Category Archives: Viva!

Pope sends letter of support to ‘Tarzan’ and squatters of Rome


Pope Francis responded with a pledge of ‘warm encouragement’ for occupation of buildings next to papal summer residence

At one end of the correspondence: His Holiness, Pontiff Francis I, Vicar of Christ, Pope of Rome. At the other: Andrea Alzetta, an insurgent agitator from a movement that squats in empty properties – known as “Tarzan” in Italian revolutionary circles.

In an exchange of letters that could only belong to the transformed papacy of Jorge Mario Bergoglio, Alzetta addresses the pontiff as “my dearest Pope Francis”. His holiness replies with a pledge of “warm encouragement” for the latter’s occupation of scenic buildings and grounds right next door to his papal summer residence

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German mayoral candidate stabbed in attack linked to migrants policy


Chancellor Merkel condemns attack on Henriette Reker, said to be in stable condition with neck wounds, on eve of Cologne election

The German chancellor, Angela Merkel, has expressed shock over the stabbing of a political ally, in an attack police said was linked to the migrant crisis.

Henriette Reker, an independent close to Merkel’s ruling Christian Democrats (CDU), suffered serious wounds to the neck in the attack in the western city of Cologne, which is to elect its mayor on Sunday, on Saturday morning.

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Doctors, teachers, the police – public servants are demoralised | Will Hutton


It’s practically impossible now to defend the state without being labelled left wing. It wasn’t always so

The talented young doctor, part of the brilliant cancer team that has been treating my wife for the last 22 months, is resigning and going to the US. His decision is partly informed by the opportunity to do well-funded frontier research and partly by his conviction that the government is hellbent on dismantling the NHS and has zero interest in the wellbeing and careers of those who work in it.

To toil in the present-day NHS is thankless. There have always been trade-offs in health provision; resources are not limitless and priorities have to be set. The health secretary, Jeremy Hunt, is in a quandary. He rightly wants a 24/7 NHS and too much weekend provision on current terms is substandard. Yet boxed in by too tight spending limits, he can only achieve his objective by not offering a premium for junior doctors working on Saturdays. Whatever its merits, a workforce whose morale is already low sees it as yet more evidence that professionals’ views don’t count. Morale takes a further downward lurch.

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Surge in Albanian child slaves trafficked to Britain


Victims are involved in criminal activities, warns the children’s charity Barnardo’s

A new system to protect trafficked children indicates that there has been an alarming rise in the number of Albanian child slaves forced to work in the UK.

If the trend – being highlighted on Anti-Slavery Day – were to continue, Albanians could soon outnumber Vietnamese children as Britain’s most exploited juvenile group.

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Kenyan camel coronaviruses…

Two studies have now found antibodies from Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV)-like coronaviruses in dromedary camels (DCs). The “like” bit reflects that unless we have some sequence, we can’t say for certain that the virus that infected those camels in the past, causing them to respond with these antibodies, was a MERS-CoV variant. The virus(es) may have been a different camel CoV that just so happens to share some antigens and is detected by MERS-CoV-“specific” antibody detection tests. The old story of “we don’t know what we don’t know” can perhaps be extended here to “we can’t validate a test against viruses we haven’t found yet”. Or that may just be too nerdy.

Anyhoo, we have two papers to look at here. 

Antibodies against MERS coronavirus in dromedary camels, Kenya, 1992-2013

This paper went into the August edition of Emerging Infectious Diseases, authored by Corman and team (online much earlier but no way to track that thanks to no date of ePub ahead of print – loud sigh!) from Germany, Kenya, the Netherlands and Sweden.[1]

The introduction sets the scene for a paper seeking to know about where the MERS-CoV we know and love today, may have come from to be so common amongst camels. We suspect that this could be from another animal in its current form, or by recombination and mutation from a different ancestral form that has yet to be discovered in an animal (or human). This study seeks out MERS-CoV or a MERS-CoV like virus, or an ancestor, from camels in Kenya using their blood to look for footprints of previous infection – in this case, antibodies.

774 DC blood and stored sera collected from three regions of Kenya between 1992 and 2013 were subjected to a multi-step testing process:

  1. All samples, diluted 1:100, were screened using MERS-CoV spike protein subunit 1–based ELISA (rELISA; described before at [2])
    .228 of 774 (29%) were positive
  2. The 228, diluted 1:40, were next examined using a recombinant immunofluorescence assay using Vero cells expressing MERS-CoV spike protein (rIFA; described before at [3]
    .213 of 228 (93%; 28% of the 774) were still positive in the second tier of testing
  3. The third tier of testing of samples diluted between 1:80 and 1:800 used a highly specific MERS-CoV microneutralization assay (MNT assay; also previously described in [3])
    .119 of 213 (56%; 15% of the 774) had titres (dilutable levels) greater than or equal to 1:80 and 14 had titres above 800
    .Some counties of Kenya had 60-100% of samples test positive 
Figure 1. From Corman et al, Emerg Infect
Dis. 2014 Vol 20, No 8. 1319:1322.[1]
Click on image to enlarge.

