Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Great Mortaility by John Kelly ***

The Great Mortality by John Kelly

This book will fascinate you with the sheer immensity of the disaster that was the Black Death during the 14th century, as well enlighten you on understanding the back story regarding the Jews, who suffered disproportionately during the plague period. I learned quite a bit about the plight of the medieval European Jew, and about the nearly 2000 year old friction between Christians and Jews. Stay healthy and don't forget to wash your hands!

The disease killed an estimated 200M people… Only WW2 produced more death and suffering… How many people perished in the Black Death? For Europe, the most widely accepted mortality figure is 33% (25M out of 75M inhabitants). p11

In China, the population fell 50%, from 123M to 65M. Today a demographic disaster on that scale would claim nearly 2B lives. p12

One new risk factor was increased mobility. Along with facilitating international trade, the Mongol unification of the steppe brought merchants and armies into proximity with some of the most virulent and isolated plague foci in the world. p13

Between 1315 and 1322 the continent was lashed by waves of torrential rain, and in some places 10 to 15% of population had died of starvation. p16

Once embedded in a human population, the rat flea becomes a very efficient disease vector. It can survive up to 6 weeks w/o a host - long enough to travel 100s of miles in grain or cloth shipments… In an infected flea, plague bacilli build up in the foregut, producing a blockage; this enhances the insect's ability to spread infection in 2 ways. 1st, because no nutrients are reaching the stomach, it's chronically hungry, and bites constantly. 2nd, as undigested blood builds up in the foregut, the flea becomes a living hypodermic needle. Every time it bites, it gags on the undigested blood, and vomits it into the new bite. p20 Sweet dreams, and don't let the bedbugs bite.

Bubonic plague is most survivable of the 3 forms of the disease. Untreated, it has a mortality rate of 60% [most survivable!?]. Pneumonic - which can spread person to person - is extremely lethal. If it goes untreated, the mortality rate is 95% to 100%... No one survives septicemic plague… During one outbreak in the early 20th century, the average survival time from onset to death was 14.5 hours. p21-2

In what have been the first theological Super Bowl in 1254 in the Mongol capital of Karakorum, William of Rubrick (a Flemish Cleric) strode into a crowded tent, and, in the presence of the Grand Khan himself, defended the Western concept of monotheism against a Buddhist priest. 'It is fools who say that there is only 1 God' declared the wily Buddhist. 'Are there not many great rulers on Earth? The same is true of God… There are many Gods in heaven and none is all powerful.' 'So then' William replied, 'not one of your Gods is capable of rescuing you, if you encounter a predicament… that the God has no power over, he will be unable to help you.' On the basis of that exchange alone, William felt he had won the day, but alas the 3 Mongol judges who scored the debate disagreed and declared the Buddhist priest victor. p32 Lets go the instant replay and see for ourselves…

Yersina Pestis [plague bacillus] seems to have originated on the steppe of Central Asia… As the ice sheet [of the last ice age] retreated, the rodent population on the freshly thawed steppe would have exploded, creating an urgent need for a Malthusian pruning mechanism. Y Pestis is only 15 to 20,000 years old, and its ragged genetic structure suggests an agent slapped together in a hurry to meet an evolutionary emergency… One reason many infectious agents fail to rise to the level of lethality is that their bacilli cluster at an infection site (like a flea bit) instead of spreading to vital body organs… Y Pestis has solved this problem by evolving special enzymes that deliver bacilli to the liver and spleen, from whence the bacilli can be quickly recycled to the rest of the body… Like HIV, Y Pestis is extremely adept at confusing the human immune system. Often by the time the body can mount a defense, the pathogen is uncontainable. p35

