A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 266

Dodge City lawman Bat Masterson around 1911. Courtesy: The Library of Congress.

Monday, May 30

The violence of the Old West has been widely described—and magnified in countless Hollywood productions. But a look at the record of Wild West violence shows that it was nothing like as bloody and horrific as the current spate of AR-15 murders across the U.S.

A little background: In the immediate post-Civil War years, a number of “cattle towns” sprouted up across Kansas, encouraging great drives of the immense Texas longhorn herds to these railheads. Dodge City, Abilene, Wichita, Ellsworth, and Caldwell all came into being and flourished between 1867 and 1885. In 1867, a mere 35,000 head of Texas beef were driven to Abilene, with perhaps 20,000 being shipped from there via rail to points east. Wichita and Dodge City, each with links to the Santa Fe railroad, rose as important shipping points in the 1870s. In 1882, 200,000 head of cattle were sold in Dodge City alone; by 1910, 27 million cattle had made the trek from Texas to the Kansas towns.

But famously, when cattle drives ended, they unleashed upon the towns dozens of rowdy coyboys—suddenly flush with end-of-drive pay and eager to cut loose. Catering to their wants were legions of prostitutes, gambling halls, and 24-hour saloons. Brawls of every sort resulted: During Abilene’s third cattle season, 1869, one cowboy rode his horse into a saloon, pulled a gun on the bartenders, and upon exiting, engaged in a shootout with numerous other “desperate characters.” The towns were thus compelled to effect a variety of peace-keeping mechanisms—one of the most common being hiring a crew of former gunfighters as a police force.

All the same, in the words of historian Robert R. Dykstra’s 1970 work The Cattle Towns, there were relatively few fatalities. “Many legendary desperadoes and gunfighters sojourned in the cattle towns at one time or another, but few participated in slayings,” he writes. These notable badmen included Doc Holliday, Clay Allison, and the teen-aged gunman John Wesley Hardin. Nor did badge-wearing gunslingers contribute much to fatality stats: “Wild Bill” Hickok killed only two men during his one term as Abilene city marshal; Dodge City’s Wyatt Earp, only one; and “Bat” Masterson, also of Dodge, killed none at all.

According to Dykstra, between 1870 and 1885, total homicides in the five cattle towns amounted to only 45.

Many of the wanton cowpokes were likely no older, and probably no less unhappy, than the Uvalde, Texas killer, Salvador Ramos. But a six-shooter bears no comparison to the AR-15 that in only a few minutes fired off over 100 rounds in Uvalde—or to the other AR-15s used in every recent U.S. mass killing from Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life Synagogue to the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut to the Buffalo, N.Y.  supermarket.

It’s no wonder the Uvalde police were afraid to face the shooter.

Dinner: the chickpea stew pasta e ceci, corn muffins, and a green salad.

Entertainment: concluding episodes of the Scandi thriller “The Bridge”

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–Chapter 265

The coal-mining company town of Jenkins, Ky at the turn of the 20th century.

Thursday, May 19

The current issue of MIT Technology Review is focused on so-called cybercurrencies and contains a jaw-dropper of its own: Crypto millionaires have plans to build their own private cities in Central America.

In an article entitled “Cities Built by Crypto,” tech writer Laurie Clarke describes how, in a plan endorsed by El Salvador President Nayib Bukele, that country is selling $1 billion worth of debt in U.S. dollars to fund the construction of Bitcoin City and Bitcoin mining operations.

The Salvadorean project is not alone: Other crypto investors are leaning on governments from Puerto Rico to Honduras to create semi-autonomous enterprise zones that, they say, will stimulate growth and enrich the locals.

Sounds like more enterprise-zone flapdoodle, you say? 

Yes, it seems the Ayn Rand-devotee crowd intends to keep plugging its dubious no-downside, rugged-individualist social vision until there’s a real meltdown. 

There’s more to the Salvadorean plan: Bitcoin City’s economy will run on that cybercurrency, be powered by geothermal energy from Conchagua Volcano, and be largely free of taxes…if things go according to the plan.

