HealthCommentary

Exploring Human Potential

Celebrating a “Lovely One” – Ketanji Onyika Brown Jackson

Posted on | April 8, 2022 | 4 Comments

Mike Magee

Human goodness was on full display today in the form of Ketanji Brown Jackson. Our newest Associate Justice of the Supreme Court had endured nearly 24 hours of rigorous, and at times deeply offensive questioning, under the glare of TV lights, to make history.

Justice Brown Jackson was born in Washington, D.C. on September 14, 1970. To honor their ancestry, her parents reached out to a relative who was serving in the Peace Corps in West Africa at the time, requesting a list of African names for their daughter. At the top of the list, Ketanji Onyika, meaning “lovely one.”

The family moved to South Florida, and Ketanji excelled at every step along the way, earning a seat at Harvard, where she met her husband, now a surgeon at Georgetown, and raising two daughters, Talia, 21, and Leila, 17.

She is amazing and qualified, but not the first, and certainly not the last black woman to change the course of America. Two others come to mind. In teaching my 2019 course, “Women of Courage in Public Health,” I met two other black women leaders from the South who epitomized remarkable excellence.

Sixty years ago, the Harlem Youth Opportunities Unlimited Project, the model for LBJ’s Head Start program, was launched. At the helm was a 45-year old African American woman, the first woman recipient of a PhD from Columbia University. Her roots were not in Harlem, but rather in the highly segregated and always controversial town of Hot Springs, Arkansas.

Mamie Phipps Clark – intelligent, likeable, and well-to-do – was born in 1917. As she herself admitted, “It was a very privileged childhood.” Her father was the town’s black doctor, a member of a very elite club – the 1.5% of black men at the time who held professional positions. Hot Springs, with its gambling and prostitution, was a favorite destination of gangsters like Al Capone. Dr Harold Phipps was not only a doctor, but also the owner with his wife Katherine of the town’s sole black hotel, the Pythian Hotel, built out of the ashes of a 1913 fire that destroyed the town.

Mamie and her only brother, Harold Jr. who would later become a dentist, graduated from the segregated Langston High School. Mamie chose the historical Black College, Howard University, to continue her education, arriving by overnight train under the watchful eyes of an armed guard her father had hired to ensure her safety in transit.

Howard was an awakening. As Mamie later recounted, “The school (referring to her segregated high school) was poor, and later I realized how much we didn’t learn. For example, there was one point when I realized I had learned no English grammar – none. And I had learned no history. But those gaps, you weren’t aware of when you were coming through high school.”

She caught up quickly and in her junior year signed up for a course in Abnormal Psychology taught by a young Master’s candidate, Richard Clark. By Spring the next year, the two – against the wishes of her parents – eloped. They then returned to campus where Mamie graduated magna cum laude one month later. That summer, Mamie worked for a young NAACP lawyer named Thurgood Marshall triggering a spirit for advocacy that would remain her hallmark in the decades ahead.

A Master’s followed the next year with a thesis that ultimately enshrined her role in Civil Rights history. Its’ title was, “The Development of Consciousness of Self in Negro Pre-School Children.” As 1940 approached, Richard and Mamie decamped to New York City where both enrolled in Columbia’s PhD program in Psychology. In 1943, she became the first African-American woman to be granted a PhD from Columbia.

It was during this period that she and Richard collaborated on what would become known as “The Dolls Test.” At a local Woolworth’s in Harlem, the couple purchased four dolls – 2 white, and 2 black. They then enrolled 119 black elementary students from an integrated school in Springfield, Massachusetts, and 134 black elementary students from a segregated school in Little Rock, Arkansas.

Each child was asked six questions:

1.”Give me the doll that looks like a white child.”

2. “Give me the doll that looks like a colored (Negro) child.”

3. “Give me the doll that looks like you.”

4. “Show me the doll that you like the best or that you’d like to play with.”

5. “Show me the doll that is the ‘nice’ doll.”

6. “Show me the doll that looks ‘bad.'”

Both groups of black children in the majority favored the white doll as “nice” and a preferred playmate, and the black doll as “bad.” What distinguished the two groups however was the integrated children were upset by the questions and in some cases began to cry, while the segregated children were unfazed – one young boy famously pointing to the brown doll and proclaiming without emotion, “That a nigger. I’m a nigger.”

