Monthly Archives: December 2020

2020 – A Christmas like no other?

“Seattle police wearing masks in December 1918.”  Is this a case of deja vu all over again?

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It’s the week between Christmas Day and New Year’s Eve, 2020. Which leads to a question: “Was this past Christmas Day in the crazy, pandemic-plagued year of 2020 truly one ‘like no other?’”

The answer? “Actually, no.” There was for example Christmas in 1918…

Which led me to this article, Was Christmas celebrated during the 1918 Spanish Flu?

A largely unheeded warning from 1918…

For some background, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic started in February that year and lasted until April, 1920. (So, roughly two years and two months?) And in another “deja vu all over again,” the culprit was the H1N1 flu virus. (It also caused the 2009 swine flu pandemic.)

But back to 1918, when there was a little thing called World War I going on. The first recorded such “flu” case in the U.S. was said to come on March 4, 1918, as America geared up to send “our boys” overseas. It was Albert Gitchell, an army cook at Camp Funston in Kansas. (Although there were likely unreported cases before him.) First observed in Haskell County, Kansas, a local doctor –  Loring Miner – warned the US Public Health Service, but to no avail. Within days, 522 men at Camp Funston had reported sick. By March 11, 1918, the virus reached Queens, New York. And in a sign of things to be repeated:

Failure to take preventive measures in March/April was later criticized.

But wait, there’s more! Because the war was raging, censors minimized early reports. That is, they did so in the major countries involved in the war, but not in neutral Spain. There, reports of the disease weren’t censored, which is why the epidemic got the name “Spanish flu.”

From Camp Funston the disease spread through the American Expeditionary Forces, who brought it to Europe and the Western Front by mid-April, 1918. It then spread from France to Great Britain, Italy, Spain and beyond. After the March Treaty of Brest-Litovsk – between Germany and Russia – “Germany started releasing Russian prisoners of war, who then brought the disease to their country.” From there it spread to the rest of the world in four “waves,” with a much-deadlier second wave in late 1918. (With a third wave in 1919 and a fourth in 1920.)

Later that year – on November 11, 1918 – the war ended, and people were so happy they “couldn’t be stopped from gathering to celebrate.” Then too the number of Spanish Flu cases went down toward the end of 1918, so restrictions were eased and many churches “swelled with the joyous music of the [Christmas] season once again.” But as one site noted, “History suggests that celebrating holidays during a pandemic by gathering in large groups, as one might during normal times, could have harmful and long-lasting effects.”

Which may explain the second, third and fourth “waves.” On the other hand, back then “they” had some advantages, as noted in A Look Back at Christmas During the Spanish Flu Pandemic. For one thing, Americans in 1918 were “much more familiar with epidemic disease:”

… epidemic disease was very familiar to the early 20th century public. Families, many of which had lost a child to diphtheria or watched a loved one suffer from polio, were generally willing to comply with some limitations on their activities. Most public health departments wore badges and had police powers, and this was generally uncontroversial. “They could forcibly quarantine you or put you on a quarantine station on an island.”

So much for the “advantage” being familiar with deadly epidemic diseases. But at least they were “willing to comply with some limitations on their activities.” And another point to remember is that – be all that as it may – the United States and the world survived. So much so that if it hadn’t been for this year’s COVID-19 pandemic – illustrated at right – few people today would have any reason to recall the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

Which brings up a link from my last post, December 2020 – and “Bad things to good people?” The gist of that link – Bad Things to Good People? | Psychology Today – was its “scientific” answer: That “the universe has no inherent purpose or design.”

However, the pointy-headed scientist-slash-probably-an-atheist-as-well who came up with that conclusion did offer up some good advice. (Bless his heart,” as we say in Georgia):

There is much we can do to alleviate each other’s suffering when adversity strikes. Our support and empathy toward our fellow human beings in their time of need helps them not only materially but demonstrates to them that they matter… When we act kindly, it also gives meaning to our own life, as we see that we matter to others.

Which brings up “Christmas spirit.” I Googled “what is the Christmas spirit” and got 4,180,000 results. One answer, from What is Christmas Spirit? – Scientific American Blog Network:

The code of generosity, kindness, and charity toward others is enforced by no one other than ourselves. There are places where this code is strong, and these places (or people) are said to have strong Christmas spirit… After all, we are the sum of the individuals around us who generate the collective force that governs and organizes our social structure… When we “act out” Christmas spirit, we’re making visible this collective force, and we give it power.

