On The Not Entirely Unforeseen Consequences Of Quarantine

It is strange but not entirely surprising that I should find a fair amount of articles that relate to some of the effects of quarantining and how they are not always positive.  In fact, I would like to comment on some of the shared connections and implications from three articles that I saw relating to the effects of the Coronavirus, and in order to avoid bringing shame upon anyone who would not want to be critiqued by an internet troll such as myself, I will avoid sharing the articles since they are well worth reading without having my own particular perspective skewing how one would think of them.  Intriguingly enough, all of them look at negative externalities of the quarantine from very different perspectives, showing us that not leaving home can have some dangerous consequences for people and relationships.

The governor of Florida recently stirred up some controversy when he refused to take in those who were on a cruise ship that has become filled with Coronavirus patients.  Now, a lot of people are angry about it and threatening to never visit Florida again.  Some people think that it is a right when one has engaged in risky travel and paid the price for it by becoming sick to land in a place full of elderly and vulnerable populations before going home after trying to get better.  I am curious to think how the population of Florida itself will respond to the governor’s unwillingness to accept non-Floridians from the ship into the state.  It is also worth seeing whether the mad tourists forget that they are mad when it is time to travel for cheap early bird specials once again in the fall.  It is quite possible that people in the state will support a governor and cheer him on for not wanting to contaminate his population with sick outsiders.  There is a tendency for people in the face of crises to engage in beggar thy neighbor policies and that is certainly happening at present.

What prompted my thoughts on this subject in the first place was a somewhat melancholy article I saw from one of the community service efforts that I engage in, albeit remotely during these times.  The article discussed how children are more at risk with the quarantine than would be the case normally.  It is not difficult to see how this would happen.  For one, lamentably, children are most at risk from their family than anyone else when it comes to abuse and neglect.  We can always be hurt easiest by those who are closest to us, and that is certainly true for children.  The circumstances of the quarantine, with increased drinking and likely drug use as a way of coping with the loss of work for many people and the loss of alternative means of amusing oneself away from the home would tend to indicate a high degree of risk for children who, because they are forced to stay at home, lack the ordinary ways that children are able to stay away from other family members at least some of the time.  It would be great if staying home was a benefit for children, in learning via homeschooling and distance learning, and reading on one’s own, but this is not always the case and dysfunctional families tend to be even more dangerous when everyone is forced to be around each other for a considerable length of time.

Indeed, this is the lead-in of sorts that makes sense for the third article I read, where it has been seen that in China the forced quarantining there has led to an increase in the divorce rate.  While it may be hoped that people would enjoy spending time with each other, it is quite possible that in cities where there is a high degree of fondness in people living their own lives and being busy with work and socializing and not spending time around someone they may not know or like all that much, that forced spending time around each other in an atmosphere of fear and panic probably does not bring out the best in people.  While it is always preferable if people in the same household are able to unite in a sense of good humor and focusing on common enemies and enjoyment, this is not always the case, and sometimes, lamentably, being around others more only reminds us of why we do not like or want to be around them at all, which is a great shame.  It is all the more reason that one should ponder who one wants to spend time with when one has to spend time with them.  Such considerations would be worth pondering, though it is a bit too late when the quarantine comes.

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Article Review: Coronavirus Genomics And Bioinformatics Analysis

Coronavirus Genomics And Bioinformatics Analysis, by Patrick C.Y. Woo, Yi Huang, Susanna K.P. Lau, and Kwok-Yung Yuen

Given the ubiquity of Coronavirus in our contemporary discourse, it is worthwhile to ponder some insights about this family of diseases from various Hong Kong researchers about ten years ago.  Even before the contemporary Covid-19, these researchers noted that Coronaviruses were becoming increasingly common and subject to various genomic analysis that they wish to engage in, noting the sort of animal viruses that interact with each other the most and seeking to provide some insight about a family of diseases that has become increasingly important in our discourse about public health.  While this particular paper does not have anything to say about Covid-19, not least because it was written ten years ago and that disease was not yet known, it does provide a look at how it is that different diseases within that family can be categorized based on their genetic mutations, considering how many diseases have been analyzed from that particular group.  This is a paper that could definitely be used by the reader who wants to understand how it is that Coronaviruses as a whole became better known and more wideespread over the past couple of decades or so.  It is a short paper at seventeen pages, many of them references, so those who can handle the technical approach of the paper will find a lot to appreciate here.

