Electoral districts of equal size, meaning all voters would have equal influence. Or that was the theory anyway, and it was quite radical at the time.
  • Voting by secret ballot. That’s right–it hadn’t been instituted yet.  
  • Yearly elections for Parliament.
  • Abolition of property qualification for Members of Parliament.
  • Payment for MPs, which would open up the position to people who worked for a living.

The goal was to give working people political power. In other words, the charter gathered an impressive list of enemies. 

The ideas weren’t entirely new–you can find a lot of them threaded through English history–but it was new that in spite of some middle-class and gentlemanly leaders, the movement’s base was in the working class.

Irrelevant photo: It’s been a while since we’ve had a cat photo, hasn’t it? This it L’il Red Can, who’s no longer so little but can’t seem to escape his name. He is entirely apolitical.

The background

The movement began at a time when political reform was in the air, aggravating many an allergy among the aristocrats’ delicate breathing systems, since the aristocracy still held political power, although economically they were being eclipsed by industrialists.

In response to much popular campaigning, the 1832 Reform Act had made a few gestures in the direction of cleaning up the electoral system. It gave the vote to small landowners, (some) tenant farmers, (some) shopkeepers, and (some of the more solvent) householders even if they didn’t actually own the property they lived in. It also got rid of a fair number of rotten boroughs–constituencies where almost no one lived but that sent representatives (controlled by the local landowner) to Parliament. 

The Reform Act meant some 200,000 more men could vote, but that was out of a population of maybe 10 million. Admittedly, that included children and women, who so clearly wouldn’t know what to do with a vote if they fell over one, but it still left a lot of men voteless.

This was also a time of economic woe: 1837 and 1838 were depression years. Think low pay, hungry people, and unemployment, all aggravated by an 1834 law that replaced the earlier system of relief for the poor with workhouses. They’d be cheaper. They’d be more efficient. They’d get beggars off the street, attack the moral failings that led people to be paupers, and encourage them to work. 

Doesn’t that sound familiar? 

So, no more handouts just because you were out of work and starving during a depression. The poor would go into workhouses,  families would be separated, their lives would be controlled, and they would be set to work under deliberately harsh conditions.  

Semi-relevantly, the government that introduced this was led by Earl Grey, who gave his name to that elegantly flavored tea. 

It was also a time of rebellion. The Swing Rebellion and movement to defend the Tolpuddle Martyrs were in the recent past.

So working people weren’t in a good mood and it wasn’t irrational for them to think that if they could vote they’d be represented in Parliament in proportion to their numbers, and that would bring about a more just organization of society.

It hasn’t exactly worked out that way, but it made sense at the time. 

 

The story

The Chartist movement centered on a petition that gathered more than 1.2 million signatures at a time when petitions were pieces of paper (you remember paper?) and had to be passed from hand to hand and delivered as actual physical objects.

You remember physical objects?  

To gather those signatures, speakers fanned out across the country, addressing actual groups of people (you remember people?), and all of this running around and meeting and speaking built an organizational framework that brought together English, Scottish, and Welsh radicals, as well as Irish supporters of Home Rule, making it not just a movement of working people but a fully national one. 

Inevitably, different parts of a coalition will pull in different directions, and the most important one was what to do if (or as many expected, when) Parliament rejected the petition. Call a national strike? Rely on moral force? Rely on physical force?

The question hadn’t been settled by the time Parliament rejected the petition, and it probably couldn’t have been. Some coalitions are hard to hold together and talking doesn’t resolve all disagreements. Riots broke out, some of which were intended to turn into full-scale uprisings and at least one of which was set off by Birmingham’s authorities banning gatherings and then breaking up the one that happened–not to mention arresting two of the more moderate leaders.

But let’s not slog through this battle by battle, attack by retreat, riot by gathering. Soldiers were called out. People were arrested–550 of them in 1839 and 1840. People were killed. Leaders were convicted of treason and sentenced to be hanged, drawn, and quartered–a sentence so out of keeping with the times that in the face of protests it was commuted to the harsh mercy of transportation to Australia.  

 

Parts 2, 2 ½,  and 3

The second petition was delivered in 1842. It had twice the number of signatures and Parliament was impressed enough to say, “Why should we care about you? You can’t even vote.”

Okay, that’s not an exact quote but it does catch the spirit of their response.

Violence broke out here and there, and respectable opinion held the Chartists responsible for it, but around the country wages were being cut and in response workers were going out on strike. This was the beginning of what was known as the Hungry Forties. Some Chartists inevitably would’ve been involved, but the strikes were more spontaneous than organized.

