Saturday, August 8, 2020


The Liffey was previously named An Ruirthech, meaning "fast (or strong) runner". The word Liphe (or Life) referred originally to the name of the plain through which the river ran, but eventually came to refer to the river itself. (Wiki)

Anna Livia Plurabelle to James Joyce 

Creator: I won’t believe in you
until I see your pronouns.
How you tremble to be slowly
translated. But tomorrow will you say,

Here’s the gift of my absence
so you can marry a god

And I yes, but without
the Sanskrit of your consonants,

which dictionary do I dare
overlap to spell myself?
I hate to disappoint you,
but my favorite word is mollusk.

Mother Church? Don’t even mention
that transvestite, Maculate Father
giving birth to a daughter
unembraceable as water.

Plurability is your plume, the slippery
shadow between my breasts
urging you to more deltas
and meandering curves.

Anna was: Anna Perenna,
two-headed mother of time.
Livia is: for a river,
the sea is only a pretext.

Plurabelle is to be.
I am sentenced to myself,
greener than all kisses,
and I yes as I flow into me.

~ Oriana



~ James Joyce’s A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man begins with the confidence, ease and innocence of a story told to a child and ends with a tone that is hesitant, suspicious, fragmented and estranged. Between the two comes the education of one Stephen Dedalus, as the nets of race, religion and family attempt to ensnare his tender soul and complex imagination.

Stephen is a born noticer and an attentive listener. He is also someone who can take himself and his experiences with immense seriousness and then, a few pages later, put on an ironic disposition, as though his own very thoughts and the sufferings he endured were made to be fictionalized. (The earlier version of the book was called “Stephen Hero”.) In A Portrait, there is a constant and nourishing conflict going on between the artist and the young man, the artist concerned with style and texture and the refraction of experience, the young man with registering what he saw and remembered, how he grew.

In an essay written in 1982 to mark the centenary of Joyce’s birth, the Irish poet John Montague, who died earlier this month, a writer who had also mined his own childhood, wrote of the influence of A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man: “No one could overestimate the effects of [the book] on later Irish writers … Or on the national psyche: many young Irishmen came to painful consciousness reading those corrosive pages. The Dublin of my student days was strewn with versions of Stephen Dedalus, including myself, though I wonder what the women thought of it!”

“Little failed saints,” Montague wrote, “we knew eternity too early.” Almost every section of Joyce’s book belonged to common Irish Catholic experience. Aged eight or nine, once a week, in Enniscorthy Cathedral, with the lights dimmed, we heard the priest intone: “Death comes soon and judgment will follow, so now, dear children, examine your consciences and find out your sins.” When I read the hellfire sermon in A Portrait, I had heard some of those very words, even though I was born 40 years after the book came out.

The Christmas dinner scene, with the bitter argument about Parnell between Stephen’s father and his aunt, could easily have come from many Irish tables in the 1970s and 80s as families rowed over what was happening in Northern Ireland.

Since corporal punishment in schools continued until as recently as the early 80s, anyone who had the misfortune to be educated by priests or Christian Brothers (or indeed nuns) would have fully recognised the scene where Stephen is unfairly punished. It happened to us all.

When I went to work as a language teacher in Barcelona in 1975, with many English people among my colleagues, I was constantly aware that how they spoke and how they saw language was utterly different from how I did. When there was discussion over the pronunciation or meaning of certain words (or the use of “bring” and “take”, which are different in Ireland and England), I felt much as Stephen did when he met the English Jesuit. “The language in which we are speaking is his before it is mine. How different are the words home, Christ, ale, master, on his lips and on mine! I cannot speak or write these words without unrest of spirit. His language, so familiar and so foreign, will always be for me an acquired speech. I have not made or accepted its words. My voice holds them at bay. My soul frets in the shadow of his language.”

But, like Joyce, I soon got over this feeling and saw that the best English was spoken in Lower Drumcondra. I soon took the view also that received pronunciation was, like all language, both a gift and a burden, and the distance between us a sort of joke. “It seems history is to blame,” as Haines the Englishman says in Ulysses.

The later sections of A Portrait, which move between the National Library in Kildare Street and the halls of University College Dublin, could easily have taken place in the early 70s when I was a student there. The fierce debate among young men about poetry and art, the sexuality in the air, fervid and repressed all at the time, and the need to make urgent plans, as a way of winning the argument, to leave Ireland altogether, belonged to the city I knew as much as to the city of Joyce’s book.

Joyce’s genius was to make this matter, to get the tawdry, common business he called in the book’s last paragraph “the reality of experience” and to make it both immensely strange and worthy of the world’s close attention. He set out, as he wrote, “to forge in the smithy of my soul the uncreated conscience of my race” by finding a tone and a form to suggest that the dull, provincial city we lived in could be made the center of the known universe.

He used the idea of a port city, a place that had once known glory but was now down on its luck, as the perfect locus for a modern novel. The unevenness of his Dublin would be matched by the mixture of uncertainty and pride he would evoke in his prose. 

A Portrait has elements in common with Thomas Mann’s Buddenbrooks, another novel set in a provincial city, published in 1901. The dramatization of the early life of a budding artist in Dublin and Lübeck would soon be followed by the work of Italo Svevo in Trieste, Fernando Pessoa in Lisbon and Jorge Luis Borges in Buenos Aires, as they attempted not only to remake themselves and their cities, but also to refashion fiction itself, to make it new, as Joyce did, so that as soon as Ezra Pound saw the first chapter of A Portrait in January 1914, he set about organizing the book’s serialization. 

Joyce continued to work on the book into 1915, but since he liked the idea of a book taking a decade to make, he ended it with: ‘Dublin, 1904.’ And then below that the place to which he had fled: “Trieste, 1914.” Ulysses, on which he would now embark, would take three years less to write. ~

“He was alone. He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life.” ~ James Joyce

“A good poem is a contribution to reality. 
The world is never the same once a good poem 
has been added to it. A good poem helps 
to change the shape of the universe, 
helps to extend everyone's knowledge of himself 
and the world around him.”~ Dylan Thomas

Dylan Thomas, portrait by Alfred Janes, 1934


~ Trump's daily briefings and off-the-cuff pronouncements now have a distinctly "Soviet" feel to them, what with him constantly announcing all kinds of imaginary breakthroughs and successes and touting "significant progress" in the battle against the virus, and promising the latter's complete eradication somewhere in the halcyon future.

In my elementary school, in midtown Leningrad, there was a large slogan — giant white lettering on red cloth — hanging at the entrance to the school cafeteria/assembly hall: 
"The Party Solemnly Promises That The Current Generation Of Soviet People Will Live Under Communism. ~ Nikita Sergeevich Khrushchev." 

I remember really looking forward to living under Communism. Communism sounded like a lot of fun. One didn't have to work under Communism, for one thing, being able instead to do whatever one pleased.

Well, you know... Still waiting. ~ Mikhail Iossel


I distinctly remember how in the tenth or eleventh grade one of my teachers, with a peculiar smile, announced “that the Soviet Union had just passed from the stage of Socialism to the stage of Communism.” She seemed happy (if that’s what her smile meant) to be the first one to break the news to us, as we sat there in silence — we knew safety lay in silence. 

“When we are a thousand miles away from poetry, we still participate in it by that sudden need to scream— the last stage of lyricism.” ~ E.M. Cioran


In my experience, lyricism is a victory over the scream — but that statement lacks Cioran’s shock value. I can only speak as a poet: the concentration on line breaks, for instance, is incredibly therapeutic. 
Francis Bacon. By turning screaming into art, he no longer had to scream. 

and below is the most famous scream of all:


~ There was a small moment at my father’s [Ronald Reagan’s] memorial service in Washington D.C. inside the National Cathedral, just after George H.W. Bush delivered his eulogy, a moment that slipped under my skin and stayed with me. The first President Bush had delivered an achingly heartfelt eulogy, bringing many of us to tears, and had also injected humor that sent ripples of laughter through the cathedral. The next speaker was his son, President George W. Bush. As the president strode down the aisle, he and his father passed each other without either man acknowledging the other. Not a hand extended to brush an arm, not a nod; their eyes didn’t even meet. I thought, “Yep, that father-son relationship is a complicated one.” 

