Archive for January 2011

Accepting the Change in Egypt

Anyone who has ever stepped foot into a church basement knows the following:

Lord, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.

It’s called the Serenity Prayer, and it sums up the battle every alcoholic and addict has on his hands, and the only way he can handle it. As a recovering drunk I find myself saying that prayer a lot; it’s pretty much the only prayer I say in this agnostic phase of my life. I find living that prayer one of my greatest challenges. Like Don Quixote I see the romance of fighting windmills, but I’ve learned that in the end the windmills always win and all that I am left with is frustration and scars. In the past I turned to drink to take the sting out of those wounds, and church basements are full of people that have done the same which is why after 10 years of sobriety I still find myself chanting that prayer, more often than not through clenched teeth.

If he’s not, President Obama needs to be whispering the Serenity Prayer several times a day too. Take Egypt for example. When I read that the army was allowing protesters to sit on M1 tanks in Cairo, I knew that Mubarak was done and there wasn’t anything we could do to save him.

Change is happening in Egypt – and possibly the entire Arab World – and there’s pretty much nothing we can do about it. I’ve noticed that the media – including the Right-wing news sources – haven’t decided whether what is happening there is bad or good from the American perspective. Even Instapundit seems conflicted. Richard Fernandez’s piece portrays the revolt as a negative, whereas two links later a YNetNews piece discusses how a group of Israelis traveling in Egypt are being treated well by the protesters. I noticed that Fox News seemed schizoid in its reporting, veering between whether events in Egypt and Tunisia mirrored Iran in 1979 or Eastern Europe in 1989.

The truth is that at this point it is impossible to know. Joshuapundit believes that Obama’s cutting loose of Mubarak will usher another Iran seeing Obama’s actions mirroring Carter’s when he ended his support of the Shah. Haaretz, not the most right-wing paper in Israel, tends to agree. I’m not so sure of that. The Iranian opposition had a strong leader in the Ayatollah Khomeini. There had also not been a theocracy in the modern era, so clerics were viewed as less corrupt than government officials.

Neither is the case in Egypt. While the Muslim Brotherhood is backing the opposition leader Mohamed el Baradei, and the Iranian regime gleefully cheering on the protests, I’m wondering how much of this is classic Middle Eastern “backing the strong horse.” The Egyptian people have seen the failure of theocracy in Iran and I doubt that they would be so willing to throw off the yoke of oppression by a corrupt secular regime to replace it with a corrupt religious one. I doubt that I’m the only one who appreciates the irony of a regime backing the overthrow of another after crushing its own dissent less then two years ago. If anything the Iranians may be playing with fire by broadcasting the downfall of the Egyptian regime to its own people – who might just decide that they will have another crack at it themselves.

Regardless, at this point there is nothing that we can do about it. Looking backward it is clear to me that we were delusional in supporting a “democratically elected president” who had stayed in power for over 30 years. We have a history of propping up dictators in the Middle East, so in that respect Joshuapundit is correct and Obama is channeling Jimmy Carter. We prop them up with money, and they prop themselves up with anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda. We ignore this disconnect – and are then shocked when we get tangled up in the dictator’s messy exit. But at this point the die is cast and I wouldn’t be surprised if Mubarak is in exile by the time you read this.

The Obama administration cannot stop the change, but it can make it known that it welcomes a peaceful restoration of democracy expects the new regime to abide by the agreements of the previous regime. If, as many on the right suspect, the new regime tears up the peace accords with Israel, then the game is on. We will end aid to Egypt and isolate it just as we have Iran. We have to accept the loss of Mubarak, but we must have the courage to confront the new leadership and dangle carrots and sticks to change the course of events in Egypt in a way we prefer.

Most importantly, we have to accept that our tolerance of anti-American and anti-Semitic propaganda has brainwashed entire generations of people to kill us and our allies. It might have bought us 30 years of peace in Egypt, but at a very high price in the long-term. The Soviets or Chinese would never have accepted such a bargain – which is why even 2 decades after its demise, the Soviet Union’s brand of socialism lives on in American academia.

I just hope that the Obama administration has the wisdom to know the difference between what it can change, and what it cannot – or at the very least starts praying.

