How The Center For Disease Control And Prevention Failed Us

From Alex Taborrok’s review of Scott Gottlieb’s new book, Uncontrolled Spread: Why Covid-19 Crushed Us and How We Can Defeat the Next Pandemic.

“If there’s one overarching theme of “Uncontrolled Spread,” it’s that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention failed utterly. It’s now well known that the CDC didn’t follow standard operating procedures in its own labs, resulting in contamination and a complete botch of its original SARS-CoV-2 test. The agency’s failure put us weeks behind and took the South Korea option of suppressing the virus off the table. But the blunder was much deeper and more systematic than a botched test. The CDC never had a plan for widespread testing, which in any scenario could only be achieved by bringing in the big, private labs.

Instead of working with the commercial labs, the CDC went out of its way to impede them from developing and deploying their own tests. The CDC wouldn’t share its virus samples with commercial labs, slowing down test development. ‘The agency didn’t view it as a part of its mission to assist these labs.’ Dr. Gottlieb writes. As a result, ‘It would be weeks before commercial manufacturers could get access to the samples they needed, and they’d mostly have to go around the CDC. One large commercial lab would obtain samples from a subsidiary in South Korea.’

In the early months of the pandemic the CDC impeded private firms from developing their own tests and demanded that all testing be run through its labs even as its own test failed miserably and its own labs had no hope of scaling up to deal with the levels of testing needed. Moreover, the author notes, because its own labs couldn’t scale, the CDC played down the necessity of widespread testing and took ‘deliberate steps to enforce guidelines that would make sure it didn’t receive more samples than its single lab could handle.'”

The solution has to be a more decentralized public health apparatus, doesn’t it?

In North Korea, The Fourth Man Could Be A Woman

Barbara Demrick in The New Yorker:

“The conventional wisdom is that a woman could never ascend to the leadership of North Korea, a country stuck in a time warp of passé fashions, hairdos, music, and social mores. A toxic mix of Confucianism and totalitarianism indentures women to their husbands, to their in-laws, and, ultimately, to a male-dominated regime. With a few exceptions (the best known being the vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui), North Korea’s senior cadres are almost entirely male. The Supreme People’s Assembly—which currently has six hundred and eighty-seven members—is supposed to set aside twenty per cent of its seats for women, but the percentage has frequently dipped lower. And the primary function of these token deputies seems to be to brighten the optics, by wearing the jewel-toned, floor-length Korean gowns best known by the South Korean term hanbok. Since 1948, North Korea has been ruled by three men—the founder, his son, and his grandson—but, nevertheless, it is now conceivable that the fourth man will be a woman. That is because, with reports that Kim Jong Un is in failing health, the most obvious successor is his thirtysomething sister, Kim Yo Jong.”

And dig this:

“She was reportedly a favorite of her father, Kim Jong Il, who ruled from 1994 until his death, in 2011, and who, according to a former Russian official, Konstantin Pulikovsky, may have had a more enlightened attitude toward women than some of the North Korean élite. Pulikovsky, who travelled with Kim Jong Il by train and later wrote a memoir about the experience, told interviewers that the leader praised the intelligence of his daughter, while deriding his sons as ‘idle blockheads.'”

Despite being 36 years young, obscenely rich, and with access to world class medical care, Kim Jong Un is allegedly at risk of dying due to obesity, chain smoking and who knows what other vices. Dad’s assessment seems spot on, which begs the question, why didn’t he go with Kim Jo Young in the first place.

Most likely for two reasons. Too young and . . .

“‘North Korea is so outlandishly sexist, despite the fact that they are supposed to be a revolutionary society. When it comes to gender relations, it is like South Korea decades ago,’’ Katharine H. S. Moon, a political-science professor at Wellesley College who has written about gender issues in Korean politics, said. In fact, as Moon notes, women have not fared well in politics in South Korea, either, a nation that is routinely toward the bottom of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s list of developed countries’ rankings on gender equality. South Korea’s only female President, Park Geun-hye, was impeached in 2017, and is now in prison, serving twenty-five years for bribery, extortion, and abuse of power, which some maintain is harsher treatment than accorded men who committed comparable offenses.”