The former President Bush had given a brilliant eulogy, rife with his personal memories of my father. His son had to know that no matter how good his eulogy was, it would pale in comparison. But there was more to that moment than speeches at a memorial service. There was a lifetime of history—a son’s longing for his father’s approval, fear that he wouldn’t measure up, the wrestling match with a shadow that seems to grow exponentially in ways that can’t be predicted. It’s well known that one of George W.’s stated reasons for invading Iraq was that Saddam Hussein had, in Bush’s words, “tried to kill my dad.” On the world stage, something as intimate as the entanglements between a father and son can be the impetus for a war. 

Men in powerful positions are still sons who looked to their fathers for approval, for clues to what being a man is all about. Bill Clinton’s father died three months before he was born, leaving his son with questions about what might have been. Jimmy Carter has written about longing for his father’s approval, and about the time his father whipped him for taking a penny out of the collection plate at church. 

My father was the son of an alcoholic, whose drinking binges often left the family without money to pay bills. I have long felt that to understand Ronald Reagan, you have to understand that everything he was and did bounced off the fact that he was the child of an alcoholic. When he became a successful actor, he hired his father to answer his fan mail, wanting to give his father something to occupy himself with so that hopefully he wouldn’t drink. It worked for a while, until it didn’t. 

Donald’s father was a study in cruelty and tyranny, producing a son who, in order to get paternal approval, or even be noticed, had to be at least as cruel. ~ Patti Davis


The rest of this article is behind a pay wall, but the vividness of the details here made me wish to  post even just these opening paragraphs.

from Wiki:

Frederick Christ Trump (October 11, 1905 – June 25, 1999) was a prominent real estate developer in New York City. He was the father of Donald Trump, the 45th president of the United States, and Maryanne Trump Barry, a former United States Court of Appeals judge.
His father died in the 1918 flu pandemic.

In partnership with his mother, Elizabeth Christ Trump, he began a career in home construction and sales. Their real estate development company was incorporated as "E. Trump & Son" in 1927 (later called Fred Trump Organization). It grew to build and manage single-family houses in Queens, barracks and garden apartments for U.S. Navy personnel near major shipyards along the East Coast, and more than 27,000 apartments in New York City. 

Trump was investigated by a U.S. Senate committee for profiteering in 1954, and again by the State of New York in 1966. Donald became the president of his father's real estate business in 1971, and they were sued by the U.S. Justice Department's Civil Rights Division for violating the Fair Housing Act in 1973. 

1927 arrest

On Memorial Day in 1927, over a thousand Ku Klux Klan members marched in a Queens parade to protest "Native-born Protestant Americans" being "assaulted by Roman Catholic police of New York City." Trump and six other men were arrested. All seven were referred to as "berobed marchers" in the Long Island Daily Press; Trump, detained "on a charge of refusing to disperse from a parade when ordered to do so," was dismissed. 

Multiple newspaper articles on the incident list Trump's address (in Jamaica, Queens), which he is recorded as sharing with his mother in the 1930 census. In September 2015, Boing Boing reproduced the article, and Fred's son Donald Trump, then a candidate for president of the United States, told The New York Times, "that's where my grandmother lived and my father, early on." Immediately afterwards (when asked about the 1927 story), he denied that his father had ever lived at that address, and said the arrest "never happened," and, "There was nobody charged.”

Trump made use of the Federal Housing Administration's loan subsidies shortly after the program was created by President Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1934. Trump said, "The working classes have been fully awakened as to the benefits of homeownership under the F.H.A. 25-year mortgage plan."[8] By 1936, Trump had 400 workers, all white but of varying national origin, digging foundations for houses that would be sold from $3,000 to $6,250.[31] Trump put properties for sale for prices like $3,999.99, saying his father had taught him the tactic, because, "One penny more and it won't sell.”

Personal life

Trump was a teetotaler and an authoritarian parent, maintaining curfews and forbidding cursing, lipstick, and snacking between meals. At the end of his day, Trump would receive a report from Mary on the children's actions and, if necessary, decide upon disciplinary actions. He took his children to building sites to collect empty bottles to return for the deposits. The boys had paper routes, and when weather conditions were poor, their father would let them make their deliveries in a limousine. Trump taught Donald to "be a killer," and told him "You are a king.”

When World War II broke out, Trump moved his family to Virginia. During the war and until the 1980s, Trump denied that he spoke German and claimed that he was of Swedish origin. According to Trump's nephew, John Walter, "He had a lot of Jewish tenants and it wasn't a good thing to be German in those days." Donald Trump's The Art of the Deal (1987) falsely states that Fred Trump was the son of an immigrant from Sweden and born in New Jersey.

In 1981, Trump's oldest son, Fred Jr., died at age 42 from complications due to alcoholism. According to Mary L. Trump's 2020 book Too Much and Never Enough, Fred Jr. was expected to take over his father's business, but was mocked by him for his decision to become an airline pilot; Trump "dismantled [Fred Jr.] by devaluing and degrading every aspect of his personality" and instead elevated Donald to become his favorite son and business heir. ~


This goes on: Profiteering investigations, investigations for civil rights and code violations, e.g. “In early 1976, Trump was ordered by a county judge to correct code violations in a 504-unit property in Seat Pleasant, Maryland. According to the county's housing department investigator, violations included broken windows, dilapidated gutters, and missing fire extinguishers. After a court date and a series of phone calls with Trump, he was invited to the property to meet with county officials in September 1976 and arrested on site. Trump was released on $1,000 bail.

In 1993, Harry Hurt III wrote in his book Lost Tycoon: The Many Lives of Donald J. Trump that he overheard Fred Trump talking about Donald and his wife Marla Maples as they departed for a flight, saying, "I hope their plane crashes," because then "all my problems will be solved.” According to publisher Simon & Schuster, Mary L. Trump's 2020 book Too Much and Never Enough recounts "the appalling way Donald, Fred Trump's favorite son, dismissed and derided him when he began to succumb to Alzheimer’s [Fred  Trump suffered from Alzheimer’s the last six years of his life.]” ~

And let’s not forget Donald Trump’s mother, Mary Trump, who grew up in poverty. What stays in my mind is that she used to have her chauffeur drive her to the various Trump-owned rentals, go into the laundry rooms and collect forgotten coins.

Trump's mother, Mary Trump


That picture of Trump’s mother — I thought it was him at first. His hair is a rich old woman’s hair, but he wouldn’t have enough consciousness to recognize that.


I think it's the most striking image in the entire blog. 


~ The U.S. Constitution owes a huge debt to ancient Rome. The Founding Fathers were well-versed in Greek and Roman History. Leaders like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison read the historian Polybius, who laid out one of the clearest descriptions of the Roman Republic’s constitution, where representatives of various factions and social classes checked the power of the elites and the power of the mob. It’s not surprising that in the United States’ nascent years, comparisons to ancient Rome were common.

Aspects of our modern politics reminded University of California San Diego historian Edward Watts of the last century of the Roman Republic, roughly 130 B.C. to 27 B.C. That’s why he took a fresh look at the period in his 2018 book Mortal Republic: How Rome Fell Into Tyranny. Watts chronicles the ways the republic, with a population once devoted to national service and personal honor, was torn to shreds by growing wealth inequality, partisan gridlock, political violence and pandering politicians, and argues that the people of Rome chose to let their democracy die by not protecting their political institutions, eventually turning to the perceived stability of an emperor instead of facing the continued violence of an unstable and degraded republic. Political messaging during the 2018 midterm elections hinged on many of these exact topics.