There’s even a non-profit foundation dedicated to the proliferation of such crypto-cities around the planet, the Free Private Cities Foundation. In such places, as envisioned by foundation President Titus Gebel and former World Bank economist Paul Romer, residents pay an annual fee for such services as policing—and if the services aren’t provided, these “contract citizens” can take the supposed provider before an independent arbitration tribunal. 

To me, the author of a book about company towns, it all sounds a bit like a company town…as envisaged by a lawyer. But there’s a lot yet to be disclosed: Would the managing enterprise own all institutions—from the hospital to the newspaper to housing and the company store—as in such company towns as Kannapolis, N.C. or the original Lowell, Mass.? I mean, there’s already company “scrip,” a.k.a. Bitcoin…so why not?

And what happens when the next pandemic hits? I mean, if such towns’ citizens are all just independent free actors, just what entity will tell them there should be curfews or a lockdown? Who would tell people they must wear masks or get vaccinations? 

Oh, I see—forget about public health. In this life, you’re on your own.

Dinner: spaghetti bolognese and a green salad.

Entertainment: Another episode of season three of Scandi thriller The Bridge.

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 264

Saturday, May 14

More startling developments of the past few years have come to light. Here are some that should have been on my recent list: 

*During 2020, gun deaths in the U.S. rose to the highest number ever recorded, more than 45,000. This resulted in part from a pandemic-paranoia-inspired gun-buying spree. The homicide rate was  the highest since 1994, but half of all deaths were suicides. Black men ages 15 to 34 accounted for 38% of all gun homicide victims in 2020, even though this group represented just 2% of the U.S. population.

*After a 30% increase in drug-overdose deaths during 2020, the rise continued with overdose deaths rising another 15% in 2021. A growing share of deaths involve fentanyl, a class of potent synthetic opioids that are often mixed with other drugs, and methamphetamine, a synthetic stimulant. 

*On May 12, 2022 Biden announced that the COVID death total in the U.S. had reached one million.

*The first image of a supermassive black hole at the center of the Milky Way galaxy has been exhibited by the Event Horizon Telescope, an international scientific collaboration.

In personal—and much less galactic—news, we have purchased the 2019 Subaru Outback that we have leased for the past three years. This especially makes sense as we have driven it so little over the period of the pandemic—our odometer shows a bit over 12,000 miles. Kelley Blue Book online shows similar cars selling for around $32,000. If so, ours has barely depreciated, $34,343 being the value at the time of the lease in May of 2019. And all told, we paid a lot less than either figure.

I have been reading the literary novel/high-grade science fiction work Station Eleven by Emily St. John Mandel. The central development of the book is a global pandemic that wipes out 99% of humanity. The author caught a wave, as she published the book in 2014, just ahead of the real-world pandemic. Reading the book is a weird experience: The events it describes are much more dire than those we have undergone. But you can easily imagine that things might have turned out something like they do in Station Eleven–or that an even more severe, coming pandemic could have some of the characteristics Mandel describes.

Large cities have been mostly abandoned. Small bands of human survivors live in former suburban fast-food joints and abandoned airports. People break into a Chili’s to scavenge food; otherwise they eat deer or other slain animals. The highways are clotted with abandoned cars, some containing dead victims of the plague. There is no gasoline, no transport at all, and no electricity. Small bands of whacked-out youth, often led by Manson-like “prophets,” roam the countryside, seeking people and things to exploit. Everyone carries weapons.

It’s all horrifying—and spellbinding.

Dinner: Szechuan eggplant and fresh asparagus.

Entertainment: a re-watch of season two of the hugely popular Scandi noir, The Bridge (2012).

A Journal of the Plague Year 2022–chapter 263

“Chess, anyone?”

Sunday, May 8

We seem to be in the middle of another tidal wave of disasters. The jaw-droppingly bad happenings come so thick and fast that you can’t absorb one before another hits. If you thought the Russian invasion of Ukraine was bad, just wait—here comes the U.S. Supreme Court to drop its own bunker-buster on women and the prospect of a rational society!

