Saturday, July 25, 2020


Sidon, Lebanon, dates back to 4000 BC

“Why write about this old stuff?”
Not for this she gave me life.
Not for this she sent me
to the country of the future.

“Hitler is dead,” she says.
She remembers that night —
The chill, uncertain May
has just begun. She’s not in

ruined Warsaw, but in her leafy
home town, sleeping,
when church bells wake her up,
ringing loud and wild.

Lights go on in the windows,
people rush into streets,
women in coats over nightgowns
moon-shadowed, glancing,

whispering. Someone shouts:
“Hey, these are wedding
bells!” A few men run
back in to listen to the radio —

the Red Army entered
Hitler’s bunker, found
two bodies partly burned:
Hitler and Eva Braun.

The bells sway the stunned air.
Neighbors and strangers
embrace, kiss on both cheeks,
laugh and weep. Hitler is

dead, is dead, is dead,
the bells ring all over town,
and the difficult future begins —
wedding bells in the dark.

~ Oriana


the ruins of Warsaw, 1945


~ Sometimes “this great stage of fools” upon which we are born has an audience. “The gods look down,” says Coriolanus as his mother kneels to him (inverting the orthodoxy whereby children would kneel nightly to their parents and ask for blessing), “and this unnatural scene / They laugh at.” These gods are plural because this is a play set in the polytheistic world of antiquity, but Shakespeare lived in a society where everybody, with a few wildcard exceptions such as the alleged atheist Christopher Marlowe, believed that the world was looked down upon by a singular God—albeit with aspects of three-in-one and one-in-three. In some of the civically performed Biblical plays of the 15th- and early 16th-centuries, the actor representing God would physically look down upon the “human” players.

But in 1559, Queen Elizabeth published a proclamation forbidding the theatrical treatment of “matters of religion.” In 1569, the Corpus Christi plays were suppressed in York; the Coventry cycle was performed for the last time in 1579. The Elizabethan theater has many vestigial traces of this religious tradition, most famously Hamlet complaining about players who out-Herod Herod, but Shakespeare never overtly dramatized Biblical matter. There were strict laws proscribing stage blasphemy. Marlowe’s fate hung over the stage-play world like an admonitory shadow. And the relationship between the church and the theater became increasingly strained as “Puritan” polemicists voiced their disapproval of players, especially when adult male actors started kissing boys dressed as girls.

In 1550, Parliament passed an Act “for the abolishing and putting away of divers books and images.” Extreme Protestantism, taking the Biblical Second Commandment literally, regarded all graven images—which is to say inventions of the human imagination—as idolatrous because they encouraged worship of the image of God as opposed to his ineffable Reality. When the Protestant revolution reached Stratford-upon-Avon, the treasurer of the town council, John Shakespeare, paid for workmen to whitewash over the image of the Last Judgment in the Guild Chapel across the road from the well-appointed house that his son William would purchase many years later.

Henry Wallis: The Room in Which Shakespeare Was Born, 1853

A poet and dramatist whose business was the making of images, in words and in stage pictures, would hardly have shared the Puritan relish for this kind of iconoclasm. Killjoy Malvolio in Twelfth Night is specifically defined as a Puritan, while hypocritical Angelo in Measure for Measure is said to be “precise”—a “precisian” was another term for a Puritan. The humiliation of both characters derives from the way in which their stand against sexual desire collapses under the force of sexual desire. One thing we can say for sure about Shakespeare’s beliefs is that he was not a Puritan. His works may indeed be read as defenses of the imagination and of the theater against the strictures of Puritanism.

A tradition going back to the late 17th century affirms that he died a closet Papist. Yet despite three centuries of investigation and argument, there is no firm evidence, either internal to his plays or external in the biographical record, to confirm his recusancy or indeed that of his immediate family. Perhaps he was a “Church-Papist,” conforming outwardly but maintaining the old faith in his heart. Or he may have been an orthodox Anglican. It seems that his denominational allegiance could have been anything—other than “hot Protestant.” 

A play such as King John has at various times been used to “prove” that Shakespeare was a Papist and that he was an anti-Papist. One suspects that throughout his career he had a vestigial love for the more theatrical aspects of the old faith—dressing up, ceremony, ritual. That was above all because of their theatricality, their appeal to the imagination—aspects of the old faith despised by Puritans.

We are unlikely ever to resolve the debate about Shakespeare’s religious allegiance, or indeed the implicit religious attitudes within his plays. But there is no doubting his dependence on the pagan gods as an imaginative resource. The interest in resurrection and redemption that marks his last plays does not feel specifically Roman Catholic, or even specifically Christian: in Pericles, Thaisa expresses her gratitude for returning from the dead by becoming a priestess in the temple of Diana, while in The Winter’s Tale, Hermione is reawakened under the aegis of Apollo’s oracle and the influence of Ovid’s Pygmalion through the agency of what Leontes calls Paulina’s “magic,” something that was regarded as the antithesis of “lawful” Christian faith.

Shakespeare’s late plays, traditionally seen as his most spiritual works, take us to a number of temples, all of them ancient and pagan rather than Christian and modern: first those of Diana in Pericles and (by report) Apollo in The Winter’s Tale, then a trinity of shrines—to Venus, Mars, and Diana—in the final act of his final play, The Two Noble Kinsmen. Add in the theophany of Jupiter in Cymbeline and the impersonation of Juno, Ceres, and Iris in The Tempest, and it becomes undeniable that Shakespeare’s way of dramatizing divinity was more profoundly shaped by the humanist inheritance from ancient Rome than the modern contentions between Rome and Geneva.

Again, when it came to certain matters of ethical debate, the Shakespearean way of thinking was more akin to pagan reflection than Christian doctrine. The gravediggers in Hamlet, discussing the burial of Ophelia, remind us that suicide is a sin so mortal that Christian burial is not allowed. Hamlet himself knows this. The first thing he tells the audience once he is alone is that he wants his own life to end, in defiance of God’s will: “O, that . . . the Everlasting had not fixed / His canon gainst self-slaughter.”

But where canon law was unequivocal about suicide, Hamlet regards it as a question without a clear ethical answer: “To be or not to be” is indeed the question. To debate the case for and the case against self-slaughter places Hamlet in a long tradition of Greek and Roman thinkers going back to Plato’s dialogues on the last days of Socrates, the most famous suicide in history.

Furthermore, one of the principal ways in which such thinkers pursued the debate was by means of virtuous examples. The two most famous of these were Lucretia, who committed suicide after being raped, and Cato, who did so (in a botched and messy way) after losing the fight against Julius Caesar—he preferred to die than to live under a dictatorship. 

Shakespeare knew these cases well: he wrote an entire poem about The Rape of Lucrece, and he made a point of remembering Cato by introducing his son as a minor character in Julius Caesar, defining himself as an enemy of tyranny in the spirit of his father.

