For more see link above
Statistics and Research
For more see link above
Statistics and Research
Bowing to mounting pressure and public outrage, the Biden administration through the Centers for Disease Control has just announced that the nationwide moratorium on evictions would be extended through October 3 in parts of the country with high rates of COVID-19 spread. #COVID19 #evictions #housing
It is thought to be more transmissible and potentially more vaccine-resistant than other Covid-19 strains. Move over Delta, Lambda is here.
As the world battles against the Delta variant of Covid-19, it’s a lesser-known mutation that has experts worried.
Lambda (also known as variant C37) was first seen in Peru in August 2020. Since then, it has spread to 29 countries, mainly in South America.
Australia has already seen a case of it in NSW hotel quarantine in April, though it didn’t spread into the community.
While research into the strain is still in its early days, data so far suggests a couple of key features of the variant which have experts worried.
Like the Delta variant, it is highly transmissible and it may be able to dodge vaccines more readily than the original version of the virus.
The situation in Peru
Peru is a country in political upheaval, which is fighting a losing battle against the coronavirus pandemic.
In a nation of just over 32 million people, official records have Covid-19 deaths at 180,000. It gives the country the highest Covid death rate per head of population in the world.
However, the criteria for determining a death from coronavirus has changed, bringing that figure up.
RELATED: Delta cases surge worldwide
A coffin of a Covid-19 victim is disinfected in Piura, Peru. Picture: Sebastian Enriquez/AFPSource:AFP
Previously, a Covid death was only recorded with a positive test. But in a country with a large number of people living in poverty and with a stretched health system, this led to a lot of under-reporting.
Looking at the increase of deaths year on year, there were 150 per cent more deaths than expected, despite this figure not being reflected in coronavirus statistics.
So the government changed the criteria, counting a Covid-19 death as any which took place within 60 days of a positive test, or if coronavirus was suspected as the reason for death, thus raising the figures to what is probably a more realistic number.
Meanwhile, the country has just sworn in a new left-wing president, Pedro Castillo, after a nailbiting election with the slimmest of margins.
His campaign centred on distributing wealth more evenly, winning him votes from the rural regions which are typically very poor.
Early in the pandemic, Peru was quick to bring in restrictions to help curb the spread of the virus. But case numbers continued to rise.
Only 38 per cent of Peruvians have a bank account, so government assistance didn’t get to the poorest people, meaning they had to continue going out to work.
And more than 40 per cent of people don’t have a fridge. So they had to continue going to shops to buy their food as they had no way to stock up.
A Peruvian health worker takes a test on a man in his house at El Agustino district in Lima, as the country performs house-to-house Covid-19 testing. Picture: Ernesto Benavides/AFPSource:AFP
Lambda becomes dominant strain
In a country that was already in crisis, with a healthcare system not able to cope, Lambda has now taken hold.
It accounts for more than 80 per cent of all Covid-19 cases in Peru, according to its National Institute of Health.
Dr Pablo Tsukayama, a molecular microbiologist at Cayetano Heredia University, Lima, said indications are that Lambda is more transmissible.
“When we found it, it did not attract much attention,” he told Al Jazeera.
“But … by March, it was in 50 per cent of the samples in Lima. By April, it was in 80 per cent of the samples in Peru,” he said.
“That jump from one to 50 per cent is an early indicator of a more transmissible variant.”
In June, Lambda was added to the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) list of variants of interest. WHO defines a variant of interest as one which has genetic changes that affect things such as transmissibility, disease severity and immune escape, and has been shown to be responsible for significant community transmission in multiple countries.
So far, Lambda has reached 29 countries around the world.
A batch of 300,000 doses of Chinese Sinopharm laboratory vaccines arrive in Lima, Peru. Picture: AFP/Peruvian Presidency/Luis IparraguireSource:AFP
In an article for The Conversation, Adam Taylor of the Menzies Health Institute at Queensland’s Griffith University wrote that the exact threat Lamda poses is still unknown.
“At this stage more research is required to say for certain how its mutations impact transmission, its ability to evade protection from vaccines, and the severity of disease,” he said.
“Preliminary evidence suggests Lambda has an easier time infecting our cells and is a bit better at dodging our immune systems. But vaccines should still do a good job against it.”
It’s that last point that the world is on edge about.
Will vaccines work against Lambda?
Lambda has a few defining mutations to the spike protein, according to Dr Taylor. One mutation is associated with reduced susceptibility to virus-generated antibodies.
“This means antibodies generated from being infected with the original Wuhan strain of Covid aren’t quite as effective at neutralising Lambda,” he wrote in The Conversation.
Another mutation is similar to the Delta variant.
“This mutation in Delta not only increases the ability of the virus to infect cells, but also promotes immune escape meaning the antibodies vaccines generate are less likely to recognise it,” Dr Taylor wrote.
It is this mutation, according to virologist Ricardo Soto-Rifo of Chile’s Institute of Biomedical Sciences, which may be the reason for the strain’s high infection rate. In research not yet peer-reviewed, Dr Soto-Rifo assessed the Chinese CoronaVac vaccine on Lambda. It showed the variant could neutralise the antibodies created by the vaccine.
