WORLD OF STRANGE – Marilyn Armstrong

On some level or other, I’ve been waiting for my world to come crashing down since I was a kid. Call it one of the many fragmented outcomes of a dysfunctional childhood. And reading too many complicated books when I was too young to ignore them.

I should have waited until college where you are forced to read them and can forget the subject as soon as you pass the finals. I read them because I was interested in everything, so I read any book I could find. I don’t think I’d defined “reading for fun” as a concept. I just read. I had an empty brain and I needed to fill it up.

A lot of my early reading, once I got past horses and dogs, was historical fiction. With each piece of fiction I read, I found myself in the stacks of New York’s main library, somewhere down in the basement in the stacks. Because I wanted to know what was real and what was fiction. I ultimately had to unlearn almost everything when I got into more serious versions of history, but the fiction got me to the real deal.

I started with British history. I think it was King Arthur who got me into the monarchs of England beginning with William of Normandy. From there I moved into France and then fell into Rome where I stayed for a really long time. But they were around for a long time and many of their governmental structures are currently part of our modern government.

Over the years, I got a pretty good grip on history and how anything happening now has happened before and will happen again and again and again. Humans don’t seem to have much of a memory for the past. Even when it’s something through which they lived. We have approximately 50 years of historical memory, though recently it seems to be getting shorter. We call it stupid, but is it stupid or blind ignorance? And if it is blind ignorance, is it because our educational systems have been stripped to the bone?

Do they teach history? If they do, are they using books that have any basis in reality? Most of the books I got as “history” in public school were from the early 1940s and I think they are still using the same books. A kid who wants to learn history had better have a good library available because whatever he learns in school is probably wrong.

One day last year, Garry and I were standing behind someone at Target. She had an entire cart full of kid stuff. Young kids. It turned out she was a first-grade teacher and she was spending hundreds of dollars for supplies for her “kids.” She was buying pens and pencils, paper and scissors because the school didn’t have a budget. Notebooks. Little furry toys to use as prizes. Paint and paper. Glue. They’ve eliminated all of the things that made education fun for us. Art, music, excursions, drama. In most public schools you’re lucky if you get a textbook published post-WWII. I wonder if kindergartners get crayons or have to bring their own?

There are many reasons for the economic collapse. Coronavirus is the nail in a coffin we’ve been building as long as this country has existed and before that since the Romans ruled the world or at least an awful lot of it.

We can blame the Bubonic Plague for creating central governments on the European continent. Because so many people died and serfs were gone, the fields went untended. There was no food. What was left was often infected with ergot which is not unlike LSD in how it affects the human brain. So the wealthier people (we assume nobility but that’s not necessarily true) who had silos managed to gather the grain and took responsibility for distributing it. Until then, the government was essentially confined to the lord and his serfs, but after the 14th century, there were kings and subjects. I think there are too many kings and far too many subjects.

We never developed a vaccine for the Bubonic Plague. It’s still with us. Sometimes it responds to antibiotics, but not always. We keep it from taking over by controlling it the moment it appears. There was an outbreak in San Francisco in 1900 in Chinatown.


The San Francisco plague of 1900–1904 was an epidemic of bubonic plague centered on San Francisco’s Chinatown. The epidemic was recognized by medical authorities in March 1900, but its existence was denied for more than two years by California’s Governor Henry Gage.

Cause: Bubonic plague
Date: 1900 – 1904
Deaths: 119 deaths

San Francisco plague of 1900–1904 – Wikipedia


Although Bubonic Plague — when we think about plagues which we do more often these days than we used to — is always the one that first pops into our mind, the “Spanish” Plague which lasted from 1918 through 1919 killed far more people. It wasn’t Spanish. It actually started with some sick cows near a military base in Kansas, but if I called it the “Kansas Plague,” no one would know what I’m talking about.

