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[Music clip: From Haydn's Derbyshire Marches, fife'n'drum version]
01 — Intro. And Radio Derb is on the air. This is your self-critically genial host John Derbyshire with our weekly roundup from the news wires.
Public health has been in the news this week. No, this is not another story about Ebola; that seems to have faded into the cosmic microwave background, news-wise. Nor is it about the outbreak of bubonic plague in Madagascar, which I know has many citizens worried.
No, this is about measles, a disease we had eradicated completely from the U.S.A. by the year 2000, but which for reasons not insuperably difficult to guess at, has been making a comeback.
02 — Vaccination vacillations. A couple of politicians got into trouble this week over vaccinations.
The background here is that there's been an outbreak of measles apparently originating in California. In a TV interview last Sunday the President fielded a question about vaccination: [Clip: "Do you feel there should be a requirement that parents get their kids vaccinated" "Measles is preventable …"] That got some pushback from prominent Republicans.
Exhibit A: Governor of New Jersey and GOP presidential aspirant Chris Christie, on a trip to England Monday, begged to differ with the President. Quote from him:
All I can say is that we vaccinate (our children), and so that's the best expression I can give you as my opinion. That's what we do, but I also understand that parents need to have some measure of choice in things as well. So that's the balance that the government has to decide.
That wasn't much of an answer. Of course that's "the balance that the government has to decide." What we want to know, Governor, is which way you would decide it if you were in charge of the federal government, as you hope to be?
To be fair to Christie, though, he could reply: "Well, this is an issue that's only just come up. I haven't had the chance to give it a lot of thought. If I were in charge of things, I'd call in experts, listen to their advice, and make a judgment call."
On the other hand, to stop being fair to Christie, why didn't he offer some version of the reply I just crafted for him?
On the other other hand, nobody can think fast on his feet all the time.
To be even more fair to Christie, he was speaking for his state. New Jersey allows parents to opt out of vaccination programs for religious reasons, and around nine thousand New Jersey kids go unvaccinated each year on those grounds.
Exhibit B: Junior U.S. Senator for the state of Kentucky and GOP presidential aspirant Rand Paul fielded the same question, also on Monday, in a phone interview with Laura Ingraham: [Clip: "What's your thought on vaccinations?" "I'm not anti-vaccine at all, but …"]
These remarks from two leading GOP names caused a minor storm — not really gale force, but enough to bring down a few branches — among political types, players and commentators, currently getting fitted for their 2016 hazmat suits.
The Washington Post, a Democrat newspaper with no worries about entrusting new powers to the federal government, harrumphed that, quote: "No presidential candidate should endorse parental choice that could reopen the door to an ugly and preventable disease," end quote.
Libertarians countered that lots of parents do in fact object to government ordering them to bring in their kids for vaccination, and the mental image of kids being dragged from their parents by government agents and forcibly vaccinated goes against the American grain … to put it mildly.
By week's end both Christie and Paul had done some vacillating on the vaccination issue. Governor Christie, who has most to prove to libertarians and religious conservatives, backed off just a couple of inches, having his office issue a clarifying statement that didn't clarify much, sample quote:
Different states require different degrees of vaccination, which is why [the Governor] was calling for balance in which ones government should mandate.
Senator Paul was a tad more deft. He tweeted a picture of himself getting a Hepatitis A booster shot, and issued some measley-mouthed … sorry, I mean mealy-mouthed nothings about how he supports vaccination.
Radio Derb hereby predicts that the whole controversy will have been utterly forgotten by November 2016. Still, politics aside, the issue of liberty versus public health is a nontrivial one, so let's give it another segment.
I can tell you this with some confidence as this scenario was the reality in my own childhood sixty-plus years ago. You expected to get measles — and chickenpox, and whooping cough, and mumps, and other childhood ailments. My sister and I both had measles.
For German measles, which is a different disease, there used to be parties. If an adult woman gets German measles in pregnancy, miscarriages or birth defects often follow; but if a female child gets it, she'll be immune for life. So if a girl in the neighborhood got German measles her parents would throw a party so all the other little girls could catch it. It sounds medieval, I know, but that's how things were until vaccines came up in the 1960s.
OK, so in a total non-vaccination scenario, we have forty million kids. The measles death rate in kids, including from complications like pneumonia, is about 0.5 percent, so that's 200,000 deaths a year.
Now consider a total vaccination scenario. The story about measles vaccine causing autism has been debunked, but like any other invasion of the body systems by foreign agents, there are occasional bad side effects: fevers most commonly, very occasionally deafness or brain damage. I can't find precise numbers, but from the CDC reports I'd judge five per million as an absolute upper limit to deaths from vaccination. In our totally-vaccinated kid population of forty million, that's 200 deaths.
