You are browsing the archive for 2019 April 16.

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Why Was Joan of Arc Burned at the Stake?

April 16, 2019 in History

By Lesley Kennedy

The French heroine and saint was labeled a heretic, fraud, sorceress and cross-dresser.

The English claimed many offenses against .

“As the opening of the trial record noted, ‘The report has now become well known in many places that this woman, utterly disregarding what is honourable in the female sex, breaking the bounds of modesty, and forgetting all female decency, has disgracefully put on the clothing of the male sex, a striking and vile monstrosity. And what is more, her presumption went so far that she dared to do, say and disseminate many things beyond and contrary to the Catholic faith and injurious to the articles of its orthodox belief.’

“If her guilt were established, and she remained unrepentant,” Castor continues, “the Church would have no choice but to abandon her to the secular arm, which would sentence her to die in purifying flames.”

Joan of Arc’s Trial Was an International Sensation

Perhaps no event during the Middle Ages created a bigger international sensation, writes Daniel Hobbins in his 2005 book, The Trial of Joan of Arc. “‘Such wonders she performed,’ wrote the German theologian Johannes Nider, ‘that not just France but every Christian kingdom stands amazed.’”

According to the trial transcript, Joan was questioned repeatedly not only about the voices she heard, but on why she chose to dress as a man.

“It is both more seemly and proper to dress like this when surrounded by men, than wearing a woman’s clothes,” she told the judges. “While I have been in prison, the English have molested me when I was dressed as a woman. (She weeps.) I have done this to defend my modesty.”

Joan of Arc, as painted by artist Jules Bastien-Lepage, in the moment when Saints Michael, Margaret, and Catherine appear to her in her parents’ garden, rousing her to fight the English invaders in the Hundred Years War.

During the trial, St. Mary’s University notes, Joan faced six public and nine private examinations, culminating in The Twelve Articles of Accusation, which included the charges of dressing in men’s clothing and hearing voices of the divine. The church officials found her guilty, urging her to repent in order to save her life.

The trial itself was an ecclesiastical procedure covered under canon law—a heresy investigation carried out as an inquisition, according to Hobbins.

“Joan of Arc was tried as a heretic not because she was a woman, …read more


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Whooping Cough Killed 6,000 Kids a Year Before These Ex-Teachers Created a Vaccine

April 16, 2019 in History

By Natalie Zarrelli

After a long day in the laboratory in 1932, Pearl Kendrick and Grace Eldering walked out into the chilly Michigan evening with specially prepared petri dishes, called cough plates, in tow. The two scientists were on a mission to collect bacteria in the wild: one by one, they visited families ravaged by whooping cough, the deadliest childhood disease of their time. By the dim light of kerosene lamps they asked sick children to cough onto each plate, dimpling the agar gel with tiny specks of the bacteria Bordetella pertussis.

As they collected their research samples from “whooping, vomiting, strangling children,” Kendrick and Eldering, both former school teachers who lived together in Grand Rapids, “listened to sad stories told by desperate fathers who could find no work,” Eldering later recalled. “We learned about the disease and the Depression at the same time.”

Using cultures from the suffering children that they “saved and studied in every possible way,” the pair created the first effective vaccine for whooping cough after years of toiling in their lab, growing and identifying pertussis strains from cough plates. Developed at a time when scientific funding was so scarce that lab mice were considered a luxury, the vaccine would go on to prevent thousands of children each year from succumbing to the disease.

In the 1940s, Kendrick and Eldering’s lab also developed the vaccine that most people receive today, called DTP, that protects against diphtheria and tetanus as well as whooping cough, alongside an African-American female chemist named Loney Gordon. This became a staple early-life vaccine, multiplying the survival rate of children in the United States as it spread across the country.

Back when Eldering and Kendrick began working on their vaccine in the 1930s, an estimated 6,000 kids in the United States were dying from whooping cough, or pertussis, each year—more than from diphtheria, scarlet fever, tuberculosis or polio. Once infected, victims make a characteristic “whoop” coughing sound as their bodies fight the bacteria. In a vicious cycle, the cough spreads the contagion to others, and is so powerful that it can induce shaken baby syndrome. Babies who get it have a high chance of dying.