 

Tuesday Assorted Links

1. Knicks fan sells fanhood for $3,450, now will root for Lakers. Genius. Wonder what I could get for my lapsed Sonic fanhood. $3.45? Speaking of Spike Lee, I’m giving the Blackklansman an “A-“.

2. New logo and identity for the Library of Congress. And John Gruber, who takes his logos seriously, is not happy. At all.

“This new identity is a horrendous mistake. The old identity was perfect.

The new identity doesn’t look bad in and of itself, per se, but it doesn’t fit the Library of Congress in any way. The Library of Congress is majestic, historic, dignified, authoritative. A new or tweaked identity for the Library of Congress should be for the ages, something designed to last for a century or longer. This feels like an identity that will last 10 years. I love orange and black as a color scheme, but why in the world would you choose those colors for the United States Library of Congress? Why is the word “Library” used twice? Why do some of these marks break up the word “Library” at utterly random points making it unreadable? The ones that break it up as “LIBR-Library of Congress-ARY” look like a logo for the Long Island Railroad.

This is all so wrong it breaks my heart.”

3. What’s It’s Like to Shop After Not Shopping for Two Years.

“The most common mistake was that I used to buy things for a more aspirational version of myself, but then never used them because the real me didn’t want to. In waiting to feel the need for an object, I know it’s something worth buying—and when I have the money, the real me buys it and uses it. There are no justifications and no shame. I just buy it and use it.”

I’m a Cait Flanders fan.

Weirdly, just lately, in my advanced age, I started drinking asundry espresso drinks at asundry local coffee shops a few mornings a week after swimming or running. My sissy is disgusted with my frivolous spending, and I can’t live with the shame, so I’ve begun shopping for an espresso machine only to learn that’s the world’s largest rabbit hole. Oh, you gotta have a grinder? Not just any grinder, but a particularly good one. And every machine has serious trade-offs. Long story short, I’ve spent an embarrassing number of hours the last week watching YouTube reviews as I try to declare my independence from our local coffee shops. Hours I’ll never get back. Talk about frivolity. I wonder what Cait would charge for an hour of therapy. I could even bring the espresso. . . eventually.

4. Make America Great Again.

The Difference Between Jordan Spieth and Donald Trump

Aspiring leaders can learn a lot from Donald Trump. Specifically, what not to do. Last week he bragged that HE was going to pass the biggest tax cut in history. Not “my administration”, not “Congressional leaders and me”, “ME“. At the same time, when pressed to explain why he’s failed to pass any significant legislation so far, he has his Press Secretary blame Congress for “not doing their job”.

In contrast, listen to 24 year-old Jordan Spieth after winning his next golf tournament. Or Justin Thomas in three days in South Korea. Both consistently credit their teams for their success, starting every sentence with “We“. They credit their caddies, swing coaches, trainers, agents, and families for their success. Also note how they shift gears when they lose. “My putting wasn’t what it has been.” “I never had control of my driver.”

Two utterly opposite models of leadership. The U.S. Constitution says you have to be 35 years old to be President. If not for that, I’d say, let’s make a trade, Spieth to the Oval Office, Trump to the first tee. I mean he claims to have shot 73 last week. That news was timely, I was beginning to think he had his sense of humor surgically removed.

Our Passive Acceptance of Evil

I’ve been subjecting my unlucky, long-suffering wife to a string of intense foreign flicks. Most recently, In a Better World, which won the Oscar for the 2011 Best Foreign Language Film. One reviewer explains that “the film examines the different ways people react to injustice, and looks at how what counts as ‘revenge’, as opposed to ‘justice’, is a matter of perception.” Watch it and let me know what you think.

How do you react to injustice? What, if anything, do you do when you see an adult hit a child in public? What, if anything, do you do when you learn someone is a victim of domestic abuse? What, if anything do you when your tax dollars make it possible for drones to kill bad guys and innocent civilians anonymously from the sky?

I know what you do when an evil person, family, or cadre in Zimbabwe or North Korea hits, impoverishes, and imprisons on a national scale. Nothing. Most people cope with the atrocities of those regimes by not paying attention to them. If we don’t even know where Zimbabwe and North Korea are, who Kim Jong-un and Robert Mugabe are, or what Zimbabweans’ and North Koreans’ lives are like, it’s so much easier to just make fun of how backward the countries are.

