What’s better than an early morning barefoot walk along a deserted beach? The sand rubbing away rough skin, the tang of the ocean, the whoosh of the waves… all contribute to a feeling of deep peacefulness — temporary, but still restorative.
Here a few scenes from this week’s excursions, plus a useful hack at the end.
The starfish returns
After years of decimation by disease, we’re finally seeing a resurgence of glorious orange and purple sea stars.
Sand crabs create patterns that suggest a rose and its leaves. Others mirror a grove of trees.
Some plants grow anywhere
Ducks: They’re just like us — calm on the surface, paddling furiously to stay afloat
A surreal beachscape
Summer hack: How to keep sand from sticking to feet
First of all, why does it stick? Sand is highly hydrophilic (“water-loving”), i.e., water molecules attach to each grain. This creates tiny water channels that attract additional moisture from anything that’s even slightly damp.
What to do? Shake a little baby powder on your feet. It’s even more hydrophilic than sand, so the grains should fall away. Also, the powder is less sticky and any residue is more easily brushed off when you leave the beach.
First up, breaking news: Amy Cooper, the white woman in Central Park who called the police on a Black bird watcher, will be charged with filing a false report, a misdemeanor punishable by up to a year in jail.
Ms. Cooper will be arraigned in October. If convicted — which seems likely since the incident was captured on video and went viral — she could be given a conditional discharge or sentenced to community service or counseling rather than jail time. (Counseling seems like an excellent idea, regardless of any other punishment.)
On Memorial Day, Ms. Cooper who’d been walking with her dog, encountered Christian Cooper (no relation), a Harvard graduate and bird watching enthusiast, in the Ramble, a semi-wild part of the park where dogs must be leashed.
Mr. Cooper said that he asked Ms. Cooper to leash her dog, and when she refused, he attempted to lure the dog with treats, hoping to compel her to restrain her pet. (Pet owners don’t like strangers to offer treats and usually leash their dogs to avoid this.) The encounter then got ugly when Ms. Cooper decided to call 911 and tell them that an African-American man was threatening her life.
That’s the Bad Women part of this report. Now, let’s celebrate more illustrious women.
On a more positive note, this year marks the centennial of the 19th Amendment, which gave women the long-overdue right to vote. In honor, The National Trust for Historic Preservation is currently crowdsourcing locations where women made history.
A rogue overgrown sheep found roaming through regional Australia has been shorn of his 35kg fleece – a weight even greater than that of the famous New Zealand sheep Shrek, who was captured in 2005 after six years on the loose. The merino ram, dubbed Baarack by rescuers, was discovered wandering alone with an extraordinarily overgrown wool coat, and was promptly shorn to save his life.
Kyle Behrend, from the Edgar’s Mission farm sanctuary, told Reuters that it appeared Baarack was “once an owned sheep” who had escaped. Merino sheep do not shed their fleece and need to be shorn at least annually, as their wool continues to grow.
The hirsute ovine was found near Lancefield in Victoria, and rescuers said he had “eked out an existence” eating small shoots of grass.
“He had at one time been ear-tagged, however these appear to have been torn out by the thick, matted fleece around his face,” Behrend said. “He was in a bit of a bad way. He was underweight and, due to all of the wool around his face, he could barely see.”
Baarack is the latest in a long line of very large and woolly sheep to make international headlines.
Do you ever get to the point that life has gotten so far away from you that you don’t even know how to begin to make excuses?
That’s how blogging has been for me these past couple of weeks. A combination of factors that I rationally know are out of my control but are nonetheless stressful, plus long lists of specific things that need to be done, overlaid with general anxiety about world issues such as the weather and that damn impeachment trial. (Seriously — how could any sentient being think 45’s behavior was anything but inexcusable?!) But that one, at least, is in the rearview mirror for now.
I know this is a first world problem, so I apologize in advance.
Dear Husband (DH) and I are in the midst of renovating our soon-to-be-one-and-only-house, which is rapidly being gutted. This is all good news, though it means we are renting a townhome/apartment in another location and need to drive out periodically to pick up mail and make sure there are no contractors lying insensate under a random beam.
Meanwhile, we are trying with no success to date to get on a Covid vaccination schedule. We have signed up in both of the counties where our house and rental are and neither has resulted in an appointment since the state has nowhere near enough supplies for everyone who wants to get it.
