Clean Skies — The 27th edition of the Karo Diary.

One of the best parts about 2020 has been the crystal clear, deep blue skies. Will this become the new normal?

20 November 2020 — As everything has grinded to a halt due to the world famous coronavirus pandemic, we have the privilege to look up and witness clearer, sparkling skies. The absence of most air traffic, cars and the closure of shops, offices and stadiums has led to a significant drop in air pollution. We are able to revel in awe-inspiring stars in the nightime sky, something urbanites would have never dreamed of just one year ago.

The new edition of the Karo Diary is ready for shipping. If you would like to order your copy, please send us an email with your name and billing address.

148 x 180 mm, 120 pp., robust hardcover printed on our favorite Munken Print white offset paper with an exposed, linen-covered spine and sewn binding — just like the 2019 edition — in English and German. Price: CHF 44, Euro 39 plus shipping.

Don’t follow your passion, it’s what’s holding you back.
by Ryan Holiday

“The best lack all conviction, while the worst / Are full of passionate intensity.” (William Butler Yeats)

20 November 2020 — Passion – it’s all about passion. Find your passion. Live passionately. Inspire the world with your passion. People go to Burning Man to find passion, to be around passion, to rekindle their passion. Same goes for TED and the now enormous SXSW and a thousand other events, retreats, and summits, all fueled by what they claim to be life’s most important force. Here’s what those same people haven’t told you: Your passion may be the very thing holding you back from power or influence or accomplishment. Because just as often, we fail with — no, because of — passion.

Early on in her ascendant political career, a visitor once spoke of Eleanor Roosevelt’s passionate interest in a piece of social legislation. The person had meant it as a compliment. But Eleanor’s response is illustrative. “Yes,” she did support the cause, she said. “But I hardly think the word passionate applies to me.” As a genteel, accomplished, and patient woman born while the embers of the quiet Victorian virtues were still warm, Roosevelt was above passion. She had purpose. She had direction. She wasn’t driven by passion, but by reason.

George W. Bush, Dick Cheney, and Donald Rumsfeld, on the other hand, were passionate about Iraq. Christopher McCandless was bursting with passion as he headed into the wild. So was Robert Falcon Scott as he set out to explore the arctic, bitten as he was with the Pole mania (as were many climbers of the tragic 1996 Everest climb, momentarily struck with what psychologists now call goalodicy). The inventor and investors of the Segway believed they had a world — changing innovation on their hands and put everything into evangelizing it. That all of these talented, smart individuals were fervent believers in what they sought to do is without dispute. It’s also clear that they were also unprepared and incapable of grasping the objections and real concerns of everyone else around them.

Passion in this sense is just ego. Pure and plain destructive ego. It’s self-absorption at the expense of reality.  It’s a disease caught by countless entrepreneurs, authors, chefs, business owners, politicians, and designers that you’ve never heard of — and never will hear of, because they sunk their own ships before they’d hardly left the harbor. Like every other dilettante, they had passion and lacked something else. To be clear, I’m not talking about caring. I’m talking about passion of a different sort — unbridled enthusiasm, our willingness to pounce on what’s in front of us with the full measure of our zeal, the bundle of energy that our teachers and gurus have assured us is our most important asset. It is that burning, unquenchable desire to start or to achieve some vague, ambitious, and distant goal. This seemingly innocuous motivation is so far from the right track it hurts.

Remember, zealot is just a nice way to say crazy person.

A young basketball player named Lewis Alcindor Jr., who won three national championships with John Wooden at UCLA, used one word to describe the style of his famous coach: dispassionate. As in not passionate. Wooden wasn’t about rah-rah speeches or inspiration. He saw those extra emotions as a burden. Instead, his philosophy was about being in control and doing your job and never being passion’s slave. The player who learned that lesson from Wooden would later change his name to one you remember better: Kareem Abdul-Jabbar.

No one would describe Eleanor Roosevelt or John Wooden or his notoriously quiet player Kareem as apathetic. They wouldn’t have said they were frenetic or zealous either. Roosevelt, one of the most powerful and influential female activists in history and certainly America’s most important First Lady, was known primarily for her grace, her poise, and her sense of direction. Wooden won ten titles in twelve years, including seven in a row, because he developed a system for winning and worked with his players to follow it. Neither of them were driven by excitement, nor were they bodies in constant motion. Instead, it took them years to become the person they became known as. It was a process of accumulation.

In our endeavors, we will face complex problems, often in situations we’ve never faced before. Opportunities are not usually deep, virgin pools that require courage and boldness to dive into, but instead are obscured, dusted over, blocked by various forms of resistance. What is really called for in these circumstances is clarity, deliberateness, and methodological determination.

But too often, we proceed like this…
A flash of inspiration: I want to do the best and biggest ______ ever. Be the youngest ______. The only one to ______. The “firstest with the mostest.” The advice: Okay, well, here’s what you’ll need to do step by step to accomplish it.

The reality: We hear what we want to hear. We do what we feel like doing, and despite being incredibly busy and working very hard, we accomplish very little. Or worse, find ourselves in a mess we never  anticipated.

Because we only seem to hear about the passion of successful people, we forget that failures shared the same trait. We don’t conceive of the consequences until we look at their trajectory. With the Segway, the inventor and investors wrongly assumed a demand much greater than ever existed. With the run-up to the war in Iraq, its proponents ignored objections and negative feedback because they conflicted with what they so deeply needed to believe. The tragic end to the Into the Wild story is the result of youthful naiveté and a lack of preparation. With Robert Falcon Scott, it was overconfidence and zeal without consideration of the real dangers. I’m sure Napoleon was brimming with passion as he contemplated the invasion of Russia and only finally became free of it as he limped home with a fraction of the men he’d so confidently left with. In many more examples we see the same mistakes: overinvesting, underinvesting, acting before someone is really ready, breaking things that required delicacy – not so much malice as the drunkenness of passion.

Passion typically masks a weakness. Its breathlessness and impetuousness and franticness are poor substitutes for discipline, for mastery, for strength and purpose and perseverance. You need to be able to spot this in others and in yourself, because while the origins of passion may be earnest and good, its effects are comical and then monstrous. Passion is seen in those who can tell you in great detail who they intend to become and what their success will be like – they might even be able to tell you specifically when they intend to achieve it or describe to you legitimate and sincere worries they have about the burdens of such accomplishments. They can tell you all the things they’re going to do, or have even begun, but they cannot show you their progress. Because there rarely is any.

How can someone be busy and not accomplish anything? Well, that’s the passion paradox. If the definition of insanity is trying the same thing over and over and expecting different results, then passion is a form of mental retardation – deliberately blunting our most critical cognitive functions. The waste is often appalling in retrospect; the best years of our life burned out like a pair of spinning tires against the asphalt.

Dogs, god bless them, are passionate. As numerous squirrels, birds, boxes, blankets, and toys can tell you, they do not accomplish most of what they set out to do. A dog has an advantage in all this: a graciously short short term memory that keeps at bay the creeping sense of futility and impotence.