On the other hand, if we’re better than our popular culture, and press pause long enough to learn what life is like for fellow humans who were born in the wrong place at the wrong time, it’s impossible to watch the North Korean succession without getting sick to your stomach.

The North Korean tragedy is nearly impossible to grasp, but here’s an imperfect analogy. If your politics are anything like mine, after John McCain picked Sarah Palin to be his running mate during the 2008 U.S. presidential election, you had a few “Oh shit, there’s a possibility of an ill-informed, right wing dilettante becoming president” moments. Forget President Sarah Palin. Instead imagine if the vote was canceled and Jenna Bush was appointed President. Jenna, not Barbara because she revealed a greater capacity for cruelty. One of Jong-un’s alleged childhood pastimes was torturing small animals.

I miss Christopher Hitchens’ writing. This incredibly vacuous New Yorker essay on North Korea’s Kim Jong-il’s funeral ceremony/performance begs a question—who will fill his shoes? Without Hitchens’ passionate, populist voice the Kim Jong-un succession has even more of a feel of inevitability.

I get it, the immediacy of the evil in North Korea pales in comparison to the violence in our own neighborhoods and communities, but the scale of human suffering deserves more of our attention. We can and should be committed to a more peaceful and just 2012 both in our own communities and on the Korean Peninsula.

It Could Be Far, Far Worse

For the most part, I’m grateful for the numerous blessings in my life including my health; my wife; my daughters; my mom, siblings and extended family; my personal freedom and civil rights; my work; access to excellent films and literature; the Pacific Northwest, and a surplus of Honey Bunches of Oats.

But I get frustrated with myself for not being as appreciative as I should all the time. Sometimes, when sitting in faculty meetings, or in traffic, or for hours at the doctor’s office, I can even begin to feel sorry for myself.

The ancient Stoics had a strategy for being joyful, negative visualization. Negative visualization entails taking a few minutes out of one’s enjoyment of life a few times each day or week to think about how all the most positive things in one’s life could be taken away. What if a loved one were to suddenly die? What would my life be like without my wife? Without a daughter? Without my mother? What if I was severely injured and couldn’t swim, cycle, or run? What if we lost all our life savings through disastrous decision making or an unprecedented financial meltdown?

All of those questions combined pale in comparison to one I’ve been batting around this past week: what if I lived in North Korea?

I’m fascinated by North Korea partly because I briefly lived in 1990 Marxist Ethiopia, partly because the curtain around it is drawn so incredibly tight, and partly because of Bradley K. Martin’s lengthy, riveting history of 20th Century Korea, Under the Loving Care of the Fatherly Leader: North Korea and the Kim Dynasty.

Yesterday, I finished another genius work titled Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea by Barbara Demick. One hundred eighty five, five star customer reviews on Amazon, not bad. Demick, a former LA Times correspondent based in Seoul, tells the story of six North Koreans she got to know after they defected first to China, then South Korea. She introduces each character when things are, as always in North Korea, extremely repressive, and then they endure the mid 90’s collapse of the already pitiful economy and the famine that killed somewhere between ten and twenty percent of the population, including some of their parents, siblings, and young students.

It’s going to take awhile to shake this book. Actually, I hope I never do. In fact, the next time I look in the frig and wonder what to make given the paucity of pickings, I hope I’ll remember that some North Koreans are picking individual kernels of corn and grains of rice from animal waste and then eating them or climbing trees to cut off and then eat the soft underside of the bark. The next time the internet is down, I hope I remember that in North Korea there is no internet. And the next time my government demonstrates its fallibility, I hope I remember that in North Korea government officials burn unopened letters in the winter for warmth.

Those references just scratch the surface of how evil the Kim dictatorship is and how utterly brutal life is in North Korea. My vote for the worst address in the world. I’m surprised more North Koreans don’t attempt to escape across the Tumen River. And the frustrating thing is the world seems content not to do anything probably because they threaten to unleash their military might on Japan and South Korea. That “can’t do anything” mindset is much tougher to accept given Demick’s storytelling. We are at best selective humanitarians.

Thank you Deborah Demick for the disorienting stories and the reminder that life is far, far worse in North Korea than people as privileged as myself can ever fully grasp.