Conservative Austrian diplomat Klem von Metternich (1773 – 1859), the architect of the ‘Metternich System’ of détente diplomacy between France and Prussia from 1800-1848, which dominated politics on the Continent and established the pathway to Austria’s independence, for four decades Prince Metternich served as foreign minister from 1809-1848 and also Chancellor from 1821, the father of the empire until the liberal Revolutions of 1848, he maintained Austria as a great power and was Napoleon’s able foil because Metternich was super smart but also extremely cocky, once saying,
There is a wide sweep about my mind. I am always above and beyond the preoccupations of most public men. I can cover a ground much vaster than they can see. I cannot keep myself from saying about twenty times a day: ‘How right I am, and how wrong they are.’
Metternich also stated back in 1848, “When Paris sneezes, Europe catches a cold” and this catchy phrase was taken up by British economists to apply to the world’s emerging superpower after England, France and Prussia’s decline, the United States, and its stuck since as a cliche, as relevant today as ever, except with SARS-CoV-2, Europe sneezed and America caught pneumonia. In the Dark Ages, the Black Plague (the bubonic plague, which is very bad and not in any way related to bubonic weed, which doesn’t kill anyone and only gives stoners the munchies) was extremely deadly and wiped out half the population of Europe before smallpox and tuberculosis took it from there, TB was first seen in Europe around the year 1500 and then, followed by Conquistadors and Conquerors, herd immunity (payed for by the deaths of millions of Europeans) then presaged the killing millions more indigenous peoples thereafter. The origin of the virus smallpox as a natural disease is unknown, believed to have appeared around 10,000 BC in the first agricultural settlements in the Fertile Crescent of Africa, also in ancient Asian cultures to the east, Variola major smallpox was described in text as early as 1100 BC in China and also in ancient Sanskrit in India.
I love aphorisms, the English word closely related to the French word cliché, Americans call them ‘truisms’ and they carry hard-won history and meaning. Philosopher John Stuart Mill wrote in an essay in 1837 that a good aphorism has “generally truth, or a bold approach to some truth” associated with it and it also helps if the saying is funny or witty. “What doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger“ is an aphorism credited to 19th century German philosopher and asshole Friedrich Nietzsche, translated from German into English, it has a kernel of truth about resilience, yet is hardly funny or witty. My favorite aphorist is the English poet, playwright, critic and royal courtier William Congreve (sorry England) and also the essayist, poet, critic, royal courtier and British spy, Daniel Defoe (sorry Scotland), Defoe wrote perhaps the first novel ever (with apologies to Miguel de Cervantes) and lived a life worthy of Don Quixote, a child during the Plague of London in 1665 and then the Great Fire of London the following year, he was later pilloried at New Palace Yard at Westminster in London for his ‘seditious’ writing (the only person ever pilloried that was showered with flowers and toasts to his good health by passing Londoners) he avoided debtor’s prison by dying penniless at age 71 on April 24, 1731 yet was a prolific and successful writer, utilizing over 100 pen names in his career and was really the first journalist as well, but under his own name Daniel Defoe published the best selling book of all time next to the Bible, the novel The Life and Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, in 1719 about a man shipwrecked on a deserted island, and as we all are lately, he was lamenting to God:
He knows that I am here, and am in this dreadful condition; and if nothing happens without His appointment, He has appointed all this to befall me. Nothing occurred to my thought to contradict any of these conclusions; and therefore it rested upon me with the greater force that it must need be, that God had appointed all this to befall me; that I was brought to this miserable circumstance by His direction, He having the sole power, not of me only, but of every thing that happened in the world. Immediately it followed: Why has God done this to me?
