Catherine the Great Vaccinator

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Catherine the Great, born 1729, staged a coup d’état to overthrow her husband Peter III, and ruled as empress from 1762 dying on this day, Nov 17th 1796.

In 1762 Catherine controversially brough the English Doctor Thomas Dimsdale to Russia to innoculate herself, her son and her court against smallpox.  Vaccination was in its infancy and this was a high risk endeavour on her part.  To her credit she recognised the danger the Doctor faced if the experiement failed.  The Empress arranged for a relay of fast horses to speed the Dimsdales out of the country were she to die.

The procedure succeeded and the Doctor, and his son Nathaniel, were fabulously well rewarded, gaining a Russian Barony in the process.  Dimsdle was able to return to England and leverage his funds to become a banker and an MP.

Catherine used the success of the endeavour to promote vaccination to her subjects and succeeded in rolling out 2 million vaccinations in her lifetime, 6% of the Russian Population.

Catherine brought enlighenment to Russia and her rule is considered a golden age.  The Golden Age of Russian poetry followed her rule.  Pushkin was born in 1799 just 3 years after her passing.  Zhukovsky, who introduced Romanticism to Russia,  was born in 1783 and was 13 when Catherine passed away.  I find the Russians a bit sentimental, a bit flowery and very religious, but they were of their time and of course I know them only through translations, and how good are the translations?

 

The Boatman; by Vasily Andreyevich Zhukovsky

Driven by misfortune’s whirlwind,
having neither oar nor rudder,
by a storm my bark was driven
out upon the boundless sea.
‘midst black clouds a small star sparkled;
‘Don’t conceal yourself!’ I cried;
but it disappeared, unheeding;
and my anchor was lost, too.

All was clothed in gloomy darkness;
great swells heaved all round;
in the darkness yawned the depths
I was hemmed in by cliffs.
‘There’s no hope for my salvation!’
I bemoaned, with heavy spirit…
Madman! Providence
was your secret helmsman.

With a hand invisible,
‘midst the roaring waves,
through the gloomy, veiled depths
past the terrifying cliffs,
my all-powerful savior guided me.
Then-all’s quiet ! gloom has vanished;
I behold a paradisical realm…
Three celestial angels.

Providence – O, my protector!
My dejected groaning ceases;
on my knees, in exaltation,
on their image I did gaze.
Who could sing their charm?
or their power o’er the soul?
All around them holy innocence
and an aura divine.

A delight as yet untasted –
live and breathe for them;
take into my soul and heart
all their words and glances sweet.
O fate! I’ve but one desire:
let them sample every blessing;
vouchsafe them delight – me suffering;
Only let me die before they do.

Telling Lies #12: Firehosing

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You go online and enter a debate about Vaccination.  To support their Anti-Vaxx position somebody references the autism article by discredited and disbarred former Dr. Andrew Wakefield and you find yourself screaming at the computer “how can you reference something that has been so often and so clearly disproven?”.  You’ve been firehosed!

Rand researchers Christopher Paul and Miriam Matthews coined the term “Firehosing”  in 2016 to describe the propaganda tactics Russian authorities use to quell dissent and control the political landscape.

Firehosing relies on pushing out as many lies as possible as frequently as possible. That’s typical for propaganda, but the aspect that makes firehosing a unique strategy is that it doesn’t require the propagandist to make the lies believable.  Its goal isn’t to persuade. It’s to rob facts of their power. Firehosing inundates us with so many wild opinions that it becomes exhausting to continually disprove them. In this scenario, reality is reduced to positioning and who can sell their position best.

How do you fight this phenomenon?  Factchecking alone is ineffective:  According to the team at Rand “Don’t expect to counter the firehose of falsehood with the squirt gun of truth.”

Turn off the tap at source:  Social Media companies such as Youtube, Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, Twitter etc need to be named and shamed for permitting dissemination of lies.

In traditional media if you have Dr. 5 PhD’s in clinical pathology advocating for Vaccination it does not provide “balance” to have Reverend Bible Thumper from Podunk Idaho Church of Anti-vaccination to speak for “the other side of the debate”.

Denying the lies reinforces the lies.  To combat the lies you need to highlight the strategies being used by the firehosers.  Expose their tactics to the audience.  Educate the audience in what to look for.  Trust the audience to make good decisions by providing them with the tools to make the decisions.