By 1951, 17 southern and border-states required racial segregation of public schools – the anchor of their segregated societies. Thurgood Marshall, on behalf of the NAACP, represented the Brown family of Topeka Kansas (and 6 other families around the country) in the Supreme Court case, Brown v. Board of Education.

In deciding the case, the majority of Justices leaned heavily on the Clark’s research and effectively ended legal segregation in the United States with this statement, “To separate [African-American children] from others of similar age and qualifications solely because of their race generates a feeling of inferiority as to their status in the community that may affect their hearts and minds in a way unlikely ever to be undone.”

Mamie Phipps Clark was not the only African American woman born in the South in the early 1900’s who would earn a PhD and leave an indelible mark on American society. 953 miles due east on Christmas Day in 1904 in Henderson, NC, another baby girl was born, the 7th of 9 children. Her name was Flemmie Kittrell, and like Mamie she stood out early for her intelligence, ambition and drive.

Lacking the wealth that aided Mamie’s rise, Flemmie first step up the ladder of Public Health was funded by an anonymous donor when she was 15. It accompanied a request for admission to the Hampton Institute and testified to the youngster’s “diplomacy and persistence.” By the time she left in 1929, she had completed high school and college.

She had fully embraced the four ideals of Hampton Institute – morality, citizenship, sanitation, and vocation. She possessed a missionary zeal, and had committed herself to understanding the role of nutrition in child development. At the time, the most famous school for a new burgeoning field called Home Economics by some and Human Ecology by others was the land grant Agricultural College at Cornell.

Like Mamie, she became the first African American woman at her university to earn a PhD. Her career would carry her back to Mamie’s Howard University where she served for over two decades and founded their School of Human Ecology. With the end of World War II, and a well earned reputation by then as a “Nutritional Political Scientist”, she took the lead for the State Department during the Marshall Plan visiting Liberia, India, Japan, West Africa, Central Africa, Guinea, and Russia among others, and uncovering pockets of what she called “hidden hunger” in developing nations.

Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson joins Dr.’s Flemmie Kittrell and Mamie Phipps Clark today as national treasures and resources whose knowledge of the interface between human development, and advocacy for expanded human possibility for millions of Americans brings honor and possibility to our still young nation. Mamie turned a laser focus on her community where, as she said, “Children rise up and thrive.” Flemmie never forgot where she began in Henderson, NC, converting a rich array of friendships and learnings around the world to the betterment of all she touched.

And now, they are joined by Associate Justice Brown Jackson, whose 11 year old daughter, Leila Jackson, recommended her in 2016, to President Obama, for a vacant position on the Supreme Court left by the death of Justice Scalia. Leila wrote of her mother, “She is determined, honest, and never breaks a promise to anyone, even if there are other things she’d rather do. She can demonstrate commitment, and is loyal and never brags.

 So we will brag for her, root for her, and send blessings her way!

“The Columbian Exchange” – A Term You Should Know.

Posted on | April 4, 2022 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

As a Medical Historian at President’s College at the University of Hartford, I focus on a single topic each year, in search of unique hidden stories that reveal and enlighten. Each year is a separate and distinct journey, and the transition from one year to the next can be abrupt. For example, here are the last four themes I have covered:

2018 – The 25th Amendment and Presidential Health.
2019 – Courageous Women  in Public Health.
2020 – The Right to Health Care and The U.S. Constitution.
2021 – The History of Epidemics in America.

My own deep dive precedes each years output by 6 to 8 months, and generates a series of lectures (virtual and in-person), topical interviews, Health Commentary editorials, and open-source print publications.

The joy for me is in the discovery. For example, the work on epidemics entered well-known trade routes familiar to all as “The Silk Road.” But resources like Yale historian Frank Snowden’s “Epidemics and Society” also dialed in “The Columbian Exchange” and its offspring.

Until late in the 15th century, the Americas were virgin territory when it came to widespread epidemics. Not so, of course, of Eurasia which suffered three waves of pestilence driven plague, carried by fleas embedded in the fur of black ship rats sometimes domesticated as pets. Humans, rats, fleas and plague bacteria traveled together along Mediterranean trade routes. Other bacteria and viruses were chronically embedded in a range of European domestic farm animals including horses, cows, pigs and goats.