So statistically it's a no-brainer: 200,000 deaths versus 200, with I suppose corresponding numbers for non-fatal damage.
Unfortunately human beings, including American voters, can't think statistically on that scale without special aptitude and training.
You impose total vaccination: Mrs Smith's kid develops a fever and dies: Timmy Smith is then the headline story — KID KILLED BY VACCINE! And that story will be milked for all it's worth by the rich and powerful trial lawyers associations. The 199,800 kids whose lives were saved by the vaccinations don't make headlines. The trial lawyers have no stake in them.
And I wouldn't dismiss Mrs Smith's anguish. Little Timmy was killed by the vaccine. It's highly un-likely — 99.5 percent unlikely — that he would have been killed by measles. Hey, I wasn't. So naturally Mrs Smith is distraught, and probably angry. Who's going to be the one to pull out a bunch of graphs and explain the statistical fine points to Mrs Smith? Not me.
So politically, as I said, this is a nontrivial issue. If you want to read a good sober article about it, I recommend Richard Epstein's February 2nd piece on the Hoover Institute website, Hoover.org.
The only shortcoming of Epstein's article is that the word "immigration" and its derivatives don't occur in it anywhere; but the comment thread more than makes up for that. Thank goodness for comment threads!
Where is Radio Derb on this? As usual, our banner is inscribed with the slogan Libertarianism in One Country! With maximum security at the borders and visa offices, maximum scrutiny of people entering the country, you can have maximum liberty of citizens within the country.
Supposing we had that Radio Derb utopia, with no hordes of kids from Guatemala pouring across the border and being amnestied by a halfwit President; suppose we had libertarianism in one country. Would our liberties include the liberty not to be vaccinated?
I'd say yes in the case of measles, which I don't hold in any great terror, having had it. There are compromises you can work out, as Epstein describes, with objecting parents having the choice to quarantine their kids at home.
I would add, though, that there are things worse than measles, and that in an extremity even a libertarian government couldn't altogether lay aside the principle of raison d'état. A nation, to survive, does what it must do. Churchill allied with Stalin; Jeff Davis brought in conscription — in fact the South did so before the North, notwithstanding they had seceded in the name of states' rights against central government powers. Governments do what they have to do if national survival is at stake; and that applies to public health as much as to war.
So compulsory vaccination is one of those things you should never rule totally out of court. Measles doesn't make the case, though.
04 — Herding the GOP cats. Last week we reported on some early moves in the contest for the 2016 Republican presidential nomination. There was Representative Steve King's bash in Iowa, which four of the big names rather pointedly did not attend, probably because they were fearful of being associated with Steve King, who wants to see the nation's laws enforced.
Then we lifted up a rock to show you the NAABP, the National Association for the Advancement of Billionaire People, gathering in preparation to put their money behind one or other of the Republican 2016 hopefuls.
The favorite of the Iowa gathering was Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The NAABP preferred Senator Marco Rubio.
That division of opinion neatly captures the Republican Party's dilemma. On one of the horns of that dilemma sit the big-money donors, as represented by the NAABP. They are globalist and transnational, socially liberal, hostile to a powerful national government because they believe the whole idea of separate nations with separate governments is kind of petty, when after all their billionaire friends from Europe, South America, and Asia agree with them about pretty much everything.
On the other horn of the dilemma sit the conservative activists who keep the party alive locally and get out the vote. They are nationalist, socially conservative, and hostile to powerful national government because they believe in the principle of subsidiarity: that higher levels of administration should not do what lower levels are capable of doing, and that if higher levels take over all the governing functions, then personal liberty is crushed out of existence.
Rubio's a pretty good candidate for the NAABP. Whether Walker is as good a fit for the party's activists and voters is less clear. As Governor of his state he's been stellar in standing up to the public sector employee lobbies (which Radio Derb listeners will recall we refuse to call "unions"). National politics involves other stuff, though: immigration, citizenship, foreign affairs. Whether Walker can get votes on those issues is unclear.
The two gatherings have already had some political consequences. Sarah Palin gave a spirited but incoherent speech at the Iowa show, and seems by general agreement to have been written out by the party as a possible candidate.
Mitt Romney last week wrote himself out, telling supporters that, quote: "I've decided it is best to give other leaders in the Party the opportunity to become our next nominee." The buzz is that he just wasn't getting much interest from the NAABP, who prefer Marco Rubio and Jeb Bush: candidates with serious, concrete plans to keep down American wages and flood the country with cheap foreign labor, and with the oratorical skill to hide their intentions from ordinary Americans.