North-eastern and northern regions generally had higher titres (Fig.1).These are regions closer to other countries with known antibody-positive camels (Egypt, Sudan, Somalia and Ethiopia). Further, nomadic camels from the East had higher antibody titres than those farmed in the north-west of the Rift Valley. Nomadic camels are taken across borders for trade.[2] DCs that had been kept isolated since 1998 were negative signs of past MERS-CoV virus. 

Adults had higher antibody levels than juveniles – presumably because infections happen when the DCs are young, producing the antibodies we detect in adult DCs.

Figure 2. Quote from [1]
Click on image to enlarge.

Camel density was also important. More camels were antibody positive in areas with higher densities of camels – also presumably because virus can spread better from one infected DC to others when more DC contacts are around. Similar story for humans, a contributing factor for those super-spreading conditions. The authors also made a comment that is very important to the answer the question of why human cases have not been found in areas with animal infections (see Figure 2).

Moving on to the next publication from Kenya.

Serological Evidence of MERS-CoV Antibodies in Dromedary Camels (Camelus dromedaries) in Laikipia County, Kenya

This one just came out on PLOS|ONE authored by Deem and colleagues from the United Stets of America, Kenya, New Zealand and the Netherlands.[4]

The introduction also reminds us that understanding MERS-CoV in camels in countries with herds, can help us assess and manage the risk for humans in those countries. In this case, Kenya has over 3 million DCs and mean and milk is worth $USD 11 million a year. These figures that may help you understand why DC interests don’t want to have a significant human pathogen harboured by their animals.

This study is based in Laikipia County, almost in the centre of Kenya (Fig 1), which has a growing camel population. 

335 camels were sample from 9 easily accessed herds.

  1. All samples, diluted 1:20, were screened using a MERS-CoV, severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS)-CoV, human CoV (HCoV)-OC43 spike domain S1 antigen protein-microarray method used previously by this group [5,6,7,8,9]
    _46.9% of DCs were seropositive (had antibodies) including at least 1 animal per herd
    _60.8% of adult DCs were seropositive and 21.3% of the juvenile animals
    _bovine CoV (tested for by including the HCoV-OC43 antigens) seroprevalence was high, as it often is in DCs
    _this study did not see a significant difference in seroprevalence between nomadic herds or those managed in more commercial ways and no differences between different degrees of herd isolation
Figure 3. Quote from [4]
Click on image to enlarge.
The authors concluded that these herds were being exposed to MERS-CoV (or a similar virus) on an ongoing basis, even though they were not near borders and at lower densities that the more northern sites reported by the Corman et al. study above. They did not feel these disparities were due to diagnostic differences and that the DC densities in Lakipia County were sufficient to maintain virus circulation. 

The conclusion noted the need to get sequence from this virus or these viruses n order to see whether they are the MERS-CoV we know, a different clade of MERS-CoV variants or another virus entirely. That sort of information can’t be gleaned from antibody studies and so RT-PCR methods are needed.

The report wrapped up with a comment about a lack of reporting of human cases (Fig.3).

Clearly, camels are commonly infected by MERS-CoV or a close relative in parts of Africa and the Arabian Peninsula which receives camel imports from Africa. 

Also very clearly, DCs survive the experience apparently fine and unharmed lending more support for MERS-CoV in DCs being just a “camel cold”. The camels do not need to be culled the way we do to other ill virus-infected animals (I’m looking at you chooks with high pathogenicity influenza A(H5N1) virus..or other flu viruses). We just need to remove camels from humans – or better manage the interactions we have to have. It’s not rocket science but it will take thoughtful, considered and collaborative discussions.


  1. Antibodies against MERS coronavirus in dromedary camels, Kenya, 1992-2013
    Corman VM, Jores J, Meyer B, Younan M, Liljander A, Said MY, Gluecks I, Lattwein E, Bosch BJ, Drexler JF, Bornstein S, Drosten C, Müller MA.
  4. Serological Evidence of MERS-CoV Antibodies in Dromedary Camels (Camelus dromedaries) in Laikipia County, Kenya
    Sharon L. Deem , Eric M. Fèvre, Margaret Kinnaird, A. Springer Browne, Dishon Muloi, Gert-Jan Godeke, Marion Koopmans, Chantal B. Reusken

© 2013-2015 Ian M. Mackay. PhD.
This content was originally published at

Junipero Serra Statue Decapitated at Lower Presidio Park

... Meanwhile in Monterey, California. Photo from Twitter.