“It’s difficult to explain just how desperate people were for a [whooping cough] vaccine at this time,” says historian Carolyn Shapiro-Shapin, who has extensively researched Kendrick and Eldering.

Dr. Pearl Kendrick, seen here in 1942, was a …read more


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How Joseph Stalin Starved Millions in the Ukrainian Famine

April 16, 2019 in History

By Patrick J. Kiger

Cruel efforts under Stalin to impose collectivism and tamp down Ukrainian nationalism left an estimated 3.9 million dead.

At the height of the 1932-33 Ukrainian famine under Joseph Stalin, starving people roamed the countryside, desperate for something, anything to eat. In the village of Stavyshche, a young peasant boy watched as the wanderers dug into empty gardens with their bare hands. Many were so emaciated, he recalled, that their bodies began to swell and stink from the extreme lack of nutrients.

“You could see them walking about, just walking and walking, and one would drop, and then another, and so on it went,” he.

“Stalin appears to have been motivated by the goal of transforming the Ukrainian nation into his idea of a modern, proletarian, socialist nation, even if this entailed the physical destruction of broad sections of its population,” says Trevor Erlacher, an historian and author specializing in modern Ukraine and an academic advisor at the University of Pittsburgh’s Center for Russian, East European, & Eurasian Studies.

Collectivization in Ukraine didn’t go very well. By the fall of 1932—around the time that Stalin’s wife, Nadezhda Sergeevna Alliluyeva, who reportedly objected to his collectivization policy, committed suicide—it became apparent that Ukraine’s grain harvest was going to be miss Soviet planners’ target by 60 percent. There still might have been enough food for Ukrainian peasants to get by, but, as Applebaum writes, Stalin then ordered what little they had be confiscated as punishment for not meeting quotas.

“The famine of 1932-33 stemmed from later decisions made by the Stalinist government, after it became clear that the 1929 plan had not gone as well as hoped for, causing a food crisis and hunger,” explains Stephen Norris, a professor of Russian history at Miami University in Ohio. Norris says a December 1932 document called, “On the Procurement of Grain in Ukraine, the North Caucasus, and the Western Oblast,” directed party cadres to extract more grain from regions that had not met their quotas. It further called for the arrest of collective farm chiefs who resisted and of party members who did not fulfill the new quotas.

An armed man guards emergency supply grain during the Ukrainian famine of early 1930s.

Decrees Targeted Ukrainian ‘Saboteurs’

Meanwhile, Stalin, according to Applebaum, already had arrested tens of thousands of Ukrainian teachers and intellectuals and removed Ukrainian-language books from schools and libraries. She writes that the …read more


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Opioid Industry Suits Are a Misguided Cash Grab Against Politically Unpopular Target

April 16, 2019 in Economics

By Jeffrey Miron, Laura Nicolae

Jeffrey Miron and Laura Nicolae

Prescription opioid manufacturers and distributors are under
legal siege. Nearly 2,000 lawsuits from states,
municipalities, and hospitals allege that these companies are
responsible for the opioid epidemic. Purdue Pharma, which makes
Oxycontin, recently settled one such lawsuit for $270 million, but
most will continue, with the first trial set for May 28.

These lawsuits rest on the proposition that opioid makers
misled doctors, hospitals, and patients about
the risk of addiction to prescription opioids, thereby generating a
boom in opioid overdoses.

Whether these companies broke the law is for juries to decide.
But regardless of the outcome, the opioid epidemic has resulted
mainly from the prohibition and regulation of prescription opioids,
not excessive prescribing. Current regulations harm millions of patients with severe or chronic
pain by limiting their access to opioids.

During the early 1980s, doctors prescribed opioids for short-term pain and for
palliative care of terminally ill cancer patients, but rarely for
chronic conditions such as back pain, osteoarthritis, or
fibromyalgia. In the late 1980s, however, prescribing for chronic
and acute pain increased. This change reflected concerns about
undertreating pain and new evidence that, under medical
supervision, opioids were not unacceptably addictive or

Pharmaceutical companies embraced the new medical attitudes and
scientific evidence. In doing so, they may have understated the
risk of addiction from prescription opioids. Yet the medical
literature since the 1980s is clear that the risks of addiction
from medical use are low: in published studies, the rate of opioid
addiction in chronic pain patients averages less than 8 percent.

