“Be Prepared” – Clearly the UK is no Boy Scout

5000 years on

All sorts of trials and tribulations have beset this gruesome race of ours, most of them caused by our own ignorance and greed.  Almost every generation has had to face its Waterloo, to wage war on some dreadful disease or other, and they almost always use exactly this kind of terminology.  There is no peaceful co-existence with these terrible opponents of humanity: It has to be all out war.

We like to claim we have won great victories but have we heck?

At best we have caused these diseases some pretty serious setbacks, but somehow, almost inexorably, they creep back again in some guise or other.

Cue the epidemic!…or where the hell did that spring from?

There is evidence that epidemics have been with us for an awfully long time!

Mass burial sites dating from around 5000 years ago at Hamin Mangha and Miaozigou in northeastern China suggest that an epidemic ravaged the entire region. Not sure exactly what it was, but it wasn’t good!

There are well documented “plagues” in Athens, Rome, Luxor, Byzantium, ranging from around 400 BC to the mid AD 500’s.  That’s 900 years of various Typhoid, Smallpox, Ebola, Bubonic, and goodness knows what, epidemics.

It was often the debilitating effect of epidemic illness that ended wars.  The armies concerned simply ran out of soldiers.

We then had the Black Death, which wiped out maybe half of Europe’s population in a few years around 1350, followed by a series of “Overseas“ events in the Americas in the 16th Century when huge swathes of indigenous peoples were wiped out because of imported European diseases.

Then, ironically, at the dawning of The Age of Enlightenment we had a brand-new Great Plague season.  It kicked-off with London, followed later by Marseille and Moscow but with 50- or 60-year gaps.  There was a Yellow fever outbreak in the US, mainly down to local swamp and weather conditions, but still no sign of anything truly international…yet!

Enter the Pandemic (or I opened the door and in flew Enza)

Yes, at around 1890 we had our first real pandemic – INFLUENZA!  It seemed to start in Russia but quickly spanned the world killing around one million people in very short time.  The spread is surprising really, given that there was no air travel at the time, so I’m sure it could have been one hell of a lot worse!

Yep, Pandemia was limbering up, just waiting for technology to catch up.

Then, in 1918/19 we had the biggie! 


The so-called Spanish Flu came off the Pandemic stocks and ran riot across the globe killing an estimated 50-100 million people.   It probably had bugger all to do with the much-maligned Spaniards, who suffered from it as much as any other nation, but seem unlikely to have been the origin of the outbreak.  Loads of work has gone on to try to see quite why this one was such a humdinger, but it seems to be down to a whole collection of circumstances. War, vast troop movements, huge civilian population movement, all helped to transmit the virus. Collapsed health and social systems simply weren’t up to dealing with anything like this and, if we add the lack of natural immunity, vaccines, antibiotics, and lack of medical knowledge, then everything was set fair for a disaster.

The next major outing for Flu was the Asian flu outbreak around 1957 which killed over 1 million people.  That may not sound many by previous standards but lots of these were American, which put a different perspective on things!

We’ve been keeping the lid on an Aids epidemic from 1981 onwards, at least in some parts of the world, although denial continues to allow it to flourish in other regions. We had Swine Flu killing hundreds of thousands in 2009, and we have Ebola, Zika, SARS, and god knows what, lurking in the background popping up here and there just waiting to take centre stage.

We now have C-19, which has reached over 130 thousand deaths world-wide by mid-April, and we are frankly panicking.

It seems amazing to me, a naïf these things, that the world should have been so badly prepared for such a predictable event.  But then, as I said I am a naïf.

Can’t see the wood for the trees?  Perhaps you have been bamboozled!

There are many suggestions for the etymology of the word Bamboozled but I had my own idiosyncratic obscure theory.  It only took a short while to find that I was not completely alone. Rob from The Word Detective (http://www.word-detective.com/2009/03/bamboozle/) suggests that “Bamboozled originated from British exploits into southern Asia where some expedition members were lured into thick bamboo forests for various reasons and became disoriented in the myriad of thick growth.”  I like this one!

Anyway, let’s have a look at some of the terms that get bandied around.