After Rome fell, the environment in Europe, particulary NW Europe, became increasingly unfriendly to epidemic disease. In the early middle ages, the population plunged precipitously… In the 2nd and 3rd centuries, Roman Europe had 50 to 70M people; by 700, Europe had 25M. By 800, no city in Europe had more than 20,000 residents (Rome had 500,000 to 1M at its apex)… Sometime between 750 and 800, Europe entered the Little Optimum, a period of global warming. Across the continent, temperatures increased by an avg of 1C… The warm weather produced abundance… Even the inhabitants of Greenland began experimenting with vineyards… A burst of technological advance added to productivity. Someone figured out an easy way to get a horse to pull more was to redistribute the weight away from its windpipe so it wouldn't choke [genius!]. Thus was born the horse collar,which increased horsepower by a factor of 4. The horseshoe was next. The rectangular plow. However, the windmill and watermill were the true technological marvels of the age… As the population soared, urban life reawakened. Pre-Black Death Paris had about 210,000 residents… London upto 100,000… Milan 180,000… Florence 120,000… As the population went up, the forests came down… The land hungry Christian kings pushed the once invincible Muslims down the Spanish peninsula… As the population grew, trade revived. By 1280 a trader - or pathogen - could travel throughout Europe with relative ease. pp46-8 [The stage was set for y pestis.]

The Venetians , who described themselves as rulers of 1/2 and a 1/4 of the Roman Empire, devised an ingenious plan to circumvent the greedy Arabs and deal directly with the East. Venetian authorities offered a group of French crusaders free passage to the Holy Lan, then rerouted the crusaders east to capture Constantinople. The plan succeeded brilliantly, the Venetians even managed to steal four great gilded horses for St. Marks. p48

Catherine of Siena, born in1347, never bathed, though her greatest achievement may have been her reported ability to go months at a time without a bowel movement. St Francis of Assisi considered God's water too precious to squander, was another infrequent bather… A useful phrase in 14th century English-French dictionary was 'Hi, the fleas bite me so!' p72 Right back atcha pal.

King Phillip of France anticipated an aspect of the modern nation state, the false confession. The king was quite adept at constructing fanciful crimes and torturing the innocent until the agreed to confess. p129 Welcome to Guantamo Bay via Abhu Gharib courtesy of the USA. Nothing ever changes does it?

Another popular torture was called the 'strappado'. The prisoner was pulled to the ceiling by a rope that suddenly went slack, his fall broken by a sudden jerk. Sometimes weights were attached to his testicles and feet to make the jerk more violent and painful. p129 Clever bastards.

With tax revenues uncertain, the new assertive French state lacked a firm financial foundation. The Templars who possessed the largest treasury in Northern Europe could provide the King with a lucrative new revenue stream. As a potential target, the order also had the additional advantage of being both loathed and feared [the Jews also fit into this category - more about them later]. On Friday the 13th of October 1313, the King's men arrested 2000 unsuspecting, mostly elderly Templars in a series of coordinated, nationwide raids. By the end of the day, if there was a Templar alive in France who had not been charged with having intercourse with demons, spitting on Christ's image, urinating on the Cross, administering the kiss of shame on the penis, buttocks or engaging in other homosexual acts, it was because he was hiding in a haystack or under a bed… The Grand Templar Master, De Molay is supposed to have thrown back his head and called down a curse on the king of France, and on all of the king's descendants unto the 13th generation… But no one seems to have taken De Molay's words very seriously… And yet… A month after his death, Pope Clement V, Phillips reluctant ally in the Templar's affair, died suddenly. Then, in November, the King himself was killed by a stroke. The following year, 1315, the Great Famine arrived. In 1316, Phillip's successor and oldest son, Louis X died after only 18mos as King. In 1323 Phillip's second son died prematurely. In 1328, the last of Phillip's 3 sons died; none of his heirs had survived to the age of 35 or ruled for more than 6 years. The Capetian dynasty, rulers of France since 987, died with him. In the succession crisis that followed, Edward III of England invaded France to lay title to the French throne, igniting the bloodiest conflict of the middle ages. the 100 years War. And worse was yet to come… p131