After a recent conversation in which I tried just to list a few events, I realized my recollection of all that has befallen us in the past two-and-a-half years was slipping: Which came first— Trump’s pro-hydroxychloroquine spiel or the killing of George Floyd?

To put it all in order, I spent some time compiling a timeline of jaw-droppers, beginning with the January, 2020 Chicago police murder of Tyree Davis and the outbreak of COVID-19 in Wuhan—and ending with the leak of the Supreme Court’s draft reversal of the 1973 ruling in Roe vs. Wade. Along the way, there were some interesting juxtapositions. Consider: 

During the first eight months of 2020, U.S. police murdered 164 Black youths. Meanwhile, a pandemic emerged that racked up 2 million recorded deaths worldwide; Donald Trump was acquitted in his first (!) impeachment trial thanks to solid Republican votes; mass shootings took place in Milwaukee, Washington, D.C., and Bay St. Louis, Mississippi; a volcano erupted in Taal, Philippines that forced 225,000 people to evacuate; Hollywood mogul Harvey Weinstein was convicted of rape and sexual abuse; wildfires burned millions of acres from California to Washington State; and Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg died, soon to be replaced by Catholic fundamentalist Amy Coney Barrett.

Might as well curse God and die, did you say?

Hold on. 

In January of 2021, as Congress was about to certify the results of the national election that made Joe Biden president, a Trump riot in the Capitol sought to gum up the electoral works. Orange Man regularly declared the election results a fraud, having tried to get several states to reverse their electoral votes. Five people died in the D.C. riot–but shortly thereafter the Senate declined to find Trump guilty of “insurrection.”

All the same, by August, 90% of seniors had received COVID vaccinations—despite rampant denialism and flagrant resistance even to mask-wearing, particularly in certain “red” states.

But it was no time for rejoicing. New COVID variants continued to appear. And shortly after the turn of the year 2022, Russia began an all-out invasion of Ukraine. Then came the Supreme Court bombshell.

War, pestilence, death, and famine—the last of these soon to be upon much of the world thanks to the Ukraine/Russia disruption of agriculture and trade. The Four Horsemen ride on.

Dinner: shakshuka with feta cheese and a green salad.

Entertainment: Jazz-lounge melodrama The Man I Love (1946) with Ida Lupino.


Jan 4, 2020 Chicago police shoot and kill 25-year-old Tyree Davis, the first of 164 Blacks to be slain by cops in the first eight months of the year.

January 8 In a random, ambush-style shooting in Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, two people are killed, two wounded.

January 9 Coronavirus outbreak in Wuhan China

January 12 A volcano erupts at Taal, Philippines, with a 500-meter-tall lava fountain spreading heavy ash across the landscape, 225,000 people evacuating, and Manila air traffic halted.

January 21 1st U.S. Covid case reported; Wuhan quarantine (on 23rd).

February 5 In impeachment trial, Senate acquits Trump.

February 23 Ahmaud Arbery, a 25-year-old jogger, is pursued through suburban Georgia by three whites in pickups who surround and murder him.

February 24 Harvey Weinstein convicted of rape, sexual abuse.

February 26 Five people are shot dead by a former employee at a Molson Coors plant in Milwaukee. The gunman then commits suicide.

March 9 Stock market crashes due to pandemic.

March 13 Louisville, KY, police shoot and kill 26-year-old Breonna Taylor after entering her home “searching for illegal drugs.”

March 13 US health emergency declared by Trump; billions in funding unlocked.

March 19 California issues mandatory stay-at-home order.

April 8 Trump promotes malaria drug hydroxychloroquine as Covid cure.

May 21 U.S. and AstraZeneca to speed vaccine development.

May 25 George Floyd, 46, killed by Minneapolis police who kneel on his neck, arresting him over a counterfeit $20 bill. Floyd is filmed repeatedly saying “I can’t breathe.” Nationwide Black Lives Matter protests follow his death, and hundreds of buildings including the Minneapolis police station are burned. There’s a nightly curfew in New York City. Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin is arrested and charged with murder and manslaughter.

