Archive for February 2011

The Council Has Spoken: February 25, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners:

Council: Bookworm Room--Thoughts about the Wisconsin teachers’ union

Noncouncil: Pajamas Media/Zombie- Death Channels

Full voting here.

When Democrats Attack Part 2

When the Left gets violent it doesn’t make the news. Sure do love this new civility.

As Jim Treacher writes:

This violent creep is with the Communications Workers of America, one of the groups that protested in front of FreedomWorks today, where Tabitha works. “Get a little bloody.” “Take ‘em down.” Assault a young woman who’s doing nothing but videotaping you. All part of the New Tone. I know Tabitha. She’s one of the nicest people I’ve ever met. I’m sick of this crap. We get months of “Teabaggers are violent” — hell, years — when in reality, Tea Partiers have been the recipients of violence. Meanwhile, these union guys are ratcheting up the violent rhetoric and now actually assaulting people in broad daylight. Come on, somebody defend this violent jackass. I dare you.

It’s almost as good as Qaddafi’s protection of human rights in Libya.

Let’s Chant: The Future of the Middle East is Impossible to Predict

So here we are in the midst of what the Chinese might call “interesting times” in the Middle East and it seems that I can write about nearly everything BUT what is happening there. There’s a reason for that: I really don’t know what is going on. Having lived through 1989, I can sense strong similarities between events that year in Europe and what is happening today in the Middle East but there’s a key difference between 1989 and now: 1989 happened. The Berlin Wall fell, the dust settled, and the world changed for the better (for the most part – Tiananmen Square also happened in 1989 and I don’t think the Chinese are better off because of the slaughter). What is happening today… is happening. It’s the present for me (at least at the time of writing) so I don’t know what is going to happen.

I have some ideas, like we are seeing the beginning of the next stage of development in the Mideast and the end of post-colonialism. In recent history the region has gone from the Ottoman Empire, to colonialism, and finally to post-colonialism. That era has been characterized by secular dictators like Saddam Hussein, Mohamar Khadafi, Gamal Abdal Nasser, Haffaz al-Assad and their regime successors. I believe one could even squeeze Iran into that category, with the secular dictator of the Shah being replaced by a religious dictator in the form of the Ayatollah Khomeini and his successor the Ayatollah Khamenei.

So what comes post post-colonialism? That’s the question and at this point it is impossible to answer it. It would be nice to think that secular democracies would sprout and take root throughout the region, but there is no democratic tradition which could provide the fertile soil necessary. I suppose it is a possibility – perhaps a democracy with Islamic characteristics that would reflect the will of the people more but show little in common with western democracies like Israel, Europe and the United States.

Naturalist Stephen Jay Gould’s hypothesis of “punctuated equilibrium” proposed that the evolution of organisms is characterized by long periods of stability punctuated by brief periods of chaos. In a sense the Middle East has been static for decades and now we are entering a chaotic period that will change the region forever. What comes out of that is impossible to know, no matter how important the results are to us.

So Remember the next time some talking head appears on TV predicting the future of the region that the future is impossible to predict. The next time some political wag waxes poetic in the New York Times about the future of the Middle East, remember that the future is impossible to predict. When some blowhard appears on NPR and offers his vision about what changes lay ahead in the Middle East, shout at the radio “The future is impossible to predict!” (and feel free to add “you liberal moron” as I used to do when I listened to NPR -which I don’t do anymore).

That doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t be supportive of the people over there, or that we should drop our guard and be suspicious of their motives. The outcome is unknown, and as long as it is we should try to influence it as best we can. But truth be told there is little we can do – especially when even helicopter gunships, jets and snipers aren’t enough to stop people from rioting in Libya.

Things are changing, but how are they changing? Who knows! Because the future of the Middle East is impossible to predict. It’s a basic idea but one that gets lost in the 24 hour news cycle and in RSS feeds and Facebook comments.

