Feliz Declaratoria de la Independencia

Queridos conciudadanos, amigos y familiares de la República Oriental del Uruguay:

Buenas tardes. Ayer 25 de Agosto celebramos la Declaratoria de la Independencia en 1825 que marcó nuestra liberación del Imperio del Brasil y la adhesión a las Provincias Unidas del Río de La Plata.

Se celebró en la pequeña localidad de Piedra Alta, en las afueras de la ciudad de Florida, a casi 100 kilómetros al Norte de Montevideo, la capital.

Ese hecho histórico fue posible gracias al Desembarco de los 33 Orientales, en la Playa de la Agraciada, que representó la chispa insurreccional que despertó nuestras conciencias.

Juan_Manuel_Blanes_-_El_Juramento_de_los_Treinta_y_Tres_Orientales

Este cuadro del pintor Juan Manuel Blanes inmortaliza ese gran momento histórico.

Al gran Pueblo Oriental, salud!

 

Celebrating with a grilled rack of lamb

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Good morning. Yesterday our son Gian Luca resumed his classes in the Creative Writing Program at Florida State University (FSU) In order to celebrate in style, we prepared an  oven grilled rack of lamb that we accompanied with roasted potatoes and a mixed salad.

Lamb rack I

The following picture takes a peek at the inside of our job. Is it juicy enough for you?

Lamb rack II

Bon apétit!

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What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Going back to college classes

Good morning, dear friends, colleagues and family.

Yesterday, after an operational hiatus of almost three months, the classes of the Creative Writing Program at Florida State University (FSU) finally resumed. Unfortunately due to the pandemic’s limitations, they are completely online, without any physical presence. However, we must point out that our hard-working professors have made a good job of designing them for Zoom interaction, making them interesting. We are satisfied so far.

Back to college

Avanti bersaglieri che la vittoria e nostra!

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

Buona domenica con penne rigate alla Dotta Plus

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Good morning. Yesterday we prepared a special dish to celebrate Sunday with our family; unfortunately due to a little technical glitch, we could not upload the posting. Today we are mending the situation by showing you the dish of penne rigate (also called fucilli) in a rich sauce of San Marzano tomatoes, onions, peppers, ground beef, sausages and Burrata cheese to top it all. We called it “Dotta Plus” in honor of the university city in Italy where this type of sauce supposedly originated; Bologna, la Dotta (the learned one)

Penne rigate alla Dotta II

The aroma of this dish made our heads turn around, like you can see in this picture.

Penne rigate alla Dotta I

Don’t you worry. We saved a good serving for you too. Come and join us. Buon apetitto!

Penne rigate alla Dotta III

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What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Good news about the Novavax vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus

In the mad dash of several pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies to create and test a good vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 there might a “dark horse” in the crowded race. The company Novavax, that had already received a 1.6 Billion U$ grant from the American government to develop a coronavirus vaccine, have announced good results on August 4. Carl Zimmer and Katie Thomas report in a NY Times article that: “In one study, 56 volunteers produced a high level of antibodies against the virus without any dangerous side effects. In the other, researchers found that the vaccine strongly protected monkeys from coronavirus infections.” These results are being submitted in article proposals to peer-reviewed publications at the present time.

The 33-year company—that never made a commercially viable vaccine so far—used two techniques that are different form the ones we have already discussed. They are:

  1. They use a coronavirus protein that can elicit an immune response in humans.
  2. They use moth cells as more fast factories for a virus protein dubbed as spike.

In order to potentiate the effectiveness of the “spike” they added an adjuvant to the mix; data on mice studies had already established the value of using this adjuvant. They gave different combinations of the spike and the adjuvant to monkeys, who eventually developed good immunogenicity against the coronavirus, even erasing any traces of the virus in the respiratory or ventilatory systems in some of them. In  a Phase 1 clinical trial with 134 volunteers done last May, there were no side effects. After completing that initial trial, the researchers took serum from the vaccinated participants and mixed it with coronavirus and cells. They found a markedly protective effect in the serum that blocked the virus from infecting other virgin cells. They claimed that their vaccine finally produced more antibodies in the participants than in convalescent patients form a Covid-19 infection.

John P. Moore and P.J. Klassse reviewed in an article the prospective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine candidates and concluded that: “By far the most immunogenic vaccine candidates for antibody responses are recombinant proteins, which are not included in the ‘Warp Speed’ immunogens.” In the NY Times article, Dr, Moore was quoted as saying: “the strong response to the vaccine does not surprise me in the slightest.” The protein-based vaccines have a much longer track record of effectiveness than the novel viral genes-based vaccines, being licensed for Hepatitis B and Shingles. Three other protein based-vaccines—from Clover pharmaceuticals, the University of Queensland and Vaxine—are in Phase 1 trials. The US administration has granted 2.2 billion U$ to a joint project by the Sanofi and GlaxoSmithKline companies.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

Superstitious artists – James Joyce

Extremely anxious about the reception Ulysses—his epic novel—would receive, James Joyce chose his birthday as its official release date: February 2, 1922. That day two copies arrived by train to Paris: one for him and another one for Silvia Beach. She was the owner of Shakespeare and Company, a Rive Gauche bookseller that promoted and published his work. It turned out to be a lucky choice.