Crusoe was the first book I read in my English Lit class as a freshman in college, a great book, and where we are all deserted on our own little islands, I recommend the book to you, however the theme of Christian acceptance and redemption, complete with a slave named Friday may be a bit too over-the-top for most casual readers, but it’s full of great aphorisms and sayings and is a manual of sorts for spiritual awakening. The book is a treatise on the Christian walk of life and Defoe was a Puritan, also writing dozens of guidebooks and manuals on Christian and secular life, such as Religious Courtship (1722); The Complete English Tradesman (1726); Everybody’s Business is Nobody’s Business (1725); The New Family Instructor (1727); The General History of Discoveries and Improvements (1727) and An Essay on the History and Reality of Apparitions (1727). While Robinson Crusoe is far more than just a guide, it shares points of view that Defoe was very comfortable writing about because he was an awfully good writer and reporter. The name ‘Crusoe’ was probably borrowed from a man he knew named Timothy Cruso, a classmate at the ‘dissenting’ academy at Newington Green they both attended who had also written guide books as Defoe, before dying at a young age. After the phenomenal success of Crusoe, Defoe then wrote A Journal of the Plague Year published in 1722, a first-person account of one man’s experiences in the year 1665 in London published under the pen name ‘H. F.’ recounting stories his father and uncle, Henry Foe, told him about the year under the plague in London and the suburbs which was so accurate in detail as to confound historians and English Lit majors to this day, yet it’s still a fictional work that may stand as perhaps the first true journalism ever written in the English language,
I have set this particular down so fully, because I know not but it may be of moment to those who come after me, if they come to be brought to the same distress.
Defoe’s narrative dramatized the actual measures taken by the city of London in 1665 in forcing all infected victims to be locked in their homes with their families, even [if] they weren’t sick, and this edict “had very great inconveniences in it, and some that were very tragical,” Defoe writes, “but it was authorized by a law, it had the public good in view as the end chiefly aimed at, and all the private injuries that were done by the putting it in execution must be put to the account of the public benefit.” Another chronicler of the Great Plague of London was Dr. Nathaniel Hodges, who stayed behind when most wealthy and connected Londoners high-tailed it to the English countryside, he kept his usual office hours in the morning (with doctor’s visits to his patient’s homes afternoon to early evening), then he’d go home for dinner, he’d pop a ‘lozenge’ into his mouth and wash it down with some fortified wine and sleep like a baby until the next day in the trenches of plague-ridden London. The brave doctor kept a medical journal of the effects of the plague on the human body called Loimologia that was a clear and topical study of the deadly disease, reported from the front-lines (with the limited scientific knowledge available at the time), yet this was the second great ‘wave’ of the bubonic plague in England and the good doctor had some knowledge of the disease, with dozens of ‘wavelets’ rippling death through the terrified British population for centuries from 1344 when the plague first swept across England until the last big wave hit in 1855, The Great Plague of London in 1665 had ‘only’ 100,000 dead and that represented ‘only’ about 2% of the population, but the fear and disruption to British society was similar to the original bubonic plague and Dr. Hodges used what paltry information he had available to him and worked through his fears and lived to tell us all about it. Twice, Dr. Hodges thought he had caught the dreaded disease but twice, he took extra ‘lozenges’ and an extra glass of sack wine and was fine and dandy after a good sleep, showing up for work day after day during the crisis. He would be honored by the City of London for his bravery and dedication to his patients, yet he also died penniless because who wants to go to a plague doctor when everybody’s back to good health again?
Ben Franklin loved aphorisms as I do, preserved for history in his best-selling Poor Richard’s Almanack, an annual edition which ran continually from 1732 to 1758, really the first popular blockbuster magazine in Colonial America, born in the North End of Boston, Franklin made his name in the ‘City of Brotherly Love,’ Philadelphia. A scientist before there was really a name for one, Franklin was a polymath with an uncommon common sense — our own American Renaissance Man. He was a brilliant and witty genius of many talents, chief among them science and journalism and he earned his trade in a family of workingmen, his father Josiah Franklin’s immigrant father was a chandler, textile dyer and blacksmith and Ben’s older brother, James Franklin was a printer. Josiah Franklin insisted that each of his sons learn a trade yet the elder Franklin’s dreams of the young Benjamin becoming a minister were shattered when he found young Ben’s French porn collection under his mattress (joke) yet it was abundantly clear that ‘Ol Ben was too much of an iconoclast to settle into staid Church life and he would famously follow his brother James into the printing business. The first big story to launch the Franklin media empire was delivered directly to their front door on April 22, 1721 when a British schooner with a rumor of smallpox on board was reported as being quarantined in Boston Harbor.
