October 21st, 2014

The Klinghoffer opera: sympathy for the devil

Last night was the opening of the controversial opera “The Death of Klinghoffer” at New York’s Lincoln Center. It was marked by protests:

Demonstrators, primarily associated with Jewish groups, plan to rally outside Lincoln Center with 100 wheelchairs, in honor of the slain handicapped Leon Klinghoffer, on whom “The Death of Klinghoffer” is based.

Klinghoffer was hurled from the Achille Lauro cruise ship by PLO terrorists in 1985 after it was hijacked. The opera, which centers on the terrorists who perpetrated the murder, has been accused of glorifying terrorism and incorporating anti-Semitic tropes.

The opera is not new; it was first produced in 1991, and has drawn protests wherever it goes. It’s not hard to see why.

As Thomas Sowell once asked, referring to Klinghoffer’s murderers:

What kind of people would throw an old man in a wheelchair off a cruise liner into the sea, simply because he was Jewish?

The answer, of course, is “terrorists,” and we’ve spent a lot of time and energy in recent years explaining them and fighting them. That they are also human beings doesn’t mean we need to sympathize with them.

I recall hearing the news of the hijacking and the shocking manner of Klinghoffer’s death at the time it occurred, but back then I was unaware of the almost immediate post-modern interest of some in understanding—empathizing with, and even sympathizing with—Klinghoffer’s murderers, or with their “narrative.” In the years since, and especially post-9/11, such enabling attitudes have become only too apparent.

“The Death of Klinghoffer” is an example of the genre. In the olden days, an opera on such a theme might have featured the terrorists as traditional villains steeped in evil, with thunderous and dissonant music to signify the horror of what they did. But in this version they are given sonorous and lovely melodies to sing and sympathetic words to utter. But it wasn’t enough to portray the murderers in a sensitive light; the Klinghoffers and their associates are portrayed less nobly:

More than 20 years ago, in his review of the Brooklyn Academy of Music’s premiere of the opera, The New York Times chief music critic, Edward Rothstein, questioned the presentation of Jews and Palestinian Arabs as “symmetrical victims of each other’s hatreds.” Rothstein later wrote that the opera’s depiction of its Jewish characters reduced them “to petty triviality” compared to their Palestinian counterparts.

The opera’s librettist, Alice Goodman, is an interesting tale herself. Born and raised as a Jew in Minnesota, educated in literature at Harvard, married to a British poet, she became an Anglican priest and opera librettist.

You can listen to Ms. Goodman discussing the opera here, in a BBC interview that features a selection from it sung by one of the terrorists. Without even being able to decipher the words of the libretto, just hearing the music and the voice of the kidnapper makes it clear that he is being given a respect and a certain esthetic elegance and dignity that could only serve to elevate him in the eyes of the listener.

Ms. Goodman’s answer to the question of whether the opera is anti-Semitic or an apology for terrorism is an interesting one. She says no (no surprise there); she believes that the charges of anti-Semitism and the rest are a result of her showing the terrorists as “human beings.”

Well, terrorists are most decidedly human beings, as were Hitler, Pol Pot, Stalin, and—well, every other human being who’s ever lived. We all know how Hitler loved dogs, and was a vegetarian. To be evil does not require that one be a devil; being a human being who does evil will suffice. But considering terrorists human beings does not require giving them a forum by writing lovely arias for them to sing.

Ms. Goodman says she speaks not just as the librettist, but as a priest, when she recognizes the perpetrators as human beings with ideals—wrongheaded, yes, but idealistic nevertheless—as though idealism somehow has a value in and of itself. She acknowledges that the music and the words she and her collaborator wrote for the terrorists who killed Klinghoffer were lyrical and heartfelt, and she understands that this fact created “a dissonance difficult for some people to take.”

Indeed. I guess we’re not all highly evolved enough to understand the convoluted mental gymnastics required in comprehending how that doesn’t constitute some sort of sympathy and apology—if not for the devil, then for the human beings who perpetrated this heinous act.

[NOTE: This is a re-written update based on an old post.]

[ADDENDUM: More background on Klinghoffer's death here:

Holding the passengers and crew hostage, [the Achille Lauro hijackers] ordered the captain to sail to Tartus, Syria, and demanded the release of 50 Palestinians then in Israeli prisons, including the Lebanese prisoner Samir Kuntar.