Adopt the old accounting mantra “follow the money”.  Who is profiting from the lies?  Who is funding them?  Follow the breadcrums to the source.  Expose the paymasters.

Acknowledgements to Lucky Tran & Guardian News

 

If it bleeds, it leads.

Image result for contaminated water Irish Water gave us the stick, and we are beating them with it.

The press mantra of the title explains the conundrum.  We live in a world that is safer than it has ever been in the history of the world.  Yet fear rates have never been higher.  Crime rates may fall across the board but the reporting of crime continues to raise the threat levels.  If your local friendly rag can’t find a violent crime in your neighbourhood they will simply cast the net wider.  In our digitally interconnected global village there is no effort required to turn up a salacious, lurid or graphic violent crime to further terrify your readers.

If it bleeds it leads because if it bleeds it sells.  We are the authors of our own victimisation, our own anger, our own exploitation, because we give our money or our attention to the graphic, the lurid and the salacioius.

In Ireland water was managed by a plethora of small, under-resourced local authorities.; town and county municipalities, where budgets were allocated in a highly political manner by local councillors.  The approach for water was to make do and mend, the squeaky wheel gets the grease and if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.  If water became contaminated the goal was to fix it quietly.  What the people don’t know won’t harm them.  Above all:  Don’t upset the Elected Representatives.  As a water plant manager you could not afford to make the politicians look bad, because they held the purse strings.

Enter Irish Water, a nationally constituted public sector organisation given responsibility for all water management in the country.  For the purpose of this post I am ignoring the misguided attempt by the Government to install water meters in every home in Ireland, and the accusations that this was an attempt to privatise water in Ireland.  Those are issues that require entire books, not a blog post.

Irish Water is constituted in a very different way from the Local Authorities.  It was born of another public sector organisation; Bord Gáis.  When you manage the national gas network you need to be focused on safety.  Gas has the potential to explode.

As a result of the Gas governance framework Irish Water was furnished with the tools and the business culture of risk identification, risk reporting, issue reporting.  As Irish Water management take over the Local Authorities they need to change the culture from one of political expediency to one of “Safety First”.

The result of this cultural change is an explosion in the tracking of faults and the reporting of material breaches in standards.  The newspapers are flooded with lurid headlines, burst pipes, dirty water, boil notices, plant failures, activated alarms, contaminated beaches.

As our drinking water becomes safer and safer the fear level of contaminated water increases.

As the investments in waste water treatment plant begin to pay dividends the media become increasingly vocal on each spill of untreated sewage.

The reaction from the general public?  Irish Water is a disaster.  Things were better in the old days.

They weren’t.

 

 

Weep and you weep alone.

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Born November 5th 1850 Ella Wheeler Wilcox is described by some as a “popular rather than a literary poet” and is celebrated by others in books of bad verse.

She began writing poetry as a child and was published from the age of 13.  Love her or hate her she had one thing right; people respond to positivity.  Happiness draws a crowd and a smile returns a smile.

 

Solitude; by Ella Wheeler Wilcox

Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
weep, and you weep alone;
for the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
but has trouble enough of its own.
Sing, and the hills will answer;
sigh, it is lost on the air;
the echoes bound to a joyful sound,
but shrink from voicing care.

Rejoice, and men will seek you;
grieve, and they turn and go;
they want full measure of all your pleasure,
but they do not need your woe.
Be glad, and your friends are many;
be sad, and you lose them all,—
there are none to decline your nectared wine,
but alone you must drink life’s gall.

Feast, and your halls are crowded;
fast, and the world goes by.
Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
but no man can help you die.
There is room in the halls of pleasure
for a large and lordly train,
but one by one we must all file on
through the narrow aisles of pain.

Inappropriate behaviour.

Women on a women-only carriage in Japan

Crowded commuter trains have become a hotbed of inappropriate behaviour.  When you crush people into tight space, and they are deprived of an armory of normal body language signals, it causes all sorts of difficulties.  Scan the newspapers and you will find multiple reports of subway fiends armed with smart phones sneakily upskirting girls.

Upskirting is a word that is newly invented.  Goosing is another, where passengers (mostly men) press their groin up against another passenger, facilitated by the crowding.  Women are regularly groped and felt up on public transport.  It has become so bad that the Japanese have introduced women only carriages.  Expect the trend to spread.

