Two anniversaries today, both marking the end of wars, one against people, the other against a virus

May 8, 2020 • 9:45 am

I missed this because I left out today’s anniversaries in the Hili dialogue. There are two big ones today, both pointed out by Fiona Fox, director of the Science Media Centre in Britain. Dr. Fox quotes remembrances from two of her experts (h/t Steve Jones):

From Professor Geoffrey L Smith FRS, Head, Department of Pathology, University of Cambridge

Today is VE-Day. [JAC: the 75th anniversary.] It is also the 40th anniversary of the WHO declaration of the eradication of smallpox, which in the 20th century alone killed an estimated 400 million people, many more people than in both world wars. Whilst in the midst of another viral pandemic, we should remember the magnificent role that WHO played in ridding the world of smallpox and the power of vaccination. WHO should be encouraged, supported and funded in its efforts to control and eliminate COVID-19.

Quoting Macaulay, History of England 5, 2468-70, (1914)

“Smallpox, the most terrible of all the ministers of death: The smallpox was always present, filling the churchyard with corpses, tormenting with constant fears all whom it had not yet stricken, leaving on those whose lives it spared the hideous traces of its power, turning the babe into a changeling at which the mother shuddered, and making the eyes and cheeks of the betrothed maidens objects of horror to the lover”

Edward Jenner predicted the global eradication of smallpox in 1801 when he said

“it now becomes too manifest to admit of controversy that the annihilation of the smallpox, the most dreadful scourge of the human species, must be the final result of this practice”

Now let us do this to COVID-19.

JAC: Here’s what smallpox does even when it spares a life. This child will be irreparably scarred:

From Wikipedia: A child with smallpox in Bangladesh in 1973. The bumps filled with thick fluid and a depression or dimple in the center are characteristic.

And here’s the resolution: short, sweet, and succinct:

From Michael A. Skinner, PhD FRSB, Reader in Virology, Imperial College London

With attention focused on the 75th anniversary of VE Day, and distracted by the COVID-19 pandemic, an important anniversary may pass us by, with some relevance to our present situation.

On 8 May 1980, the 33rd  Assembly of the World Health Organisation officially endorsed the successful eradication of smallpox in October 1979.

Several points are noteworthy:

Smallpox (with a mortality rate of about 30%) killed 300 million people in the 20th century alone (three times the death toll of both World Wars), and 500 million in its final hundred years).

– Smallpox is believed (informed by virus genome sequence data)  to have “jumped” from an animal source millennia ago (there is good evidence it was present in ancient Egypt)

– No one can therefore seriously suggest that the variola virus that causes it arose from anything other than a natural source.

– Infections were controlled and reduced by vaccination; the disease was finally eradicated by a massive global campaign spearheaded by WHO.

– That campaign relied on rigorous and extensive field epidemiology, using a “track, trace and [ring] vaccinate” approach (with no rapid molecular diagnostics available at the time, diagnosis relied on recognition of the distinctive lesions and other symptoms)

– The final battlegrounds for the eradication were Bangladesh, Ethiopia, Kenya and Somalia, where the last natural case was identified.


WHO commemoration of the 40th anniversary of smallpox. 

Message below about celebratory press conference (including link) described on this page

And here’s a quiz for you. Another deadly viral disease, but in animals, has also been completely eliminated by a combination of monitoring and vaccination. This one was declared eliminated in 2011. Do you know the disease? Look here for the answer.



Photos of readers

April 8, 2020 • 8:00 am

Today is the 60th birthday of reader Hugh Dominic Stiles, who posts under “Dominic” and is known to his friends as “Dom.” (See the birthday section of today’s HIli Dialogue.) Dom’s contributed a lot to this site over the years, both through commenting and sending me tons of interesting items, and I thought I’d give him a shout-out. He works for the medical library at University College London, but, like all UCL employees, can’t go back to work for a while. Dom’s friend Jeremy sent me the notice of his birthday and a photo of Dom, as well as a short narrative of his life (indented below).

I first met Dom when he was a stonemason at Chichester Cathedral in the early 1980s. He subsequently moved to St Paul’s Cathedral in London, where he concealed his underwear, together with runic curses that he had etched into lead, in places where they might not be discovered for several centuries to come. While at St Paul’s, Dom was able to give those of us lucky enough to be his friends tours in which he had access to areas the general public could never dream of visiting.

