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How Napoleon went from ‘cannibal’ to ‘Majesty’ in 20 days
Alexandre Dumas' famous anecdote about Fake News in the 1800s has a surprising twist.
- Unfazed by his first defeat, Napoleon swept back into power in 1815, going from exile to emperor within a single month.
- Parisian newspapers scrambled to adapt: at the start of that month, Napoleon was a 'cannibal'; at the end, 'His Majesty'.
- For the first time ever, this map illustrates the spatial dimension of that shift – but the anecdote, made famous by Dumas, has a twist.
1 March 1815: Napoleon lands at Golfe-Juan. Detail from 'Débarquement de Napoléon' by François Georgin.
In French history, the period from March 1 to March 20, 1815 is known as Le Vol de l'Aigle: the Flight of the Eagle. The Eagle, of course, is Napoleon – the diminutive Corsican whose political and military genius had propelled him to become Emperor of France, and conqueror of much of Europe.
But at the start of 1815, Napoleon's glory days were behind him. Defeated by a coalition of European powers, he had been exiled to Elba, a small island off the Italian coast. In France, the monarchy had been restored. On the throne sat a brother of the king who had been executed in 1789. It was almost as if the French Revolution – and the Napoleonic Wars – had never happened.
That state of affairs proved insufferable to Napoleon, who could not content himself with ruling over Elba. On February 26, with a small band of loyal soldiers, he set sail for France in L'Inconstant, a brig disguised as a British ship. Just after noon on March 1, Napoleon landed at Golfe-Juan.
Choosing a route north that avoided the Provence's most royalist regions, Napoleon and his army reached Grenoble in a mere six days. Having made it this far, Napoleon grew more confident of his gamble: "Before Grenoble, I was an adventurer. After Grenoble, I was a prince." Known today as the Route Napoléon, the once and future Emperor's fabled mountain road from the coast to Grenoble is fringed with gilded eagle statues.
As its quick advance proceeded north, the ranks of Napoleon's army swelled with defectors from the very same royalist forces sent to arrest him – often, these were veterans of Napoleon's battles across Europe, and their fierce loyalty to their old commander trumped their present duties in service of the king. In Lyon and many other towns, the streets were lined with crowds equally nostalgic for the heydays of Empire.
Riding a wave of popularity and speeding like lightning, Napoleon swept all before him. Without a single shot being fired, he reached Paris on March 20. The king had fled the country. Napoleon was Emperor again… for just about 100 days. On June 18, he suffered his final defeat at Waterloo. Four days later, he abdicated. On July 8, Louis XVIII regained his throne.
Following his failed comeback, recorded in Napoleonic lore as Les Cent-Jours, Napoleon was sent into exile again. This time to a much more isolated island: St Helena, in the middle of the South Atlantic Ocean, where he would die in 1821.
"The ultimate monument to journalism"
In Une année à Florence (1841), Alexandre Dumas (pictured by Nadar in 1855) took a critical look at the attitudes of the Parisian press to Napoleon's return.
Image: Public Domain
In 1841, Alexandre Dumas père published a travelogue called "Une année à Florence" ('A year in Florence'). It contained a reflection on the believability of newspaper headlines, based on the reports on Napoleon's return to power in the Paris-based newspaper Moniteur Universel in March 1815.
As the official journal of the French government, that paper was hostile to Napoleon, at least when he started his campaign. Dumas notes that the attitude shifted as the deposed Emperor approached the seat of power:
"If you want to follow his victory march to Paris, you only have to consult the Moniteur. To guide our readers in this historical research, we will provide a rather curious sample. Step by step, it represents Napoleon's march towards Paris and shows the change his advance produces in the attitude of the newspaper."
Dumas then lists ten headlines which prove his point. Below are the original French headlines, plotted on the map are the English translations. For the first time ever, this map provides a spatial dimension to the shifting attitudes of the Moniteur.
- L'anthropophage est sorti de son repaire.
- L'ogre de Corse vient de débarquer au golfe Juan.
- Le tigre est arrivé à Gap.
- Le monstre a couché à Grenoble.
- Le tyran a traversé Lyon.
- L'usurpateur a été vu à soixante lieues de la capitale.
- Bonaparte s'avance à grands pas, mais il n'entrera jamais dans Paris.
- Napoléon sera demain sous nos remparts.
- L'empereur est arrivé à Fontainebleau.
- Sa Majesté Impériale et Royale a fait hier son entrée en son château des Tuileries au milieu de ses fidèles sujets.
When legend becomes fact
For the first time, a map that shows Napoleon's lightning march to retake power in Paris, and the headlines that accompanied him there.