The first great epidemic in America, after a series of seven separate epidemics before, the virus smallpox, or Variola major (as opposed to Variola minor) killed generations of victims overseas before a British swabby came down with the dreaded pox on a ship bound for the Commonwealth. The local government of Boston, then also headed by one of the only true ‘physicians’ in Colonial America, acted with due diligence and extreme caution, quarantining the entire ship on the remote 100-acre Spectacle Island in the harbor, separating the one clearly infected victim from the rest of the other randy British sailors, who couldn’t be contained on the fairly large island and spilled into the streets and pubs of Colonial Boston. This provided the first identifiable vector to the worst outbreak since the Native American population of the Americas were wiped out by a similar epidemic one hundred years before. Zabdiel Boyleston was the only other physician in America (there were no medical schools then) willing to risk it all on Cotton Mather’s crazy plan to ‘inoculate’ the fine citizens of Boston, Massachusetts.
A note here, when I wrote about the crusty old Cotton Mather back in 2017 in my post, Impeach the Witch! because Trump started calling the Mueller Investigation a ‘WITCHHUNT,’ I slagged ‘ol wig-head as being remembered as a man of pompous and brutal judgement, yet under the electron microscope lens of history and reflection, I stand corrected a bit on Mather’s over-the-top religious zealotry because he should also be remembered for his brutal and pompous decision to inoculate some of the (willing) townspeople of Beantown in the first successful clinical trial using the medical procedure known as inoculation in the West. British farmer Ben Jesty would later be one of the first to intentionally give a less damaging version of another virus (in his case, cowpox given to his own family) in order to prevent the onset of the related killer virus smallpox, one of only a few cases in history where the virus of cowpox was intentionally administered to induce immunity against smallpox with only Jobst Bose of Göttingen, Germany joining Benjamin Jesty’s brave work. British scientist Edward Jenner popularized a method that he later termed ‘vaccination,’ in which the word means literally ‘bovine’ or cow-like, but even though the means and method had been combined into a new word meaning, vaccination has saved millions of lives across the globe, providing one of the greatest achievements in the history of science. In Jenner’s time, smallpox killed around 10% of the British population and in 1821, he was appointed as physician to King George IV.
One hundred years earlier in 1721, British aristocrat and poet Lady Mary Wortley Montagu had imported a method known as ‘variolation’ (an early form of vaccination) to Britain after having observed it in the Near East, French writer Voltaire also wrote that at the time 60% of the French population had caught smallpox and 20% of the population had died from it, writing about an immunization custom that may have been borrowed by the Turkish from the Circassians in ancient history during the Plague of Justinian (542–546) during an epidemic of the bubonic plague. Cotton Mather in Boston in 1721 was emboldened in his crazy decision to inoculate people (with the Salem Witch Trials looking like child’s play compared to this crisis), and the devil was running amok in the Hub when Mather took heed of an anecdote mentioned to him by the slave Onesimus, an unsung hero of American history, helping shape the age-old traditions of American politics, government and the Christian Church. Mather ‘gave’ him the name Onesimus after a Biblical slave whose name meant ‘useful,’ Mather was the most influential figure in the Salem trials and he also believed that slave owners had a duty to convert slaves to Christianity and educate them, but like most other white men from Boston, he also looked down on black people and felt superior to what he called the “Devilish rites” of the enslaved Africans and even worried that these people might openly rebel against all of this white privilege. A lot has been written about the disproportionate effect Caronavirus has had on the African-American community and I think of another twist on the old cliche, “When White Folks Catch a Cold, Black Folks Get Pneumonia” could easily be applied to the pandemic as well and any reasonable person should agree that black folks are getting fucked over, again, along with Native Americans who are also suffering disproportionally the ravaging effects of the virus more than American society at-large. White folks always seem oblivious to the suffering of others, even when it’s right in front of their eyes. We just change the channel.
