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 that it is not a matter of personal choice because everyone else is involved.

“And the Lord spake unto Moses and Aaron, saying, When a man shall have in the skin of his flesh a rising, a scab, or bright spot, and it be in the skin of his flesh like the plague of leprosy; then he shall be brought unto Aaron the priest, or unto one of his sons the priests: And the priest shall look on the plague in the skin of the flesh: and when the hair in the plague is turned white, and the plague in sight be deeper than the skin of his flesh, it is a plague of leprosy: and the priest shall look on him, and pronounce him unclean. If the bright spot be white in the skin of his flesh, and in sight be not deeper than the skin, and the hair thereof be not turned white; then the priest shall shut up him that hath the plague seven days” (Lev. 13:1–4).

So take this as a very limited claim. This is not a claim that vaccines are always perfect, or that the side-effects are not a problem, or that frauds can never interfere with the science (as happened with the Lancet article which claimed a correlation with autism), and so on. This is a fallen world, and no problem of this nature can ever be addressed risk-free. The claim I am making here is very limited. If a person has decided personal convictions about the contagious disease he is carrying, the society in which he lives has an equal right to have decided and contrary convictions about that same contagious disease he has. And if there is an outbreak of such a disease, and the government quarantines everyone who is not vaccinated, requiring them to stay at home, the name for this is prudence, not tyranny.

Quick Takes on the Republican Field

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.Flag Conditions

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. Where do we get these people?

Rand Paul: a Paul presidency would do a lot of good things, and a handful of very, very bad things. I think we would probably come out to the good, but that is by no means certain. His odds in a general election would be much better than his chances in primaries. But that is like saying that someone’s chances of passing their thesis at Harvard are much better than their chances of admission to Harvard.

Ted Cruz: this is a man who should not be underestimated. He is very smart, and he knows that pretty much the only thing Washington needs is combative confrontation. He has been a faithful senator that way, and I like him a lot. At the same time, his personal demeanor is too unctuous for me. What makes for a good president is not necessarily what makes for a good candidate.

Mike Huckabee: this is a man whose appeal is to readers of The Saturday Evening Post, circa 1985. That is a strong demographic in some primaries like Iowa, but it is not exactly the wave of the future. His aw shucks persona is enough to make the back teeth ache.

Jeb Bush: he is near the front of the pack now because he is a plausible candidate on behalf of the Republican establishment, and because of his last name. But at the same time, he is winsome, articulate and razor sharp. Once the debates start, look for him to start winning people over. His stances on immigration and common core will be a real challenge in the primaries, but I do think he has the capacity to persuade conservatives that other issues are more important.

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 Democrat execs having fun to yucking it up at Obama’s expense with various race-chortle-jokes. And then, as a result of the controversy, theater chains got nervous and started bailing, and so Sony halted the release to the movie theaters, while maintaining they hadn’t caved. We will see. If they release it in other ways after renegotiating all the contracts related to it, then they might have a point. If they don’t, then what they just did was fold like a three-dollar tent in a typhoon. And then, just after the nick of time, Obama weighed in by saying that he thinks Sony made a mistake here, trying not very hard to not get any race-chortle-joke-schadenfreude on the lectern. They should have called me, he said. We were talking to the White House, they said, whaddaya mean call you? But Obama was already on a higher plane. You can’t let these political leaders bully movie makers, said the man who had blamed the Benghazi fiasco on a by-standing movie maker who then had to spend a year in jail for it. Still with me?

At a certain point, however, however macabre your sensibilities are, the whole thing stops being funny. The reason it stops being funny is that the episode highlights a major security threat — cyber attacks — for which there is currently no adequate preventative solution at all. There will be suggested preventative solutions, which will all mysteriously grow the power of our government over our lives, but they will be a farce like all the rest of it.

What North Korea did to Sony could in principle be done to nuclear power plants, to U.S. Bank, to public utilities, and the international headquarters of Ben & Jerry’s. The point has already been made — and it is accurate as far as it goes — that the NSA exists in part to guard against this kind of thing. A private corporation like Sony shouldn’t have to protect itself against the malevolent resources of a nation-state. One of the reasons governments exist is to protect us from attack, including this kind of attack. A private business in America should not have to pay for the kind of security it would take to guard against what a country could mount against them.

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 secular smart people can drift a long way out to sea. Now suppose you can prevent the Baltimore nuke by having a dark ops team rape KSM’s mother, sisters, and daughters. Suppose the threat of that prospect would break him sooner than waterboarding would? At some point, pretty soon in the process, you will need more ethical light than horrendous consequences of not doing “something” can ever give you.

Smarter Than Thou

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 has now gotten out here to Dogpatch, and we are now treated to the prospect of watching videos made by our betters. Once the whole thing was explained to Mammy Yokum, she took it ill.Mammy Yokum

Gruber is a class phenomenon. He is a representative. He is the poster child of the whiz kid brainiacs who know better than you, and they don’t care who knows it. Actually, they don’t care who knows it until something unexpected happens, and a goodly number of the great unwashed come to know it. Then they spend a great deal of energy trying to get the smell back in the barn.

