Posts Tagged ‘History’

Of Epidemic Proportions

June 24, 2009

Being a bit laid up with this cold has somehow caused me to investigate disease epidemics.  from Spanish flu to Ebola to AIDS most of my day has been spent reading.  If you are interested in the way a modern epidemic affected North American society I recommend the CBC’s digital archives.  They have a fascinating section on AIDS.  As someone who grew up after AIDS was discovered, it is hard for me to fully understand the panic that took place in the 1980’s.  It was only on generation ago that people were afraid of AIDS patients, and acted with a great deal of homophobia.  It took the cases of straight women, celebrities, and young children to bring some sanity to the public discourse around AIDS.

It is also interesting that the earliest cases were likely the result of HIV infection that had taken place years earlier, which further complicated the search for a cause.

Would the same reaction happen today?  SARS had some similar characteristics, at least in terms of public fear, but it was not associated with an already marginalized group of people.  A connection can be made to the case of a serial killer murdering prostitutes in B.C., in the sense that the problem was largely overlooked because of the group involved.  Perhaps our society is not as evolved as it might be, but didn’t we already know that. In fact, I think it’s safe to argue that many of the reactions of commentators like jerry Falwell would be echoed today.  It is easy to find religious leaders who condemn homosexuality and believe that its practitioners should be punished.  I have always found this line of thinking preposterous in an ethical system that promotes love of the other.  Falwell’s argument that God loves people and punishes sin, could work in theory, but falls apart in practice.  To be fair, I don’t believe that God punishes anyone, since the sufferings of life are random.  But more importantly I don’t believe there is anything wrong with homosexuality.  I don’t have a large theological or philosophical argument.  I just have a feeling in my heart, and a thought in my head, that love between two people, even if it is consummated homosexually, is always legitimate.

But I am way off point now.  If a disease demonstrating the same baffling circumstances as AIDS arose today, the internet and 24 hour media would likely create an even larger panic with much more misinformation. H1N1 certainly proved that.  People may be more skeptical in light of the large number of media induced scares we’ve experienced in recent years.  Perhaps we won’t take it serious enough.  Watch some of the CBC archive material, if you weren’t around, you will be shocked and amazed.

Long Live The King

March 12, 2009

It’s just the only way to reach my home again, the only way I’ll fall and break.

Laura Smith


Come hell or high water there will be a new episode of the podcast tonight. Look for more of my conversation and music by the lovely Laura Smith, who has been featured on the show several times.   I expect to be posting my podcasts more frequently in the next little while because I have a bunch of ideas and plans to hatch. Kern and I touch on some interesting topics and I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

Exciting news today out of North Korea. The ruling party swept the recent election in which they ran unopposed! Despite my willingness to weigh in on the taboo topic of religion on this blog, I have generally avoided making too many statements abut the economy or politics.  You can search around WordPress to find people who are far more qualified and far more interested in these issues.  Watching political leaders practice the art of the possible while yelling, arguing, and making ridiculous claims generally bores me to death. But one thing that does get me excited is any talk of facism, dictators, and authoritarian government.  It’s just such a fascinating topic.  Often the cult of the leader takes on religious-like qualities, and that is likely the source of my interest (remember I’m also fascinated by “traditional cults” and new religious movements).

I should start by saying there is no redeeming feature  of mass-murder, torture, assassinations, or any of the other absolutely atrocious activities of most dictators. That aside, I’m fascinated by how willing we are to allow ourselves to be dominated by other people.  This isn’t some rant about conformity, claiming we are all “sheep,” but rather an observation that history has shown that people don’t care that much about their leadership if they are happy or feel that they can’t do anything about the situation.  I mention this because I want to recommend a great book: What We Knew: Terror, Mass Murder, and Everyday Life in Nazi Germany. This lengthy tome was put together by a sociologist and a historian. They surveyed and interviewed German Jews and other Germans to discover what they knew about the holocaust during the 1930’s and 40’s.  It is absolutely amazing.  One quick caution: the book is written by two academics and contains raw survey data, commentary, and interviews.  It’s style is not that of a popular history because the others are more interested in presenting the facts than jazzing it up. This book is a must read for anyone who is interested in learning about WWII, the holocaust, Nazism, or genocide.

Looking Back

February 22, 2009

One of my favourite blogs linked to an interesting site the other day. Among other things this site has a collection of pictures depicting old mailboxes in New York. I was recently discussing the number of old milk slots that remain on the houses in my neighbourhood. Ours was removed in a renovation before we bought the house, but many of my neighbours have simply boarded up the inside without changing the outside appearance.  This particular area of Hamilton contains homes built in the 1950’s so some now archaic elements were included.  Down in the city you can still find the odd coal shoot, or other now useless bit of historical architecture.  It always makes me think about the ways our society has changed in the last 60 years, and how to some degree we are trying to move back to the past.  For example, increased promotion of farmer’s markets and eating locally is an attempt to rekindle agriculture near urban areas.  My grandparents had their milk and eggs delivered by the farmers who produced them.  Thus they had a relationship with the person who brought them their food. They also knew their local butcher, and even the baker who made their bread.  Part of urban life was interacting with the people who produced and prepared much of your food.  Obviously with mass chain grocery stores we no longer have those kinds of relationships.

It may be obvious to people who read my blog regularly but I believe that improved interpersonal relationships are a key part of creating a better society.  I expect consumers to find greater respect for producers by reconnecting with the people who provide goods and services, especially food. There have been reports that this relationship is deteriorating more and more every year.  Along with all the environmental and economic benefits of eat locally, perhaps it is time to start fixing some of the stress generated in the retail world.  The past can’t always help us fix our society, but perhaps this is one case where it can have an impact.