Somethings change; somethings don’t.

On this day, in 1972, France performed its last execution. Claude Buffet and Roger Bontems were guillotined for killing a prison guard and a prison nurse. Buffet was serving a life sentence for murder, and Bontems was serving 20 years for assault.
 
I was able to research Buffets childhood. He grew up in a violent situation with an alcoholic father. Both he and Bontems served in the military before being arrested for violent crimes. I did not find any information on Bontems’ childhood.
 
I was struck by 2 things while reading about this:
1. The guillotine was used for 20th century executions.
2. People are products of their upbringing.
 
I was watching a discussion of Charlie Manson on TV with my daughter, and she was amazed that people believed that his childhood, during which he was repeatedly, violently victimized, didn’t, at least partially, account for what Charlie Manson became. No, he was “born bad”.
 
I have no idea what I thought when Manson was convicted, except that he was terrifying. I was pretty young, but looking back, I thought the 1970s were a time of modern sensibilities, but France was still executing people, and we believed that children are born bad.
 
Hopefully, some day, the USA will catch up to France on the execution part.
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The Eradication of Smallpox

Forty years ago today, the last case of (naturally occuring) smallpox, Variola minor, was diagnosed in Somalia. Variola major last occurred in 1975. There were 2 strains.

While this is considered the day that we, as a planet, worked together and successfully eradicated smallpox, there was one death after this date. The last cases of smallpox in the world occurred in an outbreak of two cases (one of which was fatal) in Birmingham, UK in 1978. A medical photographer, Janet Parker, contracted the disease at the University of Birmingham Medical School and died on September 11, 1978, after which Professor Henry Bedson, the scientist responsible for smallpox research at the university, committed suicide.

Small pox still exists in labs, and earlier in 2017, Canadian scientists created horse pox in a small lab, for a small cost ($100,000), by nonspecialists, to demonstrate that it would be rather easy to unleash smallpox on the world again.
We must remain vigilant. The story of Janet Parker could have been the story of a world epidemic.

Today is World Polio Day.

In 2016, there were only 37 wild cases of polio in the world. Unfortunately, there were 5 vaccine related cases as well. The oral polio vaccine (OPV) is not perfect, but inactivated polio vaccine (IPV) is not effective in an outbreak situation. IPV does not prevent transmission because it isn’t particularly effective in the intestines. So the individual is protected, but the individual will still poop live polio virus if exposed and risk spreading the virus that way. So when an outbreak occurs, in order to offer protection to the uninfected population, OPV is the only option to prevent spreading the disease.

IPV is much more expensive than OPV and is the vaccination of choice in

most countries. IPV is safe and very effective.

Wild cases of polio are still occurring in Afghanistan, Pakistan, and Nigeria. Vaccine-derived cases were reported in Afghanistan, Nigeria, and Laos (hopefully off the list for 2017).

Polio_sequelle I don’t understand why anyone would take the risk of not getting the IPV if available. The side effects of the vaccine are minimal and mild when they do occur. It offers excellent protection to the vaccinated individual. The probability of importing polio to the USA is low but not negligible, the probability of spreading the virus from feces is low but not negligible (flush a toilet in a shared restroom and the poop from everyone who has ever used that toilet is spewed up in the air, granted in very small amounts), and vaccinated people can spread the disease to unvaccinated people. Even if someone survives polio unscathed, later in life, secondary symptoms often develop. (image from United States Centers for Disease Control).

PS
Happy Birthday to Jonas Salk

 

Anniversary of the Potsdam Declaration

Today is the anniversary of the Potsdam Declaration.
 
I highly recommend “Japan’s Decision to Surrender” by Robert Butow. He explores contemporaneous testimony on Japan’s leadership in those final days of WWII. Japan’s leadership, both civilian and military, wanted to keep their emperor; this conflicted directly with the demand for unconditional surrender and the elimination of all authority. Japan’s civilian leadership believed that this was possible if they surrendered to the UK (who had royalty) and the USA, but if they surrendered to the Soviet Union, that was it for the emperor.
 
While it my be true that continued bombardment of Japan with nuclear and conventional bombs would probably had eventually made it impossible for the country to continue to wage war, the two nuclear strikes did not do that, and the USA did not have additional nuclear bombs ready. Dropping conventional bombs also effectively destroyed military targets and started firestorms that caused massive infrastructure damage. Conventional strikes put more military personnel and resources at risk, but compared to a land assault, it may have been a less costly path. We’ll never know because the Soviets invaded Manchuria.
 
After reading Butow’s book, I think that the Soviet’s invasion of Manchuria was the breaking point. Not only did Japan lose a much needed resource that was feeding everyone in Japan, but it put the Soviet Union in close proximity. A land assault at this point would not have been just the western allies who were fighting in the Pacific; it would have included the Soviets who had just violated their non-aggression pact with Japan. So not only did the Soviets not keep their word with Japan, but the Soviets would most likely not allow Japan to keep their emperor.
 
And so, Japan chose to surrender to the UK and USA.
 
I don’t know how broadly distributed this interpretation was in the 1950s. However, I do know that the focus on nuclear weapons has been the dominant thread in more current interpretations. When I was a child, I learned the story as “We dropped one nuke; they didn’t surrender, so we dropped the second; they surrendered” which is chronologically true, but I think inaccurate.
 
As an adult, I’ve also heard the story that American casualties were expected to exceed 6 million for a land assault, which would have included my father and my husband’s father, but that begs the question of why not use conventional bombs to flatten Japan. Again, I think the nuclear weapon debate has taken this over: we had to use the nukes to avoid the massive casualties of a land assault. And, of course, both of these story lines are all about the USA and our choices, not about Japan and their choices at the end of WWII.
 

Happy Buphonia

Today is the day to sacrifice a working ox to Zeus, protector of cities (since most of us live in cities …).
 
I’m not sure where I’d get a working ox or 5, but this is how it is supposed to work:
 
A group of oxen was driven forward to the altar at the highest point of the Acropolis. On the altar a sacrifice of grain had been spread by members of the family of the Kentriadae, on whom this duty devolved hereditarily. When one of the oxen began to eat, thus selecting itself for sacrifice,[1] one of the family of the Thaulonidae advanced with an axe, slew the ox, then immediately threw aside the axe and fled the scene of his guilt-laden crime.
 
The slaughter of a laboring ox was forbidden; it was excused in these exceptional circumstances; nonetheless it was regarded as a murder. The axe, therefore, as being polluted by murder, was immediately afterward carried before the court of the Prytaneum, which tried the inanimate object for murder, and, after the water-bearers who lustrated the axe, the sharpeners who sharpened it, the axe-bearer who carried it, each denied in turn responsibility for the deed, the guilty axe or knife was there charged with having caused the death of the ox, for which the axe was acquitted (Pausanias) or the sacrificial knife was thrown into the sea (Porphyry). Apparently this is an early instance analogous to deodand. In the enactment of this comedy of innocence, and the joint feasting of all who participated save the slayer himself, individual consciences were assuaged and the polis was reaffirmed.
 
New words: lustrate and deodand