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Book Review: Potential Influenza Effects On Military Populations

Potential Influenza Effects On Military Populations, by John Bombardt Jr. & Heidi Brown

It is striking to think of the relevance of the 1918 Influenza pandemic and our own current situation.  Even though it appears at present that both the deaths and the death rates of the Coronavirus are far lower than the 1918-1919 flu pandemic, there are still plenty of relevant aspects of that public health crisis to our contemporary concerns and this paper does a good job at demonstrating the relevance and using a mathematics-heavy probabilistic analysis to ponder the contemporary problems that a similar pandemic would have on the military.  The combination of historical analysis, sound reasoning, and mathematics makes this a worthwhile paper to read for those who are interested in pondering the effect of public health problems on the ability of the military to engage in operations while being concerned about the health and training of a large body of people whose morale is negatively effected by what seem to be basic matters of quarantine and isolation.  The fact that this is not only true of recruits who want to prove their manhood in fighting in World War I but is also true of any ordinary American citizens in similar circumstances, which should be recognized.

This paper is about 100 pages long and it consists of several parts.  The first part of the book consists of a historical analysis of the 1918 influenza pandemic that affected both military bases in the United States as well as the armies in Europe on the Western front of World War I.  The authors talk about the harmful effects of the flu on the morale of troops who did not want to be isolated for days and weeks and for front line troops who were unable to get rest because the reinforcement troops were sick and in the hospital for various respiratory problems that doctors were ill-equipped to handle.  After this historical discussion most of the rest of the paper consists of a statistical analysis of the infection and mortality from the flu from various camps in World War I and what expectations could be had for a contemporary problem like that based on various assumptions at the effectiveness of treatments and health efforts.  Ultimately, if the authors remain pessimistic (and wisely so) that pandemics can be avoided, they are perhaps more optimistic about treatment options than is warranted by our current situation.

There are at least a few aspects of this paper that are highly relevant to the contemporary concerns about the public health of America and other places.  For one, the paper casts doubt on the ability of public health efforts at flu vaccines and other efforts to prevent such pandemics from happening in the first place.  That is what we have seen with problems like the H1N1 bird flu a bit more than a decade ago (which I managed to get in Argentina; it was not a fun experience) and other related diseases.  Likewise, the authors of this paper point out that there may be a variety of causes of the flu, including biological warfare as well as a laboratory accident.  It is not so much that the authors predict the current situation but rather they look at the circumstances that are most likely and ponder on the ability of the public health of the United States and other countries at being able to deal with such matters.  The authors note that American troops may be in more danger stateside than on foreign bases, as appears to be the case at present, and the paper is certainly a lot more relevant at the current time than it likely has been for quite a while.

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Article Review: Rules To Be Observed In The Care And Management Of Quarantine, Isolation, And Disinfection

Rules To Be Observed In The Care And Management Of Quarantine, Isolation, And Disinfection, by the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania

This particular set of instructions is interesting for a variety of reasons.  Obviously, principles of quarantine are nothing new with regards to public health, going all the way back to biblical times, and are certainly being used at present as I write this relating to the Coronavirus crisis that is going on right now.  What is striking and remarkable as well is that this short set of instructions was written in 1911 but does not include any of the flu or related illnesses that have tended to provoke the most serious quarantines and pandemic fears over the past century or so around the world.  It seems remarkable that the flu was not something that was feared at the time that this guide was written but would shortly become a very deadly illness.  What is it that kept the flu under the radar and led the health commissioners instead to worry about such diseases as tetanus, anthrax, leprosy, and glanders, diseases that most of us have little fear of at present.  In some ways, at least, our public health concerns have changed over the course of the last century, even if our techniques for maintaining public health have not.

