Friday, December 13, 2013

1918 – The Spanish Flu – Pandemic!

The influenza or plague of 1918-1919 killed more people than the Great War (known today as World War I or WWI); infected an estimated 500 million people worldwide – about one-third of the planet’s population at the time – and killed an estimated 20,000,000 to 50,000,000 men, women, and children. Other estimates run as high as 100 million victims however exact numbers are impossible to know due to a lack of medical record-keeping in many places throughout the world. 

Regardless, it has been referred to as the most overwhelming epidemic in all of world history. More people died of influenza in a single year than in the four-years (1347 to 1351) of the Bubonic Plague or Black Death (75,000,000 dead), a topic discussed / posted here in June of 2011.  This killer is known in the annals of history as the “Spanish Flu” or “La Grippe”; yep, the influenza of 1918-1919 was quite the global disaster.

On planet Earth, in the fall of 1918 World War I was winding down and peace was on the horizon. The United States had joined in the mighty conflict, bringing the Allies closer to victory against the Germans.   Deep within the trenches fighting men on both sides lived through some of the most brutal conditions of life; some undoubtedly thought conditions could not possibly get worse. Then, in pockets across the globe, something burst forth that at first seemed as benign as the common cold. The influenza of that season, however, was far more than the cold. Within the two years that this scourge ravaged the earth, 20% of the world’s population was infected. The flu was most deadly for folks ranging in ages between 20 and 40. This pattern of morbidity was uncommon for influenza which is usually a killer of the elderly and or young children. It infected 28% of all U.S. citizens.   In America, an estimated 675,000 died of influenza during the pandemic, that’s ten times more than in the world war (WWI).

Of all U.S. soldiers who died in Europe, 50% of them fell to the Spanish Flu and not to the hands of the enemy. In other words, an estimated 43,000 servicemen mobilized for WWI died of influenza.  The ravages of war coupled with the Spanish Flu have placed 1918 as an unforgettable year of suffering and death and yet of peace, since as you’re sure to recall, at long last, (11/11/18) ushered in an end to “the war to end all wars”.

The influenza pandemic quickly encompassed the globe. Practically all of humanity felt the effects. It spread near and far along trade routes and shipping lines. Outbreaks swept through North America, Europe, Asia, Africa, Brazil and the South Pacific.

In India the mortality rate was exceptionally high at around 50 deaths from influenza per 1,000 people.   The Great War, with its huge movements of armies aboard ships, is generally believed to have expedited its rapid circulation and attack. The origins of the deadly flu disease were unknown but speculation abounded.  A few of the allies suspected the epidemic was a biological warfare tool of the Germans. Others thought it was a result of the trench warfare, the use of mustard gases and the generated “smoke and fumes” of the war.  

In-any-event, the origins of this influenza variant is not precisely known. It is thought to have originated in China in a rare genetic shift of the influenza virus. The recombination of its surface proteins created a virus unique to almost everyone.  

Recently the virus has been reconstructed from the tissue of a dead soldier and is now being genetically characterized. The name of Spanish Flu came from the early affliction and large mortalities in Spain where it allegedly killed 8 million people in May of 1918. However, a first wave of influenza also appeared early in the spring of 1918 in the state of Kansas and in military camps throughout the U.S.   However, few noticed the epidemic in the midst of the war.  In fact, there was virtually no response or acknowledgment to the epidemics in March and April in the military camps.

It was unfortunate that no steps were taken to prepare for the usual recurrence of the infectious influenza strain early on because these first epidemics at military training camps were a sign of what was coming in greater magnitude in the fall and winter of 1918,  and not just in the U.S, but for the entire world.

A study attempted to make sense of why the disease was so devastating in certain localized regions, looking at the climate, the weather and the racial composition of cities.   Meanwhile the relatively new sciences of “Infectious Agents” and “Immunology” were racing to come up with a vaccine or therapy to stop the epidemic.

The pandemic affected everyone. With 25% of the US and 20% of the world infected with the influenza, it was in all practically impossible to escape the illness. Even U.S. President Woodrow Wilson suffered from the flu in early 1919 while negotiating the crucial peace treaty in Versailles, France to end the World War. The few folks who were lucky enough to avoid infection had to deal with the “little inconveniences” associated with public health ordinances designed to contain the spread of the disease.

For example, the public health departments handed out gauze masks to be worn in public. Retail stores could not hold sales; funerals were limited to only 15 minutes. Some towns required a signed certificate to enter the city limits and railroads would not accept passengers without them. Those who chose to ignore the flu ordinances had to pay rather large fines.  Some communities shut down public places, including schools, churches and theaters; people were advised to avoid shaking hands and to stay indoors; libraries stopped lending books and regulations were often passed banning spitting on the streets.

Lifeless bodies soon pilled up as the massive deaths of the epidemic progressed. Other than the shortage of health care workers and medical supplies, there was a scarcity of coffins, morticians and gravediggers. During what was perceived as “the modern era” the state of affairs in 1918 were not so far removed from the Black Death in the era of the Bubonic Plague of the Middle Ages.