The next day, after being refused permission by the Syrian government to dock at Tartus, the hijackers singled out Klinghoffer, a Jew, for murder, shooting him in the forehead and chest as he sat in his wheelchair. They then forced the ship’s barber and a waiter to throw his body and wheelchair overboard. Marilyn Klinghoffer, who did not witness the shooting, was told by the hijackers that he had been moved to the infirmary. She only learned the truth after the hijackers left the ship at Port Said. PLO Foreign Secretary Farouq Qaddumi said that perhaps the terminally ill Marilyn Klinghoffer had killed her husband for insurance money. However, the PLO later accepted full responsibility for murdering Mr. Klinghoffer.

Initially, the hijackers were granted safe passage to Tunisia, but U.S. President Ronald Reagan ordered a U.S. fighter plane to force the get-away plane to land at Naval Air Station Sigonella in Italy. After an extradition dispute, Italian authorities arrested and later tried the Palestinian terrorists, but let Abu Abbas fly to Yugoslavia.

I highlighted the above for two reasons. The first is the statement of Farouq Qaddumi. The second is the action of President Reagan.

I wonder if Qaddumi is given an aria in the opera, too.]

October 20th, 2014

Singing genes

I’m not much of a Streisand fan. She’s just not all that much to my taste, but I recognize her outstanding talent and understand why for many people she’s their favorite singer.

I noticed that Yahoo is pushing a video of Streisand talking about her son’s singing, and singing a duet with him.

Now, that interested me. Mothers and sons interest me. And of course I was curious: what kind of voice does Jason Gould, 47-year-old sometime-actor son of Streisand and her first husband, actor Elliot Gould, have?

Well, it’s not like Streisand’s. But it’s good, not just passable or okay (like some of the Sinatra kids) but really good. Jason Gould’s voice may represent a regression towards the mean, but not very far towards the mean.

I think the story is interesting as well. It makes sense that he kept his voice under wraps all these years. Streisand would be a tough act to follow:

He has a different style from his mother’s. More subdued, but still expressive:

Musicality and singing voices seem to be highly hereditary, although it’s hard to separate nature/nurture because children of singers tend to grow up surrounded by music. Children of singers often try make it in the music biz, too, although the spawn of great singers almost never make it as big as their famous parents (Liza Minelli comes to mind as a big exception, but I still don’t think she’s as good as her mother).

It works both ways, though. Famous singers often have a less-famous singer-parent, one who had a lovely voice but didn’t make it all the way to the big time. Or, they have sibling singers, sometimes very successful—the Everly brothers, the Pointer sisters, and countless others. Here, for example, are some singing sisters not everybody knows are sisters:

[NOTE: Yes, I know you don't like Streisand's politics. This isn't about her politics.]

October 20th, 2014

The FDA, speed, and thalidomide

Articles like this one accuse the FDA of unnecessary slowness in approving diagnostic techniques, treatments, and vaccines:

Pandemic vaccines and drugs don’t move through the FDA approval process faster. Instead, drug- and device-development times actually increased more than 70 percent over the past decade because the FDA keeps demanding more studies and more data using outdated techniques.

It’s easy to blame the FDA, and as a federal agency I’m sure there’s plenty to blame. But don’t forget that the American people demand (and I mean exactly that: demand) contradictory things from new drugs, treatments, and vaccines: speed of development and use, and absolute safety. And if we don’t get that “absolute safety” part, we’ll sue the pants off you.

Well, those are contradictory demands. You can’t ordinarily get both. In fact, absolute safety, to the degree that people seem to be demanding it these days, is not possible even with a very slow development of the drug, treatment, or vaccine. Many problems only reveal themselves over time, and every treatment will have some problems for someone.

I am old enough to remember that America dodged the thalidomide bullet that hit Europe. It was through this more-cautious approach of the FDA:

In September 1960, Dr. Kelsey was a newly appointed member of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Her very first assignment was to review the application for the drug Kevadon. Synthesized in 1954 and introduced to the market on October 1, 1957 in West Germany, the drug—known there by the name Thalidomide—was hailed as a wonder cure for insomnia. Non-addictive and non-toxic, Thalidomide induced sleep and was prescribed as a sedative that promised no side effects. As its popularity grew, it soon became the drug of choice prescribed to pregnant women…

No side effects—at first. At least, not that anyone could see.

