It’s magic hour out on my terrace; that time beloved of all cinematographers when the golden pink light of sunset gives everyone a magic glow. And what am I doing, sitting on my bed with my laptop, watching the sunset through the open patio door while an old episode of CSI keeps me company whilst writing this. There’s probably some metaphor to be made out of that, something along the lines of watching life through the window while finishing the hat.
I’ve been editing the writings that are becoming Volume II of The Accidental Plague Diaries (this itself will be in a tentative Volume III). I’m still on schedule to complete the editing by the end of June and have the book available around Labor Day. While reading through my experiences of 2021 and my musings on the roll out of vaccines and the Delta wave, while it was only a year ago, it almost seems like a decade, so rapidly has the pandemic upended and changed everything about our society and how we relate to each other. Volume I continues to sell modestly well for a book with no publicity budget from a micro-press and picked up yet another award this week (I believe that makes five). None of this was written to make money or set the publishing world on fire, but I am hoping that fifty or a hundred years ago, some historian studying the effect of Covid on the US, finds it useful as primary source material. And I hope my current readers continue to gain a modicum of amusement from my reflections of the pandemic and all of its tangents as they occur today.
Covid has, of course, been retired from the headlines recently despite the numbers continuing to slowly increase due to societal fatigue with the subject – twenty six months is enough after all combined with the very human need for novelty, in news reporting as in all other things. The infectious disease beat, always looking for some new disease that can scare us, is chasing after monkey pox. Yes, it’s spreading slowly in Western countries, no you don’t need to be majorly concerned about it. Monkey pox is a close relative of smallpox, once a major human scourge which has, in recent years, been eliminated due to vaccination programs worldwide. Small pox had upwards of 30% mortality rate. Monkey pox is rarely fatal. It is not easy to catch. The R0 (number of people an index case can infect on the average) is somewhere around 1.2. Compare this to the R0 of 7-10 of the currently circulating subvariants of omicron. In general, you have to be in fairly close and prolonged contact with an infected individual to be at risk. As it spreads so slowly, the usual public health measures of containment and contact tracing are quite effective. There is also a vaccine.
An outbreak of monkey pox in Western Society has been predicted for decades. This is due to the overlap in immunity between smallpox and monkey pox. My generation and all those older and the older Gen Xers below me were all vaccinated for small pox. This practice ended in 1972 after the disease was eradicated in the US. However, as the vast majority of the population was vaccinated and immune, there was no way for monkey pox to ever gain a foothold. The cross immunity and herd immunity prevented it. Now, however, the majority of the population was born after 1972 and therefore unvaccinated against small pox and therefore vulnerable to monkey pox. With every year, more and more of the older generation that conferred herd immunity and were immune themselves dies off leaving the population more vulnerable for a pretty much inevitable outbreak. So, if you’re under fifty, you do have a bit of a risk as you don’t have vaccine immunity but the number of cases remain a handful and it’s the kind of slow moving disease that even our rickety public health infrastructure can deal with so don’t spend a lot of time worrying about it. I know that’s easier said then done. All of our nervous systems have been upregulated by our experiences of the last few years and we’re all on edge with much higher levels of anxiety than we usually have at baseline so we will tend to blow things a bit out of proportion, especially those thing we feel we cannot control in some fashion.
The other headline grabber is, of course, the tragedy in Uvalde with the latest massacre of children by a deranged individual with a weapon of war designed specifically for killing large numbers of humans in a very short time. Every time we have one of these incidents, which occur with great regularity in our society and nowhere else in the world, I wonder if we are finally going to come to our senses in regards to the second amendment and semi-automatic weaponry. We never do. There’s too much money to be made in creating a climate of fear that causes a certain segment of the population to purchase more and more weapons which in turn enriches the manufacturers of such weapons who then turn a portion of the profits over to lobbying organizations who use the money to purchase loyalty from lawmakers. Congress, as we have all seen over and over again in recent years, is beholden to those who fund their increasingly expensive campaigns, not to their constituents. The ‘world’s greatest deliberative body’, having divided itself into two armed camps, has entered a state of paralysis and is, once again, refusing to do the first job of government which is to protect the citizenry. We’re going to see more children offered up on the altar of the second amendment before things change. Perhaps if we publicized the photos of broken and bleeding bodies so we couldn’t safely tuck these events away in the abstract.
I was doing some reading on the science behind the study of mass shootings and the evidence suggests that we are looking at them in the wrong way. They are not really acts of mass homicide, but rather acts of violent suicidal rage in which the homicide victims are collateral damage. Perpetrators are generally created starting at an early age from childhood trauma and deprivation and, when they begin to show disturbed behavior in later childhood and adolescence, the sort of mental health services that could short circuit these problems simply don’t exist or are grossly underfunded. It’s not the least bit surprising to me that the segments of the population that wish children to be born, no matter what, and not that children be wanted and nurtured, thus ensuring a constant stream of neglected and abused children who will develop underlying psychiatric issues, are also against controlling access to firearms and against any sort of expansion of mental health or other social services as that might give ‘the other’ access to ‘free stuff’. I don’t know what it’s going to take to get the legislative and judicial branches to act. Thirty dead children? Forty? A hundred?
Uvalde, a town of 16,000 people, spent 40% of its town budget on its police department and, due to the militarization of the police over the last few decades, had its own SWAT team. The local police had been through active shooter training just two months ago. The first point brought up in that training was that time was of the essence and that police should move in immediately in such a situation. We all now know they did not. They were afraid for their own safety when confronted with a shooter with a semi automatic weapon (that should be a telling point). They dithered, performed crowd control, prevented frantic parents from entering the school, and the delay cost lives. I’m hoping this starts to put to rest the myth that the solution for bad guys with guns is good guys with guns. And maybe John Q. Public will start to think that letting anyone purchase a weapon that the police are afraid of may not be in the best societal interest.
I’m hoping the news is better tomorrow. If nothing else, I get to spend most of this next week in 1905 Paris with The Merry Widow on the stage of The Harrison Theater at Samford University. It’s good goofy fun and not too taxing for those of us in the Ensemble playing third nobodies from the left. Yes, we’re washing our hands and staying healthy.