Vital Signs

The Totalitarian Bug

One day last autumn a stray clipping reminded me that the first news from abroad that startled me in England—where, six years ago, I fled from the optimism of the New York Times as I had fled from the comparably totalitarian bonism of Pravda 12 years earlier— was not some distant rumbling of Kremlin intrigue or American neoconservatism. It was an article in the Observer reporting on the spread of a germ that proved impervious to all antibiotics, called "methicillin-resistant staphylococcus aureus bacteris," or "Superstaph" for short. The novel phenomenon prompted Dr. Ken Harvey, director of microbiology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, to predict that in the not-too-distant future "we may look back on the antibiotic era as just a passing phase in the history of medicine, an era in which a great natural resource was squandered and where the bugs proved smarter than the scientists." Permit mc to change the subject ever so slightly.

Here I am six years later. Even from the relative safety of a Paris hotel room, watching a nation leap into the slightly unpleasant beyond is frightening. Well after midnight, when the final results of the referendum on "European union" have been tabulated, it transpires that the actual number of real, honest-to-goodness Gadarene lemmings is statistically negligible, though decisive enough to swing the vote. To those who find the simile...

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