Of particular concern to Dr. Kelsey and her staff was one of the drug’s major selling points: unlike barbiturates which induced sleep but also induced death if taken in large quantities, Thalidomide could be ingested in large quantities, seemingly without toxic side effects. However, Dr. Kelsey recalled a study she conducted on rabbits as a young post-doctoral pharmacologist at the University of Chicago in 1942. Part of a team that was seeking to create a synthetic cure for malaria, Dr. Kelsey had noted that, although adult rabbits metabolized quinine rapidly, pregnant rabbits were less able to metabolize the drug and embryonic rabbits had no ability to metabolize the drug. Furthermore, Dr. Kelsey noted that the drug did indeed pass through the placental barrier between mother and developing fetus. Recalling those observations in reviewing the Thalidomide application, Dr. Kelsey was concerned that physiological changes such as pregnancy might change the absorption properties of Thalidomide, leading to harmful consequences.

Responding to Dr. Kelsey’s requests for more clinical proof of the drug’s safety, Richardson-Merrell submitted additional evidence, but she again rejected the application on the grounds that the reports were testimonial—not clinical—in nature.

As autumn closed in on the Christmas holiday season—the most lucrative time of the year for the sale of sedatives—the pharmaceutical company, frustrated by the repeated and, in their view, unnecessary delays, began to pressure Dr. Kelsey with visits and phone calls to her superiors. Despite the increasing pressure, Dr. Kelsey remained steadfast in her demand for thorough clinical studies demonstrating the drug’s safety.

Recalling this story (not every detail, but the main outline), I tend to think of it when people trash the FDA for being too cautious about new drugs. However, in the past, whenever I’ve brought it up in such conversations, nobody had ever heard of it (that is, they’d heard of thalidomide, but not that it was not approved in the US, or why). In fact, people often misremember, and think that the bulk of the thalidomide babies were born in the US rather than Europe. What actually happened was this:

In the few years that the drug was on the world market, thousands of children were born with Thalidomide-related deformities. Many did not survive until their first birthday. Countless more miscarriages were traced to the use of Thalidomide. The damage in the United States, due to the work of Dr. Kelsey, was small by comparison, with 17 children documented to have Thalidomide-associated deformities. (During an investigational period, Richardson-Merrell had distributed more than 2.5 million Thalidomide tablets to more than 1,000 doctors who, in turn, gave Thalidomide to nearly 20,000 patients, several hundred of whom were pregnant women.)

It was one of the times that the US and the FDA—and its caution—were the stars.

That doesn’t mean it’s always a good idea to go so slowly, or that the FDA’s caution hasn’t grown too great since then. I don’t know; I don’t pretend to be an expert on whether the FDA is using the right standards or not at this point. But ever since I learned some of the details of the thalidomide days (I was too young to fully understand it when it happened), I have been cautious about condemning the FDA’s caution.

October 20th, 2014

Democrats and the black voter: Project Vote

Democrats need black voter participation to have any chance of holding the line in the 2014 elections.

It’s no secret that black people vote heavily Democratic. And it’s no secret that they were extremely helpful in Obama’s 2008 and 2012 campaigns, voting overwhelmingly for him and his fellow Democrats.

I’ve written before about the fact that this was not only true of the vote for Obama, but for all recent Democratic nominees for president ever since 1964, when the Democratic Party became strongly identified with civil rights. For example, whiter-than-white Al Gore and John Kerry received almost as large a percentage of black votes as Barack Obama did:


It occurs to me, however, on reading the Times article about black voters in 2014 and the need to ramp up turnout, that the main difference between Obama and those previous Democratic nominees was not so much the percentage of the black vote they received as Obama’s ability to get black voters into the voting booths in the first place [emphasis mine]:

The Associated Press is out with a study of the 2012 election concluding that the black voter turnout rate exceeded the white turnout rate for the first time. It’s almost certainly true that black turnout was higher than white turnout last fall — but that also was true in 2008.

Using census data and exit polling, the AP found that black voters were 13 percent of the electorate even though they make up only 12 percent of the population. White voters represented 72 percent of the electorate, outperforming their 71.1 percent share of the population, but not to the same degree they have in past elections…

The AP does give exact numbers for 2008 turnout — 66.1 percent for whites and 65.2 percent for blacks. But Michael McDonald, a professor at George Mason University who specializes in analyzing voter turnout, has crunched the numbers differently. If you exclude people who did not respond to the census, the black turnout rate also surpassed white turnout four years ago, 76.6 percent to 73.6 percent…

The AP also runs the 2012 election using the 2004 electorate and finds that with those turnout patterns, Mitt Romney would have narrowly beaten Obama.

