Toward Functional Immunity

Katherine J. Wu:

Eventually, all discussions about sterilizing immunity [Ability to totally prevent infection] become nerdy quibbles over semantics. Clearly, not every infection is clinically meaningful, or even logistically detectable, given the limits of our technology—nor do they need to be, if there’s no sickness or transmission. (A koan for pandemic times: If a microbe silently and inconsequentially copies itself in a tissue, and the body doesn’t notice, did it actually infect?) There is, for every pathogen, a threshold at which an infection becomes problematic; all the immune system has to do is suppress its rise below this line to keep someone safe.

But that might be exactly the point. Say that sterilizing immunity is impossible, that our immune systems cannot, in fact, be trained to achieve perfection. Then it’s neither a surprise nor a shortcoming that COVID-19 vaccines, or other vaccines, don’t manage it: An inoculation that guards marvelously well against disease—offering as much protection as it can—can still end an outbreak. Life would certainly be easier if vaccines offered invincible armor, with pathogens simply ricocheting off. But they don’t, and assuming or expecting them to manage that can be dangerous. The dubiousness of sterilizing immunity is a reminder that just about any immune response can be overwhelmed, if exposures are heavy and frequent enough, Grad told me. The best we can all hope for is functional immunity, more like a flame retardant than a firewall, that still keeps bad burns at bay.

Virginia Removes the Nation’s Largest Confederate Monument

(Photo by Bob Brown – Pool/Getty Images)

Yesterday the state of Virginia permanently removed the nation’s largest confederate monument, a statue of Robert E. Lee, from its place on Monument Avenue in the capital city of Richmond, Virginia, where it had been erected in 1890. All other confederate monuments have already been removed. This was the last one to go. Lee was the famed confederate general who led a southern army of rebellion against the United States government during the American Civil War.

It was the right decision and long overdue. The historical truth is that Robert E. Lee and the confederate army fought a long and bloody war against the federal government of the United States over the legal right of the southern states to preserve and expand the institution of chattel slavery.

In reflecting on Lee’s surrender at Appomattox and the cause for which Lee and his army had served, U.S. Army General Ulysses S. Grant wrote in his post war memoir:

I felt like anything rather than rejoicing at the downfall of a foe who had fought so long and valiantly, and had suffered so much for a cause, though that cause was, I believe, one of the worst for which a people ever fought, and one for which there was the least excuse. [underlining added]

Sowing the Wind

Bruce Catton:

He liked to say that he was in morals, not politics. From this the logical deduction was that people who opposed him, numerous though they undoubtedly were, must be willfully wrong. . . .

Yet angry words were about the only kind anyone cared about to use these days. Men seemed tired of the reasoning process. Instead of trying to convert one’s opponents it was simpler just to denounce them, no matter what unmeasured denunciation might lead to. . . . Men saw what they feared and hated, concentrated on its wide empty plains, and as they stared they were losing the ability to see virtue in compromise and conciliation. The man on the other side, whatever one’s vantage point, was beginning to look ominously alien. . . .

A philippic, as he had promised. No single vote had been changed by it; the Senate would decide, at last, precisely as it would have done if he had kept quiet. But he had not been trying to persuade. No one was, these days; a political leader addressed his own following, not the opposition. Summer had been trying to inflame, to arouse, to confirm the hatreds and angers that already existed. In the North there were men who from his words would draw a new enmity toward the South; in the South there were men who would see in this speaker and what he had said a final embodiment of the compelling reasons why it was good to think seriously about secession.

These excerpts are from Catton’s book, This Hallowed Ground. Though he is describing something that happened 165 years ago, it feels eerily contemporary.

In the opening pages of his book, a section aptly subtitled “Sowing the Wind,” Catton is describing the mood of the U.S. Senate (and the nation really) as Senator Charles Sumner prepared and delivered a speech on the Senate floor denouncing slavery and calling for the territory of Kansas to be admitted to the Union as a free state.

A few days later, on the Senate floor, as a result of that speech, Sumner was attacked and almost beat to death with a cane by Preston Brooks, a senator from South Carolina, and a strong advocate for slavery and states’ rights.

It was May, 1856. The nation was just 5 years from the opening shots of a bloody civil war.

A Wills Visits the Castle at Carcassonne

It’s been at least 20 years now, but I remember watching a very interesting program on the Learning Channel (TLC) about the 13th century Cathars of southern France. I watched it probably 4 times because it was a fascinating story. The Cathars were sect of Christianity that held Gnostic beliefs. So naturally the Church considered them heretics. The Cathars had a fairly large following in southern France and they were based largely in the Languedoc region. Many of the region’s French Lords sympathized with the Cathars and became their defenders.

In 1209 A.D. Pope Innocent III ordered a crusade against the Cathars and their sympathizers. By 1240 A.D. the army of the Church had mostly stamped out the Cathar heresy, however, vestiges of the faith remained until the last of the Cathars was burned alive in 1321.

In southern France there are a number of “Cathar Castles.” These castles are mostly located in and around the southern French towns of Toulouse, Albi, and, the one I became most fascinated with, the massive and majestic castle, or fortified town, of Carcassonne.

After seeing the TLC program on the fate of the Cathars, I added Carcassonne to my bucket list. My wife and I have yet to get there. But, I can say with pride and envy, my oldest son was at Carcassonne today with his lovely southern French girlfriend. With a smile I opened the shared photo album this morning and my wife and I looked at the recently added 60 plus photos of Carcassonne. I thought I’d share some of them.  

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