Weekly round up: Wet worlds, dry world, life skills

Here’s some stories that intrigued us and might add to your reading, in between football matches of course.

Ten Best Places to look for life When we were young, the possibility of extra terrestrial life in the solar system was sneered at. Now opinion is swinging the other way. Astrobiologists with a strong interest in betting will love the odds on this survey by Neev V Patel of MIT technology Review, via Nature of course!

Finding life in the Solar System isn’t just about how likely life is to exist — it’s about how easy it would be to spot it. Space journalist Neel V. Patel offers his ranking of the 10 best places in our stellar neighbourhood to look for extraterrestrial life.Technology Review | 11 min read

The best places to find extraterrestrial life in our solar system, ranked | MIT Technology Review

When the rivers run dry Drought could be a really big consequence of runaway climate change. The problem will be mass migration from devastated lands. Here’s two stories from the Guardian, but most outlets are picking up on this one at last. Fiona Harvey looks at the global problem, and a leader is devoted to some brilliant reporting on how it’s playing out in the one region: The American Southwest.

‘The next pandemic’: drought is a hidden global crisis, UN says | Drought | The Guardian

The drought in US south-west is the worst in 1,200 years. It might be here to stay | Kim Heacox | The Guardian

Teaching Life Skills One of the things about having a garden is that it teaches you life skills. A day in the garden will require planning: What really needs doing and what can I better leave until next week? Organisation: where shall I put my tools so that I can find them? (the alternative is hours looking for a hoe) That things sometimes go wrong Yes, I took down that oak tree well, but what cruel fate made it crash through the greenhouse? And how do I explain that to my wife? We think teaching practical skills to children at an early age will equip them to become better laboratory workers and managers later. Teachers, we offer you some ideas from Thought.co website, just as a starting point

Ideas for Teaching Life Skills in School (thoughtco.com)

That’s it for the week. We’re off to enjoy the one on outer space, before the next bout of the Euros kicks in. Enjoy your weekend too.

#seti #astrobiology #climatechange #globalwarming #drought #education #lifeskills

Cocktail Night: England v Scotland

Foreign readers may be forgiven for not noticing that these islands are hosting a popular Association Football Match. That’s soccer to US readers, while many of the rest of you will refer to el futbol. Once there was a country called Britain, and the England- Scotland matches had only a sporting significance. Recently deep undercurrents of nationalism have lent these events a deeper, political frisson. However the heady joys of waving flags play out in the next few years, we hope tonight’s event will pass peacefully enough. And in that spirit, no pun intended, we offer a classic cocktail from both nations. Help as ever from The Hamlyn Ultimate Cocktail Book, available as ever from all good booksellers or online.

Scotland: Rob Roy

This is so good, Sir Walter Scott himself would have loved it. Put one large ice cube into a mixing glass, add one measure of scotch, 1/2 measure dry vermouth and a wee dash of angostura bitters. Stir well and pour into a cocktail glass, Decorate with a spiral of lemon. If they down a couple of these the Scottish forwards will be ready to go through the English defence faster than a load of bad hay through a herd of Aberdeen Angus cattle.

England: Pimm’s Classic

Famous English persons include Robin Hood, Moll Flanders, Paul Gascoigne, Wallace and Grommitt. All would have enjoyed this most English of cocktails. (You can scale up this recipe to make jugs for garden parties and barbecues).

Take one measure of Pimm’s No.1 Cup and and add to a highball glass. (Ours have real Pimms logos!) Add 3-4 ice cubes, then 2 slices of lemon, two slices of orange and one chopped strawberry and one slice of cucumber. Top up with lemonade and decorate with a sprig of mint or borage, if you can find the latter. Can’t even find it in Waitrose, darling. If you up the Pimm’s dosage or add gin, you won’t just leave Europe, you’ll leave your senses!

#pimm’s #scotch #football #england #scotland #wembley #uefa

Whatever the outbreak, lack of vaccines is always the problem

What have Ian Dury, Arthur C Clarke, Frida Kahlo, the Emperor Claudius, Neil Young and Francis Ford Coppola all got in common? All were born before 1955 and all suffered from poliomyelitis.

Poliomyelitis is caused by an enterovirus.  It travels in faeces and enters the body when the victim contacts contaminated water. Most cases result in a mild illness, but in one in a hundred victims the virus invades the nervous system, and things get serious. Meningitis follows, with high temperatures and progressive paralysis of the muscles of the legs, upper body, and even the neck. About half of these cases will be left with some form of permanent paralysis leaving them disabled and often immobile. No wonder it was so feared, and the arrival of vaccines after 1955 was greeted with such joy.