That’s how important turnout is. And make no mistake about it, Obama knows this.

Actually, he has known it, and worked hard to enhance it, even before he became a politician himself. One of his very first positions in Chicago after graduating from law school was director of Project Vote:

From April to October 1992, Obama directed Illinois’s Project Vote, a voter registration campaign with ten staffers and seven hundred volunteer registrars; it achieved its goal of registering 150,000 of 400,000 unregistered African Americans in the state, leading Crain’s Chicago Business to name Obama to its 1993 list of “40 under Forty” powers to be

That short quote doesn’t even begin to explain how important, and how formative, Obama’s Project Vote experience was. For those who say he never directed or managed anything (not successfully, anyway), it constitutes very much of an exception. It is no coincidence that this undertaking had to do with two causes close to his heart: the politics of voting, and race.

This article, which appeared in Chicago Magazine in 1993, is truly fascinating. It depicts an Obama who is in his element, a young man glowing from the success of the endeavor, highly ambitious and much-praised. I suggest reading the whole thing. But here are some excerpts:

For the first time in ten years, more than half a million blacks went to the polls in Chicago. And with gubernatorial and mayoral elections coming up in the next two years, it served notice to everyone from Jim Edgar to Richard M. Daley that an African-American voting bloc would be a force to be reckoned with in those races.

None of this, of course, was accidental. The most effective minority voter registration drive in memory was the result of careful handiwork by Project Vote!, the local chapter of a not-for-profit national organization. “It was the most efficient campaign I have seen in my 20 years in politics,” says Sam Burrell, alderman of the West Side’s 29th Ward and a veteran of many registration drives.

At the head of this effort was a little-known 31-year-old African-American lawyer, community organizer, and writer: Barack Obama…

Within a few months, Obama, a tall, affable workaholic, had recruited staff and volunteers from black churches, community groups, and politicians. He helped train 700 deputy registrars, out of a total of 11,000 citywide. And he began a saturation media campaign with the help of black-owned Brainstorm Communications…

“It was overwhelming,” says Joseph Gardner, a commissioner of the Metropolitan Water Reclamation District and the director of the steering committee for Project Vote! “The black community in this city had not been so energized and so single-minded since Harold [Washington] died.”…

“I think it’s fair to say we reinvigorated a slumbering constituency,” says Obama. “We got people to take notice.”…

“We won’t let the momentum die,” he says. “I’ll take personal responsibility for that. We plan to hold politicians’ feet to the flames in 1993, to remind them that we can produce a bloc of voters large enough that it cannot be ignored.”

Nor can Obama himself be ignored. The success of the voter-registration drive has marked him as the political star the Mayor should perhaps be watching for. “The sky’s the limit for Barack,” says Burrell.

Some of Daley’s closest advisers are similarly impressed. “In its technical demands, a voter-registration drive is not unlike a mini-political campaign,” says John Schmidt, chairman of the Metropolitan Pier and Exposition Authority and a fundraiser for Project Vote! “Barack ran this superbly. I have no doubt he could run an equally good political campaign if that’s what he decided to do next.”

Obama shrugs off the possibility of running for office. “Who knows?” he says. “But probably not immediately.” He smiles. “Was that a sufficiently politic ‘maybe’? My sincere answer is, I’ll run if I feel I can accomplish more that way than agitating from the outside. I don’t know if that’s true right now. Let’s wait and see what happens in 1993. If the politicians in place now at city and state levels respond to African-American voters’ needs, we’ll gladly work with and support them. If they don’t, we’ll work to replace them. That’s the message I want Project Vote! to have sent.”

Note, by the way, the term “agitating from the outside” vs. working from the inside as a politician. Obviously, he ended up deciding on the latter approach. And note also how frank and open he was at that time about his dedication to the needs of African-American voters rather than to all the people of Chicago. No “There’s not a black America and white America…there’s the United States of America” back then for Obama.

Directing Project Vote, Obama was in his element, in his wheelhouse: tending to the nuts and bolts of politics, turning out the voters he knew would be reliably and loyally Democratic, and basking in the praise of others who considered him a shoe-in for higher office.

And so it all came to pass.