So currently the line-up is Bush and/or Rubio for the donorist wing of the party, Scott Walker and Ted Cruz for the activists. Betting is pretty foolish at this early stage, but you might want to put a small amount on a split ticket, one name for the donors and one for the foot soldiers: Rubio/Walker or Bush/Cruz.
05 — Roll, Jordan, roll. Here's a country you don't hear much about: Jordan. Middle East country, mostly Arab, mostly Sunni Muslim; about the size of Indiana; population eight million, which is a tad more than Indiana's; borders with Syria, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Israel. Bad neighborhood, really bad.
Jordan's a monarchy, current monarch King Abdullah. For news junkies of my generation, though, it's Abdullah's father we remember as emblematic of the country: King Hussein, who ruled Jordan through almost the entire second half of the last century.
Hussein was a piece of work. He survived Allah knows how many assassination attempts, in one case at the controls of his own plane, flying evasive manouvers to escape from Syrian jets trying to bring him down. He also survived losing a big chunk of his territory, the West Bank, in the 1967 War, and then defeated an insurrection by Palestinian refugees. The guy was indestructible until cancer got him. British journalists called him the PLK, the Plucky Little King, not altogether sarcastically. The "little" anyway is excusable: Hussein stood five foot three.
Well, Jordan's remained out of trouble under King Abdullah, fairly stable and well-governed as things go in that neck of the sands. They don't have any oil, or much of an economy, but they have played the international game skilfully enough to keep aid and credit flowing.
In that context, they have been participating in the fight against ISIS, along with Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states. That got one of their pilots shot down in December. The poor guy was captured by ISIS and burned alive. ISIS propagandists made a graphic video of the event.
This wasn't just random frightfulness on the part of ISIS. The natural habitat for ISIS, the environment in which they flourish, is failed states with tribal, ethnic, or religious divisions — places like Syria and Iraq. They'd like Jordan to join the list.
Jordan isn't a failed state, but if enough of the right kind of passions can get whipped up, it easily could be. The Sunni Muslims of Jordan are not enthusiastic about fighting against the Sunni jihadists of ISIS. Indeed, some unknown number of Jordanians — the usual estimate is 2,000 — are fighting in the ISIS ranks. Even if you're a non-jihadist Jordanian, the enemies in your mental landscape are the Shi'ites to the east and the Israelis to the west.
If you belong to the 25 percent of Jordan's population who identify as Palestinians, not only is Israel foremost in your demonology, but King Abdullah's Dad, who drove out the PLO in 1970 — the famous Black September — is not far behind Israel in the list of villains.
So ISIS figures they can destabilize Jordan. The little horror show they staged with the Jordanian pilot is aimed at Jordanians who don't think their country should be fighting ISIS, who think that their King is just a lackey of the West. Well, he is; but if he stops being a lackey of the West, the West will stop propping him up with aid and credits, and his people will not just be disgruntled, they'll be disgruntled and unemployed and hungry — ripe fodder for the ISIS recruiters.
Being King of Jordan is not a job you would take if anything less stressful was available: lion-taming, perhaps, or bomb disposal, or bomb disposal in a cage full of hungry lions.
06 — The next big one. Well, good luck to King Abdullah. Nobody in the world needs good luck more than he does. Is all this any of our business, though?
Well, yes, but not in the sense of us needing to go over there and do stuff.
It would be a shame if the Middle East were to trade in a fairly sane, fairly stable nation — I'm talking about Jordan still — for another corrupt, chaotic mess like Iraq, Libya, and Syria; but as somebody said in a not-totally-unrelated context: At this point, what difference does it make, really?
With the Cold War a fading memory and diminishing dependence on Middle East oil, it's not clear why we should bother with the Muslim world at all. Either they have a path to stable modernity under rational government, or they don't. If they do have such a path, we should of course help; but how do we do that, other than just by example? After the debacle in Iraq, and the coming debacle in Afghanistan, is there anyone who still believes that major military intervention, or trillions of dollars in aid, will be any help at all? Will, in fact, do anything but make things worse?
If the Muslims don't have such a path, there will be decades of chaos ahead, with the four horsemen of the Apocalypse roaming freely over the region. There will be famines, massacres, and great floods of refugees. It'll be awful to watch, but only a degree more awful than what's currently going on, and we'll soon get inured to it.
