Doom by Niall Ferguson
Reads like he wrote it while listening to Billy Joel's "We didn't start the fire".
It seems increasingly likely that Lord Rees, Britains astronomer royal, has won his bet with the Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker that bioterror or bioerror will lead to one million casualties in a single event within a six month period starting no later than Dec 31 2020.
We're doomed. This line, uttered by the Caledonian Cassandra of the British television sitcom Dad's Army, Private James Frazer, was one of the running jokes of my youth. The trick was to say it at the most incongruous moment possible when the milk had run out or you had missed the last bus home.
Lyons didnt cite a source, but either he or Stalin almost certainly borrowed the phrase from the Berlin satirist Kurt Tucholsky, who in turn attributed it to a French diplomat: War? I dont find that so terrible. The death of one human being, thats a catastrophe. A hundred thousand deadthats a statistic.33 We encounter a version of this mentality in our time, as Eliezer Yudkowsky has observed: People who would never dream of hurting a child hear of an existential risk, and say, Well, maybe the human species doesnt really deserve to survive. . . . The challenge of existential risks to rationality is that, the catastrophes being so huge, people snap into a different mode of thinking. Human deaths are suddenly no longer bad, and detailed predictions suddenly no longer require any expertise.
Like their counterparts in England, the Florentine authorities understood that, whether or not the plague spread through miasma, the free movement of people did not help. In the Venetian empire, the Black Death prompted the innovation of isolating arriving sailors in a lazaretto for a mandatory period, though initiallyin the seaport of Ragusa (present-day Dubrovnik) in 1377it was for only thirty days.33 In 1383, the authorities in Marseille extended the isolation period to forty days, giving the quarantine its name.
The enforcement of these and other public hygiene measures created a need for heavier policing. The head of Palermos board of health noted in 1576 that his motto was "gold, fire, and the gallows", gold to pay taxes, fire to burn infected goods, and the gallows for those who defied the boards orders
How far did these differences reflect state or municipal policies? It has been suggested that, in the United States, non-pharmaceutical interventions at the local level not only reduced the public health impact of the pandemic but also expedited economic recovery, but on closer inspection the picture is somewhat less clear.105 Except in New York and Chicago, state and local officials all across the country shuttered schools and churches. On the other hand, the campaign to sell the Fourth Liberty Loan$6 billion of war bondsmeant that multiple public meetings and mass rallies took place in September and October. Restaurants were not closed.106 New York kept not only schools but also theaters open. The citys principal innovation was the introduction of staggered business hours to keep crowding on subways to a minimum.107 Matters were not helped by the insouciance of Dr. Royal Copeland, the New York City health commissioner, who insisted in August that there was not the slightest danger of an epidemic of Spanish Influenza in New York. An optometrist with little training in public health, Copeland felt obliged to understate the risk at every opportunity. When the first cases arrived from Norway in August, he did not quarantine them, asking breezily, You havent heard of our doughboys getting it, have you? You bet you havent, and you wont. . . . No need for our people to worry over the matter. As the contagion spread in late September, Copeland insisted that the situation was well in hand in all five boroughs, and . . . there was little fear that the disease would spread to any great extent. When the number of new cases doubled over a twenty-four-hour period in late September, he continued to take few precautions, aside from warning against coughing and sneezing in public. Even when 999 cases were reported on a single day in early October, Copeland refused to close schools, against the advice of his counterpart in Philadelphia.
The most eminent person who contracted Spanish flu was President Woodrow Wilson, who fell ill on April 3, 1919, at a crucial stage in the four-power negotiations over the Versailles Treaty. For three days he lay in bed, unable to move. Wilson recovered, but he was a changed man. (He manifested peculiarities, as his secretary put it, a view shared by Herbert Hoover, among others.) On a number of points of disagreement with the European leaders, Wilson now abruptly yielded.130 The president returned from Europe exhausted and suffered a severe stroke in October 1919. He was largely incapacitated in 1920 and deemed by his own party unfit to run for reelection that year.
At the time, the government claimed that intervention was a matter of legal obligation, because the Germans had flouted the terms of the 1839 treaty governing Belgian neutrality, which all the great powers including Prussia had signed. In fact, Belgium was a useful pretext. The Liberals went to war for two reasons. First, they feared the consequences of a German victory over France, imagining the kaiser as a new Napoleon, bestriding the continent and menacing the Channel coast. That may or may not have been a legitimate fear, but if it was, then the Liberals had not done enough to deter the Germans, and the Conservatives had been right to argue for conscription. The second reason for going to war was a matter of domestic politics, not grand strategy. Since their electoral triumph in 1906, the Liberals had seen their electoral support wither away. They stayed in power after 1910 only with the support of the Irish Home Rulers. By 1914 Herbert Asquiths government was on the verge of collapse over Ulster Protestants militant opposition to a devolved government.