If you find Gruber and his class mystifying, then I have a couple of book recommendations for you. The first is Thomas Sowell’s The Vision of the Anointed. The subtitle says a lot, “Self-Congratulation as a Basis for Social Policy.” The second book is Angelo Codevilla’s The Ruling Class. Both books are great, and while Sowell is always a heavyweight, Codevilla’s book is smaller and lighter, punching way out of its weight class. Start with him, and move on to Sowell.Ruling Class

These books make it plain that we are getting these supercilious rulers because we put up with them. One Gruber is insufferable, but a ruling elite made up entirely of Grubers is something that would take a far more talented writer to describe. I am thinking of someone who was a mix of Dante and John the Revelator, on hallucinogens, trying to paint something described to them by Hieronymus Bosch. Someone at that talent level could complete the master work I have in mind, and it could be called The Cabinet Meeting.

Three Feet of Partly Cloudy

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.

Pollsters

“What I drink and what I tell the pollsters I drink are two different things.”

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 then assumed to be the mindset of three million people. The reasoning process is called induction, where you are going from the particular to the general. Whether or not that reasoning is strong or weak depends entirely on whether your sample size is representative. Of course, you don’t know whether it is representative or not until after the election, at which point you should calibrate your methods. But we have now gotten to the point where the poll results are treated as mini-elections, with settled results, and the elections are treated as big elections, also with settled results.

What ought to happen is that our pollsters should be on television this morning, acting like a local teevee weatherman who has had to deal with multiple irate callers who had to shovel three feet of partly cloudy off their driveways. “Folks, this is not an exact science . . .” At its best, polling is educated guessing. At its worst, it is wish fulfillment therapy. At its best, polling is having thousands of conversations with people in the run-up to an election. At its worst, it is little better than telling the king which way he should go because your guild is the best haruspicy firm in the business.

Only God knows the end from the beginning. Mortal men want to know the future and they cannot. Mortal men want to know the future so badly that they are willing to pay big money for any plausible account. And much of the time, it can all seem pretty plausible — because the voting public is following the polls also and many times a reinforcement theme is created. Polls can and do create real momentum, and really can affect the outcome. But of course, if a bald eagle happened to land on a general’s helmet right before the battle, that could affect the outcome as well.

In all this, we should remember Isaiah’s taunt. “Shew the things that are to come hereafter, That we may know that ye are gods. Yea, do good, or do evil, That we may be dismayed, and behold it together” (Is. 41:23). Whatever else we may say about the political results of this election — and I would want to say that the unraveling of Obama’s apotheosis is almost complete — we can also take comfort in the fact that many of our nation’s soothsayers had their pointy cone hat knocked off, the one with the stars and crescent moons on it.

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 — which it looks like it might be — one possible new exasperation will come from the fact that John Boehner may no longer need the Tea Party fire eaters in order to get anything passed, and will be in a position to tell them to do what the Republican establishment has long yearned to be able to tell them to do, which is to pound sand.

If the wave were big enough, Congress would be within shouting distance of being able to over-ride presidential vetoes — not that there would be that many Republicans, but because a wave election might put the fear of God into some Democrats. The first order of business would of course be to repeal Obamacare — and our exasperation will come when we see the fecklessness, a word that cries out to be used at least twice in a post like this — of the Republicans.

And of course, let us never forget that Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution gives Congress the authority to set jurisdictional limits on the federal courts, including the Supreme Court. Wouldn’t it be dandy if Congress prohibited federal courts from saying anything whatever about same sex mirage? Or abortion?

Although there are some Republicans I admire, I have no illusions about the Republican establishment. They wouldn’t do such things because they don’t want to. I am not holding my breath, in other words.

At the same time, I will go to the polls cheerfully tomorrow, whistling an environmentalist tune, but making it plural. Save the planets.

Withershins

C.S. Lewis observes somewhere that there are two different motivations for spreading the political power as thinly as possible. The first is the motive of the sunny democrat, one who believes that man is the repository of wisdom, and that before we do anything of a civic nature, we ought to check in with as many of those wisdom nodes out there as we can.

The second motivation is driven by a Christian view of man, in which the radical nature of sin is acknowledged, and we confess ourselves unwilling to deposit too much power in any one individual or institution. And why? Because Lord Acton knew his onions, and aptly said that power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

This adage does not apply to God, obviously, who is untempted and uncorrupted by His omnipotence. It does apply,  however, to all those little creatures who are still affected by the aboriginal temptation, which is “to be as God.”Taxes This Year

The former view is trying share the power with all those out there who are worthy of it, and the latter view is trying to keep the power from accumulating in any one place. The former view is pagan, and the latter is Christian. In this latter view, given the nature of the case, we are not trying to spread as much power as possible across the entire population, but rather trying to take essential precautions by limiting the exercise of any essential power by spreading as far as we reasonably can, separating the powers and checking the balances.

Now it could well be objected — and it is quite a reasonable objection — that if man is not to be trusted, then why should we trust him with liberty? Can a sinful man not abuse his liberty? He certainly can, which is why we want to limit the damage to what he can do to himself and those foolish enough to associate with him. Precisely because he is corruptible, we don’t want to put him in charge of the life, liberty, and property of everybody else.