Do not listen to (some of) the French

As millions of other citizens and residents of the United States of America that have complied with the largely state-mandated “staying-at-home” guidelines, we have been glued to the television screens when the official daily news conference from the White House appears between 5 and 6 PM Eastern Standard Time. It usually involves the top administration officials and renowned public health and emergency officials that are dealing with the Coronavirus pandemic and the remedial measures.

One of the most mentioned and debated  issues is whether to use chloroquine, an anti-malarial drug, to treat the acute symptoms of the grave infection, which is based on some incidental reports from French physicians that treated patients with Coronavirus. Event though they do clarify that much more comprehensive clinical research studies, which are underway, are needed to give a seal of approval to this drug, the legend of its usefulness persists; it has been used “off-label” by some physicians with mixed results. However, it has produced serious cardiac arrhythmias in others.

In a recent correspondence to The Lancet, Dr. Joan Paul Moattti, a professor of the University of Aix-Marseille, questioned the responses of the French administration. He said : “Faced with criticisms, French authorities claim that their policy towards the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) pandemic has been evidence-based—they appointed an advisory board of 11 scientists to help manage the crisis. However, in situations where decision makers face radical uncertainty, sticking to conventional approaches might jeopardize the science-policy interface.”

First of all, he criticized the lack of massive testing of the first responders and possible cases in the beginning of the pandemic in March, unlike the authorities of South Korea that tackled the pandemic following the guidelines of the WHO:

  1. Massive tracing
  2. Contact tracing
  3. Social distancing

France did not implement a national lockdown until March 17, many days after the pandemic had been identified. Moreover, he claimed that the country was not prepared to carry out the critically needed massive testing as it only had 45 public health laboratories that could process the samples for a definitive diagnosis of cases. Rather than designing a rational plan to scale up the testing, the authorities argued that massive testing was not needed once the infection became generalized; they only changed course on March 28, after  a national uproar about their carelessness.

The widespread diffusion of the very preliminary—and inconclusive—results of treatment with Chloroquine fueled big speculation in the world media and an acrid controversy in the biomedical community; he claimed that there are alternative methods to evaluate the safety of some drugs without the need to wait months for the definitive opinion of the clinical researchers that conduct rials of the same. This dereliction of duty in a context of urgency: “has reduced the ability of authorities to mitigate the effects of irrational online rumors and regulate prescription practices of health professionals.”

The author has high hopes in a much smarter commission of 12 experts designated by the French authorities on March 28—they seemed to have done a radical public about-face that very day. It is chaired by Dr. Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, a renowned virologist and Nobel Laureate of Medicine in 2008.who, as a highly educated woman, might be endowed with a bigger dose of common sense in the public forum. He said: “the second commission seems an implicit recognition of the intrinsic difficulties of directly using science in political management of a health crisis.”

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.


Is the SARS-CoV-2 virus a man-made biological weapon?

One of the most resilient conspiracy theories that has emerged during our forced isolation in the midst of the SARS-CoV-2 pandemic is that it is a man-made virus. Some officials of the Trump administration are squarely laying the blame of this pandemic on a bio-engineering product let loose from the Wuhan Institute of Virology, a few kilometers away from that infamous “wet market” in the city center. They claim that lax security measures at the institute provoked the fatal accident.

The SARS-CoV-2 virus is the seventh coronavirus that infected humans recently; SARS-C0V, MERS-CoV and SARS-CoV-2 can produce grave clinical symptoms while HKU1, NL63, OC43 and 229E produce much milder ones. The viral load of bats has been studied for many years, but it is woefully under-sampled at present. Kristian G. Andersen, Andrew Rambaut, W.Ian Lipkin and Edward C.Holmes studied the genomic material of the virus to determine if it was actually man-made.

Based on structural studies and biochemical experiments, the researchers found that:

  1. The virus seems to be optimized for binding to the human receptor ACE2
  2. The spike protein of the virus has a functional (furin) cleavage site at the S1-S2 boundary, which predicted an acquisition of three O-linked glycans.