[As the plague spread, the populace sought a scapegoat. The Jews were a common scapegoat through out the middle ages, and the plague crisis would prove no different.] Jews were offered the option of conversion; most chose death. Mothers would throw their children into the flames rather than risk them being baptized and then would hurl themselves into the fire… Easter week violence against the Jews was a tradition in the Middle Ages… Christians it was said were dying because their wells were being contaminated by Jewish plague poison… By November of 1348 every well informed citizen in eastern France understood that the plague was not the act of a vengeful God or infected air, but of an international Jewish conspiracy aimed at achieving world domination… In some localities, the killings were preceded by show trials; in other cases, there were no legal proceedings - sometimes not even an accusation. Jews were simply killed as a prophylactic. p139

In the early medieval period, the only remotely scientific tool available was what we might call urinalysis. A healer would sniff and eyeball a patient's urine, then make a diagnosis. One German healer became so adept at the procedure that when the Duke of Bavaria tried to pass off the urine of a pregnant girl as his own, the healer announced that 'within a week the Lord will perform an unheard of miracle, the Duke will give birth to a son!'. p164

William the Englishman told his colleagues that they could now dispense with urinalysis; astrology had made the technique obsolete. With a knowledge of the stars, declared William, you could tell what was in a patient's urine without examining it. p165 Progress

The medical pecking order of 1322 Paris. At the pinnacle was a relatively small coterie of the university trained physicians; they practiced what we would call internal medicine. Beneath them were the general surgeons, who usually lacked academic training… A surgeon could treat wounds, sores, fractures, and other disorders of the limbs and skin. Beneath them were barbers, a kind of paramedic, who could perform minor operations including bleeding, cupping, and applying leeches, as well as cutting hair and pulling teeth; next came the apothecary and empiric, who usually specialized in a single condition, like hernias or cataracts. p167

Fashionista circa 1348. English women, complained a chronicler, 'dress in clothes so tight they have to wear a fox tail hanging down inside of their skirts to hide their arses.' p183

The insular English considered the French strange even for foreigners; as one English writer noted, your average Frenchman was effeminate, walked funny, and spent too much time fussing with this hair. p185

After menacing Paris in August of 1346 Edward III of England swung north and attacked Calais, a walled city of about 20,000 on the coast across the channel from England… As fighting around the town degenerated into a brutal siege, a committee of Calais' leading citizens - 6 Burghers, appeared in the English camp and offered their lives if Edward would agree to spare their fellow citizens. The English were so moved by the burgher's bravery, 'there was not a lord or knight who wasn't weeping out of pity.' p188 See the famous Rodain statue of the Burghers in the sculpture garden at Stanford.

One reason medieval statisticians were so inaccurate [in chronicling the mortality figures] is that calculations were often done in Roman numerals. Try multiplying CCXLIV by MCIX, and you get the idea. p215

The suffix 'wic' as in Norwich, Sandwich, Ispswich is an ancient designation for trading place. p218

In many modern 3rd world countries, a small skilled, non-national elite often acts as a go-between to the global economy. In modern Southeast Asia, the overseas Chinese play this role, in modern Sub-Saharan Africa, the Lebanese. In the early Middle Ages, when Christian literacy and numeracy were close to zero, the comparatively well educated Jews played an analogous role in Europe… In the 9th & 10th century, Jewish merchants could be found in the pepper markets of India, silk markets of Samarkand and Baghdad, and slave markets of Egypt… Jewish living standards were so far above the European norm… Commerce made some Jews not merely wealthy but fabulously rich… However these rich Jews lived the anxious, uncertain existence of outsiders [in their own home countries]. Upon the death of Aaron of Lincoln, a special branch of the English Exchequer (Treasury) had to be established to tabulate his fortune, so the English crown could properly seize it. Another wealthy English Jew, Abraham of Bristol, was imprisoned in 1268, and the Crown extracted one tooth a day until Abraham agreed to deposit 10,000 silver marks in the royal coffers. [No note of how many days Mr. Abraham held out, or if he could still afford dentures after this episode.] p236