No union movement existed to support them, and none lasted long.

Having said that, though, at least one source talks not about strikes but about a general strike–one that had not just economic but also political demands: the adoption of the Charter.

After that we get six years of Chartist energy pouring into model communities of various sorts, generally involving equal ownership of land or assets. Some were trying to make their participants eligible to vote so they could elect MPs to represent them.

A third petition made the rounds and was presented in 1848–a year of revolution in continental Europe. Presenters claimed it had 5.75 million signatures. Three days later, the Commons Committee for Public Petitions said it had counted all the signatures and found fewer than 2 million, some of which–including Queen Victoria’s–were obvious forgeries. 

Feargus O’Connor–an MP, a Chartist elected to Parliament to represent Nottingham, and the person who’d presented the petition–said three days wasn’t enough time to count all the signatures.

Was so too, the committee said.

Was not never, O’Connor said. 

And those aren’t exact quotes either.

O’Connor challenged another MP to a duel, then withdrew the challenge.

It was not the finest moment of the Chartist movement.

The petition–to no one’s surprise–was rejected. A few riots followed and a planned rebellion failed. Almost 300 Chartist leaders were arrested and sentenced to transportation or long imprisonment, although death sentences were again commuted. 

Chartism didn’t die on the spot, but between internal divisions, questions about the petition’s validity, repression, and a better economic situation (which at least one source says didn’t trickle down to rank and file Chartists and therefore was unlikely to have had an effect) it was never again the force that it had once been.

 

Women in the Chartist movement

The Chartist leadership was male, and to the limited extent that women’s right to vote was discussed, the movement backed away from it–on some people’s part because of the assumptions of the day (women belonged at home; women needed the vote almost as much as soldiers needed water wings) and on others’ because it would make the movement too controversial and open it to ridicule, since the idea of women voting was inherently absurd. 

Even so, women got involved. They came from families; they had families of their own. The vote was a weapon that might improve their families situation, even if they didn’t get their own hands on the weapon. So they attended meetings. They raised money. They organized tea parties and boycotted anti-Chartist  shopkeepers. 

A few women leaders did emerge, although they never became as well known as the men. 

I know. You’re shocked. 

Mostly, though, the women worked within their socially acceptable role, pushing its edges outward, and none of what they learned at those edges was likely to have been lost.

Sometimes it’s the right time for that and sometimes it isn’t, and sometimes it depends on what each individual can do. But never underestimate the women who don’t break out. They start out by making tea and worshiping heroes and the next thing you know they want to vote and be heroes themselves.  

 

The aftermath

Chartism continued in one form or another for some ten years after the third petition, but its high point had passed. Some of its leaders–and probably if less verifiably, some of its followers–took their skills to other campaigns. 

The right to vote did expand, but the government wasn’t in any kind of a rush about it. Before 1918, only 58% of adult men could vote. That year, property restrictions were abolished for men and women over 30 were given the vote–but they still had to own property. It was 1928 before women could vote on equal terms with men.

As for the other demands:

  • The secret ballot was introduced in 1872.
  • These days, constituency borders are regularly redrawn to keep them of roughly equal size–sometimes controversially, but the principle is there. I’d love to tell you when that started, but I got bored witless before I found an answer.
  • The property qualification for MPs was abolished in 1857, but it didn’t become a paid job until 1911. 

That only leaves one of the Chartists’ demands unmet: yearly elections for MPs.

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In addition to the links, I’ve also relied on David Horspool’s book The English Rebel

Sample of Other People Manage now available online

One of the things I hate about buying books online is that I don’t get to browse, which makes buying an act of faith, and occasionally a downright stupid one. So I’m ecstatic to tell you that a sample of my novel Other People Manage is now available online.

Okay, ecstatic’s overstating it, but that’s what life’s like in the virtual world. Everybody who’s posting is ecstatic. And everybody who’s reading is supposed to wish they were. But I am happy about it, and I’m happy to invite you (if you haven’t already read it) to browse and decide whether the book’s something you want to invest actual money in.

Just follow the link.

That ends the commercial section of our presentation. Thank you for your patience.

What happens when you elect a pony as your mayor

Cockington, a village in Devon, has elected a shetland pony as its mayor. 

The pony’s name is Patrick, he’s four years old, he works as a therapy animal in hospitals and schools, and at some point after the pandemic started his person brought him to the local pub to help people who were struggling with–well, whatever the pandemic had them struggling with in the pub. 