So the first wave came through, helped along by the horrible conditions of the war. And just like now, they closed everything. But as soon as the contagion seemed to be letting up slightly started to drop, so the manufacturers  said: “it’s going away, open everything up.” The second wave hit and killed twice as many people as the first wave. But let’s not let history get in our way. Or science. Or even commonsense. See “1918 Pandemic Influenza” on the CDC website. It even has a timeline and pictures.

Culturally, we’ve maximized workplaces while simultaneously eliminating small and medium-size companies where owners and workers could have a relationship. Live in the same town. Send their kids to the same schools. When companies and farms were scattered throughout the country, a single company’s collapse would not leave thousands of people without work and their families in imminent danger of losing everything.

But wait! When the robots take over — and they will — nobody’s job will be safe. During the Democratic primary debates, I kept wondering why no one was paying attention to Andrew Yang. He was smart. He was telling the truth. He was already way ahead of our current monstrosity-in-office.

I know I didn’t start the fire that’s now burning our world, but I didn’t even understand there WAS a fire until I was in my thirties.

No generation made this mess alone. Civilization — European civilization — has been pushing in this direction since governments were invented. Bigger, richer, greedier, more powerful has always been the gold crown. It didn’t start in the U.S. It happened long ago in a land far away. Lay this one on Rome or maybe Macedonia.

Author: Marilyn Armstrong

Opinionated writer with hopes for a better future for all plus a big helping of cynicism.

24 thoughts on “WORLD OF STRANGE – Marilyn Armstrong”

  1. If there are aliens checking in on us I wonder if they insult each other by saying “You have the attention span of a human.”?
    After reading your comments about the Black Death I felt sure that I’d read of cases of it here in the 20th century. I looked it up and Australia had a dozen outbreaks between 1900-1925. Sydney was worst hit but also Melbourne, Brisbane, Adelaide and Fremantle. Fremantle is the port for Perth for those who don’t know it.
    I’m not sure what history they teach in schools now. If they do they probably call it something else. I think it should be taught because understanding the history of our own country (and others) makes it easier to understand current events. Well, I think so anyway. Of course, school history for younger kids is not as in-depth as in college but at least I got a good grounding in British history and Australian history. We had a bit on the French and American Revolutions and the American Civil War. We learned about both World Wars. We covered Vietnam which was still happening when I was at school. I don’t say I remember it all but I was the kind of kid who would go and read the encyclopedia to find out more. Maybe that is the real problem with some young people now. They don’t have the curiosity to learn more about a subject that they don’t see as central to their well being. I’m not a parent so maybe I’m wrong about this but surely the most valuable thing you can give a young person is the desire to learn so they will go off and find out more and form their own opinions.

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    1. That may be true, but teachers have very little time these days to try to encourage creativity and research. There are all these standardized tests from third grade. if they don’t pass, they can’t move on, so it’s all about passing tests. I don’t even know if that qualifies as education.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I think we have something similar. They test in 3rd, 5th, 7th and 10th grades. Kids are taught what they need to pass tests but not to THINK. Too many teachers probably have to do what the one you and Garry met did if they want to make a difference.

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          1. Here I don’t think it controls if you pass or not I think it is more about seeing if the school is meeting some kind of standard. However, I still don’t feel that it is a good way to teach.

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            1. That’s what it was supposed to do here, but at least in Massachusetts, if you don’t pass, you don’t move to the next grade. And because the school budget is much smaller than it needs to be — on ALL levels of education — there’s no time to do anything but teach for the exams. Creativity has been banned.

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  2. I know, first hand, that Utah (which ranks, I believe, among the worst in education for America), didn’t and probably still does not teach ‘history’. We got some Utah history (heavily edited from what I’ve learned since) when I was in 7th grade; and I remember the whole Nixon thing back when it happened, because that teacher happened to be creative and hosted a mock impeachment trial for us to learn the workings of such things; but aside from those two exposures to history? If I was taught, I did not retain any of it. I was probably bored stiff. I got my sense of history through reading Dickens, Shakespeare and other classic authors. Explains a few things about me if you wondered. Today I rather regret the big gaping holes in my education, but what the hell would I do about it now anyway? That ship has sailed. As to the sinking ship that we call our country? I wish a rat had infected me with the plague. It would be a better death than this slow, dying by inches, we’re facing as we age in this country. Maybe you and Garry will be spared seeing the worst of it, I doubt I will. I’ve still got more than a decade (probably more decades than I want actually) to go before I rest. Long miles. Wish it were over.

