Posts Tagged With: Ebola virus


“The Plague” written by French existentialist  Albert Camus, should be on everyone’s top ten bucket list to read before dying. Written in 1947, it takes place in an Algerian port city, similar to the one Camus grew up in Algeria. Oran to be specific. At the time Algeria was a French possession, and would not achieve independence until the early 1960s. The Plague deals with issues that were central to French philosophy during WWII years; namely existentialism, the absurd, and humanism. Although the story is ostensibly about infected rats emerging from the city’s sewers and dying in the streets, and then how the disease spreads to the human population who also start dying in large numbers; it is said to actually be an allegory about the horrors of WWII. The basic message of The Plague is that the world, and, indeed, the universe, is often senseless and indifferent to human suffering, which is unceasing and torturous. If you don’t believe so, think of a parent’s worst nightmare-which is the loss of a child. A nightmare they can never recover from. Nevertheless, Camus believed we should always fight the good fight against all this suffering, as the doctor fought unceasingly against the disease in The Plague. Although, in the end, that battle will inevitably be lost. Remember, this book was written shortly after WWII with all its horrors of concentration camps and death; so pessimism concerning the human condition abounded everywhere, especially in Europe. Camus did fight in the French underground and got to see the horrors of war up close.

In a godless, absurd, and uncaring universe, Camus made the case that compassionate humanism was the only rational course for human existence. I was thinking about “The Plague” recently, especially with its latest outbreak concerning the Ebola virus, with the death and destruction it has already caused, and it reminded me of my misspent youth immersed in French existentialism. I have written before about my dalliance with humanism and existentialism when I was in college in New York, and how I had three close friends with the same interests. About how the four of us would work after school during the tax season for an accountant named Herman Lord, in the Bedford-Stuyvesant section of Brooklyn. The four of us read virtually all the works of French existentialists such as Camus, Jean-Paul Sartre, Simone du Beauvoir, Andre Malraux, Andre Gide, and others. Like the French writers, we fancied ourselves to be atheistic existentialists in a cold and indifferent world and universe. Thus, the irony was not lost on us that we went to work for a man named Lord. When we came into his office, we would profusely bow with great flourish, and refer to him as The Lord. One day he finally lost his temper and yelled that if we didn’t cut that shit out, the four of us would be looking for a new job immediately. We still went on referring to him as The Lord, amongst ourselves, if not to his face. After all, it seemed like destiny that us 4 atheists would wind up working for The Lord.

As I’ve said, his office was in the Bed-Sty section of Brooklyn which was virtually all black at the time. It was the Brooklyn equivalent to Harlem. But this was the mid-1950s, when New York, and indeed, the rest of the country was still peaceful and the crime rate was low. Often I would be the only one in the office, (besides the client, of course), and not lock up until about 9:PM. Usually, my car would be the only one parked on the street. Yet I never had any fear for my safety, or for my car being ripped off. Even my mother, who was a professional worrier, never had a concern about my working nights in Bed-Sty. So how did it all turn so violent as we moved into the 1960s. Cities burning often repeatedly, crime surging, massive illegal drug dealing and usage, huge demonstrations and protests, relentless poverty, inner-city rat infested slums, unpopular and unnecessary war, and a host of other ills burst upon the American scene. It seemed that the relative tranquility we experienced during the 1950s was, indeed, an aberration.

And so it was, as the facade of a peaceful American society papered over huge social and political problems. Blacks were routinely segregated and treated as semi-slaves in the South. There were huge gaps in wealth between rich and poor, blacks and whites, and even between men and women. Minorities were fed-up with being relegated to inner-city slums, as well as dealing with Jim Crowism. The war in Viet-Nam, started because of our neurotic fear of communism, would go on to take close to 60,000 American lives as well as hundreds of thousands of Viet-Namese. And the plague of violence that spread across America after the 1950s, would, over decades, go on to infect the rest of the world, that is today caught up in Islamic-terrorism. We swallowed a healthy dose of that terrorism on 9/11 and in terrorist strikes on American soil since then. But large chunks of Northern Africa and Asia are currently subjected to the terrorist plague of almost daily beheadings and massive killings. And the beat goes on.

Albert Camus died in a car accident in Algeria in 1960. I would like to believe that he would have appreciated the absurdity of such a hugely important literary figure dying in such a mundane manner. My friends and I grieved over his death as if we had lost a parent. A major voice for reason  and sanity and compassion in the human condition had abruptly been silenced. We were now truly alone in an indifferent and uncaring universe. How frightening is that.