The Challenger Disaster – 25 Years On

I was changing classes at the Lakefront campus of Loyola. A television had been wheeled out and stood in a corridor showing the explosion over and over. I haven’t forgotten the loss I felt as an American that day with the reminder that exploration is not without hazard, that the roads we drive and the paths we take without a care today were built with the sweat of men and paid for with their blood.

High Flight – by John Gillespie Magee, Jr

Oh! I have slipped the surly bonds of Earth
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings;
Sunward I’ve climbed, and joined the tumbling mirth
of sun-split clouds, — and done a hundred things
You have not dreamed of — wheeled and soared and swung
High in the sunlit silence. Hov’ring there,
I’ve chased the shouting wind along, and flung
My eager craft through footless halls of air….

Up, up the long, delirious, burning blue
I’ve topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace.
Where never lark or even eagle flew —
And, while with silent lifting mind I’ve trod
The high untrespassed sanctity of space,
Put out my hand, and touched the face of God.

The Council Has Spoken: January 28, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Razor --Japan Will Not Be Saved Through Immigration

Noncouncil: Sultan Knish- Anglophobia or Islamophobia – What’s the Real Problem?

Full voting here.

Japan Will Not Be Saved Through Immigration

One of my friends passed along this piece about Singapore’s embracing of immigrants to combat the declining birthrate.

Last week, Lee made some remarks about immigration and Singapore’s aging population, indicating that in order to avoid a disastrous population decline, Singapore needs to attract young immigrants to save the economy in the long run:

“At these low birth rates, we will rapidly age and shrink… So we need young immigrants. Otherwise our economy will slow down, like the Japanese economy…. [Young immigrants] will increase our population and talent pool. Singapore will be vibrant and prosperous, not declining and ageing.”

He asked my opinion about the article and asked what the Japanese had against foreigners. The following is based on our exchange.

Telling the Japanese to admit foreigners is the rough equivalent of catching an Aryan Nations rally and telling them to hug a Jew or stop giving black people a hard time. Singapore is and has always been a multicultural country; Japan has never been anything but a monocultural one. Lee Kuan Yew knows that; I’m surprised “Mr. Confucian (Chinese) Values” is now espousing multiculturalism. I guess the Chinese aren’t reproducing the way they used to and it’s up to the Malays and Indians to pop out the puppies to pay taxes to support the geriatric Chinese population.

Japan has always existed on the periphery of empires. Prior to 500 AD while the Chinese had enjoyed 2500 years of civilization, the Japanese were still wearing skins and had missed out on all that culture happening across the sea. From 500-1300AD the country had limited contact with China and immediately adopted Chinese customs – writing, government, and religion (Buddhism). But most of these changes came from “foreign learning” – Japanese traveling abroad, learning, then returning to Japan to pass along the knowledge.

Most of the reason for this was geographic. Japan is quite far away from China and even the straits between Korea and Japan weren’t easily navigable – as the Mongols found out in the 13th and 14th century.

Invasion isn’t all bad: it’s a way of mixing things up. Culture, ideas, and most importantly, people. Until 1945 Japan had never known foreign troops on its soil.

This tends to weird people out in my opinion. You get to believing you really are  the descendants of the Sun God Ameterasu. You begin to think you are special, and begin to develop ideas about the superiority of your own culture.

The Japanese did just that. From ca 1400-1625 the Japanese became active traders on the Pacific. They spread Japanese culture as far South as Vietnam and even had outposts there until the 17th century. They began to mingle with other cultures and pick up their ideas – but by that time there was a unique, established political system in place – and the foreign ideas began to cause problems. In the late 1500s the Portuguese appeared, and the shogun walled them off on the islands of Nagasaki. But their religious and political ideas began to spread, and when the Jesuits appeared – along with the Germans, Brits and French, the Japanese regime was terrified that it would become overwhelmed by the vastly culturally superior Europeans.