Brutus, whose wife, Portia, was Cato’s daughter, expresses doubt about the compatibility of Cato’s Stoic code with the act of self-slaughter, but he kills himself all the same—as did Seneca, the exemplar of Roman Stoicism. Most Stoics, notably Seneca, argued that suicide was an honorable way out when circumstances became such that the integrity of the self could no longer be sustained. Given the noble examples of Lucretia and Cato, not to mention the number of honorable characters who commit suicide in Shakespeare’s plays (one immediately thinks of Juliet, Enobarbus, Charmian, and the expressed intention of Kent in King Lear), it is clear that Shakespeare thought of the question of self-slaughter as an open, not a closed case. Canon law was firmly “fixed,” whereas Shakespeare’s imagination was always fluid. ~

Ophelia by John Everett Millais


~ No leader of the revolutionary generation now engenders fiercer controversy and more polarized reactions. We seem conscripted to choose between seeing Jefferson as a hero or villain, with little room for the intervening ambiguity and complexity of humanity. That polarization pulls us from trying to understand how and why he became, other than George Washington, the most powerful and influential American of his time. Understanding differs from condoning or condemning.

Contradiction lay at the heart of the democracy that he helped create, one based on the consent of citizens. In his lifetime, Virginia’s citizens were white men, and many of them legally owned people of color. Committed to serving the will of citizens, Jefferson defended their (and his) right to practice slavery even while he criticized the system in principle.

Jefferson knew that slavery debased masters as it exploited enslaved people. He feared that masters became brutal and passionate. In his famous book Notes on the State of Virginia, Jefferson wrote, “The parent storms, the child looks on, catches the lineaments of wrath, puts on the same airs in the circle of smaller slaves, gives a loose to his worst of passions, and thus nursed, educated, and daily exercised in tyranny, cannot but be stamped by it with odious peculiarities.” He later described his countrymen as “zealous for their own liberties, but trampling on those of others.” Recalling the revolution against British rule, he marveled that a Virginian could “inflict on his fellow men a bondage, one hour of which is fraught with more misery than ages of that which he rose in rebellion to oppose.”

Jefferson worried that enslaved people would revolt and destroy Virginia. On some night, a simmering plot might suddenly erupt into bloody retribution. Jefferson expected that God would help rebels crush their oppressors. “Indeed, I tremble for my country when I reflect that God is just: that his justice cannot sleep forever. … The Almighty has no attribute which can take side with us in such a contest.” To avert destruction, Virginia’s masters needed to free themselves from slavery.

Jefferson regarded emancipation as necessary but insufficient to liberate whites from danger. Despite declaring all men created equal, in Notes on the State of Virginia, he notoriously described black people as “inferior to the whites in the endowments both of body and mind.” Forsaking his usual optimism about human progress, Jefferson denied that people of different races could learn to live together as equals. He insisted that emancipated slaves would seek revenge, producing bloody “convulsions,” culminating “in the extermination of the one or the other race.” He likened slavery to possessing a dangerous beast: “We have the wolf by the ear and we can neither hold him, nor safely let him go.”

In 1779, Jefferson drafted a plan to emancipate Virginia’s slaves gradually, over the course of two generations, but he also proposed deporting them all to a distant colony in Africa or the West Indies. This colonization scheme was prohibitively expensive and economically ruinous for white Virginians, who relied on coerced labor and balked at paying higher taxes. 

The state lacked the means to finance and manage the overseas colonization of thousands of people. If adopted, Jefferson’s scheme would have annually cost Virginia at least five times its revenue, and a fivefold increase in taxation was unthinkable. After sounding out leading legislators, and finding them horrified, Jefferson withheld his emancipation plan, which survived in the pages of Notes on the State of Virginia. Throughout his long public career, Jefferson had a powerful aversion to public controversy and political defeat, which inhibited his championing any unpopular cause. Jefferson concluded that if African Americans could not be deported, they had better remain slaves.

His self-interest also led him to cling to slavery. Jefferson relied on the labor of more than 150 enslaved people to sustain his genteel standard of living and permit him the luxury of political leadership. He also wanted to provide generous inheritances to two daughters and a dozen grandchildren (in his legitimate, white line). His dependence on enslaved labor intensified as his debts mounted and his family grew.

Thomas Jefferson's official portrait as the third president of the United States (detail)

Jefferson kept an enslaved mistress, Sally Hemings, who bore him six children [four of whom survived to adulthood]. His friend John Hartwell Cocke reported that Virginia’s mixed-race people “would be found by hundreds. Nor is it to be wondered at, when Mr. Jefferson’s notorious example is considered.”

After Jefferson’s wife died in 1782, he never remarried, keeping a vow made to her to protect the inheritance of their white daughters from a stepmother and additional white children. Instead, Jefferson relied on an enslaved woman and denied legal responsibility for her children. As the daughter of an enslaved woman and Jefferson’s father-in-law, Hemings was the half-sister of Jefferson’s late and beloved wife.

Although opposed to national interference in Southern slavery, Jefferson hoped that Virginia’s state government would revive his emancipation and colonization plan. He believed that passing time favored abolition as young liberals grew up to replace old conservatives among Virginia’s leaders. Black freedom would only come, he argued, “by diffusing light and liberality among their oppressors.” During the 1780s, Jefferson meant to work down from the top of society, beginning with young men attending the state’s leading college, William and Mary. He explained, “It is to them I look, to the rising generation, and not to the one now in power for these great reformations.” By treating the ruling generation as hopeless, Jefferson exempted himself from acting against slavery, save for encouraging younger men to do so.

To promote antislavery sentiment at William and Mary, in 1787 Jefferson donated 37 copies of his Notes on the State of Virginia to two key friends on the faculty who held antislavery views. Georg Wythe served as the professor of law and James Madison (a cousin of the more famous James Madison) was the college president. Jefferson asked them to provide copies to the most promising and idealistic students, who included Edward Coles, a young man from Jefferson’s home county, Albemarle.

Coles believed in the inspiring words of Jefferson’s Declaration of Independence. After hearing Madison lecture on the universal rights of man, Coles asked, “If this be true, how can you hold a slave? How can man be made the property of man?” In an embarrassed reply, Madison admitted that slavery “could not be justified on principle, & could only be tolerated in our Country” by “the difficulty of getting rid of it.” Not satisfied, Coles responded that “we could get rid of them with much less difficulty than we did the King of our forefathers,” and if Madison “could not reconcile Slavery with his principles, … he ought not to hold Slaves.” Coles concluded, “I could not consent to hold as property what I had no right to.”

His father’s will put Coles’ conscience to the test, for he inherited a farm and twenty slaves. His siblings pressured Coles to abandon his vow to emancipate. They worried that freeing some family slaves would lead the rest to resent and resist their lot. The siblings also cited a new state law requiring freed slaves to leave the state within the year. While falling quiet about his plans, Coles investigated land in Illinois, a free territory, as a haven to relocate freed slaves. He knew that he would have to leave behind “all my relations and friends.”
Before leaving, Coles made one last effort to persuade Jefferson to lead a public crusade against slavery. Writing to his hero in July 1814, Coles urged him to act consistently with “the principles you have professed and practiced through a long and useful life … in establishing on the broadest basis the rights of man.”