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Man’s inhumanity toward his fellow man throughout the thousands of years of recorded history is, of course, legendary. Tens, if not hundreds of millions of people have been butchered by evil tyrants and bloodthirsty despots. But there has also been hundreds of millions of deaths, to say nothing of untold misery, that has occurred during these same thousands of years that cannot be blamed on mankind’s nefariousness. These deaths are on God’s watch; and they’re due to nothing more than infectious diseases that God has somehow has decided to inflict on the human race. (Also on animals, to a somewhat lesser extent.) They are known as plagues, and while some have been brought under control or wiped out altogether, others are still alive and vigorously plowing a path of destruction through segments of today’s population.

So let’s start with an all-time favorite on the disease hit-parade that goes back to biblical times. Namely leprosy. Leprosy is a bacterial infection, discussed at length in both the old and new testaments, that causes alarming human disfigurement. In it’s worst form, leprosy causes hideous and mainly facial sores along with lumps and bumps and skin lesions. It also produces muscle weakness and numbness in the hands, arms, feet and legs because of nerve damage. In ancient times, no one, of course, knew what caused leprosy; but everyone who was not infected knew they didn’t want any association with those considered to be lepers. So leper colonies were often established where those that were infected could be shipped off to spend their remaining days with other fellow lepers. A leper colony often resembled a collection of the zombies that are portrayed on the TV show, “The Walking Dead.” Except if you were part of the aristocracy. Then you were permitted to wear a facial mask that hid the terrible disfigurement that had become your face, and stay at home in one of your castles. Even then, the top one percent had their own special privileges. Certain kings throughout Europe were known to be lepers, but were allowed to reign, as long as their face was covered by a pleasant-looking, smiling mask.

Leprosy exists to this very day, usually occurring in warm or tropical climates, but is easily curable by antibiotics. About 100 cases a year are recorded in the United States, usually in the South or in Hawaii. Keep in mind, however, that antibiotics have only been around since the end of World War II, or less than 70 years. So all the millions that were infected with this hideous, disfiguring disease prior the the advent of antibiotics, had nothing to look forward to except being herded off to leper colonies for an early death.

The next charmer that would make everyone’s top ten list on the disease hit parade, has to be the bubonic plague, or the black death as it was often known by. This is another bacterial infection, usually spread by rats or mice living in a city’s water or sewage system. Fleas can also transmit this disease to humans. Once people are infected, they can spread the disease quite rapidly to everyone they come in contact with. This disease causes high fevers, a painful swelling of the lymph glands, and red spots on the skin that usually turn black. Hence, the black death. The first recorded deaths from the bubonic plague were in China in the 1330s, A.D. But since China had extensive trading businesses with most European countries, it didn’t take long for the disease to spread throughout Europe. It spread with ferocious speed, quickly claiming thousands of victims. The Italian writer, Boccaccio, said its victims often, “ate lunch with their friends and dinner with their ancestors in paradise.” While the disease was usually dormant during the winter, it rose with fury each Spring, as fleas became active again. Over a 5 year period, an estimated 25 million people, or about one-third of Europe’s population at the time, had succumbed to the bubonic plague. It didn’t start to peter out until about 1600, A.D. Today, the black death still exists in small numbers, but is also curable by treatments of antibiotics.

Another all-time favorite has to be tuberculosis  or TB. It usually attacks the lungs and results in convulsive coughing spasms. It’s caused by inhaling the air that has been expelled  by one who is infected. Curiously, not everyone who possesses the TB microbe actually experiences tuberculosis. If one’s immune system is strong enough, one can avoid coming down with the disease. The TB bacteria can live in your body without ever making you sick. But if one’s immune system is compromised, the disease will likely take hold. And then it’s a very nasty business that can only be cured with a high-potentcy antibiotic regimen that can last for months. Millions through the ages have died from TB and it’s still highly active in our present day society. Of course, there are many other infectious killer diseases that I could mention such as small pox, which has largely been eradicated at this time, to influenza, which killed millions during World War I, but is controllable today through vaccinations.

Which brings us to the infectious disease du jour, the Ebola virus. Unlike bacteria, which science has been able to destroy with the invention of antibiotics, there is no comprehensive remedy for a viral infection. Such as the common cold. Thus, a highly infectious virus such as Ebola, can ravage through large populations, killing its victims at will, with no way of stopping it except for quarantine. The trouble is that viruses are so tiny compared to bacteria, that medical science has not been able to come up with effective remedies. Already several thousand people in Africa have died from the latest outbreak of Ebola, and it has now spread minimally to this country. Sadly, most African countries already suffer from mind-numbing poverty, and have neither the sanitation or quarantine means to contain a nasty killer like Ebola. Yes, countries around the world, including the U.S., have pitched in to attempt to quarantine this killer microbe, and will probably, eventually succeed, but not before a few thousand more people will likely die.

As I said at the outset, tyrants throughout the ages have killed hundreds of million of people. That one is on man. But killer diseases that have killed more millions, that one is on God.

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