Viruses bind to a host cell in order to invade them for replication of their genetic material through their receptor-binding domain (RBD) The researchers found that SARS-CoV-2 has an RBD that binds with optimal affinity to ACE2 from human beings, ferrets and cats. However, analysis made with computer programs showed that the RBD sequence is not the ideal one for optimal receptor binding. Therefore they concluded that it was the result of a natural selection process of trial and error and not the calculated result of some perfidious manipulation by wacky warmongers.

The second characteristic of this virus is that it has a polybasic cleavage site (RRAR) at the junction of two subunits of the spike, S1 and S2; this enables the cleavage of proteases like furin, which has a critical role in the high infectivity and host range. These cleavage sites have not been observed in other coronaviruses, but they appear in other kind of betacoroanviruses infecting humans, which indicates they will be found in other species. Some experiments showed that the insertion of a furin at the cleavage site enhance the anchoring to the host cell without affecting viral entry. The function of the predicted 0-linked glycans has not been determined but it could represent a “mucin-like domain” to mask the virus spikes, thus fooling our defenses. This highly favorable medium had not been previously discovered by scientists.

Moreover, these scientists affirmed that if there had been a willful genetic manipulation, one of the previously existing reverse-genetic systems would have been used as a viral scaffolding to construct a biological weapon worthy of the Devil. The authors propose two alternative scenarios of the origin of the SARS-CoV-2:

  1. Natural selection in an animal host before the zoonotic jump into humans.
  2. Natural selection in a human being after the zoonotic jump had happened.

Considering that the SARS-CoV-2 is very similar to other bat SARS-COV-like coronaviruses, it is possible that an animal source was present in that Wuhan market; the illegally imported Malayan pangolins harbor coronaviruses similar to SARS-CoV-2. But neither the bat nor pangolin coronaviruses have the polybasic cleavage sites, which questions their possible progenitor role for this virus. They said: “For a precursor virus to acquire both the polybasic cleavage site and mutations in the spike protein suitable for binding to human ACE2, an animal host would probably have to have a high population density (to allow a natural selection to proceed efficiently) and an ACE2-encoding gene that is similar of the human ortholog.”

The genetic study of all the different variants of the SARS-CoV-2 indicate that there was a common ancestor that made the jump from an animal to a human being—the definition of a zoonosis or a human disease of animal origin. The RBD found in the virus infecting the pangolins is similar to the human variant; the insertion of the polybasic cleavage might have happened during the human-to-human transmission. Computer analyses point to an emergence of the virus in late November 2019, which implies that there was a silent transmission in humans between the zoonotic jump and the insertion of the second feature, the polybasic cleavage site.

Based on these findings, the researchers concluded that there is no scientific basis to determine that this lethal agent was the product of bioengineering in a military lab.

Imbued with Humanistic values, we cannot fathom that it could be a human product.

Sadly, the amazing capacity of human beings to harm other species, including their own kind, has been an historically tragic box of nasty surprises.



The troubling image of Dr. Strangelove (played by the great Peter Sellers) jumps into our mind…

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Remembering the great Luis Sepúlveda

On April 16, 2020, the unique Chilean writer Luis Sepúlveda passed away in a hospital of Oviedo, Spain, as a result of a Coronavirus infection he had contracted while he was attending  a literary meeting in Portugal; he was the first known case in that region.

His literary and social activism spanned many decades, starting as a Communist militant that worked in the government of President Salvador Allende; in the repressive aftermath of the military coup of Pinochet he was jailed and after two and half years of prison he was granted house arrest thorough the benevolent auspices of the German branch of Amnesty. He escaped his home and joined the director of the Alliance Française of Valparaiso to create a drama group, the very first focus of  resistance against the dictatorship.  Arrested yet again, his prison sentence was commuted for seven years in exile.