Then there’s Christmas Spirit – Its Real Meaning | 7th Sense, which defined that spirit in three simple actions: Giving, Appreciating, and Doing service. Which is pretty much the same advice “pointy-headed scientist-slash-probably-an-atheist-as-well” offered a few paragraphs back…

Which in turn brings up the “mystery” of why this particular plague hit us at this particular time. The short answer? Such “mysteries” – even pandemics – seem to be a part of life. But from them we can learn valuable lessons, like how to develop and grow stronger, spiritually and otherwise. Which means the “answer” to such mysteries largely depends on us. “What will we do with this unexpected calamity? Will we go forward and grow stronger, or turn back the clock and start turning on each other?” In turn, “our” Covid-19 can remind us of our “fragility as human beings,” as noted in a quote from The Plague by Camus, in Part 1, early in the book:

Everybody knows that pestilences have a way of recurring in the world; yet somehow we find it hard to believe in ones that crash down on our heads from a blue sky. There have been as many plagues as wars in history; yet always plagues and wars take people equally by surprise.

Which certainly seems true of this latest 2020 pestilence. It certainly came as a surprise. Which brings up a book review from the Salt Lake Tribune on “The Plague,” with this relevant point:

Being alive always was and will always remain an emergency; it is truly an inescapable “underlying condition…” This is what Camus meant when he talked about the “absurdity” of life. Recognizing this absurdity should lead us not to despair but to a tragicomic redemption, a softening of the heart, a turning away from judgment and moralizing to joy and gratitude.

One possible lesson? The current pestilence might lead to a massive change in our present national life, and especially our national political life. The present Coronavirus might lead to a general and sweeping American “softening of the heart.” So with all that in mind:

Merry Christmas, 2020, and may 2021 be a WHOLE lot better!

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A “time of pestilence” can show there are more things to admire in people than to despise…

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The upper image is courtesy of Wikipedia on the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic.

The “influenza” image was accompanied by a caption: “Rules to reduce the spread of Spanish flu posting by the US Public Health Service. Cough or sneeze into your mouth with a handkerchief, avoid crowded places, do not spit, do not share the use of cups and napkins…. Typographic poster; Unites States, Washington, DC 1918. (Photo by Fototeca Gilardi/Getty Images).”

The image “COVID-19 – illustrated at right” is captioned: “A testing team responds to a confirmed case in a nursing home in Charleston, West Virginia.”

The lower image is courtesy of The Plague – Wikipedia

The Mysterious Death of Ashley Wilkes – Revisited

“Yes, Ashley was quite the Ladies’ man – and not just with his ‘cousin’ Melanie Hamilton…” 

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Now that the Trump Era is almost over… (Referring back to my last post, from December 7.)

It’s that time of year to both look back and look forward. To look back at the Trump era – and especially of this past year – and to look forward to a new beginning, in 2021.

But first – here’s a look back at “The mysterious death of Ashley Wilkes.” I posted that back on September 1, 2015. I followed that up with Introduction to “Ashley Wilkes,” announcing that I’d just published an E-book, a collection of posts from this blog. The title came from my post earlier in 2015, and it was subtitled:  “And other tales from the ‘Georgia Wasp.’”

More recently, this past November I published a newer E-book(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age(Subtitled “Or ‘How NICE it was to travel, before COVID.’”) I published that one under a nom de plume, “James B. Ford.” However, I’d published the Wilkes book under “T.D. Scribe.”

Which still sounds strange, even as a pen name, so for reasons including consistency, I just re-published Ashley Wilkes under “James B. Ford.” (Available at Amazon Kindle Books.)

So here’s a look back at that mysterious death, “re-visited.” You can read the whole story in the original post. But since it clocked in at over 3,000 words, here are the highlights. First of all, “Wilkes” – Leslie Howard – was both a hit with the ladies of the time and a suspected British spy. At least the Germans seemed to think so, which is arguably why they shot down BOAC Flight 777, with Howard as a passenger. (From Lisbon to London, “on or about‘ June 1, 1943.”)