The “Columbian Exchange”, labeled by University of Texas historian, the late Alfred Crosby, in 1972, arguably deserves top ten status in historic events that determined the course of our American history.

European monarchs in the 15th century supported oceanic exploration as an extension of their power bases. New trade routes and territories carried the promise of the “three G’s” – gold, glory and God. The monarchs allied with merchants and explorers, and the Catholic Church willingly opened its coffers seeing the potential to spread Christianity to new lands.

Technologic advances like the astrolabe, the magnetic compass and sea worthy vessels made these ventures still dangerous, but feasible. The death and destruction of the indigenous people followed close behind their arrival. As Crosby documented, “Indigenous peoples suffered from white brutality, alcoholism, the killing and driving off of game, and the expropriation of farmland, but all these together are insufficient to explain the degree of defeat. The crucial factor was not people, plants or animals, but germs.”

Consider Columbus’s arrival on the island of Hispaniola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti) in 1492. Documents suggest that he was greeted peacefully by the native Taino tribe that numbered some 60,000. By 1548, the numbers had plummeted with less than 500 of the indigenous tribe surviving. What had happened?

The arrival of Columbus and others, and their subsequent movement back and forth between the Old World and the New World led to an unprecedented exchange of plants, manufactured goods and raw materials, tools and technologies, ideas, and microbes.

In the pursuit of wealth, traders and merchants, with financial inducements by their governments, clear-cut and developed large plantation farming of cash crops like sugar, tobacco and wheat for export. These crops demand huge workforces for planting and harvesting under brutal and dangerous conditions. The plan initially was to enslave the natives they encountered and maintain a system of forced labor. To assist the effort, they also imported large numbers of domesticated animals from Europe including horses, cows, pigs, goats and sheep. At the time, the only domestic animals on the island were llamas and alpaca.

But the animals carried with them a wide range of infectious diseases including smallpox, chickenpox, measles, mumps and typhus. Over hundreds of years, the Europeans had developed immunities to these diseases. But the indigenous peoples of the Americas were immunologically naïve. By some estimates, 90% of their population in South and North America perished. Beyond the human tragedy, their demise created an enormous shortage of labor on the plantations. The solution chosen by the English, Spanish, Portuguese and French conquerors was to begin large scale importation of African slaves.

As journalist Charles Mann outlined in his book “1493: Uncovering the world that Columbus created”, “The scale of the trade was staggering. Between 1492, when Columbus landed, and the early 1800s, more than 2 out of every 3 people who came to the Americas were enslaved Africans. At the time, this human wing of the Columbian Exchange was the biggest migration in history.” Over 10 million enslaved Africans overall were transported to America, with an additional 1.5 million dying in transit.

The full story of the “The History of Epidemics in America” will be available to you on May 10th, at noon, in a FREE live online luncheon lecture sponsored by my Jesuit alma mater, Le Moyne College, from Syracuse, NY. Registration links will follow, but mark your calendars now.

Ethical Leadership – Is There Such a Thing As An Evil Genius?

Posted on | March 29, 2022 | 2 Comments

“’Chance made the situation; genius profited from it,’ says history. But what is chance? What is genius?”  
                                             Leo Tolstoy from “War and Peace”, 1867.

 

If there ever was such a thing as an “evil genius”, the KGB’s Putin or our own Donald Trump would certainly be prime candidates. But in describing the actions of Napoleon in 1812 and 1813, Leo Tolstoy would have none of it. In his brilliant Epilogue (p.1131), he undresses Napoleon while pointing a contributory finger at an endless array of knowing followers. And in the process, he helps explain the steps and progression that led to the rise of Donald Trump. Written 155 years ago, his expose’ is poignant and devastating, and worth careful consideration from all those concerned with ethical leadership, governance, and compliance.

The Rise To Power

“(The launch requires that…)

…the old insufficiently large group is destroyed; old customs and traditions are obliterated; step by step a group of a new size is produced, along with new customs and traditions, and that man is prepared who is to stand at the head of the future movement and bear upon himself all the responsibility for what is to be performed…A man without conviction, without customs, without traditions, without a name, not even a (military man or politician), seemingly by the strangest chances, moves among all the parties stirring up (hatreds), and, without attaching himself to any of them, is borne up to a conspicuous place.”

