The great upward kink in the graphs of human creature comforts

My go-to guy for creature postings, which I like to do on Friday, is Steve Stewart-Williams, and he has recently tweeted about plenty of impressive creaturely behaviour. There’s this shark, jumping out of the sea. There’s this butterfly pretending to be leaves. There are fishes doing social distancing. There are lions and hyenas having a dust up, although the interesting thing to me about this is how little actual damage they seem to be doing to each other. There are donkeys, one of them a bit cleverer. And much else besides of a creature-related sort.

But honestly, the tweet that I want to pick out is the one with this graphic, which identifies one of the most important moments in all of human history:

If that graph, or another like it, is not entirely familiar to you, then it damn well should be. It pinpoints the moment when our own species started seriously looking after its own creature comforts. This was, you might say, the moment when most of us stopped being treated no better than farm animals, and we began turning ourselves into each others’ pets.

Patrick Crozier and I will be speaking about this amazing moment in the history of the human animal in our next recorded conversation. That will, if the conversation happens as we hope and the recording works as we hope, find its way to here.

Matt Ridley tells how vaccination became established in England

I have started reading Matt Ridley’s book about How Innovation Works. Here (pages 50-55) is his description of how vaccinating people against smallpox went from being fiercely criticised by the medical experts of the time, to becoming standard medical practice:

In the same year that Thomas Newcomen was building his first steam engine, 1712, and not far away, a more romantic episode was in train, and one that would indirectly save even more lives. It was much higher up the social scale. Lady Mary Pierrepoint, a well-read, headstrong young woman of twenty-three, was preparing to elope in order to escape the prospect of a dull marriage. Her wealthy suitor, Edward Wortley Montagu, with whom she had carried on a voluminous correspondence characterized by furious disagreement as well as outrageous flirtation, had failed to agree a marriage settlement with her even wealthier father, the Earl (later Duke) of Kingston. But the prospect of being forced by her father to marry instead a pecunious dullard, the Honourable Clotworthy Skeffington, persuaded Mary to rekindle the romance with Wortley (as she called him). She proposed elopement, and he, despite thus missing out on her dowry, and in a fit of uncharacteristic impetuosity, agreed. The episode turned to farce: he was late, she set off for the rendezvous alone, he overtook her at an inn but did not realize she was there, but after further mishaps they found each other and married on 15 October 1712 in Salisbury.

After this romantic start the marriage was a disappointment, Wortley proving a cold and unimaginative husband. His bride – learned, eloquent and witty – cut a swathe through literary London, writing eclogues with Alexander Pope in the style of Virgil, and befriending the literary lions and social tigers of the day. Joseph Spence would later write: ‘Lady Mary is one of the most extraordinary shining characters in the world; but she shines like a comet; she is all irregular and always wandering. She is the most wise, most imprudent; loveliest, disagreeablest; best natured, cruellest woman in the world.’

Then smallpox marked her skin and made her reputation. This vicious virus, humankind’s greatest killer, was constantly a threat in early-eighteenth-century London. It had recently killed Queen Mary and her nephew, the young Duke of Gloucester, the last Stuart heir to the throne who was not Catholic; it had almost killed the Electress of Hanover, Sophia, and her son George, destined to be the next king of England instead. It killed Lady Mary’s brother in 1714 and very nearly killed her the next year, leaving her badly scarred and lacking in eyelashes, her beauty cruelly ravaged.

But it was smallpox that would bring her lasting fame, for she became one of the first, and certainly one of the most passionate, champions in the Western world of the innovative practice of inoculation. In 1716 her husband was sent as ambassador to Constantinople and Lady Mary accompanied him with her young son. She did not invent inoculation, she did not even bring the news of it for the first time, but being a woman she was able to witness in detail the practice among women cloistered in Ottoman society, and then to champion it back home among mothers terrified for their children, to the point where it caught on. She was an innovator, not an inventor.