One theory for the shoot-down was that Howard was on a top-secret mission – on behalf of Winston Churchill – to persuade Spain’s Francisco Franco not to join the Axis powers. (Germany and Italy. Spain was officially neutral at the time.) Howard’s go-between was said to be Conchita Montenegro (at right), with whom he’d ostensibly had a torrid love affair.

Not to mention his affairs with Tallulah Bankhead and Merle Oberon, two other leading ladies. And while he was said to be something of a ladies’ man, Howard once quipped that he “didn’t chase women but … couldn’t always be bothered to run away” from them either. And by the way, “Conchita” later claimed that she “used her husband’s influence” to secure a meeting between Howard and Franco’s “caudillo while Howard was in Spain on a lecture tour to promote film in May, 1943.” (Talk about broad-minded…)

Another theory had it that the Germans were really after Winston Churchill. He was flying back to London via the same or a similar route about the same time. Churchill had just spent a month in North Africa. The North Africa Campaign was just ending, and Allied leaders were planning the invasion of Sicily and Italy. The normal stop-over for such trips from North Africa to London was Lisbon, in ostensibly-neutral Portugal. (Often via Gibraltar.)

And during the war, Lisbon was a hotbed of “trade, conspiracy, and subterfuge.” (Lisbon was the destination of refugees in the movie Casablanca.) And German spies saw two men who looked like Churchill and his bodyguard at the Lisbon airport. But by a strange coincidence, Lesley Howard was said to resemble Churchill’s lone bodyguard. At the same time, Howard’s “close friend and business manager, Alfred Chenhalls,” was said to resemble Churchill:

A long-standing hypothesis states that the Germans believed that Prime Minister Winston Churchill, was on board the flight. Churchill, in his autobiography, expressed sorrow that a mistake about his activities might have cost Howard his life.

Another note: His airliner was shot down some nine months after the release of his 1942 movie Spitfire. That came three years after Howard starred in 1939’s Gone with the Wind. (A poster for “Spitfire” is at left.) That 1942 movie was originally called The First of the Few in Britain. (The name was changed to “Spitfire” for American audiences.) Howard played “R.J. Mitchell, who designed the Supermarine Spitfire.”

The British title alluded to Winston Churchill‘s speech attributing victory in the Battle of Britain to “the few.”  (That is, the few men who piloted British fighters in the battle, and especially those who flew the Spitfire.)  As Churchill put it, “Never in the field of human conflict was so much owed by so many to so few.”

Less than nine months later after “Spitfire’s” release, Howard’s airliner was attacked by eight Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88C6 fighter aircraft. The airliner – with 16 other passengers and crew – was attacked some 500 miles west of Bordeaux. The plane – or parts of it – came down in the Bay of Biscay, 200 miles north of La Coruña, on the far northwestern tip of Spain.

As to why the Luftwaffe shot down the airliner, here’s what Wikipedia said of Howard:

He was active in anti-German propaganda and reputedly involved with British or Allied Intelligence, which may have led to his death in 1943[.  He] was shot down over the Bay of Biscay, sparking conspiracy theories regarding his death.

Meanwhile, Churchill and his plane may have been saved because of bad weather. His original plan was to change planes in Gibraltar. Instead of transferring to a more-comfortable Pan American Boeing 314 Clipper – also known as the Pan Am “Flying Boat” – he had to continue his flight to London on a bomber. That plane was the definitely uncomfortable B-24 Liberator.

So there may be a lesson there. As the old proverb goes: “Better to continue on in discomfort, rather than getting your ass shot down by eight Luftwaffe Junkers Ju 88C6 fighter aircraft!”

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The upper and lower images are courtesy of Ashley Wilkes – Image Results. For other image sources see the original post(s) from 2015.

Now that the Trump Era is almost over…

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Now that the Trump Era is almost over…

Or at least now that his first run-through as president is almost over… (But see Trump’s Possible 2024 Bid Leaves Other GOP Candidates in a Bind.) So to repeat, “Now that at least the first incarnation of a Trump Era is almost over,” it’s time to start looking back. 