So the Tokugawa Shogunate cut off all ties to the outside world. They cut loose the Japanese outposts in East and South Asia, forcing hundreds of thousands of Japanese there to fend for themselves. They banned contact with foreigners, making it punishable by death. Any foreigner found on Japanese soil (the Portuguese outpost of Nagasaki notably excluded) was immediately executed. And any Japanese that left Japan could never return. This policy was known as “Sakoku” – isolated country. That situation lasted until 1853 when the American Commodore Perry shelled Yokohama and made the Japanese accept foreign ships at their ports. I think Perry had to shell it a couple of times before the Japanese got it through their top-knotted skulls that he was serious.

Skipping to the modern era, sakoku thinking lives on in Japan today. The Japanese aren’t comfortable with foreigners at all. There is simply no place in their culture for them. It’s difficult for us to relate to this because our nation was built by immigrants, and our national identity for better or worse has been forged in the melting pot. Not so with the Japanese. For 90% of their history they have lived isolated amongst themselves. Some Japanese try to change things, but change is impossible; I learned that the hard way in Japan. Japan beat the liberal right out of me.

Japan will never accept foreigners. It will most likely automate (Japan leads the world in robotics) and eventually fade away. Don’t get me wrong, I love the crazy racist bastards – they are unimaginably interesting to watch – but I don’t think their future is bright. It’s a shame, because they gave us anime, addicting video games, and excellent electronics – not to mention Yukio Mishima, Akira Kurosawa and Zen.

The quickest thing the government could do would be to ban porn and abortion – and get the kids to f*** each other instead of masturbating. But even that may be too little too late. The only long-term solution would be to improve living standards so that people felt they could afford children, but that would require a complete revamp of Japanese politics. Rice cultivation would be outsourced to Thailand and the United States, freeing up farmland outside cities for suburbs with larger homes that could accommodate more than three people. Rice farmers are the most powerful political lobby in Japan – think the NRA without the guns or the AARP but without the palatial headquarters. Maternity care and childbirth is already free, but the government could provide tax incentives that grow with the size of the family: The second child could get twice the tax exemption as the first, and the third child could net the household triple. Companies could also give men paternity leave to help with child rearing. Most Japanese men don’t know how to take care of anyone but themselves; maybe their mothers could teach them.

Whenever Japan is under threat the nation has no problem working together to solve its problems. But as the article by Sovereign Man points out, Japan is simply doing what the United States is: pushing the problem forward upon the next generation. The problem for the Japanese is that the problem of a declining birthrate falls on ever fewer shoulders.

The Council Has Spoken: January 21, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: The Noisy Room --The Herding of America – Enlightened Despotism

Noncouncil: Sense of Events- Seahawks Fall To Climate Of Hate In Chicago

Full voting here.

Correlation between HRW and Freedom

The Elder of Ziyon has an interesting graph correlating freedom rankings by Freedom House with mentions by Human Rights Watch. No surprise Israel has the highest freedom score in the region but one of the highest mentions by HRW.

The Final Lesson of Tucson

After 10 days of commentaries I’m about ready to move on from this event. I think that we’ve learned all we can from the poster-child for wild-eyed nut-jobs grievously injuring a congresswoman and killing six others. There will be no end to the sadness for the families of the dead, and for the congresswoman the odds of her fully recovering are long, but as the rest of the country returns to the mundane and predictable so will I. America’s short memory is often a curse, but in cases such as Tucson it can be a blessing.

The events of the past 10 days concern me deeply. We had a clearly deranged individual shooting a relatively unknown member of congress (outside of Arizona and the political junkies) turned into a political battle axe wielded by Paul Krugman, the New York Times editorial staff, and other scions of the mainstream media against their political opponents.

On January 10th, the New York Times editorialized, “It is legitimate to hold Republicans and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced the vast majority of these threats.” So as a registered Republican I am partly to blame for the murder of a 9 year old girl in Tucson. I, a parent and animal rescuer, am partly responsible for the death of a federal judge. I, a taxpayer who raises vegetables and donates them to local foodbanks with my hands, have blood on them.