Image: Frank Jacobs & Carrie Osgood
The Moniteur Universel was known as le journal de la pensée officielle, i.e. the record of 'official thought'. Perhaps not so different to the 'mainstream media' of today. In fact, some have drawn parallels between the Moniteur's initial dismissiveness of Napoleon's return, and the U.S. media's inability to comprehend Trump's march to victory in 2016. For that reason, and to illustrate the larger point that truth and journalism should not be mistaken for each other, the Dumas anecdote is regularly dusted off.
However, the story has another layer – and a two other important lessons about journalism.
Lesson number one: Check your sources. The entire run of the Moniteur Universel can be consulted online via the French National Library, including the relevant daily editions from March 1-20, 1815. They do not contain the titles that Dumas uses. In fact, as the journal of record, the Moniteur mainly published decrees, statutes and ordinances – nothing quite as lurid as the headlines quoted by Dumas.
In Les Cent-Jours: Légende et réalité (1983), French historian George Blond after extensive research is forced to conclude that "although the Emperor was insulted and dismissed as an adventurer or evildoer in some newspaper commentaries, this legendary series of newspaper headlines never did exist."
Of course, that won't stop the Dumas anecdote from resurfacing. And that second lesson is perhaps the ultimate one this anecdote can teach us about journalism: that the media – mainstream or otherwise – can't resist a good story. In the words of newspaperman Maxwell Scott in the John Ford western "The Man who Shot Liberty Vallance: "When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."
Many thanks to Carrie Osgood, who produced the map to complement Alexandre Dumas' anecdote. The map is available for purchase on her online store in two versions, the basic map (as shown above) and the map with the story (as shown below).
Strange Maps #1050
Got a strange map? Let me know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
UPDATE: For more on the press landscape in France at the time, check out this episode of The Siècle, an excellent and erudite podcast about France's stormy century from 1814 to 1914. The episode includes the fascinating story of Le Nain Jaune ('The Yellow Dwarf'), the satirical magazine that published a joke about Napoleon's changing nomenclature, which eventually grew into the fake headlines as presented by Dumas.
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The COVID-19 pandemic is making health disparities in the United States crystal clear. It is a clarion call for health care systems to double their efforts in vulnerable communities.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated America's health disparities, widening the divide between the haves and have nots.
- Studies show disparities in wealth, race, and online access have disproportionately harmed underserved U.S. communities during the pandemic.
- To begin curing this social aliment, health systems like Northwell Health are establishing relationships of trust in these communities so that the post-COVID world looks different than the pre-COVID one.
COVID-19 deepens U.S. health disparities<p>Communities on the pernicious side of America's health disparities have their unique histories, environments, and social structures. They are spread across the United States, but they all have one thing in common.</p><p>"There is one common divide in American communities, and that is poverty," said <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/about/leadership/debbie-salas-lopez" target="_blank">Debbie Salas-Lopez, MD, MPH</a>, senior vice president of community and population health at Northwell Health. "That is the undercurrent that manifests poor health, poor health outcomes, or poor health prognoses for future wellbeing."</p><p>Social determinants have far-reaching effects on health, and poor communities have unfavorable social determinants. To pick one of many examples, <a href="https://www.npr.org/2020/09/27/913612554/a-crisis-within-a-crisis-food-insecurity-and-covid-19" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">food insecurity</a> reduces access to quality food, leading to poor health and communal endemics of chronic medical conditions. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has identified some of these conditions, such as obesity and Type 2 diabetes, as increasing the risk of developing a severe case of coronavirus.</p><p>The pandemic didn't create poverty or food insecurity, but it exacerbated both, and the results have been catastrophic. A study published this summer in the <em><a href="https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s11606-020-05971-3" target="_blank">Journal of General Internal Medicine</a></em> suggested that "social factors such as income inequality may explain why some parts of the USA are hit harder by the COVID-19 pandemic than others."</p><p>That's not to say better-off families in the U.S. weren't harmed. A <a href="https://voxeu.org/article/poverty-inequality-and-covid-19-us" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">paper from the Centre for Economic Policy Research</a> noted that families in counties with a higher median income experienced adjustment costs associated with the pandemic—for example, lowering income-earning interactions to align with social distancing policies. However, the paper found that the costs of social distancing were much greater for poorer families, who cannot easily alter their living circumstances, which often include more individuals living in one home and a reliance on mass transit to reach work and grocery stores. They are also disproportionately represented in essential jobs, such as retail, transportation, and health care, where maintaining physical distance can be all but impossible.</p><p>The paper also cited a positive correlation between higher income inequality and higher rates of coronavirus infection. "Our interpretation is that poorer people are less able to protect themselves, which leads them to different choices—they face a steeper trade-off between their health and their economic welfare in the context of the threats posed by COVID-19," the authors wrote.