In a tortured reply written in August 1814, Jefferson regretted that Virginians had failed to free the enslaved. “The love of justice & the love of country plead equally the cause of these people, and it is a mortal reproach to us that they should have pleaded it so long in vain, and should have produced not a single effort, nay I fear not much serious willingness to relieve them & ourselves from our present condition of moral and political reprobation.” He declared that Coles offered a “solitary but welcome voice.”

Rather than rally to that voice, however, Jefferson claimed that he had grown too old to influence anyone. “This enterprise is for the young; for those who can follow it up, and bear it through to its consummation. It shall have all my prayers, and these are the only weapons of an old man.” Yet, Jefferson was still young enough to push for creating a new university for Virginia. He was capable of far more than prayer to promote the priority of his last years.

Jefferson urged Coles to remain in Virginia as a paternalistic master. Coles had a duty, Jefferson argued, to cling to his slaves and “your country,” meaning Virginia. Then he could “come forward in the public councils,” to “insinuate & inculcate” emancipation “softly but steadily, thro’ the medium of writing & conversation, associate others in your labours, and when the phalanx is formed, bring on press the proposition perseveringly until its accomplishment.”

In sum, he wanted Coles to adopt Jefferson’s ameliorating mastery and cautious politics, waiting on an uncertain future to act more decisively.

Discouraged by Jefferson’s response, Coles considered emancipation a lost cause in Virginia. In 1819, he moved to Illinois with his slaves, whom he freed and granted 160 acres to each family. Elected governor of the new state, he helped defeat an effort to legalize slavery in Illinois.

Coles’ victory ensured that, during the 1860s, Illinois would rally to the cause of Union and antislavery in the Civil War that violently destroyed slavery in Virginia. That result would have pained Jefferson, had he lived to see it, for he wanted Virginians to abolish slavery voluntarily, peacefully and on their own timetable. And he also urged them to whiten Virginia by shipping away all former slaves.

Most modern readers identify with Coles rather than Jefferson. We like to think that we, too, would put moral consistency ahead of caution and self-interest. It is fair to wish that Jefferson had done far more, openly and consistently, to speak, write and act against a system whose evils he knew. There was no one more influential to lead an antislavery crusade. But he felt inhibited by his own interests, those of his heirs, and especially by the will of Virginia’s white, male citizens.

We also should recall the rarity of Coles’ sacrifice in favor of principle. How many people like him do we have today? We sustain our own racial, political and environmental woes that collectively threaten the existence of future generations. If we simply condemn Jefferson, we feel virtuous and on the right side of history. But that is too easy on us, for it does too little to advance justice in our time.

The University of Virginia is celebrating its bicentennial. Such celebration tends to cast Jefferson as a noble founder and to seek a direct line from his precepts to the best qualities of the University today. But a historian wants to understand the very different context of 200 years ago, when Virginians created a university to defend a way of life that included slavery. 

Many twists and turns separate Jefferson’s University from today’s version, which has become far larger, more complex and cosmopolitan. During the past 60 years, the University made new commitments to diversity and equal opportunity, including the long overdue admission of women and African Americans. There is more to celebrate in what the University has become than in how it began. But this university and the United States do benefit from cherished parts of Jefferson’s legacy, including the pursuit of democracy, a devotion to rational inquiry and a determination to pursue truth wherever it leads. If that pursuit leads us to conclude that he fell short, the burden falls on us to do better. ~

The Jefferson Memorial in springtime

from Wiki:

~ In his writings on American grievances justifying the Revolution, he attacked the British for sponsoring human trafficking to the colonies. In 1778, with Jefferson's leadership, slave importation was banned in Virginia, one of the first jurisdictions worldwide to do so. Jefferson was a lifelong advocate of ending the trade and as president led the effort to criminalize the international slave trade that passed Congress and he signed in 1807, shortly before Britain passed a similar law. 

In 1779, as a practical solution to end the legal enslavement of humans, Jefferson supported gradual emancipation, training, and colonization of African-American slaves rather than unconditional manumission, believing that releasing unprepared people with no place to go and no means to support themselves would only bring them misfortune. In 1784, Jefferson proposed federal legislation banning slavery in the New Territories of the North and South after 1800, which failed to pass Congress by one vote. 

In his Notes on the State of Virginia, published in 1785, Jefferson expressed the beliefs that slavery corrupted both masters and slaves alike, supported colonization of freed slaves, promoted the idea that African-Americans were inferior in intelligence, and that emancipating large numbers of slaves made slave uprisings more likely. 

In 1794 and 1796, Jefferson manumitted by deed two males he had kept as slaves; they had been trained and were qualified to hold employment. 

Most historians believe that after the death of his wife Martha, Jefferson had a long-term relationship with her half-sister, Sally Hemings, a slave at Monticello. Jefferson allowed two of Sally Hemings's surviving four children to "escape"; the other two he freed through his will after his death. The children were the only family to gain freedom from Monticello. 

In 1824, Jefferson proposed a national plan to end slavery by the federal government purchasing African-American slave children for $12.50, raising and training them in occupations of freemen, and sending them to the country of Santo Domingo. In his will, Jefferson freed three older men who had been forced to work for him for decades. In 1827, the remaining 130 people who had been kept as slaves at Monticello were sold to pay the debts of Jefferson's estate. ~

So, “it’s complicated.” I don’t doubt that Jefferson regarded slavery as abhorrent, and he did indeed promote the ban on slave importation; at the same time, he didn’t act with the integrity shown by Edward Coles. The argument that Jefferson was heavily in debt and his slaves were part of the collateral strikes the modern person as morally inadmissible.

Jefferson was a public opponent of slavery, calling it a “moral depravity.” He advocated plans for gradual elimination of slavery. He even foresaw that the continuation of slavery could lead to a civil war.

Alas, at the same time . . .  His contradictions stare us in the face, and they are definitely a blemish on his character. We have to live with that, just as we live with all the contradictions between theory and practice, whether in America's history or in any other realm.

At the same time, I think we should finally give more recognition to Edward Coles, who refused to be a hypocrite and acted on his principles.  
Edward Coles as governor of Illinois


This week's blog deals with many things that are complicated, and can't  be decided with any simple judgements. As in the discussion of Shakespeare and religion, the division is between the narrow rigidity of the iconoclastic Puritans...delightfully sometimes called "precisionists," and the kind of open humanistic thinking that enlarges and invites considerations and possibilities beyond the narrow proscriptions of any dogma or catechism.

It seems far less important to determine his exact religious affiliation than to recognize his focus on the essential dynamics of humanity, on a humanistic ethic recalling the early pagan philosophers of Greece and Rome, not a "canon" of stark sins and prohibitions. Of course, Shakespeare 's  life work was the theater, drama, entertainment and all its attendant pleasures. The black and white world of the Puritans would be anathema to all these intricate, dynamic explorations, which are more interested in discovery than indoctrination of any sort...religious, political, philosophical or ethical. His work was a stage for wonder, magic, and as the article states, the "flow of imagination."

