Dan Carlin (2019) The End is Always Near: Apocalyptic Moments From the Bronze Age Collapse to Nuclear Near Misses.

Dan Carlin’s book is based on his HardCore History Podcasts. I’ve never listened to them. Books are better. A good apocalypse always gets my attention. Carlin asks the question were men (and women) tougher in ye olde days. The answer, not surprisingly was probably. Let’s look at the Spartans. No fat kids. No food unless children foraged for it. Stole it from each other.  Childhood obesity is no joke, but you know we should try that at Eton, and on Boris Johnston in particular.  I did a list of possibilities with the doomsday clock ticking closer and closer to midnight. The moron’s moron and 45th American President has lightened the load a little. I guess we can also begin to rule Asteroids out. NASA (or somebody) sent an experimental rocket up with a payload of a Hillman Imp to try to deflect one of the smaller rocks. From smaller rocks to bigger rocks to bronze to iron to flying machines to Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles. Man has never developed weapons he’s not used. (I use the male tense) until we went nuclear.

One thing I didn’t mention in my UFO post was a group of American soldiers in their bunkers reporting seeing lights in the sky. A spaceship hovering and the commander reporting a ray that turned off nuclear weapons. The Day the Earth Stood Still moment with Gort, the benign alien, under the classified section. He does mention The Fermi Paradox which stacks the odds in their being other intelligent beings on other planets. Then looks for reasons why we can’t contact them. They may be so technologically advanced that they’re invisible, but Occam’s razor suggests another more plausible option. They become so technologically advanced—like us, but with wings on—they blow themselves up. 

Carlin only mentions global warming in passing. It’s not right away and it’s not sexy. But I’d guess that it will be a catalyst for all these other factors including using tactical nuclear weapons. We’ve already begun the softening up progress. Military psychologist, David Grossman, for example, notes that greater distance makes killing possible. I’m sure there could be some kind of equation here. Algorithms rule the world.  A soldier guiding a drone into warfare isn’t the same as medieval soldiers having to hack their way through the bodies of tens of thousands of women and children. Around 40 000 Londoners killed in the German Blitz in London during eight months of the Second World War. Around 40 000 killed in Hamburg in one afternoon. Scaling up.

He doesn’t give any mention of the rise of the robots and machine intelligence. The cuckoo in the nest. To paraphrase, 100 computer programmers worth one million soldiers. Then one computer programmer worth one hundred. But with self-replication no computer programmers and no soldiers that can stand against them. A slow burn. Then an implosion.

Because Carlin’s Podcast/Book was pre-Covid, Covid-19 is not here. He does make a case for vigilance, but he’s missed the big one. He needs to rely on Smallpox and The Black Death, which wiped out half the world, but wasn’t all bad. Workers became more Bolshie, moving into their master’s houses and taking their land. Round up the usual suspects. Spanish Flu.  He identifies the speed of spread is tied in with the interconnectedness of modern life. As it was in the past. When a ship docked and its cargo was unloaded, those that helped unload it went home and infected their family. We know how it works. We’ve become experts in epidemiology. One thing Carling didn’t predict was the unexpected backlash against inoculation. The growth in Conspiracy Theories. I don’t doubt if there was a vaccine against the Black Death with little chance of survival, people would have been queuing around their hovels. Or smallpox, which was lethal. And not only that, it cause disfigurement on the skin, even for survivors. Inoculation against smallpox would have been an easy sell to Instagram and Facebook generation. Imagine the selfies? Even the First World War, Spanish flu (it didn’t come from Spain, that was a bit of propaganda, like the moron’s moron calling Covid-19 the Chinese thing, but it did come from China). The Spanish flu hit mainly the young and healthy. Old blokes like me were quite safe. Imagine if over 150 000 corpses in the United Kingdom were under forty. That would have created more of a fuss.

Oh, well, back to the killing board. We’ve all got to die of something. It just looks like we’ll become progressively poorer, perhaps even go hungry, before the full wrath of global warming is unleashed. The Jews were wiped out in many European nations during plagues. I’m sure boat people and refugees will face similar plights. We do love our scapegoats. That savagery linked to ancient times before the Bronze Age. Back beyond Old Testament times. We might be fat and half blind, but we can still find a good bit of hatred of foreigners when required. Justification in extremis. The more we change the more we stay the same…

Marilynne Robinson (2004) Gilead

Gilead was winner of the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.  I’m sure I’ve read it before. And I keep picking it up and re-reading bits because I don’t know where I left off reading. It’s a story in which nothing much happens but life. A dying man writing a letter to his young son, who’s is young enough to be his great-grandson. It’s 1956 and the narrator is pondering whether he should vote for Eisenhower. And in recalling how his life didn’t amount to much more than a bushel of corn – American history, prior to the Civil War springs into life. The bloom of wisdom is on every page. This is a book you could read backwards, sideways or upside down and it would still make sense.

