Acorns; When/If a Tree Falls; The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and True Grit

This has been my most demanding piece of writing to date, in 11 years of blogging. Stop half way after the music if you want to avoid being too challenged with reading to the end. Although if you do, you’ll miss some written and spoken words of wisdom from others which are worthy of consideration, and far wiser than any I’ll ever manage. Given the lack of light of late, there are also not too many pictures included. You have been warned. (The above photo was taken at 8.12 a.m. this morning).

Let’s begin with an acorn, for from such small beginnings, who knows what might grow? Or as Aristotle wrote, “Each human being is bred with a unique set of potentials that yearn to be fulfilled as surely as the oak yearns to become the oak within it”.

Last year I recorded the extraordinary mast year we had for acorns, which littered the ground, particularly beneath our large oak behind the barn. In spite of efforts to remove a fair proportion of these at the time, we were doomed to fail, and feared we would suffer a long haul in removing oak seedlings from the garden during 2021. This has proved to be the case, and from about mid summer onwards, multiple sessions have been necessary to prevent the garden turning into a forest of seedling oaks. Even now, I’m still finding such seedlings lurking, with ever deeper tap roots.

One thing I discovered recently, whilst following another lead, was that last year’s national glut of acorns had consequences for livestock. More particularly ruminants and horses, since many will know that although pigs love acorns, and indeed in some parts of the world are positively encouraged into the forests to hoover up the acorn crop, an excess of acorns is toxic to cattle, sheep and horses. Thus the quarterly review of small ruminant post mortem cases reaching the national network of what we used to call VI (Veterinary Investigation) centres, recorded a surge of reports late last autumn of fatal poisonings where 16 incidents were recorded, compared to a total of just 10 such incidents over the previous 5 years. The problem is that in the ruminant digestive system the tannins in the acorns are broken down into toxic components which cause both gastroenteritis and kidney failure. There is no specific treatment, so sheep really need to be denied access to fields with a heavy fallen acorn crop.

However, and completely unexpectedly, read on past the recorded acorn fatalities, and much to my surprise and not why I was looking, were several incidents where injections (of vaccines, and other medications) had resulted in fatalities, sometimes multiple, and sometimes within just a few hours of the injections. How so? I’ll leave anyone interested to follow the link.

Whilst we’ve been trying to prevent seedling tree growth here in the garden, nationally our tree covering has taken a hammering recently from storms Arwen and Barra. Evidently in Scotland, which saw some of the worst damage, an estimated 1.5 million cubic metres of timber, equivalent to around 20% of the annual harvest of trees, was felled by Arwen’s force. Little did I think when I wrote these lines back in early October, how apt they might end up being.

The cheeks, alert for merest zephyred breeze,
Hang, primed and still await

Fair Arwen, yet to strike,
And snap this simmering elvish spell.

But it wasn’t until the last days of November that Arwen struck. A quick walk round on a still windy Saturday morning revealed no major damage here, apart from some blown off timber store sheets, and a few small branches littering the ground. Our site was well chosen all those centuries ago, being protected from most wind directions, save strong, and unusual Easterlies. It wasn’t until we ventured out on our bikes into the nearby forestry trails over the next few days that we saw more local evidence of the scale of damage. Three different, favoured circular rides were all halted at their outer limit by multiple huge trunks felled across our route. I used Ventusky.com to get an idea of when the trees would have fallen, since we slept well, undisturbed by wind gust noise, and it seems that here, Arwen roared through with maximum gust speeds, between 2 and 3 am, when a swathe of Wales, England and Scotland was probably the windiest place on earth.

But what must it have been like to be up there, amongst the trees, for this hour or so when gusts peaked? How terrifying? What sounds of huge trees snapping in half, being torn out of the ground and the thumps and crashes as the literally tons of timber trunks fell through neigbours to thud into the ground, or were caught, precariously held at half mast by their close neighbours? What would it have felt like to stand on this forestry track, in the lee of the stands of firs, and feel the full maelstrom of needles and twigs blowing onto you, from the North?

And then I discovered the philosophical dilemma described by the phrase “If a tree falls in a forest, and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” This thought experiment even has its own Wikipedia page.

Dive into this, and you can muse about whether something can exist without being perceived by consciousness – thus, is sound only sound, if someone can hear it? Or does the unobserved world function the same as the observed world?  Does the very act of observation of something, affect its outcome? I’m glad I didn’t read philosophy as a degree, after mulling this over, but it’s interesting to reflect on how such a traumatic event as this destruction of our local forests, and the (I would argue) very real sounds of wind and trauma at the time, can only be vaguely imagined. My scientific background tells me that the sounds would have been real, and could have been recorded. If someone had been there. And can, less easily, be imagined from the litter of evidence.

There are other interesting thoughts to be thought after Arwen –

How to remove all that fallen timber, typically within a speedy 6 to 12 months, before it ceases to have a commercial value, and the challenges for the forestry workers having to work in dangerous conditions between half-felled, and possibly about to teeter, weakened trunks, with all those half snapped trunks to contend with as well?

Given the added risk of fire damage to monoculture forests in increasingly dry summers, along with more violent storms like Arwen, is the very idea of carbon offsetting to help mitigate climate change through commercial forestation the simple fix we’ve been led to believe? It was certainly interesting to observe the post storm dip in the share price of the listed Foresight Sustainable Forestry Company, which was floated on the stock exchange just days before Arwen struck. Perhaps forestry isn’t the secure, safe, ultra long term investment option it’s long been thought of in today’s evolving climate?