A doctor prepares a vaccination to give to a health worker in February, 2021 in Lima, Peru. Picture: Raul Sifuentes/Getty ImagesSource:Getty Images
“These results were expected,” Dr Soto-Rifo told Al Jazeera. “The virus has changed and that can make the vaccine not as efficient as it was with the original virus, but that doesn’t mean the vaccine doesn’t work any more.”
In another non-peer-reviewed study, Nathaniel Landau, a microbiologist at the NYU Grossman School of Medicine, showed a lab-made Lambda-like virus was twice as infectious as the original coronavirus.
Despite the results, he still advised vaccines were imperative.
“The key is that [Delta and Lambda are] both highly transmissible viruses. But if you get the vaccine, you’re most likely going to be protected,” Dr Landau told National Geographic. “And the rate of infection with these viruses is going to go down in areas where people get the vaccine,” he said.
“We believe that, at least for the mRNA vaccines – Moderna and Pfizer – that those vaccines will protect very well against Lambda, in the same way that they protect against the Delta virus.
“Even though some of the antibody no longer works against the variants, it’s still enough that they will fight the virus and get rid of it pretty well.”
Highly recommend this link to WHO:
Live Q&A on COVID-19 with Dr Mike Ryan and Dr Maria Van Kerkhove – YouTube
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“Be fast, have no regrets… If you need to be right before you move, you will never win”, said Mike Ryan, epidemiologist at WHO, in March. Highly r/mend youtube Dr Mike Ryan in Conversation: Institute of Medicine Summer Symposium 2021 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9UqTjHK7k7I
Only a handful of people could be there on the day to see the Street Cat Bob memorial, but you can watch James Bowen’s moving tribute here.
In the 150 years after the Black Death halved London’s population, women enjoyed new economic power in the city. Caroline Barron asks whether this era truly was a ‘golden age’ for English women
Published: July 6, 2021 at 5:45 pm
In April 1349, as the Black Death swept through London, Mathilda de Myms drew up her will. Her husband, John, had died the previous month, leaving his tenements to his wife and entrusting to her the guardianship of their daughter, Isabella. But the plague continued to ravage the capital, and Mathilda – wisely, as it transpired – decided to get her affairs in order. Shortly afterwards she was herself struck down.
John and Mathilda had run a business making religious images and paintings. Mathilda’s will arranged for her apprentice, William, to continue his training with a monk in Bermondsey Priory, and bequeathed to him the tools he needed, together with one of her best chests in which to keep them. A brewery owned by Mathilda was to be sold to pay for prayers for her and John.
That will underlines the devastating impact of the Black Death on thousands of families across the country; indeed, the disease subsequently took Isabella’s guardian. But the document also offers other insights – specifically, into opportunities that resulted from the soaring death toll.
In this instance, Mathilda clearly had wealth of her own, and the freedom to write such a will. She was briefly an early beneficiary of a period of relative economic power for women created by the sudden dearth of skilled and trained men – an era that has been dubbed a ‘golden age’.
Even before the plague afflicted London, the capital’s customary law offered women freedoms that they rarely enjoyed elsewhere in England, except perhaps in York. For example, a woman might enter into obligations on her own behalf, take on apprentices, run her own business, rent property, and sue (or be sued) for debt in the London courts. A woman – especially if she was a widow – could even write a will, as Mathilda de Myms did.
But after the plague struck, sending London’s population plummeting to 40,000 from a peak of 80,000 in 1300, these opportunities multiplied. In fact, the mayor and aldermen, alarmed by a chronic shortage of manpower, began actively to encourage women to exercise their new economic rights.
Eventually, the rights went further: from 1465, a widow of a citizen of London, who was living there with him at the time of his death, would be made ‘free of the city’ (a citizen) as long as she continued to live in London and did not remarry.
City authorities were especially anxious to encourage the widows of London merchants and craftsmen to continue to run their husbands’ workshops or trading enterprises, to ensure that these businesses continued to contribute to civic prosperity and taxation. Thus it became compulsory for widows to train their late husbands’ apprentices, or to make proper provision for them.
In the years following the Black Death, girl apprentices became prominent in surviving records. Though this wasn’t a new phenomenon – as early as 1276, Marion de Lymeseye was apprenticed to Roger Oriel, a paternosterer (maker of rosaries) – but in the half-century after the Black Death, from 1350 to 1400, numbers of female apprentices soared.
Fathers sometimes specified in their wills that their daughters should be apprenticed to learn a trade. Robert de Ramseye, a fishmonger who died in 1373, left 20 shillings to his daughter, Elizabeth – for her marriage, and for “putting her to a trade”.
Records are sparse – only 30 apprenticeship indentures from medieval London survive – but about a third of them relate to girls, many training in the craft of silkwork or embroidery. Their indentures, like those of boys, had to be recorded in the apprentice rolls kept at the Guildhall, and the terms of the indentures were the same, usually for seven years.
Why the rise in female apprentices at this time? For boys, a completed apprenticeship opened the way to the citizenship of London, with all its attendant political and economic advantages and responsibilities. For girls, though, this was not the case – citizenship did not follow an apprenticeship, and most went on to marry.