Though he does not directly compare and contrast Rome with the United States, Watts says that what took place in Rome is a lesson for all modern republics. “Above all else, the Roman Republic teaches the citizens of its modern descendants the incredible dangers that come along with condoning political obstruction and courting political violence,” he writes. “Roman history could not more clearly show that, when citizens look away as their leaders engage in these corrosive behaviors, their republic is in mortal danger.

Historians are cautious when trying to apply lessons from one unique culture to another, and the differences between the modern United States and Rome are immense. Rome was an Iron-Age city-state with a government-sponsored religion that at times made decisions by looking at the entrails of sheep. Romans had a rigid class system, relied on slave labor and had a tolerance for everyday violence that is genuinely horrifying. Then again, other aspects of the Roman Republic feel rather familiar. 

The Roman people’s strong sense of patriotism was unique in the Mediterranean world. Like the United States after World War II, Rome, after winning the Second Punic War in 201 B.C. (the one with Hannibal and the elephants), became the world’s hegemon, which lead to a massive increase in their military spending, a baby boom, and gave rise to a class of super-wealthy elites that were able to use their money to influence politics and push their own agendas. Those similarities make comparisons worthwhile, even if the togas, gladiator battles and appetite for dormice seem completely foreign.

Cullen Murphy, whose 2005 book Are We Rome? makes a more head-on comparison between the fall of the Roman Empire and the U.S., argues that the changes in politics and society in Rome stemmed from one source: its growing complexity. Rome, during the Republic and Empire, had increasing and evolving responsibilities around the Mediterranean which its government constantly struggled to manage. Those challenges forced changes throughout the economy and society, sometimes for the better and sometimes for the worse. In general terms, he sees many of the same struggles in recent U.S. history. 

“I think the U.S. is experiencing this same situation—we’ve never quite recovered from our victory in World War II, which left us with the world on our shoulders; and the implications of that responsibility have skewed things in every part of our society and economy, and put our old political (and other) structures under enormous strain,” he says. “New sources of power and new forms of administration and management fill the gap—and create unease and sometimes also injustice, and at the same time create vast new sectors of wealth.” 

Those types of social and economic changes also rattled the Roman Republic, leading to the moment in 130 B.C. when politics turned violent. The introduction of a secret ballot meant Roman politicians and political factions couldn’t keep tabs on (or bribe) individual voters. Instead, politicians had to build political brands that appealed to the masses, leading to something akin to modern American campaigning with big promises and populist language aimed at the poor and middle class. 

Reforms to the military also meant that service was no longer reserved for the elite, who for centuries used their privilege to demonstrate their loyalty to Rome. For poorer soldiers, however, service became a path to riches. They began to count on the loot, bonuses and gifts of land they received from their often-wealthy commanders meaning that over time the loyalty of the Roman legions shifted from the empire to their generals. These changes set the stage for a new type of politics, one where whipping up the resentments of the lower classes and threatening political enemies with semi-private armies became the norm. 

These trends first came to a head in 134 B.C. when Tiberius Gracchus, an elected tribune of the people, proposed a land reform bill that would benefit poorer and middle-class Romans. The way Gracchus went about his reform, however, was an affront to the norms and traditions of the Republic. He brought his law before the Plebeian Assembly without the thumbs-up of the Senate. When his fellow tribune Marcus Octavius threatened to veto the bill, which was his right, Gracchus manipulated the rules to have him stripped of his office. 

There were other incidents as well, but the most concerning aspect of Gracchus was his fiery, populist language, which whipped his supporters to the edge of political violence. As his power grew, Gracchus began moving through the streets surrounded by a mob of frenzied supporters, a kind of personal militia not seen in Rome before.

Rumors spread that Gracchus was angling to become a king or dictator, and some in the Senate felt they needed to act. When Gracchus stood for a second term as tribune, which was not illegal but broke another norm, a group of Senators and their supporters beat Gracchus and 300 of his followers to death. 

It was just the beginning. Over the next century, Tiberius’s brother Gaius Gracchus would come into conflict with the Senate after a similar populist confrontation. The commander Sulla would march legions loyal to him on Rome itself and battle his political rival Marius, the first time Roman troops fought one another. He would then execute and punish his political enemies. In the following generation Pompey and Caesar would settle their political scores using Roman legions, Octavian and Marc Antony would field an army against the Senate before finally battling one another bringing almost 500 years of the Republic to a bloody (and confusing) conclusion. 

Watts argues that while the Senate ordered his murder, it was Tiberius Gracchus who let the genie out of the bottle. “What he has to bear responsibility for is he starts using this really aggressive and threatening language and threatening postures. He never resorts to violence, but there’s always this implicit threat. ‘If not for me, things would get out of control.’ And that is different, that was never done before. What he introduces is this political tool of intimidation and threats of violence. Later thinkers say once it’s there, even if others choose not to use it, it’s there forever.” 

While life in Rome, with gladiator battles, crucifixions and endless war was violent, for centuries Romans took pride in their republican system and political violence was taboo. “The Republic was free of political violence for the better part of 300 years. People who are politically engaged are not killing each other and they’re not threatening to kill each other. When they disagree with each other they use political means that were created by the republic for dealing with political conflict,” says Watts. “If you lose one of those conflicts, you don’t die and you don’t lose your property and you aren’t sent away. You just lose face and move on. In that sense, this is a remarkably successful system for encouraging compromise and encouraging consensus building and creating mechanisms whereby political conflicts will be decided peacefully.” 

So what does the story of the Roman Republic mean for the United States? The comparison is not perfect. The U.S. has had its share of political violence over the centuries and has more or less recovered. Politicians used to regularly duel one another (See the Hamilton soundtrack, song 15), and in the run-up to the Civil War, the ultimate act of political violence, there was the raid on Harper’s Ferry, Bleeding Kansas, and the near murder of Charles Sumner in the Senate chamber. 

Joanne B. Freeman, author of Field of Blood, a history of violence in Congress before the Civil War, tells Anna Diamond at Smithsonian she found at least 70 incidents of fighting among legislators, including a mass brawl in the House, though they often tried to paper over the conflicts. “It’s all hidden between the lines in the Congressional record; it might say “the conversation became unpleasantly personal.” That meant duel challenges, shoving, pulling guns and knives.”

The better comparison, surprisingly, applies to post-WWII America. Despite periods where the U.S. political system and established political norms have been tested and stretched—the McCarthy hearings, Vietnam, Watergate, the Iraq War—partisan violence or attempts to subvert the system have been rare. But recent events, like changes to filibuster rules and other procedures in Congress as well as increasingly heated political rhetoric give Watts pause. “It is profoundly dangerous when a politician takes a step to undercut or ignore a political norm, it’s extremely dangerous whenever anyone introduces violent rhetoric or actual violence into a republican system that’s designed to promote compromise and consensus building.”

The solution to keeping a republic healthy, if Rome can truly be a guide, is for the citizens to reject any attempts to alter these norms he says. “I think the lesson I take away most profoundly from spending so much time with these materials is basically, yes, we do need to assign blame to politicians and individuals who take a shortsighted view of the health of a republic in order to try to pursue their own personal objectives or specific short-term political advantages.” 

The example of the Roman Republic shows the result of not policing those norms and keeping violence in check is the potential loss of democracy. “No republic is eternal,” Watts writes. “It lives only as long as its citizens want it. And, in both the 21st century A.D. and the first century B.C., when a republic fails to work as intended, its citizens are capable of choosing the stability of autocratic rule over the chaos of a broken republic.” ~

Tiberius and Gaius Gracchus. Historian Edward Watts argues that violent rhetoric and disregard for political norms was the beginning of Rome’s end.