He was supposed to end up in Sweden to teach Spanish literature but he absconded from his flight in an airport stop-over in Montevideo, Uruguay, and trekked to Quito, Ecuador, where local writers sheltered him; he created another drama group in the local Alliance Française. He joined an UNESCO expedition to study the customs of the Shuar Indians, living six months in the jungle: there he renounced Marxism-Leninism  for good as he understood that this ideology could not apply to mostly impoverished, illiterate, rural inhabitants. As we say In Spanish: “era muy parco” (he was very sparing with his words)


In 1988 he won the Tigre Juan Award for his novel El viejo que leía las novelas de amor  and in 2009 he won the Premio Primavera de Novela for his novel La sombra de lo que fuimos. Contrary to other famous Latin American writers that excelled in the flourish of nicely sounding adjectives and smart names to deploy in their lines, he was more interested in conveying the greatest number of details with the fewer number of words, a literary technique akin to the very best of Ernest Hemingway. Thus he shared the paucity of words of the Native Americans who have always considered themselves more attuned to Nature’s rhythms and avoided verbosity. In fact, when the Europeans came to the American continent, they wrongly assumed that, because natives spoke few words, they were somehow mentally deficient.

In a future article of our section Foreign Book Review we will review and comment one of his novels. In the meantime we offer you a simple descriptive phrase from it:

“Le hablan a la selva y sólo la lluvia les responde”

(They talk to the forest and only the rain responds)

After the pandemic, how will our world look like?

“Bocca baciata non perde ventura, anzi rinnova come fa la luna.” [1]

Decamerone u il Principe Galeotto, Giovanni Boccaccio [2]

In 1348, at the peak of the worst pandemic the world has ever known (the Black Plague or Bubonic Plague that decimated the population of the planet with approximately 200 million victims) a group of young women and men escaped from the ravaged city of Florence and took refuge in a countryside villa. In order to bear their forced social isolation, they each narrated a different tale every night for two weeks—except one day of housekeeping and the religious holidays—which eventually resulted in a hundred tales ranging from the comic to the tragic. Thus goes the script of The Decameron, a seminal book of Italian Literature, which heralded the coming of the Renaissance in a world that had been dominated by Feudalism before the pandemic.

Heavily influenced by Numerology and Mysticism, Boccaccio expressly chose seven (7) young women who represent the following:

  1. Four cardinal virtues: Prudence, Virtue, Temperance and Fortitude.
  2. Three theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity.

The three (3) young men represent theological virtues: Faith, Hope and Charity. [3]

Using the allegorical writing method of Dante Alighieri, this author engaged in a satirical critique of the then prevailing socio-economic-political parameters, heavily influenced by the rancid patriarchal institutions from feudal forms of administration and the Catholic Church. The exaltation of the necessary commercial values—like intelligence, astuteness and sophisticated values—is a common thread in these tales; up to that moment the European societies were dominated by only piety and loyalty.

The name Decameron is a composite of two classical Greek terms: deka (ten) and hemera (day) The subtitle of this work is a solid reference to Gallehault, a fictional king of the tale of Lancelot; he arranged the first clandestine meeting of Guinevere, King’s Arthur wife, with his friend and bodyguard, thus abetting their tragic affair. In a provocatively subversive way, Bocaccio elevated the figure of this prince to underline the hard indenture of women to the wishes of all their paternal figures. The escape of Guinevere represented the possibility of movement, of love, of freedom.

After their forced isolation from the plague ended, the European citizens came out determined to build a better society with more liberal values and tolerance for diversity, including the participation of women in some community affairs. The Dark Night of feudality was rapidly wiped off by the coming of the Renaissance.

What kind of world will emerge after the passing of the COVID-19 pandemic?