A female apprentice lived in the household of her master or mistress (not always the case with servants), and was placed almost completely under their authority. The master or mistress had specific obligations to feed, clothe and nurture the apprentice and, above all, to train her in the secrets and skills of her craft. An apprenticeship provided girls with patrons and business contacts, and secured their status within the working community.
So parents from gentry families outside London knew that apprenticing daughters would provide them with the means to earn a living, and to run an independent household should that prove necessary. Unsurprisingly, then, most girls were bound by their father or brother, though one woman from Sussex bound herself as an apprentice to another woman in London.
Married women in London could choose to trade separately from their husbands as femmes soles. At the time when her husband, Thomas, was serving as an alderman, around 1380, Maud Ireland traded as a femme sole silkwoman. “According to the usage of the city [she was] bound to answer her own contracts,” and she was sued for a debt owed for white silk bought from an Italian merchant.
Women were expected to make a public declaration of their sole status. In October 1457, Agnes Gower stated to the mayor and aldermen that she practised the art of a silkwoman and no other, and asked to be allowed to “merchandise” without her husband John, and to answer sole for her own contracts according to city custom. This was granted and recorded.
Some of these independent London women were doing business on a large scale. Agnes Ramsey, daughter of the noted architect and mason William Ramsey, ran her father’s business after his death in 1349 (see sidebar, left). Mathilda Penne ran her husband’s business as a skinner for 12 years after his death; she trained her own apprentices and employed male servants and, possibly, a female scrivener to keep the accounts.
Twice during the 15th century, the substantial bell foundry outside Aldgate was run by widows. The household and workshop of the bell-founder Johanna Hill, who died in 1441, comprised four male apprentices, two female servants, 10 male servants, a specialised bell-maker, a clerk and the daughter of a fellow bell-founder.
Other widows continued to run the financial side of their husbands’ businesses, if not the trading or craft aspects; they pursued debtors, sorted out accounts and saw to the execution of their husbands’ wills. These women were active in maintaining their households, bolstering the welfare of their souls and managing the upbringing of their children, as well as other endeavours. Another Agnes, the widow of Stephen Forster (mayor of London 1454–55), saw to the rebuilding and reorganisation of the prison at Ludgate.
These were remarkable women who made their mark in the commercial world of London and won respect within their social milieus. The records of the craft guilds and companies acknowledge the presence of women, but their role was not a formal one – rather, they shared in the religious, charitable and social aspects of company life.
However, several crafts and trades recognised the contribution of women workers. In the early 15th century, for example, one-third of all brewers paying dues to the Brewers’ Company were women. Some of these were single, while others were widows or married women trading sole; one Agnes, whose husband Stephen was a draper, paid her dues independently throughout the 1420s.
Though women were seemingly marginalised within these organisations, limited to social and charitable roles, they were able to make contacts with other workers within their craft. They could also achieve recognition of their credit-worthiness and could share in, and contribute to, the material resources of their societies. To offset the imposed limitations of their role within guilds and companies, and to supplement the formal craft relationships, many created important informal networks of friends, servants, apprentices, dependants and patrons.
However enmeshed women may have been in the social and economic networks of London life, their professional advancement was still constrained. For example, there is scant evidence of a woman holding any public office in which she might have been placed in authority over a man – such appointments would be vigorously resisted.
In 1422, the men of Queenhythe ward complained that John of Ely, the local measurer of oysters, had subcontracted his office to women “who know not how to do it; nor is it worship to this city that women should have such things in governance”. No doubt most Londoners shared the view of the men of Queenhythe; certainly, women never served as ward officers, common councilmen or, of course, aldermen. The delegation of authority to women was extremely rare, but it did happen: for more than 20 years following the death of her husband, Nicholas, in 1433, Alice Holford held the office of bailiff of London Bridge (see sidebar).
The century and a half between 1350 and 1500 could reasonably be considered a ‘golden age’ for women in London – but it was short-lived. As the population swelled once more, an acute manpower shortage was replaced by a glut, and women were pushed out of the labour market. In 1570, the Drapers’ Company refused to allow a member to take on a girl apprentice “for that they had not seen the like before”.
Women continued to work after that period, of course, but in largely informal and dependent positions. London merchants were transforming themselves into country gentlemen, and it was no longer suitable for their wives to be seen trading sole. Moreover, Protestantism created a specific role for women – as godly domestic teachers within the household.
Throughout the 15th century, English society remained deeply patriarchal. The opportunities that had been available to women had been purely economic: women had no handles on power and no way of influencing political decisions. So the ‘golden age’ was golden only briefly, and was most apparent in the economic capital, London.
Nonetheless, when given the chance, these women demonstrated their ability to do men’s work. In doing so they set an important precedent, to be followed by women in the two world wars of the last century, which led directly to the greater economic and political emancipation of women today.
Agnes, who never used her husband’s name, was the daughter of the famous architect and mason William Ramsey, who was killed by the Black Death in 1349. Though married to another mason, Robert Hubard, Agnes continued to run her father’s business, entering into a contract with the dowager Queen Isabella of France, widow of Edward II, to build her fine tomb at the enormous cost of £100.