[NOTE: By the way, there's nothing illegal about registering more bona fide black voters, and it makes perfect sense for Democrats to do it (I'm not talking about illegal aliens or felons or voting more than once; just registration of of-age citizens). The Republican Party has lagged behind greatly on this sort of thing. In recent years its turn-out-the-vote efforts haven't been what the Democrats' have been, even though turnout is every bit as important for Republicans. Republicans, however, have traditionally had better turnout in non-presidential election years, such as this one.

Republicans need more ads such as this, too.]

October 19th, 2014

Spanish nurse’s aide Teresa Romero…

now tests virus-free.

Good news. She will remain in the hospital for a while, but she’s also beginning to produce antibodies to the disease.

[ADDENDUM: I was going to add that she is recovering despite never having received a transfusion from a survivor, but it turns out that:

Ms Romero was treated with a drip of human serum containing antibodies from Ebola sufferers who had survived the disease, and other drugs which a government spokesman declined to name.

One was the experimental anti-viral medicine favipiravir, according to the respected national newspaper El Mundo.

I'm not sure what that "human serum" would be. Plasma? Did her blood match that of some survivor in Britain? Or a combination of survivors? It's very unclear.

Also at the link, there's an interesting piece (lower left on the page) about William Pooley, the British nurse who was stricken in Sierra Leone and flown back home for treatment in a special facility, much like Dr. Brantly. Pooley has just returned to Sierra Leone to care for more victims:

The 29-year-old said he was 'delighted' to return to Sierra Leone's capital Freetown as he attempts to prevent 'as many unnecessary deaths as possible'.

There is uncertainty, however, over whether the Suffolk-born nurse is immune to catching Ebola again.

Although it is widely assumed the same person cannot develop the disease twice, the assumption has never been proven by scientists.

The scale of the current outbreak - with already 16 times more deaths than the previous most fatal outbreak in 1976 - could provide the first test to the theory.

Mr Pooley will arrive in Sierra Leone, where 932 people have died of Ebola, tonight and resume work tomorrow in an isolation unit run at Connaught Hospital by British medics.

I assume that Pooley will continue to wear protective gear.]

October 19th, 2014

Good Peggy Noonan article

Peggy Noonan drives me pretty crazy with her on-again-off-again insights. When she’s good, she’s very very good. But when she’s bad, she’s foggy.

This is very good:

A third component of public anxiety has to do with what normal people can see and imagine, which they have a sense the government isn’t capable of seeing and imagining.

What normal people can see and imagine is that three Ebola cases have severely stressed the system. Washington is scrambling, the Centers for Disease Control is embarrassed, local hospitals are rushing to learn protocols and get in all necessary equipment. Nurses groups and unions have been enraged, the public alarmed—and all this after only three cases.

What would it look like if there were 300? That is not a big number in a nation of over 300 million. Yet it would leave the system hyperstressed, and hyperstressed things break down.

How many people and professionals have been involved in the treatment, transport, tracking, monitoring, isolation and public-information aspects of the three people who became sick? Again, what if it were 300—could we fully track, treat and handle all those cases? If scores of people begin over the next few weeks going to hospital emergency rooms with Ebola, how many of their doctors, nurses, orderlies, office staffers, communications workers and technicians would continue to report to their jobs? All of them at first, then most of them. But as things became more ragged, pressured and dangerous, would they continue?

This is why people are concerned. They can imagine how all this could turn south so fast, with only a few hundred cases. This is why the White House claims that we will not have a widespread breakout is fatuous: Even a limited breakout would take us into uncharted territory.

The only thing that will calm the public is competence. Until they see it, warnings about hysteria will be experienced as patronizing and deeply self-serving.

Noonan has put her finger on something many may have thought, but few have articulated so clearly.

What’s more, she clearly explains another thing I’ve said several times, that the Democratic party line on the travel ban is absurd and sets up a strawman:

The question is whether the U.S. should, for now, ban the issuance of visas to citizens of the three West African nations where the illness is known to exist. That is what a travel ban would be.

Those opposed to it have taken to noting that there are no or very few direct flights from the affected nations to the U.S., and that citizens from the affected states can fly to other nations first, and then connect to the U.S.

That has nothing to do with the question of a ban. Direct versus indirect flights don’t matter because airplanes don’t catch and die of Ebola, people do. No matter how you get to the U.S. from the affected regions, to get in legally you need a visa.