Two reports had reached the Royal Society in London from Constantinople of the practice of ‘engrafting’ as a cure for smallpox. According to the correspondents, Emmanuel Timonius and Giacomo Pylarini, both physicians working in the Ottoman Empire, the pus from a smallpox survivor would be mixed with the blood in a scratch on the arm of a healthy person. The reports were published by the Royal Society but dismissed as dangerous superstition by all the experts in London. More likely to spark an epidemic than prevent it; an unconscionable risk to be running with people’s health; an old wives’ tale; witchcraft. Given the barbaric and unhelpful practices of doctors at the time, such as bloodletting, this was both ironic and perhaps understandable.

It seems the Royal Society had been told of the practice even earlier, in 1700, by two correspondents in China, Martin Lister and Clopton Havers. So there was nothing new about this news. But where these doctors failed to persuade the British, Lady Mary Wortley Montagu had better luck. On 1 April 1718 she wrote to her friend Sarah Chiswell from Turkey with a detailed account of inoculation:

The smallpox, so fatal and so general amongst us, is here entirely harmless by the invention of engrafting, which is the term they give it. There is a set of women who make it their business to perform the operation … When they are met (commonly fifteen or sixteen together) the old woman comes with a nutshell full of the matter of the best sort of smallpox, and asks what veins you please to have opened. She immediately rips open that you offer to her with a large needle (which gives you no more pain than a common scratch) and puts into the vein as much venom as can lie upon the head of her needle … There is no example of anyone that has died in it, and you may believe I am well satisfied of the safety of the experiment, since I intend to try it on my dear little son. I am patriot enough to take pains to bring this useful invention into fashion in England.

Lady Mary did indeed engraft her son Edward, anxiously watching his skin erupt in self-inflicted pustules before subsiding into immunized health. It was a brave moment. On her return to London she inoculated her daughter as well, and became infamous for her championing of the somewhat reckless procedure – a sort of version of the trolley problem so beloved of moral philosophers: do you divert a runaway truck from a line where it will kill five people to another line where it will kill one? Do you deliberately take one risk to avoid a greater one? By then, some doctors had joined the cause, notably Charles Maitland. His inoculation of the children of the Prince of Wales in 1722 was a significant moment in the campaign. But even afterwards there was furious denunciation of the barbaric practice. Misogyny and prejudice lay behind some of it, as when Dr William Wagstaffe pronounced: ‘Posterity will scarcely be brought to believe that an experiment practised only by a few ignorant women amongst an illiterate and unthinking people should on a sudden – and upon a slender Experience – so far obtain in one of the politest nations in the world as to be received into the Royal Palace.’

In America, the practice of inoculation arrived around the same time, through the testimony of an African slave named Onesimus, who told the Boston preacher Cotton Mather about it, possibly as early as 1706, who in turn informed the physician Zabdiel Boylston. For trying inoculation on 300 people, Boylston was subject to fierce criticism and life-threatening violence, abetted by rival physicians to the point where he had to hide for fourteen days in a secret closet lest the mob kill him. Innovation often requires courage.

In due course inoculation with smallpox itself – later known as variolation – was replaced by the safer but similar practice of vaccination, that is to say, using a related but less dangerous virus than smallpox, an innovation usually credited to Edward Jenner. In 1796 he deliberately infected an eight-year-old boy, James Phipps, with cowpox from blisters on the hands of a milkmaid called Sarah Nelmes, who had caught it from a cow called Blossom. He then tried to infect Phipps with smallpox itself and showed that he was immune to it. This demonstration proof, not the vaccination itself, was his real contribution and the reason he had such an impact. The idea of deliberately giving people cowpox to immunize them against smallpox was by then already thirty years old. It had been tried by a physician named John Fewster in 1768, and by several other doctors in Germany and England in the 1770s. It was already probably in use among farmers before that date.

So, yet again, innovation proves to be gradual and to begin with the unlettered and ordinary people, before the elite takes the credit. That is perhaps a little unfair on Jenner, who, like Lady Mary Wortley, deserves fame for persuading the world to adopt the practice. Napoleon, despite being at war with Britain, had his armies vaccinated, on the strength of Jenner’s advocacy, and awarded Jenner a medal, calling him ‘one of the greatest benefactors of mankind’.

