Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Eboling alone

Himmelskibet (The Sky Ship), known in English as A trip to Mars, by Holger Madsen, Denmark, 1918. Image from Bullfax.
So last week the House Appropriations Committee deals with a request from the White House for $88 million to help the government cope with the sudden escalation of the Ebola virus in West Africa. So what is the inevitable response of chairman Hal Rogers? To offer $40 million instead.

David Brooks doesn't mention this in his critique of the US approach to Ebola. He may not have noticed it because he was too busy reading Adam Garfinkle's article in The National Interest, which tells us how former senator Dr. Bill Frist had the Ebola problem licked before it was even discovered by proposing a Medical Expeditionary Force, which is a bit like Médecins Sans Frontières but with fewer doctors and without all those spooky accents and foreigners, and will cost more than $88 million, annually, if anybody ever puts it together.

Frist lost interest in it, I guess, when he dumped the Senate in favor of a new career as a one-man speaker's bureau. He's offering his own Ebola solution, as it happens, which is not a Medical Expeditionary Force but an early diagnosis tool, or rather the idea that somebody ought to come up with one, which is probably a pretty good and inexpensive idea, though not likely to end the crisis without a lot of other stuff. Frist may have become one of those guys Brooks is complaining about:
Now nobody wants to be an Organization Man. We like start-ups, disrupters and rebels. Creativity is honored more than the administrative execution. Post-Internet, many people assume that big problems can be solved by swarms of small, loosely networked nonprofits and social entrepreneurs. Big hierarchical organizations are dinosaurs.
Brooksy usually prefers small government and privatization, but when there are terrorists or viruses on the loose he suddenly gets all interested in having a dinosaur on his side:
The Ebola crisis is another example that shows that this is misguided. The big, stolid agencies — the health ministries, the infrastructure builders, the procurement agencies — are the bulwarks of the civil and global order. 
Wouldn't it be great, come to think of it, if our country had some big organization of people with a range of skills from computer modeling to hand-to-hand combat who could just sit around waiting for an emergency to come around? We could call it the United States Armed Forces.

Brooks not only fails to adequately identify (to say nothing of linking) any of his sources for this piece, but doesn't credit Garfinkle at all for the information about Frist—giving the impression he's been sitting on it for the past ten years or whatever, just waiting for a chance to bring it up. I don't know whether that violates the Times's ethical guidelines or not.

I can't find any source at all for the citation from Ray Chambers, the United Nations Special Representative for Malaria (does Malaria have a vote in the General Assembly or just observer status?)--I think Brooks must know him socially and telephoned him, on the theory that malaria and Ebola are pretty much the same. Chambers apparently told him that Ebola will cause more people to suffer from malaria because when they get those fevers they'll think they have Ebola and therefore not go to the doctor. Thanks for sharing that, Ray.

Chambers is a somewhat retired private equity wheeler dealer who once paid $25 million to unload his interest in the New Jersey Devils. He should have just taken them down to the recycle.

I meant to say something about the column itself, but while I was busy with something else Steve went and said pretty much everything I wanted. The inestimable Driftglass is so good on this one, with some hardass analysis, that it hurts.

Laurel & Hardy in Flying Deuces (1939). Image from Fraught Experiments.

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