40 Kilo Camp, Burma

Eventually, the POW camps in Java are emptied as the prisoners are shipped to Burma to complete a 258-mile-wide gap of the Burma-Thai railroad.

At this point, a little over halfway, Ship of Ghosts becomes a completely different kind of story. Instead of sea battles, we are dealing with jungles and malaria and dysentery.

Self has developed a habit of looking up each new name in the Appendix, to see if that person made it or not. It just occurred to her that of course that person made it; otherwise, they wouldn’t be giving interviews to James D. Hornfischer!

The Appendix was useful in another way, though: to fix the number of POWS who died in Burma. There was a pattern: the dying began in 80 kilo camp, but increased as one got to a higher-numbered camp: 100-kilo camp, 105-kilo camp, and 114-kilo camp (She didn’t see anything higher than 114-kilo camp — so the railroad was still unfinished at the end of the war)

The men at 40-kilo camp were lucky: a Dutch doctor named Henri Hekking volunteered to be sent there. Born in Surabaya to Dutch parents, Hekking’s grandmother was “a committed herbalist and healer, who set him on the path of studying native medicine.” He was captured at the Dutch hospital in Timor and became a POW. He began hearing of the plight of the men building the Burma-Thai railroad and offered to perform medical services on the line. When he showed up at 40-kilo camp, he became the “on-site medical caretaker.” Once there, he began “the most challenging kind of solo practice.”

p. 264:

  • He knew that palmetto mold could be used like penicillin, that pumpkin could be stored in bamboo stalks, femented with wild yeast, and used to treat men suffering from beriberi (it got them pleasantly drunk to boot). Tea brewed from bark contained tannins that constricted the bowels and slowed diarrhea. Wild chili peppers had all sorts of beneficial internal applications.

Another quick look at the Appendix: NO DEATHS in 40-kilo camp! Either there were no American POWs there, or Hekking managed to save them.

Stay tuned, dear blog readers. Stay tuned.

Chapter 8, ASHOH

Chapter 8 is the mother lode. Self started reading it, she thinks, two days ago.

On p. 183 the authors tell us that all those millions of deaths in Europe — for example, half the population of London was wiped out — were caused not by various strains of the plague, but “by identical versions of a single bacterium.” In other words, a clone.

This “tells us that the plague bacterium only came to Europe once. Previously it was thought that the Black Death might have been brought to the continent repeatedly on ships through trade. But if this were the case, we would have found various different strains dating from this period and not an identical bacterial clone that caused millions to die.”

What was that one instance that proved fatal to millions? Which ship, which trader, which entry port? The authors don’t say.

The Black Death “was the origin of all later European strains, slowly collecting mutations before it disappeared from Europe in the eighteenth century for good.”

Sentence of the Day: A SHORT HISTORY OF HUMANITY

  • According to today’s more modest calculations, a third of Europe’s population died during the Black Death, 27 million people out of a population of approximately 80 million. — p. 180

Quaranta, Italian for Quarantine

The word quaranta came out of Venice during the period of the Black Death: self learns new things every day!

Over the following centuries, the plague struck certain cities with particular frequency, including Venice, where traders from across the world did business. Shortly after an outbreak, Venice would ban foreigners from the city; captains who disobeyed were fined and threatened with ship-burning. Closing the port was the authorities’ preferred way for preventing the spread of disease.

Quarantine, which involved isolating newcomers for forty days (quaranta in Italian) was invented during this period.

— Chapter 8, A Short History of Humanity

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Plague in the Roman Empire

The Justinian Plague, which started in the sixth century — and was named after the reigning emperor, Justinian, who caught the disease but survived — was really an epidemic of the plague or some other illness. The historian Procopius of Caesarea recorded detailed symptoms of the sickness, which afflicted millions of people from the mid-sixth century onward.

“The Justinianic plague first proliferated in Constantinople. The proximate cause was probably a terrible earthquake in 542, which reduced parts of the city to rubble. One theory suggests that corpses — as well as food that had tumbled out of storehouses — may have triggered a sharp rise in the rat population, creating ideal conditions for the spread of the flea-infested rats. Because Constantinople was extremely well-connected to other Mediterranean port cities by sea, the epidemic that eventually swept across the whole of Europe probably moved along shipping routes.”

— Chapter 8, A Short History of Humanity

India’s Covid Catastrophe

This horrifying second wave is a catastrophe not only for India but for the world. Allowing the virus to circulate unchecked increases the risk that dangerous new strains will emerge. One worrying variant first detected in India, called “the double mutant”, has already been found in several other countries, including America and Britain. Even as scientists labour to understand how big a threat it poses, more variants are appearing.

