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Hello, Enza!

been a while, ha......(cough).....hasn't it?

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, October 12, 2005.

The more bored among us have sometimes found entertainment in children’s skip rope tunes, or hopscotch arias, or just nursery rhymes. We know, for example, that clues for pirates, and references to religious strife, and personalities of the day populate the supposedly innocent songs and poems. Over time, the meanings are lost or distorted and innocence of a sort compatible with children and their lives returns. But in 1918, a new one appeared, and insufficient time has passed for it to lose its ominous tones.

“I have a little bird, and its name is Enza.
I opened up the window, and in-flu-enza.”

Disease has had profound effect upon civilization’s values. I’m not just talking about huge numbers of deaths, but in our social constructs. But because these diseases, these pandemics, come in a flash, last a year and then vanish for a while, people forget their role in history.

While religious miracles have always been in short supply to impress the masses, inexplicable disease could be used as a sign of divine displeasure, as a big stick when the cupboard is empty of carrots. Syphilis and other STD’s were presented as divine punishment and works of the devil. Most of those 60k witches killed in Europe and America happened during those mass outbreaks of disease, syphilis among them, that followed in the wake of Columbus’ Discovery. It was a messy intellectual blending of misogyny, death, and the satisfaction of allowed torture that was sponsored by the socially unhealthy Christian churches of the time, and as we now admit after witnessing the international predations of Christian prelates on the world’s most helpless, it still exists, although in a world far less credulous and far more cynical than previously.

Sometimes, the results aren’t bad, and are even elevating. A residue of the Black Death centuries before Columbus, was the coagulation of wealth. A fortunate sole surviving son might suddenly find himself the heir to not only the small land parcels of his parents, but of his grandparents' and those of his late wife’s family, being the only survivor. This started the accumulation of value in a social group that became the middle class, and the nobility, always in secret fear of the common man, had to deal with it. Further, if the nobility or church wanted work done, they had to pay for it, more or less approaching its value. This was annoying.

Reflect, because the world is getting antsy about a new version of bird flu, originating in China and the Far East just as it did in 1918, and parading without hesitation across the globe. Even Our President, trying to shake off his administration’s growing Book of Scandal to bookend bigoted Bill Bennett’s Book of Virtues, has tried to deflect attention to this imminent horror. And he’s not, by temperament, far sighted.

We're told about 50 million people died in the 1918 bird flu pandemic. This is an utter guess. As we’ve seen in Pakistan of late, official estimates of dead went from hundreds to thousands to tens of thousands within 24 hours. They now claim over 30k and probably will eventually admit to 50k, but like the tsunami or New Orleans’ officials they have no clue, no idea how many people were there anyway, no accurate census to subtract from. But, we have to have a better idea than the folks in 1918, you’d hope.

But forget the deaths. Fixate on the fact that twenty-five percent of US citizens in 1918 caught the flu, five percent more than the world in general. It got so bad, so fast, that American citizens were required by law, in some locations, to wear gauze masks in public. Stores were not allowed to have sales, funerals were limited to fifteen minutes, not just because the disease could spread but because there were so many of them. Any known point of spreading disease was curtailed. Some railroads and towns required signed certificates to board and enter. There was a shortage, here in the United States, of coffins, morticians, and grave diggers. And this, you understand, after all those young men looking for work were returning from Europe.

Everybody had the flu. One out of four people you knew had it. Many you knew, if you lived in Massachusetts and the East, or nearby any military base as the soldiers returned, died. By the summer of 1919, it was over. Nine months, maybe, of horror and great fear and then it was gone, as if it had never been. The survivors credited the new vaccines, although those are of necessity always a cycle behind. Most people in the West had switched blame from God and those who may have offended God, to government for their discomforts. The result of this severed tie to the patriarchal mind hasn’t found its angle of repose even yet.

In fact, there are those trying to emphasize the insufficiencies of the secular world as a reason to mentally return to the interpreted desires of a divinity. Who knows what will happen if an influenza pandemic halves the world’s population in the next year.

It could, you know. There's not much to stop it.