Alice took over the post of bailiff of London Bridge on the death of her husband, Nicholas, in 1433, and continued in office for over 20 years. The bailiff collected the tolls due from boats passing through the bridge, and from carts that crossed it into London. The task was a complicated one – charges varied according to the goods and the person transporting them – and Alice must have had some literacy skills.
On the death of her husband in 1440, Johanna took full charge of their bell-founding business till her own death in 1441. Seven of her bells still exist as far away as Ipswich, Sussex and Devon. Johanna continued to use her husband’s mark – a cross and circle within a shield – but surmounted with a lozenge to indicate that the workshop was now under her authority.
Ellen, who died in 1481, was a London silkwoman. When her first husband, cutler Philip Waltham, died she was left to train their three female apprentices. She later married a tailor, John Langwith, but continued with her own craft. She was recorded as buying gold thread and raw silk direct from Venetian merchants, and in 1465 supplied saddle decorations and silk banners for the coronation of Elizabeth Woodville, wife of Edward IV. She was courted by both the Cutlers’ and Taylors’ companies.
Caroline Barron is professor emerita at Royal Holloway, University of London, and a specialist in late medieval British history, particularly the history of women
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When it comes to major types of real estate investment, the obvious contenders are residential property and commercial real estate. Therefore, it might come as a surprise that social housing has actually become one of the most popular investment options in Ireland in recent years.
According to CBRE’s Ireland Bi-Monthly Research Report published in May 2021, the Irish social housing market continues to record large transactions, including the recent sale by Ardstone Capital of a portfolio of five multifamily and single-family assets for €450 million, and the acquisition of 39 units leased to Dublin City Council at Blackhall Street in Dublin 7 for €20 million. The report also noted that several annuity funds and impact funds are now specifically targeting opportunities in this sector, and the social housing market is expected to thrive going forward. So, why are so many institutional investors keen to invest in this sector?
Data published in November 2020 showed that there were 61,880 households on the housing list in Ireland, while only 9,028 social homes are currently onsite. The social housing supply falls far short of demand, not to mention that last year’s pandemic battered global construction sectors with Ireland being no exception. The likelihood is that the housing list is now considerably longer than the data published.
The undersupply of social housing did not happen overnight. A significant legacy of the 2008 financial crisis was substantial under-investment in Ireland’s real estate projects, causing the real estate supply to plummet.
Ireland’s economy has regained its momentum in recent years and maintained the highest economic growth rate in Europe for six consecutive years. Thousands of migrants are flooding into this new European financial centre, especially Dublin, and this has further encouraged a rise in rent and demand for private and social housing.
To accelerate social housing delivery, the Irish government has committed more than €6 billion under the “Rebuilding Ireland” campaign. Under Rebuilding Ireland, one of the targets is to deliver 50,000 social housing units by 2021, of which 33,500 units will be exclusively built as social housing, 6,500 units will be acquired from the market, and the remaining 10,000 units will be secured via lease agreements. In other words, the Irish government is encouraging property developers to build properties and lease them to the government.
The standard leasing scheme offers a lease term of 10-25 years. The Irish government (the lessee) will pay 80-85% of an agreed market rent which will be reviewed every three years and is linked to the Harmonised Index of Consumer Prices (HICP), an indicator of inflation harmonised across EU countries.
In 2018, the Irish government launched the Enhanced Long Term Social Housing Leasing Scheme as an addition to the existing leasing arrangements. The enhanced scheme offers a 25-year lease term with up to 95% of the agreed market rent, but in return, each proposal has to include a minimum of 20 property units, and the lessor (developer) is obliged to provide management services.
Bartra was interviewed on RTÉ One, Ireland’s national broadcaster about Government long term leasing of social housing
Backed by the Irish government, the leasing scheme provides high investment stability for social housing investment. It also explains why institutional investors such as pension funds and annuity funds are acquiring long-term leased social houses from developers. Nonetheless, the benefits of investing in social housing go far beyond stability:
As one of the leading developers in Ireland, Bartra is committed to providing high-quality social housing for families in need. All of our social housing projects are located in Dublin and are constructed by seasoned professionals including architects, planners, quantity surveyors, and construction companies. Majority of our projects will be leased to the Irish government for 25 years, therefore the income is guaranteed.
Bartra’s latest social housing development is Colmcille House, in Stoneybatter, Dublin 7. Completed in April 2021, the development is located in a prime area of Dublin, within walking distance of Smithfield LUAS stop, and offers a total of 23 apartments situated less than 2km from the city centre. It has wonderful views over the city. At Bartra, we believe that every resident deserves a high quality of life, so every unit in Colmcille House is beautifully designed and 15-20% larger than most apartments in the area.
Bartra’s complex in Stoneybatter was funded by the IIP
Despite the benefits of investing in social housing, it is difficult for individual investors to participate. However, there is the opportunity to participate in Bartra’s social housing projects through the Immigrant Investor Programme (IIP). At maturity of your three-year investment period, your total €1 million investment will be returned, along with Permanent Residency status for you and your family.