And what price the planned for complete reliance on electricity for heating, light, water and transportation, if a single event like Arwen is capable of taking swathes of the system down for days on end? One of the ever present concerns living where we do, is the need for a back up heat supply from something as simple as a wood burning stove, since all manner of contemporary heating systems like biomass boilers and air/ground source heat pumps are useless if the electricity isn’t there to power the water pump. There are rumours of government moves to stop the sale of new wood burning stoves to reduce particulate emissions. OK, but what’s the alternative to allow folk to stay warm when the power goes down in the middle of winter?

But more interestingly than all of this, for me, was to explore the popular culture links at the bottom of the aforementioned “If a tree falls” Wiki page. I’ve spared readers the folk song of this title, since I found it melodically very challenging. However, my eye was taken by the film of this title, “If a Tree Falls – The story of the Earth Liberation Front”. Reading that it had won both a best documentary award at the Sundance Film Festival as well as a nomination for an Oscar in the documentary category, for 2011, I’ve sat and watched the whole film this week, and can thoroughly recommend it as a fascinating, brilliantly filmed and edited story of how young activists, appalled by the commercial destruction and exploitation on 700 year old native forests in North America, eventually became sufficiently incensed to take the decision to carry out targeted arson attacks, throughout the USA. It follows the story from all angles, and at the end one is forced to consider whether one of the perpetrators really was a “terrorist”, and whether his crimes merited the eventual sentence handed down to him. The whole film (impressively) is available to view, for free, on line, and for anyone interested here’s a short, punchy trailer, which is reflective of the challenging ideas you’ll be forced to think about if you watch the whole film.

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With confirmation that this autumn has been the third warmest ever in Wales, but also the odd mix of being one of the gloomiest, and also driest, it’s perhaps no surprise that little has changed in the garden over the last three weeks. As I write on December 11th, we’ve still only a couple of Cyclamen coum flowers open, precisely 3 snowdrop flowers, and not even a hint of purple yet on the massed buds of Daphne bholua ‘Jacqueline Postil’. It seems likely that everything will begin to arrive late, in a rush in early January, if we’re lucky.

Some recent good news was to hear that a much anticipated (by us!) new book in which the garden here at Gelli Uchaf should feature, is now due for release on February 10th. Titled Wild : The Naturalistic Garden”  by Noel Kingsbury and Claire Takacs, the launch description on the publisher’s website describes it thus:

A stunning exploration of one of the hottest trends in garden design, nature-based planting with an eco-aware approach, featuring the work of leading designers such as Sean Hogan, Piet Oudolf, and Dan Pearson

Forget the mild, manicured gardens of the past: planting today is undergoing a revolution in taste and aesthetics. This is the first comprehensive overview of a new planting approach that is wild and natural by nature, reflecting the global turn towards sustainability and the current zeitgeist in garden design. Featuring over 40 gardens – from a perennial meadow in East Sussex, England to a private, drought-resistant garden in Australia – each garden in this stunning book is brought to life with beautiful photography and insightful text.

I’m not especially wowed by the choice of cover design, but I’m sure Claire’s photos, and Noel’s writing inside will showcase all the included gardens in a wonderful light.

Perhaps even more exciting for us, in a very minor way, is to have finally seen the physical proof pages of a small book of words and images, “An Immaterial Rhapsody”. I’ve been intermittently working on this for the last few months, with Fiona’s invaluable help both as extra proof reader, and more critically, page formatter and designer. With any luck the limited run of 100 numbered copies will be in our hands by the end of January. Completing any such physical project as amateurs is both daunting and creative, having ultimate control (and responsibility and blame) for all aspects from the cover images and end papers design, down to font selection, recycled paper choice, and source of printing company within the UK.

It won’t have been a cheap exercise, but will, when available at cost price to anyone interested, be within the bounds of acceptability. Particularly since we plan to make this limited edition book available as part of a package including a copy of my 2010 film “Epiphany In Translation” described by Robert MacFarlane, (of The Lost Words” and “Lost Spells” books) thus:

“There was the local pleasure of seeing and hearing Mark read a poem that has meant much to me for nearly 20 years now, in location. But more generally the imagery, the editing, and above all, I think, your decision to let the valley speak and be (i.e. very few voice-overs), has resulted in a visual prose-poem, a really very beautiful film.”

As well as a copy of “In a Different Light”, my Moth -DVD-ROM and dawn chorus CD work. Reviewed thus:

“Thanks very much for the DVD In A Different Light. We have never seen such a spectacular set of wonderful, sharp and incredibly detailed photographs anywhere, what a masterpiece!”
Jon Clifton, Anglian Lepidopterist Supplies.

http://www.angleps.com

“Extraordinary images of garden moths, taken in north Carmarthenshire by retired vet and amateur photographer Julian Wormald.”
The Daily Telegraph Website.

A still to be finalised all in price, but around £22 – £25 for all three, plus P&P, or to collect from the garden, this triptych will give an overview of much of what has inspired me here in recent times.