According the the British Transport Police 70% of their reported offences are sexual assaults on women.  About another 25% of reported offences involve exposure and masturbation.  Those are only the reported ones.  Most incidents go unreported.

Much of this behaviour is coming from men who see an opportunity, take what they want and don’t think about the consequences.  Lock them up I say.

BUT (big but) a small number of these situations are caused by that crowding confusing the normal signals of body language.  In a relatively open space, such as at a bar, if a girl physically turns away from a man it is a clear sign of rejection.  In the confused world of the commuter train the signal can be misread by a man as an invitation to spoon up.  If he does and the woman does not immediately, and loudly, reject the contact, he may think there is permission or even an attraction.

Cultural pressures on women “not to cause a fuss” play into this confusion.  Women find themselves on hellish journeys, pinned by a man and not confident enough to identify this as a sexual assault and to call him out.

An even smaller number of cases involve a mutual affirmation of presence.  A recognition of the situation and a moment of stolen pleasure.  Exactly as decribed in “On the Metro” the poem by Williams below.  C.K. Willams was born on November 4th, 1936 in Newark, New Jersey.  A multi-award winning poet he writes of single, extended moments, intimately observed, with a short-story like quality to his poetry.  He presents people who are exposed and vulnerable which makes him such a good commentator to understand a crowded subway train.

Note:  Witold Gombrowicz (1904-1969) was a Polish writer whose works were strongly rooted in psychological analysis.  The interesting part for me is how he analyses the creation of identity through interactions with others.  This flows from the works of neo-freudians like Lacan and Sartre and became encoded as transactional analysis with the publication in 1964 of Games People Play by Eric Berne.

 

On the Metro; by C.K. Williams

On the metro, I have to ask a young woman to move the packages beside her to make room for me;
she’s reading, her foot propped on the seat in front of her, and barely looks up as she pulls them to her.
I sit, take out my own book—Cioran, The Temptation to Exist—and notice her glancing up from hers
to take in the title of mine, and then, as Gombrowicz puts it, she “affirms herself physically,” that is,
becomes present in a way she hadn’t been before: though she hasn’t moved, she’s allowed herself
to come more sharply into focus, be more accessible to my sensual perception, so I can’t help but remark
her strong figure and very tan skin—(how literally golden young women can look at the end of summer.)
She leans back now, and as the train rocks and her arm brushes mine she doesn’t pull it away;
she seems to be allowing our surfaces to unite: the fine hairs on both our forearms, sensitive, alive,
achingly alive, bring news of someone touched, someone sensed, and thus acknowledged, known.

I understand that in no way is she offering more than this, and in truth I have no desire for more,
but it’s still enough for me to be taken by a surge, first of warmth then of something like its opposite:
a memory—a girl I’d mooned for from afar, across the table from me in the library in school now,
our feet I thought touching, touching even again, and then, with all I craved that touch to mean,
my having to realize it wasn’t her flesh my flesh for that gleaming time had pressed, but a table leg.
The young woman today removes her arm now, stands, swaying against the lurch of the slowing train,
and crossing before me brushes my knee and does that thing again, asserts her bodily being again,
(Gombrowicz again), then quickly moves to the door of the car and descends, not once looking back,
(to my relief not looking back), and I allow myself the thought that though I must be to her again
as senseless as that table of my youth, as wooden, as unfeeling, perhaps there was a moment I was not.

What is Erasmus?

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Born Desiderius Erasmus Roterodamus ; Erasmus of Rotterdam in Netherlands was to the Northern Renaissance what Petrarch, the Father of Humanism, was to the Italian Renaissance.  For this reason Erasmus was called the “Prince of the Humanists”.

Erasmus trod the “Middle Way” between the corrupt Conservatives of the Catholic Church who resisted all reform, and the Protestant revolutionaries who wanted to tear down and rebuild the rotten edifice of Christianity.

The EuRopean Community Action Scheme for the Mobility of University Students is a very tenuous acronym for the EU programe which aims to integrate students from EU member states at a time of their life when people are most open to meeting people from different backgrounds.

Erasmus grant funds students to study in Universities outside their home country, and to meet and integrate with students from other European countries.  The aim of the programme is pan-European integration, the formation of a “European Identity”.