On the good news front, our Texas house went under contract within a day of our lovely realtor — who is DH’s oldest daughter — notifying a few agents that we were preparing to sell it. Everything would be proceeding smoothly if it weren’t for, oh, deadly ice storms, massive amounts of snow, power outages, etc. We’re thankful not to be living there but worry about friends and family who are coping with this.
Selling the house also means having someone else pack and ship it. Anxiety-producing because a) we have a lot of things we hope to sell or donate and can’t manage this ourselves, and b) we have to relinquish all fantasies of control over the specifics of the process. I’m trying to adopt the attitude that “stuff is just stuff” and if something gets lost or broken we will replace it. But this is not helping me sleep at night… I’m not counting sheep, I’m counting boxes.
I guess, like all of us, I have to put my faith in whatever powers-that-be may exist, know that we will eventually be on the other side of pandemic-related stress, and just hunker down while managing the few small aspects that are within my control.
If anyone has any good tips for patience after this year of endless upheaval, please share!
This just in: Wearing a mask — any mask — reduces the risk of infection with the coronavirus, but wearing a more tightly fitted surgical mask, or layering a cloth mask atop a surgical mask, can vastly increase protections to the wearer and others, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported on Wednesday.
New research by the agency shows that transmission of the virus can be reduced by up to 96.5 percent if both an infected individual and an uninfected individual wear tightly fitted surgical masks or a cloth-and-surgical-mask combination.
The title of this article intrigued me, as I wondered if there are universally annoying sounds such as “nails on a chalkboard” (does anyone still have chalkboards? Does this reference mean anything to a younger generation?) — or if it is more subjective.
My list would have to include:
A screaming child, especially in a public place or an airplane
The sound of someone chewing loudly, esp. if there’s gum involved
A dental drill
The screech of a train pulling into the station
Donald Trump’s voice (hopefully, we will not hear it much longer)
Nervous clicking, tapping, etc. of long, fake nails. Even without the chalkboard.
The common denominators being Loud/Repetitive/Incessant/Harsh.
The author posits that the pandemic has made things worse, as being cooped up for weeks/months on end is bound to lower our collective tolerance. Odds are, your neighbor banging pots and pans might be (slightly) more tolerable if you weren’t forced to hear it day in, day out.
Happy Hump Day! This info is very encouraging. Maybe we’re close to turning the corner on this vicious pandemic. How sad it didn’t happen much, much earlier. And if Congress defangs that crazy Marjorie Taylor Greene, it will be an all-around excellent week. Cheers!
[From New York Times] “For once, we have some good news to talk about: the prospect of another vaccine coming online in the U.S., and a long-awaited indication that at least one vaccine reduces transmission, not just the severity of Covid-19.
Let’s start with the remarkable turnaround of the experimental vaccine from Novavax, a Maryland-based company that has never before brought a vaccine to market.
Last fall, Novavax postponed U.S. clinical trials because of manufacturing delays, jeopardizing the company’s $1.6 billion federal contract and leaving some to wonder whether they should write off the company’s shot entirely. In December, Novavax watched from the sidelines as the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines were approved.
But things have changed. Novavax announced last week that its vaccine produced robust protection in a large British trial and that it worked — although far less well — in a smaller study in South Africa. The company has also been able to quickly recruit volunteers for its U.S. trials because the two authorized vaccines have been difficult to get, and many see the Novavax trial as their best chance to get vaccinated.
So the company now stands a chance of having trial results this spring, with possible government authorization as early as April. If everything goes well, and that is a big if, Novavax could deliver enough additional doses to vaccinate 55 million Americans by the end of June. That would be on top of the 400 million doses that Moderna and Pfizer are contracted to supply the U.S. by the middle of the year — enough for 200 million people.
It gets better: Novavax has been laying the international groundwork for the eventual production of two billion doses per year — and its vaccine, unlike Moderna and Pfizer’s, can be stored and shipped at normal refrigeration temperatures.
As for protection against transmission, AstraZeneca recently released a report that offered an answer to one of the pandemic’s big questions: Will vaccines prevent people from giving the virus to others?
Researchers from the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca have found that not only did their vaccine protect people from serious illness and death but also had the potential to reduce transmission. Swabs taken from trial participants showed a 67 percent reduction in virus being detected among those vaccinated, though scientists warned that the data was preliminary and that masking remained necessary for all.
The AstraZeneca-Oxford vaccine is in U.S. trials, and the company has a deal to supply 300 million doses, enough for another 150 million people.”