The same issues arise in considering Jefferson. There is always that urge to categorize and judge…was this man good or bad, a man of honor and principle or a pragmatist interested only in his own welfare, a defender of equality or a perpetrator of slavery. As you say, as we must see that it's complicated. Perhaps as most men are, he and his acts are a mixed bag. He condemns slavery, yet has racist ideas about the enslaved, doesn't  see any way to move away from it without getting rid of all the slaves, which is economically impossible, and feels tied to financial obligations to family that require him to persist as a slaveowner and assure his own and his family's financial security, assured only by continuing to be a slaveholder. It is hard not to find this damningly hypocritical — especially in terms of his actions in keeping a slave mistress and having children by her, and in light of his obvious and clearly expressed fear of the great rage and anger of the oppressed, that just might turn on the oppressors and destroy them entirely. A man who has such fears knows they are justified by the evil of what he wants to protect.

But again, a man is not so simply categorized. It's  complicated by the world he inhabited, its politics and philosophies, its finances and the system of obligations that man is living under. Freedom, maybe especially freedom of thought, can be a limited thing. Perhaps we can judge Jefferson as flawed by cowardice and self interest, the fear of radical change in a world he was pretty comfortable in, but there are few men who have the clear courage and determination of a man like Coles to seek and effect change in the very intimate details of their own lives,  make hard and frightening changes, face fierce or even merely scornful opposition. Coles became governor; some with his kind of activism fare far worse. Jefferson changed some minds and some laws, but took little risk. Hero or villain? I think it’s a false question, but also that the answer lies in what we value most from our own historical perspective — now, probably the practical and active heroism of Coles rather than Jefferson's much more clouded record.

And the complications continue in the discussion of Milton and Paradise Lost. Here the Puritan, beset by personal turmoil, physical losses, and a political world that moved against his own stance, produces something that is larger, more fluid than any of  those things, that transcends them in ways that remain exhilarating and transcendent centuries later. His Adam and Eve, God and Satan, are absolutely human, appealing and understandable in their humanity, and in their compelling engagement with the potential for freedom. In looking at these unconfined by state or church he did an amazing, actually revolutionary thing: created in his art new possibilities for much more than art. He said something new about who we are and not so much what we came from but what we might become.

Again, the complications of the man himself, his history, his world, and his actions, makes questions of good and bad, hero or villain, catechist or apostate, too partial and unsatisfactory, actually casting more shadow than light.


Yes, you are so right to dispute the “hero/villain” dichotomy. It’s all much more complicated than that — we are looking at human beings, imperfect, flawed — that’s just the nature of things. Nobody wants to have lunch with a Puritan. And Jefferson's legacy is simply too enormous to be canceled even by his undeniable hypocrisy on the matter of slavery.


~ Phoenix’s fight against heat is a war with many fronts, said David Hondula, a sustainability scientist at Arizona State University and a leading researcher studying the intersection of heat and health.

One is high up in the atmosphere, where accumulating greenhouse gases from human activities are causing global average temperatures to steadily rise. The average annual temperature in Maricopa County is 3.4 degrees higher than it was in 1895, according to a Washington Post analysis of records going back more than 100 years. That translates into summers that are hotter, longer and drier.

Drastically reducing heat-trapping emissions on a planet-wide scale is essential to averting catastrophic heat waves and other dangers from global warming, scientists say.

But there are also changes that can be made much closer to home, Hondula said. Phoenix’s rapid development in recent decades has made it a victim of what researchers call the “heat island effect.” All the trademarks of the urban environment — towering glass buildings, bustling industry, vast expanses of concrete and asphalt — absorb and amplify the heat of the sun.

“We talk about climate … as something mysterious and ambiguous that comes from the sky. But it is also something we are driving with the way we are paving our streets,” Hondula said. “Urbanization is a critical part of the story.”

Natural environments, he explained, are incredibly effective at getting rid of heat. That’s because of the way trees and other vegetation release water into the surrounding air, a process called evapotranspiration. Turning water from a liquid to a gas uses heat energy, and it can result in air temperatures in a healthy tree grove being 10 degrees lower than in open terrain. Even scrubby desert plants are capable of cooling their environments, especially at night.

In paving over the desert, Phoenix’s developers not only lost this cooling capacity but they made the problem worse. Tall buildings create canyons in which heat gets trapped close to the ground. Hard surfaces like pavement absorb and hold on to heat even after the sun goes down, causing daytime high temperatures to linger into the night. Human activities, like driving cars or running factories, also produce “waste heat” that compounds the problem.
In Edison-Eastlake, where Ortiz lives, the summertime average temperature is 105 degrees. Most residents are people of color, a legacy of discriminatory housing practices known as redlining. And the majority of people live in public housing built more than 50 years ago — concrete structures that trap heat, which can overwhelm aging air-conditioning systems.

At night, it’s as much as 10 degrees hotter in Edison-Eastlake than in wealthier communities. Just over 5 percent of the neighborhood has trees, making it one of the most barren and sunbaked communities in Maricopa County.

The consequences for residents can be dire. The heat mortality rate in Edison-Eastlake is 20 times the county average.

And the threats aren’t just physical. Research shows that extreme heat can create stress and exacerbate mental illness. One California study found that for every 10 degree Fahrenheit increase in mean temperature, residents’ risk of being admitted to the emergency room for self harm or suicide increased nearly 6 percent.

In 2019, residents of each neighborhood developed a 20-page “heat action plan” for their community. Edison-Eastlake’s plan calls for repaving the sidewalks with materials that stay cool by reflecting the sun, installing shade structures at bus stops and creating tree-covered “talking spaces” in a planned park.

Research shows that social isolation is a strong risk factor for heat illness. During a 2003 heat wave in France that killed 15,000 people, those who had no social activities — choir practice with church groups, lunch with friends — were six times as likely to die.

That value of community is enshrined in the neighborhood’s heat action plan, which recommends that the city develop a first-aid program that would certify residents as “qualified heat responders" so they can help their neighbors in need.

If Phoenix’s present is already scorching, just imagine what the future will bring.

By 2050, climate change will make the city’s summers look more like those in Baghdad
, according to a study published last year in the journal PLOS One. The city is projected to experience more than two dozen additional “dangerous” days when the heat index is above 105 degrees (these conditions are already felt for about four months of the year). Heat waves will lengthen, and summertime droughts will become far more severe.

Many of the city’s essential systems share vulnerabilities. Power plants depend on water for their cooling towers; during heat waves, the water can get too hot, disrupting power generation. Severe droughts make the city susceptible to wildfires, which might ignite power lines and cut off electricity. Power outages will shut off gas pumps and make streetlights go dark — a major problem for a car-centric city.

But the problem is hardly unique to Arizona. The same study that predicted that Phoenix in 2050 will feel like Baghdad found that Boston’s climate will come to resemble that of Atlanta’s and Seattle will be like Rome. Cities that have rarely experienced extreme heat will suddenly be slammed. Infrastructure built for cooler times will falter in such searing conditions.

Governments can try to counter rising temperatures by making systems stronger, “but the thresholds will keep being passed,” Clark said. “The more realistic way to think about it is to create systems that are safe to fail.”