Now for 2 different pieces of our favourite wonderful, calming music for this time of the year, and the point at which sensitive souls might want to tune out. The calm before the storm…

 

 

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So what of the bad and the ugly?

This last week has seen our Prime Minister flirting with the idea of mandatory Covid vaccines for all, and having already introduced Plan B (I’m assuming this is the 2021 version?), he has voiced a need for a national conversation to be had about this possible move. I would have to say I agree with him, (that there should indeed be an intelligent calm “conversation”) about whether a mandate should be considered as a genuine policy option, and since indeed the UK has already instituted mandatory vaccines for all care home workers, (now enacted) and all health service staff ( by early 2022), one assumes this move to compulsory vaccination may well happen at some point in the future. The penalty for any staff in the above services for not complying with this mandate is that they will lose their jobs, regardless of their value to the service, their past employment record, their experience, and the potential problems with replacing them any time soon.

There is another huge irrationality in this stance. We must now all be aware that SARS Covid-19 (SCV) vaccination doesn’t prevent subsequent infection with the SCV virus. The vaccination doesn’t prevent clinical disease. And most critically, the vaccination doesn’t stop shedding of virus particles by a vaccinated, infected individual, and hence the potential infectivity of the infected and vaccinated person, to others. In our own families we now have 3 separate, confirmed, symptomatic SCV incidents in previously multiply vaccinated family members.

I should say at this point, in this, my personal contribution to Boris’ national conversation, that I’m not anti-vaccine, and historically acknowledge that vaccines have often had a significant role in managing some infectious diseases. Although as regular readers will know, I have deep concerns about the currently available in the UK, novel vaccine options; how they’ve been developed; and how they appear to operate within the body. SCV clearly is a nasty disease, and undoubtedly my professional lifetime of working with disease, death and the limitations of medicine and surgery in a veterinary setting; the untimely and early death of a parent; and my observations of the constant battles of life and death in the natural world that surrounds us here, has had an impact on how my opinions have evolved.

It seems to me that there are many demographic groups who are now widely acknowledged to be more at risk of serious disease from Covid. Although further clarity and detail on this point shouldn’t be difficult after all this time, and would help to make more rational decision taking, and (perhaps?) media coverage, by all involved. It would seem rational that most of these higher risk people will fall into a category where the critical benefit/risk assessment of the procedure (i.e. vaccination), tips heavily towards vaccination. I’m thinking of the very elderly, obese, serious co-morbidity patients, immunosuppressed, disabled and certain ethnic groups, who at times have all been mentioned as higher risk categories for serious clinical SCV disease, or mortality.

At last, I recently discovered someone in the UK who has had a go at producing a risk assessment based on a few simple to answer questions, as to how likely any individual might be, to contract SCV, and indeed die as a result. It’s available as an app, and whilst the app hasn’t been updated recently, it did give me a  personal ballpark figure to mull over. What’s even better is that Norman Fenton, who developed this, has a significant academic background. He’s a Professor of Risk Information Management at Queen Mary University of London, ranked within the top 20 universities in the UK, with a specialism in probability, risk and statistics. With his team, he’s been following the progression of the SCV data from the very beginning and has repeatedly asked big questions about the accuracy of the statistics that we’re regularly bombarded with. I can’t comment on the detail of his application of Bayesian network theory, though the video below might help to illustrate why it’s a useful field of analysis to be considered in such a situation.

His concern that official government statistics are full of inaccuracies and errors which impact on the interpretation of what’s happened in this pandemic are at least, worthy of note. A recent example of such analysis, for completeness, can be read here.

Of course Professor Fenton, doesn’t work for the favoured epidemiologist of the century, and more heavily third party funded Imperial College group, Professor Neil Ferguson. We’ll all have heard of him, since his team’s modelling of data has influenced both the UK and indeed many other countries responses to SCV, since the beginning of the pandemic. He did, of course seem to momentarily personally disappear from the narrative, after being just another one of a number of key UK policy movers who seemed unable to stick to the regulations handed down to the nation at large, but I’m not going hold that against him. Just pointing it out.

What has interested me most, no concerned me most, in the whole ongoing, draining, mire of this pandemic is the very evident media suppression of certain viewpoints in Western democracies – we all have an inkling of how un-free the media is in countries like China and Russia, to pick just two. It has seemed that anyone – scientist, academic, doctor, affected person, who has a rational counter point of view to the state’s current policy line can be limited in their ability to contribute to rational discussion. This is not imagined. For well over a year, I’ve watched as intelligent and thought provoking discussion has been removed from mainstream media channels, or never even been published, if it dares to discuss angles “outlawed” by the heads of several media outlets. 