Starlink

CNBC: SpaceX is manufacturing 120 Starlink internet satellites per month.

Says Instapundit’s Stephen Green: Wow.

And it does sound pretty exciting. High speed internet connections in hitherto uninternetted places. Will politicians be able to spare us all that stressing and straining to narrow the “digital gap” between the cities and the countryside, by threatening to dig up the latter at vast expense to everyone? Will everyone just be connected from now on, wherever they live? Sounds like it, doesn’t it? Working at home, wherever your home happens to be, is just about to get that little bit easier.

Of course, if you are a regular BMNB reader, you already know about Starlink.

Nathan Law versus the ChiComs

I remain totally pessimistic about Hong Kong winning in the short run, i.e. not being crushed by the ChiComs. If HongKongers want to get back at the ChiComs, then they must unite with all the other enemies of the ChiComs, and defeat ChiCom rule not just in Hong Kong, but in China as a whole. That’s the only way they’ll ever get their version of Hong Kong back.

What this man …:

… is doing tells me that this process is now getting cranked up. However, Newsweek’s piece has an error in its headline. They say he is opposing “China”. Wrong. He is opposing the ChiComs, on behalf of Hong Kong and on behalf of China.

Nathan Law now operates in London. Good for London.

I am now following Nathan Law on Twitter.

I have a Leader. Not necessarily The Leader, you understand. But A Leader. Someone to follow. Maybe I’ll find a better leader in the future, but meanwhile, he’ll do.

LATER: Also this guy.

Patrick Crozier and I talk about French military disappointments (and so does Antoine Clarke)

These disappointments happened in 1870, 1914, 1917, 1940, 1944(?) and 1954. We don’t talk about them in chronological order, because we started with 1914, which was the failed French Ardennes offensive, right at the start of World War 1. But events in all of those years get a mention.

Listen to our conversation here, where there is also lots of further detail from Patrick. Under where it says “Notes” there are 20 items of relevant information, any one of which could have been expanded into a decent blog posting in its own right.

But hello, what’s this? It’s a conversation between Patrick and our mutual friend Antoine Clarke, whom Patrick and I mentioned in our conversation, several times. This was recorded nearly a decade ago. Not having heard it before, I listened to it last night, further delaying me in putting up this posting.

My main reaction to what Antoine said is that, clearly, what I said about how the French “self image” switched, in Parisian artistic circles, from warmonger to peacenik, took its time spreading to the rest of the country. Antoine talks vividly about his ancestors telling their children that the reason they were born was to get Alsace-Lorraine back from the Germans. Also, he said fascinating things about reparations. French had to pay reparations to get the Germans out of France after the 1870 disaster. And they paid the lot, and the Germans left, far quicker than had been expected. Everyone chipped in voluntarily. I knew none of this.

In general, I think that following our chat about Lockdown, Patrick and I showed a return to form, assuming I’m allowed to say that. Maybe you’ll think better of our Lockdown chat than I do, but for me the trouble with that was that all I recall us doing was expressing our own opinions, much as anyone listening could have done for himself. But people listening need to be told at least some things they didn’t already know, just like Antoine does in his talk with Patrick, for instance with all that stuff about reparations that I knew nothing about. At least, when we talked about France, Patrick and I had read interesting books which people listening might not have read. Patrick had been reading this book, and I’d been reading this book. (I copied both those links from Patrick’s Notes.) That may not be anything like an eyewitness account following one of us having been present as a small child at Dien Bien Phu, or a great uncle reminiscing about bombing French civilians following the D-Day landings. But it is something.

Nelson with scaffolding

Another photo of Nelson, done by me yesterday …:

… to add to these two. As reported earlier here, one of those two photos found its way onto the Nelson sculptor’s own website.

I doubt Lesley Pover will want this latest photo, because scaffolding. But I like it. Because scaffolding.