~ American intelligence officer Frank Manuel started seeing the symbol near the end of World War II, etched across white walls in the Franconia region of Germany: a straight vertical line intersected by a horizontal line with a hook on the end. “Most members of the Counter Intelligence Corps were of the opinion that it was merely a hastily drawn swastika,” Manuel wrote in a memoir. But Manuel knew otherwise. To him, the mark referred to the Werewolves, German guerrilla fighters prepared “to strike down the isolated soldier in his jeep, the MP on patrol, the fool who goes a-courting after dark, the Yankee braggart who takes a back road.” 

In the final months of World War II, as the Allied troops pushed deeper into Nazi Germany and the Soviet Red Army pinned the German military on the Eastern front, Hitler and his most senior officials looked to any last resort to keep their ideology alive. Out of desperation, they turned to the supernatural for inspiration, creating two separate lupine movements: one, an official group of paramilitary soldiers; the other, an ad hoc ensemble of partisan fighters. Though neither achieved any monumental gains, both proved the effectiveness of propaganda in sowing terror and demoralizing occupying soldiers. 

From the start of the war, Hitler pulled from Germanic folklore and occult legends to supplement Nazi pageantry. High-level Nazis researched everything from the Holy Grail to witchcraft, as historian Eric Kurlander describes in his book, Hitler’s Monsters: A Supernatural History of the Third Reich. 

Among those mythological fascinations were werewolves. “According to some 19th and early 20th century German folklorists, werewolves represented flawed but well-meaning characters who may be bestial but are tied to the woods, the blood, the soil,” Kurlander says. “They represented German strength and purity against interlopers.” 

It was an image Hitler harnessed repeatedly, from the name of one of his Eastern front headquarters—the Wolf’s Lair—to the implementation of “Operation Werewolf,” an October 1944 plan for Nazi SS lieutenants Adolf Prützmann and Otto Skorzeny to infiltrate Allied camps and sabotage supply lines with a paramilitary group. Skorzeny had already proved the value of such a specialized strike in 1943, when he successfully led a small group of commandoes to rescue Benito Mussolini from a prison in Italy. 

“The original strategy in 1944-5 was not to win the war by guerrilla operations, but merely to stem the tide, delaying the enemy long enough to allow for a political settlement favorable to Germany,” writes historian Perry Biddiscombe in Werwolf! The History of the National Socialist Guerrilla Movement, 1944-46. But that plan failed, in part because of confusion over where the group’s orders came from within the chaotic Nazi bureaucracy, and also because the military’s supplies were dwindling. 

The second attempt at recruiting “werewolves” came from Minister of Propaganda Joseph Goebbels—and this time it was more successful. Beginning early in 1945, national radio broadcasts urged German civilians to join the Werewolf movement, fighting the Allies and any German collaborators who welcomed the enemy into their homes. One female broadcaster proclaimed, “I am so savage, I am filled with rage, Lily the Werewolf is my name. I bite, I eat, I am not tame. My werewolf teeth bite the enemy.” 

While most German civilians were too exhausted by years of war to bother joining this fanatical crusade, holdouts remained across the country. Snipers occasionally fired on Allied soldiers, assassins killed multiple German mayors working with the Allied occupiers, and citizens kept caches of weapons in forests and near villages. Although General George Patton claimed “this threat of werewolves and murder was bunk,” the American media and the military took the threat of partisan fighters seriously. One U.S. intelligence report from May 1945 asserted, “The Werewolf organization is not a myth.” Some American authorities saw the bands of guerrilla fighters as “one of the greatest threats to security in both the American and Allied Zones of Occupation,” writes historian Stephen Fritz in Endkampf: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Death of the Third Reich.

Newspapers ran headlines like “Fury of Nazi ‘Werewolves’ to Be Unleashed on Invaders” and wrote about the army of civilians who would “frighten away the conquerors of the Third Reich before they have time to taste the sweets of victory.” An orientation film screened for GIs in 1945 warned against fraternizing with enemy civilians, while the printed “Pocket Guide for Germany” emphasized the need for caution when dealing with teenagers. Soldiers on the ground reacted strongly to even a hint of subterfuge: In June 1945 two German teenagers, Heinz Petry and Josef Schroner, were executed by an American firing squad for espionage against the U.S. military. 

While the werewolf propaganda achieved Goebbels’ goal of intimidating Allied forces, it did little to help German citizens. “It stoked fears, lied about the situation and lured many to fight for a lost cause,” wrote historian Christina von Hodenberg by email. “The Werewolf campaign endangered those German citizens who welcomed the Western occupiers and were active in the local antifascist groups at the war’s end.” 

Local acts of terror continued through 1947 and Biddiscombe estimates that several thousand casualties likely resulted from Werewolf activity, either directly or from reprisal killings. But as Germany slowly returned to stability, fewer and fewer partisan attacks took place. Within a few years, the Nazi werewolves were no more than a strange memory left from the much larger nightmare of the war. 

“It’s fascinating to me that even when everything is coming down around them, the Nazis resort to a supernatural, mythological trope in order to define their last-ditch efforts,” says Kurlander. To him, it fits into the larger pattern of Hitler’s obsession with the occult, the hope for impossible weapons and last-minute miracles. 

However little effect the werewolves may have had on the German war effort, they never disappeared entirely from the minds of the American media and politicians. According to von Hodenberg, “In American popular culture, the image of the Nazi and the werewolf often merged. This was taken up by the Bush administration during the Iraq War, when Condoleezza Rice, Donald Rumsfeld and President Bush himself repeatedly compared insurgents in Iraq to werewolves, and the occupation of Iraq to the occupation of Germany in 1945.” Even today, analysts have used the Nazi werewolves as a comparison for ISIS fighters. 

For Kurlander, the longevity of the Nazi werewolf in the war years belongs to the same longing for myth and magical thinking that Hitler and the Nazis employed. People don’t necessarily want to turn to science and empiricism for answers—they want mysticism to explain problems away. “It’s very seductive to view the world that way.”


Otto Skorzeny managed to escape punishment. From Wiki: “In 1970, a cancerous tumor was discovered on Skorzeny's spine. Two tumors were later removed while he was staying at a hospital in Hamburg, but the surgery left him paralyzed from the waist down. Vowing to walk again, Skorzeny spent long hours with a physical therapist; and, within six months, he was back on his feet. Skorzeny died of lung cancer on 5 July 1975 in Madrid. He was 67 years old. At no point in his life did Skorzeny ever denounce Nazism.

He was given a Roman Catholic funeral Mass in Madrid on 7 August 1975. His body was cremated afterwards, and his ashes were later taken to Vienna to be interred in the Skorzeny family plot at Döblinger Friedhof. His funeral "was attended by dozens of German military veterans and wives, who did not hesitate to give the one-armed Nazi salute", according to former Mossad agents who also attended the funeral.”

It so happens that in my late teens I visited Hitler's headquarters in Pomerania. In order to preserve the secrecy of the location, all those who built the railroad leading to it were later executed. That, and the failed plot to to kill Hitler in his "lair", which led to the torturous execution of those involved, have stayed in my mind as portraits of evil. To say that I grew up in the shadow of WWII seems almost an understatement.



~ It sounds like a sci-fi movie, or the weirdest series of Big Brother ever. Eight volunteers wearing snazzy red jumpsuits seal themselves into a hi-tech glasshouse that’s meant to perfectly replicate Earth’s ecosystems. They end up starving, gasping for air and at each other’s throats – while the world’s media looks on. 

But the Biosphere 2 experiment really did happen. Running from 1991 to 1993, it is remembered as a failure, if it is remembered at all – a hubristic, pseudo-scientific experiment that was never going to accomplish its mission. However, as the new documentary Spaceship Earth shows, the escapade is a cautionary tale, now that the outside world – Biosphere 1, if you prefer – is itself coming to resemble an apocalyptic sci-fi world. Looking back, it’s amazing that Biosphere 2 even happened at all, not least because the people behind it started out as a hippy theatre group. 