Is there a place for more considered debate? I was interested to discover that the English word ‘debate’ originates from the late 1300’s and is derived from the French word “débattre”, originally meaning to fight, or beat/strike down. Only later did its use apply to verbal argument or discussion. A sensible way to lower the temperature and risks of opposing concepts, if rationally and fairly pursued. I appreciated discovering that the Cambridge Union Society, which describes itself as the oldest debating society in the world, and a model for many others, is back to holding in person debates, and moreover allowing free access to these on their You Tube channel. The one I’ve chosen to sit through so far, took me back to my student days. “This House Believes Free Will Does Not Exist” :

The format is intact as I recall it, though dress codes seem a little more relaxed – 3 proponents, 3 opponents for the motion, inter-cut with a few short speeches from the floor. No heckling. No real rancour, just intelligent people discussing a complex subject from differing perspectives. No overt animosity. Although the discussion is inevitably influenced by both the title for the debate, and the selection of speakers. I guess it’s a sign of the times that no overtly religious speaker was chosen to oppose the motion, for example. But no matter, what a contrast to much of society’s current media and political discourse. And it seems that the proponents of the motion would claim that all of my efforts here, are simply the result of chemicals floating around my brain, with a little bit of genetic and epigenetic influence thrown in for good measure, and that I’ve had no genuinely free ability to record what I have. Any contrary stance on my part is illusory. Apologies if I’ve mis-interpreted their views, but that would get me off the hook, wouldn’t it?

I’m also including a much shorter and deeply thoughtful exploration of where and why the West might have lost its way in recent years in this interview clip between the late, much missed, clear thinking Lord Sacks and John Anderson, from June 2020.

I’ve always found that calm, individual insights or reflection around an issue can be revealing, (rather than the 140 characters or whatever is the limit for quick fire tweets) particularly when removed from the possible conflicting influences which are inevitably present where commercial interest might be involved. Thus I hugely admire the courage of a few brave souls who have dared to pop their heads above the parapet to highlight their personally experienced significant side effects from “doing the right thing” and having a jab.

In particular I must mention a previously fit and well American mountain bike champion, Kyle Warner, whose life has been blighted since receiving his second (Pfizer) vaccine this summer. I’m not attempting to include any clips of his deeply moving 5 minute testimony at a congressional hearing, held to explore the incidence of such events, since as fast as the clips appear on one site or another, You Tube seems to remove them. Though I did take a couple of screen captures just to prove that they were there once.

This clip below shows Kyle as he was… full of life and an incredibly fit, up-beat young man.

Interestingly, none of the heads of Pfizer, Moderna, or any of the invited relevant American health/medical authorities who were contacted about this information sharing meeting, to hear this significant side of the vaccine “debate” and possibly learn something from it, decided to take their seats and attend. It’s still, currently, quite easy for anyone to hear, by googling Kyle’s name, of his specific medical journey problems since July 2021 and his second jab, though in a nutshell any significant physical activity is completely out of the question for him now after suffering near fatal myocarditis and pericarditis issues.

Such tragic human “collateral” injury may be inevitable with any pharmaceutical intervention. The question for me is both the incidence of such events, and the transparency surrounding the risks of such events occurring. In particular, whether the general public are being honestly made aware of the potential risks, before rushing for their jabs, depending on their gender and age, and receiving these novel products. In this regard the following link might be of interest to anyone concerned enough to click on it. 

To quote from the website, set up by a group of concerned medics and scientists who wanted to obtain access to the side effects data of one of the vaccines, collated by Pfizer during the first 3 months of its use:

“Four days after the Pfizer vaccine was approved for ages 16+, (in the U.S.A. – sic) we submitted a Freedom of Information Act Request to the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) for all of the data within Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine biological product file. (The FDA refused to release the documents, sic, so…) We have now sued the FDA for not releasing the data. (The judge hearing this case demanded that the FDA release them, which they’re now doing at the rate of a few pages per day. It’s predicted that at this rate it’ll take 55 years for all the documents to make it into the public domain – sic). Click below for court documents and for productions of Pfizer’s documents from the FDA.

COURT DOCUMENTS
PFIZER’S DOCUMENTS”

The critical document of those listed on the above site, which anyone can now view and have their own thoughts about is this one. Perhaps I should a few other observations.

Soon after the start of the pandemic, in the U.S.A. President Trump set up “Operation Warp Speed” with eventually $18 billion available to drug companies to develop an effective safe SCV vaccine. Interestingly, Pfizer, the world’s largest pharmaceutical company declined accepting any such government funding, with their CEO, Albert Bourla, replying thus to a later question about this decision during a CBS interview, in September 2020:

MARGARET BRENNAN: There are six U.S. pharmaceutical companies that have taken money from U.S. taxpayers as part of this investment to – to jump start a vaccine. Your company chose not to take that taxpayer money as part of your research, which means if you fail that comes at a loss to Pfizer and your own pocketbook. So why do you think that’s worth the risk? And what does it actually buy you? How much faster do things work?

ALBERT BOURLA: You’re right, if it fails, it goes to our pocket. And at the end of the day, it’s only money. That will not break the company, although it is going to be painful because we are investing one billion and a half at least in COVID right now. But the reason why I did it was because I wanted to liberate our scientists from any bureaucracy. When you get money from someone that always comes with strings. They want to see how we are going to progress, what type of moves you are going to do. They want reports. I didn’t want to have any of that. I wanted them– basically I gave them an open checkbook so that they can worry only about scientific challenges, not anything else…. And also, I wanted to keep Pfizer out of politics, by the way.

I’m now going to include one of my own personal memories, actually quite a critical point in my awakening to changes occurring within the veterinary profession, which was gradually morphing from the traditional image of James Herriot style, small family practices, offering a diverse range of basic surgery, radiography and medical options with 24 hour cover. Personal client knowledge and interaction were gradually no longer the cornerstone of the service offered, as a more commercial environment in which increasing specialisation, sophisticated investigative, therapeutic and surgical options would drive fees through the roof, push the expansion of pet health insurance schemes, and (almost) inevitably see the demise of the traditional small practice model, as these were gradually acquired by corporate groups, seeing opportunities “of scale” and consolidation, with scope for target driven performance. I considered all of this a very slippery slope on which it would be increasingly difficult to retain traditional professional traction and separate ethical decision making from the conflict of interest coming from  potential commercial advantage of particular courses of action.