In Short, the Spanish Flu took a heavy human toll, wiping out entire families and leaving countless widows and orphans in its aftermath.   

The flu was also detrimental to the economy. For example in the U.S., businesses were forced to shut down because so many employees were sick. Basic services such as mail delivery and garbage collection were stalled due to flu-stricken employees. In some places there was a shortage of farm workers to harvest crops.

By the summer of 1919, the Spanish Flu pandemic came to an end, slowly as those that were infected either died or developed immunity. Nearly 90 years later, in 2008, researchers announced they’d discovered what made the 1918 flu so deadly: A group of three genes enabled the virus to weaken a victim’s bronchial tubes and lungs and clear the way for bacterial pneumonia.

Since 1918, there have been several other influenza pandemics, although none as deadly. A flu pandemic from 1957 to 1958 killed around 2 million people worldwide, including some 70,000 people in the U.S., and a pandemic from 1968 to 1969 killed approximately 1 million people, including some 34,000 Americans. More than 12,000 Americans perished during the “swine flu” pandemic that occurred from 2009 to 2010. 

Recently ‘Old’ news (December 2013) played as ‘New’ news,  regarding bacteria that are resistant to antibiotics and the regulations designed to limit “feeding” those antibiotics to animals in our food chain with the intent of promoting  growth, clearly indicates the worse is in all likely-hood yet to come.



Wednesday, October 16, 2013

“Hammer of Witches”

Originally written in Latin:
                                                 (Above) Copy of 7th edition from 1520

In passages of The Holy Bible witches are condemned; examples include Exodus and Leviticus, two Old Testament books that make up part of the “Laws of Moses” and the primary history of the Jewish people; most theologians believe they were written sometime during the sixth century BC by several unknown authors.   The passage in Exodus 22:18 “Thou shalt not suffer a witch to live” and a similar passage in Leviticus 20:27 “A man also or woman that hath a familiar spirit, or that is a wizard, shall surely be put to death”, leave little doubt what “true believers” of the faith should do when confronted with individuals they perceive to be witches or wizards.

Saint Augustine of Hippo (present-day Annaba, Algeria), was once an influential theologian in the early Christian Church of the early 400’s; he argued that God alone could suspend the normal laws of the universe.  He taught that neither Satan, witches, nor wizards had supernatural powers or were capable of invoking magic of any type.  Of course, if “witches and wizards” are indeed powerless, logic dictates, that the Church need not concern itself with their alleged spells or other attempts at mischief.

The late medieval Church accepted St. Augustine’s view. In fact the Church of that era felt little need to bother itself with tracking down witches & wizards or investigating ridiculous allegations such as witchcraft.  With this in mind, you might mistakenly conclude that the Church and its leaders had entered into the world of reality or an age of enlightenment.

Sadly, in 1273, a Dominican monk named Thomas Aquinas decided it was time for him to make his case for the existence of God.  His efforts resulted in the Church’s accepted view that the world was full of evil and dangerous demons.   According to Aquinas; sex and witchcraft begin what would become a long association.  Demons were seen as not merely seeking their own pleasure, but intent on leading good men into temptation.  

By the mid 1400’s any supporters of Catharism, the Christian dualist movement that thrived in some areas of Southern Europe, fled to  countries like Germany to avoid a papal inquisition launched against their alleged sacrileges.  Torture inflicted on heretics suspected of magical pacts or demon-driven sexual misconduct led to disquieting confessions. 

Often time defendants admitted to flying on poles or broom sticks and changing themselves into various animals to attend gatherings presided over by Satan who typically appeared in the form of a goat.  Some defendants told investigators that they repeatedly kissed Satan’s anus as a display of their loyalty.  Others admitted to casting spells on neighbors, having sex with animals, or causing storms.  In this way the typical crime of witchcraft began to gain momentum and take shape throughout Europe.

In 1484 Pope Innocent VIII announced that Satanists in Germany were meeting with demons, casting spells that destroyed crops, and performing abortions on mothers to be.  The pope engaged two friars, Heinrich Kramer (a papal inquisitor of sorcerers from Innsbruck, Austria) and Jacob Sprenger, to publish a complete report on the suspected practice of witchcraft.  Two years later, in 1486, the friars published Malleus Maleficarum (“Hammer of Witches”) which once and for all cleared up the old belief that witches were powerless (as was taught by St. Augustine more that a thousand years prior), in the face of God to a new orthodoxy that made it crystal clear that Christians had a responsibility to hunt down and kill witches & wizards. In short the manuscript / report claimed that witches were powerful creatures who could inflict harm on the innocent, which justified death by the most atrocious means imaginable.

This publication for years to come brought about the outbreak of “witchcraft hysteria”; mass executions began to appear in the early 1500s.  For example authorities in Geneva, Switzerland burned 500 accused witches at the stake in 1515.  Nine years later in Como, Italy, witchcraft charges led to as many as 1,000 executions.

Over the 160 years from 1500 to 1660, Europe saw somewhere between 50,000 and 80,000 so-called witches executed.  Almost 80% of those killed were women.  Execution rates ranged from a high of about 26,000 in Germany to almost 10,000 in France, 1,000 in England, but only four in Ireland, where cooler heads more often than not, prevailed.