Given the abject failure of their foreign policy to avert a European war, Asquith and his Cabinet colleagues ought to have resigned. But they dreaded the return to opposition. More, they dreaded the return of the Conservatives to power. They therefore went to war partly to keep the Tories out; had they not done so, two or three members of the Cabinet, including Churchill, would have resigned and the government would have fallen.
The central strategic problem, in short, was that the Liberal foreign secretary had privately committed Britain to intervention in the event of a German attack on France, but his party had consistently opposed conscription, which would have established the kind of large standing army that might have deterred the Germans. The British intervention in 1914 was therefore a direct consequence of democratic politics. The war was genuinely popular; those who condemned intervention, like the Scottish socialist James Maxton, were a reviled minority. But the combination of a continental commitment without a credible military capability produced the worst possible outcome: a force capable of defeating the huge and well-trained German army had to be assembled and trained while the war was being fought.
At the end of June, there was an outbreak among high school girls on the campus of the School of Veterinary Medicine at the University of California, Davis. A student exposed to the Davis outbreak traveled to Grinnell, Iowa, to attend a Westminster Fellowship Conference that commenced on June 28. The student developed the flu en route, exposing 1,680 delegates from more than forty states and ten foreign countries to the virus. A few cases also appeared among the 53,000 boys attending the Boy Scout Jamboree at Valley Forge, Pennsylvania.17 As Boy Scout groups traveled around the country in July and August, they, too, disseminated the flu widely.18 In July there was a massive outbreak in Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana. The illness was said to be sudden in onset and marked by high fever, malaise, headache, generalized myalgia [muscle pain], sore throat, and cough. . . . Nausea and vomiting were not unusual among the younger children. Two people died. There soon followed a series of outbreaks throughout Louisiana and adjacent areas of Mississippi.19 By the end of the summer, cases had also appeared in California, Ohio, Kentucky, and Utah. It was the start of the school year at the end of the summer that made the Asian flu an epidemic in the United States. As soon as pupils returned from vacation, the virus spread rapidly throughout the country. The Communicable Disease Center, as the CDC was then called, had established a new Influenza Surveillance Unit in July, which received county reports covering 85 percent of the population, a weekly National Health Survey of a representative sample of two thousand people, and reports on absenteeism from AT&T, covering sixty thousand telephone workers in thirty-six cities. These data give us a more detailed picture of the 1957 epidemic than is possible for any previous episode. The CDC estimated that approximately forty-five million peopleequivalent to about 25 percent of the populationhad become infected with the new virus in October and November 1957
The Army Medical Center received its first influenza specimens from Hong Kong on May 13, and Hilleman had definitively identified the new strain by May 22
Speed was of the essence. Hilleman was able to work directly with vaccine manufacturersbypassing the bureaucratic red tape, as he put it. The Public Health Service released the first cultures of the Asian influenza virus to manufacturers even before Hilleman had finished his analysis. A key role was played by the CDCs Montgomery, Alabama, laboratory, which was the World Health Organizations International Influenza Center for the Americas
The rapidity with which the United States went from detection of pandemic risk to mass vaccination was astonishing. The first New York Times report of the outbreak in Hong Kongthree paragraphs on page 3was on April 17.33 As early as July 26, little more than three months later, doctors at Fort Ord, California, began to inoculate recruits to the military. Three days later, Lowry Air Force Base, in Colorado, did so, too. Next in line were doctors, nurses, and other healthcare workers. President Eisenhower was duly inoculated, as were Queen Elizabeth and Prince Philip, ahead of their planned visit to the United States and Canada. In the eyes of public health officials, this vaccination drive was the core of the U.S. response to the pandemic
John MacWilliams, a former investment banker turned Department of Energy risk officer under Obama, warned Michael Lewis of five risks: a broken arrow (a lost or damaged nuclear missile or bomb), North Korean and Iranian nuclear aggression, an attack on the electrical power grid, and a fifth risk: a decay of government program management. The fifth risk, Lewis explained, was the risk a society runs when it falls into the habit of responding to long-term risks with short-term solutions. . . . Program management is the existential threat that you never really even imagine as a risk. . . . It is the innovation that never occurs and the knowledge that is never created, because you have ceased to lay the groundwork for it. It is what you never learned that might have saved you.