‘I, John Ames, was born on the Year of Our Lord 1880, in the state of Kansas, the son of John Ames and Martha Turner Ames, grandson of John Ames and Margaret Todd Ames. At this writing I have lived seventy-six years, seventy-four of them here in Gilead, Iowa, excepting study at the college and seminary.’

He’s the preacher son of a preacher son of a preacher son. His view of life is thereby constricted or heightened. ‘One benefit of a religious vocation is it helps you concentrate.’

His grandfather, for example, was a kind of living saint, who carried a gun and fought against slavery in the Civil War.

‘When someone remarked in his hearing that he’d lost an eye in the Civil War, he said, “I prefer to remember that I’d kept one”.   

Jesus was more real to his grandfather that his own son or grandson.

‘My grandfather told me about a vision he’d had when he was still living in Maine, not yet sixteen. He’d fallen asleep at the fire, worn out from a day helping his father pull out stumps. Someone touched him on the shoulder, and when he looked up, there was the Lord, holding out His arms to him, which were bound in chains. My grandfather said, ‘Those irons had rankled right down to His bones.”’

That’s why his grandfather became an abolitionist, not because Jesus told him to, but because Jesus showed him to. His grandson lacks that certainty and that fire. He burnt the best sermon he reckoned he ever wrote not because it wasn’t true, but because it might have offended some people and that might have been no good. His grandfather carried a gun and had no truck with not offending people, if God made that call.

Gilead’s narrator, as a kindness, does not speak about God’s wrath in the aftermath of the Spanish flu.

‘People don’t talk much about Spanish influenza, but that was a terrible thing, and it struck just at the time of the Great War, just when they were getting involved in it. It killed the soldiers by the thousands, healthy men in the prime of life, and then it spread to the rest of the population. It was like a war, it really was. One funeral after another, right here in Iowa. We lost so many of the people and we got off lightly. People came to the church wearing masks, if they came at all. They’d sit far from each other as they could. There was talk of the Germans had caused it with some sort of secret weapon, and I think people wanted to believe that…

The parents of these young soldiers would come and ask me how the Lord would allow such a thing.’

Reading that now, with its fake news and resonance of what is happening now, but with the much less virulent coronavirus it would make you think Robinson had a hotline to God. Great writers always sound as if they do and Marilynne Robinson doesn’t need to preach the point. She’s a writer of words that hymn in harmony. Read on.  

An idiot’s guide to the coronavirus.

When we talk about the coronavirus it’s the virus part we need to pay attention to. Corona, from the Latin, means crown and is associated with the aurora that surrounds the sun, moon and stars. We also get the word coronary from corona, a constriction of the arteries around the heart. But here Covid-19, coronavirus, is a simple nametag to differentiate it from other viruses, in the same way that ship number 736 in John Brown’s yard was later tagged The Queen Elizabeth 2, to differentiate it from other ships under construction and its predecessor the Queen Elizabeth 1.

What is a virus?

The science of viruses is a field of study in microbiology, the investigation of very small objects, organisms a fraction of the size of a living cell. Viruses mutate and are as old as the rocks. But the human body also mutates and adapts and produces antibodies which fend off most viruses. Viruses can be thought of as the jamming of cellular DNA code.  The most common virus is the flu virus. It too mutates and is always lying, waiting somewhere in the world for its next victim. Viruses also have reservoirs in other animals and organisms that make the species jump to humans as did the ‘wet market’ in Asia.  But let’s not forget John Gummer, over twenty-five years ago, feeding his daughter a prion burgher to disprove the mad-cow-disease scandal.

A virus is a study in large numbers.

A virus one of the smallest of living things, over time, produces an exponential effect. We know how this works. 1…2 …4…16…infected cases (and since my arithmetic is crap I’ll leave it there). Here is a more entertaining account from Hollywood’s Invasion of the Body Snatchers, of how transmission of the disease occurred in fifties America, obviously it didn’t affect black or Chinese people. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kYrcyROSjl0

The 1918 influenza pandemic (also called Spanish flu, so we could blame Spanish people for it, so Covid-19 should in the interests of fairness be called Chinese flu) infected at the beginning of the twentieth century around 500 million worldwide and around a quarter of the world’s population of around 1.8 billion.   For those of you good at arithmetic, divide the world’s current population of around 7 billion by 4. That would be our high-water mark in the twenty-first century.