We are now living both a humongous sanitary and economic crisis at the same time. Whomever thinks that we can go back to what we had hitherto considered as “the normal” is engaging in a most dangerous delusion. For example, the evident lack of proper preparedness regarding the needed stocking of emergency supplies of protective gear and ventilators exposed the disastrously short-sighted budgets cuts of governments. Who will publicly defend the skimping on the critical social investments in order to have a dangerously low “supply on demand” policy for “just on time delivery”? That has condemned thousands of patients to a lack of efficient respiratory therapy and medical providers and care personnel to a deficient protection by disposable gear. The civic organizations and political institutions must pressure the foolish “bean counters.”

Most epidemiologists believe that the initial host of this  dangerous virus was a bat, as had been the case with the Ebola, SARS and MERS infections; the bats are known carriers of many of these organisms, which do not sicken them, but reproduce inside them. Then one day the virus found the opportunity to jump into another animal, and then into another one, and so on, until it finally arrived in a human being in that infamous Wuhan “wet market.”  Unfortunately the Chinese authorities cleaned and disinfected that place without the chance for scientists to study it appropriately to find out how it begun. This zoonotic disease, which passed between animals and humans, was propitiated by a global trade of wildlife, agricultural intensification, deforestation and urbanization that are bringing human communities in a much closer contact with wild animals’ habitats. We must aside our petty differences and engage in more holistic terms with each other; these critical issues must be urgently addressed by all the national governments.

Another major upheaval is the change of the socio-economic parameters of most societies regarding the labor opportunities that will be offered by employers. The purely physical labor will continue to be displaced by the Information Age positions, all those that can be staffed by individuals working from their own homes. Knowledge is power. The remuneration of the heroes that are now buttressing communities—physicians, nurses, nurse assistants, laboratory assistants, fire and police forces, operators of basic services, truck and delivery drivers, re-stockers of warehouse supplies, etc.—must necessarily increase to reflect their real value for the well-being of our societies.

As we are writing these lines, we are hearing the generalized hand clapping of the Parisians, exactly at their 8 PM time through the transmission of Radio France Inter, in honor of the medical and nursing personnel that are serving in their hospitals. Later on we will listen to a similar gesture occurring in Buenos Aires at their 9 PM. Now the citizens of “modern” nations are not daydreaming about the “celebrities” of entertainment and sports that have polluted almost all the spaces of public media. But… who are they dreaming about? The scientists and researchers that are actively working to bring a safe and effective vaccine against the Coronavirus to the market. Hopefully we will re-assess our way of assigning respect and admiration to the public figures.

As the saviors of Mankind, the scientists that discover and develop the lifesaving vaccine(s) will be duly respected and remembered for many generations to come.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

(This article is based on our upcoming new book Emotional Frustration – the hushed plague)

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

Note. The featured image in this article is a reproduction of Bocca Baciata, an 1859 painting by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, which alludes to Boccacio’s anecdote of Alatiel.


[1] “A kissed mouth does not lose its fortune, on the contrary it renews itself just as the moon does.” This is the ending of the tale of Alatiel, a Sarracen princess who, in spite of having thousands of sexual encounters with at least eight different men, managed to marry, as a virgin bride, the King of the Algarve.

[2] Giovanni Boccaccio, Decamerone Di Messer Giovanni Boccaccio Cittadino Florentino, GALE, Eighteenth Century Collection Online, April 2018.

[3] Introduction by Wayne A. Rebhorn, Giovanni Boccaccio, The Decameron, Norton Books.

Is this pandemic a divine punishment for our sins?


“L’Historia si può veramente definire una guerra illustre contro il Tempo, perché togliendoli di mano gl’anni suoi prigionieri, anzi già fatti cadaveri, li richiama in vita, li passa in rassegna, e li schiera di nuovo in battaglia.” [i]

“I promessi Sposi” Alessandro Manzoni [2]

With those prophetic words, Alessando Manzone introduced his seminal novel titled The Betrothal in the early part of the 19th century; it is considered the first—and for many still the most important—literary work in the modern Italian Language. This novel was set in Northern Italy—where the brunt of the Coronavirus infestation is underway in the Italian peninsula—in 1628, during the Bourbon occupation of Italy. The central theme is the love story of Lucia and Renzo and their unwavering faith in the redeeming value of strong emotional bonding; after many, varied vicissitudes (spoiler alert) they eventually marry at the end. In fact our dear Pope Francis has recommended the novel to the couples that were entertaining the idea of marriage.