As a logical outcome of all that, when the previous mayor–a human–died in 2019, 200 people signed a petition supporting Patrick’s candidacy on the grounds that he was “non judgemental and genuinely caring and supportive to all.”

His person–who doubled as his campaign manager–wrote the petition. 

Irrelevant photo: a sunflower–our neighbor’s.

Disappointingly (especially in view of my  misleading headline), the best the village could do was to make him the unofficial mayor, but he did have a very official-seeming ceremony and his own office. And all was well until someone complained about him being in the pub and the Torbay Council–that’s the local government–stuck its nose in and announced that the pub needed planning permission for Patrick’s pen and for animal grazing. 

That meant money, so the pub dismantled Patrick’s enclosure. (I think that was his office, but I can’t swear to it.)

Why did someone complain? One local suspects jealousy. “It’s someone who also thinks they are mayor of Cockington.”

On the other hand, the council hasn’t banned Patrick from visiting the pub. Which is good because he ‘s developed a taste for Guiness. 

 

Less upbeat political news

Liz Truss, one of the two remaining candidates for the leadership of the Conservative Party and (ever so incidentally) the country, briefly proposed saving £11 billion by reducing the cost of the civil service. In headline-speak, that was going to be a War on Whitehall Waste, complete with capital letters.

Most of the savings were going to come through cutting civil servants’ pay and vacation time and it would save £8.8 billion.

Why is that £8.8 billion instead of £11 billion? No idea. I’m allergic to numbers. But it doesn’t matter, because according to Alex Thomas, program director for the Institute for Government, the total bill for the civil service comes to around £9 billion. 

What the proposal meant, he explained in a tweet, was not just cutting the pay of civil servants, who politicians love to attack, but also the pay of nurses, doctors, and all the important but less picturesque people who keep the National Health Service running, plus (while we’re at it) teachers.

Truss backed away from the proposal as soon as the bricks started flying, but if the local council orders the pub to tear down her enclosure, I’m not sure how many people will protest.

 

News from the art world

I don’t know why I think this next story follows from that, but what the hell, it’s about money, so let’s put it here: A New Zealand artist is asking $10,000 NZ for an artwork that (if you have an eye for art) you’ll recognize as the pickle slice from a McDonald’s cheeseburger that’s been thrown onto an art gallery ceiling.

That’s the pickle, not the whole cheeseburger. I do think it’s important to get these details right.

The rest of us, barbarians that we are, will probably think it came from some low-rent, cheeseless quarter-pounder. But no, this pickle slice not only comes from a cheeseburger, it’s classy enough to be a “provocative gesture” designed to question what has value–or so the gallery says. And since art-speak has lots of value, it must be so. At least until the bugs get to it.

The work is called  “Pickle.” If you buy it–and I know  you’d love to–you’ll get instructions on how to recreate it in your own space. But you’ll have to buy your own burger and remove the pickle, so that’ll cost you $4.44 NZ on top of the $10,000.

Or you can just paste a pickle to your ceiling and save yourself $10,000 NZ. If you need a bit of rhetoric to justify saving money on art, I’m happy to work with you on that. For free. Art-speak isn’t my specialty but I’m pretty sure we could, in combination, come up with something and then add art-speak to our CVs.

 

Can we go back to politics now?

…or at least to the corner where politics and money meet and where so many politicians aspire to live? 

The Summit of the Americas brought together both of the above in the interest of promoting investment and development and profit. Who could possibly object?

Yes, I know you could, but the question was rhetorical so please put your hand down. 

Since the people who attended have no need of free goodies, they were given expensive goodie bags, demonstrating yet again that to those who need not shall free stuff be given. And it was in that spirit that the US Chamber of Commerce (purpose? “We . . . fight for business growth and America’s success”) promoted US business by handing out goodie bags with  sunglasses and insulated drinking bottles stamped with the words “Made in China.” 

 

From the International Relations Desk

Denmark and Canada have ended the Whiskey War

The what?

A fifty-year squabble over the uninhabited Arctic rock called Hans Island,which is less than a square mile–and for reasons I’ll never wrap my head around that’s not the same as a mile square. You’re welcome to explain that to me as long as you don’t suffer from the illusion that it’ll help. 

The battle began with a boundary dispute over the Nares Channel, which separates Canada and Greenland. That was settled in 1973 but the two countries are close enough to Hans Island that under international law both had a legitimate claim to it. 