The inhabitants of Ireland have been gathering around the campfires for generations to share tales, music, and dancing, which has established their folklore as one of the richest and at the same time loosely defined set of inherited cultural norms and ideas. In those circumstances, the figure of the banshee emerged as a powerful, feared icon. Translated as the “fair lady” or the “lady from the mound”—refers to the countless mounds that dot the Irish countryside, which are called side—she is a wandering female spirit that heralds the death of a loved one by wailing, shrieking, or keening. The latter is a traditional form of exuberant lamenting for the dead individual that derives from the Irish and Scottish Gaelic term caoineadh, i.e. to cry.

When James Joyce’s mother passed away in 1903, he spent the night in a vigil with his sister Margaret to await her appearance as a ghost; she claimed that she did see her, but he did not. That experience inspired the passage of Ulysses where the revenant of Stephen Dedalus’ s mother came. “In a dream, she had come to him, her wasted body within its loose graveclothes giving off an odour of wax and rosewood.” In spite of his skepticism, Joyce’s work bear the indelible mark of superstition.

In his book titled Joyce’s Ghosts: Ireland, Modernism and Memory , Luke Gibbons said: “WB Yeats is often viewed as being away with the fairies of the Celtic twilight, whereas James Joyce is considered a man of this world, grounded in the prose of everyday life, Joyce, however, was not stranger to ghosts, or to the grief that takes leave of the senses.” In fact only in the beginning of the 20th century did electricity appear in Ireland, helping to fend off some of the disturbing apparitions that had been troubling its inhabitants.

One of the most diffused misconceptions regarding individuals that are “superstitious” is that they are keen to exteriorize their core beliefs out of their inner self, at all times. On the contrary. Those of us that have inherited that trait in our genetic material and cultural upbringing, are reluctant to talk about it with strangers. However, it infallibly does come across, not in what we say, but in what we do. When we sit down to create some work of art, that “endowment” starts to spill onto the piece of paper, or clay, or marble, or musical instrument we hold. We do not have any control over it. Never.

In Joyce’s writings, the troubling haunting of ghosts happen in critical junctions of the characters and it might be a signal of their mental breakdown. He wrote with precise focus about countless Dublin characters and physical places but his prose is imbued with the present and absent ethereal entities that had circulated in those same streets before. In Ulysses there are many references to ghostly figures. Luke Gibbon said: “Stephen is haunted by the ‘ghoul’ of his dead mother, whom he had forsaken on her deathbed due to his refusal to kneel down and pray. Bloom is haunted by the spirit of his infant son who died 11 days after his birth and who appears at the end of the Circe chapter in what could be a projection of a different kind: a magic lantern image.”

No matter how far we travel form our origins or how many years have elapsed since our departure from the source of that imprimatur, we feel its strong pull almost daily. James Joyce did feel the pull of the magical city of Dublin, even in his extended European stay. Once Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington asked him why he did not go back to his hometown. Joyce replied: “Have I ever left it?” The city of Dublin was deeply burrowed in his spirit.

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What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Good news about the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for the SARS-CoV-2 virus

British scientists at the NIHR Oxford Biomedical Research Centre had previously used the glycoprotein spike on the surface of coronavirus—which allows them to anchor at a target cell—to produce a chimpanzee adenovirus—vectored vaccine against the Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) They had called it ChAdOx1 MERS and represented many hours of study, research and hard laboratory work that would have hardly ever been funded by a private company—often only myopically seeking quick profits in detriment of the larger public good. When the Chinese authorities published the genome of the SARS-CoV-2, the Oxford scientists immediately started working on their template with messenger RNA.

The Oxford team partnered with other institutions in the United Kingdom and eventually got financial support from Astra Zeneca, a Big Pharma conglomerate. The ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine uses a replication-deficient simian adenovirus vector ChAdOx1 that contains the full-length structural surface glycoprotein of SARS-CoV-2 with a tissue plasminogen activator leader sequence. They had observed that one single dose of that vaccine had induced good humoral and cellular immune responses in monkeys; after high-dose vaccine challenges, there was a notable protection against the lower respiratory infection, a hallmark of the disease. They set up a combined phase 1 and 2 single-blind, randomized controlled trial, comparing it with a Meningococcal group A,C, W-135 and Y conjugate vaccine.