The Gates Foundation (billionaires have to do something with their money) ran a simulation in 2018 of how an extraordinary flu virus would grow exponentially: 28 000 victims after one month; 10 million after three months; 33 million after six months.   

You might also want to watch here the late Robin Williams, playing the British neurologist Oliver Sacks, in Awakenings. The Spanish flu, unlike the Chinese flu, affected the most able-bodied, the young and fit. This may have been due to a cytokine storm. Cyto indicates a cell, a small room and kine is related to kinship. A storm inside the cells of young people whose immune response works against them (that’s one theory). The Chinese flu follows the more conventional pattern of the common flu, which has high tides and low tides in which the body count follows. Here it is usually those most vulnerable to virus infection and whose immune response is compromised. We’re talking about the young, who have not built up sufficient antibody resistance to fend off infection. And the old—whose bodies are knackered. These groups are most at risk from the coronavirus. I reminded my neighbour, when we talk about ‘those old folk’, we are included in that subcategory.

The best-case scenario

The coronavirus tide is already out. All those people that puff there chest out and say, ‘I told you so,’ are proved correct. It’s also instructive to see how presidents of the two major superpowers reacted. President Xi Jinping visited the hotspot, treating it as a war zone, and Chinese Communist Party Officials locked down Wuhan Province isolating those that exhibited symptoms of the virus. As antibodies fight the virus like any other flu virus this is shown in an increased body temperature, coughing and spluttering. Wuhan’s population is around the same as that of the United Kingdom. Imagine everybody in the United Kingdom being told by Boris Johnson to stay indoors. Imagine, constructing two hospitals the size of the £100 million building in Glasgow and Edinburgh (still shut for further work) in two weeks as happened in Wuhan. Imagine the Chinese have developed a vaccine for the coronavirus. Without having to imagine any of these things the number of cases in Wuhan has spiked and is dropping. The worst of the worst may be already over and other countries might not need to go into lockdown.

Worst-case scenario.

The coronavirus tide is beginning to roll in. Lock down as in Wuhan Province. We’re seeing similar measures in Italy, parts of Germany, Spain and most other nations. The moron’s moron in the Whitehouse has declared he doesn’t believe in it, therefore like United States senators preaching isolationism as Japanese bombs fell on Pearl Harbour being prepared is regarded as a trick of the mind. American First means pulling public funds, from example, organisations like the World Health Organisation that has the expertise to coordinate a multinational approach to Covid-19, which would be more effective over time. Being unprepared gives non-symptomatic carriers access to other victims and the virus continues mutating into a more virulent form. There’s no place of safety. We all live in 1950s America. We’re only as safe as we allow our neighbour to be whatever their skin colour, gender or class.

Keep your grubby hands off our NHS.

A small pathogen that we cannot see has shown us how everything is connected, everyone is connected. The first question dental staff asks us now is how are you going to pay for this treatment. Outside of the Windrush Generation we don’t—yet—hear that in the frontline of our National Health Service. Sure, parts of it are being sold off to private developers and bit by bit it is being dismantled, but even David Cameron couldn’t admit that he was doing it. Boris Johnson tells us he’s pumping even more money into our NHS. He’s a liar. He thinks by mussing his hair and rolling a large number such as £20 or £30 billion off his tongue, we’ll be duly impressed. Our NHS budget has shrunk from 5% of GDP to less than 4%, with an aging population and now the corona virus, the figures don’t add up. Public health is not just for the poor. That’s why we need a properly funded public-health system. The Americans used to come to us and see how we did it. Now we’re selling out to them. One of the most inefficient and expensive health-care systems in the world. Good luck with the coronavirus if you’re a poor American. Good luck with the coronavirus is your British and can’t afford a day off work.

When a just-in-time supply system breaks down there’s panic buying. That’s already happening. Supplies of masks, suits and other protective equipment for health care workers must be made available. There’s talk of hiring retired medical doctors and bringing them back to work. Perhaps the first thing the government should do is shut down those cruelty camps, centres in every major city that allegedly assess benefit claimant’s health and disabilities. Use the medical staff and facilities they already have as treatment centres for victims of the coronavirus. Children’s homes and Care homes will also need added staff and financial help.  The coronavirus has meant that selling off our NHS has become overnight more of a political vote loser than any other issue. That’s got to be a good thing.

If you know any other idiots like me that require an idiot’s guide to the coronavirus, then share it with that idiot and you’ll look less idiotic. Be smart.