This kind of thinking has spurred many of Phoenix’s “heat ready” initiatives in recent years. A growing fraction of the city’s power comes from solar, which does not depend on water in the way that coal-fired or nuclear power plants do. The local electric utilities are looking to install “microgrids” around the city that could supply power to essential services in case of a major outage.

To ward off shortages, the city recycles all wastewater, and developers in Arizona must guarantee a 100-year water supply for any planned community. Phoenix’s emergency-operations plan includes a 13-page supplement dedicated to heat.

The city spends more than $5 million on tree planting and maintenance, and chief sustainability officer Mark Hartman aspires to extend the city’s tree canopy to as much as a quarter of its area — the county average is 8.8 percent. In the meantime, he is working to develop a network of “cool corridors,” so that no resident is more than a five-minute walk from water and shade. And a multimillion-dollar “cool pavement” pilot program will coat some 36 miles of streets with materials that reflect, rather than absorb, heat.

Even in the midst of the pandemic, change can still happen — a few trees at a time. ~



~ Roman amphitheaters are among the most ancient human constructions on Earth. These structures are remarkably well preserved in various places across the ancient Roman empire.

That’s especially remarkable because much of this territory is seismically active: it sits on the tectonic boundary between the Eurasian and African plates and has experienced numerous earthquakes that have destroyed other types of buildings. So just how these amphitheaters have survived for 2,000 years is something of a puzzle.

Today we get a potential answer thanks to the work of Stéphane Brûlé and colleagues at Aix-Marseille University in southern France. These guys have studied the way that certain structures buried in the ground, or sitting on top of it, can modify the way seismic waves travel through the Earth. In particular, they have studied “seismic invisibility cloaks” that can steer seismic waves around specific regions and thereby protect them.

Their conclusion is that Roman amphitheaters may act as seismic invisibility cloaks thanks to their shape. This, they say, is the reason for their remarkable longevity.

First some background. Physicists have long known that certain regular patterns of objects can interact with waves in a way that steers them and modifies their behavior. A curious feature of this phenomenon is that the objects themselves are much smaller than the waves themselves.  But the combined effect of many objects arranged in a regular pattern has an important influence on the waves.

Back in 2006, physicists used this idea to create a pattern of metal resonators that steer microwaves around a region of space. To an outside observer looking with microwave eyes, this region of space, and anything in it, disappears. In effect, the team had built the world’s first invisibility cloak.

Since then, researchers have built invisibility cloaks for a wide range of different waves in the electromagnetic spectrum and beyond. In 2012, they suggested that seismic invisibility cloaks could protect power stations and dams from earthquakes. Next, Brûlé and colleagues actually built and tested one.

Since then the researchers have continued their studies of seismic metamaterials, which they say can take several forms. The early experiments involved underground structures or voids. But more recent work suggests that surface features like trees and buildings can also  influence seismic waves.

One idea is that seismic waves cause a skyscraper to vibrate. But this vibration itself sends waves through the ground. So if the two sets of waves could be made to influence or even cancel each other, then the building would have an important mitigating influence on the waves. 

Brûlé and colleagues have even performed proof-of-principle measurements on the waves generated by a skyscraper as a result of seismic noise. The building in question is the LatinoAmericana Tower, a 282-meter skyscraper in Mexico City that has survived several major earthquakes since it was constructed in 1956. 

The researchers developed a computer model to study how skyscrapers arranged in a circle could act as an invisibility cloak that creates a safe zone at its center. “The buildings within the annulus of the cloak and outside the cloak would be badly affected by the seismic wave, but the region in the center (e.g. a park) would be a safe zone where people could gather and remain safe during an earthquake,” they say.

During the course of these studies, they noted a likeness between the circular patterns they generated and the design of ancient amphitheaters. “There are striking similarities between an invisibility cloak tested for various types of waves and sky views of antique Gallo-Roman theaters,” they say. “Perhaps this is the reason why some of these megastructures, as amphitheaters, have remained mostly intact through the centuries.”

That’s an interesting idea that could have important implications for the design of future buildings and the study of ancient ones.

The Colosseum, the largest amphitheater ever built


"....but the region in the center (e.g. a park) would be a safe zone where people could gather and remain safe during an earthquake,” they say."  The earthquake would be over before people could even get to the park.


a good point about trying to get to the park when an earthquake strikes. there are aftershocks, but again, no one knows when they’ll happen, and it’s safer to crawl under a thick table than try to get to a park.

“Do not fight against pain; 
do not fight against irritation or jealousy. 
Embrace them with great tenderness, 
as though you were embracing a little baby. 
Your anger is yourself, 
and you should not be violent toward it. 
The same thing goes for all your emotions.”~ Thich Nhat Hanh


I love the idea of embracing our pain "with great tenderness, 
as though you were embracing a little baby." That is of course an essential part of loving ourselves. 

~ “Imagine a group of tribes living within reach of one another. If all choose the way of peace, then all may live in peace. But what if all but one choose peace, and that one is ambitious for expansion and conquest? . . . Power can be stopped only by power, and if the threatening society has discovered ways to magnify its power through innovations in organization or technology (or whatever), the defensive society will have to transform itself into something more like its foe in order to resist the external force.

. . . Among all the cultural possibilities, only some will be viable. The selection for power can discard those who revere nature in favor of those willing and able to exploit it. The warlike may eliminate the pacifistic; the ambitious, the content. Civilized societies will displace the remaining primitives, modern industrial powers will sweep away archaic cultures. The iron makers will be favored over those with copper or no metallurgy at all, and the horsemen will have sway over the unmounted. Societies that are coherently organized and have strong leadership will make unviable others with more casual power structures and more local autonomy.” ~ from
THE PARABLE OF THE TRIBES by Andrew Bard Schmookler

Things looked so good when the Cold War ended. Then, alas, 9/11 . . .

In the West, child rearing has become a lot less harsh — I put a lot of hope in that. I think future foreign wars will be much more difficult for the US to justify. But the threat of terrorism continues to take its toll. Alas . . . Schmookler appears to be right: it takes only one violent “tribe” to subvert the desire for peace.

“I will make my arrows drunk with blood, while my sword devours flesh: the blood of the slain and the captives, the heads of the enemy leaders.” ~ Deuteronomy 32:45.

To be sure, the Koran contains the equivalent or worse. Nor are the Hindu scriptures pacifist. Seeing this in the most holy of books, and how god’s essential function was to smite the enemy, how is one not to see religion as causing more harm than good? 

But at the same time, various religions produced mystical sects as well. Mystics are interested in ecstatic experiences and peace that passeth understanding. Too bad that only a minority of people have been drawn to mystical practices. That would be one way to come closer to the dream of a world at peace.


“Death means you are in the third person.” ~ Michael Ondaatje, The English Patient



~ Most modern theories of human civilization are, fundamentally, about the need to deal with mortality. Stephen Greenblatt’s thrilling book, however, on the peregrinations of the story of Adam and Eve – the world’s most influential attempt to arrest the infinite regress of creation – shows just how central the question of human origins has been to pre-scientific conceptions of humanity.