Early Success

“The ignorance of his associates, the weakness and insignificance of his opponents, the sincerity of his lies, and the brilliant and self-confident limitedness of this man moved him to the head…the reluctance of his adversaries to fight his childish boldness and self-confidence win him…glory…The disgrace he falls into…turns to his advantage. His attempts to change the path he is destined for fail…Several times he is on the brink of destruction and is saved each time in an unexpected way…the very ones who can destroy his glory, do not, for various diplomatic considerations…”

Fawning and Bowing to Power

“All people despite their former horror and loathing for his crimes, now recognize his power, the title he has given himself, and the ideal of greatness and glory, which to all of them seems beautiful and reasonable….One after another, they rush to demonstrate their non-entity to him….Not only is he great, but his ancestors, his brothers, his stepsons, his brothers-in-law are great. Everything is done to deprive him of the last powers of reason and prepare him for his terrible role. And when he is ready, the forces are ready as well.”

Turning a Blind Eye

“The ideal of glory and greatness which consists not only in considering that nothing that one does is bad, but in being proud of one’s every crime, ascribing some incomprehensible supernatural meaning to it – that ideal which is to guide this man and the people connected with him, is freely developed…His childishly imprudent, groundless and ignoble (actions)…leave his comrades in trouble…completely intoxicated by the successful crimes he has committed…he arrives for his role without any aim…(leading to) the decomposition of republican government…and his presence, clear of any (opposing) parties, can now only elevate him.”

Self-Adoration, Mobs, and Conspiracy

“He has no plan at all; he is afraid of everything…He alone, with his ideal of glory and greatness…with his insane self-adoration, with his boldness in crime, with his sincerity in lying – he alone can justify what is to be performed…He is drawn into a conspiracy, the purpose of which is the seizure of power, and the conspiracy is crowned with success….thereby convincing the mob more forcefully than by any other means that he has the right, because he has the power.”

The Spell is Broken by a Reversal of Chance

“But suddenly, instead of the chances and genius that up to now have led him so consistently through an unbroken series of successes to the appointed role, there appear a countless number of reverse chances….and instead of genius there appears an unexampled stupidity and baseness…”

The Final Act

“A countermovement is performed…And several years go by during which this man, in solitude on his island, plays a pathetic comedy before himself, pettily intriguing and lying to justify his actions, when that justification is no longer needed, and showing to the whole world what it was that people took for strength while an unseen hand was guiding him…having finished the drama and undressed the actor.”

A Prayer for Ukrainian Children and Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson.

Posted on | March 23, 2022 | 3 Comments

Mike Magee

What a haunting display – the juxtaposition of low’s and high’s in human behavior. The goodness of Ukrainian children exhibiting courageous, adult behavior, struggling without complaint to survive while in full flight vs. entitled elected Senators relentlessly and with straight faces bullying and “acting out” like spoiled preschoolers in the shadow of a composed, elegant and determined Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson. You can almost hear in the spring breezes a collective sigh – “Must we? Must we?”

Humans do continue to surprise on the upside, and misbehave with utter predictability on the downside. How should we make sense of this?

That there is goodness in this world is undeniable. That there is evil, capable of taking root to branch and multiply with breathtaking speed and by surprise is equally the case. But little candles throw great beams, and light enlightens, while sins cast long shadows. We and our world are both evil and good. By our deeds you shall know us. All the learning, earning and yearning can’t replace a moment’s hesitation or justice withheld in the face of evil. Tyranny, poverty, disease – there is more than enough to battle to prove our inner worth. Though it’s useful to remind that the knowledge and power that accrues can always be turned upon ourselves. That we possess a conscience does not assure its use. But it can be stirred by the universe and the belief that we all have a right to be here among the trees and stars. Amid the noisy confusion people do somehow find peace inside, and dreams of a beautiful world, and a confidence (sometimes shaken but never withdrawn) that injustice is a two-edged sword and given time justice will prevail.

God Bless the Ukrainian children! God Bless Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson! And God heal the rest of us!

The Free Online Lecture on “American Epidemics” is May 10th. Here’s What You’ll Learn.