The Economist, Leaders, 24 April 2021

Back Reading: The New Yorker, 18 May 2020

  • When an Ebola epidemic erupted in West Africa, in 2014, the United States and China, the world’s two largest economic powers, responded in starkly different fashions. The Obama Administration dispatched the 101st Airborne and other troops to build treatment hospitals, and donated more than half of the $3.9 billion in relief funds collected from governments worldwide. Within six months, the outbreak was under control, and the U.S.-led effort was hailed as a template for handling future epidemics.

Ron Klain, Biden’s Chief of Staff, spearheaded the American effort against Ebola, which means he is more than ready to handle COVID-19.

Is Emily Murphy at GSA ready for Rep. Katie Porter to go nuclear on her today?

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

Quote of the Day: Beast Inside, The Daily Beast Friday Digest

Hello,

At some point in the next few days, the U.S. will pass that horrific milestone: 200,000 dead from COVID-19. Michael Tomasky has a terrific column on this terrible moment in which he recalls how he gasped last weekend when he saw that Taiwan had just reported its seventh death—that’s seven total since the start of the pandemic. He got out his calculator and figured out how many Americans would have died if the U.S. death rate was as low as Taiwan’s, or as low as a bunch of other countries that President Trump would probably describe as shitholes. The numbers, Tomasky notes, give lie to what may be Trump’s biggest whopper: “Nothing more could have been done.” He writes: “In a democracy worthy of the name, Trump would be impeached simply for speaking those words.”

— Tracy Connor, Executive Editor, The Daily Beast

The Pandemic Protocol (The New Yorker, 4 May 2020)

Ground Zero was Evergreen Health, a hospital in Kirkland, WA, just east of Seattle: Here was where the first diagnosis of corona virus in the United States was confirmed. That was back in January. Dr. Francis Riedo was the “medical director for infectious disease at Evergreen Health.”

  • “A national shortage of diagnostic kits for the new coronavirus meant that only people who had recently visited China were eligible for testing. Even as Evergreen Health’s beds began filling with cases of flu-like symptoms — including a patient from Life Care, a nursing home two miles away — the hospital’s doctors were unable to test them for the new disease, because none of these sufferers had been to China or been in contact with anyone who had.”

Testing finally began at the end of February, when “there had been only six detections of the corona virus in the U.S., and only one in Washington State.”

During the previous few weeks, “researchers, in quiet violation of CDC guidelines, had jury-rigged a corona virus test in their lab and had started using it on their samples. They had just found a positive hit: a high school student in a suburb twenty-eight miles from Seattle, with no recent history of foreign travel and no known interactions with anyone from China.”

Dr. Riedo sent two patient samples to the local department of health. “I was sure they’d be negative. “Riedo got a call from his friend at the public health lab. Both of the samples he had sent were positive. Riedo sent over swabs from nine other Evergreen Health patients. Eight were positive.” Riedo kept sending more samples, and “most of the patients tested positive.”

And so it began.

The article was written by Charles Duhigg.

The Economist, 25 July 2020

Modest Changes in Behavior leads to “huge rises in coronavirus infections”: The Geometry of the Pandemic, p. 19

This article focuses on a model by Rajiv Rimal of Johns Hopkins University. And it’s a big, fat chunk of the article (maybe a third), longer than she usually manages to quote. But she wanted to share it. Knowledge is power!

When “American states began easing lockdowns . . . their caseloads were three or more times higher than in Europe, in part, argues Jarbas Barbosa of the Pan-American Health Organization, because most states never had full lockdowns. Texas had 1,270 new cases on the day its governor said restaurants could reopen: 44 per million. In Georgia, the rate was 95 per million. Disney World reopened the day before Florida announced a record 15,000 new cases in a day. Just as incredibly, in two-thirds of states, infections were rising when governors started to ease lockdowns. By contrast, France, Spain and Italy had 13-17 new cases per million when they began to re-open their economies and numbers were falling fast.

“On April 12th … 95% of the population was staying at home (leaving the house only for essential visits), with 5% ignoring lockdown rules. Based on those assumptions, his model predicts that Americans would have had 559,400 cases on that day — an accurate assessment (it actually had 554,849). On July 14th, Mr. Rimal assumed that 80% of the population was staying at home, i.e., only a gradual change. On this basis, his model predicts the country would have 1.6m cases, again not far off the actual number and confirming the impact of modest rises in activity. If people really altered their behaviour, the number would rise even further to 5.6m cases if the stay-at-home share drops to 60% and to 9.5m if it falls to 20%. In that worst case, America’s death toll could top 400,000. Such is the dark logic of geometric growth.”

The Economist concludes that “to drive the level of infection down to perhaps a tenth of what it is now (closer to European or Asian levels) … seems to require full lockdowns.”

Stay safe, dear blog readers. Stay safe.

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