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Archive for May 22nd, 2021

Vaccine hesitancy is nothing new. Here’s the damage it’s done over centuries

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Tara Haele writes in Science News:e

As vaccines to protect people from COVID-19 started becoming available in late 2020, the rhetoric of anti-vaccine groups intensified. Efforts to keep vaccines out of arms reinforce misinformation about the safety and effectiveness of the vaccines and spread disinformation — deliberately misleading people for political, ideological or other reasons.

Vaccines have been met with suspicion and hostility for as long as they have existed. Current opposition to COVID-19 vaccines is just the latest chapter in this long story. The primary driver of vaccine hesitancy throughout history has not been money, selfishness or ignorance.

“Vaccine hesitancy has less to do with misunderstanding the science and more to do with general mistrust of scientific institutions and government,” says Maya Goldenberg, a philosophy expert at the University of Guelph, Ontario, who studies the phenomenon. Historically, people harmed or oppressed by such institutions are the ones most likely to resist vaccines, adds Agnes Arnold-Forster, a medical historian at the University of Bristol in England.

A range of recurring and intersecting themes have fueled hesitancy globally and historically. These include anxiety about unnatural substances in the body, vaccines as government surveillance or weapons, and personal liberty violations. Other concerns relate to parental autonomy, faith-based objections, and worries about infertility, disability or disease. For example, some people oppose vaccines that were grown in cell culture lines that began from aborted fetal cells, or they mistakenly believe vaccines contain fetal cells. One of today’s false beliefs — that COVID-19 vaccines contain a microchip — represents anxiety about both vaccine ingredients and vaccines as a surveillance tool.

“The reasons people have hesitated reflect the cultural anxieties of their time and place,” Goldenberg says. People worried about toxins arising during environmentalism in the 1970s and people in countries steeped in civil war have perceived vaccines as government weapons.

Historical attempts to curb vaccine hesitancy often failed because they relied on authoritarian and coercive methods. “They were very blunt, very punitive and very ineffective,” Arnold-Forster says. “They had very little impact on actual vaccine intake.”

The most effective remedies center on building trust and open communication, with family doctors having the greatest influence on people’s decision to vaccinate. Increased use of “trusted messengers” to share accurate and reassuring vaccine information with their communities builds on this.

18th Century
Smallpox vaccine sets the stage around the globe

In a way, anti-vaccination attitudes predate vaccination itself. Public vaccination began after English physician Edward Jenner learned that milkmaids were protected from smallpox after exposure to cowpox, a related virus in cows. In 1796, Jenner scientifically legitimized the procedure of injecting people with cowpox, which he termed variolae vaccinae, to prevent smallpox. However, variolation — which staved off serious smallpox infections by triggering mild infection through exposure to material from an infected person — dates back to at least the 1000s in Asia, Africa and other parts of the world. In some cases people inhaled the dried scabs of smallpox lesions or rubbed or injected pus from smallpox lesions into a healthy person’s scratched skin.

About 1 to 2 percent of people — including a son of Britain’s King George III in 1783 — died from the procedure, far fewer than the up to 30 percent who died from smallpox. Benjamin Franklin rejected variolation, but later regretted it when smallpox killed his youngest son. Onesimus, an enslaved man in Boston, taught the procedure to Puritan minister Cotton Mather, who in turn urged doctors to inoculate the public during a 1721 smallpox outbreak. Many refused, and Mather faced hostility: A small bomb was thrown through his window. Reasons given for avoiding variolation — particularly that it was unnatural to interfere with a person’s relationship with God — were the seeds of later anti-vaccination attitudes.

19th Century
The first vaccination laws kindle resistance

In 1809, Massachusetts passed the world’s first known mandatory vaccination law, requiring the general population to receive the smallpox vaccine. Resistance began to grow as other states passed similar laws. Then the U.K. Vaccination Act of 1853 required parents to get infants vaccinated by 3 months old, or face fines or imprisonment. The law sparked violent riots and the formation of the Anti-Vaccination League of London. Vaccine resisters were often poor people suspicious of a forced medical intervention since, under normal circumstances, they rarely received any health care. Anti-vaccination groups argued that compulsory vaccination violated personal liberty, writing that the acts “trample upon the right of parents to protect their children from disease” and “invaded liberty by rendering good health a crime.”