But a specific key moment was a launch event for a new pharmaceutical product for flea treatment in the early 1990’s. Essentially ‘Program’ was an oral contraceptive for fleas, and the assembled wined and dined nurses and vets (well, maybe it was only tea and cake, I can’t remember!) were treated to graphs of how effective and safe the product was. I was a little un-convinced but remember recognising a contemporary of mine from Cambridge, now with a role as a manager for the Swiss owned drug company Novartis, so had a quick chat with **** after the formal Q&A session. I raised my concern that it didn’t seem to make a lot of sense to feed/inject a product regularly and long term, to deal with a probably intermittent, and external parasite.

Nick’s reply shocked me…

“Forget about that Julian. Just think about your pension….All those regular repeat purchases and income.”

Welcome to the world of Big Pharma, Julian, I thought.

And that was around 30 years ago. There’s actually a really fascinating insight here for any nerdy people, which I’ve only just discovered, about the real pharmaceutical arms race concerning this flea treatment, lufenuron, which has taken place over these last few decades, written by an informed and informative corporate insider. The research of the new chemical, the trials, the corporate assessments of potential markets, revenues and profits, the threats from competitors. Not written critically, just a diary-like recollection, reflective of how such large industries perceive the potential gold mine of a particular line of novel, and recurring sales, therapy. And including an extraordinary throw away line that some veterinary practices had managed to double their practice incomes through promoting Program use for their clients’ pets! Not ours I hasten to say.

And so dear readers who’ve made it thus far, and are consuming any of the latest news on the ‘Omicron’ variant, here are some more thoughts. Having skipped a few from delta, we’ve still got all these letters of the Greek alphabet available for new mutant variants –  pi, rho, sigma, tau, upsilon, phi, chi, psi, omega, though I guess “Chi” is unlikely to be an option? And then I guess the WHO needs to hunt around for another uncontroversial ancient alphabet to move on to?

And secondly, one of the annoying/rewarding (depending on your viewpoint) of the current, novel, mRNA tiny-part-of-virus vaccines which are being used, is it’s not too fanciful to think that any immunity created might be more easily avoided by variants, compared with the whole virus inactivated or attenuated type of more conventional vaccines which are indeed available and still being developed, some even intra-nasally. Although these have taken much longer to bring “to market” and lost the critical commercial “first mover” advantage. Thus more vaccine “tweaks”/reformulations may well be recommended as new genomically different SCV particles continue to emerge and are described.

And thirdly, this discussion has avoided the potentially clouding commercial interest pressure from the makers of the panoply of additional test kits, the laboratories, and presumably the payments associated with vaccine administration, etc.

Lest Pfizer perceive I’m picking on them, I’m also including, above, the share price chart, for the other American “Moderna” vaccine currently being offered as a booster in the UK. As a drug company it’s pretty much completely focused around these novel mRNA vaccines, and you can note how the share price suddenly exploded once their vaccine made it into the international arena, and then dropped as soon as the CEO questioned whether his vaccine would be up to coping with Omicron, without reformulation. By my reckoning a loss of about $30 billion in just a few days – we’re literally talking mega bucks with all of this, folks.

I also note that Sarah Moore of Hausfeld solicitors in London, is steadily building a tragic list of families impacted by Oxford AstraZeneca/Vaccitech side effects, (the most significant of which, an unusual form of serious and sometimes fatal blood clotting, has now had its mechanism of action elucidated and explained here and here). This article explains the background to the legal action, and the challenge of having to confirm either a fatal reaction, or a greater than 60% disability (what on earth does that mean?) was actually caused by a vaccine, for her to succeed with the British Government’s out of date and inadequately functioning Vaccine Damage Payment Scheme. The drug companies themselves seem to be off the hook, since for them ever to agree to distribute their vaccines in a particular country, they seem to have insisted on government indemnity for any adverse reactions which might take place. What a strangely beneficent approach to product liability by states around the world?

In summary, we’re closing in on 2 years since news about this novel virus first emerged, and where do we find ourselves? Most yearn for the clock to be rewound, for life to return to how it was, or at least for life to be more normal than it often has been of late, but we find ourselves in a brave new world where the idea of regular physical tests to determine whether or not one might have a virus, or even a tiny fragment of one, in one’s body from day to day, has become a fact of life for many in urban environments. Round here it’s a novelty many have never experienced. Regulations on how our lives need to be led have been introduced, often with no real ‘debate’, by a political class who often seem unaware of the economic and other hardships resulting from many of these measures. The economy appears to be struggling, in part with a lack of available workforce, and with inflation reaching levels not seen for many years.

