Drooling on the Pillow

Thursday, March 24, 2005

Plague Spring 

Well, Roberto is back on his pins, but Jim is still 10-7. There are swathes of co-workers not just down, not just out, but stomped flat by this flu or whatever it is going around. I'm getting it, so I'll probably just take Good Friday off and blog from home.

Ironically, (I guess it's irony, I'll have to ask Mr. Snitch!) I've been reading The Great Influenza, by John M. Barry, concerning the deadly epidemic in 1918-19. While you're hacking, sneezing and blowing snot bubbles, here's some fun facts: it was called the Spanish Flu because Spain was one of the few neutral nations in 1918 and thus one of the few developed nations with an uncontrolled press. They were the only ones reporting the deaths. Actually, it almost certainly got its start in Kansas, USA.

The devastation it brought to the German army, even in it's early, relatively non-lethal version, put an end to their last chance to win the war.

It killed more people in twenty-four weeks than AIDS has killed in twenty-four years. It killed more people in a year than the Black Death killed in a century. Probably more than 100 million.

The death toll in New York City was 33,000 in a city of around 4,000,000. More than twenty 9/11s in a matter of weeks.

One thing, aside from scale, that distinguished this epidemic from others was the fact that if you were young and healthy, you were more likely to die. This strain turned the immune system against the victims. The stronger your immune system, the quicker it would kill you. There were many cases of death within hours of the first symptom.

The 'silver lining', as Kos might put it, was that it coincided with a remarkable period of development of American science and medical research and spurred a great leap forward in those fields.

What I've found most interesting, though, is the portrait of the governance of the Progressives in 1918. Anyone who ever let the word Bushitler escape their lips or keyboard ought to take a look at wartime America under Wilson. Lincoln famously suspended habeas corpus, but that, in fact, involved only a handful of cases.

The government compelled conformity, controlled speech
in ways, frightening ways, not known in America before
or since. Soon after the declaration of war, Wilson pushed
the Espionage Act through a cooperative Congress, which
balked only at legalizing outright press censorship -- despite
Wilson's calling it "an imperative necessity".
In a move loaded with contemporary echoes, Attorney General Gregory demanded that the Librarian of Congress report the names of those who had asked for certain books. He got what he wanted with none of that Patriot Act nonsense about warrants or subpoenas. The new Sedition Act made it punishable by twenty years in jail to "utter, print, write or publish any disloyal, profane, scurrilous, or abusive language about the government of the United States." And they used this law. Thousands would be jailed under it. As Perry notes, "One could go to jail for cursing the government, or criticizing it, even if what one said was true." And to help enforce this law the government formed the volunteer American Protective League and authorized them to carry a badge saying "Secret Service." They ultimately numbered 200,000 and reported their neighbors' transgressions to the authorities.

This is all just a reminder that when the Progressives are on the march, it's best to keep your head down.
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