Colourful messages in Victoria Street yesterday

One of the reasons I foresee a lot more colour in London in the next few years is that colour is all part of the imagery of thew political orthodoxies of our time.

These three photos, which I took yesterday, all illustrate this opinion of mine, or I think they do:

Left, 55 Broadway, flying a rainbow flag where previously flags like the London Underground flag or the Union Jack would flutter. Middle, a sign signifying the now near-universal worship of the NHS, outside the entrance to Westminster City Hall. Right, a rainbow very recently applied to the road. Who by? For how long? Not sure.

This sort of stuff is now the colour scheme of public virtue. These colours are not merely pretty. They mean something. They are all messages. Sexual identity flexibility. Ethnic diversity. These colours proclaim virtue, and denounce vice.

So, if you are against things being painted or decorated thus, that means you oppose virtue and you favour vice. This is why the colours will spread, because who’s going to stop this? Stopping it will mean favouring vice, and who’s going to do that?

A new bridge in China: More than just a bridge

Indeed:

This is the Wuchazi Bridge, and very fine I think it looks. No wonder dezeen cannot resist showing lots of photos of it, of which the above photo is one and the below photo is another.

Says dezeen:

The design team created a continual walkable path within the Wuchazi Bridge as part of its aim to make the structure a recreational destination rather than a purely functional piece of engineering.

The sort of place, in other words, where those visiting it would behave like this:

I especially like those two bikes.

I’d be taking a lot of photos like that if I ever visited this place.

Which I surely now will never do, no matter how my circumstances change. Wuchazi is in China and politically, China is now an abomination. The world played nice with the ChiComs for forty years and now they’re shitting on us all. The idea that individual bits of shitting, like on Hong Kong, or like the Plague they unleashed while forgetting to tell us in time, can now be individually cleaned up is delusional. The HongKongers, the Uyghur Muslims, the anti-Plaguers and all others who don’t like how China is now governed need all to get together and try to change how China, all of it, is now governed. We may not succeed if we do this, but we will have fun trying and the government of China will really really not like this. On the other hand, if we do not unite against our common enemy (the ChiComs (not China itself)), we will definitely fail. So, we are now uniting. I know this, because this is the only thing now worth doing. Ergo, it is happening. Just wanted to include a bit of that stuff.

Meanwhile, on a kind of Nazi-uniforms-are-cool basis, I can still admire this bridge. Here’s hoping it outlives the ChiComs and becomes a treasured part of the truly civilised China of the future that most of us would now like to see.

Splashdown for SpaceX

John Stossel:

2 Americans just landed safely after spending 2 months in space.

11 years ago, an Obama committee concluded that would take 12 years and cost $26 billion. Elon Musk did it in 6 years– for less than $1 billion.

Private competition is always better.

On the other hand, says the LA Times:

Elon Musk’s growing empire is fueled by $4.9 billion in government subsidies

Los Angeles entrepreneur Elon Musk has built a multibillion-dollar fortune running companies that make electric cars, sell solar panels and launch rockets into space.

And he’s built those companies with the help of billions in government subsidies.

Tesla Motors Inc., SolarCity Corp. and Space Exploration Technologies Corp., known as SpaceX, together have benefited from an estimated $4.9 billion in government support, according to data compiled by The Times. The figure underscores a common theme running through his emerging empire: a public-private financing model underpinning long-shot start-ups.

“He definitely goes where there is government money,” said Dan Dolev, an analyst at Jefferies Equity Research. “That’s a great strategy, but the government will cut you off one day.”

Like the government is liable to cut Boeing off. Because now, it can.

I’m guessing Musk reckons he could find other customers, if the government stopped paying. But I’m guessing further that a chunk of all that money goes to schmoozing the government to keep on paying. In a decade or two, Musk could be no better than Boeing.

This is “privatisation”, and privatisation isn’t the same as a real market, hence the sneer quotes. Private competition is always better. So are lots of customers spending their own money, instead of just the one, getting its money at gunpoint. Let’s hope that in this case it will turn out to be a step in the right direction. As big as it now feels.