Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.
“Are you feeling all right?” I asked her.
“I feel all sleepy, ” she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her.
That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.
On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.
It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness.
Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk.
In America, where measles immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.
Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year.
Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another.
At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections.
About 20 will die.
LET THAT SINK IN.
Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.
So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised?
They are almost non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around 300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunisation! That is about a million to one chance. I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.
So what on earth are you worrying about?
It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.
Roald Dahl, 1986
NINETEEN EIGHTY SIX.
roald dahl was calling out the anti-vaccination movement as self indulgent bullshit //thirty god damn years ago//.
And this is only in recent history. I can’t imagine the numbers if we had data all the way back to 1986.
In two recent columns I explained how to save France and the UK. Now that’s done, it’s time to save America. The solution is obvious. The US needs to model itself on its most sanctified institution: the military. I speak from experience. In 2007 and 2008 I spent time on a US military base in a southern state, giving seminars to officers. Being a typical pinko anti-war European, I’d expected to hate the place. Instead I found it idyllic, intellectual and safe. Pottering about the base, I saw several things that the US could learn from its military:
Build socialism. Life in the US military is much like life in Sweden (unless you’re off in Afghanistan spreading democracy). The officers in my seminars spent a quarter of their careers in education, because the US military believes in life-long learning. The military also provides socialised healthcare, subsidised childcare, early pensions etc. I’ve never seen a socialist paradise like it, and I grew up in the Netherlands in the 1970s. Most of the military’s entitlements will survive the budget cuts now being proposed by Chuck Hagel, the defence secretary.
Ban guns. I was surrounded by fearsome warriors yet I felt perfectly safe, partly because hardly anyone is allowed to carry guns on US military bases. The “right to bear arms” just doesn’t apply there.
Believe in science. Any institution that spends its time firing drones from Nevada at pedestrians in Yemen is going to be pro-science. The Pentagon frets about climate change, and the army aims to be “net zero energy” by 2030. The superhero-like Navy Seals are already fuelled partly by solar power.
Fight racism. A black officer in one of my classes said: “In my lifetime, the time I’ve felt most like an equal citizen is on a US military installation because, when I come through that gate, I’m Lieutenant Colonel Jones [name changed]. My race is irrelevant here.” In the local town, he added, things were different.… …Admittedly, in practice the military’s racial structure mirrors that of the southern states: officers tend to be white southern middle class, ordinary soldiers white southern working class and the cooks and cleaners black or Hispanic. But that’s mostly because the military mirrors society. To paraphrase former defence secretary Donald Rumsfeld, you go to war with the society you have, not the society you wish you had.
Make love not war. During the Iraq war, a divide opened up in the US very much like the one in Britain during the first world war: civilians talked of war as a heroic, purifying, manly endeavour, and soldiers didn’t. Most American military people understand the horrors and limits of war. Robert Gates, the former defence secretary, spoke for soldiers when he chided many congressmen, officials in the executive branch and “ordinary citizens” for imagining war as “a kind of videogame or action movie”.
Ditch macho patriotic posturing. Although the military is pretty Republican, I didn’t hear anyone on base spout patriotic pieties. In one class I attended, an officer said that the war in Iraq was “lost”. I expected his classmates to erupt in anger. Nobody did. Instead they heard him out. People in the military tend to feel that they have proved their patriotism and therefore don’t have to trumpet it in the way certain civilians do. One officer told a story about the flag he flew in his front yard: soon after the attacks of 9/11, a local civilian in urgent need of patriotic colours stole it from his flagpole. Because the military doesn’t feel constantly obliged to wrap itself in the flag, it can discuss certain things more freely than, say, Congress can.
Cut military spending. In 2012 the US approved $646bn in military spending, or 41 per cent of the total for all countries. That’s more than $2,000 for every American. Many military people have been more open than Congress to reducing this figure.… …Admiral Mike Mullen, former head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was part of a group that in 2012 took out newspaper ads saying that “increased defense spending” was no longer “required to maintain security”. Now Hagel has outraged congressional Republicans with his plan to shrink the army to 440,000-450,000 personnel. That would be its lowest level since 1940 – but exactly the number the army’s chief of staff Ray Odierno described last month as “right”. To save America, shrink the military.
Embrace big government. You get what you pay for. That $646bn in taxpayers’ money created the world’s strongest military. If the US lavished similar sums on trains or schools, they might be pretty good too.