There is the charge that a travel ban would isolate the three nations. But why “isolate”? First, we are only talking about U.S. travel; we are talking about keeping citizens of the affected nations from entering the US. Help can and would continue to go into those nations. Charter planes certainly could and would go in. Other airlines might too. Health workers would continue to go in, as would supplies of all sorts.

On returning from the nations in question, U.S. citizens and others would presumably have to go through a quarantine. But health-care volunteers, of all people, wouldn’t let that stop them.

The president, in his Saturday address, argued against a ban: “Trying to seal off an entire region of the world—if that were even possible—could actually make the situation worse.”

Well, no one has called for trying to “seal off” anything, not to mention “an entire region of the world.” This is just the president trying to paint those who oppose him as frightened and delusional.

You go, girl! Exactly and precisely. But setting up strawmen and knocking them down is one of Obama’s favorite occupations.

October 19th, 2014

Ebola response team

An ebola response team is being organized:

In response to a request by the Department of Health and Human Services, a 30-person team will be ready to “response quickly, effectively, and safely” should more Ebola cases arise inside the U.S., according to a Pentagon press release.

“Secretary [Chuck] Hagel today ordered his Northern Command Commander, Gen. Chuck Jacoby, to prepare and train a 30-person expeditionary medical support team that could, if required, provide short-notice assistance to civilian medical professionals in the United States,” Pentagon spokesman Rear Adm. John Kirby said in statement.

The team of 20 critical care nurses, five doctors trained in infectious disease and five trainers in infectious disease protocols will be sent to Fort Sam Houston in Texas for up to seven days of training provided by the U.S. Army Medical Research Institute of Infectious Diseases.

My questions:

(1) Why on earth did it take this long? We’ve known about the extent of this ebola epidemic and the strong possibilities it could come here for many, many months.

(2) Why the Pentagon? Why not the CDC?

My preliminary answers:

(1) A combination of hubris (“it can’t come here; we’re so smart we’ve prevented that”) and a complete inability to think ahead and prepare for contingencies. Some people would add “actually, the government wants it to come here,” but I don’t agree. That doesn’t further their cause at all, especially the open border cause. Of course, there’s another possible cause it could further: a state of emergency and granting of more powers to the government. I just don’t see this particular crisis being used in that way; too much potential for it to spiral out of control.

(2) The CDC has not covered itself with glory in this matter

That it took this long to prepare this sort of response is an embarrassment and an outrage.

[ADDENDUM: Gee, they finally figured this out, too.

And in some good news, the hospital workers who saw Duncan during his first ER visit are now off the hook for ebola isolation, and his family members are close to being let out of quarantine as well. That they all may be safe underlines the fact that ebola becomes exponentially more contagious as it progresses. That it was two nurses who contracted it from Duncan despite wearing protective---even if somewhat inadequate---gear, while none of the family appears to have caught it despite wearing no gear at all, makes it even more evident how incredibly virulent ebola becomes later on. Duncan himself seems to have contracted ebola from rather mild (skin to skin rather than mucous membrane to body fluid) contact with a patient who was in late stages of ebola, despite her seeming lack of typical symptoms such as vomiting or diarrhea.]

[ADDENDUM II: Louise Troh, Thomas Duncan's fiancee, is coming out of quarantine, and though she craves privacy and a chance to grieve right now (this coming week would have been her wedding day) she plans to tell her story in the future. She's been through an extraordinarily horrific experience, although fortunately she seems to have been spared contracting ebola:

As her boyfriend Thomas Eric Duncan lay dying of Ebola in a Dallas hospital bed, Louise Troh battled loneliness and fear that she too had contracted the disease while confined to a stranger's home under armed guard...

After three long weeks, she will be able to have a clean bill of health, leave the house and be done with twice-daily temperature readings by government health care workers. She likened the period to being a prisoner.

"I want to breathe, I want to really grieve, I want privacy with my family," Troh told The Associated Press on Friday, lamenting that she was missing Duncan's memorial service at his mother's church in North Carolina because of the quarantine. Troh says she and Duncan planned to get married later in the week...

Jenkins and Troh's pastor George Mason delivered the news of Duncan's death to her during the confinement period...

Mason said he is coordinating efforts with the city, county and philanthropic community to help Troh and the family recover. Because of the Ebola infection risk, crews stripped Troh's apartment down to the carpeting, saving only a few personal documents, photographs and a Bible.

"They were left with nothing. They are completely devastated by this, so there's need to have their lives rebuilt," Mason said.

