Divinity School

From Wikipedia:

The Divinity School is a medieval building and room in the Perpendicular style in Oxford, England, part of the University of Oxford. Built between 1427 and 1483, it is the oldest surviving purpose-built building for university use, specifically for lectures, oral exams and discussions on theology.

Nowadays, it is arguably more famous for being the set of Hogwarts Infirmary.

I was especially attracted to the ceiling with its 455 crests representing the various families and institutions who donated money used to build the Divinity School. Looking through the tall windows from the inside, it is possible to see a Christopher Wren building, the Sheldonian Theatre on one side, and Radcliffe Camera on the other.

Unfortunately, tickets for the 90-minute tour of the Bodleian Library were sold out, but I’m still hopeful I’ll be able to get a spot one of these days. Accio ticket!

Selling Hope For $56,000/year

I am deeply concerned about the way the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has approved Biogen’s aducanumab for use in people with Alzheimer’s disease.

As a neurologist, and currently a PhD student in Clinical Neurosciences working on memory disorders, I see people with various forms of cognitive impairment. Indeed, many of them have Alzheimer’s disease and are desperate for something, anything, to treat the condition.

Sometimes it’s difficult to appreciate how devastating it is to slowly lose one’s memory. Unlike losing an arm to gangrene, for example, it is not a painful condition. And yet, you can lose an arm, or a leg, and still be essentially the same person. But take away someone’s memories, and what’s left is but a shadow of their former self. Ask any person caring for a loved one who has dementia: what wouldn’t you give to restore their memories so that you can have just one more day with that person?

The approval of aducanumab is highly unusual because there’s no convincing evidence that it actually works. Sure, Biogen are claiming that in a subset of patients, on a certain dose of the medication, you can see some statistically significant (God I hate that phrase!) difference. But let’s be clear here: this sort of selective interpretation of the evidence is rightly frowned upon by the scientific community. To make matters worse, aducanumab has potentially dangerous side effects: 40% of patients developed brain swelling after receiving it.

Despite all that, I’m still willing to accept the justification for approving it under rigorous conditions. After all, Alzheimer’s disease is a devastating condition, and we are all desperate for a treatment.

What I cannot understand, and cannot accept, is how the FDA can simply let Biogen set the price at $56,000 for a year’s supply of aducanumab.

This is cruelty.

This is greed, taken to a whole new level.

How can it not be, when, according to this article in Nature, “if 5% of the United States’ 6 million Alzheimer’s patients receive the treatment, the drug’s revenue would reach nearly $17 billion per year”?

Seriously, who needs 5G-microchip-anti-vaccine controversies when real life is even worse? How do we justify letting a company charge the equivalent of people’s life savings for an unproven treatment just by dangling the chance of a cure?

So please spare me all this nonsense about caring for people with Alzheimer’s disease. If Biogen really cared about patients, they wouldn’t be charging $56,000 for an unproven treatment. I hope the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) here in the UK will do the right thing by not approving its use on such flimsy evidence.

Bourton-on-the-Water

Having been to Bibury, we decided to continue our tour of the Cotswolds Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) by going to the village of Bourton-on-the-Water. I was intrigued by the capitalisation of the letter W in Water. As far as I can tell, the Water here refers to the River Windrush, but I still can’t quite explain why the village isn’t called Bourton-on-the-Windrush then.

Anyway, that’s the sort of thing I tend to wonder about when I visit places!

The village itself was full of people when we got there, perhaps encouraged by the beautiful weather that day. We took the opportunity to dip our feet in the River Windrush; contrary to appearances, the water was ice-cold. I read on Wikipedia that in summer, a game of medieval football is played here with goalposts set up in the River Windrush itself. Sure sounds like a whole load of fun.

What is difficult to capture in both my posts on the Cotswolds AONB is the simple pleasure of driving around in the region. I have this dream of cruising in an Aston Martin in summer, visiting charming little villages built with that yellow limestone so characteristic of the Cotswolds region. Too bad I don’t have an Aston Martin, but who knows, one day…

Most Scholars Believe

How difficult can it be to acknowledge some basic facts about Israel & Palestine?

Well, if you’re a columnist writing in America, it seems like you have to make all kinds of excuses in order to downplay the cruelty of what is happening on the ground.

Take this article by Nicholas Kristof in The New York Times, entitled ‘Were My Criticisms of Israel Fair?‘:

There is no doubt that Hamas committed war crimes in shelling Israeli civilians. But most scholars believe (with not quite the same certainty) that Israel also committed war crimes with its attacks on Gaza that were far more lethal to civilians than attacks by Hamas.

I mean, seriously? Think about that for a second.

Most scholars believe (with not quite the same certainty)…

First of all, I’d love to meet these scholars who are, you know, still on the fence about the legality of launching rockets at civilians.

Secondly, what kind of powerful stuff is this guy smoking that he can actually combine the phrases ‘Most scholars believe (with not quite the same certainty)’ and ‘far more lethal to civilians than attacks by Hamas’ in the same sentence? Dude, whatever it is you’re smoking, gimme some of that!

Sure, it’s bad that Hamas are shelling Israeli civilians. But come on, how many innocent Palestinians have to die before these ‘scholars’ can finally be certain that Israel’s attacks on Gaza (that are ‘far more lethal to civilians’, mind you) represent something worse: modern-day oppression against an impoverished population by a militarily and technologically advanced nation.

Contrary to popular (American?) belief, most Muslims don’t actually want to see the annihilation of Jewish people. I know…shocking, right? The vast majority of people around the world, Muslim and non-Muslim alike, just want peace. But how can there be peace when the most powerful nation on Earth continues to give unconditional, no-questions-asked, financial and military support for Israel?

How?

Bibury

The village of Bibury in the Cotswolds region dates back to 1086 based on a record in the Domesday Book. These days it is famous for the line of 17th-century cottages called Arlington Row that once housed weavers working to supply cloth to nearby Arlington Mill.

I brought my family along to visit the village, arriving there in the late evening just before sunset. Despite the absence of international tourists, there was still a small crowd wandering around its picturesque lanes. We saw trout swimming in the River Coln that flows through the village. Temporary fencing prevented overzealous tourists from disturbing a swan nest on the river bank next to the local hotel (aptly named The Swan).

Some guy once described Bibury as “the most beautiful village in England” and I can definitely see why. I hope the National Trust continues its excellent work of preserving places like these.

If you’re ever in the Cotswolds region—you know, once the pandemic is over and all—then Bibury is definitely on my list of places worth visiting.