And who wouldn’t want to claim a small, uninhabited, and apparently useless rock if international law says you can? 

What does all this have to do with Denmark, you ask? Greenland’s an autonomous territory of Denmark, which means Denmark had a dog in that fight–or as a friend insists on putting it, an animal in that barn.

The two sides eventually came to an agreement about the unimportant stuff but had to postpone the contentious issue of Hans Island. Then in 1984, Canada landed, planted its flag, and buried a bottle of Canadian whiskey. Denmark responded by replacing the maple leaf with its own flag and leaving a bottle of schnapps, along with a note saying, “Welcome to Danish Island.”

And so it went back and forth for 49 years, through multiple flags and lots of booze, until in 2018 the two countries agreed to split the island. 

Why are we only hearing about this now? Is it one of those things the Deep State doesn’t want you to know? 

Well, no. Both countries needed parliamentary approval before they could commit themselves on anything this momentous, so it’s taken time. When the news broke in June, it looked like both sides were ready to declare peace. 

I don’t know who’s been opening all those bottles, but I’m sure they’ll miss the war.

 

And related to none of that…

The Encyclopedia Britannica’s One Good Fact email informs me that the first ever webcam was set up to monitor a pot of coffee “so scientists wouldn’t have to go check if it was empty.”

A woman artist in Afghanistan dreams of letting her hair fly free

This isn’t what I normally post, but I hope you’ll give it a bit of your time. A young Afghan artist, Hafiza Qasimi, whose work and studio were destroyed by the Taliban, is trying to leave Afghanistan for Germany, where her brother lives, so she can work freely, and after seeing an article about her in the German press a group of German artists and feminists have rallied to her cause–which is how I heard about it.

At this point, I’ll get out of the way and let Qasimi speak for herself, as she did in the German publication Chrismon (which I offer  you with the help of a bit of AI magic, which Englished the German in its own slightly odd way):

 “Before the Taliban took power, I had a gallery where I exhibited my paintings. I had students that I taught drawing. I earned my own money, I could live from my work as an artist. If I needed something, I could buy it. Now I have to ask my brother, with whom I live in Kabul, for money. I wanted to go to art school, get better, get really good. All of that is now completely out of reach. 

“My brother in Germany, Anosh, encouraged me to paint my feelings and thoughts about life under the Taliban. Almost intoxicated, I painted 13 pictures in February. A photographer friend of mine took pictures of them and sent them to my brother. I immediately burned the originals. Just in time, because in March the Taliban came to search our house. If they had seen the pictures, they would have killed me. I painted women without veils, as dreaming, strong people.

“Since then I’ve felt paralyzed. To continue painting would be life-threatening. This morning I made breakfast for everyone, washed the dishes, what you do as a housewife. It’s hard for me to describe how terrifying I find the idea of ​​having to do this my whole life. I’m an artist, I have all these things in my head that I want to express. And now I do housework and take care of the children – who knows for how long, maybe forever.”

Right now, “Kabul is my prison and . . . my pictures in Germany dream for me.”

From a painting by Hafiza Qasimi.

The photos have not only been dreaming in Germany, they’ve been speaking there at exhibits, and what  stands between Qasimi and joining them there is a visa, and to get one she needs a German bank account of 10,000 euros, which the government requires as proof that she can support herself. When I checked, her supporters had raised over half the amount. Small donations are welcome. Large donations are welcome. It all helps.

Her supporters are also working to get her an art school scholarship.

Of course I hope you’ll donate, but no guilt, please. People have their own struggles with money, and I respect that. Others simply won’t want to. I’m only free to ask if you’re free to say no. 

If you do want to donate, though? The donation website starts out in German and doesn’t offer a translation, but you can see by the painting of the woman with long black hair flying free that you’re in the right place. To donate, press the button that says “spenden,” which is German for spenden. Then fill in the amount and the means of payment (credit card, debit card, or Klarna). 

What’s a Klarna? Something that translates as Klarna and seems to be as untranslatably mysterious in German as it is in (don’t ask me to explain this) Swedish. When I made our donation, I decided to give Klarna a miss and use a credit card. At some point it noticed how befuddled I was and switched to English. Don’t ask me to explain that either.

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Update: Since I wrote this, I’ve learned that Qasimi has left Afghanistan for a central Asian country, where she is safe and can apply for a German visa. Exactly how she got out is unclear. All I know is that it was risky, and that a woman is not allowed to travel within the country or to leave it unless she has a male chaperone. She is safe, but she still needs our support.