To summarize some encouraging vaccine news in today’s New York Times:
All five vaccines with public results have eliminated Covid-19 deaths. They have also drastically reduced hospitalizations. “They’re all good trial results,” reports Caitlin Rivers, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University. “It’s great news.”
Don’t focus on the relatively minor differences among the vaccine results. The available data is very encouraging — including the vaccines’ effect on the virus’s variants.
Coronaviruses have been circulating for decades if not centuries, and they’re often mild. The common cold can be a coronavirus. The world isn’t going to eliminate coronaviruses — or this particular one— anytime soon.
We don’t need to eliminate Covid-19 for life to return to normal. We need to downgrade it from a deadly pandemic to a normal virus.
All five vaccines — from Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax and Johnson & Johnson — look extremely good. Of the roughly 75,000 people who have received one of the five in a research trial, not a single person has died from Covid, and only a few people appear to have been hospitalized. None have remained hospitalized 28 days after receiving a shot.
For perspective, in 75,000 American adults, Covid has killed roughly 150 and sent several hundred more to the hospital. The vaccines reduce those numbers to zero and nearly zero, based on the research trials. A typical U.S. flu season kills between five and 15 out of every 75,000 adults and hospitalizes more than 100.
When you read that the Johnson & Johnson vaccine was 66 percent effective or that the Novavax vaccine was 89 percent effective, those numbers are referring to the prevention of all illness. Researchers count mild symptoms as a failure.
What about the highly contagious new virus variants that have emerged in Britain, Brazil and South Africa? There is no evidence yet that it increases deaths among vaccinated people. Two of the five vaccines — from Johnson & Johnson and Novavax — have reported some results from South Africa, and none of the people there who received a vaccine died of Covid.
The vaccines still provide considerable protection against the variant, though less than against the original version. Some protection appears to be enough to turn this coronavirus into a fairly normal disease in the vast majority of cases.
Any of the five vaccines can save your life. If you have to choose between getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine now or waiting three weeks to get the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine, the experts say: Get what you can, as soon as you can. Don’t risk three more weeks of exposure.
The ability to pee while standing up is one that is distinctly masculine. But just because a man can pee standing up, does that mean he should? The ability to urinate while standing up is a definite plus on wilderness hikes and out in the backwoods. But is it something that should be used in the world of low toilet seats, expensive hardwood floors, and marble restrooms? Is it better for a man’s health to urinate while in the seated position? Here are six reasons why men should consider peeing sitting down.
6. It Prevents the Spread of Illness
While urine is sterile, those splashes and puddles that accumulate on the toilet seat and floor make for sticky areas where germs can collect. When your doctor collects your urine for a urine test, the pee is sent to a lab, placed in a petri dish, and kept at body temperature to see if any bacteria grows. Since no one wants to walk into a life-sized petri dish, sitting down will keep your pee in the toilet where it belongs.
5. It May Prevent Lower Urinary Tract Symptoms
The National Institutes of Health reports that sitting down while peeing can decrease lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) in men who are prone to frequent symptoms. Symptoms of LUTS are an increased frequency of urination, inability to completely empty the bladder, and an urgent need to urinate. Sitting down allows the bladder to more completely empty and prevents leftover urine from developing a bacterial infection.Related: 12 Signs You May Have a Kidney Infection
4. It Prevents Unsightly Puddles
One of the best reasons to pee sitting down is simply for the aesthetic effect. You don’t have to be a germaphobe or a neat freak to prefer using a restroom that is devoid of unsightly splashes and splatter. Bathrooms are used for more than just peeing. You might enjoy a soak in the tub, relaxing in a steamy shower, and trimming your beard at the sink. These activities aren’t so pleasant when surrounded by yellowing drips and drizzles. Peeing while sitting down ensures you don’t have to keep seeing your pee on subsequent trips to the bathroom.
3. It May Improve Prostate Health
As men age, the prostate gland can become enlarged. When this happens, added pressure on the bladder can lead to incomplete emptying of the bladder. Sitting down allows for more complete relaxation of the pelvic muscles and more complete emptying of the bladder. Peeing sitting down can help prevent some of the painful symptoms of an enlarged prostate such as bladder stones and urinary tract infections.Related: 8 Prostate Cancer Myths Debunked
2. It Protects Your Floors
The uric acid in pee can leave behind stains and odor in your tile, wooden, and ceramic floors. A landlord in Germany actually sued one of his tenants for urine damage to his marble floors. To keep your floors pristine and to avoid odors from urine damage, take a seat while emptying your bladder.