This is not a comprehensive account of the reception of the biblical story: there is little on rabbinical Judaism, and next to nothing on Islam. Greenblatt is a specialist in the culture of early modern England, and it is westward from the deserts of Israel to Europe and ultimately the New World that the narrative weaves its path. The protagonists are the north African Christian bishop Augustine, who turned the story into one of sex and sin; the artist Albrecht Dürer, whose copperplate engraving and paintings on the topic revolutionized European art; John Milton, who transformed the entire biblical story of creation into an emotionally complex portrait of human values (emerging in part from his reflections on his tragic, inept and thoughtless treatment of his wife); Isaac La Peyrère, the French theologian whose thoughts on the indigenous inhabitants of the Americas led him to posit that humanity pre-existed Adam and Eve; the French Enlightenment philosopher Pierre Bayle, who could not accept the Genesis account as literally true; and Charles Darwin.

This is, then, a book about the historical shaping of the Christian west’s attitudes to human origins. It is also a parable for the modern Christian west, in an era when creationism is apparently on the rise. When Greenblatt refers in his title to the “fall” of Adam and Eve, he means not the fall from grace of the mythical characters but the rapid decline in authority of biblical explanations that took place from the 18th century onwards. Greenblatt leaves the reader in no doubt that science has won the intellectual debate. He is an Enlightenment realist: the steady accumulation of philological, anthropological, biological and geological knowledge has made the Genesis story no longer tenable, except as a story.

Augustine became history’s most passionate defender of the literal truth of the biblical account: he even suggested that Eve’s transgression consisted precisely in not taking God’s commands literally enough (so woe betide you if you follow suit!). But even he could not reconcile all of its oddities: “However much one tries, not every word can be taken literally, and Augustine could find no simple, reliable rule for the appropriate degree of literal-mindedness.” Was Adam actually made from mud? When we are told that God spoke to Adam, are we to imagine he used human language issuing from physical vocal cords? When the Bible says that eating the fruit meant the eyes of the two proto-humans were opened, are we to imagine that they had been sealed shut so far?

Greenblatt has many such stories of pious readers trying and failing to come to terms with the implications of a complete surrender to biblical authority. Perhaps the most entertaining is the case of the lay preacher and naturalist Philip Gosse, who (among other things) created the world’s first seawater aquarium. Like many others in Victorian Britain, Gosse had been disturbed by the findings of the geologist Charles Lyell, whose pioneering work in rock stratigraphy indicated that the world is many millions of years old. 

Gosse thus set about reconciling the evidence of the Bible with that of the physical world, and came up with an ingenious theory. The world, he argued, is indeed recent in origin; but it was created by God with a geological backstory in place. The argumentation for his theory was as masterfully inventive as it was absurdly contorted. Gosse invited his readers to consider the analogy of Adam himself: the Bible says he was created as a fully formed adult, of (Gosse speculated) some 25 to 30 years old. Like the Earth, Adam was created mature; and again like the Earth, he must have carried with him traces of an earlier youth, even if he never lived through that. Specifically, Gosse pointed to Adam’s navel – surely he must have had one, as a perfect specimen of humanity – as the trace of a birth that never took place. If Adam was created as an adult with a navel, why could not the Earth, by the same token, have been created along with complex layers of sedimentary rock, testimony to a past that never happened?

The success of the Adam and Eve story for so long, however, was down to more than daft, devotional reflections on belly buttons. It is first and foremost a story rich with resonant motifs: utopia, command and transgression, duty and autonomy, sex and sexual difference, paradise and exile. It is this narrative power that explains its enduring appeal as a prompt for literary, artistic and philosophical creativity. 

Greenblatt is clearly attracted to the bolder creative responses that challenge dominant ideologies. One memorable highlight – all the more memorable within a largely male-centered narrative – is the wonderfully named 17th-century Italian nun Arcangela Tarabotti, the author of an uncompromising anti-patriarchal tract Paternal Tyranny. According to Tarabotti, Eden was free from discrimination between the sexes, and indeed Eve was made of nobler substance than Adam’s clay; it is only the malicious defamation of Eve that has led to the subjugation of women. 

Another highlight is John Ball’s iconic slogan for the English peasants’ revolt (later taken up by the 17th-century Diggers): “When Adam delved and Eve span, who then was the gentleman?” For Ball, paradise was defined by the absence of class structure.
It is Milton who represents the pinnacle of this creativity: Milton the vain, pious, puritanical literary genius who, in Greenblatt’s phrase, made Adam and Eve “real”. As a youth, Milton had been afflicted by a bizarre loathing of sexuality, which he paraded vaingloriously before his peers. At one point, he described male ejaculation as “the quintessence of excrement”. 

His marriage was practically doomed from the start: not least because Mary Powell was a sophisticated, youthful urbanite from an Oxford family of royalists to whom Milton owed money, and so not the likeliest match for an austere parliamentarian. When the relationship broke down and Mary returned to her familial home, Milton responded with a tract proposing that divorce was morally justifiable. The scandalised ruckus that ensued drew a magnificent volley of insults from Milton’s pen, including “brain-worm’’, “cock-brained solicitor” and “presumptuous lozel”. But when the tide of the Civil War turned to the Cromwellians, Mary returned to John in apparent repentance. Milton, whose vision was beginning to fail him, found his heart molten: he took her back, and they had four children before her premature death in the aftermath of the final labor.

It was following this time of personal, financial and political trauma that Milton wrote Paradise Lost. The paradise that he envisioned was, Greenblatt argues, one of perfect human freedom from political and social constraints. It was the utopian model for an achievable state in which humans were free from tyrannies both literal (the king) and metaphorical (social convention). But that Edenic state was rapidly receding: not only was he now blind, but the Restoration of the monarchy was also accompanied by a predictably bloody series of recriminations against parliamentarians. Milton, however, was unbowed, and pressed ahead. At night, he claimed, he was visited by a mysterious figure he called Urania (after the Greek Muse of cosmology) who dictated lines of blank verse to him. In the morning he would dictate the lines. If the amanuensis was late, he would cry out: “I want to be milked!” 

His achievement, in Greenblatt’s view, was not to create an allegory of politics, or of his own chaotic love life, but to draw on those experiences and create a cosmic drama that was true to life. Each of his characters – Adam and Eve, but also God and Satan too – responds in a way that real human beings do. This “realization” of the biblical figures, Greenblatt argues, played a critical part in the desacralization of the myth, even in spite of Milton’s own theological commitments: “Adam and Eve had become so real in Milton’s imagination that they began to crack open the whole theological apparatus that brought them into being.”

The Rise and Fall of Adam and Eve is undoubtedly what scholars used to call a “whiggish” book: a study of western disenchantment, of intellectual progress, of the fading powers of the myths of a simpler age. But it is a more complex study than that. It is also an ode to human creativity and to the powerful grip of narrative. 

Greenblatt concludes his story with an account of his own visit to a chimpanzee project in Kibale, Uganda. Evolution is, of course, modern science’s answer to the question “where do we come from?” Evolution is a “myth”, not (assuredly) in the sense that it is untrue or irrational, but in the sense that it provokes the same awesome, vertiginous sense of peering into the deep well of time that Genesis once did. Whether the 21st century will find its Milton to express the power and reality of its new mythology remains to be seen.

