The After Deck of the Pirate Ship

Whenever I write on things like liberty and taxes, it is easy for some to try to stuff me into the wrong box. And upon my making this objection, some might expect me to go on to say that I hate labels. But actually I love labels, which are the precondition of all honest discourse. Con artists hate labels. But the label should be accurate. I am no anarchist, and I actually am in favor of both liberty and taxes. I'm against parodies of either, and because these parodies are currently dominating the landscape, they are the problem which must be addressed. The parody of liberty is found in the libertarian image of the fornicating pot smoker – but you can get high and get laid in a 6' x 8' prison cell. There is one who defiantly cries out that he wants more liberty – so that he can enslave himself ever more tightly in chains he has forged himself. But no tyrant has ever been successfully resisted by cluster of lotus eaters, however big the cluster might be. Virtuous people cannot be … [Read more...]

Three Senators and a Leper

One of our great cultural problems today is that Christians do not understand civics. And by civics, I do not mean the "how a bill becomes a law" kind of civics, but rather I refer to our very common misunderstanding of the true nature of our appointed government. We have a particular form of government de jure, laid out for us in the Constitution, and we have another, very different, form of government, de facto, sitting atop Lady Liberty, strangling her to death. Too many Christians, not wanting trouble, just blithely assume that whatever the Feds are doing is "more or less" in accord with the Constitution. There may be encroachments here or there, they think, but in the main things are okay. They further believe that our duty outlined for us in Romans 13 requires us not to look too closely at it. Actually, it is the reverse. Our responsibility is found in Romans 13, but it requires us to look at this far more closely than we are accustomed to do. It is not the case that the … [Read more...]

Ukraine #5

So as I wrap up my discussion of issues surrounding Ukraine, I want to do three things, which I will take in the standard order of 1,2,and 3. First I want to provide a handful of links (from various sane perspectives) to help illustrate how much this is like trying to unscramble a pan full of eggs. My paramount concern, as I have already mentioned, has to do with the plight of fellow Protestants in Ukraine -- as this short piece illustrates well. Crimea presents some unique tangles, as my friend Peter Hitchens points out. Alexander Motyl gives a critique of the "realist" understanding of Russian/Ukrainian geopolitics here. And Timothy Snyder takes the discussion way back. Second, the question that many have wanted me to get to is what I think we should do about all this. How does this cash out? The simple part concerns what I would not do. I do not believe that we should commit American troops to any conflict like this. I am not an isolationist, but I believe that any … [Read more...]

Ukraine #4

Please allow me just one more set of background observations before I say what I think ought to be done in Ukraine. When we teach math to kids, we are not training future mathematicians, although some will wind up there. We are training future grocers, carpenters, housewives, etc. We want what they learn about math to be consistent with what the future mathematicians will eventually learn, but it need not be anything like so complicated. When we teach history to kids, we are not training up future historians. We are educating Christian kids to be faithful citizens in the country where God has placed them. God wants them here, and God wants them to honor their father and mother. As a third grader honors his fathers and mothers, there is no way to keep this from being "simplified" and coming across to academic historians as yet another instance of "monocausality." Fine, but monocausality shows up in biblical histories. Why did Herod get eaten by worms? And at the same time, … [Read more...]

Ukraine #3

We have already noted how complicated things in Ukraine are, and I trust I have cast suspicion on any approach that wants to reduce everything to clear and simple (and therefore ideological) talking points. To the extent we are involved in this kind of thing at all, our chief job is to stay out of the current pending disaster, and possibly the one right after that. Our first task is not to set up shop to redress grievances going back to the 1300's. We are not competent to untangle that skein of yarn, and this is why we need a Day of Judgment, with a more competent Judge than anything the Security Council could ever have. Our task is more simple, which is to keep things from spiraling out of control now. In the medieval period, the Church attempted to restrain the constant violence by means of the Pax Dei and Treuga Dei (the peace of God and the truce of God respectively). The former attempted to establish a permanent set of "off limits" regulations, while the latter restrictions … [Read more...]

Ukraine #2

Back in the old days, when Americanism was more robust than it is now, it used to be said that "politics stops at the water's edge." What this was supposed to mean is that our domestic disagreements paled in comparison to whatever it was the Nazis were doing. Now there was a time when this was at least plausible, whether or not it was correct. When there was, or seemed to be, a more cohesive cultural unity tying us all together domestically, it was easier to present a united front to the world, and it was easier to get Americans to all pull together in order to do so. But at home that cohesive cultural unity is now long gone, and it is taking conservative Christians some time to recognize that it is long gone overseas as well. In short, if Obama is creating so much wreckage here at home, as we all recognize, then why should we believe that he is somehow spreading sweetness and light abroad? If Hillary is as corrupt elsewhere as she is here, then we have every reason to believe her … [Read more...]

Ukraine #1

In the past, I have made passing references to Ukraine, and those references have made clear my distaste for Putin's brand of Russian adventurism, along with my sympathies for Ukraine, stuck as they are with us on their side, us being such a hapless chump of a superpower. For example, after the breakup of the Soviet Union, Ukraine had a bunch of nukes. We talked them into surrendering those nukes in exchange for us guaranteeing their borders. They were stupid enough to believe us, so it is partly their fault I guess. But this promises to descend into the particulars too quickly. I do want to get there in subsequent installments, but first I want to make some distinctions between two different kinds of political issues. There are the "do triangles have three sides?" issues, and there are the "did Smith shoot Murphy on the night of the 13th?" issues. Whether minimum wage laws are a good idea is the former kind of issue, and who should own the Crimea is the latter … [Read more...]