“Just the fact that the same number of people came out as went in is a triumph,” says Mark Nelson, one of the original eight “biospherians”. Far from a failure, he regards Biosphere 2 as an unsung achievement in human exploration, as do many others. “I like to say we built it not because we had the answers. We built it to find out what we didn’t know.” 

Biosphere 2’s origins lie in late-1960s San Francisco, and a man named John P Allen. Already in his 40s by then, Allen was something of a renaissance man: a Harvard graduate, a metallurgist, a union organiser, a beat poet, and a traveller studying indigenous cultures. He founded an idealistic performance group called the Theatre of All Possibilities. As the name suggests, they wanted to change the world but weren’t sure where to start. Art? Business? Ecology? Technology? In classic counterculture fashion, they decided: “Let’s do all of it!” 

They didn’t actually know how to do any of it, save for staging somewhat freeform performances, but “learn by doing” was Allen’s philosophy – and it took them surprisingly far. In 1969, Allen’s troupe relocated to New Mexico and founded Synergia Ranch, named after the great architect Richard Buckminster Fuller’s concept of synergy, where the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. 

“He was a ball of energy,” says Nelson, who joined Allen’s troupe around that time, when he was 22. “He had a great feel for both ecology and theatre. And frankly, he was a very charismatic guy. We’d accomplish one thing, then say, ‘What’s the new challenge?’ He was forever upping the ante.” 

They turned their desert ranch into a self-sufficient homestead, planting trees and raising buildings, including a Buckminster Fuller geodesic dome. They founded an art gallery in London (it is still running) and bought another ranch in Australia. In 1975, they even decided to build a ship. Their chief designer was a 19-year-old student with no experience of boatbuilding, but it proved perfectly seaworthy. They sailed around the world for several years, researching the Earth’s ecosystems. 

Having learned how these worked, they were ready to build their own. If humankind was going to settle other planets, they reasoned, it would need to learn how to replicate Earth. For a generation that came of age with the moon landings and such films as 2001: A Space Odyssey and Silent Running, this was not a particularly far-fetched notion. Helpfully, Allen and co had a benefactor: Ed Bass, an oil billionaire from Texas, whose own journey of self-discovery had brought him into Allen’s orbit. 

The Biosphere 2 launch was staged like a space mission. The media descended on the $150m Arizona facility, all gleaming white panels and ziggurats of glass, filled with forests, deserts, laboratories, recycling systems, pigs, chickens, hummingbirds, bush babies, and even a coral reef. There were speeches and fireworks as the jumpsuited volunteers (four women, four men, all white) sealed themselves in for the two-year journey into the unknown. 

After a stable start, problems began to emerge. Food, for one. “We really could have used more calories,” says Linda Leigh, another biospherian. Leigh had been involved with stocking Biosphere 2 with wild plants, but many of the food crops were too slow or too labour-intensive to be worthwhile. The wild coffee bushes took a fortnight to produce enough for one cup. 

Rather than luxuriating in a Garden of Eden, the biospherians became more like subsistence farmers. There was a lot of beetroot and sweet potato. “It was a challenge to make exciting meals,” says Leigh. “We’d rotate the cooking duties. Some people created new things like a taco-shaped like a dinosaur. Some people made horrible things like cold potato leaf soup.” Everyone lost a lot of weight. 

On top of that, oxygen levels decreased faster than anticipated, with a corresponding build-up of carbon dioxide. Earth’s atmosphere is about 21% oxygen, but inside the biosphere it fell to 14.2 %. “It felt like mountain-climbing,” Nelson recalls. “Some of the crew started getting sleep apnoea. I noticed I couldn’t finish a long sentence without stopping and taking a breath of air. We worked in a kind of slow-motion dance, with no energy wasted. If the oxygen levels had dropped any lower, there could have been serious health issues.” 

Understandably, morale deteriorated. Living under biosphere conditions was a challenge at the best of times. If the coronavirus lockdown feels restrictive, imagine spending two years with the same seven people and no internet. Nelson likens it to “a marathon group therapy session”. Added to which, true to their theatrical origins, the biospherians were on permanent display. Coachloads of tourists and schoolchildren arrived daily to tap on the glass and take pictures of the emaciated crew. Leigh remembers anthropologist Jane Goodall coming to visit. “She observed us like we were captive primates.” 

Cups were thrown and people were spat at, but thankfully there was no violence. “It was more of a coldness,” says Leigh. “Of not wanting to be around each other.” The team split into two camps of four: “Our group was all for bringing in extra food and more oxygen just to keep things going, so our own suffering didn’t impact the work that needed to be done. The other group had other ideas.” 

In other words, keep the biosphere closed and retain the purity of the experiment, no matter the cost. A similar debate was going on outside. Biosphere 2’s difficulties had not gone unnoticed, though Allen and the team had tried to conceal them. Eventually extra food was smuggled in and two oxygen pop-ups followed. The biospherians were overjoyed. 

“People starting laughing like crazy and running around,” recalls Nelson. “I felt like I’d been 90 years old and now I was a teenager again. I realized I hadn’t seen anybody running for months.” But on the outside, as debate raged in the media, the project started to be dismissed as non-science, or as one commentator put it, “trendy ecological entertainment”.

Nelson certainly doesn’t see it that way. “Somehow or other, it all got truncated into: ‘This is a survival test for this colony, and the one and only measure of success is whether everything works perfectly, and there’s no necessity to bring in anything from the outside.’ That was never the intention.” 

The intention, in fact, was to continue the experiment, learning from their mistakes. A second mission went into the biosphere in March 1994, and looked to be faring better. A month later, though, out of the blue, Ed Bass decided on a mass purge. The purpose was to make the project more businesslike, it seems. Allen and his team were swiftly ejected and a new CEO was literally helicoptered in: Steve Bannon. Yes, that Steve Bannon. Investment banker, future right-wing operator and Donald Trump strategist. As a metaphor for the fate of the planet, it could hardly be more apt. 

“I look at it as a story about human ambition, its possibilities and limitations,” says Matt Wolf, director of Spaceship Earth. “I think the experiment revealed that humans are the most unstable element of a closed system.” Like many, Wolf was only dimly aware of the project before he started looking into it. Many of the original biospherians still live together on Synergia Ranch, he discovered, including Nelson and Allen, now in his 90s. Fortunately, they recorded everything: Wolf had access to over 600 hours of 16mm film and video. Biosphere 2 is now managed by the University of Arizona. Linda Leigh runs a community garden project in Oracle, a few miles away. 

Both Nelson and Leigh would happily volunteer to go back in. Both were transformed by the experience, in a way they wish society as a whole could emulate. “Inside Biosphere 2, everything made sense,” says Nelson. “Everything you did, you could see the impact of it. No anonymous actions. It was like my body suddenly got the message: every time you breathe, these plants are waiting for your CO2. They are your third lung. I thought, ‘My God, this is keeping me alive! I am absolutely metabolically connected to the life here.’” 

Even if history does judge Biosphere 2 a failure, is that really so bad? “The media can be very dismissive of people trying new things,” says Wolf. “So much so that people hesitate to try for fear of criticism or failure. If everybody feared failure, they would never try new and ambitious things.”


Record-setting summer temperatures across Siberia are opening up the Batagaika megaslump, which locals call the “gateway to Hell,” at an unprecedented pace, scientists say.
The Batagaika crater in the eastern Siberian republic of Sakha appeared in the 1960s after forest in the area was cleared, causing the land to sink. Currently the world’s largest megaslump at about 1 kilometer in length and 100 meters deep, it continues to grow in size and depth as climate change melts the fast-heating region’s permafrost layer.

Batagaika’s diameter is now advancing outward at roughly 12 to 14 meters per year, Science magazine cited University of Potsdam permafrost researcher Frank Guenther as saying last week. Before 2016, it had advanced at 10 meters per year he said.