Family Guy’s Creator Seth MacFarlane Doesn’t Get Alcoholism and AA

Reading about alcoholism bores almost as much as writing about it so I’ll make this brief. I caught the recent Family Guy episode where Peter and Brian are sentenced to 30 days of AA meetings. Hi-jinks ensue as Peter turns the meetings into booze filled parties. Seth MacFarlane shares my interest in classic musicals, so there was a fun piece called “Mr. Booze” where alcohol is made a scapegoat for everyone’s moral failures. Peter ends up drunk driving and killing himself whereupon the Grim Reaper shows him what his life would be if he continues down the path of alcoholism (not sure how the path continues after dying in a car accident…), and another path in which Peter never touches alcohol in his life. Peter asks whether there isn’t a third way between being an alcoholic asshole and a dry douche – and the Reaper informs him about moderation.

Seth MacFarlane is a raging liberal and Family Guy is spotty, but I have followed it since its beginning and overall like the show. But moderation being the key to alcoholism is just another simple solution for a complex problem that liberals like MacFarlane preach, along with the fiction that Israel’s returning to its 1967 borders will end the Arab-Israeli Conflict, showing terrorists how we respect Islam in America will make them change their minds about killing us, and spending more money on education will make American kids smarter.

Moderation… why didn’t I think of that when my wife was threatening to leave me before I got sober over 10 years ago? Moderation. How many drunks in church basements have failed to turn around their lives with one word? Moderation. If only Jack Kerouac had known about that maybe he wouldn’t have bled to death after decades of pickling his liver.

Or maybe it’s because for most alcoholics moderation doesn’t work. Does MacFarlane seriously think that the answer is that easy? How much time has he spent around drunks? Has he met people who literally cannot stop drinking? I know of an alcoholic on hospice who was dying of liver failure caused by her alcohol consumption, but couldn’t stop. She was relieved to learn that she didn’t qualify for a liver transplant because she didn’t have to stop drinking, and the nurses on hospice actually poured her drinks for her. She only stopped drinking when she died. In my experience my life revolved around my next drink, and moderation wasn’t possible. I had tried it several times from the time I started drinking in high school until the time I began my current ride over 10 years ago. One beer inevitably turned into two which inevitably turned into six which inevitably turned into so much alcohol that it forced me to switch to the metric system so that I could calculate my consumption in liters because the Imperial system was too complex when I was drunk.

The stories I gleaned in church basements were always the same as mine. Moderation simply wasn’t possible for those of us who ended up there.

Moderation? MacFarlane’s knowledge of alcoholism is as shallow as his most of his non-sequitur humor and this episode proved it. In the episode Brian stated something along the lines that all people did was turn their alcohol addiction to an AA addiction. Something tells me that MacFarlane’s knowledge about AA only extends to rehab where the people attending have only days or even hours of sobriety under their belts. They tend to be giddy about their sobriety and in desperation almost as high on it as they were on alcohol. But I’ve been to meetings where the average sobriety was measured in years, and sometimes in decades. The long-timers at those meetings hadn’t substituted one addiction for another: they had achieved a level of calmness that drunks only glimpse in the oblivion they so crave. Every meeting is different, and some have terrible chemistry and are a waste of time. The bottom line remains that when it comes to addiction, AA is the only game in town. While I have not been to a meeting in years and remain sober, I know it is there and carry a number in my pocket – a lifeline that I haven’t had to use but know is there. I’m glad AA is exists.

MacFarlane is a comedian; his cartoons won’t change the world honestly and shouldn’t. But when he preaches as he did in this episode, I’m going to call him out on it – and it’s clear to me that he doesn’t understand what the hell he is talking about.

UPDATE: The Mr. Booze piece isn’t a MacFarlane original: it’s from the Rat Pack classic Robin and the 7 Hoods (1964). Here’s a link to the original.

The Council Has Spoken: February 18, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners:

Council: Joshuapundit--Turkish PM Erdogan Consolidates His Islamist Regime By Purging The Military

Noncouncil: Gulag Bound- Top 5 Revolutions Backed by George Soros

Full voting here.

The Council Has Spoken: February 11, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners:

Council: Rhymes With Right--A Message To The CPAC Boycotters

Noncouncil: Foreign Affairs- Egypt’s Democratic Mirage

Full voting here.

Lost Friendship

A couple of years ago I met a man who I thought was very intelligent. He was very successful, had done many interesting things, and his life shared several uncanny similarities with mine. He married a woman his senior as I have, and he read many of the same books and appreciated the same philosophy and art. He also came from a region of Europe that many of my ancestors came from. His wife once said we looked like brothers, and given the small country he came from and the number of my ancestors that emigrated from there, it was even possible that we were distantly related.