Which is what many of us do near year’s-end anyway. I Googled “why do we do year-end reviews” and found these two: How to Conduct a Year-End Review and Why You Need to Do it, and Why You Should Do a Year-End Review for Your Writing. Here’s a bit from the first one:

Ever since I began writing personal goals, December has been a month of reflection and planning. I tend to slow down, take a step back, and think about how I feel the previous year went. I take time to reflect on what I accomplished and what I want in the upcoming year.

Then there’s the Review for Your Writing article. (And since I’m a writer I paid special attention to that. E.g., read about my recently-published e-book in “(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age.”) Anyway, this is what the writer  said about such year-end reviews:

A year-end review is about experiencing gratitude … that we made the choice to write instead of watch television or procrastinate… It’s important to note that this isn’t just a feel-good exercise. You can’t move forward – with your writing, your life, or anything else – if you haven’t made peace with where you’ve been.

Which is what I’ll be doing a lot of in the remaining three-or-so weeks of this eventful “Year of Our Lord2020. But we were talking about “Now that the Trump Era is almost over…”

Which makes this a good time to go back and review some early posts I did on Donald Trump. And – possibly – some of the hopes I had for him. Like that he might turn out to be the “closet liberal” Ted Cruz once suspected. (See Cruz: Trump [is] a ‘rich, New York liberal,’ 2/26/16.)

One early post with an allusion to Donald Trump came in October 2016, “No city for Grouchy Old White People.” (Part I.) In it I described a summer visit to New York City, with a family-base in Staten Island. One thing I noted was that – in that summer of ’16 – the City was a “refreshing reminder that there’s more to this country than just the right-wing wackos so prevalent back home.” (Trump’s campaign was heating up.) I quoted a Facebook post from September 22:

Ever since last Saturday, September 17, we’ve been taking the Staten Island ferry into and back from Manhattan Island. So that’s eight times – twice a day for four days now – that we’ve seen the Statute of Liberty, off in the distance…  And I don’t remember ONCE seeing a sign that said, “the heck with your tired, your poor,” those “wretched refuse … yearning to breathe free.”  WE’RE GONNA BUILD A FRIKKIN WALL!

Which was either irony or sarcasm. (I often get those two confused.) Anyway I ended Part I by noting that with all its diversity and relative tolerance, “the Big Apple is ‘No city for Grouchy Old White People.’” (Who seemed to be so prevalent, “back home” and elsewhere.)

I followed that with “No city for Grouchy Old White People” – Part II. I noted that on our many rides on the subway and Staten Island Ferry, “we did a lot of people-watching, of the ‘passing panoply.’” And especially on the crowded subways, we listened “to all kinds of languages spoken by all kinds of different people.” Which was one thing making the visit so refreshing…

And just as an aside: The day we left to go our separate ways – Thursday, September 22 – I kayaked across the Verrazano Narrows. Mostly following the Bridge of the same name, and here’s a picture “down below” to prove it. I took it half-way back to Staten Island. Note that the waters are choppy, and in fact WAY choppier than when I started. It only took 20 minutes to get from Staten Island to Brooklyn, so I toyed with the idea of cruising along the Atlantic side of Brooklyn awhile. But I headed back while still fresh, as detailed in “Part II.”

Anyway, getting back on topic: I ended Part II with a zinger about the kind of people – I feared – who would end up voting for Trump as president. I took the photo below during our visit to the Museum of Natural History, on September 19. And added, “With all the talk of politics lately, I figured this would be a good one size fits all insult, for whatever political opponent you may have in mind.” (Though I knew the kind of political opponent I had in mind.) I then wrote:

“So here’s my gift to you, a souvenir from my recent [2016] visit to New York City:

Here’s a typical [- fill in the blank – ] voter!”

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The upper image is courtesy of Looking Back The Past Year – Image Results. The image accompanied an article, “Inspiring Quotes to Start Off the New Year in 2019.” (How innocent we were…) 

I took the above picture on September 19. Note that I reviewed this Summer of 2016 visit in Looking back on “the summer of ’16,” last February 2020. One final note: I’ll be doing more Trump’s-end and year-end postmortems in the remaining weeks of December 2020, and possibly beyond! 

On the old (2015) “For a book version…”

 

An editor’s note:  I originally did this post – on a book about the “mysterious death of Ashley Wilkes” – in 2015. It was a “Page” link – along with ABOUT THAT “WASP” NAME and ABOUT THE BLOG – at the top of the main page. This was shortly after I published “The Mysterious Death of Ashley Wilkes,” discussed below.  Again, that was in October 2015, which gives you an idea how long it’s been since I’ve published a book.