As the crater expands, scientists and archaeologists are discovering well-preserved remains of animals and plants that have been extinct since the Ice Age. The site also offers insight into 200,000 years of climate data.

Kseniia Ashastina, a paleobotanist at the Max Planck Institute for the Science of Human History, told Science magazine that local indigenous groups fear the crater, saying “it’s eating their land, swallowing up the trees and their sacred places.”

The news comes as Russia’s Arctic and Siberian regions, already warming at a faster rate than the rest of the world, face a historic summer heat wave accompanied by wildfires, fuel spills, crop failures and more.

The town of Verkhoyansk, located 75 kilometers from Batagaika and one of the coldest inhabited places on Earth, saw temperatures hit 38 Celsius, the hottest temperature ever recorded in the Arctic, in June.

In late May, a fuel tank owned by a subsidiary of Norilsk Nickel leaked 21,000 metric tons of diesel fuel into a river near Norilsk in what has been described as the worst-ever fuel spill in the Arctiс. The company has linked the spill to melting permafrost beneath the tank’s supporting pillars which caused the tank to crack.

As temperatures continue to rise, scientists say climate change-induced processes like the ever-expanding crater of Batagaika will grow even more intense.

Ice cover in the Arctic Ocean hit an all-time low for this time of year on July 15, according to the National Snow and Ice Data Center, with the coast of Siberia hit hardest. The Northeast Passage, a sea shipping route connecting Europe with Asia, was free of ice as recently as two weeks ago. Last year, it took until late August for the route’s ice cover to melt.

Devastating summer forest fires seen across eastern Siberia and the Russian Far East in recent summers, brought on by warm, dry winters, release “dark soot and charcoal that absorb heat and accelerate melting,” Science magazine wrote.

And as permafrost melts, it also releases methane and other greenhouse gases, adding more fuel to the accelerating rise in temperatures. ~




~ The Earth’s magnetic field, generated 1,800 miles (3,000 km) below our feet in the liquid iron core, is crucially important to life on our planet. It extends out into space, wrapping us in an electromagnetic blanket that shields the atmosphere and satellites from solar radiation.

Yet the magnetic field is constantly changing in both its strength and direction and has undergone some dramatic shifts in the past. This includes enigmatic reversals of the magnetic poles, with the south pole becoming the north pole and vice versa. 

A long-standing question has been how fast the field can change. Our new study, published in Nature Communications, has uncovered some answers.

Rapid changes of the magnetic field are of great interest because they represent the most extreme behavior of the ocean of molten iron in the liquid core. By tying the observed changes to core processes, we can learn important information about an otherwise inaccessible region of our planet. 

Historically, the fastest changes in Earth’s magnetic field have been associated with reversals, which occur at irregular intervals a few times every million years. But we discovered field changes that are much faster and more recent than any of the data associated with actual reversals. 

Nowadays satellites help monitor changes in the field in both space and time, complemented by navigational records and ground-based observatories. This information reveals that changes in the modern field are rather ponderous, around a tenth of a degree per year. But, while we know that the field has existed for at least 3.5 billion years, we don’t know much about its behavior prior to 400 years ago. 

To track the ancient field, scientists analyze the magnetism recorded by sediments, lava flows and human-made artifacts. That’s because these materials contain microscopic magnetic grains that record the signature of Earth’s field at the time they cooled (for lavas) or were added to the landmass (for sediments). Sediment records from central Italy around the time of the last polarity reversal almost 800,000 years ago suggest relatively rapid field changes reaching one degree per year.

Such measurements, however, are extremely challenging, with results still being debated. For example, there are uncertainties in the process by which sediments acquire their magnetism. 

Improved measurements

Our research takes a different approach by using computer models based on the physics of the field generation process. This is combined with a recently published reconstruction of global variations in Earth’s magnetic field spanning the last 100,000 years, based on a compilation of measurements from sediments, lavas and artifacts. 

This shows that changes in the direction of Earth’s magnetic field reached rates that are up to 10 degrees per year – 10 times larger than the fastest currently reported variations. 

The fastest observed changes in the geomagnetic field direction occurred around 39,000 years ago. This shift was associated with a locally weak field in a confined region just off the west coast of central America. The event followed the global “Laschamp excursion” – a “failed reversal” of the Earth’s magnetic field around 41,000 years ago in which the magnetic poles briefly moved far from the geographic poles before returning. 

The fastest changes appear to be associated with local weakening of the magnetic field. Our model suggests this is caused by movement of patches of intense magnetic field across the surface of the liquid core. These patches are more prevalent at lower latitudes, suggesting that future searches for rapid changes in direction should focus on these areas.

The impact on society

Changes in the magnetic field, such as reversals, probably don’t pose a threat to life. Humans did manage to live through the dramatic Laschamp excursion. Today, the threat is mainly down to our reliance on electronic infrastructure. Space weather events such as geomagnetic storms, arising from the interaction between the magnetic field and incoming solar radiation, could disrupt satellite communications, GPS and power grids. 

This is troubling – the economic cost of a collapse of the U.S. power grid due to a space-weather event has been estimated at around one trillion dollars. The threat is serious enough for space weather to appear as a high priority on the U.K. national risk register. 

Space weather events tend to be more prevalent in regions where the magnetic field is weak – something we know can happen when the field is changing rapidly. Unfortunately, computer simulations suggest that directional changes arise after the field strength begins to weaken, meaning we cannot predict dips in field strength by just monitoring the field direction. 

Is another rapid change in the magnetic field on its way? This is very hard to answer. The fastest changes are also the rarest events: for example, the changes identified around the Laschamp excursion are over two times faster than any other changes occurring over the last 100,000 years. 

This makes it difficult for scientists to predict rapid changes – they are “black swan events” that come as a surprise and have a big impact. One possible route forward is to use physics-based models of how the field behaves as part of the forecast. 

We still have a lot to learn about the “speed limit” of Earth’s magnetic field. Rapid changes have not yet been directly observed during a polarity reversal, but they should be expected since the field is thought to become globally weak at these times. ~ Christopher Davies, Associate professor, University of Leeds*


No real gentleman will tell the naked truth in the presence of ladies. ~ Mark Twain, A Double-Barreled Detective Story


He may strike us as narrow-shouldered, but that was normal in the past, for both men and women — perhaps not enough protein and calcium during childhood.

Wide shoulders are largely a gift of modern food abundance. Now that's the kind of naked truth it's OK to tell in the presence of ladies.


It’s interesting that the arguments the ancient Greeks used to “prove” the existence of the gods are the same are those used today: prayer (and animal sacrifice) works, while lack of prayer brings on disaster; believers experience the god’s presence and receive signs and miracles . . . same stuff, pointing to human psychology rather than external reality. It’s known as the “argument from personal experience.” 

“I sacrificed a bullock to Zeus, and my son came back from the war alive” — who could fail to be persuaded by that?

Here is an interesting exercise: replace the word “god” with “Zeus”:

Zeus works in mysterious ways.
Zeus sends suffering to those he loves.
Zeus never sends you more suffering than you can bear.
Man was created to serve Zeus.



“A common response in surveys of religious attitudes 
is to say something like, 'I don't go to church, 
but I have my own personal idea of God.' 
This kind of statement makes me in turn 
react like a philosopher. Soppy, I cry. 
You have your own personal idea of God, 
but does God have His own personal idea of you? 
Because that's what matters. 
Whether He's an old man with a white beard 
sitting in the sky, or a life force, 
or a disinterested prime mover, or a clockmaker, 
or a woman, or a nebulous moral force, or nothing at all, 
what counts is what He, She, It, or Nothing 
thinks of you rather than you of them.” ~ Julian Barnes, Nothing to Be Frightened of

Milan Cathedral (Duomo di Milano)


I see, or rather read, more and more “blasphemy.” My father had nothing but contempt for the catholic church, but in childhood I didn’t consider it blasphemy, the church being a flawed human institution, a cheap substitute for real holiness. So what if priests had “relations” (I didn’t really know what the word meant).