Reality for us humans, on the other hand, has no reason to be sensitive to the illusions we operate under. Eventually it will intrude. What humans require in our ascent is purpose and realism. Purpose, you could say, is like passion with boundaries. Realism is detachment and perspective. When we are young, or when our cause is young, we feel so intensely – passion like our hormones runs strongest in youth – that it seems wrong to take it slow. This is just our impatience. This is our inability to see that burning ourselves out or blowing ourselves up isn’t going to hurry the journey along. Passion is about. (I am so passionate about ______.) Purpose is to and for. (I must do ______. I was put here to accomplish ______. I am willing to endure ______ for the sake of this.) Actually, purpose deemphasizes the I. Purpose is about pursuing something outside yourself as opposed to pleasuring yourself. More than purpose, we also need realism. Where do we start? What do we do first? What do we do right now? How are we sure that what we’re doing is moving us forward? What are we benchmarking ourselves against?

“Great passions are maladies without hope,” as Goethe once said. Which is why a deliberate, purposeful person operates on a different level, beyond the sway or the sickness. They hire professionals and use them. They ask questions, they ask what could go wrong, they ask for examples. They plan for contingencies. Then they are off to the races. Usually they get started with small steps, complete them, and look for feedback on how the next set can be better. They lock in gains, and then get better as they go, often leveraging those gains to grow exponentially rather than arithmetically.

Is an iterative approach less exciting than manifestos, epiphanies, flying across the country to surprise someone, or sending four thousand word stream of consciousness emails in the middle of the night? Of course. Is it less glamorous and bold than going all in and maxing out your credit cards because you believe in yourself? Absolutely. Same goes for the spreadsheets, the meetings, the trips, the phone calls, software, tools, and internal systems – and every how-to article ever written about them and the routines of famous people.

Passion is form over function. Purpose is function, function, function. The critical work that you want to do will require your deliberation and consideration. Not passion. Not naïvete. It’d be far better if you were intimidated by what lies ahead – humbled by its magnitude and determined to see it through regardless. Leave passion for the amateurs. Make it about what you feel you must do and say, not what you care about and wish to be. Remember Talleyrand’s epigram for diplomats, Surtout, pas trop de Zèle (Above all, not too much zeal). Then you will do great things. Then you will stop being your old, good intentioned, but ineffective self.

Ryan Holiday (*1987, Sacramento/California) is an American author and entrepreneur. He was formerly marketing director for the clothing company American Apparel and columnist and editor for the New York Observer. His notable works include Trust Me, I'm Lying (2012), The Obstacle Is the Way (2014), Ego Is the Enemy (2016) and The Daily Stoic (2016).

> Ryan Holiday
> Read more of his writings on Thought Catalog

Segwegs and crushes — The way of the segue.

“The only rule about a crush mix is that the tape must contain absolutely no songs about having a crush.” (SA Burton)

2 November 2020 — Back in the day when choosing songs for mixed tapes, much consideration was put not only into the songs on the tape, but also the transition from one song to the next. This space between songs is called a segweg — presumably a combination of either the Italian word segue and/or the shortened version of segment, plus the German word Weg, meaning path or way.

The beat, mood and time in between songs are crucial in producing a great mixed tape. DJs use exactly these ingredients to lure wallflower listeners onto the dance floor, and it is possible to create seamless transitions between songs by matching the beats or connecting lyrics.

“Making a tape is like writing a letter — there’s a lot of erasing and rethinking and starting again. A good compilation tape, like breaking up, is hard to do.” (Nick Hornby, High Fidelity, 1995)

A segue directs a musician to continue to the next section of a song, without pausing. Live performances often use a segue or jamming to end one song and progress into the next. In written music and improvisation, segue implies a transition from one section to the next without a break.

An important aspect of mixed tapes is that they should not be confused with playlists. They need to be cohesive and are not just a bunch of songs thrown together. The mixed tape is one of the most intimate forms of self-expression — a portrait of oneself and how one wants to be viewed by the person receiving it.

The term mixed tape has been dumbed-down to mixtape or mix tape.

According to Summer Anne Burton, a journalist roughly in her late 30s, making someone a mixed tape was a very personal experience, because of the time you had to spend with the songs, sitting in front of a cassette player pushing buttons and obsessing over whether the song you wanted would fit on what was left on a side of the cassette.

It was different for the listener too — the construction of cassettes makes it more difficult to skip tracks compared to CDs and digital tracks. The listener is forced to sit and listen to what you have to say.

Not only was a mixed tape a way to show someone you admire how cool you were, but also it was a great way to share unknown subgenres.

Sadly, the ritual of mixed tapes has practically died out. Online compilations and playlists are similar, but the handmade cassette box inserts and tape labels are sorely missing. You cannot really feel the love and passion when moving digital songs from one folder to another.

> The Mixtape Museum, New York
> Summer Anne Burton, journalist from Austin, Texas

Men Explain Things to Me — Facts Didn’t Get in Their Way
by Rebecca Solnit

The Horse in Motion, automatic electro-photograph by Eadward Muybridge, 1878.

28 October 2020 — The verb splain has been in use for more than 200 years, originally as a colloquial pronunciation of the Late Middle English word explain. The term mansplaining was inspired by this essay by Rebecca Solnit, although she did not coin the word. In its early days, mansplaining had a fairly straightforward definition: when a man condescendingly lectures a woman — usually with drawn-out, wordy explanations — on the basics of a topic about which he knows very little, under the mistaken assumption that she knows even less.

In 2010, it was named by the New York Times as one of its words of the year. Today, 10 years later, it has become an almost ugly word, creating a fuzzy boundary between good and bad taste. According to author Benjamin Hart, “mansplaining has morphed from a useful descriptor of a real problem in contemporary gender dynamics to an increasingly vague catchall expression that seems to be inflaming [online] gender wars more than clarifying them.”

We are reprinting Rebecca Solnit’s essay here as some food for thought, and to remind people — no matter what sex, race or creed — that we as a society are always stronger together than separate bickering entities.

— — —
The Essay.

I still don’t know why Sallie and I bothered to go to that party in the forest slope above Aspen. The people were all older than us and dull in a distinguished way, old enough that we, at forty-ish, passed as the occasion’s young ladies. The house was great — if you like Ralph Lauren-style chalets — a rugged luxury cabin at 9,000 feet complete with elk antlers, lots of kilims, and a wood-burning stove. We were preparing to leave, when our host said, “No, stay a little longer so I can talk to you.” He was an imposing man who’d made a lot of money.

He kept us waiting while the other guests drifted out into the summer night, and then sat us down at his authentically grainy wood table and said to me, “So? I hear you’ve written a couple of books.”

I replied, “Several, actually.”

He said, in the way you encourage your friend’s seven-year-old to describe flute practice, “And what are they about?”

They were actually about quite a few different things, the six or seven out by then, but I began to speak only of the most recent on that summer day in 2003, River of Shadows: Eadweard Muybridge and the Technological Wild West, my book on the annihilation of time and space and the industrialization of everyday life.

He cut me off soon after I mentioned Muybridge. “And have you heard about the very important Muybridge book that came out this year?”

So caught up was I in my assigned role as ingénue that I was perfectly willing to entertain the possibility that another book on the same subject had come out simultaneously and I’d somehow missed it. He was already telling me about the very important book — with that smug look I know so well in a man holding forth, eyes fixed on the fuzzy far horizon of his own authority.

From Eadward Muybridge’s Athlete Series.