Vaccination has been one of humanity’s few undoubted achievements alongside things like tools and fire. Former terrors such as tuberculosis, measles, smallpox, rabies, yellow fever and so many others have either been confined to history or brought under control. Polio is a real poster child for the technique: the 1988 WHO vaccination programme has virtually eradicated the disease everywhere except for Pakistan and Afghanistan. Here resistance to vaccination is strong, for various historical reasons.

But in 2018 there came news of an alarming uptick of polio cases in parts of the Asia Pacific region. Writing for the Australian ABC news Olivia Willis and her co writers tell the story of how polio got a foothold in Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and neighbouring countries. Polio was eliminated in the Asia-Pacific. Then it suddenly came back – ABC News. It’s coming down again, due to the .efforts of governments and health workers. However, the causes are alarming.

For field workers, the best vaccine has always been the good old fashioned Oral Polio Vaccine, which uses an attenuated form of the virus.  It’s cheap, reliable, and effective in breaking the chain of infections. The trouble is that on rare occasions, the attenuated virus can escape, start to spread, and mutate until it is ready to strike again. That is what happened in Papua.

Anti-vaxxers will pounce on this with glee. We can imagine the spiteful joys on their websites: “VACCINES SPREAD DISEASE” and the somewhat paradoxical “Vaccination programmes don’t work.” Doubtless they will omit the crucial vindication that the vaccination rate in Papua was only 66% of the population. In polio-free Europe it is over 90%. That, combined with poor sanitation and public health in certain regions was why the outbreak occurred.

This has profound implications for the number one problem currently assailing the world, called Covid-19 in case you haven’t heard of it. Governments, scientists and doctors agree on one thing.

The only way out of this sorry social, economic and medical mess is the rapid production and distribution of as many vaccines as possible. Anti-vaxxers are having a field day denigrating ,casting doubt and spreading misinformation, much as they have been doing ever since the eighteenth century. The malign consequences of their efforts were shown by the upsurge in diseases like measles after the Andrew Wakefield scandal.  The evolution of the delta variant of Sars-Cov-2, which causes Covid-19, was a direct consequence of the virus running amok in unprotected populations. We have to stand firm on vaccines, because something much worse is waiting.

For about 60 years bacteria have been held in check by antibiotics. However, levels of bacterial resistance to antibiotics are now increasing fast. Already ancient killers like TB are making a comeback. New forms of MRSA in hospitals could make safe surgery impossible.  According to the charity Antibiotic Research UK this problem is already causing 700,000 unnecessary deaths a year and by 2050 this figure will reach 10,000,000. The consequences of two or more antibiotic resistant diseases appearing at once would make the effects of a single coronavirus seem small indeed.

About Antibiotic Resistance | Resistant Bacteria | Antibiotic Research UK

Despite heroic efforts to develop new antibiotics, bacteria will always evolve new resistance. The only long term answer is to develop a massive and sustained programme of vaccination. A recent review article in Nature outlines some promising lines of research the role of vaccines in combatting antimicrobial resistance | Nature Reviews Microbiology. As our experience of Covid-19 shows, the sooner that vaccines are developed and used, the smaller is the toll of death and misery.

To surrender to the anti-vaxxers even on one case like polio will hamper the efforts of researchers and health workers everywhere. The consequences in suffering and death will be enormous. But to adopt a policy of universal vaccinations offers the hope of a future where we still have hospitals, and diseases like polio and TB are no more than ancestors’ tales.

#covid-19 #polio #antimicrobialresistance #antibiotics #vaccine #immunisation #sars-cov-2 publichealth

Mr Biden meets Putin. What language will they use?

Many years ago, a book was pressed into our hand by an old friend. It purported to be the autobiography of a hardened supporter of the football team Manchester City. It seemed to us to be little more than a dreary round of fights, status anxiety and prison time served. But we always remember one anecdote. A friend of the author explained his arbitrary desire to stand in a part of the football ground reserved for the most violent supporters of City’s rivals, who are known as Manchester United. When his friends warned him of a hostile reception, he declared “I’m City through and through, City until I die….” He went to the aforementioned location was was duly subjected to a brutal and life threatening assault.

What was the point? we wondered. Does being City stand for a higher moral status, improved arts, or a plan for the better governance of the Republic? And United for that matter- has the club discovered a cure for cancer, or a new form of energy? Apart from the fact that one wears blue, and the other red, why risk all?

Today Mr Biden, President of the United States meets Russian leader Putin in Geneva. It would be easy for this site to take sides. Sufficient that the US Declaration of Independence and Constitution seem to sum up our thinking rather nicely, and that nothing of comparable value has emerged to date from the Russian empire. Unlike football, real values and real issues are at stake. Yet to denigrate Putin is to misunderstand him. Russians too have their insecurities and grievances, and unfortunately can point to many instances where the US and its western allies have acted less than nobly. The potential for a detonation is very great; the language used, and its meanings, must be very carefully spelled out.