But then, when I was ten or so, my mother saw my anguish, guessed that it was over sin and hell, and said, out of the blue, “There is no hell. God wouldn’t be so cruel.” BLASPHEMY! I winced with horror: hell was the very foundation of sacred teachings, and now my mother, a blasphemer, was going straight to hell for sure.

Then at 14, it was my turn. After the insight that the religion that had been forced on me was just another mythology, still half-believing but having decided that a cruel god like that did not deserve worship, I said in my mind, “If god exists, let him strike me with lightning.” And waited, utterly terrified. I’ll never forget those five minutes of terror. I stood in one spot — I vaguely remember pavement and trees, the cooing of pigeons — I literally could not move, paralyzed with fear. I was waiting for that lightning (it wasn’t even a stormy day, but that did not matter to the part of me that still believed; the laws of nature were irrelevant; I had blasphemed and would be punished).

Finally I unfroze and continued walking to wherever I was going — I think to the nearest kiosk to buy the newspaper for my blaspheming parents.

Many years later I had a boyfriend who several times called god as asshole. In spite of the lapse of time I still experienced shock. That was before the “new atheism. Now “blasphemy” is nothing special. If anything, it’s ridiculous, given that someone is insulting a fictitious character. If a modern reader called Achilles an asshole, that would be just literary criticism.

But the awareness that blasphemy was once punishable by burning at the stake is always with me. The clergy understood that in the absence of divine punishment, they had to be the executioners. This morning I was thinking about capital punishment for blasphemy in some Islamic countries (unbelief falls under the category of blasphemy). It struck me that such punishment itself constituted blasphemy, a lack of faith that god himself would exact revenge. Punishment simply could not be left in god’s hands! And, come to think of it, nothing could be left in god’s invisible hands. The most religious countries seem to have the least faith.

Milan Cathedral, detail


Whether it’s Yahweh or Zeus, as long as an imaginary invisible Superman is put ahead of human beings and the principle of kindness, evil is inevitable. And the same goes for ideologies and institutions, whether it’s the Catholic church or the communist party.


~ While our attention is focused on the re-purposing of approved drugs to treat COVID-19 and to develop a durable vaccine to safeguard against SARS-CoV-2, the clinical outcomes of inhaled nitric oxide gas and BCG immunotherapy will likely emerge to be effective and provide insight as to coronavirus' vulnerability: nitric oxide sensitivity.

Several device companies have recently received FDA's blessing for emergency expanded access to offer inhaled nitric oxide gas for treating COVID-19. During the 2003 SARS outbreak, inhalation of nitric oxide improved lung oxygenation and shortened the length of ventilatory support. Aside from improving lung function, nitric oxide also showed direct antiviral activity as well as druggable targets including nitrosylating cysteine of viral protease to interfering with S-protein-ACE-2 interaction. Inhaled nitric oxide provided to COVID-19 infected patients will likely prove to be lifesaving through both a pulmonary vasodilator effect and a direct antiviral effect.

Trials are also underway to test BCG's ability to rev-up the primitive innate arm of the immune system with the hope to provide early protection against SARS-CoV-2. In the case protecting against COVID-19, BCG is not a vaccine but an immunostimulant of non-specific immunity. BCG is a weakened, live bacterium, Bacille Calmette-Guérin, that is a distant relative of the pathologic mycobacteria that cause leprosy and tuberculosis (TB). It has been administrated for over 100 years as a vaccine against TB with mixed outcomes. 

Reportedly, 100 million newborns are vaccinated each year with BCG. What is most striking is that BCG reduces infant mortality independent of its effects on TB. There is suggestive evidence that countries with a BCG policy also had significantly slower growth of both cases and deaths resulting from COVID-19 as compared to countries that do not vaccinate with BCG.

Previous studies reported nearly a 50% reduction in mortality in children vaccinated with BCG, an effect that is too big to be explained by protection against TB alone. And since the 1990s, BCG was the first FDA-approved immunotherapy to reduce the risk of bladder cancer recurrence by stimulating a non-specific immune response that targets bladder cancer cells where cells within the bladder are immune stimulated to produce nitric oxide gas within a few days after inoculation. Approximately 70% of bladder cancer patients go into remission after BCG immunotherapy. 

Based on the capacity of BCG to also reduce the incidence of respiratory tract infections in children, to exert antimicrobial effects against intracellular microorganisms as diverse as Leishmania major, Francisella tularensis, and Plasmodium species in experimental models, and to reduce viremia in experimental human models of viral infection, BCG may prove to be equally effective as a prophylactic against SARS-CoV-2.

In studies when evaluated for nitric oxide, it was found that BCG triggers cytokine-dependent, IFN-γ and TNF-α and/or IL1-β, inducible nitric oxide synthase pathways (NOS) expression and nitric oxide release by both alveolar macrophages and non-immune cells, including airway epithelial cells. The efficacy of BCG to improve the clinical course of COVID-19 infection and to prevent absenteeism in order to safeguard continuous patient care is the primary endpoint for studies underway. To flush out the role of nitric oxide, it would be worthwhile to include secondary endpoints of exhaled nitric oxide and serum and saliva nitric oxide metabolites, nitrate and nitrite, which can serve as helpful biomarkers for nitric oxide generation under certain situations.

Assuming exogenously inhaled nitric oxide gas and BCG-immunologically boosted endogenous nitric oxide proves to be effective as a treatment and preventative, a dietary approach could be equally effective at elevated nitric oxide levels within the lung. The dietary nitrate-nitrite-nitric oxide pathway is independent of the arginine/citrulline iNOS. As to the latter, supplementing with arginine or citrulline during advanced disease would be of little value, especially since arginase and methylarginines would be elevated thereby diminishing NOS activity.

However, bypassing the NOS pathway via dietary inorganic nitrate would restore nitric oxide as shown in hypertensives who are nitric oxide deficient. Here, nitric oxide is produced through the chemical transformation of dietary inorganic nitrate. It is well understood that dietary inorganic nitrates behave as a pro-drug in which the body converts inorganic nitrate to nitric oxide through a series of well-defined steps beginning with the friendly microflora on the tongue reducing nitrate to nitrite, which is subsequently reduced to nitric oxide in the gut, blood stream, and various organs, including the lung. 

If nitric oxide emerges as the linchpin in the BCG trials, such results, together with clinical studies of inhaled nitric oxide, these outcomes would usher in new drug design and disease targeting based on nitric oxide through inhalation, immune adjuvants, and dietary approaches. ~


Beets are the richest dietary source of nitrates, followed by spinach and other leafy greens.



~ The clues have been mounting for a while. First, scientists discovered patients who had recovered from infection with Covid-19, but mysteriously didn’t have any antibodies against it. Next it emerged that this might be the case for a significant number of people. Then came the finding that many of those who do develop antibodies seem to lose them again after just a few months.

In short, though antibodies have proved invaluable for tracking the spread of the pandemic, they might not have the leading role in immunity that we once thought. If we are going to acquire long-term protection, it looks increasingly like it might have to come from somewhere else.  

But while the world has been preoccupied with antibodies, researchers have started to realize that there might be another form of immunity – one which, in some cases, has been lurking undetected in the body for years. An enigmatic type of white blood cell is gaining prominence. And though it hasn’t previously featured heavily in the public consciousness, it may well prove to be crucial in our fight against Covid-19. This could be the T cell’s big moment.

T cells are a kind of immune cell, whose main purpose is to identify and kill invading pathogens or infected cells. It does this using proteins on its surface, which can bind to proteins on the surface of these imposters. Each T cell is highly specific – there are trillions of possible versions of these surface proteins, which can each recognize a different target. Because T cells can hang around in the blood for years after an infection, they also contribute to the immune system’s “long-term memory” and allow it to mount a faster and more effective response when it’s exposed to an old foe.  