Our main interest in the story is preventing the next big one, if we can, the next 9/11. Always, lurking behind the geostrategic scenery of the modern world, always there are the nukes. We forget about them for years at a stretch, for decades at a stretch, but they're there, ticking away out of sight. The technology is seventy years old now, like valve radios, jet engines, and Tupperware. If even a fifth-rate beggar nation like North Korea can master it, who else can?
With big Muslim populations in the West, containing within them the inevitable small but lethal subpopulations of jihadis, and wide-open borders, and the U.N. dumping tens of thousands of refugees every year just in the U.S.A., most of them Muslims — with, or course, the eager assistance of our federal and state governments — it can only be a matter of time before the jihadis pull off something as big as 9/11, or bigger.
And what will we do then? Send another army to the Middle East? But last time that only made things worse; and anyway, the missionary impulse has all gone, so far as the American people are concerned. So … what will we do?
It's not a rhetorical question. I'm honestly asking. You see how batpoop crazy these jihadists are, how addicted to wild conspiracy theories, how intense the tribal and sectional rivalries are, how much they hate us. So they take out a couple more skyscrapers, or perhaps, Heaven help us, an entire city. What will we do?
That's the significance of the Middle East to us now. That's how it's our business. I wish I could see some sign that our leaders understand this, but I don't.
Before I get to the movie, just a moment's reflection on being in a movie theater. This was my first time for years. Quite likely it'll be my last. With 60-inch TVs in everyone's living-room and streaming Netflix, I don't see how the traditional movie theater can survive the decade. Once we'd spoken this thought to each other, it added a frisson of melancholy to the movie experience, a sort of premonition of nostalgia. We bought popcorn and soda, as if our doing so might delay for a while the day when the place would be empty and silent.
Well, American Sniper: a beautiful movie, well-crafted and straightforward, neither banging you over the head with a message nor offering hidden subtleties for you to guess at. Watching the funeral scene at the end, the crowds of ordinary Americans silent in respect, holding up Old Glory on the bridges and along the highways as the hearse drove by, I damn near teared up, and the Mrs actually did.
The movie has led to some useful reflecting on the Iraq war, the duties of citizens, and the morality of sniping. I say "useful" because it's socially good to have these things aired once in a while.
The following opinions have been plentifully expressed in opinion pieces and comment threads.
And so on. I'm sure you've heard them all. The underlying arguments have been the background noise of our civilization for a hundred years, since World War One, when most of the issues about morality and justification came up. On the propriety, legality, and execution of the Iraq War, I've expressed myself often enough and am not going to repeat. As the points I just listed relate to the particular case of Chris Kyle and the movie, I disagree with all of them.
Sniping, for example, is not cowardly; it's extremely dangerous, as the Syrian sniper in the movie discovers. Once a sniper's location is known, even approximately, he can be taken out by a well-placed tank or RPG round, or by another sniper. I don't know the death rate for snipers, but I'd guess it's at the high end for combat troops.
As for war not being suitable for entertainment: Novelists, poets, and dramatists and their audiences have been disagreeing with that since Homer, at least. It's not just entertaining to armchair warriors, either. My Dad, a WW1 combat veteran, loved a good war movie. When The Dam Busters came out in 1955, he came to my school and took me out of class to go see it with him.
Relating to that same war, Paul Fussell, in Chapter Six of his book The Great War and Modern Memory, writes about a gramophone record sold commercially in Britain, quote, "undated but probably issued during the late twenties or early thirties," end quote, in which actors play out an episode of trench warfare complete with sound effects of shells and gunfire, quote, "allowing veterans when the need was on them to re-play vicariously the parts they had once played in actuality," end quote.
If you don't understand the appeal of war as drama, you're missing something important. If you don't understand Chris Kyle's motivations, you haven't hung out much with young males. If you think a nation can survive without the instinctive unreflecting patriotism of the Chris Kyles, you're wrong. And if you think it's witty to say that Chris Kyle lived by the sword and died by the sword, I refer you to Kipling:
Yes, makin' mock o' uniforms that guard you while you sleep
Thanks from me and the Mrs to Clint Eastwood and all the cast and crew for a fine movie; and thanks to American veterans, regardless of what I or they think of the wisdom of the politicians who sent them to war.
08 — Miscellany. And now, our closing miscellany of brief items.
Imprimis: I have never read the novel To Kill a Mocking-Bird. I tried once, when my daughter was given it to read in school, as they all are, but I didn't get very far. For purposes of discussing it with her, I relied on dim memories of the movie, and got away without too much loss of paternal credibility.