Here, let me just say that my life is well-sprinkled with lovely men, with a long succession of editors who have, since I was young, listened and encouraged and published me, with my infinitely generous younger brother, with splendid friends of whom it could be said — like the Clerk in The Canterbury Tales I still remember from Mr. Pelen’s class on Chaucer — “gladly would he learn and gladly teach.” Still, there are these other men, too. So, Mr. Very Important was going on smugly about this book I should have known when Sallie interrupted him to say, “That’s her book.” Or tried to interrupt him anyway.

But he just continued on his way. She had to say, “That’s her book” three or four times before he finally took it in. And then, as if in a nineteenth-century novel, he went ashen. That I was indeed the author of the very important book it turned out he hadn’t read, just read about in the New York Times Book Review a few months earlier, so confused the neat categories into which his world was sorted that he was stunned speechless — for a moment, before he began holding forth again. Being women, we were politely out of earshot before we started laughing, and we’ve never really stopped.

I like incidents of that sort, when forces that are usually so sneaky and hard to point out slither out of the grass and are as obvious as, say, an anaconda that’s eaten a cow or an elephant turd on the carpet.

When River of Shadows came out, some pedant wrote a snarky letter to the New York Times explaining that, though Muybridge had made improvements in camera technology, he had not made any breakthroughs in photographic chemistry. The guy had no idea what he was talking about. Both Philip Prodger, in his wonderful book on Muybridge, and I had actually researched the subject and made it clear that Muybridge had done something obscure but powerful to the wet-plate technology of the time to speed it up amazingly, but letters to the editor don’t get fact-checked. And perhaps because the book was about the virile subjects of cinema and technology, the Men Who Knew came out of the woodwork.

A British academic wrote in to the London Review of Books with all kinds of nitpicking corrections and complaints, all of them from outer space. He carped, for example, that to aggrandize Muybridge’s standing I left out technological predecessors like Henry R. Heyl. He’d apparently not read the book all the way to page 202 or checked the index, since Heyl was there (though his contribution was just not very significant). Surely one of these men has died of embarrassment, but not nearly publicly enough.

A Woman Walking Up a Plank by Eadward Muybridge, 1887.

The Slippery Slope of Silencings — Yes, guys like this pick on other men’s books too, and people of both genders pop up at events to hold forth on irrelevant things and conspiracy theories, but the out-and-out confrontational confidence of the totally ignorant is, in my experience, gendered. Men explain things to me, and other women, whether or not they know what they’re talking about. Some men.

Every woman knows what I’m talking about. It’s the presumption that makes it hard, at times, for any woman in any field; that keeps women from speaking up and from being heard when they dare; that crushes young women into silence by indicating, the way harassment on the street does, that this is not their world. It trains us in self-doubt and self-limitation just as it exercises men’s unsupported overconfidence.

I wouldn’t be surprised if part of the trajectory of American politics since 2001 was shaped by, say, the inability to hear Coleen Rowley, the FBI woman who issued those early warnings about al-Qaeda, and it was certainly shaped by a Bush administration to which you couldn’t tell anything, including that Iraq had no links to al-Qaeda and no WMDs [Ed. weapons of mass destruction], or that the war was not going to be a “cakewalk.” (Even male experts couldn’t penetrate the fortress of their smugness.)

Five African-American dancers perform a cakewalk, 1903. The cakewalk was a pre-US Civil War dance originally performed by slaves on plantation grounds. The uniquely American dance was first known as the prize walk; the prize was an elaborately decorated cake. Hence, prize walk is the original source for the phrases takes the cake and cakewalk. Here’s how the dance worked: Couples would stand in a square formation with men on the inside perimeter and then dance around the ballroom “as if in mimicry of the white man’s attitudes and manners.” (Richard Kislan, The Musical, 1995). Plantation owners served as judges for these contests — and the slave owners might not have fully caught on that their slaves might just have been mocking them during these highly elaborate dances. It is reminiscent of the Soul Train line dancers (see link below).

Arrogance might have had something to do with the war, but this syndrome is a war that nearly every woman faces every day, a war within herself too, a belief in her superfluity, an invitation to silence, one from which a fairly nice career as a writer (with a lot of research and facts correctly deployed) has not entirely freed me. After all, there was a moment there when I was willing to let Mr. Important and his overweening confidence bowl over my more shaky certainty.

Don’t forget that I’ve had a lot more confirmation of my right to think and speak than most women, and I’ve learned that a certain amount of self-doubt is a good tool for correcting, understanding, listening, and progressing — though too much is paralyzing and total self-confidence produces arrogant idiots, like the ones who have governed us since 2001. There’s a happy medium between these poles to which the genders have been pushed, a warm equatorial belt of give and take where we should all meet.

More extreme versions of our situation exist in, for example, those Middle Eastern countries where women’s testimony has no legal standing; so that a woman can’t testify that she was raped without a male witness to counter the male rapist. Which there rarely is.

Credibility is a basic survival tool. When I was very young and just beginning to get what feminism was about and why it was necessary, I had a boyfriend whose uncle was a nuclear physicist. One Christmas, he was telling — as though it were a light and amusing subject — how a neighbor’s wife in his suburban bomb-making community had come running out of her house naked in the middle of the night screaming that her husband was trying to kill her. How, I asked, did you know that he wasn’t trying to kill her? He explained, patiently, that they were respectable middle-class people. Therefore, her-husband-trying-to-kill-her was simply not a credible explanation for her fleeing the house yelling that her husband was trying to kill her. That she was crazy, on the other hand …

Even getting a restraining order — a fairly new legal tool — requires acquiring the credibility to convince the courts that some guy is a menace and then getting the cops to enforce it. Restraining orders often don’t work anyway. Violence is one way to silence people, to deny their voice and their credibility, to assert your right to control over their right to exist. About three women a day are murdered by spouses or ex-spouses in this country. It’s one of the main causes of death in pregnant women in the US. At the heart of the struggle of feminism to give rape, date rape, marital rape, domestic violence, and workplace sexual harassment legal standing as crimes has been the necessity of making women credible and audible.

I tend to believe that women acquired the status of human beings when these kinds of acts started to be taken seriously, when the big things that stop us and kill us were addressed legally from the mid-1970s on; well after, that is, my birth. And for anyone about to argue that workplace sexual intimidation isn’t a life or death issue, remember that Marine Lance Corporal Maria Lauterbach, age 20, was apparently killed by her higher-ranking colleague last winter while she was waiting to testify that he raped her. The burned remains of her pregnant body were found in the fire pit in his backyard in December.

Being told that, categorically, he knows what he’s talking about and she doesn’t, however minor a part of any given conversation, perpetuates the ugliness of this world and holds back its light. After my book Wanderlust came out in 2000, I found myself better able to resist being bullied out of my own perceptions and interpretations. On two occasions around that time, I objected to the behavior of a man, only to be told that the incidents hadn’t happened at all as I said, that I was subjective, delusional, overwrought, dishonest — in a nutshell, female.

Most of my life, I would have doubted myself and backed down. Having public standing as a writer of history helped me stand my ground, but few women get that boost, and billions of women must be out there on this six-billion-person planet being told that they are not reliable witnesses to their own lives, that the truth is not their property, now or ever. This goes way beyond Men Explaining Things, but it’s part of the same archipelago of arrogance.