This document is a very short one at four pages.  The first page consists of scary warnings from the health commissioner of the state of Pennsylvania who wants the reader to take health concerns seriously, something that is still a concern.  The second and third pages consist of various rules about the quarantining and isolation principles that apply to various diseases, by no means a complete list, and certainly not the sort of diseases that the state of Pennsylvania and others would shortly have to work with and take measures against.  The last part of the document is a very short statement about the need to disinfect the clothing and surfaces touched by those who have died or even been diagnosed with infectious diseases.  Again, despite the fact that this document is more than a century old, it remains remarkable that much of the advice here is precisely what would be told to people nowadays trying to protect themselves from disease, whether or not it is useful, at least it helps us to do something that makes us feel safer, which is probably the point.

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Cyprus: A Case Study On The Problems Of Trust

According to the UNDP, solid majorities of both Greek and Turkish Cypriots do not believe that the other side is willing to make the compromises that would be necessary for both to live in the same country in peace.  As a result, some 84% of Greek Cypriots and 70% of Turkish Cypriots do not think that a viable and fair settlement of their claims is possible.  Given this widespread pessimism after nearly 50 years of frozen conflict between the two sides, it makes sense that there should be preparations made for votes on partitions.  After all, the last time that a potentially viable compromise effort was made, it was support with 2-1 margins by Turkish Cypriots but opposed on 3-1 margins by Greek Cypriots and it seems unlikely that any further deals would be more favorable to Greek interests, seeing as the increase of length of time Turkish settlers and their children and grandchildren have spent in North Cyprus, the less likely that Greeks are going to get the property back that was taken away when Cyprus fell into its state of current division.  The best that can be hoped for at present is compensation for what was lost and a very limited restoration of some areas that have fallen under Turkish rule.

How did Cyprus get to be in such a mess to begin with?  For centuries Cyprus has had a divided population between Christians and Muslims and has had some sort of condominium where either an outside party or some sort of power sharing agreement allows the interests of both communities to be respected.  After 1878 Great Britain served as a power who was seen as a third party and at least generally respected by both sides.  After Great Britain left, though, and Cyprus gained its independence, it did not take too long for there to be deep trouble.  The trouble was entirely predictable but also something that the leadership of Cyprus was unable or unwilling to avoid.  Given that somewhere around 3/4 to 4/5 of the population of Cyprus is Greek-speaking, and that enosis was popular among Greek Cypriots and their leaders, the unwillingness of Turkish Cypriots to be ruled by distant Athens was something that should have restrained the behavior of political leaders who insisted on a unitary state in contrast to the understandable desire of a minority community to have some degree of autonomy on a divided island.  These wishes were not respected, exterior powers (namely Greece and Turkey) intervened, and there has been little progress since the 1970’s in forming a lasting peace.

At least as an outsider, it does not appear that the desires of either North or South Cypriots are so far apart.  Both of them desire to live in the island that they share and profit from it.  Both appear to want to be a part of international organizations and struggle with the isolation that comes from their compromised position.  North Cyprus is an unrecognized state that will not be recognized until and unless partition is agreed to by both sides.  For such recognition to happen there will likely have to be a settlement of the claims that Greek Cypriots have regarding land that was lost to them in the face of the Turkish invasion of the island to stop it from being entirely controlled by Greeks.  The fact that the Turkish population on the island has increased because of settlement in Northern Cyprus by Turks complicates matters, as it makes for a more even population balance than existed before 1974.  While the international community still hopes for a Daytonesque peace that would allow for a bi-national federation on the model of contemporary Bosnia-Herzegovina, such hopes appear to be dwindling within Cyprus itself and eventually the international community may be willing to accept partition simply to have the problem solved.