The Garden of Eden with the Fall of Man (1615) by Jan Brueghel the Elder and Peter Paul Rubens.


~ Islam teaches that Adam and Eve disobeyed God, repented, asked for forgiveness and God forgave them. They had to suffer the consequences of their actions by living a mortal life on earth, but their relationship with God was never changed. God has always remained accessible. The concept of Original Sin is not part of Islamic doctrine. Muslims believe humans are born without sin and with a desire to please God. We have free will, which causes us to go astray at times, but God is always willing to forgive.

To me, the most important aspect of the Adam and Eve story is that it demonstrates God’s capacity for forgiveness. Aside from His forgiving nature, the Quran mentions 99 attributes of God which help to deepen my relationship with Him. Those attributes include: The most Merciful, the Most Kind, the Protecting Friend, the Equitable One, the Patient One, the Judge, the Just, and the One who loves to Forgive. 

Another aspect of God’s love is the Islamic concept that if we just turn toward God, He comes running toward us. He’s not only our judge, but our attorney, our character witness and our trusted friend; He’s cheering for us and wants us to succeed. ~


“To be hopeful in bad times 
is not just foolishly romantic. 
It's based on the fact that human history 
is a history not only of cruelty 
but also of compassion, sacrifice, 
courage, kindness.” ~ Howard Zinn



~ The first is an analysis of the link between strength, muscle mass, and mortality, from a team at Indiana University using data from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The design was pretty straightforward: They assessed 4,440 adults ages 50 or up who had their strength and muscle mass assessed between 1999 and 2002. The researchers checked back in 2011 to see who had died. 

For muscle mass, they used a DEXA scanner to determine that 23 percent of the subjects met one definition of “low muscle mass,” with total muscle in the arms and legs adding up to less than 43.5 pounds in men or 33 pounds in women. For strength, they used a device that measures maximum force of the knee extensors (the muscles that allow you to straighten your knee) and found that 19 percent of the subjects had low muscle strength. 

The results, published in Medicine and Science in Sports and Exercise, found that those with low muscle strength were more than twice as likely to have died during the follow-up period than those with normal muscle strength. In contrast, having low muscle mass didn’t seem to matter as much. 

Those with both conditions (low muscle mass and low muscle strength) were 2.66 times as likely to die during the study. Having low muscle mass but normal strength, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be such a bad thing.

The message here? Function matters more than what you look like. That doesn’t mean you can afford to let your muscle melt away as you age; having a good reserve of muscle mass may be important, for example, if you end up having to spend time in the hospital at some point. But it’s good news for those of us who struggle to put on muscle but persist in slogging through a reasonable number of pull-ups and other strength exercises.

The other study took aim at the perception that strength training is an afterthought in public health guidelines. Most of us remember that we’re supposed to get at least 150 minutes of moderate exercise or 75 minutes of vigorous exercise per week. Reams of data support the beneficial health effects of hitting this goal. 

But the guidelines also suggest doing “strength-promoting exercise” at least twice a week—a clause that’s often forgotten and the benefits of which are usually framed in terms of avoiding frailty and improving quality of life, rather than actually extending it. 

Researchers in Australia analyzed data from 80,000 adults in England and Scotland who completed surveys about their physical activity patterns starting in the 1990s. The headline result was that those who reported doing any strength training were 23 percent less likely to die during the study period and 31 percent less likely to die of cancer. Meeting the guidelines by strength training twice a week offered a little extra benefit. 

One interesting (and, for me, reassuring) detail: Strength training in a gym and doing bodyweight exercises seemed to confer roughly equivalent benefits. So you don’t necessarily need to heave around large quantities of iron. 

In this particular cohort, the benefits of meeting only the strength-training guidelines seemed to be roughly equivalent to meeting only the aerobic-training guidelines—at least in terms of overall mortality. However, strength training didn’t confer any protection against heart disease. 

There’s some evidence that strength training may reduce blood pressure but increase artery stiffness, effectively canceling out the heart benefits. This study can’t answer that question, but the findings do suggest that ditching aerobic exercise entirely may not be optimal. And indeed, the best outcomes of all—a 29 percent reduction in mortality risk during the study—accrued to those who met both the aerobic and strength-training guidelines. ~



~ Some Covid-19 patients are known to develop blood clotting issues, but the degree and the extent to which that occurs was described as "dramatic" by Rapkiewicz.

In the early stages of the pandemic, bedside clinicians noticed a lot of blood clotting "in lines and various large vessels," she said.

"What we saw at autopsy was sort of an extension of that," she said. "The clotting was not only in the large vessels but also in the smaller vessels.

"And this was dramatic, because though we might have expected it in the lungs, we found it in almost every organ that we looked at in our autopsy study
," she said. Rapkiewicz's study outlining her findings was published at the end of June in The Lancet journal EClinicalMedicine.

The autopsies also showed something unusual about megakaryocytes, or large bone marrow cells. They usually don't circulate outside the bones and lungs, Rapkiewicz said.

"We found them in the heart and the kidneys and the liver and other organs," she said. "Notably in the heart, megakaryocytes produce platelets that are intimately involved in blood clotting.”

Researchers hope to discover how these cells influence small vessel clotting in Covid-19, she said. ~


~ In April, blood clots emerged as one of the many mysterious symptoms attributed to Covid-19, a disease that had initially been thought to largely affect the lungs in the form of pneumonia. Quickly after came reports of young people dying due to coronavirus-related strokes. Next it was Covid toes — painful red or purple digits.

What do all of these symptoms have in common? An impairment in blood circulation. Add in the fact that 40% of deaths from Covid-19 are related to cardiovascular complications, and the disease starts to look like a vascular infection instead of a purely respiratory one.

Months into the pandemic, there is now a growing body of evidence to support the theory that the novel coronavirus can infect blood vessels, which could explain not only the high prevalence of blood clots, strokes, and heart attacks, but also provide an answer for the diverse set of head-to-toe symptoms that have emerged.

“All these Covid-associated complications were a mystery. We see blood clotting, we see kidney damage, we see inflammation of the heart, we see stroke, we see encephalitis [swelling of the brain],” says William Li, MD, president of the Angiogenesis Foundation. “A whole myriad of seemingly unconnected phenomena that you do not normally see with SARS or H1N1 or, frankly, most infectious diseases.”

“If you start to put all of the data together that’s emerging, it turns out that this virus is probably a vasculotropic virus, meaning that it affects the [blood vessels],” says Mandeep Mehra, MD, medical director of the Brigham and Women’s Hospital Heart and Vascular Center.

In a paper published in April in the scientific journal The Lancet, Mehra and a team of scientists discovered that the SARS-CoV-2 virus can infect the endothelial cells that line the inside of blood vessels. Endothelial cells protect the cardiovascular system, and they release proteins that influence everything from blood clotting to the immune response. In the paper, the scientists showed damage to endothelial cells in the lungs, heart, kidneys, liver, and intestines in people with Covid-19.