Anti-vaccination sentiment grew and spread across Europe until . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2021 at 7:06 pm

This Library Has New Books by Major Authors, but They Can’t Be Read Until 2114

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Merve Emre had an interesting article in the NY Times in November 2018. It begins:

In a small clearing in the forests of Nordmarka, one hour outside the city limits of Oslo, a thousand spruce trees are growing. They will grow for the next 96 years, until 2114, when they will be felled, pulped, pressed and dyed to serve as the paper supply for the Scottish artist Katie Paterson’s Future Library: an anthology of 100 previously unpublished books written by some of the 21st century’s most celebrated writers. There will be one book for every year the trees will have grown, each a donation from a writer chosen by the Future Library’s board of trustees — a gift from the literary gatekeepers of the present to the readers of the future.

This summer, nearly 100 people made the annual pilgrimage to the clearing to watch the Turkish novelist Elif Shafak present Paterson with the fourth manuscript for the library, which already houses novels by Margaret Atwood, David Mitchell and the Icelandic novelist Sjón. The Handover Ceremony, as it is called, is a modest ritual. The audience is called to order by the flutings and shouts of a Norwegian folk singer who blesses the land its offerings. Anne Beate Hovind, Chair of the Future Library Trust, established by the Oslo city government in 2014, introduces the audience to Paterson, Shafak and the seedlings, which now stand just over a foot tall and are dressed up for the occasion. Pretty red schoolgirl bows are tied around their center stalks, and the tops of their needles are turned out a younger, brighter green than the wild grass that surrounds them.

In previous years, it has rained, which means the local foresters have brewed coffee and hot chocolate on colossal iron grills while the audience has stood shivering under their umbrellas. But this year, the entire day — the entire summer, really — has been uncommonly hot and dry, and so the audience sits scattered among the saplings, drinking water and perspiring, as they listen to Shafak, author of 10 novels and a prominent feminist and critic of Turkish nationalism, speak. She describes writing a novel for the Future Library as “a secular act of faith” in a world that seems to have gone mad, a world that violently accentuates the differences between people instead of celebrating their common humanity. “When you write a book,” she says, “you have the faith that it will reach out to someone else, to someone who is different from you and it will connect us. That you will be able to transcend the boundaries of the self, that was given to you at birth, that you will be able to touch someone else’s reality.” Yet in 96 years, when the seedlings become trees and the trees are sacrificed to the written word, it is impossible to know whose reality they will touch.

The next 96 years do not look promising for the seedlings, which are more vulnerable than their ancestors to all manner of man-made disasters: the storm surges, wildfires, heat waves, and droughts precipitated by global warming, as well as the less dramatic possibility that, amid the daily brutalities of life on earth, people will simply stop tending to them and the books that are their fate. The announcement of each new author is greeted with less media fanfare than the author that came before, and very few people have commented on the recent choice of Han Kang, winner of the 2016 Man Booker International Prize for her novel “The Vegetarian,” as the fifth author. Increasingly, it seems, there is something unbearably precious about writing novels that cannot be read — an act of delayed gratification that can have no real payoff because it has no real stakes, only symbolic ones. And there is something more straightforwardly unbearable about planting trees knowing that, in a time of mass deforestation and consumer waste, they will be cut down to make paper.

Yet the Future Library begins to look less twee, less inattentive, when one considers the bonfire that consumed 40,000 books in Alexandria in 48 B.C. or, this summer, the stray paper lantern that set the Museu Nacional of Brasil on fire, destroying manuscripts and artifacts collected over two hundred years. It was shocking to remember, in an age of hard drives and big data, how quickly the matter of memories could disappear. The Future Library makes the physicality of culture palpable by insisting that we confront the long, laborious process of preserving language. It refuses to take it for granted. And it reminds us that we have not always been attentive to how literature is made, distributed, preserved and celebrated.