How to assess risks of immigration investor programmes? Thoroughly evaluating the risk profile of an immigration investor programme or investor residence scheme can seem daunting, as every programme and scheme has immigration and… Read More 25/05/2021
Ireland’s Job Market – Which professional sectors are in high demand? Whenever a family chooses to emigrate to another country, there are a number of factors to consider, such as quality… Read More 18/05/2021
Relocating to Ireland – what is living in Ireland really like? Have you ever wondered what it’s like living in a country that ranks second in the world for quality of… Read More 28/04/2021
Fill in the form below and you’ll receive the guide in your inbox. IIP application requires the main applicant has net worth of minimum €2 million, to invest €1 million in IIP qualified projects for at least three years investment term.
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Photograph: Jonathan Knowles/Getty ImagesThe long read
Caffeine makes us more energetic, efficient and faster. But we have become so dependent that we need it just to get to our baselineby Michael Pollan
Tue 6 Jul 2021 06.00 BST
Last modified on Mon 12 Jul 2021 14.28 BST
After years of starting the day with a tall morning coffee, followed by several glasses of green tea at intervals, and the occasional cappuccino after lunch, I quit caffeine, cold turkey. It was not something that I particularly wanted to do, but I had come to the reluctant conclusion that the story I was writing demanded it. Several of the experts I was interviewing had suggested that I really couldn’t understand the role of caffeine in my life – its invisible yet pervasive power – without getting off it and then, presumably, getting back on. Roland Griffiths, one of the world’s leading researchers of mood-altering drugs, and the man most responsible for getting the diagnosis of “caffeine withdrawal” included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), the bible of psychiatric diagnoses, told me he hadn’t begun to understand his own relationship with caffeine until he stopped using it and conducted a series of self-experiments. He urged me to do the same.
For most of us, to be caffeinated to one degree or another has simply become baseline human consciousness. Something like 90% of humans ingest caffeine regularly, making it the most widely used psychoactive drug in the world, and the only one we routinely give to children (commonly in the form of fizzy drinks). Few of us even think of it as a drug, much less our daily use of it as an addiction. It’s so pervasive that it’s easy to overlook the fact that to be caffeinated is not baseline consciousness but, in fact, an altered state. It just happens to be a state that virtually all of us share, rendering it invisible.
The scientists have spelled out, and I had duly noted, the predictable symptoms of caffeine withdrawal: headache, fatigue, lethargy, difficulty concentrating, decreased motivation, irritability, intense distress, loss of confidence and dysphoria. But beneath that deceptively mild rubric of “difficulty concentrating” hides nothing short of an existential threat to the work of the writer. How can you possibly expect to write anything when you can’t concentrate?
I postponed it as long as I could, but finally the dark day arrived. According to the researchers I’d interviewed, the process of withdrawal had actually begun overnight, while I was sleeping, during the “trough” in the graph of caffeine’s diurnal effects. The day’s first cup of tea or coffee acquires most of its power – its joy! – not so much from its euphoric and stimulating properties than from the fact that it is suppressing the emerging symptoms of withdrawal. This is part of the insidiousness of caffeine. Its mode of action, or “pharmacodynamics”, mesh so perfectly with the rhythms of the human body that the morning cup of coffee arrives just in time to head off the looming mental distress set in motion by yesterday’s cup of coffee. Daily, caffeine proposes itself as the optimal solution to the problem caffeine creates. https://www.theguardian.com/email/form/plaintone/the-long-readSign up to the long read weekly emailAdvertisementhttps://e80ef70dfb10d56de613b0b502418087.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
At the coffee shop, instead of my usual “half caff”, I ordered a cup of mint tea. And on this morning, that lovely dispersal of the mental fog that the first hit of caffeine ushers into consciousness never arrived. The fog settled over me and would not budge. It’s not that I felt terrible – I never got a serious headache – but all day long I felt a certain muzziness, as if a veil had descended in the space between me and reality, a kind of filter that absorbed certain wavelengths of light and sound.
I was able to do some work, but distractedly. “I feel like an unsharpened pencil,” I wrote in my notebook. “Things on the periphery intrude, and won’t be ignored. I can’t focus for more than a minute.”
Over the course of the next few days, I began to feel better, the veil lifted, yet I was still not quite myself, and neither, quite, was the world. In this new normal, the world seemed duller to me. I seemed duller, too. Mornings were the worst. I came to see how integral caffeine is to the daily work of knitting ourselves back together after the fraying of consciousness during sleep. That reconsolidation of self took much longer than usual, and never quite felt complete.
Humanity’s acquaintance with caffeine is surprisingly recent. But it is hardly an exaggeration to say that this molecule remade the world. The changes wrought by coffee and tea occurred at a fundamental level – the level of the human mind. Coffee and tea ushered in a shift in the mental weather, sharpening minds that had been fogged by alcohol, freeing people from the natural rhythms of the body and the sun, thus making possible whole new kinds of work and, arguably, new kinds of thought, too.Advertisementhttps://e80ef70dfb10d56de613b0b502418087.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
By the 15th century, coffee was being cultivated in east Africa and traded across the Arabian peninsula. Initially, the new drink was regarded as an aide to concentration and used by Sufis in Yemen to keep them from dozing off during their religious observances. (Tea, too, started out as a little helper for Buddhist monks striving to stay awake through long stretches of meditation.) Within a century, coffeehouses had sprung up in cities across the Arab world. In 1570 there were more than 600 of them in Constantinople alone, and they spread north and west with the Ottoman empire.