To be demonized and depersonalized by a left-wing blog is one thing, but the New York Times? Is it any wonder that the Right – and many “grown ups” on the Left – united in their condemnation of such blatant libel? Contrary to what one of my best friends tells me, there are no precedents on the Right for this action. Humorist PJ O’Rourke finds another important distinction serious piece in the Weekly Standard:

Interesting how a few small changes would make that sentence appall the Times as much as the Times appalls me: “It is legitimate to hold Muslims and particularly their most virulent supporters in the media responsible for the gale of anger that has produced 9/11.”

We cannot predict the future, yet we cannot deny that there will be more attacks like Tucson. Famous people will continue to be targeted by kooks. Some of these murderers will have left wing agendas, others right wing, and most will have none beyond what the voices tell them to do in their heads. Unfortunately, some of these assassins will succeed.

What then? If the shooting of a conservative Democrat congresswoman inspires the New York Times, Keith Obermann, and Chris Matthews to forgo caution and slander an entire political party and wing of the American body politic, how are they going to react when someone more famous is the target? Imagine an assassination attempt on Nancy Pelosi, or the Vice President, or even, God help us all, the President. The tumult we just experienced over the past week would be magnified a thousand fold. We would see a political spasm unlike anything seen since 1968, perhaps unprecedented in the history of the Republic. Extrapolating from the events of Tucson it’s not impossible to imagine a complete breakdown of our democratic institutions and a witch hunt that would make the Red Scare of the 1940’s and 50’s look like a scavenger hunt. “Are you now or have you ever been a member of the Tea Party?” could be the question condemning millions of Americans to political exile – or far worse. Prior to the shooting I would have considered such fears the product of overactive imaginations on the political extremes. Not anymore.

Contrary to what some on the Left believe, few of their opponents want to see anything worse happen to Nancy Pelosi, vice president Biden and President Obama beyond practicing their concession speeches on Tuesday afternoon, Nov. 6th, 2012. I may believe that Obama is the worst president since Jimmy Carter, but I don’t want to see the man harmed in any way.

Can the same be said of the editorial staff of the New York Times towards Republicans?

I would hope that the political system within the US is robust and could survive such an attack, but the quick leap into the abyss by the Administration’s supporters in the Media along with its silence in the first few days after the attack, worries me. We live in a world with madmen, and we cannot control each and every one of them. What we can control our reactions to the mayhem they cause. If the New York Times and the mainstream media that participated in the “blood libel” of those of us on the Right don’t take away this final lesson from the tragedy, then our nation is in deep trouble.

The Council Has Spoken: January 14, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Bookworm Room --Progressives live in the past when it comes to shaping the message

Noncouncil: Michelle Malkin- The progressive “climate of hate:” An illustrated primer, 2000-2010

Full voting here.

List of Leftist Attacks Against the Right – or Anyone Else They Disagree With

Michelle Malkin, herself a victim of leftist attacks for being a conservative Filipino-American woman, catalogs the hatred directed against the Right – or anyone else they disagree with – by so-called “progressives.”

UPDATE: Ann Althouse adds a list of attacks initially blamed on the Right that turned out to have been committed by Leftists or Muslims.

UPDATE2: JustOneMinute reminds us that a congressman calling for civility today in a New York Times op-ed piece last Fall called for the shooting of Florida gubernatorial candidate Rick Scott:

“That Scott down there that’s running for governor of Florida,” Mr. Kanjorski said. “Instead of running for governor of Florida, they ought to have him and shoot him. Put him against the wall and shoot him.”

Update3: Whole websites are now popping up that catalog leftist attacks. Case in point: Climate of Hate.

Gifford Assassination Attempt Politicized by Liberals

I have never bought the “Dissent is the highest form of patriotism” line. This line was a favorite of the Left during the Reagan-Bush years, then disappeared from bumper stickers during the Clinton years only to reappear alongside even worse bumper stickers during the administration of George W. Bush. Now the slogan has disappeared again, but this time, worse is afoot.

The attempted assassination of Congresswoman Gabrielle Giffords, a Jewish woman, by Jared Lee Loughner, a man who out tin-foils tin-foil hat wackos everywhere, is being turned into a political cudgel to slam government critics. So far Sarah Palin, Rush Limbaugh and Tea Party activists have borne the brunt of these attacks, but a low-level smear campaign is underway in social media such as Facebook. To be sure, this is no Kristallnacht for the Right, but it is clear that elements of the Left are going to get their hands bloody by using this tragedy for political gain in a way that Conservatives are incapable of doing.

