October 2008


In response to Ron Coleman’s post “Personal Savior”, where Ron asks if a President Obama would help bridge the right – left divide:

Obama and the Democrats have no intention of bridging the ideological right-left divide. They have made it clear that their goal is to win, win, win. McCain would bridge it if he could, but elections are confrontational, zero-sum kind of things. In each political confrontation, only one team can win. Expecting the red team and the blue team to join hands, work together and sing kumbaya before (and immediately after) the big game is kind of unrealistic.

This is one reason why politics can’t provide a solution to all of our problems. In contrast to politics, trade and technology are not zero-sum games. They rely on a combination of cooperation and competition. As a result, business and technology tend to provide real and lasting benefits to the population at large.

Who has done more to solve the problems of the world’s poor – Adam Smith, Karl Marx or Norman Borlaug?

Politicians are bureaucrats. Their job is to maintain the infrastructure – maintain the roads, pick up the garbage, pay the bills. If we listen to the debates, we can see that McCain and Obama are both reasonably competent bureaucrats. When the press isn’t looking, and when the extreme fans of both teams are busy stirring up trouble somewhere else, they are both capable of temporarily bridging the right-left divide to get some work done. That’s all we should expect of them.

Americans have, historically, been pragmatic, self-reliant people who tend to avoid real visionaries like the plague. This is good, because true visionaries usually cause more problems than they solve. Historically, Americans have tended to avoid relying on the state, or messianic politicians, to solve our problems.

Since Europeans rely on the state to solve their problems, Europe embraces visionaries and extremists. The Left in Europe is more left than we have ever been, and the right is more extreme too. In America, lipstick-wearing white supremacists tend to be relegated to the sidelines, or to jail. In Europe, they become heads of state.

Old fashioned pragmatist/entrepreneurs like T. Boone Pickens avoid joining either team, but in the last decade, most of us have have declared our political alliances. This loss of individuality and independence isn’t confined to individuals; comedy shows, college classes, talk shows, actors, rock bands – all feel the need to declare which political team they belong to. In the nineties, people rarely talked about politics. I didn’t know what party most of my friends belonged to. I didn’t care. Back in the ’90’s, the only dividing lines were MACs vs. Windows. Now I know where everyone stands politically. This is not a good trend.

The more we rely on our red and blue saviors, the more team spirit we have, the more European we become.


Armadillo Lander Captures Lunar X PRIZE Level One, but $1.65 Million Proves Elusive

Lunar landers and Mars rovers were all over the deserts of the American southwest this weekend. First, it was a mixed weekend for John Carmack, one of the original creators of the video game Doom. On Friday he and his team at Armadillo Aerospace were the big winners at the Lunar X Prize event, the Northrop Grumman Lunar Lander Challenge in New Mexico.

Abe Greenwald – Losing The Caucasus

America missed a golden opportunity by not taking a larger role in Azerbaijan’s “frozen conflict” with Armenia. And Moscow just picked up the ball dropped by Washington: Russia will soon enjoy the allegiance of the Azeri population and access to Azerbaijan’s critical gas and oil reserves.

On November 2, Azerbaijani President Ilham Aliyev and Armenian President Serzh Sarkisian will meet in Moscow , where Russian President Dmitry Medvedev will play peacemaker and try to find a way to end the on-going conflict. This meeting should have happened in Washington , with George W. Bush presiding.

I was in Azerbaijan in August, just days after Russia invaded neighboring Georgia, and it is impossible for me to overstate the earnestness of pro-Western sentiment in the country. (I’ve written about it here, here, and here, and Michael Totten has a piece about the same trip here.) To a man, Azeris practically begged for American help in resolving the Armenian occupation of Azerbaijan’s Nagorny Karabakh region. Sadly, following the Palestinian model of victimhood, there was a lot of talk about the all-powerful Armenian lobby and its supposed influence in DC. There was no other way for Azeris to understand why America didn’t do more to help a post-Soviet moderate Muslim territory with decidedly democratic aspirations…

We can’t have four-year election seasons and serve as guardians of the free world. How about we shorten the bataan death march to the white house by a few years or so…?

