Monday, June 22, 2020

Our 14th Century Solutions to Covid-19

When it comes to pandemics, we 21st century types aren’t coping with   Covid-19 much differently than the good folks of the 14th century during the Black Death.

I drew this conclusion after watching a lecture series on the Black Death produced by Great Courses and offered by Amazon Prime Video. I understand that is rather morbid viewing compared to the many mood-lifting offers available, but I’m glad I hunkered down to several hours of fascinating, if dark, history lessons.

The first thing I figured out was Covid-19 is pretty much a wimp pandemic with a death rate of just 1.4 percent of people infected. The influenza pandemic of 1918 infected 500 million people – a third of the world’s population – and killed 50 million.

The many 14th century waves of plague wiped out half the population in what we now know as Europe. And the population loss wasn't recovered for two centuries due to subsequent onslaughts, some lasting a decade.

More importantly, the documentation by lecturer Dorsey Armstrong, a professor of medieval literature at Purdue, shows that in some ways we’re not coping with viral Covid-19 much differently than the good people of the 14th century did their brutal infectious assaults.

Armstrong notes during the later ‘Black Death” years, some ports ordered incoming ships, crew sand goods to remain offshore for forty days before entry, hence the word quarantine. In some cities, everyone in an infected person’s family was required to remain in their home until they were proved healthy. People in public covered their faces with floral bouquets or cloth infused with spices to fend off “miasmic” odors thought to carry the plague. During peak infestations the number of dead bodies overwhelmed the resources available to dispose of them.

Armstrong makes clear medieval medicine was more mystic than scientific and nothing its guesswork offered prevented wave after wave of plague from killing millions of people. The greatest plague infestation of London ended in 1666 only when the ‘Great Fire’ ravaged the city and, consequently, its rat and flea populations. Even today there are no ‘cures’ for viral infections such as influenza or Covid-19 or any of their permutations. Yet, we desperately reach out for anything that even nips at the edge of the problem.

Prayer was no more effective during the 14th century than today. Then, the faithful asked why their spiritual leaders were dying in the same numbers as they if the priests are so close to God. Some scholars contend such widespread skepticism fed ideas that resulted in the Reformation. And, how many of us today have rolled our eyes when some pastor defies bans on church gatherings claiming god will out and, along with a couple dozen parishioners, comes down with Covid-19?

In the medieval world, science had no cure or prevention for the forms of plague that combined to create the Black Death. And science has no cure or prevention for Covid-19. People tried outlandish and irrational cures then and now. Sacrificing children? Drinking poisonous cleaning fluids?

The impact of the plagues that assailed the Western medieval world was profound. Many scholars have asserted that, absent the fundamental political, social and economic changes caused by the Black Death, the Renaissance might have been delayed by a century or more.

In 2020 we still possess few defense and no cures for viral diseases, including Covid-19. We’re suffering only the first global wave of the pandemic so we're focused on survival. We have little time or energy to imagine what the future will look like. I’m willing to wager, though, that the impact on every part of global society will be just as profound as in the medieval era and, because of modern technology, much faster to arrive.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Fashion Tip for Cops

Want a bit more rapport with people, be able to communicate on a quieter note and maybe even persuade them to cooperate without choking them unconscious?

Grow some hair and lose the wraparound shades.

Saturday, June 13, 2020

Immunity for Cops Is The Problem

All the criticism and outright hatred form so many parts of society showered on cops just now means nothing to them. They are and will remain blind and deaf to aggrieved outsiders of any status.  There is no motivation for them to change their “us and them” attitude. None.

Cops don’t have to change because they are allowed by law to go about their jobs with virtually no fear of serious consequences regardless of how insulting, demeaning or violent their behavior.

Yes, cops can be charged with crimes just like the rest of us. With the spread of mobile phone cameras and social media, more are being held accountable for sometimes truly horrific acts, such as the deliberate murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis. Even then, they only receive a version of justice light. Floyd's murderer, Derek Chauvin, is actually eligible for a $50K annual pension when he turns 50.

But each day, cops go to work knowing that unless they are particularly stupid, they can go about the business of pushing people around, physically assaulting them and, even, ruining their lives for a couple of reasons. One is a nasty legal doctrine called qualified immunity.

Simply put, qualified immunity protects government officials acting in their assigned capacities from lawsuits unless their behavior is clearly illegal or unconstitutional. The notional concept behind this doctrine is to protect public employees from legal harassments simply for doing their jobs. In effect, it gives cops almost carte blanche to act as they will as long as they’re on the job.

Another brick in a protective wall surrounding bad cops is their unions. Organized unions go far beyond collective bargaining activities to make sure their members are treated fairly while on the job. This includes making sure members aren’t arbitrarily disciplined, including firing. Fair enough. But in the case of police unions this often means building roadblocks to even minor reforms. It also allows them to get involved in deciding who will govern police departments.

It would require a long and likely bitter fight to make changes in the areas of qualified immunity and the power of police unions. It would be wrong to eliminate all protections against unfair treatment and abuse of tort laws.

Unlike all other government employees, cops have life and death authority over everyone they meet and in all circumstances. Allowing them equally unique protections gives them the feeling of invulnerability that is too often displayed in racist and violent acts.

Wednesday, June 03, 2020

A Palo Alto Kind of Curfew

Ah, Palo Alto, California. Home to Stanford University, Tesla, and a handful of billionaires .

To protect our homes (median price $3.1m per Zillow) and businesses from an onslaught of rioters and looters protesting the police murder of black men, city officials have imposed a curfew from 8:30 p.m. to 5:30 a.m. This order, in effect until Friday the 13th, is entirely prospective as there have been scant protests and no violence whatsoever here marking the death of George Floyd or anyone else. 

Outrage at the curfew has poured forth, particularly as expressed in the Palo Alto Weekly newspaper Town Square forum. Many residents have gone bonkers over the notion they can be charged with a misdemeanor for walking their rescue dogs before bedtime. Others are taking a higher road and claiming the city is shredding the U.S. Constitution.

Regardless of what the cops and the mayor says, and what our outraged citizenry seems to think, the curfew is designed to keep people of color out of town on the premise that they are the primary instigators of violence. Absent African-Americans on our streets during this trying time, we can feel safe is the idea. It’s sort of a 21st Century version of sundown laws.

Reading this assertion would undoubtedly raise a collective OMG! from city leaders, followed by sputtering protestations about how they enforce the law evenly regardless of a miscreant’s ethnic or racial makeup.

But the numbers back me up.

The latest U.S. Census estimates say 60 percent of Palo Alto's 65,364 residents were White. Asians, at 32 percent of the population, represented the largest minority group. Hispanics logged in at 6 percent. African-Americans represented just 2 percent of the city’s makeup.

The largest number of African-Americans in the area live in East Palo Alto and represent 16 percent of that city’s population of 28,155.

Given those numbers any significant protest of Floyd’s murder would have to involve a large number of angry African-Americans from throughout the Bay Area. And that cannot sit well with the powers that be, particularly the cops.

So, Palo Alto’s leadership launched a pre-emptive curfew that will deter some protestors from visiting and give the cops an excuse to arrest even the most peaceful of those who do.

Simple, eh?