The problem for the Right is that personal responsibility is one of its core values and it is difficult for us to blame a movement for the actions of one man. But the Left has no such qualms. The Left views people as incapable of free will and sees them instead as pawns used by greater forces and therefore fundamentally a victim. To a conservative a murderer is responsible for his actions and may pay for them with his life. A liberal sees that same murderer as an indictment of the society that bred and raised him, and believes that Society shares in some of the blame for his deed, if not all of it.

The same dynamic is in play now. Loughner is clearly crazy, as any man who cites such politically disparate books as Mein Kampf and the Communist Manifesto as inspirations – on top of rants about literacy, gold backed currency and conscience dreaming whatever that is. Loughner was not a member of any known political organization – unlike Obama fanatic Amy Bishop and Jacob J. Ward, both registered Democrats, or Norman Leboon, a man who threatened to kill another Jew in Congress, Eric Cantor. Leboon donated money to the Obama campaign, yet all these wackos who voted Democrat were quickly forgotten by the sympathetic press. The Right condoned this forgetfulness because it saw these people for what they were: nutjobs who were responsible for their own actions. Few on the Right would have blamed the Democratic party for their actions – and rightly so in my view.

But the Left has raced to use Loughner against the Right even though Giffords wasn’t liked by the Left. Giffords, aside from being a Jew, was a conservative Democrat, a member of the Blue Dogs who supported Gun Rights and a strong US foreign policy. Just two days before the shooting “BoyBlue” (it’s 2011: only cowards use fake names) wrote a scathing hit piece on DailyKos for Giffords’ vote against Nancy Pelosi for house minority leader. Following in Josef Stalin’s footsteps, when the Left’s short-memory interferes with its agenda, it has no trouble airbrushing history: Kos has deleted that post, evidently forgetting that on the Internet unlike the good old days of Pravda, everything lives forever.

Nothing stops the Left from a good story, even when the facts are inconvenient – such as the lack of evidence tying Loughner to any right-wing group. At this time we don’t know what the shooter’s motives were. Was Giffords targeted for being Jewish? If so garden variety anti-Semitism could be to blame. Giffords may have been targeted by the Arizona Tea Party for defeat, but the truth is that Giffords is far more conservative as a Democrat than many Republicans. If Tea Partiers were as violent as the Left believes, there are far more liberal Democrats who would have to be worried – but the Tea Partiers are about as dangerous as a roomful of bingo players, and Liberals know it deep down. But the facts won’t stop them from sticking to the fiction that they regularly spew out.

And where the Left’s hypocrisy is particularly blatant (and galling to the Right) is with Islam. Here we have a whole religion full of extremists acting on orders from others, geared especially towards violence, and even former President Bill Clinton refuses to call the religion on the carpet, choosing instead to attack a fat man in Boca Raton. Take the example of Ft Hood shooter Major Nidal Hasan. Hasan was in communication with al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula leader Anwar al-Awlaki, yet we were told time and time again not to jump to conclusions or blame Islam for the actions of one man.

So Liberals blame the Conservatives for the actions of a nutjob acting alone attacking a conservative Jewish politician, but does not blame Islam for the calm and deliberate actions of a man acting on behalf of self-described leaders of the religion (and its founder)?

Maybe they should try some of that conscience dreaming.

UPDATE: Make that a high level smear campaign. The Guardian – the Lefty newspaper that cannot blame Islam for acts committed in its name has no trouble with smearing the American Right. Given the Guardian’s love affair with Saddam Hussein, Islamic fascists and anti-Semites on the Left, it’s rather ironic to see the newspaper up in arms about a wounded Jew.

The Council Has Spoken: January 7, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners.

Council: Bookworm Room -- What’s the matter with Mexico?

Noncouncil: Victor Davis Hanson- Raging Against ‘Them’

Full voting here.

