The Wrong Answer

Emperor Augustus was touring his Empire and noticed a man who looked so similar that he could have been his brother. Intrigued he asked: “Did your mother work in the Imperial Palace?”

“No, Your Highness. But my father did.”

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Ben Bradley MP (In a previous life a workhouse manager)

“…..[Mansfield] Tory MP Ben Bradley has claimed that free school meals vouchers are “effectively” a handout to a crack den and brothel. Even if this is true – and the evidence for it is less than overwhelming – so what? It is impossible, except at colossal administrative cost, to target help to the deserving poor and only the deserving poor. The question is what ruin do we want to incur – that of some help going to crack dealers, or that of some children going hungry? Many of us would prefer to err on the side of the former – and in an imperfect world we must err.”*

* https://stumblingandmumbling.typepad.com/stumbling_and_mumbling/2020/10/a-great-deal-of-ruin.html

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A Successful Teaching Moment

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Book Review: Jo Nesbo ~ Nemesis (2002) (Translator: Dan Bartlett)

The job description of fictional Detective Inspectors is that they should be alcoholics, mavericks, insightful, very persuasive, and yet, curiously, trusting. They get into scrapes where everything says, ‘Don’t do it’. But they do. They lure colleagues into committing crimes (in this case breaking and entering) but it’s all for the greater good. Baddies are collared. Incompetent ‘rule-bound’ fellow officers are left in the dust and admiring senior officers glow with pride that they let Harry Hole (on this occasion) get on with it.

So the narrative is set in literary concrete.

Why are they compelling across very different national markets? They are thundering good stories. Nesbo in Nemesis has an omnipotent gypsy in centre stage. Wildly improbable but then so is the fellow detective who literally remembers every single person she ever met. There’s a fellow officer who appears to be a master criminal – you need to read the next book – The Devil’s Star (2003), which I haven’t read, to find out. And I want to find out!!!!! So I guess I’m hooked on a vacuous genre just like millions of other readers.

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Open Wide!

If you want to read more about this tryDental MythBusters: Do Crocodiles Let Birds Clean Their Teeth? | Canyon Gate Dental of Orem

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J B S Haldane, scientist, organises his very own After Life

He [Haldane] had left strict instructions about what was to be done with his body. ‘I hope that I have been of some use to my fellow creatures while alive,’ he once wrote, ‘and I see no reason why I should not continue to be so when dead.’ His organs went to the Rangaraya Medical College….. Bones from his ear and from the skull just above it went to the University of Chicago. The rest of his bones were articulated into a skeleton, to be displayed in an anatomy museum. He wanted to give every particle of himself to science.”

Samanth Subramanian A Dominant Character: The radical politics and restless science of J B S Haldane p310

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Winston Churchill mocks Clement Attlee (who got the last laugh*)

Churchill said: “An empty taxi arrived at 10 Downing Street, and when the door was opened, Attlee got out.

And the classic “He is a modest man with much to be modest about.”

Finally: Attlee is, ‘A sheep in sheep’s clothing’.

* Attlee trounced Churchill in the 1945 General Election

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London and the Great Plague, 1665: Plague Pits

Records state that plague deaths in London and the suburbs crept up over the summer from 2,000 people per week to over 7,000 per week in September. These figures are likely to be a considerable underestimate. Many of the sextons and parish clerks who kept the records themselves died.1

Background

Statistics for the 17th century are imprecise but an accepted population figure for London in 1665 is about 500,000. One difficulty is the definition of ‘London’ as there were settlements immediately outside the boundary. These are often included in the total figure. Regardless of this imprecision death totals were about 100,0002 or about 20% of the population. The 2020-21 Covid-19 pandemic horrified Britain but compared to the Great Plague it wasn’t that severe. Its impact was mitigated by a sophisticated scientific and economic response.3 During the pandemic there’s been about 16,000 Covid deaths in London or about 0.17% of the population. Extrapolating from the 1665 experience meant about 1,800,000 deaths, in London alone, if interventions had been ineffective.4

Discussion

Losing a loved one is distressing and it was no less so in 1665. Ceremonies are used to comfort the bereaved. The Great Plague turned tragedy into a public health hazard. Instead of ceremonies, bodies had to be disposed of as quickly and efficiently as possible. The authorities in London used mass graves commonly called Plague Pits.5 The only comfort, for the bereaved, was that the pits were in consecrated ground and so the opportunity to go to Heaven wasn’t denied them.

Recategorising the dead as health hazards meant a loss of dignity. As can be seen from the picture above, bodies were collected like household waste. Carts were filled and taken to plague pits and unceremoniously emptied. This added to the psychological horror. You only have to consider putting a loved one on the street for collection for disposal in a mass grave to understand the scarring of Londoners in 1665. No good byes; no ceremony; no service. Family “survivors were even banned by the Plague Orders from joining a funeral or a funeral procession.”

From: Death is All Around Us: The Plague Pits of London – Dr Lindsey Fitzharris

Conclusion

Respiratory pandemics aren’t unusual and can be planned for. Strategies to mitigate their impact are straight forward but require decisive political leadership. The chaos in 2020 wasn’t caused by a lack of understanding but a failure of leadership. Using devastating fires as a metaphor we know that they rarely happen. Nonetheless it’s prudent to buy household insurance as the cost of a total rebuild plus contents is unaffordable. The Covid ‘Fire’ happened in 2020. The cost for Britain is multiples of billions of pounds. What’s worse is the unquantifiable pain and suffering in terms of death and long term ill-health for millions of British people. Health planning is a form of insurance protecting society from known harm. 17th Londoners suffered catastrophic losses through no fault of their own. This isn’t the case for 21st century London.

Addendum: Bubonic Plague and Covid-19

The Great Plague was the last of 300 years of bubonic plague which terrorised Britain. Bubonic plague is spread by fleas. Covid-19 is spread person-to-person for which social measures and vaccines can mitigate its horrors. For a comprehensive list of epidemics see Epidemics_in_Britain (mongenes.org.uk)

Notes

1 Great Plague of London – Wikipedia

2 Great Plague of 1665-1666 – The National Archives A similar analysis is here Great Plague of London | epidemic, London, England, United Kingdom [1665–1666] | Britannica

3 London Population 2021 (Demographics, Maps, Graphs) (worldpopulationreview.com) The is source gives a population size for London in 2021 of 9.4 million

4 Coronavirus (COVID-19) Deaths – London Datastore

5 In 2020 New York City had mass graves dug for Covid deaths as normal procedures were swamped. Coronavirus: New York ramps up mass burials amid outbreak – BBC News

6 The Black Death and the Great Plague – Plague Pits of London – Owlcation

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An Oasis: a miracle of nature

This photo was taken above an oasis in Libya in the Sahara Desert

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A Pen Portrait of Dylan Thomas (about 1936)

“That cruel giggle is the thing I best remember about him. He told me how as a boy he delighted in tearing the wings off flies. I said it must be a difficult thing to do. Dylan replied, ‘Maybe I only imagined it but it was what I wanted to do.’ He also told me this story. At one time he shared a room in London with a poor Welsh student whose only means of support was £3 a week from his parents which arrived in a registered letter every Friday. One Friday Dylan came home first. He had no money and wanted a drink. So he opened the envelope, meaning to take only one pound. By the time the evening was over he had spent the lot. I asked, ‘And what did your friend live on until the next remittance arrived?’ Dylan replied, ‘He, he. He starved.’ Dylan was very proud of this story.

I disliked Dylan Thomas intensely.”

A J P Taylor A Personal History 1983 p130

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