Lucia and Renzo were a couple living in a small Lombard village that were planning their wedding for November 8, 1628. On the eve of that ceremony the parish priest was cornered by two goons sent by Don Rodrigo—a powerful padrone padrino[3]who covets the affection of Luciathat ordered him to suspend it. Fearful of them, the priest does suspend it and recommends that the two lovers should leave the village. Agnese, Renzo’s mother, warned the couple not to return home and escorted them to a monastery; the friar gave a letter of introduction for a Milanese friar to Renzo and another one to the two women for a monastery in Monza. They fled right away.

When Renzo arrived in Milano, the city was in turmoil due to a grave famine, which was aggravated by the end of the Thirty Years War[4] as German Armies engaged in a devastating looting campaign across the peninsula. In 1630 a plague ravaged Northern Italy and three chapters of the book are dedicated to that human drama. Eventually Renzo can return to his village and meet again for his beloved bride. This love story is surrounded by the social and political mayhem of the times, especially the deep hatred of the local population against the invading armies and their puppets.

In this novel and similar ones that put a quasi-biblical catastrophe like a pandemic in their plots, the same question arises again and again: Is this God’s punishment? We must unequivocally answer that this and other pandemics were not provoked by divine intervention as a form of brutal punishment for our sins (real and imaginary) They were provoked by the ignorance and arrogance of humans in their interactions with Nature. This pandemic in particular was provoked by the negligence of Chinese officials.

In Ancient Times, the population of Central China could afford the ingestion and/or use of some abhorrent creatures like rats, serpents, bats, pangolins, etc.; if they contracted any of these diseases, the contagion was limited to their geographic area. There was not a ready access to all the points of the planet with aerial connections. And let us talk clearly: life was extremely cheap for the peasant masses at the time.

When you encroach in the natural habitat of wild animals and you put them in cages in a market located in an extremely dense city with superb connections to the World, you have to consider the real possibility that there could be a Public Health threat. Any of those isolated agents will readily jump from one animal to the other in close proximity and eventually attack the human handlers that so carelessly caged them. This human tragedy has been produced by the sheer stupidity of human traffickers and the irresponsible supervision of the sanitary authorities in the city of Wuhan.

Will the government of Premier Xi finally close down these “live animals” markets? The Chinese leadership should not pander to the superstitious beliefs of hinterland people—who use material from these creatures for amulets and the like—and do the right thing for the millions of innocent citizens that are living with proper sanitary standards.

As Italian citizens, we are very grateful for the generous sanitary help that the Chinese government has given us to combat the grave epidemic in Lombardy. Unlike the rest of Europe—that has largely ignored the Italian plight—the Chinese have sent, not only protective materials, but also Public Health experts and medical personnel in the past few days. Moreover they are sharing their epidemiological data with other governments, including the American one and its many specialized agencies. Thank you very much.

In these terrible times we must snatch our dear dead ancestors from the jaws of Time and “resuscitate them” so we can recruit them in our fight against this deadly enemy. We must listen to their experiences and how they managed to survive those terrible plagues. Strict social distancing and meticulous personal hygiene are of paramount importance.