After all, Cyprus still suffers from its division.  Not only is there an international force that still keeps up the Green Line separating the two communities from each other, but North Cyprus is still an immensely isolated area that is close to Turkey but has few other connections with the outside world.  Cyprus was allowed into the European Union where its presence continues to roil relations between Greece and Turkey, but Cyprus has not even been allowed to begin the process of joining NATO because any stage of NATO enlargement requires unanimity on the part of existing NATO nations, and Turkey is not giving permission for Cyprus to be involved even in the Partnership For Peace until the status of Northern Cyprus is resolved.  It has been a long wait, and barring some sort of changed behavior on the part of the international community on being willing to accept partition or some massive increase in trust on a part of either of the Cypriot communities it appears as if that wait will continue to exist, especially since the suffering that results from a lack of resolution with regards to international problems does not appear to hurt the international community at all.  Frozen conflicts can remain for a long time because the pain of changing one’s opinion in geopolitics is greater for outsiders than the pain of not accepting reality on the ground, while the opinion and suffering of those who are dealing with the disconnect between de facto reality and international norms is not generally relevant to those who make the decisions.  And that is a great shame.

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Why Aren’t They In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame: Bruce Hornsby

At first glance, Bruce Hornsby would not appear to have been an obvious candidate for one of the most versatile and creative artists of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.  If you look at only his hit singles, he still ended up with three successful albums (with backing band The Range) that included six top 40 hits, which would be enough for there to be a conversation about his success as an artist.  Even these hits, though, hint at his startling attitude even when crafting popular music.  His virtuosic piano is in evidence, as is a willingness to tackle serious issues like racism (The Way It Is), abortion (The Valley Road), and pollution (Look Out Any Window).  Hornsby’s range and influence only expand when you look at his broader career, which include a stint as part of the Grateful Dead (for which he was not inducted into the RRHOF when they were), collaborations with a diverse group of artists including Chaka Khan [1], Ricky Skaggs, and Margaret McPartland, as well as immensely successful songs written for other artists, like Jacob’s Ladder (for Huey Lewis & The News [2]) and The End Of The Innocence (for Don Henley’s album of the same title [3]).  When you add to that Hornsby’s solo piano work as well as his work with the Range and the Noisemakers, it becomes very difficult to pigeonhole Hornsby as one kind of artist, given his wide-ranging interest and influence on others, even including soundtrack work like Set Me In Motion for the Backdraft film [4].

The Influence Of Bruce Hornsby

The threads of influence of Hornsby are complex in nature.  For one, we can include that work he wrote under his own name, which includes half a dozen top 40 hits.  Hornsby’s demonstration that one could write jazzy and sophisticated pop-rock numbers that could still be hooky and catchy and popular remains an influence for contemporary artists who desire both popular success as well as the freedom to address serious issues that tackle them.  The fact that Hornsby has been able to achieve a solid career even after the hits dried up suggests his ability to maintain the sort of musical excellence that rewards a loyal (if not particularly massive) fanbase.  Likewise, Hornsby’s influence also includes songs he wrote for others.  Perhaps unsurprisingly, these songs (like Jacob’s Ladder and The End Of Innocence) also reflect Hornsby’s hostility to televangelists and his generally progressive political stance.  In addition to all of this, Hornsby’s influence also includes the wide variety of acts with whom he has collaborated in singles and albums that show an abiding interest in jazz, bluegrass, and other genres.  Combined, all of this suggests that despite not being a celebrity figure, Bruce Hornsby has been able to greatly influence others through his body of work and his serious-minded approach to music.

Why Bruce Hornsby Belongs In The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

Any one of the threads of influence that Bruce Hornsby has had would give him a case for the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame–his own hits and body of work in general under his own name (and various backing bands), the songs he wrote for others, his collaborations with other artists, and the impact of his approach to music–which has led his music to be covered and sampled by such artists as Tupac Shakur.  When taken as a whole, Hornsby’s work is an obvious shoo-in for the RRHOF, not least because his lack of focus on personal attention and serious attention to his musical chops and his attention to serious issues is clearly the sort of musicianship that the RRHOF would do well to celebrate and encourage others to adopt for themselves.  The fact that his music has been continually celebrated and awarded and the fact that he has even produced and played piano on the tracks of others [5] suggests the sort of influence that deserves induction.