Meanwhile,  in Monterey, California…     Photo from Twitter.

Published October 17, 2015

MONTEREY, CALIFORNIA—Police in Monterey, California are looking for the individual(s) responsible for decapitating the Junipero Serra granite statue at Lower Presidio Historic Park sometime late Wednesday night or early Thursday morning.

The statue’s head has not been recovered. Monterey historian Dennis Copeland told a local newspaper “the entire park was swept for the head, but it has not turned up.”

The vandalism is the third such act on a Serra statue since Junipero Serra was canonized by Pope Francis in September 23, 2015 in Washington, D.C. during his United States visit. Two weeks ago, a statue of Serra was painted green at the nearby Carmel Mission, where Serra is entombed.  Another Serra statue in Carmel was toppled within days of the first incident.

Law enforcement officers are attempting to determine if the three vandalism acts were committed by the same individual(s).

Serra, who established the Catholic mission system in California, is controversial among American Indians, who opposed Pope Francis canonizing him. They opposed Serra’s canonization because under his Catholic mission system, American Indians were whipped and beaten – even fatally.

Admitting to the violence perpetrated on American Indians, Serra wrote:

“I am willing to admit that in the infliction of [flogging], there may have been inequalities and excesses committed on the part of the some of the priests, and that we are all exposed to err in that regard.”

The Serra statue has been at Lower Presidio Historic Park since 1891.

Officials said even if they cannot recover the statue’s head, it can be repaired, but it will be costly.

The post Junipero Serra Statue Decapitated at Lower Presidio Park appeared first on Native News Online.

Ojibwe Mother Fights to Improve the La Grange YMCA

Andrea Barnwell fighting local YMCAPublished October 17, 2015“We need to believe that evil people know they’re evil, or else that would open the door to the fact that we might be evil without knowing it.” – David WongLA GRANGE, ILLINOIS — Earlier this year, Andrea Barnwell (White Earth Ojibwe) and her children moved from Chicago to the suburb of La Grange, Illinois, hoping for better opportunities. Shortly thereafter, she was confronted with a previously unknown situation that challenges a system of thinking so many American Indians have seen time and again, to either stay silent and ignore the consequences or confront a program that is a staple in this community.Her local YMCA offers a program designed to strengthen the bond between fathers and daughters entitled Indian Guides and Princesses. All this is from the intentions of people to promote good values and spend quality-bonding time through American Indian values and practices. Hypothetically, this all sounds wholesome and tolerant, teaching children to respect and understand various American Indian cultures and their communities as contemporary peoples.And then, this happens… Comanche Cheer set to “Who Let the Dogs Out”“I have looked up the information on the Indian Princesses and I find it to be extremely racist and offensive,” Barnwell wrote in an email to YMCA officials. “The participants dress in Native American [costumes], call themselves names based on real tribes, and drum and (chant) in a style they deem to be Native American.”The problem is that this group truly believes they’re doing a great service for these kids, the community, and—let’s face it—history. Unfortunately, many non-American Indians developed the mentality that it is up to them to perpetuate the “mystique” and antiquity of America’s indigenous peoples. The Indian Guides and Princesses program comes from another parent-child program developed in the 1920s by Joe Friday (First Nations Ojibway) and later adopted by the Prairie Trail Federation, which consists of over 3,000 members and ninety-two “tribes.” Originally designed to develop father/son wilderness survival skills, the program shifted to incorporate father/daughter camping activities and ceremonies by concentrating on American Indian themes.Barnwell went on to say, “I think this sets a bad precedent for what kids learn about Native American culture, and it makes me sad to think that dads are teaching their chil

Source: Ojibwe Mother Fights to Improve the La Grange YMCA

Scientist under attack after he kills bird that took decades to find


Case of the moustached kingfisher pits those who think ‘collecting’ can save a species against those who believe we should never kill rare animals

For Christopher Filardi of the American Museum of Natural History, there is nothing like the thrill of finding a mysterious species. Such animals live at the intersection of myth and biology – tantalising researchers with the prospect that they may be real, but eluding trustworthy documentation and closer study. Indeed, last month, Filardi waxed poetic on the hunt for the invisible beasts that none the less walk among us.

“We search for them in earnest but they are seemingly beyond detection except by proxy and story,” he wrote. “They are ghosts, until they reveal themselves in a thrilling moment of clarity and then they are gone again. Maybe for another day, maybe a year, maybe a century.”

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