Posted on | March 21, 2022 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

On May 10th, at noon, I’ll be delivering a FREE live online luncheon lecture titled: “The History of Epidemics in America.” What’s in it? For that, you’ll need to tune in. I’ll be providing the proper link as we get closer to the date.

It’s a once-only, slide lecture – entertaining and enjoyable, with text available after the lecture online. (So no need to take notes.) Here are 15 “learnings” we’ll cover:

  1. Epidemics, as historians have emphasized are “social, political, philosophical, medical, and above all ecological events.”
  2. Competing and complimentary species cycles in pursuit of nutrition and reproduction maintain, or distort, ecological balance.
  3. Populations initially respond to epidemics with fear and flight. Scapegoating and societal turmoil are common features. Diseases disadvantage the poor, the weak, and those without immunity or prior exposure.
  4. Epidemics often travel side by side with warfare in transmitting and carrying microbes, and exposing vulnerable populations. Historically, epidemics have repeatedly played a role in determining the ultimate outcomes of warfare and conflict.
  5. Throughout history, scientific advances have enabled (through enhancements in travel, congregation, and the ability to enter into virgin territory) epidemics, and also provided the knowledge and tools to combat epidemics.
  6. Domestication and sharing of animals has enhanced the introduction of microbes to populations vulnerable to epidemic disease.
  7. Disease, associated with aggression, has been the major factor in destruction of native cultures and decimating native populations in the Americas.
  8. Slavery was largely a response to workforce demands created by the epidemic eradication of native populations intended to serve as indentured servants on large agricultural plantations that raised and exported highly lucrative products into Old World markets.
  9. Epidemics often result in unintended consequences. For example, Yellow Fever and the defeat of the French in Saint-Domingue led to Napoleon’s divestment of the Louisiana Territory. Struggles to control and explain the Yellow Fever outbreak in Philadelphia in 1793 helped define the emergence of two very different branches of American Medicine over the next century.
  10. Scientists defining “germ theory” and social engineers leading the “sanitary movement” reinforced each other’s efforts to lessen urban centers vulnerability to epidemics.
  11. Immunization has a long and controversial history. As enlightened public policy, it has saved many lives. It can, as illustrated by the Eugenics Movement, create uncomfortable legal precedents and unintended consequences.
  12. The U.S. scientific community prematurely declared victory over communicable diseases in the 1960s.
  13. In the wake of HIV/AIDS, some scientific leaders actively warned of ongoing population wide vulnerabilities beginning in 1992.
  14. Genetic reverse engineering technologies empowering “gain-of-function” research led to Consensus Statements in 2014 warning of potential disastrous consequences, and epidemics that would be difficult to control.
  15. The U.S. Health Care System in leadership, strategic operation, mitigation, and delivery of acute services failed on a large scale when confronted with the Covid-19 pandemic.

Musings From Borodino, Russia.

Posted on | March 14, 2022 | Comments Off on Musings From Borodino, Russia.

Mike Magee

Two hundred and ten years ago, on September 7, 1812, a Putinesque commander, narrowly won a battle, but lost a war and entered a downward cycle that ended his reign. The battle was the Battle of Borodino, a town on the river Moskva , 70 miles west of Moscow. The commander was Napoleon.

The facts are clear-cut: Napoleon arrived with 130,000 troops, including his 20,000 Imperial Guards, and 500 guns. Opposing him were 120,000 Russians with 600 guns. The battle engaged from 6 AM to Noon. The French took 30,000 casualties, while the Russians lost 45,000 men, but survived to fight another day.

As Leo Tolstoy describes the scene of carnage on page 818 of his epic novel, War and Peace, in 1867, “Several tens of thousands of men lay dead in various positions and uniforms in the fields and meadows where for hundreds of years peasants of the villages…had at the same time gathered crops and pastured cattle. At the dressing stations, the grass and soil were soaked with blood over the space of three acres. Crowds of wounded and unwounded men of various units, with frightened faces, trudged on…Over the whole field, once so gaily beautiful with its gleaming bayonets and puffs of smoke in the morning sun, there now hung the murk of dampness and smoke and the strangely acidic smell of saltpeter and blood. Small clouds gathered and began to sprinkle on the dead…”

But in the next paragraphs, it becomes clear that Tolstoy’s intent and focus is not to describe why and how Napoleon had won the Battle of Borodino, but rather how this was the beginning of the end of his army and the Napoleonic reign.