To conclude this over lengthy piece, the idea of mandating the use of a pharmaceutical product to all citizens, in the knowledge that it will surely cause significant harm in a portion of the recipients who would be very unlikely to ever suffer from significant clinical disease seems to me to be something that would have been derided just 2 years ago. Indeed that it probably strikes at the very core of the oath which (some) doctors still seem to have to swear before qualifying, linked back to another ancient Greek, Hippocrates and discussed briefly in this BMJ paper. (Is the Hippocratic oath still relevant to practising doctors today?) Most commonly misquoted as “First do no harm”, in this paper, David Warriner, for example, a clinical fellow at the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, regards the updated oath as “a moral compass.” He highlights the more accurate phrase – “I will utterly reject harm and mischief,” and “I will remember that I do not treat a fever chart, a cancerous growth, but a sick human being,” as still being incredibly important.

Yet a vaccine mandate is now government policy in Austria, and likely to be introduced early in 2022 in Germany. The tide seems to be turning, and evidently is being contemplated here in the UK. How ironic then, that just as the very first cases of SCV were being confirmed in Europe in January 2020, one of the last survivors of Auschwitz gave a hugely powerful, clear, moving address, translated here. (Marian Turski, speech at the 75th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz-Birkenau, 27th January 2020), to an audience including the President of Austria:

I shall only include a small section for readers to reflect on…

Let us shift our imagination for a moment to Berlin in the early 1930s. We are almost in the city centre, in a district called Bayerisches Viertel, the Bavarian Quarter. Three stops from Ku’damm; from the zoo. Where the Bayerischer Platz metro is today. And here, one day in the early 1930s, a sign appears on the benches: “Jews may not sit here.” “Okay,” you might think, “this is unpleasant, it’s unfair, it’s not nice, but after all there are so many benches around here, you can sit somewhere else, it’s fine.”
This was a district inhabited by German intelligentsia of Jewish origin. Albert Einstein, Nobel laureate Nelly Sachs, the industrialist, politician and Foreign Minister Walter Rathenau lived here. One day a sign appears at the swimming pool. “Jews are forbidden to enter this swimming pool.” “Okay,” you might think, “this is unpleasant, but Berlin has so many places to swim, so many lakes, canals — it’s practically Venice — so you can go and swim somewhere else.”
Then another sign appears. “Jews are not allowed to belong to German choral associations.” So what? They want to sing and make music? Let them gather together and sing by themselves. Then another sign. “Jewish, non-Aryan children are not allowed to play with German, Aryan children.” So they can play by themselves. And another. “We sell bread and other food products to Jews only after 5pm.” Okay, now this is a real inconvenience because there’s less choice, but in the end you can still shop after 5pm.
And here we start to get used to the idea that you can exclude someone. That you can stigmatise someone. That you can turn someone into an alien. Slowly, gradually, day by day, people begin to get used to it — victims, perpetrators, witnesses, those we call bystanders — all begin to get used to the idea that a minority that gave the world Einstein, Nelly Sachs, Heinrich Heine and the Mendelssohns is different, that these people can be pushed to the edges of society, that they are strangers, that they spread germs and start epidemics. These terrible, dangerous thoughts are the beginning of what happens next….

Most of us as Europeans come from the Judeo-Christian tradition. Believers and non-believers alike accept the Ten Commandments as the canon of our civilisation. A friend of mine, Roman Kent, the president of the International Auschwitz Committee, who spoke here five years ago during the previous commemoration, could not be here today. He coined the Eleventh Commandment, which stems from the experience of the Shoah, the Holocaust, the terrible epoch of contempt. It runs thus: thou shalt not be indifferent.
And this is what I want to tell my daughter, what I want to tell my grandchildren. My daughter’s peers, my grandchildren’s peers, wherever they might live, in Poland, Israel, America, Western Europe, Eastern Europe. This is very important. Thou shalt not be indifferent in the face of lies about history. Thou shalt not be indifferent when the past is distorted for today’s political needs. Thou shalt not be indifferent when any minority faces discrimination. Majority rule is the essence of democracy, but democracy also means that minority rights must be protected. Thou shalt not be indifferent when any authority violates the existing social contract. Be faithful to this commandment. 
Because if you are indifferent, you will not even notice it when …

So, Prime Minister, I think you’re on the brink of straying into very dangerous territory here, and I would hope that you step back from this. And that society in general in its inevitable and understandable yearning and desire to return to “normality”, will reflect on the pitfalls of disrespecting and ostracising minority rights.

Finally, I’m dedicating this post to all affected in any significant way by these last 2 years, but most particularly Kyle Warner, (a calm, humble, articulate, rational and intelligent man, who deserves to be heard, and who indeed deserves better), and any others sadly afflicted in a serious way from SCV vaccine side effects.

Some of the human trees of life that have been toppled or uprooted in this anthropocentric storm, and which some may rather have hoped would have fallen during the night, when we weren’t around to see or hear the damage. I hope that we might all pay a little more attention to their plight in the weeks and months ahead, and reflect on the dangers of being indifferent both about their situation, and the route ahead for our country.

 

16 thoughts on “Acorns; When/If a Tree Falls; The Good, The Bad and the Ugly and True Grit

  1. A powerful and v interesting blog Julian.

    Timely perhaps to consider sending this (at least the second half of it) to all MPs, and the relevant Committee members involved?

    As you say there is underlying science and so “facts”, if they are properly investigated, understood and then released and made publicly available so that intelligent citizens can be persuaded and “get on board”.