Men explain things to me, still. And no man has ever apologized for explaining, wrongly, things that I know and they don’t. Not yet, but according to the actuarial tables, I may have another forty-something years to live, more or less, so it could happen. Though I'm not holding my breath.

Women Fighting on Two Fronts — A few years after the idiot in Aspen, I was in Berlin giving a talk when the Marxist writer Tariq Ali invited me out to a dinner that included a male writer and translator and three women a little younger than me who would remain deferential and mostly silent throughout the dinner. [Ed. Maybe the three women were struggling with the language being spoken, not their native tongue?] Tariq was great. Perhaps the translator was peeved that I insisted on playing a modest role in the conversation, but when I said something about how Women Strike for Peace, the extraordinary, little-known antinuclear and antiwar group founded in 1961, helped bring down the communist-hunting House Committee on Un-American Activities, HUAC, Mr. Very Important II sneered at me. HUAC, he insisted, didn’t exist by the early 1960s and, anyway, no women’s group played such a role in HUAC’s downfall. His scorn was so withering, his confidence so aggressive, that arguing with him seemed a scary exercise in futility and an invitation to more insult.

I think I was at nine books at that point, including one that drew from primary documents and interviews about Women Strike for Peace. But explaining men still assume I am, in some sort of obscene impregnation metaphor, an empty vessel to be filled with their wisdom and knowledge. A Freudian would claim to know what they have and I lack, but intelligence is not situated in the crotch — even if you can write one of Virginia Woolf’s long mellifluous musical sentences about the subtle subjugation of women in the snow with your willie. Back in my hotel room, I googled a bit and found that Eric Bentley in his definitive history of the House Committee on Un-American Activities credits Women Strike for Peace with “striking the crucial blow in the fall of HUAC’s Bastille.” In the early 1960s.

So I opened an essay for The Nation with this interchange, in part as a shout-out to one of the more unpleasant men who have explained things to me: Dude, if you’re reading this, you’re a carbuncle on the face of humanity and an obstacle to civilization. Feel the shame.

The battle with Men Who Explain Things has trampled down many women — of my generation, of the up-and-coming generation we need so badly, here and in Pakistan and Bolivia and Java, not to speak of the countless women who came before me and were not allowed into the laboratory, or the library, or the conversation, or the revolution, or even the category called human.

After all, Women Strike for Peace was founded by women who were tired of making the coffee and doing the typing and not having any voice or decision-making role in the antinuclear movement of the 1950s. Most women fight wars on two fronts, one for whatever the putative topic is and one simply for the right to speak, to have ideas, to be acknowledged to be in possession of facts and truths, to have value, to be a human being. Things have certainly gotten better, but this war won’t end in my lifetime. I’m still fighting it, for myself certainly, but also for all those younger women who have something to say, in the hope that they will get to say it.

Writer, historian, and activist Rebecca Solnit is the author of more than twenty books on feminism, western and indigenous history, popular power, social change and insurrection, wandering and walking, hope and disaster.

> Rebecca Solnit
> This article was first published at TomDispatch.com on 13 April 2008.
> Soul Train line dance

Local graffiti wars — What’s going on?

The reoccuring incident of beautiful murals being vandalized.

20 October 2020 — For an innocent bystander, it appears that some graffiti artists may be jealous when others have the opportunity to create public art. In 1971, Marvin Gaye had something important to say, a message which is still rings home today:

Mother, mother
There’s too many of you crying
Brother, brother, brother
There’s far too many of you dying
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today, yeah

Father, father
We don't need to escalate
You see, war is not the answer
For only love can conquer hate
You know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some lovin’ here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Talk to me
So you can see
Oh, what’s going on
What’s going
What’s going on
What’s going on

Right on, baby
Right on
Right on

Mother, mother
Everybody thinks we’re wrong
Oh, but who are they to judge us
Simply because our hair is long
Oh, you know we’ve got to find a way
To bring some understanding here today

Picket lines and picket signs
Don’t punish me with brutality
Come on talk to me
So you can see
What’s going on
What’s going on
Tell me what’s going on
I’ll tell you ya, what’s going on
Right on, baby
Right on, baby
Right on, baby

Originally inspired by a police brutality incident, What’s Going On by American singer Marvin Gaye was released in 1971 on the Motown subsidiary Tamla.

Let’s keep our egos under control, please. If anyone knows what is going on here, please enlighten us and send an email. In the meantime, in the upcoming months we will be featuring some other nice graffiti — sometimes just typographic — spotted around Basel’s Klybeck and St. Johann districts:

Did the Spraycan Samuray [sic] take some calligraphy classes at the Basel School of Design?

George Floyd RIP.

Habit formation is the process by which a behavior, through regular repetition, becomes automatic or habitual.

True luxury means having Mondays off and cooking risotto.

Say their names — Black Lives Matter.

New mural including an image of Breonna Taylor, a cityscape and three swimmers, near the Dreirosen Bridge in Kleinbasel.

29 August 2020 — As of today in the USA, 27,839 people have been killed and 24,358 have been injured this year due to gun violence.

> US Gun Violence Archive.
> 2020 US Shootings.

Black Lives Matter.

> Black Lives Matter.

Creatives against Corona — 150 posters submitted in local PR campaign.

This too shall pass, Karo Graphic Design (left) and Stay home and finally flatten the virus and the curve, Cosimo Wunderlin

7 May 2020 — How should one deal with this crisis on a responsible level? Design means finding a solution to problems. Graphic designers from around Basel have been called upon to create posters in B4 format to cope with the coronavirus. The posters will be hung in the region for two weeks starting in mid-May.

Stay at home, Siorin and We are keeping a distance, Takelwerk

Next up: Stop climate change before it stops us, Karo Graphic Design and Social Distancing, Philipp Jeker

No! Rona, Miriam Sterki and We look after each other, Martin Wuelser

In cooperation with the Poster Collection of the Basel School of Design, the Rappaz Museum will be making an exhibition of the posters. The opening reception is scheduled for June 4th — in compliance with all government regulations.

Opening reception: 4 June 2020, Rappaz Museum, Klingental 11, 4058 Basel, www.rappazmuseum.ch

The campaign Kreative contra Corona was initiated by the BZ Zeitung in cooperation with Pro Innerstadt Basel, Basel Live and jjsscc – with the help of the Merian-Iselin-Klinik, Clear Channel, Druckerei Creaplot, KreaB, Rappaz Museum, the Basel City Cleaning Department and the poster collection the Basel School of Design.

A fiasco in the making? As the coronavirus pandemic takes hold, we are making decisions without reliable data
by John P. A. Ioannidis

A nurse holds swabs and a test tube to test people for Covid-19 at a drive-through station set up in the parking lot of the Beaumont Hospital in Royal Oak, Michigan. (Photo: Paul Sancya, AP)

12 April 2020 — At a time when everyone needs better information, from disease modelers and governments to people quarantined or just social distancing, we lack reliable evidence on how many people have been infected with SARS-CoV-2 or who continue to become infected. Better information is needed to guide decisions and actions of monumental significance and to monitor their impact.

Draconian countermeasures have been adopted in many countries. If the pandemic dissipates — either on its own or because of these measures — short-term extreme social distancing and lockdowns may be bearable. How long, though, should measures like these be continued if the pandemic churns across the globe unabated? How can policymakers tell if they are doing more good than harm?