Why Bruce Hornsby Isn’t Inducted Into The Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame

It’s really unclear why Bruce Hornsby hasn’t been inducted yet.  The most obvious argument would be that his modest popular success in a generation (1980’s rock) that has been largely ignored by the Hall of Fame has simply escaped the attention of the nominating committee.  Likewise, the success that Hornsby has had as a songwriter, producer, and side musician in addition to his own career as a solo pianost and with a variety of backing groups in a variety of genres has made it hard for him to be inducted under just one category.

Verdict:  Ultimately, none of these reasons are good enough.  Bruce Hornsby should be inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall Of Fame.  In fact, he probably should have been included in the induction of The Grateful Dead considering his own tenure with the group throughout the years and his inclusion on numerous Grateful Dead albums.  Some obvious ways that Hornsby could be inducted are in the main category (alongside the Range, with whom he enjoyed his greatest mainstream success), the songwriting category (which would include his songwriting for other artists and his score work with Spike Lee), and the Award for Musical Excellence (which would point to his widespread influence as a whole and his work as a supporting musician and his collaborations with a great many artists, and even his occasional production work).  Whatever category one wants to induct Bruce Hornsby in, his career as a whole is certainly worthy of it.

[1] https://edgeinducedcohesion.blog/2018/12/01/why-arent-they-in-the-hall-of-fame-rufus-featuring-chaka-khan

[2] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/03/02/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-huey-lewis-the-news/

[3] https://edgeinducedcohesion.wordpress.com/2016/08/04/why-arent-they-in-the-rock-roll-hall-of-fame-don-henley/

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Hornsby_discography

[5] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_Hornsby

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Book Review: Sonnets (Edward Moxon)

Sonnets, by Edward Moxon

I must admit that I was impressed with the author when I finished reading this book.  I am not sure that everyone would be so impressed, though.  As a reader, I feel that this book is going to be somewhat polarizing, in that in order to fully appreciate what the author is doing in these two collections of sonnets, one is going to need to come to the book with a lot of context.  In reading this work I was pleased to note the author’s immense vocabulary, which benefited him in allowing him to craft sets of sonnets that capture very different moods, although the word melancholy gets used a bit too often in the first collection of poems for my tastes.  I was also pleased, in general, with the obvious signs that the author was well read in the writings of the Elizabethan world, because not only Shakespeare but Spencer and a few others are given high praise, and the author assumes the reader is going to be familiar with works about the legends of Arcadia that formed the aristocratic metier of of the 16th and 17th centuries in opposition to royalist centralism, references that not everyone reading them is going to be able to appreciate, obviously.

This book is a relatively short one at less than 100 pages and it is divided into three sections.  The first two sections of the book are made up of sonnets.  The first collection of sonnets is more melancholy and reflective of death and loss and historical memory and that sort of material.  This material reflects on the loss of Arcadia and the death and memory of those who helped to enshrine it within English literature as a worthwhile dream.  The second part of the book is a selection of romantic sonnets that is apparently aimed at his wife and dedicated to Wordsworth, and this section of the book consists of beautiful poetry that shows a much more optimistic mindset than the sad poems that began the collection.  The rest of the book then consists of quatrains, also of a romantic tone, that are also apparently directed at his beloved wife.  If you like romantic poetry, this is a book that definitely ends well with plenty of worthwhile poems that one can easily appreciate if this is your preferred mood.  If you like neither sad or gloomy poems or romantic poems, though, this is not going to be a collection you will enjoy.

In reading this book it is easy to note that the author is going above and beyond at showing off a high degree of literary flair and knowledge.  The author seems to want the reader to think of him as an aristocratic sort of person, but his modest background would seem to indicate that the showiness of his intellect results from a desire to put hard-earned literary education as a way of showing class.  This is a motivation I can well understand personally and as I am not offended by people showing off their intellect and wide reading, quite the contrary really, this is a book that I can definitely appreciate for its virtues.  Yet it is not a book that I feel as sanguine about recommending to others, because I do not feel that many people would appreciate it to the degree that I would because I am amused at the references it makes to earlier writings within English literature.  And without getting those references, all you see is someone with a knowledge of a lot of fancy words showing off their skill at writing poetry, and that is not something that appeals to everyone, sadly.