Tolstoy writes: “For the French, with the memory of the previous fifteen years of victories, with their confidence in Napoleon’s invincibility, with the awareness that they had taken part of the battlefield, that they had lost only a quarter of their men, and that they still had the intact twenty-thousand-man guard, it would have been easy to make the effort (to advance and annihilate the Russians)….But the French did not make that effort….It is not that Napoleon did not send in his guard because he did not want to, but that it could not be done. All the generals, officers, and soldiers of the French army knew that it could not be done, because the army’s fallen spirits did not allow it….(They were) experiencing the same feeling of terror before an enemy, which, having lost half his army, stood as formidably at the end as at the beginning of the battle. The moral strength of the attacking French was exhausted…(For the Russians, it was) a moral victory, the sort that convinces the adversary of the moral superiority of his enemy and of his own impotence, that was gained by the Russians at Borodino.”

The Russians not only retreated, but did not stop in Moscow, continuing another 80 miles beyond their beloved city. But as Tolstoy describes, “In the Russian army, as it retreats, the spirit of hostility towards the enemy flares up more and more; as it falls back, it concentrates and increases.”

As for the French, they take Moscow but stop there. Again from Tolstoy, “During the five weeks after that, there is not a single battle. The French do not move. Like a mortally wounded beast, which, losing blood, licks its wounds, they remain in Moscow for five weeks without undertaking anything, and suddenly, with no cause, flee back…without entering a single serious battle…”

Putin’s aging dreams of conquest likely are Napoleonic in scale. But as his hesitant forces observe the Borodino-like human carnage that they have unleashed on Mariupol, at the estuary of the Kalmius and Kalchik rivers, and prepare to enter Kyiv, the first eastern Slavic state which, a Millennium ago, acquired the title “Mother of Rus Cities”, their vulnerability and lack of “moral strength” is already apparent. Lacking a rational stated goal other than dominance, the young Russian conscripted soldiers and their commanders must certainly grow more concerned day by day. They too have become entrapped, and are “experiencing the same feeling of terror before an enemy, which, having lost half his army, stood as formidably at the end as at the beginning of the battle.”

As for Putin, like Napoleon, he may feel the winds of fate blowing heavily on his shoulders even now. Napoleon did make it back to Paris. But three years after the Battle of Borodino and the 5-week occupation of Moscow, he met his Waterloo on June 16, 1815, at the hands of the Duke of Wellington. He died in exile on the island of Helena on May 5, 1821. In his last will, he wrote, “I wish my ashes to rest on the banks of the Seine, in the midst of that French people which I have loved so much.”

Putin likely feels a similar love for Mother Russia but may be disappointed. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, a popular, if lightly acclaimed poet from Branford, CT, felt the same for her husband, a spiritualist. They promised each other that, whoever went first, would reach back to the other and make contact after death. When he died in 1916, and did not follow through, Ella sunk into depression. It was during this dark period, in the year of the 1917 Russian Revolution, that she wrote “The Winds of Fate.”

“One ship drives east and another drives west
Tis the set of the sails
And not the gales
Which tells us the way to go
Like the winds of the seas are the ways of fate,
As we voyage along through the life;
Tis the set of a soul
That decides its goal,
And not the calm or the strife.”

Tolstoy issued a similar warning in 1867. In the years that followed, Russia’s feudal society would be slow to reform and its Industrial Revolution slow to take hold. When it did, urbanization was mismanaged, food in short supply, and unrest visible and unsettling. WW I added insult to injury, leaving the corridor for the 1917 Russian Revolution wide open. Russian leaders today find themselves similarly vulnerable.

Independent Oversight of America’s Science Establishment Long Overdue.

Posted on | March 10, 2022 | 2 Comments

Mike Magee

Brevig Mission, Akaska, is a small ocean side village that was the home of several hundred Inuit Natives in 1918. It is 586 miles due northeast of Anchorage. According to a 2019 CDC article, in a 5-day period, between November 15 and 20, 1918, 72 of the 80 adult inhabitants perished.

