Typhoid Mary

One is reminded of Typhoid Mary by an item in this morning’s Beeb. She was the Irish girl from County Tyrone who became the talk of New York around the turn of the last century. This she accomplished as a domestic cook. A classic “asymptomatic,” she spread the disease she was carrying to all of her employers and their families; and went through quite a lot of them, for they all died of typhoid. Or, most: journalists told the story, so we will never get it straight. But Mary Mallon herself never got sick. The yellow press lord, William Randolph Hearst, took up her cause, when she was confined on North Brother Island — now a bird sanctuary, but where the smallpox hospital then was. (A nice story in itself, up the East River.) His long deceased newspaper, and their obscurely paid lawyers, got her sprung as an “innocent victim.” But as the trail of death followed her under each of her subsequently assumed names, she was eventually returned to isolation — public sympathy for her having expired.

As unlucky Irish immigrants go, Miss Mallon (finally died 1938) is something of a legend. At least she achieved fame. The same has seldom been realized by history’s other millions of disease spreaders.

We have no idea what the asymptomatic carriers of the novel coronavirus — your Batflu, as I call it — will do. Oh, and let me mention that it came from Red China, and was hosed on the rest of the world intentionally by the CCP (which locked down Wuhan within China, but left international flights open).

Sooner or later we may learn a few reliable things about it. Society — “the economy” — will reopen whether or not a vaccine is discovered (it is no sure thing). There will be “second waves,” perhaps thirdsies, and millions may yet die. Or, the disease will start disappearing from the news in mid-May. Please read this carefully: We don’t know.

We don’t know about many things in this world, though we think we know, which is why we are such prey to surprises. It is why Religion is the Most Essential Service. Only those at peace, with themselves and their Lord, have a chance at coping. That puffball, Trump (I’ve come to quite like him), says that our present contagion is like nothing we’ve ever seen. In fact, while it is “novel,” so once were all of the others which afflicted the human race (which includes Chinese, Blacks, Brown, and even White People) since time out of mind, and will do in the future.

What to do about them? Social distancing is very old hat. Soap was a useful invention of the Babylonians, and its frequent application an important development of the late Victorians. Some medicines are exceptional (most are a waste of money). I’m a great fan of vaccines, and of Lady Mary Wortley Montagu, and how she learnt things from the Ottomans at Constantinople.

But it is the custom of killer viruses and bacteria to steal a lead on us, when they first break out; and even after we have got the cut of their jib, to still find ways to sink us. Life involves risk, and will not cease to do so. The management of risk will always be a makeshift.

I really wish people would master these platitudes. We should embrace our inner banality.

For that matter, economic collapse is not a novelty either, and while it is the product of human imbecility in almost every instance, that does not mean it is going to stop happening. I marvel at the self-destruction of our commerce, in order not even to stop the Batflu, but to slow it down, so we can enjoy it longer. Whereas, I am hardly enjoying it at all.