The data collected so far on how many people are infected and how the epidemic is evolving are utterly unreliable. Given the limited testing to date, some deaths and probably the vast majority of infections due to SARS-CoV-2 are being missed. We don’t know if we are failing to capture infections by a factor of three or 300. Three months after the outbreak emerged, most countries, including the US, lack the ability to test a large number of people and no countries have reliable data on the prevalence of the virus in a representative random sample of the general population.

This evidence fiasco creates tremendous uncertainty about the risk of dying from Covid-19. Reported case fatality rates, like the official 3.4% rate from the World Health Organization, cause horror — and are meaningless. Patients who have been tested for SARS-CoV-2 are disproportionately those with severe symptoms and bad outcomes. As most health systems have limited testing capacity, selection bias may even worsen in the near future.

The one situation where an entire, closed population was tested was the Diamond Princess cruise ship and its quarantine passengers. The case fatality rate there was 1.0%, but this was a largely elderly population, in which the death rate from Covid-19 is much higher.

Projecting the Diamond Princess mortality rate onto the age structure of the US population, the death rate among people infected with Covid-19 would be 0.125%. But since this estimate is based on extremely thin data — there were just seven deaths among the 700 infected passengers and crew — the real death rate could stretch from five times lower (0.025%) to five times higher (0.625%). It is also possible that some of the passengers who were infected might die later, and that tourists may have different frequencies of chronic diseases — a risk factor for worse outcomes with SARS-CoV-2 infection — than the general population. Adding these extra sources of uncertainty, reasonable estimates for the case fatality ratio in the general US population vary from 0.05% to 1%.

That huge range markedly affects how severe the pandemic is and what should be done. A population-wide case fatality rate of 0.05% is lower than seasonal influenza. If that is the true rate, locking down the world with potentially tremendous social and financial consequences may be totally irrational. It’s like an elephant being attacked by a house cat. Frustrated and trying to avoid the cat, the elephant accidentally jumps off a cliff and dies.

Could the Covid-19 case fatality rate be that low? No, some say, pointing to the high rate in elderly people. However, even some so-called mild or common-cold-type coronaviruses that have been known for decades can have case fatality rates as high as 8% when they infect elderly people in nursing homes. In fact, such “mild” coronaviruses infect tens of millions of people every year, and account for 3% to 11% of those hospitalized in the US with lower respiratory infections each winter.

These “mild” coronaviruses may be implicated in several thousands of deaths every year worldwide, though the vast majority of them are not documented with precise testing. Instead, they are lost as noise among 60 million deaths from various causes every year.

Although successful surveillance systems have long existed for influenza, the disease is confirmed by a laboratory in a tiny minority of cases. In the US, for example, so far this season 1,073,976 specimens have been tested and 222,552 (20.7%) have tested positive for influenza. In the same period, the estimated number of influenza-like illnesses is between 36,000,000 and 51,000,000, with an estimated 22,000 to 55,000 flu deaths.

Note the uncertainty about influenza-like illness deaths: a 2.5-fold range, corresponding to tens of thousands of deaths. Every year, some of these deaths are due to influenza and some to other viruses, like common-cold coronaviruses.

In an autopsy series that tested for respiratory viruses in specimens from 57 elderly persons who died during the 2016 to 2017 influenza season, influenza viruses were detected in 18% of the specimens, while any kind of respiratory virus was found in 47%. In some people who die from viral respiratory pathogens, more than one virus is found upon autopsy and bacteria are often superimposed. A positive test for coronavirus does not mean necessarily that this virus is always primarily responsible for a patient’s demise.

If we assume that case fatality rate among individuals infected by SARS-CoV-2 is 0.3% in the general population — a mid-range guess from my Diamond Princess analysis — and that 1% of the US population gets infected (about 3.3 million people), this would translate to about 10,000 deaths. This sounds like a huge number, but it is buried within the noise of the estimate of deaths from “influenza-like illness.” If we had not known about a new virus out there, and had not checked individuals with PCR tests, the number of total deaths due to “influenza-like illness” would not seem unusual this year. At most, we might have casually noted that flu this season seems to be a bit worse than average. The media coverage would have been less than for an NBA game between the two most indifferent teams.

Some worry that the 68 deaths from Covid-19 in the US as of March 16 will increase exponentially to 680, 6,800, 68,000, 680,000 … along with similar catastrophic patterns around the globe. Is that a realistic scenario, or bad science fiction? How can we tell at what point such a curve might stop?

The most valuable piece of information for answering those questions would be to know the current prevalence of the infection in a random sample of a population and to repeat this exercise at regular time intervals to estimate the incidence of new infections. Sadly, that’s information we don’t have.

In the absence of data, prepare-for-the-worst reasoning leads to extreme measures of social distancing and lockdowns. Unfortunately, we do not know if these measures work. School closures, for example, may reduce transmission rates. But they may also backfire if children socialize anyhow, if school closure leads children to spend more time with susceptible elderly family members, if children at home disrupt their parents ability to work, and more. School closures may also diminish the chances of developing herd immunity in an age group that is spared serious disease.

This has been the perspective behind the different stance of the United Kingdom keeping schools open, at least until as I write this. In the absence of data on the real course of the epidemic, we don’t know whether this perspective was brilliant or catastrophic.

Flattening the curve to avoid overwhelming the health system is conceptually sound — in theory. A visual that has become viral in media and social media shows how flattening the curve reduces the volume of the epidemic that is above the threshold of what the health system can handle at any moment.

Yet if the health system does become overwhelmed, the majority of the extra deaths may not be due to coronavirus but to other common diseases and conditions such as heart attacks, strokes, trauma, bleeding, and the like that are not adequately treated. If the level of the epidemic does overwhelm the health system and extreme measures have only modest effectiveness, then flattening the curve may make things worse: Instead of being overwhelmed during a short, acute phase, the health system will remain overwhelmed for a more protracted period. That’s another reason we need data about the exact level of the epidemic activity.

One of the bottom lines is that we don’t know how long social distancing measures and lockdowns can be maintained without major consequences to the economy, society, and mental health. Unpredictable evolutions may ensue, including financial crisis, unrest, civil strife, war, and a meltdown of the social fabric. At a minimum, we need unbiased prevalence and incidence data for the evolving infectious load to guide decision-making.

In the most pessimistic scenario, which I do not espouse, if the new coronavirus infects 60% of the global population and 1% of the infected people die, that will translate into more than 40 million deaths globally, matching the 1918 influenza pandemic.

The vast majority of this hecatomb would be people with limited life expectancies. That’s in contrast to 1918, when many young people died.

One can only hope that, much like in 1918, life will continue. Conversely, with lockdowns of months, if not years, life largely stops, short-term and long-term consequences are entirely unknown, and billions, not just millions, of lives may be eventually at stake.

If we decide to jump off the cliff, we need some data to inform us about the rationale of such an action and the chances of landing somewhere safe.

John P. A. Ioannidis is professor of medicine and professor of epidemiology and population health, as well as professor by courtesy of biomedical data science at Stanford University School of Medicine, professor by courtesy of statistics at Stanford University School of Humanities and Sciences, and co-director of the Meta-Research Innovation Center at Stanford at Stanford University.

