Sometimes our political rhetoric ties us up in knots

Reprinted from the Press and Journal

If you were paying attention in philosophy class, you’ll remember Aristotle’s law of non-contradiction. Without this ontological law, Plato’s most famous student thought that we could never know anything about the things we already understand – for instance, the science of mathematics would mean nothing if it couldn’t be differentiated from biology.

Aristotle, smart as he was, would be baffled by today’s political rhetoric. His logical approach to the world does not fit well with our discourse over public affairs.

Too often, politicians choose subterfuge over truth and circumlocution over clear language. This makes the act of governing extremely difficult.

Some examples: In a recent Republican candidate debate, Florida Sen. Marco Rubio defended his call for a bigger Pentagon budget by declaring, “We can’t even have an economy if we’re not safe.”

We can’t? Last I checked, economies are nothing but the sum total of individuals trading goods and services. Even in the most rudimentary societies, barter still existed. And let’s not forget that in order for the military to function, tax dollars must be collected from business to finance its operations.

All that said, Rubio has a point: If we’re dead, we aren’t buying and selling things. So in a sense, you can’t have an economy without a certain degree of safety.

Confusing, right?


There is no freedom in being uncomfortable within your skin

It was only a matter of time before libertarianism jumped the shark.

The childishly optimistic sect of the liberty movement is moving past pot legalization and gay marriage. Their detente with liberals resulted in a massive culture victory. Pot and sodomy are de rigueur in mainstream American culture, whether you agree with them or not. Those troglodyte conservatives can wipe their tears with white flags!

The next fight for libertarians lies in the traditional gender spectrum. Not content to keep politics within politics, the loud-mouthed revolutionaries are moving into the messy world of transgenderism. This is a huge jump from the philosophy associated with Adam Smith and Friedrich Hayek. Ayn Rand would be frowning in heaven if she didn’t think God put a damper on her ego trip.

In a recent Daily Beast column, Reason Magazine’s Nick Gillespie praises the latest American hero: Olympic athlete Bruce Jenner. Wait a second, you may say. Didn’t Jenner trounce the Soviets in the decathlon almost three decades ago?  Why is he now the latest emblem of liberation?


How smoking became as cool and subversive as 1960s ad men always said it was

In a bit of news that should be much more outrageous than the Darren Wilson decision, a grand jury has declined to indict the cops who put Eric Garner in a chokehold, during which he died.

This story is less useful to the media and Democratic Party than the one in Ferguson, so it’s likely the protests, if there are any, will be fewer between and less well-covered. There is also the inconvenient fact that Garner was purveying a substance only bad people smoke, tobacco, at the time of his death. Since only bad people smoke, politicians are fine with driving up the price on these largely poor individuals. This regressive tax then creates black markets, which are usually filled by lower-class people like Garner, who are then preyed upon by authorities. The chain of causation here is far too clear to make a vague point about institutional oppression, and focusing on this story risks people reaching the dangerous conclusion that supporters of higher tobacco taxes want to see more Staten Island loosie hucksters strangled to death.

The highest-level authority currently pushing tobacco taxes is the World Health Organization. It met in Moscow this October to confront what it calls an “epidemic” of smoking and hammer out the details for a global tobacco tax, but conducted the meeting in secret, banning the public, then reporters, actions they blamed on “mounting pressure from [the] tobacco industry.”

If a global tobacco tax sounds like a great idea to you, consider that more than 50 percent of cigarettes sold in major Northeastern cities are bootleg. They just don’t raise the money authorities think they will, and a global cigarette tax would obviously exacerbate that problem. What the World Health Organization is really saying is they’d like to see Eric Garners planetwide. To the WHO, smoking must be ended, and that is a small price to pay for a smoke-free world. You know what they say about breaking a few eggs.

This is also an instructive lie from the WHO brought up during the proceedings:

Another milestone in tobacco control was adoption of the decision on electronic nicotine (and non-nicotine) delivery systems, also known as electronic cigarettes. This rather novel product was first launched by independent companies, but many of them are now being controlled by multinational tobacco companies. The decision acknowledges the need for regulations along the lines of policies concerning other tobacco products, including banning or restricting promotion, advertising and sponsorship of ENDS.

We’re supposed to find it reassuring that global health authorities are just as wary of “multinationals” as Adbusters Magazine. But by most estimates, that isn’t true at all. The U.S. market for e-cigarettes is 70 percent small independent manufacturers.

Even if it were the case, regulations and taxes of this kind usually work in favor of big tobacco. For example, Altria boasts on its website that it was alone in supporting Barack Obama’s ban on flavored cigarettes: “Altria Group and its tobacco companies stood alone within the tobacco industry in support of the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act.” Isn’t that interesting? (more…)

What we talk about when we talk about vaccines

Recently, the CDC posted new, sobering numbers on the recent outbreaks of measles, a disease previously thought eradicated by mass inoculation efforts over the course of decades.  Like the spots found in the mouth of a patient, it’s not pretty:

Two hundred and eighty-eight cases of measles were reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in the United States between Jan. 1 and May 23, 2014. This is the largest number of measles cases in the United States reported in the first five months of a year since 1994.

The cause is equally disgusting:

“The current increase in measles cases is being driven by unvaccinated people, primarily U.S. residents, who got measles in other countries, brought the virus back to the United States and spread to others in communities where many people are not vaccinated,” said Dr. Anne Schuchat, assistant surgeon general and director of CDC’s National Center for Immunizations and Respiratory Diseases.

Keep these thoughts in mind. I’m going to tell you a little story.

As some of you are aware, polio, the debilitating disease that renders a person physically disabled for the rest of their life, still continues to persist in parts of the Middle East, especially the northern provinces of Pakistan. This is mainly due to efforts by the Taliban and related organizations, as well as tribal leaders, to prevent vaccine distribution. Now, from an untrained standpoint, some would suspect the motives of the Taliban’s anti-vaccine efforts have at least some backing in Islamic thought. But that is not really the case: Inoculation has long been used in the Middle East and the Indian subcontinent, predating Western introduction of the practice. While there were previous concerns surrounding the religious validity of modern vaccines, the use of Muslim medical workers alleviated this problem. There is not much religious justification going on against the vaccines themselves.

Rather, the problem is not so much the vaccines as it is the source:

Anxieties and distrust about the polio vaccine and its western providers were rampant in some communities, and suspicions about CIA links with the polio vaccination campaigns, and rumours they were a front for the sterilising of Muslims, had been around for a decade after 9/11.

Given all the attention Pakistan got after 9/11, that the CIA would be rumored to have some sinister involvement in polio eradication did not seem far-fetched for the average Pakistani. Then came the revelation that a Pakistani doctor led a fake vaccination drive as a CIA cover operation to confirm Osama Bin Laden’s hideout in Abottabad in 2011, which caused the whole thing to fall apart. Two years after the fact, the region remains the largest endemic source of polio and continues to grow.