When You Count Your Blessings

Don’t forget to be thankful for modern medicine!

Bloodletting in the 16th century

Bloodletting in the 16th century

From An Old Merchant’s House: Life at Home in New York City, 1835-1865:

” Doctors didn’t know what caused people to be sick. What was worse, they didn’t know they didn’t know.

“It would be many years before the medical community understood the role that microscopic organisms played in causing disease and infection.

“In the meantime, various erroneous systems of belief led doctors to prescribe positively harmful treatments and medications.

“Chief among these was the ancient practice of bleeding or venesection. It was based on the notion that an overactive circulatory system caused blood to accumulate, leading to inflammation, which caused disease.The doctor used a razor-sharp lancet to cut into a vein in the arm or leg or sometimes the neck to drain blood from the circulatory system.”

How much blood are we talking about?

 Charles Meigs, a leading obstetrician, wrote in 1842 that he drained 52 ounces of blood from a 20-year-old new mother who had developed childbed fever on the fourth day after delivery . Without this treatment, which Dr Meigs said was typical, he was convinced she would have died. What is amazing is that the cure didn’t kill her.


300 years later and nothing much had changed.

It’s hardly surprising then that many people simply became their own doctors, relying on cookbooks that included recipes for remedies or turned to alternative practitioners. among them doctors known as homeopaths. Homeopaths administered minute and extremely diluted doses of medicine to produce symptoms similar to those of the disease. This was thought to be curative.

Read more about it.

Ann Haddad, researcher at the Merchant’s House Museum, recently discovered that the family who lived in the house in the 19th century turned to homeopaths for medical treatment. It comes as a great relief to the Merchant’s House staff and volunteers. All of us who have an affection for the  family who lived in the house were glad to learn that they were spared the grueling experience of bloodletting.

Read Ann’s interesting account of the history of homeopathy and how one 19th-century family embraced it.





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Do You Have to Print it Out if You Really Want to Understand It? Here’s why—

Are those of us who prefer paper books just indulging in nostalgia or does a physical page actually help the reader achieve better comprehension?

This New Yorker article by Maria Konnikova sheds light on what’s going on when we read online and what conclusions we can draw from the difference.
Because we know we have many sources at our fingertips when reading online, we tend to read faster, scrolling and scrolling, skimming, looking for key words as we go. No time to pause and mull over a passage. Reading a book or an article on paper, on the other hand, is not an open ended task. There is an end to it and we know where that end point is. We can see it and feel it in our hands. We don’t feel the same compulsion to keep going, but are more likely to give ourself time to contemplate, to reread a sentence, maybe turn down the corner of the page because we think we might like to return to a sentence we don’t quite yet understand. And I think there is an advantage to having the page in your lap and being able to look up and away as you think about what you have just read.

Also we are distracted online by hyperlinks that interrupt the flow of the argument. And, depending on what we’re reading, there may be ads here and there, attempting to pull us away from the text. And some of them, God help us, move! It’s simply exhausting and before long we’ve lost our grip.

So what are we going to do about it? For now I suppose, we can just print out what we must. But it’s critical that we figure out how to duplicate “deep reading” skills when reading in the digital environment.

The internet is a blessing, literally bringing the world’s knowledge to our fingertips. But unless we figure out how to teach readers to bring those deep reading skills to material that requires it, we are liable to end up with professionals in every field with shallow understanding of what they need to know.
If you are at all interested in this subject, the article is well worth reading.

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“The Best Laid Schemes of Mice and Men Go Oft Awry”

img_2414For some weeks now, work crews have been busy ripping out the pay phones on New York City streets, replacing them with streamlined 9.5 foot high WiFi kiosks that offer free WiFi connection, free phone calls, and USB ports for charging your various devices. Before they are done, they intend to install 7500 of these kiosks.


 With the proliferation of cellphones, the old pay phones have become obsolete. You never see anyone using them and anyway many of them don’t work.

So in the name of progress, the City has entered into a 12-year franchise agreement with a consortium that has agreed to install the kiosks at a cost of over $200 million. Here’s the deal: the consortium will pay all the costs of installation, including the laying of fiber optic cables. They will sell advertising on the large lighted panels on the side of the structures and the City will share in the ad revenues. Everybody, it seems, will make a lot of money; the City is slated to receive no less than $500 million over the 12-year period of the agreement.img_2417

 When interviewed by West Side Rag, my neighborhood newspaper, the CEO of Sidewalk Labs, one of the groups comprising the consortium, had this to say: “The big goal is addressing digital inequality. . . . Without fast access to the internet, you cannot have equal opportunity.”

 A cynic might suggest that the “big goal” has more to do with the financial arrangements rather than bridging the digital divide, but let that go.


 Now it seems that maybe they should have given more thought to just how the opportunity to access free web browsing might work out.

 Homeless vagrants have been pulling up overturned crates or cast-off chairs and couches left for the trash trucks in order to sit comfortably while they listen to music or watch pornographic movies for hours on end. This does not make residents of nearby apartment buildings happy. In fact, complaints have been so numerous that as of September 14, they have had to shut off web browsing altogether.