Scotland’s witch-hunting had its roots with the marriage of King James VI (James the 6th of Scotland & James the 1st of England) to Princess Anne of Denmark.  Anne’s voyage to Scotland for the wedding met with a bad storm at sea; she ended up taking refuge in Norway.  Learning of this unfortunate event, James traveled to Scandinavia and the wedding took place at Kornberg Castle in Denmark.  Following a long honeymoon in Denmark, the royal newlyweds met with dreadful seas on the return voyage; the ship’s captain blamed the bad weather on witches.  A bit later six Danish women confessed to having caused the storms (in all likelihood following some serious torture or maybe they were simply dim-wits) that allegedly bedeviled the King; he in turn began to take witchcraft rather seriously.  The newly paranoid James sanctioned the torture of suspected witches in 1591.  The largest witch-hunt in British history resulted, dozens of alleged witches were condemned; in the North Berwick area they were burned at the stake.  More than a hundred years passed before in 1682, Temperance Lloyd, a senile woman from Bideford, became the last Witch to be executed in England.

Practically everyone knows from our history that the “crime” of being a witch was just beginning to surface in British America, hence the Witchcraft Trials of 1692 in Salem, Massachusetts are a reality.  A total of 19 human beings were hanged and one crushed to death during that horrendous event.  Several more were imprisoned, including Dorothy (Dorcas) Good; did you know she was only four year old.

Maybe it’s too easy to simply say that the trials or events of 1692 in Salem, MA did not happen overnight. Yes it was years in the making carried out by numerous “religious zealots”, but what have we learned if anything from these actions? Hopefully its not like Samuel Adams (aka Mark Twain) once said, “History does not repeat itself, it rhymes.”   . . . In any event, this Halloween, leave that Witch alone you see standing in the moonlight; otherwise she just might turn you into a toad and youll not be comforted by the fact that witches are seldom burned for that anymore.


Monday, October 7, 2013

Cryptocurrency or where the Hell is Satoshi Nakamoto?

Bitcoin Symbol

A type of digital currency known as Cryptocurrency whose pseudonyms include such unusual names as   “LiteCoins”, “NameCoins”, and “BitCoins” most of which have been associated with illegal online activity such as money laundering or the Silk Road (“the eBay of illicit goods and services”) site the F.B.I. shut down recently (early October 2013) — which was an online black market for illegal drugs, computer-hacking tools, and even contract killings. 

The Silk Road had nearly a million registered users. The Web site refused all forms of payment except Bitcoins, the digital currency “designed to be as anonymous as cash.” At the time of the shutdown Tuesday (Oct. 1, 2013) of the Silk Road web site, it had processed sales totaling more than nine and a half million BitCoins — reportedly worth about 1.2 billion dollars; this action caused the currency’s value to fall by twenty per cent before quickly recovering.

With all of Bitcoin’s impressive transparency, a key piece of the puzzle remains rather cloudy; that being the answer to the question: Who is Satoshi Nakamoto?

The Bitcoin Cryptocurrency ‘program’, was launched in 2009 (the concept was introduced in a 2008 white paper by a pseudonymous developer who simply called himself “Satoshi Nakamoto”), for the first three years or so, he regularly answered e-mails but then he simply dropped off the electronic grid.    

Satoshi claimed to be a 37-year-old male living in Japan. His language of choice however was English, and he often alternated between British and American spellings and popular expressions, which some say means that he was trying to mask his nationality or the more likely scenario; Satoshi is actually more than one person.

You see, in Japanese, Satoshi means “clear-thinking” or “wise.” ‘Naka’ can mean “inside” or “relationship” and ‘Moto’ is often used to define “the origin” or “the foundation.” Combine the terms (as in ‘Naka-Moto’) and you could conceivably arrive at “thinking clearly inside the foundation.” There’s limited evidence that Nakamoto even exists outside the context of Bitcoin.

Cryptocurrencies (aka BitCoins, etc.) have gradually gained attention from the media and the public; since 2011 interest has increased rapidly, particularly during the rapid price rise of Bitcoins in April 2013.

A loose definition of a Bitcoin is a ‘Cryptocurrency’ where the creation and transfer of BitCoins is based on an open-source secret coding procedure that is independent of any central authority.   Bitcoins can be transferred through a computer or smartphone without the participation of an intermediate financial institution, such as your local friendly banker.  The process, in short can be described as a peer-to-peer, electronic cash system exchange somewhat like cash purchases.   The basic idea seems to be to avoid creating a “paper trail” that will invariably trigger the over site of government tax collecting agencies.

Initially, BitCoins sounds like a good program, but like many other good and reasonable concepts, abuse is unavoidable.  Here’s a novel idea, someone should develop a system of exchange by which goods or services are directly exchanged for other goods or services without using a medium of exchange; that’ll keep those pesky tax collectors at bay; maybe Satoshi Nakamoto will emerge from hiding and do just that.  No, Wait, that sounds a lot like bartering, I think that’s been done!