Dom loves cold, wet, and generally disagreeable weather. This was possibly a factor in his choice to study in Norway, where he obtained his bachelors degree. He is extremely modest, despite being the cleverest person I know. Whether the subject is history, geography, biology, or something else, Dom always has a knowledgeable and interesting perspective.

I’m including a photo of Dom taken by one of my kids about five years ago. It’s a perfect example both of his silliness and the fact that he always has his head in a book!

Happy 60th, Dom!

On another note, I’d like to revive the “photos of reader” feature during quarantine, so if you’d like to be featured, send me a photo of yourself doing whatever you do while locked down (2 photos max) and a very short explanation or narrative. Thanks!

Ripped from the pages of Der Stürmer: UN Heritage parade in Beligum features nasty anti-Semitic tropes

March 6, 2019 • 12:30 pm

UPDATE: For more defense of the float, and a wave of antisemitic comments defending it, see here.


Nobody can argue that the float shown below (and past actions of participants in this parade) are simply disagreeing with the policies of Israel. No, this is undiluted and classic anti-Semitism—though the perpetrators, in the fashion of Ilhan Omar, deny it. And it took place recently in Belgium, for crying out loud, a country where I’m supposed to be lecturing in a month—a country that’s supposed to be sensible, liberal and (so I thought) not infected with anti-Semitism.

Worse, the Carnival at Aalst parade, as always, is sponsored and promoted by the United Nations. And as far as I can determine, it’s funded by the UN through UNESCO, though I’d be glad to hear otherwise. Its UNESCO sponsorship, though, is not in doubt.

What happened is that this year the parade harbored about as anti-Semitic a float as you can construct, a float depicting hook-nosed Orthodox Jews with rats on their shoulders, gloating over bags of money and gold coins. And this kind of trope, which could have appeared in Der Stürmer 80 years ago, isn’t the first one to appear in this parade (see below).

There are three articles about the incident lest you’re the kind of person who questions the credibility of the first one because it’s from a Jewish source. 

Here’s the same report from the Brussels Times:

What about the BBC? Here:

The float:

(from the Brussels Times): The antisemitic float was paraded through the annual carnival parade in Aalst. The orthodox Jews stand amongst money bags, coins and gold bars. On the shoulder a rat can be seen.

Here’s a video (another one is here):

But no, it’s not anti-Semitic, not at all! Here’s the perfectly innocuous explanation:

Belgian media report that the group behind the controversial float, De Vismooil’n, went to the police after it received death threats over the float.

The group were economising on a so-called “sabbatical year” – saving money on their float in this year’s parade to invest more heavily in the following year, members told Belgian news outlet HLN.

“We came up with the idea to put Jews on our float. Not to make the faith ridiculous – carnival is simply a festival of caricature,” they said.

“We found it comical to have pink Jews in the procession with a safe to keep the money we saved. You can have a laugh with other religions too,” they told HLN.

The newspaper also quoted the town’s mayor, Christoph D’Haese, as saying the group “had no offensive intentions”.

Really comical, those pink Jews with their rats and money! How comical would it be in the U.S. to have a float with blacks with big lips, eating watermelon and fried chicken? Answer: NOT COMICAL! And to have the town’s mayor defending this travesty is beyond belief.

More excuses reported by WIN:

“In [our city], it should be allowed,” declared Christoph D’Haese, the mayor of Aalst, a Belgian city thrust into the spotlight after a recent parade included bulbous-nosed Jewish puppets standing on money bags, marchers dressed in Klu Klux Klan costumes, and young Europeans donning blackface makeup.

JTA reported that a carnival spokesperson claimed the float represented commentary on how “everything has become so expensive.”

What a clever way to comment on inflation!

Now the Carnival at  AAlst has been declared by UNESCO, a branch of the UN, as an “Intangible cultural heritage”. One Israeli news source says it’s even “funded by UNESCO”, but I’ll seek further confirmation. The UN has historically treated Israel much worse than any other country, passing resolution after resolution against it while ignoring countries, like North Korea, who are far worse in repressing their people and committing war crimes. I wouldn’t want to think that the UN is turning a blind eye to this kind of bigoted nonsense.

The sad thing is that this isn’t first time that the parade has featured horrific anti-Semitic floats. As the Wikipedia article notes, there was a previous incident, and although UNESCO protested, it didn’t stop a recurrence.