The tragedy was part of a larger disaster, the 1918 Flu Pandemic which claimed 675,000 lives over a two year period in the U.S. and an estimated 50 million nationwide while infecting one third of the world’s population. An H1N1 virus, similar to the 2009 Bird Flu nearly a century later, it was especially lethal in young adults age 15 to 34.

In the absence of a vaccine, and without access to antibiotics to treat opportunistic bacterial infections, with a war raging, large military encampments and crowded troop ships promoting transmission, this singular event overnight dropped lifespan in America by 12 years.

Brevig Mission, its mass gravesite, preserved in permafrost, remained untouched until 1951, when Johan Hultin, a 25-year-old Swedish microbiologist and Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa, was granted permission to excavate the site in order to obtain lung tissue from one of the victims. Hultin was unsuccessful in his attempts to grow the virus once he thawed the frozen tissue, and visions of Brevig Mission receded in his mind.

Forty six years later, in 1997, two other scientists, Jeffrey Taubenberger and Anne Reid, successfully deciphered the genomic structure of the single strand of the 1918 pandemic RNA. Its donor was a 21-year old South Carolina serviceman who died of the disease on September 20, 1918.

On reading a review, Johan Hultin, now 72, contacted Taubenberger, and under the auspices of the Armed Forces Institute of Pathology, they returned together to Brevig Mission. With appropriate permissions, they were able to obtain frozen lung specimens, and definitely identified the killer microbe as the 1918 H1N1 bird flu virus.

The next highly controversial step was to attempt to reverse engineer the virus back to life. The microbiologist assigned to complete this task was the Department of Agriculture investigator, Terrence Tumphy. He successfully brought the virus back to life in 2005 working in a CDC BSL3 (the second highest security level) Lab.

A BSL3 laboratory contains primary and secondary barriers. As described by the CDC, “Investigators wear a powered air purifying respirator (PAPR), double gloves, scrubs, shoe covers and a surgical gown, and shower before exiting the laboratory. The work is conducted within a certified Class II biosafety cabinet (BSC), which prevents any airflow escape into the general circulation.”

What they learned was that the virus’s rapid multiplication created a virus load that was 50 times as great as every day respiratory viruses and specifically and almost exclusively targeted lung tissue. These deadly attributes were the result of 8 separate but contributory unique mutations of the genetic structure.

The CDC’s author in December, 2019, made a point to note that, “In 1918, the world population was 1.8 billion people. One hundred years later, the world population has grown to 7.6 billion people in 2018. As human populations have risen, so have swine and poultry populations as a means to feed them. This expanded number of hosts provides increased opportunities for novel influenza viruses from birds and pigs to spread, evolve and infect people. Global movement of people and goods also has increased, allowing the latest disease threat to be an international plane flight away.”

He went on to warn that, “If a severe pandemic, such as occurred in 1918 happened today, it would still likely overwhelm health care infrastructure, both in the United States and across the world. Hospitals and doctors’ offices would struggle to meet demand from the number of patients requiring care. Such an event would require significant increases in the manufacture, distribution and supply of medications, products and life-saving medical equipment, such as mechanical ventilators. Businesses and schools would struggle to function, and even basic services like trash pickup and waste removal could be impacted.”

That same month, Wuhan, China, (after several months delay) informed the WHO that a pandemic causing virus was on the loose. It will likely be impossible to ever prove that U.S. funded (through the Department of Defense, State Department, and NIH) “gain-of-function” research created and inadvertently released Covid-19 which has killed nearly 1 million Americans, and 6 million worldwide. But what can be stated with certainty is that we were warned.

On July 14, 2014, a group of respected working scientists, concerned with biosafety in virology laboratories worldwide, gathered as “The Cambridge Working Group” and released a consensus report. It stated in part: “Accident risks with newly created ‘potential pandemic pathogens’ raise grave new concerns. Laboratory creation of highly transmissible, novel strains of dangerous viruses…pose substantially increased risks. An accidental infection in such a setting could trigger outbreaks that would be difficult or impossible to control.”

In most countries, clear checks and balances, and independent oversight of scientists is a given. In our Medical-Industrial Complex, freed of all restraint during the Reagan years, profiteering and integrated career ladders are well established, and scientists (flowing freely in and out of government, academic medicine, science foundations, and for-profit corporations) police themselves.

An overhaul of this scientific management system is long overdue.

 

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