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    1. I can’t argue with you because I don’t know. A LOT depends on the next election and we aren’t even sure how we are going to HAVE an election. I know our plague is the big deal of the year and maybe the decade — but it’s like there IS no other news. The networks tell you how many people have died nationally and internationally and local stations update you on your own state, though in our case, they never even mention our county which, I should add, is the largest county IN the state. We are the lost county. Tree country.

      I don’t know what’s going to happen. Maybe some good will come of this. Maybe not. SO much depends on who is in charge and whether or not the well-educated people — scientists, researchers, climatologists, historians — the people currently most hated by Trump supporters are allowed to do what needs doing. We are so eager to pay for wars and more wars. We need to find a way to pay for things that are good for us and good for the planet or we won’t survive. I’d like to think it will be better, but I don’t know any more than you do. Or for that matter, than anyone knows.

      Last night I watched “Green Lantern.” At the end, I wished he was real. We could really use a few thousand world guardians.

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        1. Yes, sadly, it is. Hey, remember when we were teenagers and the big worry was over-populations? Then everyone forgot about it. But we ARE over-populated. That’s one of the problems. The complications of both over-population and technology are terrible to behold.

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            1. Maybe. Or maybe it’s the congestion and the ease of spreading the disease. Too many people packed too tightly. The population of the world before 1347 and the arrival of Bubonic Plague was about 70% higher than it was after it’s first three rounds. There were several subsequent rounds in later centuries including the 1900s because that one never left. NOT everything can be made to go away. There’s an article in the Washington Post this morning about “what happens if COVID-19 never leaves” that I haven’t had the courage to read. It might NOT leave. They may NOT find a vaccine. And it does seem to be mutating very fast and it’s so contagious — and there’s no proof that having had it once, you can’t get it again.

              If we are a potato, this disease could be slowly grating us into piles of useless peels. Now that’s a fun thought, eh?

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    1. Sometimes, it’s null. I have a much shorter memory span because I’m in that forgetful age stage. But the kids are worse than me. They have no focus. They don’t even TRY to remember things. I know that social media and computer and instant everything on TV is part of the problem, but I doubt it is ALL of it. I think there’s too much “information” floating around and most of it isn’t information. It isn’t even fiction. It’s just wrong. And they don’t know enough to know better.

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  3. Yes, Marilyn, you are right. The desire of humans for wealth and power has been with us since the beginning of mankind. Not everyone is driven by these desires, but those that aren’t are in the minority. The world is a very different place now to what it was in 1918 during the Spanish flu. People didn’t have all the debt they have now for starters.

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    1. Yes, I remember when credit cards were first becoming common. There had been a few “specialized” ones before. Diner’s Club, department store cards, etc. And, of course, the “run-up tab” at the pharmacy or grocery, especially in small towns. But in the early 1980s, credit exploded and hardly anyone has seen the light of day since. It also made buying things you couldn’t afford so much easier. Before that, you bought whatever car you could afford, as often as not, used. NOW you could get a much fancier car using extended payments that sometimes outlasted the car itself. It’s all just a little bit per month until all those little bits add up to an awful lot.

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        1. I was in Israel when it started and even there, it was FAST. From the first ATM’s appearance in Jerusalem (my kids thought it was great … free money comes right out of the wall!) to everyone with a dozen credit cards was almost instantaneous.

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    2. I think that the people who really want that are so driven, they don’t care who might fall under their wheels. I was never that ambitious, at least not about getting promoted or getting more power. I was ambitious about the quality of my work. That’s what made it fulfilling.

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