1. It Makes Your Spouse Happier
Leaving the cap off the toothpaste, hogging the blankets, and not replacing the toilet paper roll are all common disagreements among couples. Add leaving unsightly pee splatter near the toilet to that list. Sitting down to pee is one way to keep your spouse happy—especially if she is the one cleaning the bathroom. Sitting down to pee is one simple way to keep your bathroom cleaner and your wife happier. Maybe then she’ll be more willing to share the blankets.
Encouraging news from today’s New York Times (Sorry, the formatting is a little wonky):
Why the vaccine news is better than you may think.
By David Leonhardt
Preparing the Pfizer vaccine in Phoenix.Adriana Zehbrauskas for The New York Times
‘We’re underselling the vaccine’ Early in the pandemic, many health experts — in the U.S. and around the world — decided that the public could not be trusted to hear the truth about masks. Instead, the experts spread a misleading message, discouraging the use of masks.
Their motivation was mostly good. It sprung from a concern that people would rush to buy high-grade medical masks, leaving too few for doctors and nurses. The experts were also unsure how much ordinary masks would help.
But the message was still a mistake.
It confused people. (If masks weren’t effective, why did doctors and nurses need them?) It delayed the widespread use of masks (even though there was good reason to believe they could help). And it damaged the credibility of public health experts.
“When people feel as though they may not be getting the full truth from the authorities, snake-oil sellers and price gougers have an easier time,” the sociologist Zeynep Tufekci wrote early last year.
Now a version of the mask story is repeating itself — this time involving the vaccines. Once again, the experts don’t seem to trust the public to hear the full truth.
This issue is important and complex enough that I’m going to make today’s newsletter a bit longer than usual. If you still have questions, don’t hesitate to email me at email@example.com.
‘Ridiculously encouraging’ Right now, public discussion of the vaccines is full of warnings about their limitations: They’re not 100 percent effective. Even vaccinated people may be able to spread the virus. And people shouldn’t change their behavior once they get their shots.
These warnings have a basis in truth, just as it’s true that masks are imperfect. But the sum total of the warnings is misleading, as I heard from multiple doctors and epidemiologists last week.
“It’s driving me a little bit crazy,” Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown School of Public Health, told me.
“We’re underselling the vaccine,” Dr. Aaron Richterman, an infectious-disease specialist at the University of Pennsylvania, said.
“It’s going to save your life — that’s where the emphasis has to be right now,” Dr. Peter Hotez of the Baylor College of Medicine said.
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are “essentially 100 percent effective against serious disease,” Dr. Paul Offit, the director of the Vaccine Education Center at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, said. “It’s ridiculously encouraging.”
The details Here’s my best attempt at summarizing what we know:
The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines — the only two approved in the U.S. — are among the best vaccines ever created, with effectiveness rates of about 95 percent after two doses. That’s on par with the vaccines for chickenpox and measles. And a vaccine doesn’t even need to be so effective to reduce cases sharply and crush a pandemic.
If anything, the 95 percent number understates the effectiveness, because it counts anyone who came down with a mild case of Covid-19 as a failure. But turning Covid into a typical flu — as the vaccines evidently did for most of the remaining 5 percent — is actually a success. Of the 32,000 people who received the Moderna or Pfizer vaccine in a research trial, do you want to guess how many contracted a severe Covid case? One.
Although no rigorous study has yet analyzed whether vaccinated people can spread the virus, it would be surprising if they did. “If there is an example of a vaccine in widespread clinical use that has this selective effect — prevents disease but not infection — I can’t think of one!” Dr. Paul Sax of Harvard has written in The New England Journal of Medicine. (And, no, exclamation points are not common in medical journals.)
On Twitter, Dr. Monica Gandhi of the University of California, San Francisco, argued: “Please be assured that YOU ARE SAFE after vaccine from what matters — disease and spreading.”
The risks for vaccinated people are still not zero, because almost nothing in the real world is zero risk. A tiny percentage of people may have allergic reactions. And I’ll be eager to see what the studies on post-vaccination spread eventually show. But the evidence so far suggests that the vaccines are akin to a cure
Offit told me we should be greeting them with the same enthusiasm that greeted the polio vaccine: “It should be this rallying cry.”