The Islamic world at this time was in many respects more advanced than Europe, in science and technology, and in learning. Whether this mental flourishing had anything to do with the prevalence of coffee (and prohibition of alcohol) is difficult to prove, but as the German historian Wolfgang Schivelbusch has argued, the beverage “seemed to be tailor-made for a culture that forbade alcohol consumption and gave birth to modern mathematics”.
A coffee house in 17th-century London. Photograph: Lordprice Collection/AlamyAdvertisementhttps://e80ef70dfb10d56de613b0b502418087.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
In 1629 the first coffeehouses in Europe, styled on Arab and Turkish models, popped up in Venice, and the first such establishment in England was opened in Oxford in 1650 by a Jewish immigrant. They arrived in London shortly thereafter, and proliferated: within a few decades there were thousands of coffeehouses in London; at their peak, one for every 200 Londoners.
To call the English coffeehouse a new kind of public space doesn’t quite do it justice. You paid a penny for the coffee, but the information – in the form of newspapers, books, magazines and conversation – was free. (Coffeehouses were often referred to as “penny universities”.) After visiting London coffeehouses, a French writer named Maximilien Misson wrote, “You have all Manner of News there; You have a good fire, which you may sit by as long as you please: You have a Dish of Coffee; you meet your Friends for the Transaction of Business, and all for a Penny, if you don’t care to spend more.”
London’s coffeehouses were distinguished one from another by the professional or intellectual interests of their patrons, which eventually gave them specific institutional identities. So, for example, merchants and men with interests in shipping gathered at Lloyd’s Coffee House. Here you could learn what ships were arriving and departing, and buy an insurance policy on your cargo. Lloyd’s Coffee House eventually became the insurance brokerage Lloyd’s of London. Learned types and scientists – known then as “natural philosophers” – gathered at the Grecian, which became closely associated with the Royal Society; Isaac Newton and Edmond Halley debated physics and mathematics here, and supposedly once dissected a dolphin on the premises.
The conversation in London’s coffee houses frequently turned to politics, in vigorous exercises of free speech that drew the ire of the government, especially after the monarchy was restored in 1660. Charles II, worried that plots were being hatched in coffeehouses, decided that the places were dangerous fomenters of rebellion that the crown needed to suppress. In 1675 the king moved to close down the coffeehouses, on the grounds that the “false, malicious and scandalous Reports” emanating therefrom were a “Disturbance of the Quiet and Peace of the Realm”. Like so many other compounds that change the qualities of consciousness in individuals, caffeine was regarded as a threat to institutional power, which moved to suppress it, in a foreshadowing of the wars against drugs to come.
But the king’s war against coffee lasted only 11 days. Charles discovered that it was too late to turn back the tide of caffeine. By then the coffeehouse was such a fixture of English culture and daily life – and so many eminent Londoners had become addicted to caffeine – that everyone simply ignored the king’s order and blithely went on drinking coffee. Afraid to test his authority and find it lacking, the king quietly backed down, issuing a second proclamation rolling back the first “out of princely consideration and royal compassion”.Advertisementhttps://e80ef70dfb10d56de613b0b502418087.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
It’s hard to imagine that the sort of political, cultural and intellectual ferment that bubbled up in the coffeehouses of both France and England in the 17th century would ever have developed in a tavern. The kind of magical thinking that alcohol sponsored in the medieval mind began to yield to a new spirit of rationalism and, a bit later, Enlightenment thinking. French historian Jules Michelet wrote: “Coffee, the sober drink, the mighty nourishment of the brain, which unlike other spirits, heightens purity and lucidity; coffee, which clears the clouds of the imagination and their gloomy weight; which illumines the reality of things suddenly with the flash of truth.”
To see, lucidly, “the reality of things”: this was, in a nutshell, the rationalist project. Coffee became, along with the microscope, telescope and the pen, one of its indispensable tools.
After a few weeks, the mental impairments of withdrawal had subsided, and I could once again think in a straight line, hold an abstraction in my head for more than two minutes, and shut peripheral thoughts out of my field of attention. Yet I continued to feel as though I was mentally just slightly behind the curve, especially when in the company of drinkers of coffee and tea, which, of course, was all the time and everywhere.
Here’s what I was missing: I missed the way caffeine and its rituals used to order my day, especially in the morning. Herbal teas – which are barely, if at all, psychoactive – lack the power of coffee and tea to organise the day into a rhythm of energetic peaks and valleys, as the mental tide of caffeine ebbs and flows. The morning surge is a blessing, obviously, but there is also something comforting in the ebb tide of afternoon, which a cup of tea can gently reverse.