But very quickly things changed. I found that the similarities between us were superficial and that there were some very significant differences. He liked wielding power – whereas I instinctively shy from it. He seemed to get a thrill from looking down on people with his education and the status his profession conferred on him. I come from humble stock and try to follow in the path of the Beats who saw ordinary people as being closer to enlightenment than those who posed as enlightened. I occasionally slip into elitism, and when I do I have been blessed with a wife who has no qualms with smacking me upside the head and yelling at me to snap out of it.

Worst of all my friend never listened to anyone. He always did most of the talking, and when you did manage to squeeze a word or two in it was clear that he didn’t accept what you said at face value. Instead he interpreted it, translating it through his viewpoint and cleansing it of your perspective before coloring it with his own. As a consequence he couldn’t learn anything because he knew everything. The old saying is that even Homer nods, but not this man. He truly believes that he has all the answers.

It wasn’t always this way. I’ve spoken to people who knew him when he first arrived in the area. Apparently back then he was quite personable and got along well with everyone no matter what their station in life or educational background.

But over the years he changed. Little by little his circle of friends became smaller although he would try populating it with new faces. I was one such face. But very soon the new faces would catch on and drift away, leaving him with an ever smaller cohort of people who were willing to put up with his narcissism.

I tried to reach out to him. At first I thought he was a misunderstood genius, a man like me whose insecurities lay beneath a thick crust of arrogance and cynicism. But these attempts were rebuffed. One day I sent him a copy of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s The Black Swan, one of the most influential books I have ever read. Weeks later I asked him about it. He didn’t like it (which was his prerogative of course) but the reason bothered me; he said he didn’t learn anything new from it.

I have been in software development and design for over 12 years, and there is currently a push by the federal government to get medical practices to use information technology. To help his practice I investigated electronic medical records systems in my free time. I talked to vendors, installed trial versions, and corresponded with health care providers about what they liked – or didn’t – about their systems. He wasn’t interested in my findings (also his prerogative) but what was worse in my opinion was why. He implied that I didn’t understand practicing medicine, even though I was married to a doctor and grew up with a close sister who was a nurse. This statement stunned me. It was the equivalent of saying that only photographers could design photo software because only they understood photographs, or only astronauts could engineer space flight control systems because only they knew what to expect in space. This was such a basic fallacy that I couldn’t believe my friend believed it. Even though I have been personally involved with the design and modification of complex IT systems worth hundreds of millions of dollars, he didn’t listen to my opinion, or worse, value it.

Eventually he crossed a line, a very important limit, and he attacked when he should have restrained himself. All he had to do was put up his hands and say “Okay, where do we go from here? How do we stop this deterioration and salvage this relationship?” But he couldn’t bring himself to do that. Apparently it just wasn’t his way. He only knows how to intimidate and hurt people, and so he did just that, and he’s quite good at it. Very effective.

By crossing the line he became the bully to me that others are well acquainted with. But I’ve been dealing with bullies since I was 12. They are not exotic nor particularly difficult to handle. I have dealt with so many through the years that I have almost a set routine for how to handle them. And so I have.

For all of his knowledge, for all of his status and wealth, he isn’t one of the most intelligent men I’ve ever met. No, I meet far smarter men every day, humble men who treat everyone with respect no matter how much schooling they have, nor how much – or little – respect the people they deal with actually deserve. For all his schooling, and all his material success, he is nothing more than an idiot.

And that scares me because for all the differences the similarities between us still exist. I don’t want to become like him. I want to listen to others and learn from them. I don’t want to ever believe that I know everything, or even a smidgen more than anything. I want to retain the humility that the pursuit of knowledge requires and not descend into narcissism. I treasure the freedom of curiosity that pushes one to search; the fun in the quest for understanding is in the chase, not in the destination. While lost friendship is painful, I do hope that at the last I can learn from the experience.

UPDATE: Yet I almost can’t help but feel sorry for him. He simply has lost the ability to see things from the perspective of others, and worse, has lost the ability to empathize with them. He kind of reminds me of my eldest rescued dog – a portly old beagle who had lived her entire life outside in the grass and mud. No matter how I try, I can’t housebreak her; the concept is simply lost on her because she spent her entire life outside, most likely living in her own filth. Training her is pointless; she will never change. And I doubt my friend will ever change back. For some reason that makes me terribly sad.