Moreover, increased prescribing during the 1990s is not what
catalyzed the opioid epidemic.

After Purdue’s introduction of OxyContin in 1996, prescribing grew at the same rate as before.
Marketing of the drug produced no perceptible change in the
non-medical use of narcotics by high school seniors, which had been
consistently increasing before 1996. Growth in
opioid overdoses actually slowed in the late 1990s.

Further, most overdoses involve illicit opioids, not
prescription drugs. Overdoses involving heroin and synthetic
opioids such as fentanyl now account for roughly 80%
of all opioid overdose deaths, up from 35% in 2011. These drugs
have driven an acceleration in opioid overdoses since 2011, even
while prescribing has decreased. In 2017 alone,
synthetic opioid overdoses increased by 45%, pushing total opioid
overdoses to a record high.

So why did overdoses from illicit opioids spike? Because of
restrictions on legal access.

Prescription opioids are not bought and sold in the same way as
legal goods; consumers can access …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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When Global Warming Was Revealed by a Zig-Zagged Curve

April 16, 2019 in History

By Kieran Mulvaney

The Keeling Curve was among the earliest charts showing that carbon dioxide levels in Earth’s atmosphere were on a steady uptick.

It looks, at first glance, like a doodle, a zig-zag pattern squiggled absent-mindedly on a notepad during an uninspiring meeting. In fact, it has been is the author of At the Ends of the Earth: A History of the Polar Regions, and, most recently, The Great White Bear: A Natural & Unnatural History of the Polar Bear.

…read more


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How ‘Unicorn Horns’ Became the Poison Antidote of Choice for Paranoid Royals

April 16, 2019 in History

By Hadley Meares

Elizabeth I, for one, was known to drink from a unicorn horn cup, believing that if poison touched it, it would explode.

Being a king or queen has always been a treacherous job. Between homicidal enemies, duplicitous courtiers and back-stabbing family members, royals had every reason to constantly fear for their lives. And there was one form of assassination that particularly terrified them: silent, invisible poison.

For centuries before the age of Enlightenment, paranoid royals sought protection in superstition, alchemy and quackery. They paid enormous sums—sometimes a proverbial king’s ransom—for magical objects they believed would neutralize, expose or repel poison. The most coveted of those? The mythical “unicorn horn,” also known as an alicorn.

“Before chemistry was a thing, people believed that many objects and foodstuffs had magical ‘virtues’ or properties,” says Eleanor Herman, author of the . After purchasing a particularly costly horn, James tried it out by giving poison to a servant, followed by an antidote made of powdered unicorn horn. When the servant died, James believed he had been hoodwinked.

An experiment involving the use of unicorn horns against poison.

The most dangerous poisons were hiding in plain sight.

Horns weren’t the only antidotes royals employed against the dreaded poison. Some used stones etched with scorpions. Others placed gems such as emeralds and amethysts in their goblets. Still others sought protection from powders crushed from bezoar stones (hairballs and other undigestible solid masses pulled from animal stomachs) or toadstones (mythological gems embedded in toad’s foreheads that were actually fossilized teeth of extinct fish).

To stave off poisoning attempts, some royals took a daily antidote, or theriac, to build immunity. Theriac ingredients included common foodstuffs like parsley, carrots, black pepper, cloves, wine and honey, says Herman. Others ingested sulfur and garlic, now known to neutralize arsenic in the bloodstream. And, she added, “Some theriacs included real poison such as arsenic in minute amounts to get the body used to it slowly, so that a single large dose might not prove fatal.”

What’s ironic in all this is that royals—along with the general population—poisoned themselves daily in countless ways. Elizabeth I probably hastened her death by her constant use of lead-based white face paint; in her last year, she showed many signs of lead poisoning. Cosmetics and medications contained large amounts of mercury, lead, arsenic, animal and human feces and urine, and dead body parts, says Herman.

And that’s not counting all the banal, …read more