But then in November 2020 I published a new book, described in the post “On ‘(Some of) My Adventures in Old Age.'” Which brings up at least one note: The nom de plume I used for the 2015 Ashley Wilkes book was “T.D. Scribe.” (Short for “The DOR Scribe.”)

Since then I’ve been using a new pen name, “James B. Ford.” And for the record, I’ll be re-publishing “Mysterious Death” and some other books under that fake name under the newer “James B. Ford.” But for now you can go to Amazon.com: Kindle eBooks and type in “James B. Ford” to locate the blurb on “Adventures in Old Age.” Meanwhile here’s the original 2015 “For a book version:”]

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[From October 2015:] I just published a collection of posts from this blog.  (As noted in the Introduction to “Ashley Wilkes.”) The title of the book came from a post I did back on September 1.  (The “strange” death of Ashley Wilkes – and other tales from the Georgia Wasp.)

The cover features the poster above left, at the top of the page. The poster came from the movie Spitfire, originally titled The First of the Few in Britain. The film was released in Britain on September 12, 1942. Less than nine months later – “on or about” June 1, 1943 – Lesley Howard’s airliner was shot down by eight LuftwaffeJunkers Ju 88C6 fighters over the Bay of Biscay. It may have been an accident.  The Germans may have been really after Winston Churchill. Or Howard – “Ashley Wilkes” – may have been the dangerous British spy the Germans thought he was.

As noted, this fascinating tale and others like it are now available in book form.  As far as how to get the book – in either the Kindle or paperback version, see “Intro to Ashley:”

To get an e-book, go to Amazon.com: Kindle eBooks and type in “T. D. Scribe.”  (That’s my nom de plume.)  Or type in “Ashley Wilkes.”  To order the paperback version, go to Shop Books – Lulu and do the same.  (Where the book should be the fifth one down, if you type in “T. D. Scribe,” or right on top if you type “Ashley Wilkes.”)

And now a word about “T.D. Scribe.” That’s the nom de plume I used in my original blog, dorscribe.com. This second blog – modeled on the Carolina Israelite – is devoted to more secular subjects and an homage to Harry Golden. For example, this blog lets me explore such varied topics as Oscar Wilde and “gross indecencies,” “When adultery was proof of ‘loyalty,’” ‘Mi Dulce’ – and Donald Trump – made me a Contrarian, and any number of Travelogs

But back to the Wilkes book: On the paperback version, here’s the blurb from “Lulu:”

This collection of posts from the “Georgia Wasp” web log starts with “the mysterious death of Ashley Wilkes…”  It ends by asking the musical question: “Whether Moses – some 3,300 years ago – was the first guy to say, ‘It’s only weird if it doesn’t work!’”  (At the Battle of Rephidim. “Hey, you could look it up!”)

As noted in “Intro,” I now have my first book-collection of essays.  In turn, that collection may eventually be seen as a worthy reflection of Harry’s first such effort, 1958’s Only in America.  As the old saying goes:  “Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery.”

Although to Oscar Wilde – seen below – such imitation was “the sincerest form of flattery that mediocrity can pay to greatness.”  (Which may of course be also true…)

And just as an aside, I’ll shortly be updating the “For a book version” link at the top of the Home page with information on how to get my newest e-book, (Some of) My Adventures in Old Age(Subtitled “Or ‘How NICE it was to travel, before COVID.’”)

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Oscar Wilde Sarony.jpg

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The image immediately above is courtesy of Oscar Wilde – Wikipedia.

See also Quote by Oscar Wilde: “Imitation is the sincerest form…”  But finally, see also a separate “Goodreads” article, Quotes About Imitation (76 quotes) – Goodreads.  The latter included the following pithy observations at odds with Wilde’s “acerbic and iconoclastic wit:”

“Through others we become ourselves.”
― Lev S. Vygotsky

“Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal.”
― T.S. EliotThe Sacred Wood

“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery – it’s the sincerest form of learning.”
― George Bernard Shaw

and finally, this:

“There is only one thing which is generally safe from plagiarism — self-denial.”
― G.K. Chesterton.