They recruited healthy adult participants aged 18-45 years old, excluding all those volunteers that had positive COVID-19 tests, had symptoms of acute respiratory distress, or were exposed to the disease like health care workers or first responders. The participants were randomly assigned to receive either the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 vaccine or the meningococcal vaccine—they used an active vaccine because the lack of symptoms from normal saline injections could eventually “unblind” the controls. The participants were divided into four major groups:

  1. Group I: they had intensive early follow-up visits the vaccine’s safety and immunogenicity.
  2. Group II: they had higher blood volumes of humoral and cellular immunogenicity assessment than group 4.
  3. Group III: it consisted of only 10 participants that received a booster shot 28 days after the first injection.
  4. Group IV: participants that had a serum sample drawn for humoral immunology assessments only.

The median age of participants was 35 years old, 49.8% (536) were female and 50.2% (541) were male; the majority (9 or 90.9%) were white. Some received prophylactic paracetamol and some others did not; 328 (67%) of participants in the vaccine group and 180 (38%) of participants in the control group reported pain after the injection. The most reported systemic reactions were fatigue and headache. “In the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 group, antibodies against SARS-CoV-2 spike protein peaked by day 28 (median 157 ELISA units EU) and remained elevated to day 56 (119 EU) in participants who received only one dose, and increased to a median of 639 EU (360-792) at day 56 in the ten participants that received a booster dose)”

Researchers concluded that one single dose of the ChAdOx1 nCoV-19 was safe and well tolerated, without any major reactions. A single dose of it produced an increase in the spike-specific antibodies by day 28 and the neutralizing antibodies in all the participants after a booster dose. Some studies showed that neutralizing antibodies in the dawn of the disease protected the rhesus macaque monkeys. Antibodies capable of neutralizing live SARS-CoV-2 were induced by day 28 and after a booster dose. T-Cell responses—considered essential for the ultimate defeat of the virus—were evident by day 7 after the dosage and peaked at Day 14. However, the booster dosages did not elicit a similar immunological response.

The researchers admitted that this study had serious limitations, foremost of all that it involved all healthy individuals that were not fully representative of their society. They designed Phase 2 and 3 trials that include older individuals and those at high risk of infection for the efficacy, safety, and immunogenicity of ChAdOx1 NCoV-19 given at a single or two-dosages in the United Kingdom, Brazil, and South Africa. Once they have enough data with adults, they will set up a study with children too.

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What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

George Orwell’s relevance for us—part II

Right in the middle of your biologically needed pause of sleep, in the intimacy of your bedroom, some savvy operators are scurrying into all your digital devices—especially the infamous little screens—to carry on their dubious task: data mining. They are actively spying on all your lifestyle, buying and entertainment choices to gather critical information that they will sell to vendors for targeted advertisement. And what is worse, it is facilitated by the trust you put on some companies to handle your personal information for an e-mail address, shop, contact other people, etc.

In his novel 1984, George Orwell narrated the story of Winston Smith, a wretched middle-age bureaucrat from the imaginary nation of Oceania where its governance is assured by the constant surveillance of all its citizenry at all times, everywhere. In order to achieve this logistics nightmare, the authorities count on a technological marvel: the telescreen. It is a device where citizens get their news and entertainment but that also actively spies on them , sending their private information back to the authorities. We have to remember that Orwell wrote his novel in the late 40s, when the television was just an experimental device used in exclusive circles of USA, Great Britain, and France.

Winston Smith works in the Ministry of Truth where all the previous day’s news is being daily re-written to conform to the authorities’ political discourse. The actual facts are mendaciously manipulated to design a lot of fake news for the gullible; the bureaucrats use newspeak to conceal the true facts from the common citizenry and create “alternate realities” for the social, political and economic developments of their repressive State.  There is a constant disinformation campaign that leaves the citizenry fully confused; Winston Smith knows that his nation has been in constant war with Eurasia but he has doubts if the nation of Eastasia, a former foe, is now really his nation’s ally. The police finally arrest Smith and torture him to get a confession of a non-existent crime.

In a 1984 article, Mark Crispin Miller argued that the famous slogan “Big Brother is watching You” had been really turned into “Big Brother is you, watching television.” Contrary to the role of TV in 1984—where it abets a total conformity with the ruling party—Miller argued that television in our modern societies is used to promote an unrestrained consumerism through aggressive advertising and focus on celebrities. At the same time, he argued, it transmits a message of “material success” to the larger masses, duping them into believing only hard work and civic virtues matter. The viewers derive their “satisfaction” by measuring themselves against what they see on TV, such as dress, relationships, and conduct—the standard of habitual self-scrutiny. Aware that any “faux paus” will not pass unnoticed by the authorities, prods the viewers to take a very passive attitude while watching their telescreens.

