Marat syndrome:
There was a man named Jean-Paul Marat, who was an important figure in the French Revolution, the Terror as it is sometimes called.  He died suddenly in his home:
Image result for death of marat images













Jacques-Louis David:
The Death of Marat
downloaded 7,25, 2016
The standard story is, if I recall, that he had suffered from a skin condition called herpetiform dermatitis which, being a sort of self trained physician, he treated by soaking in the bath in various things he thought would help.  One day while he was in the bath a young woman came to see him offering to give him names of royalists, which being a good revolutionary, he would turn over to the authorities for likely execution on the guillotine.  He had been a ranking member of the revolution, but the disability caused by his skin condition forced him to confine himself to his home.  There had been, if memory serves, about 1,500 innocent people who had died under his direction.  During the course of the interview, the woman pulled out a knife and stabbed him just below the collar bone.  Marat called to his wife, but died quite soon. 

With his death he became a martyr.  There were 20,000 executions afterwards.  I think that’s an example of the proposition: martyrs make bad policy. 

At Harvard Medical School I met some liberals; it was their heyday.  The thing that was remarkable to me was not their policy suggestions, like getting out of Vietnam and with which I largely agreed, but the intense self-righteousness they threw out like the simoom throws out dust.  I was annoyed to see good ideas presented in such an offensive manner that one felt urged to reject them.  I believe the spirit of Marat the martyr goes on.

I once saw, amazed it was released, a video of some Syrian terrorists killing a captive in a ruined building.  They marched the captives onto camera, forced one to kneel and marched the others out.  One of the men guiding the march patted one of the captives on the shoulder in a reassuring way.  One man remained behind with the kneeling captive and the camera operator one supposes.  The murderer drew a knife stabbed the victim in the back no more than a quarter inch deep some half dozen times.  One imagines the victim thinking, “I can handle this.”  Then the murderer stabbed him deep right in front of the collar bone.  He dealt a couple more shallow stabs to the back, and the victim collapsed.  The murderer covered him with some rubble and went away.

The terrorists were evidently at pains to keep their prey at ease.  The initial pokes were just to prepare the man for the single critical move.  At that point the knife went into the chest, opening the subclavian vein and lacerating the lung.  At once the lung collapsed filling the pleural space with air.  If the man breathed in, it would bring no air to the lungs, just to the pleural space.  Then quickly if the man did not stir and very quickly if he tried to scream, air entered the subclavian vein, right heart, and kept the tricuspid and pulmonic valves from closing.  Blood flow stopped.  Within twenty seconds consciousness was lost.  The rubble concealed the ugliness of the agonal convulsion.  It was not very painful.

I thought, “He’s done this before.”

Let’s look at the painting.  This of course was part of the martyrdom project.  First, the left cheek is flushed.  That wouldn’t happen; a dead man in that position is ashen.  Second, Marat has not slumped; rather he has his curved arm extended like the girls from the French school in one of the Harry Potter movies.  Third, he hasn’t dropped his notes.  Fourth, there is only a bit of dependent lividity; the artist took his liberty.  Finally, the wound is in the wrong place.  It’s over the first rib.  A downward stab there would have skipped from rib to rib and resulted only in an angry man grappling with a woman.  Indeed, angling the blade upward from that point might have caught the subclavian vein, but it would be a very difficult target.  The wound was higher and the blow went downward. 

But in that case, how did Marat call to his wife?  It would not have been possible without air in the lungs.  So he didn’t call to his wife.  But why lie about it?  To cover the immediate presence of the wife.  In fact she must have been there all along.  She and the murderer were in cahoots.  That would have explained the bathtub; easier to clean up. 

And why would the wife be an accomplice in her husbands murder?  Think.  The woman was well coached.  Somebody with medical knowledge told her how to do it, either Marat himself or someone of substantial resource and cunning.  This was no naïve girl wandering in from the countryside.  This was a well trained assassin. 

In short, it can’t have been a murder.  It was assisted suicide.  How much the woman knew is unclear; she might have been told to do it by Marat or maybe by somebody Marat knew. 

And why suicide?  The disease was “herpetiform dermatitis.”  The second word means inflammation, but it’s not clear he had a rash.  Certainly there is no rash in the picture, and that one the artist should have known.  “Herpetiform?”  That means, “like shingles.”  He had shingles, but he never recovered.  The pain of that is excruciating.  Don’t ask how I know.  And Marat’s pain was not eased by modern medical knowledge and resources.  At medical school we all agreed that his guilt weighed so heavily upon him that he interpreted it as pain.  Well that was peanuts.  Fifteen hundred enemies?  Try seven billion babies on your conscience. 

Many years ago a dear friend showed me an essay she had written about alcoholism.  The memorable passage was that it could be due to too much stress or two little; boredom is destructive, too.  It has now entered the mainstream media.  (What Makes us Stronger Economist vol. 420 no. 8999 page 47)  The secret is in how you interpret it.  If you think stress can make you smarter and more alert – and it can – you may benefit from it.  They report a study in which those who reported stress and thought stress was bad for them had a 43% higher rate of premature death (than whom is not made clear) while those who thought it was not bad for them actually had a lower rate than those reporting no stress.

I’m a bit skeptical.  Maybe those who said stress was bad for them were simply right. 

But if I could convince myself that my own stress, both physical and mental, was good for me … ah.

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