At some point I began to wonder if perhaps it was all in my head, this sense that I had lost a mental step since getting off coffee and tea. So I decided to look at the science, to learn what, if any, cognitive enhancement can actually be attributed to caffeine. I found numerous studies conducted over the years reporting that caffeine improves performance on a range of cognitive measures – of memory, focus, alertness, vigilance, attention and learning. An experiment done in the 1930s found that chess players on caffeine performed significantly better than players who abstained. In another study, caffeine users completed a variety of mental tasks more quickly, though they made more errors; as one paper put it in its title, people on caffeine are “faster, but not smarter”. In a 2014 experiment, subjects given caffeine immediately after learning new material remembered it better than subjects who received a placebo. Tests of psychomotor abilities also suggest that caffeine gives us an edge: in simulated driving exercises, caffeine improves performance, especially when the subject is tired. It also enhances physical performance on such metrics as time trials, muscle strength and endurance.Advertisement
True, there is reason to take these findings with a pinch of salt, if only because this kind of research is difficult to do well. The problem is finding a good control group in a society in which virtually everyone is addicted to caffeine. But the consensus seems to be that caffeine does improve mental (and physical) performance to some degree.
Whether caffeine also enhances creativity is a different question, however, and there’s some reason to doubt that it does. Caffeine improves our focus and ability to concentrate, which surely enhances linear and abstract thinking, but creativity works very differently. It may depend on the loss of a certain kind of focus, and the freedom to let the mind off the leash of linear thought.
Cognitive psychologists sometimes talk in terms of two distinct types of consciousness: spotlight consciousness, which illuminates a single focal point of attention, making it very good for reasoning, and lantern consciousness, in which attention is less focused yet illuminates a broader field of attention. Young children tend to exhibit lantern consciousness; so do many people on psychedelics. This more diffuse form of attention lends itself to mind wandering, free association, and the making of novel connections – all of which can nourish creativity. By comparison, caffeine’s big contribution to human progress has been to intensify spotlight consciousness – the focused, linear, abstract and efficient cognitive processing more closely associated with mental work than play. This, more than anything else, is what made caffeine the perfect drug not only for the age of reason and the Enlightenment, but for the rise of capitalism, too.
The power of caffeine to keep us awake and alert, to stem the natural tide of exhaustion, freed us from the circadian rhythms of our biology and so, along with the advent of artificial light, opened the frontier of night to the possibilities of work.
What coffee did for clerks and intellectuals, tea would soon do for the English working class. Indeed, it was tea from the East Indies – heavily sweetened with sugar from the West Indies – that fuelled the Industrial Revolution. We think of England as a tea culture, but coffee, initially the cheaper beverage by far, dominated at first.
Soon after the British East India Company began trading with China, cheap tea flooded England. A beverage that only the well-to-do could afford to drink in 1700 was by 1800 consumed by virtually everyone, from the society matron to the factory worker.
Tea pickers in Assam, India. Photograph: AFP/GettyAdvertisementhttps://e80ef70dfb10d56de613b0b502418087.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html
To supply this demand required an imperialist enterprise of enormous scale and brutality, especially after the British decided it would be more profitable to turn India, its colony, into a tea producer, than to buy tea from the Chinese. This required first stealing the secrets of tea production from the Chinese (a mission accomplished by the renowned Scots botanist and plant explorer Robert Fortune, disguised as a mandarin); seizing land from peasant farmers in Assam (where tea grew wild), and then forcing the farmers into servitude, picking tea leaves from dawn to dusk. The introduction of tea to the west was all about exploitation – the extraction of surplus value from labour, not only in its production in India, but in its consumption by the British as well.
Tea allowed the British working class to endure long shifts, brutal working conditions and more or less constant hunger; the caffeine helped quiet the hunger pangs, and the sugar in it became a crucial source of calories. (From a strictly nutritional standpoint, workers would have been better off sticking with beer.) The caffeine in tea helped create a new kind of worker, one better adapted to the rule of the machine. It is difficult to imagine an Industrial Revolution without it.
So how exactly does coffee, and caffeine more generally, make us more energetic, efficient and faster? How could this little molecule possibly supply the human body energy without calories? Could caffeine be the proverbial free lunch, or do we pay a price for the mental and physical energy – the alertness, focus and stamina – that caffeine gives us?
Alas, there is no free lunch. It turns out that caffeine only appears to give us energy. Caffeine works by blocking the action of adenosine, a molecule that gradually accumulates in the brain over the course of the day, preparing the body to rest. Caffeine molecules interfere with this process, keeping adenosine from doing its job – and keeping us feeling alert. But adenosine levels continue to rise, so that when the caffeine is eventually metabolised, the adenosine floods the body’s receptors and tiredness returns. So the energy that caffeine gives us is borrowed, in effect, and eventually the debt must be paid back.
For as long as people have been drinking coffee and tea, medical authorities have warned about the dangers of caffeine. But until now, caffeine has been cleared of the most serious charges against it. The current scientific consensus is more than reassuring – in fact, the research suggests that coffee and tea, far from being deleterious to our health, may offer some important benefits, as long as they aren’t consumed to excess. Regular coffee consumption is associated with a decreased risk of several cancers (including breast, prostate, colorectal and endometrial), cardiovascular disease, type 2 diabetes, Parkinson’s disease, dementia and possibly depression and suicide. (Though high doses can produce nervousness and anxiety, and rates of suicide climb among those who drink eight or more cups a day.)
