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On Presidential Deaths and Economic Growth February 19, 2015

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Politics.
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William-Henry-HarrisonIn honor of the recent Presidents’ Day — which we used to correctly acknowledge as Washington’s Birthday before political correctness — let us play a little trivia game.  How many presidents died in office other than those who were assassinated?  Give up?  The correct number is four, five if you count James K. Polk (more on that later).

They are, in chronological order:  William Henry Harrison, Zachary Taylor, Warren G. Harding, and Franklin D. Roosevelt.  The latter two did not die of pathogen-caused disease, but rather of other maladies.  In Harding’s case, it was a heart attack.  In FDR’s case, it was a cerebral hemorrhage brought on by, well, being in office for three terms and change.

So what of the first two?  Harrison, for example holds two dubious distinctions as President:  the first to die while in office, and shortest length of time while in office, at about 30 days.  But why?  We have been conditioned to think it was on account of pneumonia.  Turns out that is not the case.  Yes, he did himself no favors by giving an 8,445-word Inaugural Address (still a record to this day for Inaugural Addresses, making the Hero of Tippecanoe a holder of three Presidential records!), which he did in the freezing rain without a hat, overcoat, or gloves.  Not the smartest of moves, and he actually did catch a cold from it.  But he recovered from the cold, and it never grew into pneumonia.  So what happened?

A fascinating article published in the New York Times last year sheds new light on Harrison’s untimely death.  It details the findings of a new medical investigation in that year, which followed the clues and concluded that the cause of death was typhoid, not pneumonia.  The latter was merely a guess from Harrison’s attending physician who, understandably, had comparatively limited medical knowledge.  Even then, the doctor acknowledged pneumonia to be a secondary diagnosis.

Typhoid actually makes all the sense in the world.  The disease is bacterially-based, and the pathogens in this case ravage the gastrointestinal tract, particularly the stomach, until they do their damage which allows them to enter the bloodstream, causing sepsis.  In the middle part of the 19th Century, not far from the White House was a man-made fetid swamp produced on account of daily deposits of, er, night soil — at government expense, of course.  This fetid, man-made marsh became a breeding ground for the bacteria that cause typhoid and paratyphoid fevers (both of which, interestingly, belong in the same genus of Salmonella).  It claimed two other presidents, too.  James K. Polk contracted severe gastroenteritis  (a variation on the exact same theme, practically tomayto-tomahto) while in the White House but he somehow recovered, only to die of cholera — the nature of the infection is practically the same, as they are often brought on my contaminated food and water — merely three months after leaving office in 1849.

Polk’s successor, Zachary Taylor, also died in office, having contracted Salmonella-caused gastroenteritis during the 4th of July celebration in 1850.  He died just five days later.

Frankly, it is a wonder that more of our presidents did not die of similar causes.  Antibiotics, which would have stopped these pathogens in their tracks, were not available until WWII, roughly a century’s span from this time.

So how come subsequent presidents in the remaining 19th Century avoided meeting such an untimely demise?  George Will’s insight provides an answer, and does so within the context of marking the 25th anniversary of AIDS in a 2006 article:

“AIDS arrived in America in the wake of the Salk vaccine, which, by swiftly defeating polio, gave Americans a misleading paradigm of how progress is made in public health. Pharmacology often is a small contributor. By the time the first anti-tuberculosis drugs became available in the 1950s, the annual death rate from TB had plummeted to 20 per 100,000 Americans, from 200 per 100,000 in 1900. Drugs may have accounted for just 3 percent of the reduction. The other 97 percent was the result of better nutrition and less urban crowding. Thanks to chlorination of water and better sanitation and personal hygiene, typhoid, too, became rare before effective drugs were available.”

“Which suggests,” he adds, “that the most powerful public health program is economic growth.  And the second most powerful is information.”

Indeed.  Economic growth provides the resources necessary to better dispose of human waste as well.  DC introduced its first sewer system in 1885, for example, thus greatly reducing the chance of Presidents Cleveland through [Franklin] Roosevelt contracting the same maladies that felled two, if not three, of their predecessors in the mid-19th Century.

That said, as an aside, there seemed not to be a universal utilization of Washington, D.C.’s sewer system as recently as 1941, as George Will points out in an article seven months prior to the aforecited one.

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Week 3 College Football Awards September 16, 2014

Posted by intellectualgridiron in Sports.
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(Note:  All rankings are current AP [week 3] unless otherwise noted.)