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Book Review: Les Sonnets (Louise Labé)

Les Sonnets, by Louise Labé

There is something sad and seemingly inevitable about this book and its context.  The author was a southern French woman who married but had a lover and then took another lover when the first was detained and found her reputation shot when one of her discarded lovers decided to blow her cover and tell her husband that she had been faithful and the other lover wrote about her as one of the most noted courtesans of her time.  Ouch.  Making it all the more painful is that the author herself predicted that her reputation would be shot.  Nevertheless, this realization that her conduct would cause her name to suffer did not prevent the author from behaving in a more decorous manner and remaining faithful to her husband, which would have preserved her good name for history and would have avoided being shamed for centuries.  It is altogether easier to recognize what is right and proper to do than to do it, and the price for knowing ahead of time that one faces ruin for one’s behavior but not being able to control one’s behavior is a deeply sad fate, in that one is ruined both in anticipation and then in reality.

This book is a relatively short one, coming in at around seventy pages.  The first part of the book consists of a biographical essay that discusses the tragic life of the writer.  The editor of this collection appears to want to encourage the reader to feel sympathy for the prophetic abilities of the author who accurately prophesied doom upon herself, but while I feel a sense of futility I am not particularly sympathetic to the fate of an adulteress who received her just desserts.  The rest of the book consists of sonnets in both French (on the left side) and in English translation (on the right) that demonstrate the author as a learned woman who was certainly capable of recognizing the parallels between her own behavior and the morality of the heathen ages of the classical era.  If the morality of these poems is not something I appreciated or supported, the author is certainly intelligent enough that she would have made for a witty conversation partner and who probably was smart enough to know better if a bit too young and foolhardy to care about the inevitable result of her behavior.

If we wish to be wiser than the author, it is possible for us to recognize where she went wrong and to reflect on how the author should have been aware that she was engaged in folly.  For one, the author chooses to write about her amours openly and passionately, making it clear that she is not writing about her husband and giving herself a reputation of being outspoken, which is not always the best sort of reputation to give oneself if one wants to avoid trouble.  The author could have taken a clue from the danger of using so many heathen deities in her writings, for the moral tone of the heathen deities was far lower than that of the Bible.  She should have seen that she was departing from the path of virtue and wisdom before she wrote enough sonnets to create a book of doomed erotic love, but the author is unfortunately not a wise person and best serves the contemporary reader as an object lesson in how smart people can do very dumb things and by their lack of control give themselves a bad reputation and a bad name for centuries.  That is a fate most of us would like to avoid, obviously.

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Book Review: Sonnets (R.D. Laing)

Sonnets, by R.D. Laing

This book is not quite as clever or engaging or original as the author thinks it is.  Indeed, this book, although short, is still padded considerably to reach its length, as if the author wanted to publish a book but only had enough actual poetic material present to make a chapbook and believed incorrectly that people were curious and interested in reading about his religious and philosophical views.  This is by no means the worst book ever, or even close to it, but the book is not an essential one unless you happen to be a fan of the author and want to read his writings to completion.  Why one would want to do that is a mystery to me, but some people set themselves to tasks that have no value or worth.  Not all of the sonnets here are by any means contemptible, and there are times where the author has seemingly accidentally stumbled upon some worthy questions and comments to make, although these sonnets are by no means traditional in terms of their structure, in that while they follow the rhymed iambic pentameter of the sonnet they are not focused and complete works but rather fragments that end up meeting the fourteen line form.

This book can really be divided into three parts that fill up about 70-odd pages of material.  The first part of the book consists of a lengthy introduction where the author discusses his thought process and his apparent surprise that he thought for a while in basic dialogue that fit into an iambic pentameter scheme, not realizing that this is a relatively common pattern of ordinary speech in English.  Anyway, after demonstrating himself not as creative as he thought and commenting that he kept on writing fragmentary lines until the inspiration vanished, the second section of the book consists of the author’s lines of dialogue.  There is no listing of whose voices they are and they do not always cohere well within the sonnet forms, but some of the lines at least present interesting questions or comments.  The last part of the book then contains various quotations of statements in the Bible, frequently with the author’s fragmentary commentary about said passages which the author thinks will fill out length of a small book and provide insightful material for the reader, which is generally not to be found, unfortunately.