Another great power, China, will not be represented. But its spiritual founding father, Confucius (Kong Fuzi) had this to say:

If language is not correct, then what is said is not what is meant; if what is said is not what is meant, then what must be done remains undone; if this remains undone, morals and art will deteriorate; if justice   goes astray, the people will stand about in helpless confusion. Hence there must be no arbitrariness in what is said. This matters above everything.

(we take this from the excellent quotes net, linked below)

The world is not always how we would like it to be; western values of freedom, justice and peace have not travelled well. But to provoke the leader of a nuclear armed power into nihilistic violence will help no one. One side at least must try not to think like the football fans above.

Confucius – Wikipedia


#football #putin #PresidentBiden #UnitedStates of America #china #confucius #genevasummit

“In ten years we could all be dying of antibiotic resistant infections”

Edith Heard has the CV of a genius. Born in London of Greek heritage, accepted for a course in Astronomy at Cambridge, she turned on a handbrake and switched to Biology, earning any number of degrees and languages on the way. Now she is Director of the ultra-prestigious European Laboratory for Molecular Biology. And today she issues a dire warning, via Manuele Ansede of El Pais.

For Edith’s people don’t just study bacteria in our hospitals, but in the oceans too. And they see a terrifying rise in antibiotic resistant bacteria, making the oceans a vast reservoir of dangerous strains which one day will climb out to do us all in. She thinks we have ten years, maybe twenty years at best, to deal with it. Remember-this is the Cassandra who was warning us of the COVID-19 pandemic two years before it happened. If you have children, or grand children, be very afraid.

We post Manuele’s article below. Some search engines like Google, will offer English language speakers a full translation

“En 10 o 20 años estaremos muriendo por infecciones de bacterias resistentes a los antibióticos” | Ciencia | EL PAÍS (elpais.com)

#pandemic #covid-19 #antibiotics #bacteria #embl #edithheard

Catherine the Great-the clue is in the title

In an age when upper class women were all meant to be fluttering, Jane Austen type figures in big dresses, one woman stands out for her supreme intelligence, tough-mindedness and ability. Catherine the Great of Russia (Empress regnant 1762-1796) was one of those figures who truly lives up to the name bestowed on her by history.

Born in 1729 as Sophie of Anhalt-Zerbst, she came to the throne of Russia by one of those circuitous paths of marriage alliance which dropped her into the bed of Tsar Peter III. It wasn’t long before she discovered that the husband wasn’t up to the job, being more interested in toy soldiers and alcohol. Ousting him in a coup, she took the reigns of governance herself, having previously joined the Eastern Orthodox Church under the very Russian name of Ekaterina.

And what years she gave her adopted country. The list of all her accomplishments is too long to recite here, please click to the Wikipedia link below. Fans of the Enlightenment will be proud to know that she counted such luminaries as Diderot, Voltaire, Euler and d’Alembert among her collaborators. There were pioneering attempts at reforms to serfdom, small indeed but jaw-droppingly audacious in such a backward country as Russia. There was even an attempt at an early Parliament, as an attempt to see how one worked and how all classes might work together. (Catherine closed it down for being too much of a talking shop.) In foreign affairs she presided over major expansions of Russian power and influence, pushing her empire deep into the Ukraine and Black Sea. Nothing new there, you might say. But in the eighteenth century rulers were judged by how many people they could conquer. And Catherine played the game much better than most of the boys could.

She had her faults, being both a bit of a snob, and sexually a little too accomplished for someone who was supposed to be an Enlightenment Philosopher. We’ve picked one quote to illustrate her intelligent, lively mind

I used to say to myself that happiness and misery depend on ourselves. If you feel unhappy, raise your self above unhappiness, and so act that your happiness may be independent of all eventualities.

If you think it sounds like Marcus Aurelius, it probably does. But we think Catherine was far more than that undeniably worthy but slightly dull man. She sounds like she was fun.

Catherine the Great – Wikipedia

#russia #history #enlightenment #eighteenth century

The Friday Night Cocktail inspired by a sketch inspired by a bridge

Art fans everywhere will recall that the great French Impressionist painter Claude Monet (1840-1926) spent much of his short life in London, making sketches and drawings of what he found there. It’s funny how one field of art (painting) can inspire efforts in a greater field (cocktail making), Because according to legend, Monet’s sketch of Waterloo Bridge inspired the geniuses at the Savoy Hotel to come up with their Monet Moment:

In a mixing glass add 2/3 measure of cognac and 1/2 of byrrh. Add1 dash absinthe (it’s absinthe that makes the heart grow fonder) 1 dash creole bitters and 1 teaspoon of sugar syrup. Mix over plentiful ice , strain to a cocktail glass, and decorate with orange peel. And as you drink, remember the immortal words of the Swedish popular musical singing group ABBA, who stated

Monet, Monet, Monet-it’s a rich man’s world

Or was it Manet?

