Obama beats a path for the Devil

Tonight President Obama addressed the nation, and while the judgement of history will reveal if this is a mild exercise of executive power or an unbridled assumption of an imperial air by the president, one thing is certain: the president placed as much, if not more, emphasis on the moral case as the legal one. Yes, one may point out that he has only the loosest understanding of the biblical precedent he appealed to, and that he didn’t so much make a moral case as simply assert that his actions were moral, it remains that he couched his actions in the idea of “doing right”.

I think the best evaluation of whether doing “good” or following the law is preferable is this clip, from A Man For All Seasons;

The most important exchange;

William Roper: So, now you give the Devil the benefit of law!
Sir Thomas More: Yes! What would you do? Cut a great road through the law to get after the Devil?
William Roper: Yes, I’d cut down every law in England to do that!
Sir Thomas More: Oh? And when the last law was down, and the Devil turned ’round on you, where would you hide, Roper, the laws all being flat? This country is planted thick with laws, from coast to coast, Man’s laws, not God’s! And if you cut them down, and you’re just the man to do it, do you really think you could stand upright in the winds that would blow then? Yes, I’d give the Devil benefit of law, for my own safety’s sake!

Even if we are to grant that President Obama is acting in good faith (an uncertain position to be sure), his decision tonight will have consequences long after he has left office. Consequences that I think it very likely we will come to regret.


The Virtue of Hold-Your-Nose Elections

Jim Geraghty, National Review author and writer of the excellent Morning Jolt sagely counsels about this election, “If you want to beat Bad, you may have to hold your nose and vote for Less Bad.” Excellent advice on a practical level and it echoes a point related by Alicia Colon (with an article evocatively titled “Hold Your Nose to Vote But For Goodness Sake, Don’t Stay Home”); “Every single Republican candidate is better than any Democrat including all the RINOs”.

Now all of that may be true (or not, depending on what you think of RINOs), but let’s remember what happened the most recent time a candidate played the “I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some” game…

Just another quiet, understated evening with friends…

Of all the benefits that the new Senate leader Mitch McConnell will have the most useful may be the least flattering: the benefit of low expectations. When the guys on you own side say things like “the transparent selfishness and corruption of McConnell and his GOP Senate cronies”, and “As a conservative who profoundly despises Mitch McConnell and everything that unprincipled swine stands for, I feel guilty offering his campaign good advice, but the crisis facing our nation requires me to transcend my personal animosity to the man“, well, Senate Republicans may be lesser, but they are firmly planted in the category of “necessary evils”. Not exactly a dewy testimonial to a schoolgirl crush, is it?

Obama came in as a blank slate, but is leaving as a wet blanket over his whole party. By contrast, McConnell comes in unadorned by Olympian wishes or caviar dreams, a man openly acknowledged by his supporters as a poor retail campaigner. Put another way, no one in a year or two is going to be making an ad comparing a vote for McConnell to falling in love;


Then again, the USA did seem to write quite the love letter to John Boehner…


Regional party indeed!

The Ebola problem isn’t the Ebola, it’s the politics

The recent incidents of Ebola virus infections in the United States have prompted something of a crisis, but not a crisis as other outbreaks before: our present crisis is of confidence, not necessarily fear of infections.

Most damaged has been the reputation of the CDC and its head, Dr. Tom Frieden;

CDC director Tom Frieden holds press conference on Ebola, October 5, 2014

Simply put, when a person wearing the mantle of Scientist/Physician says things like;

“Though we might wish we can seal ourselves off from the world, there are Americans who have the right of return and many other people that have the right to enter this country,” Dr. Thomas Frieden told a press conference. “We’re not going to be able to get to zero risk no matter what we do unless we control the outbreak in West Africa.”

The argument of “zero risk” is a giant red flag for anyone even passingly familiar with medicine; it’s a political term used to provide plausible cover for not taking an action, in this case, enacting a travel ban. Consider, for example, that never touching a cigarette does not reduce your risk of lung cancer to zeroIf we were to apply the logic Dr. Frieden espouses, why should a physician discourage a patient from smoking? It will not reduce your risk to zero.

The answer is, of course, that not smoking or quitting smoking has a substantial and positive increase in your health. The idea that people shouldn’t quit smoking because their risk will not go to zero is silly… yet this is the logic the head of the CDC promulgates. Scientists and physicians speak in terms of risks and rewards, benefits and trade-offs: ceasing or restricting the number of people coming from West Africa would not reduce the risk to zero. But!

  • Restricting ports of entry would allow concentration of personnel,
  • Concentrating personnel allows for concentration of expertise,
  • Reducing volume of incoming travelers increases man-hours of safety personnel per traveler,
  • Increasing man-hours per traveler allows systems to perform differently: health monitoring systems that would be overwhelmed with 1000 visitors per day may perform fine with 10 or 20 per day.

Now, there may be perfectly reasonable drawbacks to any of these hypothetical benefits (then again, some of them already seem to be happening), but we’re not having that discussion. Instead we’re having a discussion that leads one to conclude that “[t]he public-health profession is more committed to social justice than to sound science“, and an administration with little approval burns through yet more of the public’s confidence.

At the same time we’ve also seen some astonishing partisan attacks to go along with the flailing of the administration. While Ebola is very unlikely to become a major health hazard in the US, that doesn’t change the basic nature of the virus. So it’s especially disturbing to see political partisans in the media tear into Senator Rand Paul (one of the few MDs in Congress) for stating basic medical facts;

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky) reportedly put on his scientist hat this morning, telling CNN’s Ashley Killough that Ebola is more easily spread than AIDS–a statement that is an irresponsible, flat out lie.

You’ll be shocked to discover that Mother Jones is… pretty much completely wrong, and Dr. Paul pretty much right (or, at least, he was using the CDC’s own recommendations). This can be simply and easily understood with the following practical advice;

A person that wished to engage in sexual relations with a significant other infected by HIV/AIDS needs the following,

A sense of humor and some care would also be advised.

A person that wished to engage in sexual relations with a significant other infected by Ebola needs the following,

Also needed: a very liberal interpretation of the word “sex”.
Ebola is not the 1918 flu (*fingers crossed*). But we are poorly served when the people that need to be above politics are consumed by politics, and even worse served when the media abandons it’s own good sense.