> This article originally appeared on 17 March 2020 in STAT.

Why we should all be wearing protective face masks
by Andreas Kunz

The so-called ‘Spanish flu’ pandemic lasted from January 1918 to December 1920, infecting 500 million people — about a quarter of the world’s population at the time.

6 April 2020 — In Coop, a Swiss grocery store, a youngster coughs on a shrink-wrapped pork chop, which a grandmother then later puts in her shopping basket. At the Migros grocery store, cashiers continue to serve hundreds of customers every day without wearing protective facial masks. Although mask wearers have become more numerous on public transportion, they are still regarded by many as being paranoid busybodies. Or maybe they are supposedly dangerous Asian tourists.

In contrast to countries such as China, Japan or South Korea, Switzerland is not a mask-wearing society. On the contrary: hiding your face and remaining undetected in public is regarded here as an affront, something that only strictly religious Muslim women or youthful thugs tend to do. In Germany, it is no wonder that protective face masks are rarely seen since the outbreak of the corona virus. And it is no coincidence, because all of the shops that carry them are sold out.

The Swiss government has massively underestimated the importance of wearing masks, as well as their level of preparedness for a pandemic, with only 180,000 of the special protective models being stored. Since the outbreak of the crisis, Daniel Koch of the Federal Office of Public Health (BAG) has demonstratively questioned the usefulness of wearing masks. They “do not offer any real protection against viruses,” he claims incessantly — as if millions of disease-stricken Asians have been wrong for years.

In fact, protective masks offer the best chance of getting out of this lockdown as quickly as possible. Virologists outside Switzerland have long recognized this. Although it is possible that healthy people can catch the virus while wearing a mask, this greatly reduces the risk of droplet spread. And we tend not to touch our face as often when wearing one. If infected people wear a face mask, we can even minimize the safety distance. This is particularly important because around 80 percent of those infected show no or only slight symptoms, says the German professor of virology Alexander Kekulé and sums it up in one sentence: “If everyone wears masks, that means the sick would also be wearing masks.”

For Kekulé and other professionals, certain industries could resume operations and schools or garden centers could be opened if people wear protective masks and follow other rules of hygiene, such as washing and/or disinfecting your hands. But the Swiss authorities have continued to brush off the topic, even two weeks after the lockdown was first announced.

Advertisement from the Illustrated Current News, 18 October 1918.

The Federal Office of Public Health stated that it is busy trying to buy “as many masks as possible” from abroad. But the global demand is so great that not only did prices explode, but orders that were already promised have not arrived. Some Swiss companies have been smart enough to make their own masks, but the amount is far from the amount needed. And a major national effort to solve this problem as soon as possible has hardly been reached.

The federal government does not have to declare a crisis on mask production, similar to the Swiss cultivation program to grow food during WWII. But they should persuade many more companies to make their own protective masks and include the idea of wearing masks in their official campaign to fight the virus. Above all, it is time that the Federal Office of Public Health stops spreading falsehoods about the effectiveness of wearing masks. Everyone understands that hospitals and retirement homes must have priority in the distribution of the current remaining stocks. But no one should be led to believe that masks are not essential in getting us out of this lockdown.

Not wearing masks will quickly become a thing of the past here in the west.

This crisis will change the country and its people. Sooner or later we will get used to wearing masks. We still show noble reluctance to commit to this kind of bourgeois taboo breach: to hide the face — our most personal characteristic — from each other. We should follow the example of the Asians: They wear facial masks as a sign of courtesy and solidarity.

This article was originally published in German on 28 March 2020, in several Swiss newspapers.

> Swiss journalist Andi Kunz on Twitter

New poster:

20 March 2020 — Download, print out, hang up and share electronically:

> Poster, English
> Plakat, Deutsch
> Affico, italiano
> Affiche, français

Coronavirus: Symptoms, statistics and daily tracking.

Olafur Eliasson, The Weather Project, Turbine Hall at the Tate Modern, London, 2003.

15 March 2020 — Indeed, it’s the end of the world as we know it. We collected a bit of information about the symptoms and the cycle of the coronavirus. All source links are provided below.

Typical symptoms of Covid-19
Covid-19 typically causes flu-like symptoms including a fever and cough. In some patients — particularly the elderly and those with other chronic health conditions — these symptoms can develop into pneumonia, with chest tightness, chest pain and shortness of breath. It appears to start with a fever, followed by a dry cough.

After a week, it can lead to further shortness of breath, with about 20% of patients requiring hospital treatment. Notably, the Covid-19 infection rarely seems to cause a runny nose, sneezing, or sore throat (these symptoms have been observed in only about 5% of patients). Sore throat, sneezing, and stuffy nose are most often signs of a cold.

80% of the cases are mild
Based on all 72,314 cases* of Covid-19 in China as of 11 February 2020:
— 80.9% of infections are mild (with flu-like symptoms) and can recover at home
— 13.8% are severe, developing severe diseases including pneumonia and shortness of breath
— 4.7% as critical and can include: respiratory failure, septic shock, and multi-organ failure
— 2% of reported cases are fatal
— The risk of death increases the older that you are
— Relatively few cases haven been seen among children

* Taken from research a paper about confirmed, suspected and asymptomatic cases which was released on 17 February 2020 by the Chinese CCDC and published in the Chinese Journal of Epidemiology.

Pre-existing illnesses that put patients at a higher risk:
— Cardiovascular disease
— Diabetes
— Chronic respiratory disease
— Hypertension

It must be noted, some otherwise healthy people have developed a severe form of pneumonia after being infected by the virus. The reason for this is unknown and is still being investigated.

Daily tracking of symptoms

First 1–3 days 
— Symptoms are similar to those of the common cold
— Sore throat
— No flu, not tired, still eating normally

Day 4
— Sore throat
— First signs of becoming sick
— Body temperature increasing from 36.5° (varies from person to person)
— Loss of appetite begins, difficult to eat
— Mild headache
— Mild diarrhea

Day 5
— Sore throat, coughing
— Slightly hot body, temperature rises to 36.5–36.7°
— Feeling tired and dizzy, pain in the joints
— This stage is difficult to diagnose as either a cold or flu

Day 6
— Mild fever begins, about 37°
— Croup cough or dry cough
— Sore throat when eating, talking or swallowing
— Fatigue, nausea
— Breathing is difficult
— Possible diarrhea, vomiting

Day 7
— The fever is higher from 37.4–37.8°
— Much coughing
— Body aches and pains, the head feels heavy
— Frequent feeling of suffocation
— More diarrhea
— Vomiting

Day 8 
— Fever is 38°+
— Hard to breathe, shortness of breath
— Continued coughing
— Headache, joint pain, back pain 

Day 9 (in this stage, blood tests and lung xrays should be made
— Symptoms worsen
— High fever
— Not coughing but symptoms worsen
— Breathing difficulties

Symptoms vary depending on the individual’s resistance and immunity. It takes 10–14 days for symptoms to develop in a healthy person, only 4–5 days for a person with health issues.