Miller stated that the same paranoid obsession about not conforming to “the official story” in Orwell’s novel has mutated into our present-day infatuation with the social messages being peddled in our “little screens” (Not even Orwell could imagine this) Joshua Meyrowitz showed that the majority of the network programming in the USA is based on the premise that people like to engage in a scandalous voyeurism; it is a rational explanation why many millions of people spend hours watching Reality TV. Meyrovitz argued that television has totally changed the very nature of our social interaction by pushing some hitherto private behavior out of the backstage into the very center of the stage, which exposes our intimate truths to tough public scrutiny. The video surveillance of strangers was “commoditized” by commercial television to render that snooping “acceptable” for the whole family to gawk at it, guilt-free.

There were multiple Social Psychology experiments during and after World War II—conducted by the Allied and the Axis nations as well—to study crowd control. The “internalization” of TV images that makes us copy attitudes and acts alien to our feelings/thoughts might be the ultimate success of those intent on controlling us.

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What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

 

 

 

Does the BCG vaccination protect against Covid-19?

The incidence and mortality rates of the COVID-19 infections vary widely across the countries, depending on their availability of human and material resources, level of Public Health preparedness and the authorities’ local and national responses. Also there might be differences in ethnic composition, dietary habits, climate differences, social determinants, genetic material, and civic institutions to consider. One of the latest influencing factors that caught the scientific attention is the degree of anti-tuberculosis immunization of the population with the BCG vaccine.

The Bacille Calmette—Guérin vaccine was prepared with a Mycobacterium bovis strain of the TB producing organism in the famous Institut Pasteur of Paris in 1921. Since then several variants have been produced in the developed and developing world. Those of us not born in the USA, still harbor the memory of the painful injection given in our primary school years that left a little scar on our right shoulder. The initial strain was distributed to several laboratories of the world and six major variants were produced: Pasteur 1173 P2, Danish 1331, Glaxo 1077, Tokyo 172-1, Russia BCG.I and Moreau RDJ. At present almost 100 million children are still been vaccinated worldwide; as the vaccine provides little immunity for adult pulmonary tuberculosis, it has been largely discontinued in most fairly developed countries.

The examples of Spain and Portugal are relevant for the vaccine’s importance. Spain, which never adopted the BCG vaccination nationwide, has a mortality rate of 336 people per million inhabitants. Portugal—a neighboring country that shares many of the Spanish societal and cultural features—adopted the BCG vaccination in 1965 and only has a mortality rate of 56 people per million inhabitants.

Abhibhav Shama et al., mathematical researchers from the School of Computer and System Sciences of Jawaharlal Nehru University of New Delhi, studied the COVID-19 data from countries that had either had vaccination or discontinued schedules or never had any vaccination. They said that: “disease incidence and morbidity are reduced in countries with universal BCG immunization compared with those that have not adopted the vaccine. The finding also applies to countries in which variables such as climate, dietary habits, and genetic origin essentially coincide.”

During its long utility, the BCG vaccine has shown protective benefits for patients with other diseases associated with mycobacteria like Leprosy. Being a strong immunomodulator, it has been used to treat bladder cancer and other neoplasias.

The researchers divided their morbidity results according to the BCG penetration:

  1. Countries without a universal BCG policy (Belgium, Italy, the United States and the Netherlands) have an increased incidence of 9 +- 497.1.
  2. Countries with an ongoing BCG policy have an incidence of 9+-155.6.
  3. Countries that discontinued the BCG policy have an intermediate value of67 +-509.89.

The mortality results were divided as follows:

  1. Countries with an active BCG policy have 4 +- deaths per million people.
  2. Countries that discontinued the BCG policy have 5+- 33.6 deaths per mil.
  3. Countries with no BCG policy had 1 +- 56.8 deaths per million people.

Considering that the COVID.19 infection affects the older individuals more than the younger ones, the researchers studied its incidence among different age groups. They found that: “The results indicate three significant features as follows: (i) the disease incidence is very low for subjects less than 15 years of age and does not show significant dependence on the presence or absence of universal BCG vaccination policies. (II) The number of infected cases across the age groups is always higher for countries without universal BCG vaccination policy. (III) The differences between countries with universal BCG vaccine policy and countries without such a policy increase and reach their peak for age groups 45-64 and 65-79 years old.”

The researchers found significant differences in countries that had used different variants of the vaccine or combinations of them. The Brazilian and Russian variants of the BCG vaccine were not deemed to work effectively against the coronavirus; in contrast the Australian variant of the vaccine seemed to confer more protection.

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What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.