In recent years, the parade has been marked by several floats and puppets with stereotypically antisemitic and racist imagery. In 2013, a group had members who dressed up in SS-uniforms and paraded around with cans marked Zyklon B, which led to a furious protest by UNESCO. In 2019, one float featured two huge puppets resembling orthodox Jews, one with a rat on his shoulder, sitting on bags of money and gold coins.

From another source:

Past entrants in the parade have included a float modeled after a Nazi train car used to deliver Jews to death camps, which was surrounded by members of the float’s sponsor dressed as both Nazi SS officers and ultra-Orthodox Jews, according to JTA. Other imagery on the float included canisters labeled “Zyklon B,” the gas Nazis used to murder Jews during the Holocaust.

Really cute!

When will this stop? When politicians, supported by the Western Left, take a serious stand against anti-Semitism—as serious a stand as they take against “Islamophobic” bigotry against Muslims. In the meantime, European countries like England and France become more and more anti-Semitic, to the extent that Jews are starting to flee from them. Are Belgian Jews about to join this exodus? My friends in Belgium, old and soon to be made, please protest this bigotry.


Jacinda has a duckling

June 21, 2018 • 8:00 am

. . . . or rather, a Kiwi. And as an honorary Kiwi, I’m delighted to announce that New Zealand’s prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, gave birth to a baby girl yesterday. The father is her parter Clarke Gayford.

The happy couple with their first child:

As the Guardian reported:

Ardern posted the news to her Facebook page, saying her daughter was born at 4.45pm.

“Welcome to our village wee one,” she wrote, next to a picture of her and partner Clarke Gayford cuddling the newborn.

“Feeling very lucky to have a healthy baby girl that arrived at 4.45pm weighing 3.31kg (7.3lb). Thank you so much for your best wishes and your kindness. We’re all doing really well thanks to the wonderful team at Auckland City hospital.”

. . . The former prime minister Helen Clark told Radio NZ that the birth was a fine example to young people in New Zealand.

“Jacinda’s done it her way, what a remarkable story.

“She’s taken it in her stride, New Zealanders have taken it in their stride … all round I think we’re showing huge maturity as a country with this.”

Ardern is taking only six weeks of maternity leave although she’s entitled to 26 weeks of paid leave. She has a country to run!

I add my congratulations to that of the U.S. Ambassador to New Zealand, though I don’t understand the Maori words (readers can help):

Gayford, a television presenter, announced that he will become the “First Bloke,” a stay-at-home dad. What a great country!

Oh, and the 37-year-old Ardern is only the second world leader in modern times to give birth while in office. (The first was Benazir Bhutto in 1990.)

Spring has begun!

March 20, 2018 • 11:15 am

At the exact second when this post goes up, it will be Spring in the Northern Hemisphere. It’s still near freezing in Chicago, but the crocuses are poking up above the soil, and there is no snow on the horizon (sorry, eastern U.S.).

Soon it will be duckling season!


It’s Grania’s birthday!

June 23, 2017 • 11:15 am

I erroneously wished Grania a happy birthday about a month ago here when I saw a Facebook notification. Sadly, it was for her sister Gisela, and I erred.

But today IS Grania’s birthday, and I hope readers join me in extending congratulations to her for orbiting the Sun once again. Happy birthday, Grania, and thanks for your many posts, comments, and tips for posts!

Grania begged me not to post this, but the laws of physics dictated otherwise. Since she has the keys to this site, I hope she doesn’t go into the dashboard and delete this!

It is Grania’s birthday!

May 24, 2017 • 8:32 am

I just realized that today is Grania’s birthday. I know she’ll hate my posting this (and she didn’t mention it in the Hili Dialogue she wrote this morning), but it’s a chance for me and the readers to thank her for her service to this website. She has never refused to keep the site going during my numerous absences due to travel, and for that I’m immensely grateful. Not to mention the numerous posts she contributes herself.

Coynefest tomorrow

October 13, 2016 • 3:30 pm

A final reminder that everyone is invited to CoyneFest, which is a symposium at which my former students, colleagues, and other folks I know will give short (20-minute) science talks, mostly on the subject of speciation. The details have already been given (you can find them here), but I wanted to add that you’ll have the chance, for making a very small donation to charity (Doctors Without Borders) to get a commemorative button, designed by artist Tubby Fleck: