Pandemic Pandemonium–Just History Repeating Itself

Ecclesiastes 1:9 tells us there’s nothing new under the sun. And when this Bible verse says “nothing,” it means nothing. Not even pandemics. The world may currently be having an uncomfortable and scary confrontation with a “novel” coronavirus, but people having to deal with pandemics is a recurring story throughout the history of mankind.

You do know what a pandemic is, right? The WHO, Worldwide Health Organization and not the band, defines a pandemic as the worldwide spread of a new disease. And the disease must be infectious for it to constitute a pandemic. WHO declared the coronavirus to be a pandemic on March 11, 2020. Clearly coronavirus is infectious since we must practice social distancing, refrain from gathering in large groups, wear face masks, and constantly wash our hands.

As bad as coronavirus may be, it isn’t the worst pandemic to inflict the world. Ever heard of the Bubonic Plague, also known as The Black Death? That pandemic, which ravaged the world’s population with a mortality rate between 30% and 75%, is believed to be the deadliest one in history.

The total number of deaths from the Bubonic Plague is estimated to have been around 75 million, with 25-30 million of these deaths occurring in Europe.That’s a huge number of people to have been covered in black boils oozing blood and pus. Yuk!  Approximately one-third of the European population died during the Bubonic Plague, and it took  200 years after this pandemic for the European population to recover to its previous level.

Not only did The Black Death strike people, but animals were affected by the disease too. So many sheep died from the Bubonic Plague that there was a European wool shortage. That’s a BAA-d fix to be in!

Similar to the coronavirus, the Bubonic Plague is thought to have originated in Asia. It struck China, India, Persia, Syria, and Egypt in the early 1340’s. From there it traveled along the Silk Road to the Crimean Peninsula and then on to the Mediterranean basin aboard merchant ships.

The Bubonic Plague arrived in Europe in October 1347 when twelve ships from the Black Sea docked in Messina. Most of the sailors on the ships were dead, and those who were still alive were gravely ill. They suffered from buboes (hence the name Bubonic), painful lymph node swellings which probably made them wish they were dead if they weren’t yet.

Because of ship transportation and some unsanitary practices, The Black Death rapidly spread through the world. In a Crimean port, a literally DEADly weapon was utilized by the Mongol army who undertook a lengthy siege of the city of Kaffa. Numerous members of the ranks were suffering from the disease. Whey they succumbed to it, their fellow soldiers catapulted their corpses over the walls to infect the besieged city’s inhabitants. Even after death, these fighting men still served their country.

The Black Death finally ran its course in the early 1350’s. Nevertheless, the plague continued to strike Europe and beyond for the next 400 years. It reared its ugly head every 10-20 years.

Pandemics have also wreaked havoc in more modern times. Approximately one-third of the world’s population was infected during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1918-1920, and anywhere between 17 and 50 million people died. This pandemic, which occurred during World War I, got its name as a result of news censorship. In an effort to maintain wartime morale, reports about illness and deaths from the flu in the U.S., the U.K., France, and Germany were minimized; nevertheless, Spain was neutral, and reports of the epidemic’s effects in that country were widely publicized. As a result, the outbreak was  referred to as the Spanish flu since it mistakenly seemed Spain was the worst hit country. Perhaps fake news has a lengthy history as well as pandemics.

Two other types of flu led to pandemics during the last few decades. The Hong Kong flu of 1968-1969 resulted in around 1 million deaths worldwide, including approximately 34,000 here in the United States. Less deadly was the swine flu (H1N1/09) pandemic of 2009-2010. About half a million died worldwide from this flu with some 12,000 of those deaths occurring in the U.S. Happily, the number of deaths from each of these pandemics was far less than from The Black Death; the more recent pandemics’ names are also less frightening.

Numerous other pandemics have occurred during the history of mankind. Those outbreaks involved smallpox and tuberculosis, among other diseases. But regardless of the type of disease, the results were similar–widespread suffering and loss of life.

Right now the coronavirus pandemic is dominating the news, our thoughts, and people’s daily lives. Despite how novel the situation is to us, fighting a pandemic is nothing new. Mankind has been there and done that again and again.

Yes, the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has caused major disruptions in our world. The Summer Olympic Games, which were supposed to start in Tokyo on July 24th, have been postponed. The pandemic has also threatened everyone, not just the common man. Politicians, such as U.S. Sen. Rand Paul, and the heir to the British throne, 71 year old Prince Charles, have tested positive for coronavirus.

But the death toll from the coronavirus to date pales in comparison to past pandemics. As of March 25, 2020, there were 20,912 deaths. While any loss of life due to disease is tragic, this number of fatalities is nowhere close to past pandemics such as The Black Plague and the Spanish flu. History is repeating itself with widespread disease, but current numbers of lives lost are lower than in the past.

Since history is a required school subject, there must be something to be gained from studying it. What history teaches us about pandemics is that humans are resilient. Bad things come their way, but humans take a licking and still keep on ticking as a race. Let’s not let the pandemic get us down. Based on past experience, most of us will survive and the human race will continue in existence. It will be around to see that next pandemic which will invariably occur at some future point. Why? Because if we’ve learned anything, it’s that history repeats itself.

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware of the magnitude of deaths in past pandemics? In light of those death tolls, do you still view the current coronavirus pandemic in the same way? What, if anything, should be done to prevent future pandemics?











Public Calm Wiped Away By Panic TP Buying

Is it socially acceptable to publicly discuss toilet paper? Although the Amy Vanderbilt Complete Book of Etiquette purportedly gives advice for every occasion, I somehow doubt that it touches on proper conversation during a coronavirus pandemic. Proper or not, I intend to talk about toilet paper (“TP”). I can’t buy any because the shelves are devoid of this hot product, so I guess all I can do is talk about it. And talk about it we should. Let’s be in the know about the TP buying craze and resulting TP shortage.

Unless you have been living under a rock, you are aware that toilet paper is in short supply now due to panic/excessive buying. Social scientists explain that stockpiling is not an uncommon reaction produced by fear. Let’s admit it. Everyone is afraid of the coronavirus. And if you for some unknown reason aren’t, you’re an idiot. But why stockpile TP? Hand sanitizer and face masks I get because they may be used preventively to keep you well. But TP can’t protect you.

The explanation lies in that people are afraid when they feel a lack of control. Stockpiling whatever item it is gives them a sense of control. So, there may be a coronavirus apocalypse outside, but people feel better knowing everything is peachy keen in the bathroom which is amply stocked with TP.

The fear of running out of TP is not valid. The current shortage is expected to be brief. The TP industry typically has a few months of inventory on hand. Moreover, manufacturers report they have significantly upped production to meet the soaring demand. Normally around 83 million rolls of TP are produced daily, and more than 7 billion rolls of TP are sold yearly in this country. That’s a lot of TP!

According to industry data, 90% of the TP sold in the U.S. is made in this country too. Thus, the idea that we won’t be able to get TP because it comes from China which is on a lock down, is wrong. Only 10% of the giant rolls of paper used to make TP rolls comes from China and India. 

And how much TP do you really need even if you are confined to home with a shelter in place order? The average American uses 50 pounds of TP or 23.6 rolls per year. Hopefully, the pandemic won’t last that long. Actually you can get an idea of how long your household supply of TP will last by going to [HINT: You’ll need to estimate how often you go to the bathroom to get the answer.] This website not only gives you handy information, but it gives you good advice too. It states: “Not everyone is able to get to a store and stock up on toilet roll. (sic) Don’t be selfish.” Translate that to read: DON’T HOARD TP.

As I see things, if you can deal with the very worst thing that could happen, you can get through the situation. Worst case scenario? You run out of TP. So you simply use some common substitutes: paper towels, tissues, wet wipes, and printer paper. Or skip the substitute all together and just wash off with water in the shower. 

Since the kiddos are home with schools being closed, maybe you could turn the lack of TP into a history lesson. What did the Romans do? They didn’t have TP. They just found a stick and stuck a sponge on it. After using this device, they’d put it in a pail with vinegar to clean it for reuse. Talk about a historical reenactment….

Want to learn more modern history? With the advent of printing came bathroom reading. Kill two birds–er, subjects–with one lesson. Have your in house student read some of your newspaper (the paper kind and not the digital edition please!) or a few pages of a cheap book and then use them as a TP substitute.

How about some fresh air and sunshine to take away the drudgery of being confined to home? Time for a science lesson. Various leaves can serve as natural TP. Just make sure before use that your little darling is not holding poison ivy and that the leaf doesn’t harbor an insect. 

And let’s not leave math out of the fun home activities you can do with your student during the TP shortage. Take a poll as to whether they prefer TP to be hung over or under. Three out of five family members prefer over? That’s 60%. Just FYI, surveys show that 60%-70% of individuals prefer their paper over. Heck, at this point, aren’t we just glad to have TP to put on the holder whether over or under?

Humor can help you get through just about any situation–even a TP shortage. Real news stories about what people are doing under these circumstances are sure to make you chuckle. In Hong Kong last week, armed robbers held up a delivery driver and stole hundreds of rolls of TP. Unsubstantiated are reports that the robbers told the driver, “Give me all your TP!”

Some businesses are trying to help their customers weather the shortage in creative ways. An Australian newspaper, the NT News, printed an extra 8 blank pages in a recent edition for use as emergency TP. A newspaper spokesperson made clear that the paper didn’t think that this was “a crappy edition.” 

Who ya gonna call when you’re out of TP? Don’t call Ghostbusters and don’t call your local police either. Terrified residents of Newport, Oregon rang 911 to report a lack of TP. No, seriously. So many calls were received that the Newport Police Department were forced to issue a public statement: “It’s hard to believe that we even have to post this. Do not call 911 just because you run out of toilet paper. You will survive without our assistance.” 

Public servants that they are, the Newport Police did offer residents of their town some ideas on what to do. They suggested citizens try old grocery receipts, pages of unwanted catalogs received in the mail, and even the “empty toilet paper roll sitting on the holder right now.” Pointing out that a lack of TP was not an actual life or death emergency, the public statement concluded with these words: “There is a TP shortage. This too shall pass. Just don’t call 9-1-1. We cannot bring you toilet paper.”

One day we will all look back on this time and laugh. “Remember when there was no TP on the shelves?,” we’ll ask each other. Well, that’s in the future. For right now, having no TP on the holder in our bathrooms is no laughing matter.

Just WONDER-ing:

Are you surprised that there has been a run on TP? Confess. Have you stockpiled (hoarded) toilet paper? If so, did you do so with the fear that it would run out and be unavailable to you? 







The Olympic Flame — Torched By The Coronavirus

WHO has declared the coronavius outbreak a pandemic. This health scare has caused pandemonium in the sports world making March Madness even madder with the announcement games will be played without fans present. The craziness has taken its toll on an even higher profile event–the Olympics. While it remains to be seen whether the Olympics will be modified, postponed, or simply cancelled, a very special pre-opening Olympic event has already been torched–the Olympic Flame lighting ceremony.

Ever wonder where the flame comes from that is carried into the stadium for the opening ceremony of each Olympics? Well, it comes from ‘Greece–the country, that is, not the substance used to fry things. But the flame doesn’t simply go from Point A in Greece to Point B in the Olympic stadium in the host country for the Olympic Games. Oh, no. There is all sorts of pageantry and circuitous travel involved.  

So where exactly is Point A? The ancient Olympic Games were held in Olympia, so Olympia, Greece is Point A for the Olympic flame. The familiar Olympic flame seen today is derived from the ancient practice of keeping a sacred fire burning throughout the celebration of the ancient Olympics on the altar of the sanctuary of Hestia. The flame is a symbol of the continuity between the ancient and the modern Olympic games.

Just getting the fire started is an event unto itself. No one merely flicks a Bic and–voila, a flame is born. No, there’s quite the to do in starting the Olympic flame. It involves an elaborate ceremony with the sun, a mirror, a temple, and eleven Vestal Virgins. I kid you not. The flame is lit by the reflection of sunlight in a parabolic mirror in front of the Temple of Hera. The women lighting the flame represent the Vestal Virgins of Rome–priestesses of Vesta, the Roman goddess of the hearth (fire place) and home–whose main tasks were to keep the fire lit and to remain virgins. 

Sadly, as announced on March 9th, the coronavirus has torched the Olympic flame lighting ceremony set for today, March 12th. The usual thousands of spectators gawking at Vestal Virgins and a fire ignited by sunlight have been banned due to health concerns. This will be the first time since the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics that the ceremony will be held without an audience. Only 100 super special invited and accredited guests will be present to witness the Olympic flame burst forth.

The High Priestess of the Vestal Virgins uses the fire started in the parabolic mirror to light the Olympic torch. Research has not yet confirmed if the initial torchbearer says, “Come on baby light my fire” to the High Priestess at this point. Torch bearers are selectively chosen and must be at least 14 years of age and able to carry the Olympic torch at least 437 yards (400 meters).

Once the Olympic flame is lit, the Olympic torch is off and running–literally. The lighted torch embarks on a scenic seven day relay around Greece. The prefecture of Ilia, where Olympia is located, is one of the areas hardest hit by the coronavirus. Anyone but me see an issue with having people run about in a contagious area and then throughout the rest of the country spreading not only Olympic good will but possibly coronavirus as well?  

A handover ceremony is scheduled for March 19th. The torch will thereafter be flown from Greece to Japan, site of the 2020 Summer Olympic Games. The plane bearing the Olympic flame will land in Miyagi in the northern part of the county at a Japan Air Self-Defense base. Due to coronavirus concerns, organizers are downsizing the arrival ceremony.

A torch which originated in a coronavirus infested Greek prefecture and taken throughout Greece is loaded onto a plane which will transfer the torch (and accompanying germs) to a different continent. Hmm. Good plan? Perhaps if the Japanese base is doing it self-defense job, the plane bearing the torch and presumably a torch bearer possibly contaminated by coronavirus in Greece won’t be allowed to land. 

Another relay procedure in Japan precedes the arrival of the Olympic flame at its final destination , the Olympic stadium in the host city of Tokyo. This relay will pass through all 47 prefectures of Japan and by World Heritage sites such as Mount Fuji over the course of 121 days. The four-month torch relay around Japan begins on March 26th in Fukushima prefecture which is about 150 miles northeast of Tokyo. The relay will end on July 24th at the new $1.43 billion national stadium in Tokyo. Hoping the Olympics won’t be cancelled resulting in Japan having built the stadium, but no one came.  

The modern torch relay ceremony is not an ancient practice. The Germans introduced it for the 1936 Berlin Olympics. Whether ancient or not, having a torch runner enter a packed Olympic stadium during the opening ceremony to bring the flame which will ignite the Olympic cauldron is quite dramatic.

Regardless of how dramatic the igniting of the Olympic flame, the torch relay, or the lighting of the Olympic cauldron is, none of these events can compare with the real drama of the 2020 Olympics–the impact of the coronavirus pandemic. Olympic organizers have repeatedly stated the Olympics will open as scheduled with the Paralympics following on August 25th. It is hard to imagine more massive crowds than those which would gather to witness Olympic events. How smart or wise is it at this point to offer events where thousands of people from all over the world will gather?

I know I’ll be safe watching Olympic competitions on TV from the comfort of my home, but how safe will the athletes, their families, the officials, and the spectators be at the actual events? Is the chance of winning or bestowing a gold medal worth more than someone’s life or health? I’m sorry, but it may come down to the Olympic flame being ignited but the Olympic games ultimately being torched. 

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware of the history behind the Olympic flame? The story of how it is lit? If you won an all-expenses paid trip to the 2020 Summer Olympics, would you go? How wise is it to proceed with such a massive event with a coronavirus pandemic ongoing?








Forget Fake ID’s, You Need a REAL ID

You are an adult, you have a driver’s license, and you’re good to go, right? WRONG! Looming October 1, 2020 is the beginning of REAL ID compliance enforcement in the U.S. A REAL ID is not the opposite of a fake ID, something that someone under legal age might possess. Instead a REAL ID is a type of identification mandated by the federal government. Let’s get real about what you need to know about REAL ID’s.

Effective October 1st, several federal agencies will no longer accept current state driver’s licenses or ID cards for identification for certain purposes. In order to board a commercial aircraft, enter a military base, go in federal government facilities, or access a nuclear power plant, an individual must produce a REAL ID. Current ID would still work for less exciting activities such as cashing checks, voting, and renting a car though.

Use of REAL ID’s has been a long time coming. It is a shining example of how slowly the government moves. Way back on May 11, 2005, President Bush signed the REAL ID Act into law, but compliance enforcement will not begin until Fall 2020. In case you can’t do the math, that’s fifteen years to get REAL ID’s going. Could they go any slower?

The Real ID Act was passed in the aftermath of 9/11. Its goal was to make identity documents more consistent and secure by setting new and higher minimum security measures. This law prohibits federal agencies in specified instances from accepting driver’s licenses and ID cards from states not meeting the Act’s minimum standards. The federal government was authorized to create national standards for acceptable federal identification.

The problem is, though, there is no national ID card for U.S. citizens. The standard form of ID is a state-issued driver’s license. Each state makes its own rules and standards for driver’s license and ID cards, and there’s a lack of uniform information about the ID holder from state to state. Based on the myriad of driver’s licenses I’ve reviewed to notarize documents over the decades, I’d say a consistent requirement for these ID’s is a horrible picture of the holder–more like a mug shot than a tool for identification. Do DMV’s offer bonuses to their employees for taking bad shots?

One reason security of ID’s is important is because of the threat of identity theft. In 2018, 14.4 million Americans were victim of this crime. If common criminals have no problem stealing identities, then doing so is likely a piece of cake for terrorists. REAL ID’s help to reduce counterfeit and forged ID’s to improve security. (At least this is what the government is telling us, and we naturally believe whatever the government says.)

REAL ID cards are made with new technology making them more difficult to forge. They must provide data in a common, machine-readable format. (And hopefully, this machine will not be operated by a terrorist or criminal…)  A 2-D barcode on each REAL ID must contain 10 required pieces of information:

1.) expiration date;

2.) full legal name;

3.) date of transaction;

4.) date of birth;

5.)  gender;

6.)  address;

7.)  unique card number;

8.)  card design revision date;

9.)  inventory control number;

10.) state of issuance.

Note who will be issuing these federally mandated ID’s. A state DMV is tasked with this job,. Even though the REAL ID Act sets forth national standards, the federal law leaves the issuance of these cards in the states’ hands.

All states are working on meeting this national set of standards. No states have been deemed non-compliant with the REAL ID Act; unfortunately, not all states have begun to issue real ID’s. Um, tick, tock! October 1st will be here before you know it!

REAL ID-compliant cards are typically marked with a star at the top of the card. In most states a gold or black star signifies compliance. I’m assuming red stars are not being used because they evoke a connection with China.

How does one get this coveted starred ID? Unfortunately, an in person trip to the DMV is required with pertinent documentation in hand. The applicant must produce proof of identity such as a passport or a birth certificate, a document bearing his Social Security Number, and two documents showing a street address establishing residency such as a utility bill. You’ll also want to take along a wheelbarrow full of patience for dealing with government bureaucracy which was aptly illustrated by the sloth DMV employees in Disney’s “Zootopia.”

Does one REALly need a REAL ID? Well, not necessarily. Obtaining a REAL ID is not mandatory. You don’t need a REAL ID if you are under 18 or if you have an acceptable alternative compliant form of ID. The most common alternative to the REAL ID is a passport, but a U.S. Department of Defense issued ID, including ID’s issued for dependents, is also acceptable.

The biggest impact of the REAL ID requirement will be felt by travelers and those who enter federal buildings. While not a building, an airport is considered a federal facility for which such an ID would be required. To go through a security checkpoint at a commercial airport in the U.S., one must have a REAL ID compliant license. If you don’t have that ID (or an acceptable alternative), you can’t fly. And in these coronavirus infested times, that may not be the worst thing that could happen to someone.

Do I intend to rush out an get a REAL ID compliant Florida driver’s license? Nope. My Florida driver’s license is good for another year and a half, so why would I want to dig out documents, grow old waiting in line to get the ID, and then fork over a chunk of money to get it? I have a valid passport which I don’t plan on using for international travel at the moment (think “coronavirus”). I also have a DoD military “dependent” ID card, so I don’t think I’ll need to be dependent on this new-fangled REAL ID just yet.

Those of you without a passport or a military issued ID will want to get on the stick and obtain a REAL ID if you plan to fly or to visit a nuclear power plant in the future. You might even get through the line before October 1st if you rush down to the DMV now.

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you ever heard of the REAL ID Act? Do you have a star a the top of your driver’s license? Before reading this post did you know what it meant? Do you think using REAL ID’s will lessen the chance of identify theft and security breaches?