Programming note: Today, Thursday, Mark will be on The Geoff Currier Show at 680 CJOB in Winnipeg live at midday Central Time (you can listen to the show live here).
~On Wednesday President Trump announced that Vice-President Pence would be in charge of the US government response to the new coronavirus, which in nothing flat has spread to fifty countries on every continent except Antarctica. That rapid dispersal is, to put it at its mildest, a direct consequence of the bizarre decision by America and its allies to enable China to become the manufacturing plant for the entire planet. Like so much else of what plagues us, it is what happens when hyper-rational homo economicus makes judgments divorced entirely from broader considerations. We are fortunate in that this new jet-set plague appears to be relatively benign to the general population. One day it won't be. Here is what I had to say on the subject in my international bestseller America Alone:
In 2005, I had lunch with someone who'd just bought a photograph of Abraham Lincoln's second inaugural. "There they all are," he said. "Look." And he pointed to a vaguely familiar figure in the crowd just a few feet from the President: John Wilkes Booth. And then his finger zipped over the photo picking out the other conspirators standing around Lincoln and already well advanced in what was then a plot merely to kidnap him. March 4th 1865, a rainy Saturday in Washington, and the chief of state is giving his speech unaware that he's in the last six weeks of his life and that he's surrounded by the group of men who will end it.
Proximity is all. If they can't get to you, they can't get you. Most of us locate our fears on the far horizon â€“ like the old maps where the known world dribbles away and the cartographer scrawls "Here be dragons". Sometimes, as Lincoln learned, the problem's right there standing next to you.
A couple of weeks after seeing that photograph, I was passing through London and discovered that Britain was in the grip of bird flu fever: Any minute now there would be toxic cockatoos over the white cliffs of Dover, and the East End would be reeling under a blitzkrieg of sneezing parakeets. Those less easily panicked argued it was nutty and way out of proportion, One Flu Over The Cuckoo's Nest stuff â€“ business as usual from a government that spent the years after 9/11 warning of chemical attacks on the Underground and Saddam nuking the British bases on Cyprus. Avian flu? Just the usual Tony Blairy phony-scary rigmarole.
But then again, the Tube did eventually get bombed: just because the government says something will happen doesn't mean it won't. In rural China pigs are valued possessions and sleep in the living room. That's why hundreds of members of a Catholic charismatic group from New York State had to go into isolation for a hitherto unknown respiratory disease in April 2003. A doctor from Sars-riddled Guangdong province went to a wedding at the Metropole Hotel in Hong Kong, where he managed to infect 16 other guests with rooms on the same floor, including Kwan Sui Chu, an elderly lady staying there for one night. She flew home to Toronto and died, her death being attributed to a "chest infection". Her son Tse Chi Kwai went to Scarborough Grace Hospital and, as is traditional in Canada, was left on a gurney in Emergency for 12 hours exposed to hundreds of people. Lying next to him was Joe Pollack, who was being treated for an irregular heartbeat and whose wife wandered around the wards and came across an 82-year old man from a Catholic charismatic group. Mr Pollack, Mrs Pollack, the octogenarian charismatic and his wife all died, and their sons infected at least 30 other members of their religious group plus a Filipina nurse, who flew back to Manila and before her death introduced Sars to a whole new country.
The fellow with the irregular heartbeat, the Catholic charismatics, the Filipina nurse: none of these people went anywhere near rural China. They didn't have to. They were like Lincoln in that photograph: the Catholic charismatics from New York State didn't know the infected doctor from Guangdong was, metaphorically, standing next to them.
In a globalized economy, the anti-glob mob and the eco-warriors want us to worry about rapacious First World capitalism imposing its ways on bucolic, pastoral, primitive Third World backwaters. But globalization cuts both ways, and the peculiarities of the backwaters can leap instantly to the metropolis - just because someone got on a plane. The African mosquito who hitched a ride on a US-bound flight and all by himself introduced West Nile virus to North America is merely the high-altitude heir to those fleabitten rats on the Italian ships homebound from the Orient who brought the Black Death to Europe in the 1340s. That too was a globalization quid pro quo: the Continent's success in opening up trade with the East also opened it up to disease from the East.
That's the lesson of September 11th: The dragons are no longer on the edge of the map... As a bleary Dean Martin liked to say, in mock bewilderment, at the start of his stage act: "How did all these people get in my room?"
The "edge of the map" is an obsolete concept in the age of open borders - which is why I regret that the President has not pushed back against Democrat demands that the relatively minuscule "wall-funding" be re-allocated to the coronavirus budget. Rebuilding the demolished national border is not just about stemming the tide of unskilled mass migrants no developed nation needs in an age of increasing automation, but also about being able at least to mitigate the effects of new, mysterious viruses that can leap from one totalitarian despotism (China) to afflict instantly the ministers and parliamentarians of another totalitarian despotism (Iran). Trade policy, the wall and global pandemics are all related, and tying them together in a big Trump Doctrine speech wouldn't go amiss.
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Today, Thursday, following his noon Central Time appearance on CJOB's Geoff Currier Show, Mark will be back right here for Part Six of his latest Tale for Our Time, John Buchan's thriller The Power-House - and then swinging by "Tucker Carlson Tonight", live across America at 8pm Eastern/5pm Pacific.