</p><p>"There are so many pandemics that this pandemic has exacerbated," Dr. Salas-Lopez noted.</p><p>One example is the health-wealth gap. The mental stressors of maintaining a low socioeconomic status, especially in the face of extreme affluence, can have a physically degrading impact on health. <a href="https://www.scientificamerican.com/index.cfm/_api/render/file/?method=inline&fileID=123ECD96-EF81-46F6-983D2AE9A45FA354" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Writing on this gap</a>, Robert Sapolsky, professor of biology and neurology at Stanford University, notes that socioeconomic stressors can increase blood pressure, reduce insulin response, increase chronic inflammation, and impair the prefrontal cortex and other brain functions through anxiety, depression, and cognitive load. </p><p>"Thus, from the macro level of entire body systems to the micro level of individual chromosomes, poverty finds a way to produce wear and tear," Sapolsky writes. "It is outrageous that if children are born into the wrong family, they will be predisposed toward poor health by the time they start to learn the alphabet."</p>Research on the economic and mental health fallout of COVID-19 is showing two things: That unemployment is hitting <a href="https://www.pewsocialtrends.org/2020/09/24/economic-fallout-from-covid-19-continues-to-hit-lower-income-americans-the-hardest/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">low-income and young Americans</a> most during the pandemic, potentially widening the health-wealth gap further; and that the pandemic not only exacerbates mental health stressors, but is doing so at clinically relevant levels. As <a href="https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7413844/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">the authors of one review</a> wrote, the pandemic's effects on mental health is itself an international public health priority.
Working to close the health gap<img type="lazy-image" data-runner-src="https://assets.rebelmouse.io/eyJhbGciOiJIUzI1NiIsInR5cCI6IkpXVCJ9.eyJpbWFnZSI6Imh0dHBzOi8vYXNzZXRzLnJibC5tcy8yNDc5MDk1MS9vcmlnaW4uanBnIiwiZXhwaXJlc19hdCI6MTYxNTYyMzQzMn0.KSFpXH7yHYrfVPtfgcxZqAHHYzCnC2bFxwSrJqBbH4I/img.jpg?width=980" id="b40e2" class="rm-shortcode" data-rm-shortcode-id="1b9035370ab7b02a0dc00758e494412b" data-rm-shortcode-name="rebelmouse-image" />
Northwell Health coronavirus testing center at Greater Springfield Community Church.
Credit: Northwell Health<p>Novel coronavirus may spread and infect indiscriminately, but pre-existing conditions, environmental stressors, and a lack of access to care and resources increase the risk of infection. These social determinants make the pandemic more dangerous, and erode communities' and families' abilities to heal from health crises that pre-date the pandemic.</p><p>How do we eliminate these divides? Dr. Salas-Lopez says the first step is recognition. "We have to open our eyes to see the suffering around us," she said. "Northwell has not shied away from that."</p><p>"We are steadfast in improving health outcomes for our vulnerable and underrepresented communities that have suffered because of the prevalence of chronic disease, a problem that led to the disproportionately higher death rate among African-Americans and Latinos during the COVID-19 pandemic," said Michael Dowling, Northwell's president and CEO. "We are committed to using every tool at our disposal—as a provider of health care, employer, purchaser and investor—to combat disparities and ensure the <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/education-and-resources/community-engagement/center-for-equity-of-care" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">equity of care</a> that everyone deserves." </p><p>With the need recognized, Dr. Salas-Lopez calls for health care systems to travel upstream and be proactive in those hard-hit communities. This requires health care systems to play a strong role, but not a unilateral one. They must build <a href="https://www.northwell.edu/news/insights/faith-based-leaders-are-the-key-to-improving-community-health" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">partnerships with leaders in those communities</a> and utilize those to ensure relationships last beyond the current crisis. </p><p>"We must meet with community leaders and talk to them to get their perspective on what they believe the community needs are and should be for the future. Together, we can co-create a plan to measurably improve [community] health and also to be ready for whatever comes next," she said.</p><p>Northwell has built relationships with local faith-based and community organizations in underserved communities of color. Those partnerships enabled Northwell to test more than 65,000 people across the metro New York region. The health system also offered education on coronavirus and precautions to curb its spread.</p><p>These initiatives began the process of building trust—trust that Northwell has counted on to return to these communities to administer flu vaccines to prepare for what experts fear may be a difficult flu season.</p><p>While Northwell has begun building bridges across the divides of the New York area, much will still need to be done to cure U.S. health care overall. There is hope that the COVID pandemic will awaken us to the deep disparities in the US.</p><p>"COVID has changed our world. We have to seize this opportunity, this pandemic, this crisis to do better," Dr. Salas-Lopez said. "Provide better care. Provide better health. Be better partners. Be better community citizens. And treat each other with respect and dignity.</p><p>"We need to find ways to unify this country because we're all human beings. We're all created equal, and we believe that health is one of those important rights."</p>
With just a few strategical tweaks, the Nazis could have won one of World War II's most decisive battles.