Purdue v Notre DameCOACHES
Wish I were him: Steve Addazio, Boston College

Glad I’m not him: Charlie Strong, Texas
Lucky guy: Steve Spurrier, South Carolina

Poor guy: Mark Richt, Georgia
Desperately seeking a wake-up call: Bobby Petrino, Louisville
Desperately seeking a P.R. man: Ruffin McNeil, East Carolina

Desperately seeking sunglasses and a fake beard: Steve Sarkisian, USC
Desperately seeking … anything:  Chuck Martin, Miami (Ohio)

TEAMS
Thought you’d kick butt, you did: No. 22 Ohio State (defeated Kent State 66-0)
Thought you’d kick butt, you didn’t: Vanderbilt (defeated UMass 34-31)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you did: Kent State (see first line above)

Thought you’d get your butt kicked, you didn’t:  Colorado (lost to No. 16 Arizona State 38-24)
Thought you wouldn’t kick butt, you did:  Syracuse (defeated Central Michigan 40-3)

Dang, they’re good: Oklahoma
Dang, they’re bad:  Kansas
Can’t Stand Prosperity:  Virginia Tech

Did the season start?  Texas
Can the season end?  Eastern Michigan
Can the season never endOle Miss

GAMES
Play this again:  Bowling Green 45, Indiana 42

Play this again, too:  Middle Tennessee 50, Western Kentucky 47
Never play this again: No. 8 Baylor 63, Buffalo 21

Told you so:  Penn State 13, Rutgers 10

What? Virginia 23, No. 21 Louisville 21

HuhNo. 24 South Carolina 38, No. 6 Georgia 35

Are you kidding meEast Carolina 28, No. 17 Virginia Tech 21

Oh – my – GodBoston College 38, No. 9 USC 31

NEXT WEEK

(rankings are current AP (post-week 3, pre-week 4)
Ticket to die for (sort of):  No. 22 Clemson @ No. 1 Florida State

Best non-Power Five vs. Power Five matchup: North Carolina @ East Carolina
Best non-Power Five matchup: Middle Tennessee @ Memphis

Upset alert: Miami (Fla.) @ No. 24 Nebraska

Must win: Southern Illinois @ Purdue

Offensive explosion: No. 2 Oregon @ Washington State

Defensive struggle: Penn State @ Rutgers
Great game no one is talking about: Virginia @ No. 21 BYU

Intriguing coaching matchup: Gus Malzahn of Auburn vs. Bill Snyder of Kansas State

Who’s bringing the body bags? No. 6 Texas A&M @ SMU

Why are they playing? Troy @ No. 13 Georgia

Plenty of good seats remaining: Idaho @ Ohio U

They shoot horses, don’t they?  Eastern Michigan @ No. 11 Michigan State

Week 3 Random Thoughts:

–  Just when you think that Louisville is rolling again under second, non-consecutive term head coach Bobby Petrino (paging Grover Cleveland), the Cards lay an egg on the road.  Virginia is not that bad of a team, but that is still no excuse for all the quarterback miscues that seemed to plague U of L throughout the game, leading to the disappointing result.  Perhaps Petrino should consider playing the freshman QB?

–  Virginia Tech seems nothing if not consistent when it comes to losing games the week after winning a big one.

–  They say that football can be a game of inches.  In the case of South Carolina upsetting intra-conference and border rival Georgia, it was a game of one inch.  Period.  Well, that and a good (favorable?) spotting of the ball by the refs after 4th and one inch.

–  Perhaps Oregon might have been saving a little energy for future endeavors later this season.  How else might one explain a win over Wyoming by a score of only 48-12?  Given how well the Ducks have played thus far, you’d think the Cowboys got off easy.

–  Did Purdue acquit themselves against No. 11 Notre Dame, or are the Fighting Irish that mediocre?  In the wake of the Boilermakers embarrassing themselves at home last week to Central Michigan, coupled with ND demolishing Michigan, one would have thought that the annual in-state rivalry game would have meant utter demolition for Purdue.  Instead, the Boilers ended up leading, however briefly, in the first half, scoring two touchdowns on the Irish.  Such an effort compelled Notre Dame to increase their efforts, allowing them to gradually win over the course of the second half, 30-14.  The reason that so many people naturally incline towards the former answer is that they want to believe the Notre Dame hype (it sells, after all!).  But what we keep learning, and continue to have to keep learning over the past 10-15 years, is that Notre Dame is once again overrated.  The real question, therefore, to consider is, how bad is Michigan?

–  That being said, Notre Dame’s helmets for that game did look rather neat.  It is a long time coming that they incorporated a blue “ND” logo on to their gold shells.  The single, blue center stripe was a nice touch, too.  The jury is still out on the latitude-longitude, “globe lines” effect, though.  Moreover, I can do without that weird brocade effect on the shoulders of the jerseys.

–  Is Texas in trouble?  First, they lost ignominiously at home to BYU last week.  Then, they lose to an increasingly good UCLA team, ostensibly at a neutral site, though hardly anybody could consider the Horns playing in Dallas as playing on neutral turf, be it the Cotton Bowl or AT&T Stadium.  Yes, Jim Mora has truly breathed intensity into the Bruins program at Westwood, Calif., but there is still no excuse for such a proud, tradition-and-resource laden program as Texas to suffer two such consecutive losses.  Is Coach Strong in over his head at Austin?  It would be a very painful thing to acknowledge, to be sure.  The wise thing, at this point, is to allow the rest of the season (and how it plays out) to answer that question.

–  If we were to apply the law of transitive properties, just how badly would Syracuse beat Purdue if the two played each other right about now?