    But on the other side there’s a strong argument (among the various rights and values which must be balanced) for allowing propaganda (including censorship) in a wartime situation where safety and survival is at stake.

    I think your underlying query (and warranted cynicism given the vested interests involved, and your own experience of that phenomenon – thank you for describing it so frankly) is whether the facts as the scientists are likely to know them in the next week or so (the scale of serious individual health impact of omicron) might put us into a setting equivalent to a wartime situation?

    There might be those who would then, very reluctantly no doubt, conclude that some degree of “collateral damage” would inevitably result from the policies (inevitable tragic casualties, like civilians in London killed by the bombing).

    The follow up question is whether the scale of potential damage, on either side, is justifiable? And/or such propaganda? I fear the term has been legitimised, or rather done away with these days by experts at “nudging” messages to the population.

    These are indeed horrible balancing judgements which must be taken, and one can immediately see why the scientists defer from those decisions.

    Clearly those with vested positions do have an interest in suppressing underlying facts and arguments which are contrary to those interests, and are no doubt using all the tricks in the book, including timings, to suppress what may be, or become in future, factually based arguments.

    This is certainly a debate which one would have thought must be pursued in the open, once the independently minded scientists (if there are any?) have understood and produced this next phase of the evaluation ie of the facts.

    I do think though that as long as there could be far more dangerous variants yet to arrive in future months and years than those we have seen so far, one of the overriding concerns might be to inculcate an approach of “vaccine acceptance”, which might then be absolutely essential on public heath grounds. Or at least attempt to minimise attitudes of vaccine resistance, lest such a horror were to come to pass.

    I believe you have identified the key problem, particularly in these times: that none of this necessary planning, nor discussion about the underlying strategic planning, nor lengthy and calm discussion and debate (in the Cambridge Union sense – which the entire population could certainly follow!) about the balancing of opposing values has been permitted, absent, as you say, a very few fringe media and individual columnists who try to see much light of day.

    Neither “quick fire social media”, which is certainly not conducive to reflective and informed debate, nor probably as you say the mainstream media, each with their own “audience bubbles” to please, and underlying pressures, ranging from advertising revenues on one side, and the need not to offend unions on the other, and each with their associated hangers-on, cultures, and individuals’ jobs and promotions at stake within them, is not the place for such important reflective “weighing exercises” taking the trouble to get down to, and not distort the facts – and so what ought to emerge as the “right” answers. Unpalatable as they will inevitably be for some.

    Perhaps it’s precisely because that weighing exercise really is so difficult in government, coupled with a reluctance to open up the inevitable cock-ups and errors which will have occurred, and which to some degree would inevitably have occurred whoever had been in charge, is why this degree of opening up does not occur at the centre.

    Fear of the baying mob, liabilities, and consequences for all involved! What a shame our culture has developed to this point.

    Thank you Julian particularly for bringing to our attention the “11th Commandment – Not to be indifferent”. I had not come across this before. Which is one of the reasons I have replied to you in this way, which I would probably not otherwise have done; so apologies for the rambling reaction to what you’ve said.

    And thanks indeed for taking the time to say what you have, and for presenting your views and research, articulated and pulled together as you have in your blog.

    I am sure we will forgive you getting away a bit from the garden in these seasons, and even as you do so reminding us of the trees all around us, and what havoc the storms can wreak on them.

    All the best to you both.

    Garth Diver

    • Hello Garth,
      Thanks very much for reading to the end, a noble effort, and then drafting such a detailed and interesting reply.
      Not very much for me to add really, and I take the point about the (very occasional) need for a democratic state in wartime to modify normal standards of openness and communication, for the greater public good.
      The big question is – (from all cause mortality data, which rarely gets officially displayed in an easy to assimilate fashion, and is surely the key to whether this disease merits a wartime stance by the government,) is this such a disease meriting such a wartime moment for the nation, or indeed the world?
      And in this context and the latest omicron variant, as far as I can ascertain, the South African doctors at the epicentre of omicron, are still portraying it as a significantly more benign infection (thus far) with regard to severe disease and mortality, even though it’s much more transmissible. It seems Mr. Javid today, from the clips of his statement to parliament which I heard, stressed the latter point (much more transmissible), whilst making no reference to the former – though who knows, that might have been the editor’s splice?
      Anyway, time will fairly quickly reveal all on this, if the (again critical) all cause mortality shoots up in the weeks ahead, and one could argue that better to be safe than sorry. But hence my points about other risks/damages from state policy, and the likelihood of several follow on letters, which will be dusted down in 2022,
      Best wishes
      Julian

  2. Thank you for telling us to mentally pull up our socks (mine were very baggy). We should not be indifferent. I’m glad I don’t get my injections from whoever is doing those poor lambs. Amelia

    • Hello Amelia,
      Thanks for the comment, and well done with ploughing on to the most important bits ( not mine) at the end.
      I’ve been forced to do some serious soul searching of late, and have very rarely written to an MP ( not our own, but that’s a long story) but did over this subject.
      Don’t know if you’ve picked up over there, but there’s a big vote in parliament today about new powers/strategy, followed by a “safe” Tory by-election this Thursday. Whichever side of the political divide you sit, and I completely accept that it’s a mug’s game having to make the calls on this, I think a lot of people here are worried about communications, strategies and direction of travel.
      Re the injections, that’s another point I only just woke up to – nearly all of the vaccines I gave in my career were sub-cutaneous, and so that’s how the sheep were probably jabbed too. Whereas most human jabs are given i-m (intra-muscularly), which creates different risks for reactions, and more critically the risk of an inadvertent intra-vascular injection for an i-m jab. The other huge issue I’ve mulled over of course, is just how necessary are annual boosters in dogs and cats? Curiously something I’ve never reflected on before, though they certainly were (?are) a key part of small animal practice income.
      But I would agree, I think, that not being indifferent, is probably the single message worth taking from my scribblings,
      Best wishes and Happy Christmas to you both,
      Julian and Fiona