Why I Stopped Using Compact Fluorescent Lights (CFLs)

I like getting more bang for my buck so CFLs should be perfect for me. The same lumens of a 100w incandescent for 26w of energy should also be a no brainer. So I switched out my incandescents over the past two years; now I’m switching back and beginning to hoard bulbs. Why? Because I can’t stand the color of the light.

As a lifelong amateur photographer I have developed an eye for the color of light and how it illuminates subjects, and I have yet to find a CFL that can bring out warm skin tones the way an incandescent bulb can. Incandescents also bring out the warm tones of wood and even interior walls painted in off white or light browns. They help make a house feel warm and cozy – especially at night.

CFLs on the other hand inevitably give off a light green that makes most people look sick. The light clashes with warm colored rugs, walls and woods giving them what I can best describe as a plastic appearance. It gives any home that uses them a cold, sterile feel – not homey or cozy at all.

If CFLs matched the light color of incandescents 100% I wouldn’t mind them. But they don’t, and it doesn’t help that I feel pressured by the government and enviro-nuts to use them.

If I can’t feel comfortable in my own home, where can I?

The Power of Random Events: Coping with Black Swans

Awhile back one of my friends dogged me about reading a book, The Black Swan by Nassim Nicholas  Taleb. Nearly every week he would ask “Did you pick it up yet?” and I would inevitably make up some polite excuse for not having done so. The truth is that I don’t like being forced to read a book. Books require commitment and for an easily distracted person like me the expense of deep concentration. So I don’t like having them foisted on me against my will. But I had read or heard positive comments about The Black Swan somewhere else, and had made a mental note to check it out given the opportunity. Shutting my friend up and being able to argue about the book later with him provided enough reason to finally pick up the book from Amazon.

The power of books is well known, and I won’t use the cliche that The Black Swan changed my life because it hasn’t – but it sure has changed the way I look at things. The book’s argument is that extremely unlikely and unpredictable events have the greatest impact on us – whether personally or in the sweep of History. Worse, we struggle to understand what these events are and do a series of intellectual gymnastics in order to make them fit into our personal or world views, changing them and making them appear predictable. We then set about preventing the events from happening again even though we should be guarding against other completely unimagined threats. Former Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld received a lot of heat from the mainstream media for using the term “unknown unknowns”, but what Rumsfeld meant was the challenge of protecting against future black swans.

Consider 9-11. 9-11 was a black swan to everyone except the men who planned it. Imagine the state of our knowledge on September 10, 2001. Terrorist attacks against the USA had almost exclusively occurred in the Middle East, Africa and Europe, and took the form of hijackings or as in the case of the 1993 attack on the World Trade Center, car bombs. While the signals were there that the attack was in the works, student pilots from the Middle East interested in flying planes but not landing them, communications between the hijackers and al Qaeda leadership, these signals were completely obscured by the “noise” of millions of other communications and suspicious activities. It is only in hindsight that we can connect the important meetings, conversations and events and see the whole 9-11 conspiracy. Today it is obvious how four small teams of hijackers armed with box cutters killed 3,000 Americans in the worst single attack on our own soil; on September 10, 2001 it was impossible to imagine it let alone be prepared for it.

We are always preventing the last disaster while ignoring the next one. Consider that before April 20th of last year, all major oil spills at sea occurred on shallow water rigs or from wrecked oil tankers. So we setup rules mandating double hulls for oil tankers and developed clean up methods for shallow water rig blowouts. Our response was tailored to these disasters to the point that when the Deepwater Horizon well blew, we lacked the equipment or expertise to successfully fight it.

Now imagine that on the evening of July 15, 2008, a date picked purely at random, the mind of a rig safety expert for Shell wandered and he imagined a well blowout a mile down on the sea floor. The minutes became hours as he struggled to figure out a way of cutting off the flow of oil from the sea bottom using available methods and tools that he knew were used in shallow water blowouts. Imagine that he was so troubled by what his thought experiment showed him that he raised the issue with his supervisors the next day.

“There has never been a deep water blowout,” one said. Another chimed in, “The blowout preventer would stop the oil flow immediately.” But what if the preventer had itself been damaged by the blowout? “The likelihood of that happening is infinitesimal,” another supervisor said. The rig safety expert then detailed a redesign of the blowout preventer that would make it more robust and allow it to shut off the oil even when damaged. “That would cost millions,” the lead supervisor said, effectively killing the topic.