My review of the medical literature on coffee and tea made me wonder if my abstention might be compromising not only my mental function but my physical health, as well. However, that was before I spoke to Matt Walker.
An English neuroscientist on the faculty at University of California, Berkeley, Walker, author of Why We Sleep, is single-minded in his mission: to alert the world to an invisible public-health crisis, which is that we are not getting nearly enough sleep, the sleep we are getting is ofpoor quality, and a principal culprit in this crime against body and mind is caffeine. Caffeine itself might not be bad for you, but the sleep it’s stealing from you may have a price. According to Walker, research suggests that insufficient sleep may be a key factor in the development of Alzheimer’s disease, arteriosclerosis, stroke, heart failure, depression, anxiety, suicide and obesity. “The shorter you sleep,” he bluntly concludes, “the shorter your lifespan.”
Walker grew up in England drinking copious amounts of black tea, morning, noon and night. He no longer consumes caffeine, save for the small amounts in his occasional cup of decaf. In fact, none of the sleep researchers or experts on circadian rhythms I interviewed for this story use caffeine.
Walker explained that, for most people, the “quarter life” of caffeine is usually about 12 hours, meaning that 25% of the caffeine in a cup of coffee consumed at noon is still circulating in your brain when you go to bed at midnight. That could well be enough to completely wreck your deep sleep.
I thought of myself as a pretty good sleeper before I met Walker. At lunch he probed me about my sleep habits. I told him I usually get a solid seven hours, fall asleep easily, dream most nights.
“How many times a night do you wake up?” he asked. I’m up three or four times a night (usually to pee), but I almost always fall right back to sleep.
He nodded gravely. “That’s really not good, all those interruptions. Sleep quality is just as important as sleep quantity.” The interruptions were undermining the amount of “deep” or “slow wave” sleep I was getting, something above and beyond the REM sleep I had always thought was the measure of a good night’s rest. But it seems that deep sleep is just as important to our health, and the amount we get tends to decline with age.
Caffeine is not the sole cause of our sleep crisis; screens, alcohol (which is as hard on REM sleep as caffeine is on deep sleep), pharmaceuticals, work schedules, noise and light pollution, and anxiety can all play a role in undermining both the duration and quality of our sleep. But here’s what’s uniquely insidious about caffeine: the drug is not only a leading cause of our sleep deprivation; it is also the principal tool we rely on to remedy the problem. Most of the caffeine consumed today is being used to compensate for the lousy sleep that caffeine causes – which means that caffeine is helping to hide from our awareness the very problem that caffeine creates.
The time came to wrap up my experiment in caffeine deprivation. I was eager to see what a body that had been innocent of caffeine for three months would experience when subjected to a couple of shots of espresso. I had thought long and hard about what kind of coffee I would get, and where. I opted for a “special”, my local coffee shop’s term for a double-shot espresso made with less steamed milk than a typical cappuccino; it’s more commonly known as a flat white.
My special was unbelievably good, a ringing reminder of what a poor counterfeit decaf is; here were whole dimensions and depths of flavour that I had completely forgotten about. Everything in my visual field seemed pleasantly italicised, filmic, and I wondered if all these people with their cardboard-sleeve-swaddled cups had any idea what a powerful drug they were sipping. But how could they?
They had long ago become habituated to caffeine, and were now using it for another purpose entirely. Baseline maintenance, that is, plus a welcome little lift. I felt lucky that this more powerful experience was available to me. This – along with the stellar sleeps – was the wonderful dividend of my investment in abstention.
And yet in a few days’ time I would be them, caffeine-tolerant and addicted all over again. I wondered: was there any way to preserve the power of this drug? Could I devise a new relationship with caffeine? Maybe treat it more like a psychedelic – say, something to be taken only on occasion, and with a greater degree of ceremony and intention. Maybe just drink coffee on Saturdays? Just the one.
When I got home I tackled my to-do list with unaccustomed fervour, harnessing the surge of energy – of focus! – coursing through me, and put it to good use. I compulsively cleared and decluttered – on the computer, in my closet, in the garden and the shed. I raked, I weeded, I put things in order, as if I were possessed. Whatever I focused on, I focused on zealously and single-mindedly.
Around noon, my compulsiveness began to subside, and I felt ready for a change of scene. I had yanked a few plants out of the vegetable garden that were not pulling their weight, and decided to go to the garden centre to buy some replacements. It was during the drive that I realised the true reason I was heading to this particular garden centre: it had this Airstream trailer parked out front that served really good espresso.
This article was amended on 8 July 2021 to include mention of the Turkish influence on early European coffeehouses.
This is an edited extract from This Is Your Mind on Plants: Opium-Caffeine-Mescaline by Michael Pollan, published by Allen Lane on 8 July and available at guardianbookshop.co.uk
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Eric Topol @EricTopolThis will go down in history as one of science and medical research’s greatest achievements. Perhaps the most impressive. I put together a preliminary timeline of some key milestones to show how several years of work were compressed into months.