  3. Dear Julian I have read all your post! Brownie points for me! Thank you for your first photos of snowdrops and the wonderful clip from The Nutcracker…a favourite! No comment on the rest -above my pay grade, it’s all interesting reading but left me wondering about our cat’s booster jab in January!! Hope you have a wonderful Christmas. Best wishes Marianne

    • Hello Marianne,
      Brownie points indeed…well done to you. And for leaving a comment at all, I’m very aware that many people don’t want to read any more around this, but as on a few occasions over the last 2 years, I felt the need to record where my thought processes/information were at a particular point in time – do you remember my first post about CVid last January (“Overwhelmed”) where I feared that if it were as bad as the then info. from China, was implying then we might be in for a rough time. And I looked back at the comments left after that one, just now … My guess is no-one, certainly me, expected we’d be where we now are on this.
      I’ve never looked at parliamentary debate streaming before, but dipped in to yesterday’s on Boris’ latest measures, after the votes had happened. Do you know what really shocked me? That 20 or 30 years ago, a debate on subjects as significant as this would have seen packed benches for the (only) 6 hours or so of debate and discussion. (OK, there are I guess social distancing issues, but at times there were maybe just 20 to 30 M.P.’s on one side, and only 15 to 20 on the other? Although at least a decent number of MP’s (99 Tories for the record) did, for whatever their reasons, defy their whips, and indicate that they’re switched onto not being indifferent about some of these issues.
      As for your cat’s booster, well… now I’d be straying out of my pay grade to even hint at advice. Although, life being as it is, I guess if she (he)ever had to go into a cattery she’d need a booster jab certificate (just as we now do, shortly to be 3 X, for certain venues) 😊
      Let’s hope that I can shortly waffle on a bit more about flowers and plants, and that the WA might even allow outside garden visits to continue this winter ?? I reckon we’ll all need a boost (sorry, of a different kind) come January.
      Very best wishes to you and Jim for a Happy Christmas,
      Julian

  4. Hi Julian. Kelvin here.
    We visited your gorgeous garden a couple of years age. Happy days eh! We also live in a Welsh long house but a bit further north from you.
    I always read and enjoy your blogs but I just wanted to thank you for your well researched thoughts on the Covid developments and indeed your personal reminisces as a vet. I did get to the end but I need to re-read ….and not late at night. 🙂
    I was aware of some of the salient points that you made but thank you for including sources and going into detail. Personally, to say the least, I am becoming increasingly concerned. It seems I share many of your points of view.
    Let’s hope the news from S. Africa is good and that the powers that be will be guided accordingly.
    Wishing you and yours a very merry Xmas and all the best to us all in 2022.
    Cheers.
    Kelvin

    • Hello Kelvin,
      Thanks for the comment, and a gold star is definitely merited for anyone making it to the end!
      It seems Mr Javid has already squashed the concept of mandatory vaccinations,(?) but who knows given the mayhem currently.
      I’ve just come in from 40 minutes standing outside by the metal table with a frosty but clear start to the day, watching the sky colour changes, after switching on the radio and hearing that Lord Frost has gone. Life here is pretty much as always – before the first transatlantic jumbo trails snaked towards Heathrow, much more silently, the silhouette of a single woodcock, reversed its dusk time flight path, and dipped down to spend the day in the valley’s scrubby copse.
      Perhaps I’ll be creatively inspired by this, meantime if you haven’t already heard it, and have a healthy scepticism, do a google search for “Radio Dublin, Ian Dempsey, Gift Grub – The Covid handicap hurdle”. It seems (some) Irish have similar concerns about the direction of travel, but can perfectly the humour and irony in it all. We haven’t laughed so much in ages.
      Best wishes and Happy Christmas to you both too, and for a healthy and peaceful 2022.
      Julian

  5. Many thanks Julian for all your time and effort in preparing your blog. I read to the end, had saved it until this morning. I enjoy having another intelligent insight into our current situation. I don’t have much time at the moment as I am dealing with flockdown due to the avian flu situation, another thing to keep me on my toes. Looking forward to Spring and the possibility of a visit to your beautiful garden.

    Wishing both you and Fiona a happy and healthy Christmas and New Year.

    • Hello Sue, and thanks for the comment.
      Really sorry to hear you’re impacted with the bird flu epidemic – it must be a tremendous worry, and really difficult for everyone, particularly if their birds are normally kept outside.
      A few more snowdrops are up now, but it’s definitely a slow start to the season. Still, all the mild and wet weather for early January, which now seems to be on the forecast should see things catching up. Let’s hope we’re still allowed to be out and about come the spring😊
      Best wishes and a happy, healthy and peaceful Christmas to you too,
      Julian

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