Like many people who have some degree of literary skill and at least basic levels of educational attainment, the author seems to think that any idea that runs through his head is worth turning into a published book.  In his case, it appears that someone was willing to humor and indulge him in the hope of receiving an appreciative reading audience.  Since so few people read poetry anyway, though, it seems likely that the poet already had a recognized reputation and that this book was merely done to keep current as a writer and keep his fans and publisher engaged with his material while he searched for inspiration that would fill a longer work.  Like many books, this work is meant to be appreciated by those who already care about the author and what he thinks.  There is little impressive about the fragmentary nature of the work, his thoughts are mostly commonplace and not nearly as striking as he believes, and the book is totally inessential in terms of its contents and approach.  If you happen to be a fan of the author, though, this work is likely to be enjoyable in the sense that a conversation around a fireplace is enjoyable if we happen to appreciate someone’s company and don’t mind that they are not as clever or original as they may fancy themselves.

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Book Review: Influenza 1918

Influenza 1918:  The Worst Epidemic In American History, by Lynette Iezzoni

Reading about the horrific and massively deadly influenza epidemic of 1918 is a bit too topical of reading given the contemporary climate, but I have always liked to read frighteningly relevant books as a way of understanding the times in which one lives and in the approaches that are taken to the fears of massively deadly pandemics.  It should be noted that the current Coronavirus pandemic is nowhere nearly as deadly as the 1918 flu that was inaccurately called the Spanish flu and which apparently started in Kansas in the fluke connection between a bird flu and a pig flu that combined and which mutated into a particularly deadly form of H1N1, but the reaction of political leaders and the medical community and the media to the Coronavirus has much in common with the response in 1918.  This book shows some very eerie parallels, including the potential seasonal aspects of the disease, which can be expected to fade during the summer with a possible recurrence during the fall and winter, as well as the way that quinine was thought of as a remedy for the flu, and the way that masks were ubiquitous and business temporarily shut down as fear and panic and death spread across the world.

This book is a bit more than 200 pages and it focuses on the experience of the flu of 1918 as it relates to the United States, with a bit about its worldwide spread.  After a foreword and preface the book begins with some speculation and then some discussion of the flu’s beginnings in Kansas and how the transportation of doughboys to the Western front of World War I in crowded troopships greatly facilitated the spread of the disease to a Europe that was already in dire straits because of a lack of food.  The author discusses the initial spread of the disease, the way it got a false name because of the difference in propaganda between an open country like Spain that was neutral and unable to muzzle the press like the fighting nations of World War I did.  After that the author discusses the spread of a more virulent form of the disease back from Europe where it spread to the United States and caused all kinds of death, panic, and horror before the disease simply vanished, to leave public health efforts focused on bird flu and swine flu ever since then.

It is striking just how easily many people were able to forget the pandemic of 1918.  For some people, like writer Katherine Anne Porter, the disease long troubled her and inspired her to create a fascinating work in Pale Horse, Pale Rider.  Most people sought to do their best to move on and not think about the time too much.  Perhaps that will be the response we will have in the aftermath of this disease when it is over.  Those institutions that attempted to propagandize for their own benefit may suffer lasting harm to their reputations and honor–for such they deserve–and we will wonder why it is that despite a century of scientific advances that our response to diseases has not changed in any meaningful way over the past century.  We still have very few tools as far as public health is concerned–some standby remedies that offer some hope, face masks, attempts at quarantining, efforts at building massive temporary hospitals, and the like.  It is a great shame that we are still no better off when it comes to understanding the dangers of our world and how it is that we can stay relatively safe and to preserve health in a sensible fashion, so reading this book is a bit of a grim experience really in our present times.

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