From the movie and my daughter's remarks, and its popularity with schoolteachers, I take the book to be white guilt porn. The whites are mostly hypocrites and psychopaths; the blacks are all noble and soulful, with I think just one exception. It's ethnomasochist liberal fantasy. People whose literary taste I respect tell me it's well written, so I'll go with that; but to the degree it's encouraged blacks to be resentful of whites, and whites to hate their fellow whites, it's a bad book.
There's gold in them thar ethnomasochist hills, though, and the author, Harper Lee, made a bundle. She never published another book, and mostly kept out of the limelight. Now she's 88 years old, a stroke victim, living in a nursing home in her Alabama home town. Her sister Alice, a practicing lawyer who managed Lee's affairs, died last year aged 103.
This week we learned that although Lee didn't publish another book, she did write one, a sequel to Mockingbird, and it's going to be published this Summer. Whether Lee consented to this is unclear. She isn't available for interviews; and Tonja Carter, the local lawyer who took over her affairs when the sister died, isn't answering her phone. It's all a bit fishy.
If white guilt porn is your thing, the novel is titled Go Set a Watchman, and should be in bookstores in July. I'll be giving it a pass myself; though when Oprah brings out the movie version, I may go see it just so I can write a sour column about it.
Item: Our President seems to have gotten all the religion he wanted from the Reverend Jeremiah Wright, or the Reverend Dr Jeremiah Wright, Jr. III, whatever his full title is. Remember him? "White folks' greed runs a world in need," that's the one.
Well, the President hasn't been seen in church much since attaining the presidency because, to quote from the First Lady in an interview last April, quote: "We really try to use Sunday as a family downtime where we can kind of breathe and catch up, and maybe take a little nap every now and then," end quote.
This doesn't stop the President from commenting on churchly matters, though, and he did so Thursday this week at a National Prayer Breakfast. Quote:
Remember that during the Crusades and Inquisition, people committed terrible deeds in the name of Christ. In our home country, slavery and Jim Crow all too often was justified in the name of Christ. So it is not unique to one group or one religion. There is a tendency in us, a simple tendency that can pervert and distort our faith.
End quote. Well, duh: but that was then and this is now. In this age, Christianity is a meek and yielding faith — a bit too meek and yielding, in my opinion. Elsewhere Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists are going at each other hammer and tongs. Not all of them, of course, but enough to justify us keeping them out of our country until they've sunk into the watery do-goodism that now characterizes Christianity.
No religion is either good or evil in itself. Religious feeling is an intensifier, squishing down the moral bell curve, pushing more people into the left and right tails of the curve. It makes good people better and bad people worse. Depending on social and historical circumstances, either the good or the bad may have the upper hand in representing the faith. That's how religions get good and bad reputations.
Didn't the Rev'm Professor Jeremiah Wright Jr. teach that to the President? I guess not.
Item: Finally, I don't have a microaggression of the week, but I do have a Pussy of the Week.
Actually the pussy showed his whiskers last October; it was only this week that I noticed it, in the current Notices of the American Mathematical Society. The pussy is Satya Nadella, who is a guy, those terminal a's notwithstanding, and who is furthermore the CEO of Microsoft Corp.
At a conference on computing last fall, Nadella was asked what advice he'd give to women who felt uncomfortable asking for a raise. He replied that people should trust the system and do the best work they are capable of, and rewards would then follow whether or not they asked for raises.
That got the feminists all screeching and howling. Doesn't Nadella know that brutish leering male chauvinists are deliberately holding women back in the workplace?
Nadella did a full grovel. His remarks had been "just plain wrong," he squealed, in between lashing his bare back with a leather whip and tearing at his gonads with red-hot pincers. He promised that Microsoft will, quote, "recruit more diverse employees and expand training on how to foster an inclusive culture," end quote.
So goodbye to meritocracy at Microsoft, then, and hello to hiring by quota and disruptive time-wasting PC indoctrination sessions for employees. Is it too much to ask that one of these corporate bosses, one time, could tell the cultural marxist parasites to go boil their heads? I guess it is.
There's Radio Derb's Pussy of the Week: CEO Satya Nadella of Microsoft. The actual award, a handsome engraved belt buckle, will be kept at Taki's Magazine head office for Mr Nadella, any time he cares to drop by and pick it up.
09 — Signoff. There you have it, ladies and gents.
I'm afraid I have to leave somewhat abruptly. Under the inspiration of this new Marxist government in Athens, the village here is reorganizing itself as a People's Commune, and I have to go down and do a self-criticism in the village square. I'm told it's just a formality, but one never knows with these revolutionary movements; so I can only hope that …
… there'll be more from Radio Derb next week.
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