Vanderleun compares American and Spanish Halloween traditions:

What remains in my memory from watching the parade of cars on that long-lost Spanish highway is just how dour and serious the Spanish were on their Halloween. They weren’t fooling around with death, but taking it at its word. They not only believed in death they also, in their prayers and rituals and their traditional play, believed that what you do in life determines how you will be treated in the afterlife. They had, at bottom, that adamantine belief that is the pearl beyond price of the Catholics. But even if you were to strip away the 2000 years of dogma, these people still had the one thing that more and more Americans lack at the core of their lives: a belief in something greater than themselves, a belief in something greater than man, greater than death….

…From a minor tradition of sending kids out for to pick up some free candy, Halloween has mushroomed into a major American fornication festival in which we regularly — and with increasing intensity — celebrate the meat state of life while pretending to vaguely celebrate the spiritual part. If you’ve noted, as I have, the increasing lust for gruesomeness in costumes at every new Halloween, you might have reflected that dark humor has taken a back seat to darker fascinations. One new costume around this year allows you to dress us as a corpse in a body bag complete with wounds and autopsy slashes. And that’s a mild one.

Added on to costumes depicting violent death, mutilation, and the corruption of the grave, we have the increasing trend to freak show street events and private parties where this week’s perversion is served as bubbling punch; as a witch’s brew we are only too pleased, dressed as dregs, to drink to the dregs. In Seattle, of course, freak show street events and perversion parties are pretty much the order of the day, if not the daily spectacle on many blocks. But there’s something about Halloween that brings out the horror show of many inner lives like no other event. The only thing that saves us from seeing ghouls and goblins parading naked about the streets with their full-body tattoos and multiple genital piercings on display is the colder temperature, but there are clubs that specialize in that all about the city so you can see it if you wish.

It seems strange that a day for the contemplation of mortality has been turned into a carnival of corruption in this country, but perhaps not all that strange. I’d suggest that, as the country becomes more secular; as it ceases to believe in anything other than the here and now, the moment in the meat, it becomes increasingly terrified of the extinction of the self by death. It is one thing to profess a belief in the Great Nothingness, it is quite another to have to face it. The only weak weapon that can be raised up against it is its denial.

Oh, brother. This is one reason why I’m immune to religion. All religions seem to be based on the pervasive fear that someone, somewhere is having fun.

Halloween celebrations, like parachute jumping and roller coasters, are fun because they look scary, but really aren’t. America is based on the idea of challenging the status quo, pushing the edges of the envelope. How many grim, death-and-God fearing Spaniards have walked on the moon?

If you happen to be religious, define it as a leap of faith. Eat candy for dinner, pretend to be a corpse, go for a swim immediately after eating lunch. Just do it.

Michael Totten proposes an interesting referendum – a non-aggression pact between Israel and Lebanon

Public opinion on the idea of a peace treaty with Israel is mixed. Some want a peace treaty now. Some even want an alliance with Israel, although they tend to keep quiet about that and are far more likely to share that opinion off-the-record with me than they are with their fellow Lebanese. Others don’t want a peace treaty until outstanding issues–the supposed occupation of the Shebaa Farms, and the hundreds of thousands of unwanted and dangerous Palestinian refugees–are resolved. Even some otherwise sensible Lebanese I know wallow in conspiracy theories and believe Israelis want to conquer South Lebanon and steal water from the Litani River. Hezbollah’s hard-core supporters don’t ever want a peace treaty with Israel. But a non-aggression pact? An agreement that we’ll leave you alone if you leave us alone? Put that on a ballot in a popular referendum and it would pass overwhelmingly.

Of course, the Lebanese government wouldn’t be strong enough to enforce it. Lebanon is tiny, weak, and under the gun from Syria, Iran, and their joint Hezbollah proxy. Too many Lebanese willingly submit to Syrian and Iranian vassalage, and they have by far the most well-armed private army in the country. Not even a non-aggression pact, let alone a peace treaty, is workable now.

Someday, though, all this will change…

Nearby Solar System Strongly Resembles Our Own

Tim Oren at Winds of Change: The Newspaper Crash of 2009… And How You Can Help

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