Several studies have shown that people infected with Covid-19 tend to have T cells that can target the virus, regardless of whether they have experienced symptoms. So far, so normal. But scientists have also recently discovered that some people can test negative for antibodies against Covid-19 and positive for T cells that can identify the virus. This has led to suspicions that some level of immunity against the disease might be twice as common as was previously thought.

Most bizarrely of all, when researchers tested blood samples taken years before the pandemic started, they found T cells which were specifically tailored to detect proteins on the surface of Covid-19. This suggests that some people already had a pre-existing degree of resistance against the virus before it ever infected a human. And it appears to be surprisingly prevalent: 40-60% of unexposed individuals had these cells.

It looks increasingly like T cells might be a secret source of immunity to Covid-19.

The central role of T cells could also help to explain some of the quirks that have so far eluded understanding – from the dramatic escalation in risk that people face from the virus as they get older, to the mysterious discovery that it can destroy the spleen.

Deciphering the importance of T cells isn’t just a matter of academic curiosity. If scientists know which aspects of the immune system are the most important, they can direct their efforts to make vaccines and treatments that work.

How immunity unfolds

During a normal immune response – to, let’s say, a flu virus – the first line of defense is the innate immune system, which involves white blood cells and chemical signals that raise the alarm. This initiates the production of antibodies, which kick in a few weeks later.

“And in parallel with that, starting out about four or five days after infection, you begin to see T cells getting activated, and indications they are specifically recognizing cells infected with the virus,” says Hayday. These unlucky cells are then dispatched quickly and brutally – either directly by the T cells themselves, or by other parts of the immune system they recruit to do the unpleasant task for them – before the virus has a chance to turn them into factories that churn out more copies of itself. 

“Looking at Covid-19 patients – but also I’m happy to say, looking at individuals who have been infected but did not need hospitalization – it’s absolutely clear that there are T cell responses,” says Hayday. “And almost certainly this is very good news for those who are interested in vaccines, because clearly we’re capable of making antibodies and making T cells that see the virus. That’s all good.”

In fact, one vaccine – developed by the University of Oxford – has already been shown to trigger the production of these cells, in addition to antibodies. It’s still too early to know how protective the response will be, but one member of the research group told BBC News that the results were “extremely promising”. 

There is a catch, however. In many patients who are hospitalized with more serious Covid-19, the T cell response hasn’t quite gone to plan.   

“Vast numbers of T cells are being affected,” says Hayday. “And what is happening to them is a bit like a wedding party or a stag night gone wrong – I mean massive amounts of activity and proliferation, but the cells are also just disappearing from the blood.”

One theory is that these T cells are just being redirected to where they’re needed most, such as the lungs. But his team suspects that a lot of them are dying instead.

Autopsies of Covid-19 patients are beginning to reveal what we call necrosis, which is a sort of rotting,” he says. This is particularly evident in the areas of the spleen and lymph glands where T cells normally live.

Disconcertingly, spleen necrosis is a hallmark of T cell disease, in which the immune cells themselves are attacked. “If you look in post-mortems of Aids patients, you see these same problems,” says Hayday. “But HIV is a virus that directly infects T cells, it knocks on the door and it gets in.” In contrast, there is currently no evidence that the Covid-19 virus is able to do this.

“There are potentially many explanations for this, but to my knowledge, nobody has one yet,” says Hayday. “We have no idea what is happening. There’s every evidence that the T cells can protect you, probably for many years. But when people get ill, the rug seems to be being pulled from under them in their attempts to set up that protective defense mechanism.”

Hayday points to an experiment conducted in 2011, which involved exposing mice to a version of the virus that causes Sars. Previous research had shown that the virus – which is also a coronavirus and a close relative of Covid-19 – triggered the production of T cells, which were responsible for clearing the infection.

The follow-up study produced similar results, but the twist was that this time the mice were allowed to grow old. As they did so, their T cell responses became significantly weaker.
However, in the same experiment, the scientists also exposed mice to a flu virus. And in contrast to those infected with Covid-19, these mice managed to hold onto their T cells that acted against influenza well into their twilight years.

“It’s an attractive observation, in the sense that it could explain why older individuals are more susceptible to Covid-19,” says Hayday. “When you reach your 30s, you begin to really shrink your thymus [a gland located behind your sternum and between your lungs, which plays an important role in the development of immune cells] and your daily production of T cells is massively diminished.

What does this mean for long-term immunity?

“With the original Sars virus [which emerged in 2002], people went back to patients and definitely found evidence for T cells some years after they these individuals were infected,” says Hayday. “This is again consistent with the idea that these individuals carried protective T cells, long after they had recovered.

The fact that coronaviruses can lead to lasting T cells is what recently inspired scientists to check old blood samples taken from people between 2015 and 2018, to see if they would contain any that can recognize Covid-19. The fact that this was indeed the case has led to suggestions that their immune systems learnt to recognize it after being encountering cold viruses with the similar surface proteins in the past.   

This raises the tantalizing possibility that the reason some people experience more severe infections is that they haven’t got these hoards of T cells which can already recognize the virus. “I think it’s fair to say that the jury is still out,” says Hayday.

Unfortunately, no one has ever verified if people make T cells against any of the coronaviruses that give rise to the common cold. “To get funding to study this would have required a pretty Herculean effort,” says Hayday. Research into the common cold fell out of fashion in the 1980s, after the field stagnated and scientists began to move to other projects, such as studying HIV. Making progress since then has proved tricky, because the illness can be caused by any one of hundreds of viral strains – and many of them have the ability to evolve rapidly.   

Will this lead to a vaccine?

If old exposures to cold viruses really are leading to milder cases of Covid-19, however, this bodes well for the development of a vaccine – since it’s proof that lingering T cells can provide significant protection, even years after they were made.

But even if this isn’t what’s happening, the involvement of T cells could still be beneficial – and the more we understand what’s going on, the better.

Hayday explains that the way vaccines are designed generally depends on the kind of immune response scientists are hoping to elicit. Some might trigger the production of antibodies – free-floating proteins which can bind to invading pathogens, and either neutralize them or tag them for another part of the immune system to deal with. Others might aim to get T cells involved, or perhaps provoke a response from other parts of the immune system.

“There really is an enormous spectrum of vaccine design,” says Hayday. He’s particularly encouraged by the fact that the virus is evidently highly visible to the immune system, even in those who are severely affected. “So if we can stop whatever it’s doing to the T cells of the patients we've had the privilege to work with, then we will be a lot further along in controlling the disease.”

It seems likely that we are going to be hearing a lot more about T cells in the future.

from another source:

~ Previous infections with common cold viruses can train the immune system to recognize SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, according to a new study.

The study, published Aug. 4 in the journal Science, found that immune cells known as T cells that recognize common cold coronaviruses also recognize specific sites on SARS-CoV-2 — including parts of the infamous "spike" protein it uses to bind to and invade human cells.

This existing immune system "memory" may explain why some people have milder COVID-19 infections compared with others; however, the authors stress that this hypothesis is "highly speculative" and requires more research to confirm. That's because it's unknown exactly how big a role T cells play in fighting COVID-19 — T cells are just one part of a complex menagerie of molecules and cells that makes up our immune system. ~

Human T cell, electron microscope micrograph 

ending on beauty:

Fig tree, how long now have I found meaning
in the way you almost forget to bloom
and drive without drama your pure mystery
into the young determined fruit.
Like a fountain’s channel your curving branches
fire the sap downward and up again; look, it springs
straight from sleep into its sweetest achievement —
like the god entering a swan . . .

~ Rilke, the Sixth Duino Elegy

Leonardo, Sketches of Leda