The scourge of smallpox in America was imported with the scourge of slavery because the slave trade displaced hundreds of thousands of slaves from regions in Africa where smallpox was naturally endemic. Smallpox was introduced to Europe sometime between 400-600 AD and greatly affected the development of Western civilization; the decline of the Roman Empire coincided with an outbreak of the pox with the Antonine Plague, Emperor Antoninus Pius ruled from 138-161 and was the last emperor to reside permanently in Rome, smallpox killed him and almost 7 million more and was then introduced to the ‘New World’ by Spanish and Portuguese Conquistadors and their descendants, the disease then decimated these indigenous populations across South America and was instrumental in the fall of the great empires of the Incas and the Aztecs. It should be taught in all grammar schools in America that our earliest settlers brought with them smallpox to America and that led directly to the decline in the native population, which allowed for Plymouth Colony to survive in the first place, smallpox also gave rise to the first examples of biological warfare in America when during the French-Indian War (1754–1767), Sir Jeffrey Amherst, the namesake of the Massachusetts Town of Amherst, home of the University of Massachusetts, was commander of all British forces in North America who openly advocated for the deliberate use of smallpox to kill Native American Tribes disloyal to the Crown.
Variola major smallpox and the bubonic plague had far worse effects on the human body than COVID-19, (not to mention tetanus, syphilis, meningitis etc.) but as Donald Trump and the MAGA-crowd continually pump hydroxychloroquine (a malaria drug) with some early positive results, overall, the drug appears to have limited medicinal benefit for Caronavirus patients and should be largely considered a panacea for this particular disease, this conclusion drawn with the earliest evidence available only. From the drug Remdesivir from Gilead Sciences and other prophylactic treatments, there are good signs that we might be able to lessen the effects of this awful virus soon, beyond creating a slew of new pharmaceuticals that basically do what Delsym, Mucinex and Robitussin do for the dozen or so bad flu strains we’ve had around for decades, however SARS-Cov2 has no vaccination, but the scientists and researchers at the Jenner Institute at Oxford University, who were already busy on a project with AstraZeneca researching MERS and SARS-CoV-1, have been able to reconfigure all their work in five short months, focusing 100% on this crisis and if a vaccination does become widely available this year, my bet is on them to pull it off.
As far back as 1882 in America, it was understood that another killer parasite, tuberculosis (named for the wormy, tube-like bacteria that caused the illness) was a contagious disease that could also ‘live’ on surfaces for days to infect people with hand-to-face action, the TB pandemic ultimately galvanized public health activists across the US to spur the government to action in promoting much-needed reforms in public hygiene. The Republican Progressive Movement was instrumental in these reforms, propelled by the ‘Bully Pulpit’ of Teddy Roosevelt, TB wracked Europe for centuries before America responded to the crisis by creating the state hospital system and in all of them, they then grew exponentially during the long TB epidemic to meet the demand, but as a country we were ahead of the rest of the world in our approach to combat the deadly pandemic because we had learned a hard won lesson. From Cotton Mather, where his own son and the ‘slave’ Onesimus’ son were inoculated with, for lack of better words, the INFECTED PUSS of an active smallpox victim, based on blind faith and oral tradition, would you do that? Well, it saved their lives. In the ‘Fever of 1721,’ Boston’s expanding, five digit population of 10,000 plus residents was reduced to four digits with 9,756 Bostonians left after the killer epidemic, (a 12% mortality rate and a better than 50% infection rate among these third-generation descendants of the Mayflower) the word inoculation is derived from the Latin inoculare, meaning ‘to graft:’ these first inoculations simply jammed an under-the-skin knife edge full of pox virus directly into the happy patient’s arm. Talk about blind hope! Makes the ‘ol dreaded doctor’s needle look positively humane by comparison, so anyone who has received a vaccine in their lifetimes (such as the VZV chickenpox vaccination or the MMR/DPT series as I had) will attest that the little pinch pays off plenty, and in my lifetime, the unparalleled human achievement of the eradication of the virus of smallpox was announced by the World Health Organization in 1980, to very little fanfare, so can we all give up a ‘whoop, whoop’ for that now?