“The concept that’s emerging is that this is not a respiratory illness alone, this is a respiratory illness to start with, but it is actually a vascular illness that kills people through its involvement of the vasculature,” says Mehra.

SARS-CoV-2 is thought to enter the body through ACE2 receptors present on the surface of cells that line the respiratory tract in the nose and throat. Once in the lungs, the virus appears to move from the alveoli, the air sacs in the lung, into the blood vessels, which are also rich in ACE2 receptors.

[The virus] enters the lung, it destroys the lung tissue, and people start coughing. The destruction of the lung tissue breaks open some blood vessels,” Mehra explains. “Then it starts to infect endothelial cell after endothelial cell, creates a local immune response, and inflames the endothelium.”

A respiratory virus infecting blood vessel cells and circulating through the body is virtually unheard of. Influenza viruses like H1N1 are not known to do this, and the original SARS virus, a sister coronavirus to the current infection, did not spread past the lung. Other types of viruses, such as Ebola or Dengue, can damage endothelial cells, but they are very different from viruses that typically infect the lungs.

Benhur Lee, MD, a professor of microbiology at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, says the difference between SARS and SARS-CoV-2 likely stems from an extra protein each of the viruses requires to activate and spread.“In SARS1, the protein that’s required to cleave it is likely present only in the lung environment, so that’s where it can replicate. To my knowledge, it doesn’t really go systemic,” Lee says. “[SARS-CoV-2] is cleaved by a protein called furin, and that’s a big danger because furin is present in all our cells, it’s ubiquitous.”

Endothelial damage could explain the virus’ weird symptoms

An infection of the blood vessels would explain many of the weird tendencies of the novel coronavirus, like the high rates of blood clots. Endothelial cells help regulate clot formation by sending out proteins that turn the coagulation system on or off. The cells also help ensure that blood flows smoothly and doesn’t get caught on any rough edges on the blood vessel walls.

“The endothelial cell layer is in part responsible for [clot] regulation, it inhibits clot formation through a variety of ways,” says Sanjum Sethi, MD, MPH, an interventional cardiologist at Columbia University Irving Medical Center. “If that’s disrupted, you could see why that may potentially promote clot formation.”

Endothelial damage might account for the high rates of cardiovascular damage and seemingly spontaneous heart attacks in people with Covid-19, too. Damage to endothelial cells causes inflammation in the blood vessels, and that can cause any plaque that’s accumulated to rupture, causing a heart attack. This means anyone who has plaque in their blood vessels that might normally have remained stable or been controlled with medication is suddenly at a much higher risk for a heart attack.

“Inflammation and endothelial dysfunction promote plaque rupture,” Sethi says. “Endothelial dysfunction is linked towards worse heart outcomes, in particular myocardial infarction or heart attack.”

Blood vessel damage could also explain why people with pre-existing conditions like high blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes, and heart disease are at a higher risk for severe complications from a virus that’s supposed to just infect the lungs. All of those diseases cause endothelial cell dysfunction, and the additional damage and inflammation in the blood vessels caused by the infection could push them over the edge and cause serious problems.

The theory could even solve the mystery of why ventilation often isn’t enough to help many Covid-19 patients breathe better. Moving air into the lungs, which ventilators help with, is only one part of the equation. The exchange of oxygen and carbon dioxide in the blood is just as important to provide the rest of the body with oxygen, and that process relies on functioning blood vessels in the lungs.

“If you have blood clots within the blood vessels that are required for complete oxygen exchange, even if you’re moving air in and out of the airways, [if] the circulation is blocked, the full benefits of mechanical ventilatory support are somewhat thwarted,” says Li.

A new paper published last week in the New England Journal of Medicine, on which Li is a co-author, found widespread evidence of blood clots and infection in the endothelial cells in the lungs of people who died from Covid-19. This was in stark contrast to people who died from H1N1, who had nine times fewer blood clots in the lungs. Even the structure of the blood vessels was different in the Covid-19 lungs, with many more new branches that likely formed after the original blood vessels were damaged.

“We saw blood clots everywhere,” Li says. “We were observing virus particles filling up the endothelial cell like filling up a gumball machine. The endothelial cell swells and the cell membrane starts to break down, and now you have a layer of injured endothelium.”

Finally, infection of the blood vessels may be how the virus travels through the body and infects other organs — something that’s atypical of respiratory infections.

“Endothelial cells connect the entire circulation [system], 60,000 miles worth of blood vessels throughout our body,” says Li. “Is this one way that Covid-19 can impact the brain, the heart, the Covid toe? Does SARS-CoV-2 traffic itself through the endothelial cells or get into the bloodstream this way? We don’t know the answer to that.”

If Covid-19 is a vascular disease, the best antiviral therapy might not be antiviral therapy

An alternative theory is that the blood clotting and symptoms in other organs are caused by inflammation in the body due to an over-reactive immune response — the so-called cytokine storm. This inflammatory reaction can occur in other respiratory illnesses and severe cases of pneumonia, which is why the initial reports of blood clots, heart complications, and neurological symptoms didn’t sound the alarm bells. However, the magnitude of the problems seen with Covid-19 appear to go beyond the inflammation experienced in other respiratory infections.

“There is some increased propensity, we think, of clotting happening with these [other] viruses. I think inflammation in general promotes that,” Sethi says. “Is this over and above or unique for SARS-CoV-2, or is that just because [the infection] is just that much more severe? I think those are all really good questions that unfortunately we don’t have the answer to yet.”

Anecdotally, Sethi says the number of requests he received as the director of the pulmonary embolism response team, which deals with blood clots in the lungs, in April 2020 was two to three times the number in April 2019. The question he’s now trying to answer is whether that’s because there were simply more patients at the hospital during that month, the peak of the pandemic, or if Covid-19 patients really do have a higher risk for blood clots.

The good news is that if Covid-19 is a vascular disease, there are existing drugs that can help protect against endothelial cell damage. In another New England Journal of Medicine paper that looked at nearly 9,000 people with Covid-19, Mehra showed that the use of statins and ACE inhibitors were linked to higher rates of survival. Statins reduce the risk of heart attacks not only by lowering cholesterol or preventing plaque, they also stabilize existing plaque, meaning they’re less likely to rupture if someone is on the drugs.

“It turns out that both statins and ACE inhibitors are extremely protective on vascular dysfunction,” Mehra says. “Most of their benefit in the continuum of cardiovascular illness — be it high blood pressure, be it stroke, be it heart attack, be it arrhythmia, be it heart failure — in any situation the mechanism by which they protect the cardiovascular system starts with their ability to stabilize the endothelial cells.”

Mehra continues, “What we’re saying is that maybe the best antiviral therapy is not actually an antiviral therapy. The best therapy might actually be a drug that stabilizes the vascular endothelium. We’re building a drastically different concept.”

ending on beauty:

“Adios, she added in Spanish,

I have no house only a shadow. 

But whenever you are in a need of a shadow, 

my shadow is yours.”

~ Malcolm Lowry, Under the Volcano