The featured image of this article is a reproduction of the tableau La Peste by the Uruguayan painter Juan Manuel Blanes; it depicts a scene of the Yellow Fever of 1871 in the city of Buenos Aires. A police report of that time stated that the victim was an Italian woman called Ana Brisitiani that lived in a large tenement in the Balcarce street of the city center. The two depicted gentlemen that enter her room were Dr. Roque Perez, a lawyer, and Dr. Manuel Argerich, a physician. They found her long dead with her baby at her side, trying to get a response. A few weeks later these two Good Samaritans would fall victim to the plague too. In only ten months, 10% of the city population (16,000 people) died of Yellow Fever. After that pandemic, the Argentine authorities decided to modernize the city by building an efficient waste disposal system for all quarters.

That is the crux of the matter. The native ruling classes (the landed gentry, the business owners and the politicians) had found out that their relative distance from the city center (they lived mostly in the then southern suburb of Montserrat) had not spared them from the disease. Then and now the only way to protect us from this kind of Public Health tragedy is to benefit everybody in the process of modern public infrastructure. This must ring especially true for countries with a great rich-poor disparity like Brazil and India that should invest more heavily to pull more millions of people out of misery.

We salute all our Health Care professionals and First Responders that are fulfilling their great duty to take care of the population, especially in the hard-stricken Italy and USA.

Gli ringraziamo per vostro sacrificio, Thank you very much for your sacrifice.

Stay distant. Stay safe. Stay beautiful.

(This article is based on our upcoming new book Emotional Frustration – the hushed plague)

What do you think?

Please tell us. Don’t leave me alone.


[i] “History can really be defined as an enlightened war against Time, snatching from its hands all those that were taken prisoner, in fact corpses already, to reclaim them for life, pass them in review and then send them in formation to the battlefield.”

Our translation.

[2] Alessandro Manzoni, I promessi sposi, 1840, Edita da, 2010.

[3] In the Italian language “padrone” refers to an authoritarian boss and “padrino” to a godfather for the christening ceremony. Of course the latter has been extended to the chief and mastermind of a Cosa Nostra organization.


Thanks for your sacrifice for us

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Good morning and Happy Sunday to you all. Last Friday we had to visit a US Postal Service office in Miami to send some documents and we were promptly, kindly taken care of by Ms. Tee, the lovely lady you are seeing in the feature image of this article. She is one of the thousands of Federal and State workers that keep this nation going.

We would like to thank the millions of similar state employees worldwide that have reported to their duties in spite of all the mayhem swirling around them, including the dire “social distancing” that forbids one of the most basic human functions: touching. Moreover many grieving relatives of gravely infected persons have not even had the opportunity to say the ultimate adieu to them, another strong cultural feature of us.

Without these brave men and women, there could not be a functioning society for us.

Thanks for your sacrifice for us.

What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.

We are still resisting

Dear readers and fellow bloggers:

Good morning. In these tragic times for Mankind, comparable to the decimating epidemics of the Middle Ages where the majority of the world population was affected and thousands perished, we would like to send a word of encouragement to all those who are cloistered at home. It is very tough but we must carry on with our civic duty.

Even though we are blissfully healthy, both my son Gian Luca and I have decided to stay at home, except to fulfill my duties as an active medical practitioner and some necessary errands for supplies. In this picture you can see my son spontaneously embracing me for a selfie.

In the USA, large states like New York and California have sagely instituted strict orders for “social distancing” to avoid close contacts for the next few days by staying at home. In spite of having one of the largest concentration of elderly Americans, the state of Florida has not yet clearly commanded residents to avoid social contacts to flatten the curve. However, the county mayors and local elected officials have wisely agreed lately to gently expel all the careless spring-breakers that invaded our beaches “to party wildly.”

Please stay at home if you do not have any urgent or professional reason to go out. Until there are good medications for this disease and a much-needed vaccine, which is still months away, we must cooperate by doing nothing outside. That will help all of society. In order to meaningfully use the extra time allotted, we will continue to write in earnest. Maybe this is a great opportunity for Mankind to learn how to pitch together in a crisis. And to bond more tightly with our family members and loved ones, with plenty of chat.


What do you think? Please tell us.

Don’t leave me alone.