I had just put up a web server and was looking for interesting things to publish. So I tracked down the author and called him on the phone. He was somewhat surprised that I found him but I explained that I wanted to take his collection and make web pages out of it. He didn’t even know what a web page was at first but he agreed. For the first few years he would just email his list and I would add the page every time I got one of his emails. Eventually he learned just enough to barely put together a web page and started doing it himself. Bart was one of the first and most successful liberal bloggers. Back then Bart and I were big fish in a small pond. We inspired many other liberal web sites that became far more successful an influential. We became small fish in a big pond. But Bart stayed with it for 18 years swinging the hammer of truth. People who were born the year Bart started are now old enough to vote. He created a community and lots of people know each other through him. I believe he changed history in significant ways that will some day be discovered by supercomputers in the future. But for now we will all miss him.
Pipa pipa, a very, very bizarre South American frog
This strange frog has many common names: Surinam toad, and toad Star-fingered Toad, in English, and Sapo de Surinam, Cururú, Aparo, Rana de celdillas, Rana tablacha, Sapo chinelo, Sapo chola, and Sapo de celdas, in Spanish. What’s more, has the scientific name of Pipa pipa (also rare).
Pipa pipa (Pipidae) is actually a frog (not a toad) that inhabits the eastern region of South America, and Trinidad. These frogs have almost flat body, with triangular-shaped heads. Females are 105-171 mm long, and males106-154 mm. They have very small black eyes which are lidless and beadlike. These frogs have large, flipper-like hind feet. Their forelimbs are short with webless digits that each end in a star-shaped organ. These quadripartite fingertips are one of the characteristics that distinguish Pipa pipa from other species.
This species is best known for their remarkable reproductive habits, that includes direct development of the young; there is no larval stage. The female carries the eggs in a honeycomb structure on her back until they complete development and emerge as miniature adults.
The mating ritual is also striking, it begins when males make a tickling call while in the water. Males grasps the female from above and around the waist in inguinal amplexus. The female initiates vertical circular turnovers while they’re together. The male clasps the female with his forelimbs wrapped in front of her hindlimbs, and they raise off the floor of the stream or pond and swim to the surface of the water to get air. At the top of the arc, they flip, now floating on their backs, and the female releases 3-10 eggs which fall onto the male’s belly. Completing their arc, they flip to their original position, bellies to the ground. The male now loosens his grip and permits the eggs to roll onto her back while he simultaneously fertilizes them. This spawning ritual is repeated 15-18 times. Roughly 100 eggs are laid and fertilized.
The eggs adhere only to the female’s back, possibly due to a cloacal secretion. They do not stick to the male’s belly nor to other eggs already on the female’s back. In the hours after fertilization, the eggs sink into the female’s skin. Skin grows around the eggs, which become enclosed in a cyst with a horny lid. During development, the young grow temporary tails, which are apparently used in the uptake of oxygen. After 12-20 weeks, the young emerge as tailless flat frogs shaped like their mothers, except that they are only 2 cm in length. They are, however, fully developed except for bifurcation of the lobes on the fingertips.
What you see on the picture is a female photographed in Guyana. The black granules in their back are young frogs. They will emerge from under the skin at the time of molting, that is, when the mother sheds her skin.
Photo credit: ©Matthieu Berroneau
NASA’s Earth Observatory Captures Image of Remote Island
There is perhaps no better place to get away from it all than Norway’s Bouvet Island. Located in the South Atlantic Ocean between Africa, South America, and Antarctica, this uninhabited, 49-sq-km (19-sq-mi) shield volcano is one of the most remote islands in the world. The nearest large land mass is the Princess Astrid Coast of Queen Maud Land, Antarctica—1,700 km (1,100 mi) to the south. The nearest inhabited place is Tristan da Cunha, a remote island 2,260 km (1,400 mi) to the northwest that is home to a few hundred people.
On May 26, 2013, the Operational Land Imager (OLI) on Landsat 8 acquired this natural-color image of Bouvet Island. Thick ice covers more than 90 percent of the island year round. Christensen glacier drains the north side; Posadowsky glacier drains the south side. A ring of volcanic black sand beaches encircles most of the island. (Download the large image to see them). In many areas, the thick layer of ice stops abruptly at the island’s edge, forming steep ice cliffs that plunge to the beaches and oceans below…
(read more: NASA Earth Observatory)
NASA Earth Observatory image by Jesse Allen and Robert Simmon