And Now a Brief Word on Vaccines

Someone with a loathing of guns can certainly refuse to have one in his home. And if he lives in a part of town that is otherwise heavily armed, his home can enjoy the same kind of safety from burglars as do the armed ones. Such is the nature of the world. One of the reasons why we are even able to have a debate about vaccines is that vaccines have been so successful. The gunless fellow is certainly free to claim that his house is left alone because of the good vibes put out by his multi-colored wind chimes. We all think that's cute, and are glad we live in a free country where there are guys like that. But the analogy breaks down with something like whooping cough. That's not so cute. Now I do have views on the efficacy of vaccines, but I want to address another element of this -- the idea that even if they were effective, a requirement that everyone get vaccinated is necessarily statist and tyrannical. Why isn't this a matter of personal choice and conviction? The answer is … [Read more...]

Quick Takes on the Republican Field

Flag Conditions

I would like to get my observations in now because as soon as anything real -- anything beyond media speculation -- starts happening, the massive Republican field of contenders will be much smaller, yay, and yet it will then be too late to make some of these observations. The silent primary, going on now, has to do with raising money. That will result in the first wave of cuts, coming soon. Then the debates and elections will start, and that will be the second wave of cuts. So let's say something now about the more obvious possibilities. I am mentioning them in no particular order. Mitt Romney: if Romney had won in 2012, there is a high likelihood that Obamacare would have been made permanent. With Obama's re-election, there is a real possibility that the whole thing will come out a smoldering ruin. Let this be a lesson to us, children. And Romney is just now climbing onto the climate change bandwagon. Nothing to do but gesture helplessly to the silent sky, which answereth not. … [Read more...]

L’Affaire Sony NORK

If festivals of hypocrisy were to be compared with the riotous celebrations that are actually already on the calendar, L'Affaire Sony NORK would have to rank right up there with the Mardi Gras in Rio. Let us recap and without any snorting. Sony made what I have no doubt was a perfectly appalling movie called The Interview. The movie is a comedy about the assassination of Kim Jong-un, the Dear Leader of an electrically challenged portion of the globe. North Korea didn't like it at all, and no doubt with the help of other regional commies, hacked into Sony's computer systems and released all the juicy info they found down there to the interwebs. At this point, Western journalists -- major privacy advocates all, provided we are talking about the NSA -- couldn't resist the chance to dish on Angelina, and responded to this particular North Korean dinner gong by getting all four feet in the trough. As a consequence, we discovered all kinds of festive things, like major Sony liberal … [Read more...]

A Grab Bag of Observations About Torture

And because this is a grab bag, we will just rummage through it for now. Maybe later we can unpack it. If you would like to read more, a couple of good articles from opposing corners can be found here and here. That said, here are some thoughts of my very own. 1. You can be morally serious without being morally grounded. The fact that you feel the pressure and the weight of the responsibility you have to protect American lives does not mean you have an ethical system able to bear the weight that situations like this will place on you. Morally serious is not the same thing as moral. Relativists can be anguished, and frequently are. 2. Consequentialism is not a biblical ethical system. There are times when it seems to turn up a no-brainer answer to your question -- if we could prevent a nuclear bomb from going off in Baltimore by slapping Khalid Sheikh Muhammed a couple of times, why wouldn't you do that? That seems reasonable. But without an ultimate anchor, the little dingy of … [Read more...]

Smarter Than Thou

Mammy Yokum

Some people enjoy their allotted fifteen minutes of fame with modesty and decorum. Others, like Jonathan Gruber, cannonball into the deep end, having had the good grace to get most of it on video beforehand. For those whose discretionary news time was all taken up with the comet landing and the tacky shirt aftermath, here is a basic rundown of Gruber's exploits. The reason this story has the traction it now does is that it represents far more than the conceit and hubris of one individual man -- although it does do that in addition to a bunch of other stuff. The thing that is remarkable about all of this is how unremarkable Gruber was in the settings in which he was speaking. He was speaking to particular predictable groups, and he was getting laughs at the places he was expecting to get them. The videos only appeared in a different light when they got aired -- as they just recently got aired -- to the audiences who were the object of his derision. As it happens, wireless coverage … [Read more...]

Three Feet of Partly Cloudy

Pollsters

The real losers last night -- not that anyone is likely to take real notice -- were the pollsters. This is not the case because we had a wave election, because a number of people were predicting that. The surprises all came in the margins. Races that were not supposed to be close, like Warner and Gillespie in Virginia, were close. Races that were supposed to be close, like Kentucky, weren't close at all. This kind of thing happened in state after state, in race after race. Now when this happens from time to time, as it does, the one-off surprise is chalked up to the electorate having wild mood swings. The twenty point spread between the poll results the week before the election and the actual election results is attributed to a whole bunch of people making up or changing their minds. But it is actually the result of the very nature of polling itself. What happens in a poll is that 2,000 people are asked their views, the necessary "scientific" adjustments are made, and this is … [Read more...]

So the Election Is Tomorrow

As you prepare to go to the polls, please keep in mind that a stark choice lies before America. Tomorrow is a critically important election, one in which we shall choose between evil and fecklessness. One the one hand we have the party of death and sodomy, lechery and license, while on the other we have the party of milquetoastery. Given such a choice, who can fail to be roused to action? Actually, I really am hoping for an electoral bloodbath for the Democrats because their peculiar kind of hubris does need a few more holes in it. I hope that after the election a man would be unable to swing a cat on the Senate floor, not that this is likely to occur, without hitting a Republican. I do hope this is the outcome, and am planning on voting accordingly. Join me, will you? This is because I am long overdue for a change up in my exasperation. I am tired of the Death Star blowing up planets, and want a quiet return to the petty mendacity of yore. If this is a wave election -- … [Read more...]