Our inspiration came from the marvellous new Savoy Cocktail Book, published by Constable. Anyone who has enjoyed cocktails at this superb venue should rush out now to purchase a copy

#cocktails #savoy #monet #waterloo

Nature on the origins of Sars-Cov-2

Sometimes we at LSS will riff on an interesting article, or perhaps combine it for you with two or three others. But sometimes an original article is so clear, so well written and thought provoking that we simply reproduce it with our strongest possible urge for you ro read it.

Such is the case with this Nature piece, which we reproduce the full article. The lab leak hypothesis is very live at the moment. Its potential to disrupt geopolitical relationships is very high indeed. The article is thoughtful , considered and does not jump to conclusions. Virtues we could all imitate.

The COVID lab-leak hypothesis: what scientists do and don’t know (nature.com)

#sars-cov-2 #coronavirus #covid-19 #wuhan #china #unitedstates #bats #laboratory

Why The West could lose the next war

“It was Social Democracy that won the cold war ” remarked Will Hutton. With its blend of welfarism and higher taxes to mitigate inequality, it ensured that the values of freedom and trade offered something to ordinary people everywhere. Thus they were vaccinated against the deadly attractions of Soviet Communism and by 1991 the rest was History. Or so it seemed, for a few heady, wasted years.

Instead of Social Democracy, the west fell under the spell of quasi-religious market fundamentalism, whose mantra was “privatise, tax cuts ” and above all “shareholder value.” The dominant class, especially in Anglo-America, became a closed circle of bankers, media, think tankers and politicians who gleefully colluded in the looting of public value as much in places like Britain as in Russia. The plunder is stored away in various offshore islands, Mayfair apartments or Cotswold Mansions, according to taste.

How did this moral rot come about so quickly, and where shall it lead us? In a succinct and hard hitting article for Prospect magazine, Anatol Lieven traces the arc of decline from 1991 to the present, and teases out the causes of our current predicament. Like some latter day Gibbon he observes:

Looking back 30 years from the grim perspective of 2020, it is a challenge even for those who were adults at the time to remember just how triumphant the west appeared in the wake of the collapse of Soviet communism and the break-up of the USSR itself.

Today, of the rich fruits promised by that great victory, only wretched fragments remain.

We hope this extract will cause you to jump at once to the link below, where hard hitting insights are deployed in short, easily read prose. A gem.

To realise you are in decline at least offers the opportunity to do something about it. But China knows one thing the greedy social darwinists who run the West have forgotten. The State, and the duties owed to it, offers far more in return than the cost of a few taxes. Unless we re-learn that lesson, our future could be short, and grim indeed.

How the west lost – Prospect Magazine

#socialdemocracy #capitalism #china #usa #thewest #freedom #geopolitics

Thomas Bayes and the false clash between science and religion

“Science is all right and religion a delusion!” “Darwin is against the Teachings of God!” So run the shrill cries of extemists on both sides of a dangerous and sterile debate, inflaming the passions of their followers and bathing themselves in unguents of self-righteousness. The life of Thomas Bayes (1701-1761) is a refutation of all extreme positions. The anonymous Guardian piece * linked below will begin to show you why.

If you haven’t heard of Bayes * directly, the chances are his theorems and methodologies have actually influenced your life very deeply indeed. He and his followers developed the basic tools of modern statistical inference, now widely used in medical research, epidemiology, forensic science and a host of other disciplines. To save you from a lot of symbols, he and his followers asked the simple but profound question “What is the probability of event A and B occuring together, given what I already know about B?” *

What interests us here is that he asked and answered it in the course of a civilised debate on the work of the philosopher David Hume (1711-1766) Hume, an atheistic son of The Enlightenment had criticised the idea of miracles. Bayes, a Non-conformist Minister produced a reasoned critique that refuted Hume, and incidentally led the way to much enlightenment. The point is that the debates of these men produced more light than heat. And Bayes was so great, he could also be found defending the rationalist works of Newton against august Doctors of the Church like Bishop Berkeley. A balanced mind indeed.

The modern world is full of idiots screaming at each other in the media and over the internet. The tools they used have all their origins in the Enlightenment. But they have no understanding of its spirit, or basic mental processes. Bayes, and Hume were different. It is time that some of us imitated their spirit.

We have provided some wikipedia links if you want to know more. If the spirit of the Enlightenment survives anywhere today, it is in the Wikipedia Foundation. We therefore provide a link for you to donate, as little or much as you can. Please take this very seriously

Support Wikipedia – Wikimedia Foundation

The Guardian view on the god of science: a divine but rational disagreement | Editorial | The Guardian

Thomas Bayes – Wikipedia

Bayes’ theorem – Wikipedia

#probability #bayes #hume #enlightenment #religion #science #statistics