> healthxcenter.com

Examples of possible development of symptoms (from actual cases)

A man in his 40s in Japan:
— Day 1: Bodily discomfort and muscle pain
— Later diagnosed with pneumonia

A man in his 60s in Japan:
— Day 1: Initial symptoms of low-grade fever and sore throat

A man in his 40s in Japan:
— Day 1: Chills, sweating and malaise
— Day 4: Fever, muscle pain and cough

A woman in her 70s, in Japan:
— Day 1: 38° fever for a few minutes
— Day 2+3: Went on a bus tour
— Day 5: Visited a medical institution
— Day 6: Showed symptoms of pneumonia

A woman in her 40s, in Japan:
— Day 1: Low-level fever
— Day 2: 38° fever
— Day 6: Being treated at home

A man in his 60s, in Japan:
— Day 1: Cold symptoms
— Day 6: Fever of 39°C (102.2°F)
— Day 8: Pneumonia

Another patient, in China with a history of type 2 diabetes and hypertension:
— 22 January: Fever and cough
— 5 February: Died

First death in the Philippines (44 year old Chinese other pre-existing health conditions):
— 25 January: Fever, cough, and sore throat (hospitalized)
— Developed severe pneumonia
— 2 February: Died

How long do symptoms last?

Using available preliminary data, the Report of the WHO-China Joint Mission published on 28 February 2020 by WHO, which is based on 55,924 laboratory confirmed cases, observed the following median time from symptoms onset to clinical recovery:

— Mild cases: approximately 2 weeks
— Severe or critical disease: 3–6 weeks
— Time from onset to the development of severe disease (including hypoxia, a lack of oxygen to a specific part of the body): 1 week

Among patients who have died, the time from symptom onset to outcome ranges from 2–8 weeks.

> healthxcenter.com

Combating the coronavirus: Why soap works so well.
by Palli Thordarson

Coronaviruses are a group of viruses that have a halo, or crown-like (corona) appearance when viewed under an electron microscope. Photo: Dr. Fred Murphy (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

9 March 2020 — A two-part Twitter thread about soap, viruses and supramolecular chemistry.
(Ed. By the way, SARS-CoV-2 is the virus, COVID-19 is the disease.)

Part 1

Why does soap work so well on the SARS-CoV-2, the coronavirus and indeed most viruses? Because it is a self-assembled nanoparticle in which the weakest link is the lipid (fatty) bilayer. A two part thread about soap, viruses and supramolecular chemistry.‬

The soap dissolves the fat membrane and the virus falls apart like a house of cards and dies, or rather, we should say it becomes inactive as viruses aren’t really alive. Viruses can be active outside the body for hours, even days.

Disinfectants, or liquids, wipes, gels and creams containing alcohol (and soap) have a similar effects but are not really quite as good as normal soap. Apart from the alcohol and soap, the antibacterial agents in these products don’t affect the virus structure much at all.

Consequently, many antibacterial products are basically just an expensive version of soap in terms of how they act on viruses. Soap is the best but alcohol wipes are good when soap is not practical or handy (e.g. office receptions).

But why exactly is soap so good? To explain that, I will take you through a bit of a journey through supramolecular ‪chemistry‬, nanoscience and virology. I try to explain this in generic terms as much as possible, which means leaving some specialist chemistry terms out.

I point out to that while I am expert in supramolecular chemistry and the assembly of nanoparticles, I am not a virologist. The image with the first tweet is from an excellent post here which is dense with good virology info:

The weakest link of the coronavirus is it's fatty bilayer (lipid).
E = small envelope protein
S = spike glycoprotein
M = membrane
Illustration: David M. Knipe and Peter M. Howley (ed.), Fields Virology, 6th Edition. Wolters Kluwer, 2013.

I have always been fascinated by viruses as I see them as one of them most spectacular examples of how supramolecular chemistry and nanoscience can converge. Most viruses consist of three key building blocks: RNA, proteins and lipids.

The RNA is the viral genetic material — it is very similar to DNA. The proteins have several roles including breaking into the target cell, assist with virus replication and basically to be a key building block (like a brick in a house) in the whole virus structure.

The lipids then form a coat around the virus, both for protection and to assist with its spread and cellular invasion. The RNA, proteins and lipids self-assemble to form the virus. Critically, there are no strong covalent bonds holding these units together.

Instead the viral self-assembly is based on weak non-covalent interactions between the proteins, RNA and lipids. Together these act together like a velcro so it is very hard to break up the self-assembled viral particle. Still, we can do it (e.g. with soap!).

Most viruses, including the coronavirus, are between 50–200 nanometers — so they are truly nanoparticles. Nanoparticles have complex interactions with surfaces they are on. Same with viruses. Skin, steel, timber, fabric, paint and porcelain are very different surfaces.

When a virus invades a cell, the RNA hijacks the cellular machinery like a computer virus (!) and forces the cell to start to makes a lot of fresh copies of its own RNA and the various proteins that make up the virus.

These new RNA and protein molecules, self-assemble with lipids (usually readily present in the cell) to form new copies of the virus. That is, the virus does not photocopy itself, it makes copies of the building blocks which then self-assemble into new viruses!

All those new viruses eventually overwhelm the cell and it dies/explodes releasing viruses which then go on to infect more cells. In the lungs, some of these viruses end up in the airways and the mucous membranes surrounding these.

When you cough, or especially when you sneeze, tiny droplets from the airways can fly up to 10 meters (30 ft)! The larger ones are thought to be main coronavirus carriers and they can go at least 2 m (7 ft). Thus — cover your coughs and sneezes to people!

These tiny droplets end on surfaces and often dry out quickly. But the viruses are still active! What happens next is all about supramolecular chemistry and how self-assembled nanoparticles (like the viruses) interact with their environment!

Now it is time to introduce a powerful supramolecular chemistry concept that effectively says: similar molecules appear to interact more strongly with each other than dissimilar ones. Wood, fabric and not to mention skin interact fairly strongly with viruses.

Contrast this with steel, porcelain and at least some plastics, e.g. teflon. The surface structure also matter – the flatter the surface the less the virus will stick to the surface. Rougher surfaces can actually pull the virus apart.

So why are surfaces different? The virus is held together by a combination of hydrogen bonds (like those in water) and what we call hydrophilic or fat-like interactions. The surface of fibres or wood for instance can form a lot of hydrogen bonds with the virus.

In contrast steel, porcelain or teflon do not form a lot of hydrogen bond with the virus. So the virus is not strongly bound to these surfaces. The virus is quite stable on these surface whereas it doesn’t stay active for as long on say fabric or wood.

For how long does the virus stay active? It depends. The SARS-CoV-2 coronavirus is thought to stay active on favourable surfaces for hours, possibly a day. Moisture (dissolves), sun light (UV light) and heat (molecular motions) all make the virus less stable.

The skin is an ideal surface for a virus! It is organic and the proteins and fatty acids in the dead cells on the surface interact with the virus through both hydrogen bonds and the fat-like hydrophilic interactions.

So when you touch say a steel surface with a virus particle on it, it will stick to your skin and hence get transferred onto your hands. But you are not (yet) infected. If you touch your face though, the virus can get transferred from your hands and on to your face.

And now the virus is dangerously close to the airways and the mucus type membranes in and around your mouth and eyes. So the virus can get in… and voila! You are infected (that is, unless your immune system kills the virus).

If the virus is on your hands you can pass it on by shaking someone’s else hand. Kisses, well, that’s pretty obvious… It comes without saying that if someone sneezes right in your face you are kind of stuffed. Part 2 about soap coming next (25 post limit reached)!

