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Book Report: Darwin's Radio

Your Humble Blogger finally got around to reading Darwin’s Radio. I enjoyed it quite a bit, actually, although after allowing a week or so to pass before blogging it, I know mostly remember my complaints. My main complaint was that Mr. Bear appeared to be saying that he thought that all this would happen soon, or at least that it was very likely to happen soon, rather than that it was plausible. This means that the chunks of books devoted to making it plausible came off as lectures and assertions, rather than as explanations or speculations. Still and all, considering how much science was in this science fiction, and how little genetic epidemiology Your Humble Blogger knows, it was surprisingly entertaining.

One thing I thought Mr. Bear did really very well indeed was to depict the odd and chaotically interinfluencing motivations of ambition and idealism in the civil service, particularly (in this case) the public health branch. There is a tremendous amount of incredibly cynical maneuvering for power, but the people doing the maneuvering almost always want the power in order to implement policies they consider important and designed for the public good. The head of the CDC wants to get himself a bigger budget and a higher position, yes, but he wants those things so that he can use them to better fight disease. His political enemies want to limit his position and budget, because they want those things themselves, yes, but also because they oppose his policies on policy grounds, and because they (naturally) prefer their own policies, which they could implement if only they had more power and higher positions. Of course, it’s easy to let the power become the thing in itself, and he shows that, too, but that, too, works into the system.

The problem, of course, is that when A and B are fighting for power, it’s very hard for A to agree with B. Not that A intends to disagree with everything B says, but B is just so annoying and dense, and in the way all the time, and so every time B comes up with a policy, the policy is fatally flawed, and must be opposed, not just on political grounds, but on the merits. And when it comes to public health policy, almost anything can be opposed on the merits; any plan is going to be flawed, probably really profoundly flawed. There’s no way for A to know when he disagrees with B because B is wrong, and when he disagrees with B because B is a prick.

Of course, the system should, probably, take into account C, who is their superior, and knowing something about management and about people, rewards them both far more when they agree with each other and provide support for each other than when one scores off the other. Then A is actively looking for policies that B has lucked into, and also trying really hard to persuade B that his own policies have merit. Well, and sometimes it works like that, too.

chazak, chazak, v’nitchazek,

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