But these are thoughts for tomorrow and not today, which is a day for celebration. Shafak’s manuscript is sealed in a handsome gray box tied with a royal purple ribbon. “Don’t open it and don’t talk about the contents,” Hovind warns Shafak as she gets up to hand the box to Paterson, who weeps softly and openly. She explains that she is especially emotional this year as she has just had a child who she has brought with her to the forest, a towheaded little creature who will be 96 years old when the Future Library’s anthology is printed.

“PERSONS OR THINGS which are regarded as taboo may be compared to objects charged with electricity,” observed the anthropologist Northcote Thomas. Taboo, a Polynesian word that Sigmund Freud translated as “holy dread,” most often referred to an action that was both sacred and forbidden, consecrated and dangerous. It is an apt description of the Future Library, which grafts an environmental taboo onto an artistic one: trees that are planted to be cut down; books that are written not to be read.

The manuscripts are electrified by these taboos. In 2020, they will be moved to the New Deichmanske Library, currently under construction in Oslo, where they will be displayed in a “Silent Room”: a womb-shaped chamber facing the forest, lined with wood from its trees. Visitors will be able to enter, one or two at a time, to gaze at the manuscripts lying under their protective glass cases, waiting for the years to pass. More like a prayer closet than a reading room, Paterson describes the Silent Room as a “contemplative space.” Her hope is that it will prompt the visitor’s imagination to journey through “deep time” to probe the mysteries of the forest.

What Paterson’s description of the Silent Room makes clear is that the books of the Future Library were never meant to be read, certainly not in our lifetime, but not even in the future. They are meant to be  . . .

Continue reading.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2021 at 2:42 pm

Posted in Books, Daily life, Memes

Truth, lies, and honey

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François Lévêque, Professeur d’économie, Mines ParisTech, has an interesting article in The Conversation that begins:

We hear many tales about bees and honey. Even economists may base their theories on fantasy hives. Dieticians can do the same when promoting the imaginary health benefits of honey, and then there’s the honey itself. It should be one of the purest products of nature, yet what we find on supermarket shelves can be cut with syrup, tainted by antibiotics, or sourced from China despite a label that claims otherwise.

So let’s take a worldwide tour of the honey trade, which oscillates between truth and tall tales, with a few tips for your coming purchases.

Bee theory

The social life of bees has long fired up our imagination. Pliny the Elder (23-79 CE) admired their political organisation, with its chiefs and councils. He even thought that moral principles guided their behaviour. Nearly 1,700 years later, the Anglo-Dutch author Bernard Mandeville took the opposite view, describing a vice-ridden hive inhabited by selfish bees. The Fable of Bees, published in 1714, became a work of reference for political economists. A precursor to Adam Smith, whose invisible hand of individual self-interest fed the common good, Mandeville set out to prove that, unlike altruism, selfishness was productive. Hostile to frugality – wealth stolen from a miser will trickle down, after all – he inspired Keynes’ critique of excess saving.

In fairness to Pliny, Mandeville and many others who have fantasised about bees, the hive as we now know it, with its removable wooden frames, had yet to be invented. So it was difficult to observe the life and social mores of bees. There were no glass walls enabling us to watch their busy work or count drones, males whose only purpose in life is to mate with a virgin queen. Nor were there electronic tags to monitor the ceaseless movement of bees and discover that to produce a pound of honey they must cover a distance equivalent to flying around the world, visiting some 5 million flowers on the way.

James Meade, a British economist who was awarded the 1977 Nobel prize for his work on international economic policy, had no such excuse. In the early 1950s he cited the example of apple-growing and beekeeping in the same area to illustrate his theoretical analysis of external economies. Each serves the other: the bees gather nectar from the apple blossom to make honey and in so doing pollinate the flowers which in turn become fruit.

Meade theorised that because these reciprocal services are unpaid, both parties under-invest: Beekeepers set up fewer hives than is economically optimal, because they take no share in the marginal product apple growers obtain from a bigger harvest. Orchard owners plant fewer trees than is economically optimal, taking no share in the marginal product beekeepers derive from extra honey. This example was a big success with economics professors and their students, no doubt on account of its bucolic character and springtime atmosphere.