The early church fathers held the Jews culpable of so many sins that between the 3rd and 8th century, a new literary genre, Adversus Judaeos, was created to describe them all… In its mildest form, early medieval Christianity expressed its theological grievance against Jews as a complaint: the Jewish people rejected Christ. In a sterner formulation, they acquired the menace of accusation: the Jews rejected Him because He was poor and humble. In its most vitriolic form, they became an indictment for murder: Jews were Christ killers. P237

Political and social factors have also helped to fuel anti-Semitism through the ages… Christian Jews in the decades after Christ’s death, eager to separate their new religion from its Jewish temple roots, launched an attack on their orthodox counterparts. In Mark (AD 68), Satan is associated with the Jewish scribes [and rabbis]. In Luke (AD 78), the ‘evil one’ becomes affiliated with a wider segment Jewish society [beyond scribes and rabbis]. And by John (AD 100), Satan’s allies have become simply the Jews. The phrase ‘the Jews’ appears 71 times in John, compared to a total of 16 in Matthew, Luke, and Mark. P238

In the centuries leading upto the Black Death, anti-Semitism became a useful tool for financiers and nation builders. In 1289, English controlled Gascony expelled its Jews and seized their property. In 1290, the Crown turned on native Jews… In France, the monarchy used a policy of expulsion to win popular support and to enrich itself. Jews were thrown out in 1306, readmitted in 1315, expelled again in 1322, brought back again in 1359, and expelled again in 1394. p240

Without St. Augustine’s novelty to add ‘but’ at the end of the traditional Jewish indictment, 18th century philosopher Moses Mendelsohn exclaimed that ‘We Jews would have been exterminated long ago.’ In Augustine’s vision, the Jews had a divinely appointed role; God intended them to bear witness to a Christianity Triumphant. Augustine imagined that, seeing the prophecies of the Old Testament fulfilled, at the End of Days, the Jews would embrace Jesus on their own. And since the Jews had to remain Jews to fulfill that role, the Augustinian ‘but’ amounted to a ticket to survival – the only such ticket early Christianity issued to a dissident minority… The fate of paganism by the 4th century shows the importance of this factor. P240

The menacing figure of the hook nosed Jew first appears in the 12th century paintings of the Crucifixion… The blood libel accusation is also a 12th century creation. Supposedly all Jews suffered from hemorrhoids since they called out to Pilate ‘His blood be upon us and our Children.’ And according to Jewish sages, the only known relief was Christian blood. P242

The early 13th century saw another important anti-Semitic landmark… Church authorities decreed that ‘Jews and Saracens in every Christian province and at all times shall be marked off from other people through character of their dress.’ From this measure emerged the yellow badge of the French Crown, which became the yellow star of the Nazi state. Lepers and several other groups were also required to wear special dress. P243

During the economic boom of the 12th and 13th centuries, Jews’ near-monopoly on mercantile and financial skills began to dissolve… International trade wore an Italian face [think Venice, Genoa, Medici, etc.]… For a people most in need of a new profession, money lending offered many attractions. It required neither travel nor land ownership – activities now generally restricted to Jews. And money, being highly mobile, could easily be transported in case of expulsion. Most important of all, in the matter of interest, medieval law favored the Jew. It was against canon law to loan money for a profit, but not against Judaic law as long as the client was a non-Jew… In Burgundy, a lender could charge up to 87% interest. In France, 170%... A few Jews saw high interest rates as a way to strike back at the hated oppressor… But money lending personalized anti-Semitism in a way Church doctrine never could; it brought the hatred of the Jew into the home and made it personal and vicious… The avg peasant knew little about Agobard of Lyon, but he knew about 100% interest rates; he also knew from rumors that if he missed a payment the Jewish moneylender would sell his wife into prostitution… Though many slanderous things were said about moneylenders, loan collection is not an activity that brings out the best in any people. P248