Troh plans to partially recover financially with a book written about her life, from growing up in Liberia, meeting Duncan in a refugee camp in Ivory Coast, Duncan's years-long quest to come to America to be reunited with his girlfriend and their 19-year-old son, and his death in an isolation ward.

"It will be a love story," she said.

Troh also issued a statement Sunday asking for privacy as she comes through the ordeal while thanking everyone who came to their side.

Troh's daughter, a nurse's aide who cared for Duncan before he was hospitalized, and who called 911 for help, is also getting out of quarantine---in her case, self-imposed. Although she was only being monitored by the CDC for fever, and was allowed to leave her home, she decided to err on the side of caution and not go out in public for the duration of the 21 days. She says that now, ""I'm telling you, just to step outside will be so great. To hug my mom and grieve for Eric [the name Duncan used with friends and family], not over the phone like we’ve been doing but in the flesh.”

I wish them well.]

[ADDENDUM III: I think that this statement by Louise Troh shows the caliber of person she is, and the fact that Duncan was her fiance reflects well on him, too:

Our hearts also go out to the two brave women who have been infected by this terrible disease as they were trying to help [Duncan].

We are also aware of how much this has affected many other people of my city, Dallas, and my country, the United States of America, even as it has in the country of my birth, Liberia.

We also know that many people who work in Presbyterian Hospital are hurting because of this tragedy. We pray that God will bring healing to all in our community soon.]

October 18th, 2014

Consider the uttapam

Today I had some Trader Joe’s uttapam for lunch.

I love southern Indian food, although if you haven’t ever had it it’s hard to describe and doesn’t sound all that tasty. But it’s very yummy. It’s completely vegetarian, but features unusual grains (unusual to us, anyway) such as chickpea and lentil flour, often in fermented form.

Yes, I know—sounds pretty “ugh.” But take it from me, it’s a wonderful cuisine, and many of its specialties have an especially toothsome comfort food quality.

The uttapam is somewhat like a pancake, although Wiki compares it to pizza. I never thought of pizza, though, because an uttapam’s dough is unbreadlike. What is it like? Soft and springy, resistant yet yielding, with the tang of something like sourdough and a slight spiciness that complements the grain and gives it just the right amount of zip.

And the coconut chutney is the finishing touch.

I don’t know how to make uttapam from scratch, and I’m probably not about to start. So imagine my delight when I saw that Trader Joe’s has a frozen version, and my excitement when I took a package home to try them. Voila! Pretty darn good, and if they were not quite on a par with the very best southern Indian restaurants, I really can’t fault Trader Joe’s for that. Excellent for a frozen version, and simplicity itself to prepare.


October 18th, 2014

The survivors

I was transfixed by this series of photos of Liberians who have survived bouts of ebola. We don’t tend to think of that group, but it’s a large one, although unfortunately not as large as those who’ve died from the disease.

Many of the survivors have lost whole families—spouses and children—and contracted ebola while caring for them. And yet many report being shunned now, as though they were still contagious, even though they are not. No wonder so many have eyes that look so sad. They have lived through a horrific experience, and the pain continues.

Some, however, are working at the hospitals, counseling and supporting other patients who are ill with ebola, and giving them hope that they might live through the experience.

Here are two of those survivors who are hard at work helping others:


October 18th, 2014

Ferguson cop Darren Wilson describes car battle with Michael Brown

This sort of testimony from Darren Wilson, the police officer who shot and killed Michael Brown in an altercation in Ferguson, Missouri, is more or less what many of us expected would be his report when he finally testified as to his version of events. In addition, his story is backed up so far by the forensic evidence:

The officer, Darren Wilson, has told the authorities that during the scuffle, Mr. Brown reached for the gun. It was fired twice in the car, according to forensics tests performed by the Federal Bureau of Investigation. The first bullet struck Mr. Brown in the arm; the second bullet missed.

The forensics tests showed Mr. Brown’s blood on the gun, as well as on the interior door panel and on Officer Wilson’s uniform. Officer Wilson told the authorities that Mr. Brown had punched and scratched him repeatedly, leaving swelling on his face and cuts on his neck…

According to his account, he was trying to leave his vehicle when Mr. Brown pushed him back in. Once inside the S.U.V., the two began to fight, Officer Wilson told investigators, and he removed his gun from the holster on his right hip.