Cotton Mather’s experiment worked as advertised and in his ability to retain and present a case for the medical benefit to society, the sensational reports from Boston caught the eye of British scientist Edward Janney, who read the good news from some of the many articles written by the rabble-rousing Franklin brothers of Boston, Janney separated the ‘fake news’ of his day and paired it with his own anecdotal evidence from the Far East and became the first doctor in the West to bring inoculation into the modern era with the medical practice of vaccination, and with Cotton Mather in America they basically created the modern medical profession. In Boston, to herald the massive medical breakthrough, the Massachusetts Medical Society was formed, signed into law by Samuel Adams serving in his capacity as President of the Massachusetts Senate, as well as John Hancock, Governor of Massachusetts, creating the New England Journal of Medicine, which remains the best peer-reviewed medical journal in history and the first place to look for reliable and trustworthy info on the medical side of things about SARS-CoV-2 during this crisis. Their website is fantastic and as a research-based journal chronicling the business of the medical community in America since the very first epidemic, the NEJM is one of our greatest human achievements and we all have benefited from their scholarship in one form or another. Dan Defoe’s ‘ripped from the headlines’ A Journal of the Plague Year with Dr. Hodges’ Loimologia, (which Defoe researched for his book) were the forebears of all modern medical journals such as the NEJM, the BMJ and the JAMA and in 1665, Dr. Hodges wrote this on his secret to survival:
A very worthy person sent us from New-England some Troches [lozenges] made of the Flesh of a cattle from which I found more success amongst the sick, than those we commonly have here.
This tantalizing hint suggests that Dr. Hodges had taken a ‘vaccination’ lozenge made of infected beef, sent from America by some unknown person who knew what they were sending and perhaps this remedy may have saved Dr. Hodges’ life, as well as the lives of many of his patients, and in another interesting side-note, Daniel Defoe’s book, A Journal of the Plague Year was set in Bedford, England, the same town where his real friend Tim Cruso was born and another question is begged, did Timothy Cruso also die of the bubonic plague? These clues are over 300 years old, about a disease which no longer troubles us, however the story is as relevant as today’s headlines and we’ve faced epidemics and pandemics throughout human history. In our singular ability to create, recreate and disseminate information we make ourselves more fully human and in doing so, we approach closer to God, who gave us the intelligence to figure it all out, writing it down for future generations to study and research.
The non-profit NEJM magazine was last valued at $1 in 1927 when it was sold to the 15-member Board of Trustees, Dr. Eric Rubin took over the helm as editor of this most important linkage in public health just last year, in September, 2019, the journal should be everyone’s jumping-off point to try and begin to understand the science behind the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the implications for our families and communities going forward. For instance, where our president* — a notoriously squeamish and cowardly man — called the Caronavirus test ‘really tough,’ and complained how much of a discomfort it was, I won’t take the time here to detail the pain of necrosis on our lung tissues or the long, slow and agonizing recovery from this awful, weird and deadly disease, but here’s a simple description of the testing process on the NEJM website, complete with handy pictures, explaining the process as a bit uncomfortable, but hardly a big deal:
Insert the swab into the nostril, parallel to the palate. If you detect resistance to the passage of the swab, back off and try reinserting it at a different angle, closer to the floor of the nasal canal. The swab should reach a depth equal to the distance from the nostrils to the outer opening of the ear. The CDC recommends leaving the swab in place for several seconds to absorb secretions and then slowly removing the swab while rotating it. Your institution may also recommend rotating the swab in place several times before removing it. Ask the patient to reapply her mask.
Notice that mask guidance in the description above? Kind of funny how our VP Mike Pence was shown at the Mayo Clinic a few weeks ago yakking it up like a charismatic preacher to nurses, surgeons and other front-line heroes, ALL in full PPE that was, of course, hospital policy but Pence said he wanted to “Look them in the eye,” not realizing how stupid he has become, or sounds, or both really. What a piece of work this Trump admin morphed into, eh? Signs and wonders, folks. We’ve seen some shit this past couple of months that we’ll remember our whole lives, and most of it not in a good way, so forget about, “Are you better off today than you were four years ago,” more like, “My mother didn’t die! Yay!” When the NEJM gets called ‘Fake News’ by our president* we’ll all know it’s finally 25th Amendment time. The latest reports from Yale University, posted recently by the handy Merck manuals, announced the preliminary results of a highly successful saliva test (similar to an Ancestry DNA kit) that does away with all of President Trump’s fear of testing anyway. Testing for the virus is the ONLY way to isolate and extinguish Caronavirus outbreaks until a vaccine is finally proven.