The costs of negativity Why are many experts conveying a more negative message?
Again, their motivations are mostly good. As academic researchers, they are instinctively cautious, prone to emphasizing any uncertainty. Many may also be nervous that vaccinated people will stop wearing masks and social distancing, which in turn could cause unvaccinated people to stop as well. If that happens, deaths would soar even higher.
But the best way to persuade people to behave safely usually involves telling them the truth. “Not being completely open because you want to achieve some sort of behavioral public health goal — people will see through that eventually,” Richterman said. The current approach also feeds anti-vaccine skepticism and conspiracy theories.
After asking Richterman and others what a better public message might sound like, I was left thinking about something like this:
We should immediately be more aggressive about mask-wearing and social distancing because of the new virus variants. We should vaccinate people as rapidly as possible — which will require approving other Covid vaccines when the data justifies it.
People who have received both of their vaccine shots, and have waited until they take effect, will be able to do things that unvaccinated people cannot — like having meals together and hugging their grandchildren. But until the pandemic is defeated, all Americans should wear masks in public, help unvaccinated people stay safe and contribute to a shared national project of saving every possible life.
Here’s a bow-WOW from the world of science: Dogs’ acute sense of smell may mean they can sniff out people carrying the virus — say, before they get on an airplane.
Dogs trained to detect people infected with COVID-19 – by sniffing their armpits
MAISONS-ALFORT, France — While a vaccine for the coronavirus will help stop the pandemic’s spread, finding everyone who may be carrying the virus is still an issue. Luckily, man’s best friend is now on the case. Researchers in France are helping to specially train dogs to detect people infected with COVID-19 — by sniffing their armpits.
A new study that has seen pilot programs spring up around the world has discovered that dogs can sniff out coronavirus in the sweat of humans. Thanks to their famously acute sense of smell, dogs have been rooting out drugs, explosives, and even successfully pick up diseases like cancer for years.
The French scientists are now showing how our furry friends can also help save lives during the pandemic by spotting virus clues. An early experiment suggested canines could be between 75 and 100 percent effective at detecting the disease with their noses.
Dogs paw-trolling airports for COVID?
The technique has already been piloted in several countries including the UEA, Lebanon, Finland, Australia, and elsewhere. Travelers may already have seen the specially trained dogs at some airports, but researchers are still trying to prove without a doubt that dogs can pick up the scent before the method is fully adopted.
The team behind the study hope their findings will mean dogs could help with COVID aid in parts of the world without the infrastructure for expensive mass testing programs. The loveable animals could be used anywhere however, with the hope that invasive nasal swabs could be replaced by a simple sweat sample taken from under the armpit for a dog to sniff.
“The results are good and I’m happy, really happy,” Grandjean says in a statement, per SWNS. “It is a success technically and scientifically and it’s surprising because we didn’t know what we were going to have as results.”
“We have been validated by the World Health Organization and they have given us a bit of money which is good. “Probably the country which is the most advanced now is the UAE, where they have dogs in three international airports. They are deploying some mobile units to go to the villages and to the people that might be more exposed to the virus,” the professor explains.
“For us here the idea was, of course, the airports but I can imagine a small city having a couple of dogs and just saying to the population ‘you can be tested whenever you want.’ You just come and put a swab under your armpit and give that to the dog and he will tell you yes or no. The dogs would be able to do that very quickly on a large number of people.”
Ending the pandemic one sniff at a time
Grandjean adds that dogs could also be used where people are reluctant to have uncomfortable nasal swab tests. During the study, which started in March, the researchers recruited six dogs previously trained to sniff out bombs, colon cancer, or used in search-and-rescue missions and re-trained to detect COVID-19.
They then collected sweat samples from 177 people (95 with COVID-19 and 82 without) and then placed the samples inside cones for the dogs to sniff. In trials, the dogs successfully picked out the infected sweat when examining a line-up of mock and negative samples.
Although the published study is just a “proof of concept” and cannot be taken as absolute proof, Prof. Grandjean and his team have now carried out further studies to validate their results and have more planned in 2021. They have also issued a “practical guide” to other academics to help others in their research and are building up a set of “international training standards” for dogs.
“We have been working with lots of countries. I think we have 20 countries working for us. It’s amazing, really amazing,” Prof. Grandjean concludes.
The study was published in the online journal PLOS ONE.
SWNS writer William Janes contributed to this report.