Part 2

About soap, supramolecular chemistry and viruses. So how often do you touch your face? It turns out most people touch the face once every 2–5 minutes! Yeah, so you at high risk once the virus gets on your hands unless you can wash the active virus off.

So let’s try washing it off with plain water. It might just work. But water only competes with the strong glue-like interactions between the skin and virus via hydrogen bonds. They virus is quite sticky and may not budge. Water isn’t enough.

Soapy water is totally different. Soap contains fat-like substances knowns as amphiphiles, some structurally very similar to the lipids in the virus membrane. The soap molecules compete with the lipids in the virus membrane.

The soap molecules also compete with a lot other non-covalent bonds that help the proteins, RNA and the lipids to stick together. The soap is effectively dissolving the glue that holds the virus together. Add to that all the water.

The soap also outcompetes the interactions between the virus and the skin surface. Soon the viruses get detached and fall a part like a house of cards due to the combined action of the soap and water. The virus is gone!

The skin is quite rough and wrinkly which is why you do need a fair amount of rubbing and soaking to ensure the soap reaches very crook and nanny on the skin surface that could be hiding active viruses.

Alcohol based products, which pretty includes all disinfectants and antibacterial products contain a high-percentage alcohol solution, typically 60–80% ethanol, sometimes with a bit of isopropanol as well and then water plus a bit of a soap.

Ethanol and other alcohols do not only readily form hydrogen bonds with the virus material but as a solvent, are more lipophilic than water. Hence alcohol do also dissolve the lipid membrane and disrupt other supramolecular interactions in the virus.

However, you need a fairly high concentration (maybe +60%) of the alcohol to get a rapid dissolution of the virus. Vodka or whiskey (usually 40% ethanol), will not dissolve the virus as quickly. Overall alcohol is not quite as good as soap at this task.

Nearly all antibacterial products contain alcohol and some soap and this does help killing viruses. But some also include active bacterial killing agents, like triclosan. Those, however, do basically nothing to the virus!

To sum up, viruses are almost like little grease-nanoparticles. They can stay active for many hours on surfaces and then get picked up by touch. They then get to our face and infect us because most of us touch the face quite frequently.

Water is not very effective alone in washing the virus off our hands. Alcohol based product work better. But nothing beats soap – the virus detaches from the skin and falls apart very readily in soapy water.

Here you have it – supramolecular chemistry and nanoscience tell us not only a lot about how the virus self-assembled into a functional active menace, but also how we can beat viruses with something as simple as soap.

Thank you for reading my first thread. Apologies for any mistakes in the above. I might have some virology details wrong here as I am not a virologist unlike ‪@MackayIM‬ who I am a big fan of! But I hope this inspires you not only to use soap but to read up on chemistry!

Palli Thordarson (@PalliThordarson), B.Sc. (Iceland) 1996, Ph.D. (Sydney) 2001, CChem, FRACI, FRSC
Professor, School of Chemistry UNSW, Sydney, New South Wales

Research Group website: http://thordarsongroup.org

Biographical Details
B.Sc. Chemistry from the University of Iceland (1996), Researcher, Science Institute, the University of Iceland (1996–1997). Ph.D, The University of Sydney (1997–2001). Postdoctoral Fellow, the University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands (2001), Marie Curie Postdoctoral Fellow, the University of Nijmegen, The Netherlands (2001–2003). The University of Sydney SESQUI Postdoctoral Research Fellow (2003–2005). Australian Research Council, Australian Research Fellow, The University of Sydney (2006–2007) and UNSW (2007–2010). Appointed Senior Lecturer, UNSW (2007); Australian Research Council Future Fellow (2012–2016), Associate Professor (2013). Professor (2017).
Marie Curie Fellowship (2001), Sesqui Fellowship (2003), NSW Young Tall Poppy Science Prize (2008), The International Society of Porphyrins and Phthalocaynines/Journal of Porphyrins and Phthalocyanines) Young Investigator Award (2010), Le Fèvre Memorial Prize by the Australian Academy of Science (2012). Fellow of the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (2017), Fellow of the Royal Socieity of Chemistry UK (2017).

> Palli Thordarson on Twitter
> Coronavirus Tech Handbook
> SARS-CoV-2 and the lessons we have to learn from it

News update: Studio concert postponed.

2 March 2020 — Today’s studio concert by Shadowplay has been postponed to help prevent the spread of Covid-19. We will keep you posted when the concert has been re-scheduled. Stay healthy!

> Listen to Shadowplay

K’Werk 2020 Program: Neon is the New Orange.

17 February 2020 — The K’Werk Bildschule (German for image school) was founded in 2005, offering classes and workshops in the visual arts, a concept similar to that of what music schools have been providing for decades. Children and adolescents between the age of 5 and 16 can discover and develop their creative skills in a fun and concentrated atmosphere.

The K’Werk Bildschule is part of the Basel School of Design and is a public educational program in the canton of Basel-Stadt.

K’Werk 2020 program, published twice yearly, 48 pages, 2-color printing with a 4-color photo section. The new program booklet is available at K’Werk Bildschule: www.kwerk.ch or from us directly.

New book release: Mixing, Punks and Background Noise.

2 January 2020 — This little paperback is an explosive collision of two of our favorite subjects: Real Punk Ginger Beer and music. Mixing, Punks and Background Noise is packed with 35 mixed drink recipes and 31 black and white photographs of 15 bands and 49 musicians from around the globe.

Learn to mix common cocktails such as Moscow Mule and Dark and Stormy and the lesser known Matcha Ginger Beer, Ginger Beer Caipirinha and Vintage Punk. All of the recipes use our own Real Punk Ginger Beer as a mixer. And for the especially ambitioned, we have included 2 recipes for making your own DIY infused aromatic bitters.

The musicians are not only esteemed stars, but also local artists who we highly admire. The concert photos include the following performers: Steve Albini & Shellac, Asbest, Bernie the Attorney, Jehnny Beth & Savages, Big Muff, Nick Cave, Dead Moon, Denner Clan, Michael Gira & Swans, Gustav Gurke & Peter Paprika, Debbie Harry, Rowland S. Howard, L’Arbre bizarre, Lombego Surfers, John Maher of Buzzcocks, Dominic Aitchison and Stuart Braithwaite of Mogwai, Chris Pravdica, Joey Ramone, Henry Rollins, Siouxsie Sioux, Mark E. Smith, Thurston Moore, Todd Trainer, Totem Nevada, Treelove, The Tutu Three, Warpaint, Norman Westberg, Bob Weston and Jack White.

Many thanks to Andy Chislehurst (John Maher), David Corio (Nick Cave, Rowland S. Howard, Mark E. Smith), Ed Perlstein (Joey Ramone) and Derek Ridgers (Siouxsie Sioux) for graciously allowing us to use their vintage photographs! All other photographs are by Susan Knapp.

Mixing, Punks and Background Noise — Real Punk Ginger Beer and the Art of Mixology: 167 x 215 mm, 64 pages, 31 black and white photographs, softcover, in English, limited edition of 250 copies. CHF 10, EUR 9 plus shipping. Real Punk Ginger Beer can be ordered directly from us at Karo Publishing.