The New England Journal of Medicine is a wealth of sober and informative information, such as, “Where does my sneeze go?” to the very latest cutting-edge scientific trials and clinical observations, and the journal has been the most trusted resource in medicine for over 200 years. The Lancet journal in Britain (named for the original lancet knife used in inoculation), is a fine medical journal and should be consulted as well during this crisis, however since the 1990s when it was bought out and lost it’s way under editor Robert Horton, who injected politics into science when he took over, (and failed miserably regarding the effectiveness and safety of vaccines) the Lancet is just not in the same league as the NE Journal and I suggest the BMJ (British Medical Journal) be consulted instead.
Even though tuberculosis, unlike smallpox, has never been eradicated, we’ve had a vaccine and antibiotic treatment since the miracle antibiotic streptomycin was discovered by Albert Schatz with help from a grant from Merck & Company Labs at Rutgers University, NJ back in the 1940s, saving millions of American lives and other humans the world over, yet today the poorest countries of the world can’t provide decent medical care and folks die on average of approximately 1.5 million a year to this now treatable disease, a malady with low to no risk factors beyond normal good hygiene. Maurice Hilleman, a man you’ve also never heard of was also a Merck & Company employee who had also suffered unimaginable tragedy in his life when his twin sister and mother died during his birth. Later he dedicated his life to science and in 1963, when Hilleman happened to be the lead investigator of vaccinology at Merck, his daughter Jeryl Lynn came down with the mumps. He cultivated the virus after he took it from her wounds and used it as the basis of a mumps vaccine and that same Jeryl Lynn strain is still used today (in the measles, mumps and rubella MMR vaccine) and was the first vaccine ever approved using multiple living virus strains. Of the 14 vaccines routinely recommended in current vaccine schedules, Hilleman developed eight: measles, mumps, hepatitis A, hepatitis B, chickenpox, meningitis, pneumonia and Haemophilus influenzae bacteria. Robert Gallo, co-discoverer of HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, once said “If I had to name a person who has done more for the benefit of human health, with less recognition than anyone else, it would be Maurice Hilleman. Maurice should be recognized as the most successful vaccinologist in history.” Also from the Wikipedia:
After Hilleman’s death Ralph Nader wrote, “Yet almost no one knew about him, saw him on television, or read about him in newspapers or magazines. His anonymity, in comparison with Madonna, Michael Jackson, Jose Canseco, or an assortment of grade B actors, tells something about our society’s and media’s concepts of celebrity; much less of the heroic.”
The singular accomplishment of Maurice Hilleman should not be lost to history, with the eradication of the scourge of smallpox also part the work of Hilleman’s company, the American Merck & Co., the Merck family started in banking and dyeworks, leading to the purchase of a pharmacy in Darmstadt, Hesse, Germany by Friedrich Jacob Merck in the 1600s, the Merck Group lost its way along with most of Europe and its American operations were seized by the US government during WWI, along with those of the German pharmaceutical giant Bayer (the actual German family name was Beyer) and to this day the American subsidiaries of these two great brands carry the names “Merck’ and ‘Bayer’ in this country alone because these brands in Germany would go on to become known by the infamous brand name IG Farben, (the dye industry syndicate corporation), leading up to WWII.
I know about this particular bit of American history because one of my uncles (many times removed) was appointed head of the Bayer company in America by the US government and served his business, our country and his family proud. Bayer also once sold heroin and Merck once sold morphine as well, but through centuries of scholarship and research and hard facts, we’ve always learned more and made ourselves healthier and stronger. Many of the news breakthroughs in medicine have been covered by the Merck Manuals, published since 1899 the invaluable resource is today compiling some of the most significant news items regarding Caronavirus and COVID-19 to help people stay up to date and along with the New England Journal of Medicine they are the most widely used and comprehensive medical resources, and the most trusted sources for doctors, researchers and clinicians for the past 100 years. In the long run, the truth always wins out and the true heroes are always vindicated, so in the race to find a cure for COVID-19, Godspeed to all the unsung heroes, the doctors, scientists and researchers racing against time to decipher the novel Caronavirus.
“The men who make history have not time to write it”
– Klemens Wenzel Nepomuk Lothar, Fürst von Metternich-Winneburg zu Beilstein
May 13, 2020