 Anne Roest, commissioner of the City’s Department of   Information Technology and Telecommunications admits, “We are going to make adjustments. . . . A lot of these things are things we really weren’t anticipating when we went live.”

 And that’s the way it’s always been.

Life will never go according to the epistles,

Expecting  whistles, flutes,

Expecting flutes, it’s whistles.

“You Never Know,” a variation of Da Bienes Fortuna by Luis de Gongora (1561-1625). The full poem will be found in Did You See This? Poems to Provoke the Politically Correct by Herbert Knapp, to be published very soon by Girandole Books. 



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This Is Not a New Yorker Cartoon

Hydropathic_applications_at_Graefenberg,_per_Claridge's_Hydropathy_bookActually these are deadly serious 19th-century drawings meant to inform readers of the different methods of hydrotherapy available to sufferers of many ailments.

Never mind the nonchalance of the gentleman reading in the sitz bath, who we must assume is sans culottes but who keeps his boots on and his dignity in intact.

I don’t know about you, but I find this funny. However, it occurs to me that a 19th-century audience viewed the drawings with an entirely different frame of reference.

My friend Ann discusses the place of hydrotherapy before the advent of modern medicine in the current post to the blog she writes for the Merchant’s House Museum, a historic house museum I have been affiliated with for over 20 years.

She points out that at least the “water cure” was more benign than other therapies available, namely bloodletting, cupping, and blistering, which caused actual harm

As it happened, the day Ann’s post was published, I found it necessary to get myself to the emergency room in a hurry because of a severe allergic reaction manifesting itself as a case of hives! Believe me, I am extraordinarily grateful for the injections of prednisone and benadryl on offer there. A hundred fifty years ago, I would probably have found myself wrapped in a wet winding sheet.

To read Ann’s interesting discussion of hydrotherapy, go here.


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I So Hoped They’d Invent This!

The Family Hub Refrigerator

The Family Hub Refrigerator

And Samsung did: the Family Hub Refrigerator! It has built in cameras that take a photo of the interior every time the doors close. The most recent photo appears on your camera. Thus we are relieved of the onerous responsibility of looking in the refrigerator before we go to the store to make sure we have enough butter or eggs.

And that’s not nearly all. You can write messages and reminders on your phone that will appear on the 21.5-inch touch screen on the refrigerator door. I suppose that you can take a picture of your kid’s artwork, pin it to the refrigerator screen and throw the real thing away. Less clutter.

And Samsung hasn’t thought of this, but you can keep a sharp eye on the leftovers wherever you may be and the minute they start showing that fuzzy stuff that indicates they’ve done their time, you can move in immediately to liberate them.

One problem though: At around $5000, it’s more than I’m comfortable spending on a refrigerator. And it doesn’t come in a 24-inch model, which is all the kitchen real estate I can devote to a fridge.


Filed under Technology

A Reason To Celebrate

Signing of the Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull

Signing of the Declaration of Independence by John Trumbull

We celebrate our founding as a nation, not because, like most people. we have a sentimental attachment to our homeland, but because never before in the history of mankind had a nation been founded on the principle that rights are bestowed by God, not man.

In Federalist 14, Madison wrote that the American Revolution “has no parallel in the annals of human society” and that the new republic “has no model on the face of the globe.” He was not bragging. It was the truth.

And that truth is indeed something worth celebrating.

Happy Fourth of July, everybody.


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Why I Finally Broke Up With My Kindle

1 Fran_ois BoMadame Pompadourucher (French painter, 1703_1770) Madame du Pompadour


My Kindle and I have had an uneasy relationship for over three years now. I tried to love it; I really did. But I finally had to admit it wasn’t working out. Best we just call it quits.

First of all, I don’t like the way I can only look at one page at a time. Until I got the Kindle, I didn’t realize how often I fan the pages of a book, looking for information I’ve forgotten or to see if I have time to finish the chapter before dinner. I also didn’t realize that I typically read the last few words on a page as I make the turn. You can’t do that on a Kindle.

I like to write in my books. God doesn’t care. They are, after all, my books. Of course I would never write in someone else’s book or a library book—curses on those who do—but I happily scribble in mine. I like to pick up a book I’ve already read, and fan the pages looking for the stars, the underlines, and the marginal notes to myself and to the author that I’ve made in my own handwriting. I like to dog-ear pages, paste on sticky notes, insert bookmarks.

In short, I like to handle a book, that is to do a lot of things with my hands as I read.

And I like to know where my books are— and I do. They’re on the bookshelves. I can identify them by just looking at the spines. Some books are fat, some thin; some tall, some short, and they’re all different colors . I like them around me; I don’t want them dancing off into the atmosphere.

But the most disqualifying aspect of the Kindle for me is the fact that I simply cannot concentrate on what I’m reading on a screen for more than 15 or 20 minutes.

To be fair, I should acknowledge that there are certain advantages to the Kindle. You can make the type bigger. It’s easier to read lying down because you only have to hold the reader; the book literally weighs nothing. You can read in the dark; there are lots of free books available, and if you travel, you can carry any number of books with you without adding weight to your luggage.

You’re a nice device, Kindle. But let’s face it; as far as you and I are concerned, it’s over.



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