May 28 US COVID-19 deaths pass 100,000.

June 10 Confirmed cases of COVID-19 at 2 million globally.

June 12 Rayshard Brooks, 27, killed by Atlanta police who find him asleep in a drive-through lane at a Wendy’s restaurant.

June Seattle police and BLM protesters in a week of standoffs.

July Portland, OR, protests escalate. Disguised federal agents participate in crackdown.

August 9 In a block-party shooting in Washington, D.C., A 17- year-old boy is killed and 21 others injured.

August 18 Democrats nominate Biden for President.

August Wildfires burn millions of acres from California to Washington State. Hurricane Henri threatens East Coast.

August 11 Trump administration reportedly agrees to pay $1.5 billion to Moderna for 100 million doses of its vaccine candidate; COVID becomes 3rd leading cause of U.S. deaths behind heart disease and cancer.

August 23 Jacob Blake, 29, shot in back by Kenosha, WI, police. Mass protests ensue, during which White militant Kyle Rittenhouse, armed with an assault rifle, kills two people.

September Supreme Court justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg dies, Trump nominates Court of Appeals judge Amy Coney Barrett as replacement; Hurricane Ida flooding in NYC

October 2 Trump (hospitalized) and wife test positive for COVID.

October 19 Global cases of coronavirus top 40 million.

October 26 Philadelphia police shoot and kill Walter Wallace, 27.

November 18 A 44,000-person trial shows that the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine is 95% effective.

December First US vaccinations against Covid; Congress passes $2.3 trillion Covid-19 relief bill that includes $600 checks for all; at year’s end 2.8 million in US have been vaccinated.

January 6, 2021 Trump tries to block election certification by Congress. During riot by Trump supporters in Washington, D.C., four people die of medical emergencies; Trump supporter Ashli Babbitt fatally shot by police officer inside Capitol building

January 13 Trump impeached for second time over “incitement of insurrection.” 57 senators vote “guilty,” less than the two-thirds majority needed to convict, and 43 senators vote “not guilty,” resulting in Trump being acquitted of the impeachment charges on February 13.

March 11 President Biden signs $1.9 trillion economic relief bill.

March Delta variant of Covid arrives in US and quickly becomes dominant variant.

March 18 A gunman kills eight people at three Atlanta spas, including six Asian women.

March 22 A gunman kills 10 inside a Boulder, Colorado grocery.

April 11 Policeman shoots and kills Daunte Wright in Brooklyn Center, MN.

April 15 A gunman kills eight people in a FedEx warehouse in Indianapolis.

August, 2021 70% of US citizens have at least one vaccination, including 90% of seniors; CDC recommends 3rd or “booster” shot for immunocompromised.

September 9 Biden announces all companies with over 100 employees must mandate COVID-19 vaccinations.

November Satellite imagery shows a buildup of Russian troops on the Ukraine border, stoking fears of a possible invasion. Over the previous six years, Russia has seized Crimea from Ukraine and pro-Russian separatist militants have taken control of the Donbas region in eastern Ukraine.

November 19 At homicide trial, Kyle Rittenhouse is found not guilty of all charges.

November 25 Omicron variant emerges in South Africa.

November 30 A shooter kills four at a suburban Detroit high school, the deadliest school shooting of the year.

December 2 First U.S. case of Omicron variant

December 14 U.S. death toll stands at around 800,000 compared with 300,000 of previous December.

January 7, 2022 Arbery killers the McMichaels and Bryan are sentenced to life imprisonment.

February 24 In the largest military operation since World War II, Russia invades Ukraine with as many as 200,000 troops. Kharkiv, Kyiv and other cities are bombed. Western nations impose major sanctions on Russia, block oil and gas exports.

April 26 The CDC lists COVID “variants of concern,” including Omicron B.1.1.529, BA.1, BA.1.1, BA.2, BA.3, BA.4 and BA.5

May 3 Leak of U.S. Supreme Court draft ruling overturning abortion-rights landmark case Roe vs. Wade. A reversal, which could come in late June, would overturn a near 50- year precedent.