- The Battle of Britain is widely recognized as one of the most significant battles that occurred during World War II. It marked the first major victory of the Allied forces and shifted the tide of the war.
- Historians, however, have long debated the deciding factor in the British victory and German defeat.
- A new mathematical model took into account numerous alternative tactics that the German's could have made and found that just two tweaks stood between them and victory over Britain.
Two strategic blunders<p>Now, historians and mathematicians from York St. John University have collaborated to produce <a href="http://www-users.york.ac.uk/~nm15/bootstrapBoB%20AAMS.docx" target="_blank">a statistical model (docx download)</a> capable of calculating what the likely outcomes of the Battle of Britain would have been had the circumstances been different. </p><p>Would the German war effort have fared better had they not bombed Britain at all? What if Hitler had begun his bombing campaign earlier, even by just a few weeks? What if they had focused their targets on RAF airfields for the entire course of the battle? Using a statistical technique called weighted bootstrapping, the researchers studied these and other alternatives.</p><p>"The weighted bootstrap technique allowed us to model alternative campaigns in which the Luftwaffe prolongs or contracts the different phases of the battle and varies its targets," said co-author Dr. Jaime Wood in a <a href="https://www.york.ac.uk/news-and-events/news/2020/research/mathematicians-battle-britain-what-if-scenarios/" target="_blank">statement</a>. Based on the different strategic decisions that the German forces could have made, the researchers' model enabled them to predict the likelihood that the events of a given day of fighting would or would not occur.</p><p>"The Luftwaffe would only have been able to make the necessary bases in France available to launch an air attack on Britain in June at the earliest, so our alternative campaign brings forward the air campaign by three weeks," continued Wood. "We tested the impact of this and the other counterfactuals by varying the probabilities with which we choose individual days."</p><p>Ultimately, two strategic tweaks shifted the odds significantly towards the Germans' favor. Had the German forces started their campaign earlier in the year and had they consistently targeted RAF airfields, an Allied victory would have been extremely unlikely.</p><p>Say the odds of a British victory in the real-world Battle of Britain stood at 50-50 (there's no real way of knowing what the actual odds are, so we'll just have to select an arbitrary figure). If this were the case, changing the start date of the campaign and focusing only on airfields would have reduced British chances at victory to just 10 percent. Even if a British victory stood at 98 percent, these changes would have cut them down to just 34 percent.</p>
A tool for understanding history<p>This technique, said co-author Niall Mackay, "demonstrates just how finely-balanced the outcomes of some of the biggest moments of history were. Even when we use the actual days' events of the battle, make a small change of timing or emphasis to the arrangement of those days and things might have turned out very differently."</p><p>The researchers also claimed that their technique could be applied to other uncertain historical events. "Weighted bootstrapping can provide a natural and intuitive tool for historians to investigate unrealized possibilities, informing historical controversies and debates," said Mackay.</p><p>Using this technique, researchers can evaluate other what-ifs and gain insight into how differently influential events could have turned out if only the slightest things had changed. For now, at least, we can all be thankful that Hitler underestimated Britain's grit.</p>
The next era in American history can look entirely different. It's up to us to choose.
- The timeline of America post-WWII can be divided into two eras, according to author and law professor Ganesh Sitaraman: the liberal era which ran through the 1970s, and the current neoliberal era which began in the early 1980s. The latter promised a "more free society," but what we got instead was more inequality, less opportunity, and greater market consolidation.
- "We've lived through a neoliberal era for the last 40 years, and that era is coming to an end," Sitaraman says, adding that the ideas and policies that defined the period are being challenged on various levels.
- What comes next depends on if we take a proactive and democratic approach to shaping the economy, or if we simply react to and "deal with" market outcomes.
A new MIT report proposes how humans should prepare for the age of automation and artificial intelligence.
- A new report by MIT experts proposes what humans should do to prepare for the age of automation.
- The rise of intelligent machines is coming but it's important to resolve human issues first.
- Improving economic inequality, skills training, and investment in innovation are necessary steps.