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kottke.org posts about Spain

How Children Took the Smallpox Vaccine Around the World

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 03, 2020

With the first approved Covid-19 vaccines set to roll out in the US soon, some of the focus has shifted to how the vaccine will be distributed and its equitable allocation. Part of the distribution logistics puzzle is making sure there are enough glass vials to hold and transport the vaccine around the nation to those waiting to be vaccinated. For the New Yorker, Christopher Payne took some photos of two Corning factories that are manufacturing vials as fast as they can.

But back in the early 19th century, for a colonial empire dealing with overseas smallpox epidemics, glass vials were not an option. Smallpox vaccination at that time was most reliably accomplished by transferring material from cowpox blisters on one person (or cow) to another person. The freshly inoculated person got a little sick but later proved to be immune to the much deadlier smallpox. So when Spain’s Royal Philanthropic Vaccine Expedition set sail in 1803 to inoculate the inhabitants of their overseas colonies for smallpox, they used the bodies of human beings to transport the vaccine. To be more specific, they used “twenty-two orphan boys, ages three to nine”.1

And so it was that, “in the era before refrigeration, freeze-dried vaccines, and jet aircraft,” writes medical historian John Bowers, “the successful circumnavigation of the globe with the vaccine…rested on a single medium — little boys.” During the long crossing, approximately twenty-two orphans who had not previously contracted smallpox or cowpox were “vaccinated in pairs every ninth or tenth day,” via arm-to-arm inoculation (taking lymph from an unbroken pustule on a recently vaccinated boy and introducing it under the skin of another). This created a vaccine chain — the vaccine remained active and viable for the entire journey.

The three-year expedition was success and an early & effective example of philanthropic healthcare, but you also have to note here that the reason the Americas were ravaged by smallpox was because Spain brought it there in the first place.

Update: In The Atlantic, Sam Kean provides some more detail on the vaccination effort.

Given the era, it’s likely that no one asked the orphans whether they wanted to participate — and some seemed too young to consent anyway. They’d been abandoned by their parents, were living in institutions, and had no power to resist. But the Spanish king, Carlos IV, decided to make them a few promises: They would be stuffed with food on the voyage over to make sure they looked hearty and hale upon arrival. After all, no one would want lymph from the arm of a sickly child. Appearance mattered. And they’d get a free education in the colonies, plus the chance at a new life there with an adoptive family. It was a far better shake than they’d get in Spain.

  1. The article describes these children as “orphaned” but I wonder if it’s not more accurate to describe them as “enslaved”. Surely these kids didn’t have a real choice in whether they wanted to be infected with cowpox and carried overseas in a cramped ship.

Why Is Picasso’s Guernica So Shocking?

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 05, 2019

Guernica is one of Pablo Picasso’s greatest masterpieces, and, like a lot of his other work, can be difficult to decipher. The painting is obviously anti-war, anti-fascist, and pro-Spain, but beyond that, art scholars have been puzzling over details for decades. In this TED-Ed video, Iseult Gillespie offers a short tour of the painting and its history. You might find this piece (and the list of works cited at the bottom) useful as well.

However, Picasso declared the inspiration for the painting was the aftermath of the 1937 attack of the Spanish town Guernica. On market day April 26, 1937, the citizens of Guernica gathered for their customary shopping and socializing; unfortunately, German war planes descended upon the town. The Nazis bombed Guernica and killed 1600 people; fires burned for three days and destroyed the town. Picasso captured the “la douleur et la mort” or “pain and death” of the aftermath. Yet, Picasso maintained his place that he did not assign meaning to the individual images. Nonetheless, this large-scale monochromatic painting encourages the inner critic to react, deconstruct, and create their own dialogue.

This account of the bombing shows how bloodthirsty and ruthless the Nazis were in 1937.

Besides celebrating the Führer’s birthday, the attack on Guernica served as a tactical military and aeronautical experiment to test the Luftwaffe’s ability to annihilate an entire city and crush the morale of its people. The Condor Legion’s chief of staff, Colonel Wolfram von Richthofen, painstakingly devised the operation to maximize human casualties, and above all deaths. A brief initial bombing at 4:30 PM drove much of the population into air-raid shelters. When Guernica’s citizens emerged from these shelters to rescue the wounded, a second, longer wave of bombing began, trapping them in the town center from which there was no escape. Low-flying planes strafed the streets with machine-gun fire. Those who had managed to survive were incinerated by the flames or asphyxiated by the lack of oxygen. Three hours of coordinated air strikes leveled the city and killed over 1,500 civilians. In his war diary, Richthofen described the operation as “absolutely fabulous!…a complete technical success.” The Führer was so thrilled that, two years later, he ordered Richthofen to employ the same bombing techniques, on an infinitely greater scale, to lay waste to Warsaw, thereby setting off World War II.

With that sort of casual brutality, it’s no wonder Picasso was still livid about it years later:

In occupied Paris, a Gestapo officer who had barged his way into Picasso’s apartment pointed at a photo of the mural, Guernica, asking: “Did you do that?” “No,” Picasso replied, “you did”, his wit fizzing with the anger that animates the piece.

(via open culture)

How Sevilla Became a Bicycle City in Just 18 Months

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 07, 2018

In just a few years, Sevilla, Spain went from almost no bike paths and low ridership to robust network of bike paths and many people using them. To do it, the ruling party used the positive results of a public poll to move quickly, annexing 5000 parking spots and spending a relatively meager €32 million to build 80+ kilometers of bike paths in just 18 months.

The year after the basic network opened, Calvo said, it seemed like every family in the city had suddenly bought one another bicycles for Christmas.

“Everyone was talking about the success of the bike lanes at that point,” he said. “The sports shops, they ran out of bikes. They needed to get bikes from Barcelona, from Madrid, and over from France.”

Once that happened, it became clear that the huge bike network investment had been a fiscal bargain.

“The whole network is €32 million,” he says. That’s how many kilometers of highway - maybe five or six? It’s not expensive infrastructure. … We have a metro line that the cost was €800 million. It serves 44,000 trips every day. With bikes, we’re serving 70,000 trips every day.”

The last bullfight in Barcelona

posted by Jason Kottke   Sep 26, 2011

The Catalonia region of Spain celebrated the last bullfight with a pair of matador dispatching their bulls in front of a sell-out crowd in Barcelona.

After putting to death their respective bulls in front of a sell-out crowd in the 20,000-seat arena, Mr Tomas, along with another bullfighter Serafin Marin, were carried shoulder high from the ring into the streets by ecstatic fans. Others, meanwhile, invaded the ring to gather some of its sand as a souvenir of the final fight, which follows a vote last year by the Catalan regional Parliament to ban bullfighting.

Photos here.