Unfortunately, Meade was mistaken on two points. First, he did not know that apple blossom contains very little nectar, which is perhaps excusable. Apple-blossom honey, should you find some in a shop, is actually made from the flowers of other plants in the orchard. Second – and this is a real blunder – he overlooked the many arrangements between growers and keepers for their mutual benefit and reward. So there was in fact no sign of free, unpaid production factors, and hence no external economies. Steven Cheung, a specialist in property rights and transaction costs, made this point with a survey of beekeepers and tree-growers, whose deals abide by rules rooted in tradition or are actually framed in full-blown contracts.

Bees sometimes travel by truck

American beekeepers have been charging for their pollination services for years. But the almond boom has massively increased the scale of these operations. Every year millions of hives are trucked to California’s almond orchards from other parts of the country. Accounting for almost 80% of global demand, the farms play host to some 30 billion bees for a few weeks. The hives are then taken to Florida or Texas to pollinate other trees.

Bees and beehives travel around other countries, too. In France, they move from one region to another to gather pollen from flowering plants and trees at their best. At different points in the season the same hive may produce honey flavoured by Mediterranean garrigue (scrubland), acacia trees and finally lavender bushes. Unlike their US counterparts, professional beekeepers in Europe countries earn their living from producing honey, and not mainly from pollination services. Nor is there much trade in bees here.

Until recently, the transportation of bees in China was largely for honey production, not pollination. But in provinces such as Sichuan, the balance of earnings is shifting toward pollination. This is indirectly due to  . . .

Continue reading. There’s much more.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2021 at 12:27 pm

The two short blocks to the supermarket

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Yesterday I walked the two short blocks to the supermarket and noted these — plus I got a little glass cube that does interesting things as you turn it in the light.

Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2021 at 12:13 pm

Posted in Daily life

“Like trimming your toenails with an X-Acto knife”

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I posted a comment to Wirecutter’s review of safety razors — a review that listed only multiblade cartridge razors. (Wirecutter is funded in part by kickbacks from affiliate links, and thus favors products with a marketing budget that can fund such kickbacks.) I mentioned the drawback I found when shaving with a multiblade cartridge and canned foam: that shaving became a tedious, boring, hateful chore. When I switched to true lather and a DE safety razor, the shave became a daily pleasure — a satisfying morning ritual that, as a bonus, produced a better result than I ever got with cartridge razors.

The reply to my comment: “I also like trimming my toenails with an X-Acto knife. Very relaxing.” (An X-Acto knife would be a comic analogue to a straight razor, not a safety razor, but whatever.) Some comments reveal the absence of actual experience. In the movie The 40-Year-Old Virgin the titular character, played by Steve Carrell, makes a remark about how a woman’s breast feels (like a bag of sand) that instantly reveals to his buddies that he has never felt a woman’s breast. That X-Acto remark strongly indicates that the writer has never shaved using a good DE razor (and good prep with true lather — canned foam, designed for cartridge razors, doesn’t work so well with DE razors).

The shave this morning was nothing like cutting toenails, with X-Acto knife or common clipper. My shave was, as always, a particular pleasure. Today’s shaving soap, Meißner Tremonia’s Moroccan Rhassoul, carried a pleasant and exotic fragrance with the lather. The name comes from the particular clay used in this soap. (Meißner Tremonia soaps always contain clay, but the variety of clay varies from soap to soap.)

The razor, a Yaqi double-open-comb, is particularly nice. Normally I don’t especially like long-handled razors, but this rather long and slim handle feels very comfortable in the hand and offers good control. The finish is strangely non-slip, given that there is no chequering. The surface, though smooth to the eye, is very grippy. Three passes with this razor left my face remarkably smooth and totally undamaged, and with no tension or apprehension experienced.

I thought I had used up my TOBS Bay Rum, but I found the bottle this morning. It’s a pleasant bay rum, not so strongly fragranced as some. A splash of that finished an enjoyable start to the day and the weekend.


Written by Leisureguy

22 May 2021 at 10:07 am

Posted in Shaving

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