First of all, what the hell is an existential threat?  Is it the fear that we might all be required to read a book by Jean-Paul Sartre?  If so, I claim partial immunity because I started to read The Roads to Freedom years ago. I gave up after The Age of Reason for no particular reason other than boredom!

No, it is merely a threat to our very existence.

Trump and the WHO?

According to Dear Donald, That Trumpington Tower of unfathomable knowledge, The WHO is an existential threat for being in cohorts with Beijing, China.

I really don’t know what he thinks about the WHAT, the WHERE, or the HOW, because he hasn’t “gotten” round to those yet!

Incidentally, I don’t know why the US insist on putting the country after every world capital or major city.  It is frankly demeaning.  It suggests that their own version of say, Pekin, Illinois; or, Dublin, Texas; or, London, Kentucky; are more significant than their namesakes. But there you go, after all the Americans do lead “The Free World”, so it is only right, isn’t it?

Clearly what the great Trump says must also be right. Right?

If he says the World Health Organisation cannot be trusted, who are we to argue?

So, going back to that definition where an existential threat is a threat to a people’s existence or survival, and given the sort of nonsense that gushes from the US Demagogue-in-Chief’s mouth, I think that we could consider him to be a case in point.

OK, now that we’ve put that to bed, let’s have a quick look at exponential growth.

What is Exponential Growth?

We all think we have an idea of what exponential growth is and the common view seems to be loosely that it is something growing pretty quickly.  It is often used in a scary way such as in infection rates, population growth, or hyper-inflation where things just run away and get out of hand.

But let’s try to get a better handle on it

There is an old mathematical teaser that illustrates how exponential growth works.

It’s all about a blacksmith who wants to charge say £80 to shoe a horse. That’s £20 a shoe and each shoe has eight nails.

The customer thinks that this is a bit steep, so the canny smith says how about me charging you by the nail? One penny for the first nail, two pence for the second nail, four pence for the third nail and so on, doubling the cost of each nail until all 32 have been put in.

The naive punter does a quick bit of mental arithmetic and comes up with a cost of £2.55 for the first shoe.  He thinks that this sounds much better.  What could possibly go wrong?

He doesn’t understand how exponential growth works.

I won’t go into the maths (and you can check this by just writing down the thirty-two numbers and adding them up if you are not mathematically inclined and don’t believe me) but the overall cost will be around £43m! That’s right around £43m.

He’s right about the first shoe, it doesn’t cost much but the second one clocks in at £652.80!

Seriously, it just goes crazy from there on.

The third shoe costs over £167,000 and the last one just goes completely bonkers!  The last nail is reputed to cost over £21m.

That’s the exponential way!!

So, when someone says these things are going up exponentially, be very, very careful.

Here’s another example:

Let’s assume you were worried about filling a 1lt. container (that’s 1000ml), and you had a progressively worsening drip going into it starting from 1ml at day 1 but getting twice as bad every day.

By day 3 you’d only have 7ml in the bottom, not much more than a teaspoon.  No problem.

By day 4 you’d have a tablespoon, still no big deal.

By day 8 it would be just over a quarter full and you’d have the first inklings of concern, but hey, there’s still loads of space and it took 8 days to get this far.

Day nine and its over half full, Oh shit! I can see what’s going to happen!

Day 10, it overflows, and from then on it gets really bad.

It’s the way it ramps up that confuses people. In my example it took eight days to get to a quarter full, but then on day 9 it would be half full, day ten completely full, on day 11 it would more than fill two containers, and so on.

Scary isn’t it?

OK, that’s enough for today.

Remember, it doesn’t matter if you are a glass half-full or half-empty person, if it is filling exponentially, it will be all over your shirt front in next to no time!

So to round off this little epistle

Remember the UK Government’s Slogan:

Stay Home, Protect Our NHS and Save Lies.

Oops! Freudian slip there, must be all this straining of honest Tory sinews and Herculean efforts,  twenty-four seven, whatever that means.

Probably something to do with ministers working flat out 110% at home under a harsh regime of enhanced expenses.

On a final and serious note

Thank Heavens for all of our front line workers, from binmen and women, supermarket staff, bus and train drivers, care workers, nurses, ancillary workers, doctors, farmers, pickers, shopkeepers, and everyone else who is keeping the rest of us alive and functioning.  

We owe you and don’t let us forget it!

You deserve more

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