Jews turned to princes, Kings, bishops and city councils for protection, but these alliances had a Faustian element. Jewish moneylenders would be allowed to charge high interest rates, but then the ‘protector’ would confiscate the profits, leaving the Jews to face the resentment of the populace [and giving the protector the opportunity to turn a blind eye on or even encourage the pogroms in order to curry favor with the Christian citizenery] . P248

Jews were not the only ones. During the Holy Week of 1321 in France, a false plot was circulated that Lepers were poisoning local wells and springs [the very same plot was used against the Jews during the plague]. Why attack and exterminate the Lepers? Leper asylums, had treasuries flush with contributions and endowments. For mobs, it seemed like that rare opportunity to do well while also going good. Of course with the lepers out of the way, the Jews were next. Rumors were quickly spread that the Jews of France concocted the well poisoning plot and hired the lepers to carry it out. P250

In a papal bull, the pope pointed out ‘it cannot be true that Jews are the cause of the plague for it afflicts themselves.’… Increasingly however, men and women told one another: Perhaps if we kill all of the Jews, the plague won’t come to our village. And even if the plague did come, with the Jews dead, at least our debts would be canceled. One chronicler noted ‘the poison that killed the Jews was their wealth.’ P253

Flagellation as atonement for sin began in 1260, when Italy was ravaged by a series of terrible epidemics, wars, and crop failures. Convinced that God was punishing a sinful mankind, scarred and sunburned Flagellants began tramping through the devastated country side. P265

After surviving the Black Death of 1348-49, in 1361 the pestis secunda broke out, killing another 20 to 25% of the remaining population. In 1369, pestis tertia occurred. Thereafter, for the next several centuries, Europe would scarcely know a decade without plague somewhere on the continent. In the Netherlands alone there were epidemics in 1360-2, 69-72, 82-84; 1409, 20-21, 38-39, 50-54, 56-59, 66-72, 81-82, 87-90, 92-94. p278

In the post-plague era labor was scarce and costly. Printing was still affordable – preplague – using low wage labor, but not post plague, spurring Gutenberg to find a solution… Chronic manpower shortages also fostered innovation in mining – new water pumps allowed miners to dig deeper; salting and storing fish allowed fishing fleets to remain at sea longer; shipbuilders found ways to increase the size of craft while reducing the size of crews. Labor shortages changed warfare. As soldiers salaries increased, warfare became more expensive. This spurred the development of firearms. Weapons like the musket and cannon could provide a bigger bang for the buck. P288

The church emerged from the plague with its prestige damaged. There was now a greater emphasis on practical, clinically oriented medicine, a change reflected in the growing influence of the surgeon, and the declining of the university [theologically based] trained physician, who knew a great deal about Aristotle. In the new medical schools, there was a shift in emphasis toward practical physical sciences. P288

Some people doubt that the plague was caused by the Y Pestis bacillus, and was merely a vast outbreak of Anthrax or an Ebola like virus, and that the incredible mortality figures are not possible with Y Pestis. However, DNA is a far more trustworthy tool. Paleomicrobiologists removed dental pulp from corpses in 2 plague pits in France and test it. One pit dated from the Black Death, and other from a later occurrence. DNA from Y. Pestis was found in both samples. But what kind of plague? Marmot plague has a tropism for the lungs can spread rodent to rodent. It is the only form of plague that is contagious. Of course, Marmot plague still MARMOT plague. Scientists believe that at some point the marmot disease evolved into a distinctly human form… A humanized form would also explain the absence of rat die offs. P301

In the 1897 plague outbreak in Bombay, where stringent sanitation had collapsed, during the 3rd Pandemic, the death rate reached as high 64.5% during the spring, killing over 19,000 people. P302

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

The jews converted to christianity and other religions of the country they lived. So they could get better jobs and social status in society. But the sad thing , people understood it later that jews conversion was not real but just to deceive people and belittler other's religions.
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