Unfortunately, this evidence won’t stem the tide of false information and resultant anger that has led to widespread condemnation of Wilson and the Ferguson PD. Facts will not matter. Would they have mattered if this had come out earlier? I doubt it. It was hinted at and suggested, almost from the start. Way too many parties have an interest in painting a picture of racism on the part of the cop and innocence on the part of Brown to let patience and facts stand in their way.

October 18th, 2014

President Obama, mad at the government again

The Times reports he’s just “seething” with anger:

Beneath the calming reassurance that President Obama has repeatedly offered during the Ebola crisis, there is a deepening frustration, even anger, with how the government has handled key elements of the response.

Those frustrations spilled over when Mr. Obama convened his top aides in the Cabinet room after canceling his schedule on Wednesday. Medical officials were providing information that later turned out to be wrong. Guidance to local health teams was not adequate. It was unclear which Ebola patients belonged in which threat categories.

“It’s not tight,” a visibly angry Mr. Obama said of the response, according to people briefed on the meeting. He told aides they needed to get ahead of events and demanded a more hands-on approach, particularly from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The buck continues its failure to stop at the president’s desk. Actually, I don’t think the buck ever even visits the vicinity.

However, the president isn’t to blame for everything in the US ebola mess. He’s not to blame for the incompetence of whoever dealt with Thomas Duncan the first time he went to the Dallas Presbyterian ER. Nor is he to blame for everything wrong with an agency like the CDC; some of that has probably been brewing for ages.

But Dr. Tom Frieden is Obama’s own appointment. He’s responsible for that, and Frieden is a disaster. Obama’s responsible for not firing him. He’s responsible for appointing a hack like Klain to fix things.

Obama is described in the ridiculously Obama-serving Times article as having become alarmed when the second nurse from Dallas was diagnosed with ebola. But Obama’s responsible for not sensing that things were already out of control long before that. He’s responsible for the claptrap his mouthpiece Josh Earnest spouts when asked about travel bans:

“If we are trying to protect the American public, we should not put in a travel ban,” Earnet said. He added, “If you put in place a travel ban from West Africa, those individuals could go to other countries and try to travel here and disguise their original destination.”

Earth to Obama/Earnest: no they can’t, not if we put a visa ban into effect. I think they purposely misunderstand what people are suggesting, creating a strawman that they can knock down more easily, rather than responding to the actual proposal to ban commercial travel here by nationals of the ebola-affected countries. Obama is responsible for refusing to implement the proposal or even to represent it properly when he argues against it.

I wrote that Obama isn’t responsible for the errors committed in the ER of the Dallas hospital. And he’s not. But then again maybe he is, at least a little bit. Obamacare has been demonstrated to have increased patients’ use of ERs rather than decreased it, and so to the degree that the Dallas ER may have made mistakes because it was overburdened or short-staffed (and I don’t know whether either was part of the problem, but it’s highly possible), Obama is at least somewhat at fault for that, too.

Heck of a job, Barack. Heck of a job.

October 17th, 2014

Do those transfusions help?

Maybe those blood transfusions from recovered ebola patient Dr. Kent Brantly are the ticket:

Two Americans have already been treated successfully for Ebola. Dr. Kent Brantly is one. He is providing blood for other victims, on the theory that it contains antibodies with which the body can fight the disease. A patient who received such a transfusion reportedly has fully recovered and another reportedly is making great progress.

And Nina Pham, who also received a transfusion from Brantly, is reported to be in fair to good condition.

So far, all the patients Brantly has helped transfuse have recovered. This is an extremely small “n,” though, so it’s impossible to draw conclusions from it. It could be that these patients are actually doing well because their disease was diagnosed and treated unusually early, and that the transfusions didn’t change its course. Or, it may be that they will take a turn for the worse later. But the trend is a good one.

It is reported that Brantly made the same offer for Thomas Eric Duncan, but that he didn’t receive a transfusion because he was not a match. Duncan was also diagnosed very late in the game, due to Dallas Presbyterian’s failure to recognize that he had ebola on his first ER visit. We’ll never know whether things would have been different for Duncan if he’d been treated earlier.

Here’s Brantly:

More ABC news videos | ABC Health News

[NOTE: Some research on the subject of ebola immunity transfusions in animals can be found here. And here's why there hasn't been much research on the topic so far.]

About Me

Previously a lifelong Democrat, born in New York and living in New England, surrounded by liberals on all sides, I've found myself slowly but surely leaving the fold and becoming that dread thing: a neocon.

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