The Erasmus Mundus programme is a parallel initiative aimed at integrating Europeans with students from outside the European Union.

In 1987-88 some 3,244 students participated.

In 2006 150,000 students took part.

In 2016 330,000 participated.

With association comes understanding and this goes hand in hand with a reduction of xenophobia and the fear that arises from a lack of understanding of the positions of distant populations.  It is highly significant that the “Vote Leave” campaign in the UK received greatest support from older, more insular and less educated people.  The young and educated are far more open to an integrated Europe.

Brexit is an initiative of old people, who will suffer none of the consequences, to make life difficult for the next generation, and possibly for generations to come.  If the UK had postponed the Brexit vote by just 5 years sufficient old people would have died, and young new voters would have registered to swing the vote the other way.

Today the EU agreed to an extension of Brexit to January 31st.  Today happens to be the Birthday of Erasmus who was born Oct 28th 1466.

 

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Dying is an art.

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Today is the birthday of Sylvia Plath, born in 1932 and dying of suicide in 1963, aged only 30.  Forever young, forever turgid with what may have been.

The poem below is a description of her relationship with suicide.  The death of her father when she was 8 years old remained with her all her life.  He died of complications following the amputation of his foot from diabetes.  Does the reference to her own right foot reflect this in the poem below?

Her father Otto Plath self diagnosed his illness – incorrectly.  Is this “Herr Doktor”?  This poem and “Daddy” are imbued with German imagery, Nazi imagery, Holocaust Imagery.  Having a German father and an Austrian mother during WW2 clearly carried a weight of guilt for the young Plath.

Her success in suicide was achieved ironically in an oven, gassing herself to death, a parody of the gassing and burning of the Jews in death camps.  Those were the days when we used towns gas, made from coal or naphta, which was poisonous.  These days if you stick your head in a gas oven you will simply get a headache.  Natural gas is not poisonous.

Lady Lazarus is one of Plath’s most analysed poems.  You will find analysis that claims it as a holocaust poem, survivor guilt, a feminist tirade against the patriarchy, a commentary on the vampire like demands of the audience on the artist, the legacy of her fathers early death, the abusive relationship with her husband Ted Hughes, the pressures on women to conform to a societal ideal, and so on.  It is a rich soup of imagery for any critic.

 

Lady Lazarus by Sylvia Plath

I have done it again.
One year in every ten
I manage it——

A sort of walking miracle, my skin
bright as a Nazi lampshade,
my right foot

a paperweight,
my face a featureless, fine
Jew linen.

Peel off the napkin
O my enemy.
Do I terrify?——

The nose, the eye pits, the full set of teeth?
The sour breath
will vanish in a day.

Soon, soon the flesh
the grave cave ate will be
at home on me

and I a smiling woman.
I am only thirty.
and like the cat I have nine times to die.

This is Number Three.
What a trash
to annihilate each decade.

What a million filaments.
The peanut-crunching crowd
shoves in to see

them unwrap me hand and foot——
the big strip tease.
Gentlemen, ladies

these are my hands
my knees.
I may be skin and bone,

nevertheless, I am the same, identical woman.
The first time it happened I was ten.
It was an accident.

The second time I meant
to last it out and not come back at all.
I rocked shut

as a seashell.
They had to call and call
and pick the worms off me like sticky pearls.

Dying
is an art, like everything else.
I do it exceptionally well.

I do it so it feels like hell.
I do it so it feels real.
I guess you could say I’ve a call.

It’s easy enough to do it in a cell.
It’s easy enough to do it and stay put.
It’s the theatrical

comeback in broad day
to the same place, the same face, the same brute
amused shout:

‘A miracle!’
that knocks me out.
There is a charge

for the eyeing of my scars, there is a charge
for the hearing of my heart——
it really goes.

And there is a charge, a very large charge
for a word or a touch
or a bit of blood

or a piece of my hair or my clothes.
So, so, Herr Doktor.
So, Herr Enemy.

I am your opus,
I am your valuable,
the pure gold baby

that melts to a shriek.
I turn and burn.
Do not think I underestimate your great concern.

Ash, ash—
you poke and stir.
Flesh, bone, there is nothing there——

a cake of soap,
a wedding ring,
a gold filling.

Herr God, Herr Lucifer
beware
beware.

Out of the ash
I rise with my red hair
and I eat men like air.