In hindsight we can appreciate the rig safety expert’s ideas, but imagine for a moment that the rig safety engineer ended up getting a job at BP and convinced them of the wisdom of his argument. BP then spent tens of millions of dollars retrofitting all their blowout preventers including the one below the Deepwater Horizon. Because of the design change the blowout on April 20th, 2010 never occurred and our imaginary rig safety engineer never realizes that he prevented a disaster that killed 11 men, cost billions of dollars to clean up, destroyed the livelihood of men and women along the Gulf Coast, and irreparably damaged the environment of the Gulf of Mexico. Perhaps he ends up getting fired because the management regrets its decision to “waste” the millions of dollars to make the modification “to make the likelihood of an infinitesimal event even more unlikely.” Our imaginary risk safety expert then drowns his sorrows after the loss of his job and ends up wrecking his car, his last moment of consciousness full of regret for having wasted his life.

Yet we know that had our imaginary hero existed he would have been Time’s Person of the Year – if only his heroics could somehow be known.

So not only are Black Swans hard for us to see, they are also impossible for us to fully appreciate. How many catastrophes have been narrowly averted by luck or through intuition? We’ll never know because we cannot see all possible outcomes of an event.

Black swans play important roles in our personal lives as well. The decades spent with my Wife have their origin in a single local newscast in San Diego in 1990. At the time I was in school and lived in a large single family home with four roommates, one of whom grew pot for his own use in his room. Another roommate and I were watching TV when evening when the local news reported a pot bust in the area. We asked our pot-growing roommate how many pot plants he had, and it turned out he had more than in the bust. With visions of a SWAT team busting down our door and arresting us, we decided to get our own place. This seemingly inconsequential event at the time changed my life completely. Finding my best friend in life, travels through Asia, surviving a storm on Lake Tanganyika, the birth of our son, land in the country. All this would have never occurred.

Back in 1989 could I have predicted finding my wife ahead of time? Not at all. It is one of the most important events of my life, and it can be traced to a 30 second local news report.

Review your own history and you will see that that most if not all the important events that happen in one’s life are based on chance and as a result are unpredictable. This unpredictability is so anathema to our nature that we create narratives that mask it and make it appear that we choose our paths in life. An obvious example of this is in the job interview when one must explain one’s job history. You don’t say that you took a job because you heard there was an opening through a friend of a friend and the boss picked your resume to interview because it was the first resume on the pile. You say that you took the position because it provided you with the right challenges and allowed you to put your skills to work, weaving unpredictable events into a story that appears completely predictable in retrospect and makes you look good.

The New Year is a good time to bring this discussion up because I have spent the last several months wrestling with the implications of this book. It is intellectually dense and I am already half-way through my second reading but I know that it will require several more, and even then I’m not sure I have the intellectual capacity to fully appreciate the finer points of Taleb’s arguments. To assist me I have purchased and read both of his other works, and while these have been helpful (especially Fooled by Randomness) I am frustrated on so many different levels.

Black swans are an intellectual blind spot, and Taleb believes they warrant further study. However not much study has been done so far except for a few scattered attempts by Karl Popper and a handful of other philosophers. How have we gone 2000 years without recognizing the importance of random events in our daily lives?

More importantly, as a political commentator and writer I swim in narratives. I tell stories to make sense of the world, but according to Taleb the latter is hampered by the former. Our knowledge of the world is inaccurate because it is based on the fiction that we create in order to make sense of world events. This is one reason why Taleb dislikes journalists; he sees them as fiction writers that aren’t aware that their work is just as imaginary as that of Dean Koontz or JK Rowling.

So why am I starting the New Year off with this essay? To serve as a reminder that we cannot predict what will happen this year even though a year from now everything that happened will seem destined or preordained. Today we might see armed conflict between the Koreas or a civil war in Ivory Coast and $5 a gallon gas at the pumps, but the events that will change us and define the year are completely unknown. That should keep us humble as we watch the events of 2011 unfold.