The Real Problem With Libertarianism

I’ve found myself drifting into libertarianism over the past few years. The financial meltdown helped accelerate the process by forcing me take a serious look at Ayn Rand instead of laughing her off as a cult leader for geeks. When the government is getting more powerful it’s almost an instinctual reaction to demand less of it. I’ve lived through the 1970’s once already and I don’t share the nostalgia others have for that decade. I am also very uncomfortable with the social conservatism of the Republican party; I don’t understand how Republicans want less government regulation of business but more government regulation of people’s bedrooms.

Nick Gillespie defines Libertarians as follows:

First and foremost, libertarians like liberty, the idea that individuals have as much space as possible to make as many choices as possible (there’s a reason that Reason’s most recent anthology is called “Choice“). And unlike conservatives and liberals, who always fetishize some choices and demonize others, we’re pretty consistent. We generally like school choice and reproductive choice, for instance, and think you should have your choice of religion (including none at all) too, and drugs, and partners in life and business.
In any given situation, is your default position that people ought to have more freedom rather than less? If so, you just might be a libertarian (especially if you don’t find Rush—the band, not the bloviator—totally awful). Do you believe in decentralized, John Stuart Mill-like “experiments in living“ rather than top-down, command-and-control lifestyles (whether right-wing or left), then you might be a libertarian. Are you incredibly good-looking, witty and learned, the sort of man that women want and men want to be like (and vice versa)? Libertarian.

What’s not to like about that definition? I’ve reached a point in my life where I don’t want to save the world, I simply want to be left alone. Unfortunately the problem with libertarianism is it’s full of perverts, potheads and paranoids. Libertarianism seems to attract people who want to legalize drugs so they can get high, or end restrictions on who (or what) they can bed, or to end the threat of the CIA reading their thoughts and dreading the day the black helicopters from the UN arrive.

Most of the libertarians I know are not “incredibly good-looking”; they look like me – middle aged, pudgy and balding – about as attractive as a package of strawberries two weeks past their sell-by date. Even the band Rush that Nick Gillespie refers to is one of the most homely looking bands in the history of rock and roll. Yes Neil Peart is the best drummer in rock history and his lyrics come straight from SF classics but his grizzled visage could sterilize Canadian geese at 100 yards.

This has me concerned, since PJ O’Rourke once observed that the future success of a political movement could be gauged by the beauty of the women supporting it. Granted there are some nice looking Libertarians like Ann Althouse and I suppose Glenn Reynolds, and Nick Gillespie himself could be considered attractive (especially among leather fetishists), but the vast majority of rank and file Libertarian Party members that one runs into outside of the DMV or the polls look like denizens of parental basements that spend too much time playing World of Warcraft and viewing free online porn.

This does not bode well for a libertarian future if O’Rourke is to be believed, although to be fair the Left is suffering similarly. Leftists like Arianna Huffington and Nancy Pelosi appear ready to shoot their faces off at any moment once the plastic surgery implanted rubber band holding back the years snaps. Rachel Maddow looks like Justin Bieber’s lesbian lover, and both Olbermann and Matthews look like they’ve spent way too much time conducting interviews at all-you-can-eat Chinese buffets.

So where does the hotness – and the political future – lay? On the Right with the likes of Sarah Palin, Michelle Bachman and Kristi Noem. All these women have no equal among Democrats which may be yet another reason why so many on the Left despise them. Add in the likes of Michelle Malkin and Ann Coulter and it’s no wonder that Fox News beats the tar out of the other cable news outlets. Who wants to watch fat people arguing while you’re stuffing your own face?

Is this a shallow analysis? Of course it is, but people join political parties for lots of reasons and avoid them for others. While there are important philosophical criticisms of libertarianism, the fact is that libertarianism needs to take a cold shower and get a nice suit (something tailored and selected by an experienced clerk who knows how to dress someone) before it becomes a respectable movement.

The Council Has Spoken: February 4, 2011

Congratulations to this week’s winners:

Council: Joshuapundit--Lipstick On A Pig – Whitewashing The Muslim Brotherhood

Noncouncil: TPM- Pakistan and the Mumbai Attacks: The Untold Story

Full voting here.