To the Moon! Part III: Moon Mining

In this blog’s long and storied history, I’ve been a consistent advocate of space exploration, with a particular interest in lunar colonization.  An enduring frustration of this blog is that the United States has satiated its thirst for exploration with the numbing effects of consumer technologies.  Yes, we can FaceTime one another from halfway around the globe and can set our thermostats remotely so the house is cooled down before we arrive—all wonderful conveniences—but is that truly the apex of human endeavor?  Is being comfortable really the point of it all?

There was a time when we dreamed of exploring the stars, or at least of visiting our nearest celestial neighbors.  But that drive for adventure dissipated—or, perhaps, exploded—sometime in the 1980s.  The Age of The Virus further highlights our society’s obsession with safety, an obsession anathema to the derring-do necessary to explore the stars.

To paraphrase Bill Whittle, we’ll know we’re serious about space exploration when our graveyards are filled with astronauts.

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Tucker Carlson’s Platform for Victory in 2020

Tucker Carlson is the gift that keeps on giving.  In a segment from last week, the populist-friendly television host offered up a winning strategy for President Trump—and a warning.

In essence:  while economic numbers are very good, many of Trump’s base of supporters—the working and middle classes—are still struggling, or at least perceive that they are.  In a longer piece from Joel Kotkin (also on Carlson’s Daily Caller website), the author argues that the tensions between the Trumpian lower classes and the ascendant upper class is akin to the friction between the French Third Estate (the commoners) and the First and Second Estates (the aristocracy and the clergy) just prior to the French Revolution.

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The Future of Barbecue

The good folks at the Abbeville Institute have a great piece (originally published at The American Conservative) about the most beloved and controversial of Southern foodstuffs:  barbecue.

Barbecue, as author John Shelton Reed points out, is highly localized.  For me—and any true South Carolinian—the One True ‘Cue is mustard-based pulled pork barbecue from South Carolina.  It’s definitely not beef brisket or anything with ketchup.  It should come from a place that’s only open three or four days a week, and is served with hash and rice.

Unfortunately, much like the “old, weird America” whose passing John Derbyshire regularly mourns, traditional barbecue—regardless of the regional variety—is being shoved out by “mass barbecue,” the kind served up in chains that look like the inside of Uncle Moe’s Family Feedbag.

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TBT: Global Poverty in Decline

Yesterday I wrote about homelessness, particularly the sense that many “homeless” panhandlers are simply shakedown artists well-versed in emotional manipulation, guilt-trips, and implied violence or mental instability.

The United States enjoys incredible prosperity, unprecedented in history.  That prosperity doesn’t necessarily give our lives meaning—a key critique of traditionalists like my intellectual hero, Richard Weaver—but it’s probably a moral good to not have to worry about your ability to feed and shelter yourself.

But the United States is not the only beneficiary of wealth and abundance.  The rest of the world has enjoyed huge increases in quality of life since the end of the Second World War, and especially since the end of the Cold War.

So, contrary to Leftist myth-making, the United States has not kept the rest of the world down (and, by implication, is therefore morally responsible for taking in its impoverished, unassimilable hordes).  Instead, capitalism has lifted the world out of poverty.

That is the subject of this TBT feature, August 2018’s “Global Poverty in Decline“:

Regular readers know that I frequently cite pollster Scott Rasmussen’s #Number of the Day series from Ballotpedia.  I do so because a.) his numbers often reveal some interesting truths about our world and b.) blogging is, at bottom, the art of making secondary or tertiary commentary on what other, smarter, harder-working people have thought, written, and done.

Yesterday’s #Number of the Day dealt with global poverty; specifically, Americans’ ignorance to the fact that global poverty has declined substantially over the last twenty years.  Indeed, global poverty has been reduced by half in that time.

I’ll confess I was ignorant of the extent of this decline, too, although it makes sense that poverty has decreased, especially when you consider the rise of post-Soviet market economies in Eastern Europe and China’s meteoric rise since the 1980s.

I suspect that the perennial culprit of the Mainstream Media is to blame, in part, for this ignorance, coupled as it is with progressive politicians.  The rise of “democratic socialist” candidates—as well as the lingering effects of the Great Recession—would have Americans believe that the global economy is in terrible shape, and that “underprivileged” parts of the world labor in ever-worsening poverty (so, let’s just move them all here—that’ll solve poverty!).

It’s refreshing to see that capitalism is working its economic magic, and people all over the globe are lifting themselves out of poverty.  If representative republicanism and strong civil societies can take root and flourish in more places, the ingredients will be in place for continued economic and cultural growth.

They Live: Analysis and Review

Last night I watched John Carpenter’s 1988 cult smash They Live, which explains (along with a couple of hours of Civilization VI) why today’s post is late.  I’ve been eager to catch this flick for awhile, and a fortuitous chain-combo of RedBox coupons and special promotions had me streaming it digitally.  What a glorious age for instant gratification.

The basic plot of the film is as follows:  out-of-work drifter Nada (played by wrestler “Rowdy” Roddy Piper; the character is named only in the film’s credits) arrives in Los Angeles looking for work.  After landing a job on a construction site (the site manager says it’s a “union job,” but Nada lands the gig after asking if the Spanish-speaking crew is in the union, too), Nada meets Frank Armitage (Carpenter veteran Keith David), a black construction worker from Detroit, trying to earn a living for his wife and children back home.  Frank takes Nada under his wing, and they head to a soup kitchen shanty town.

While at the town, Nada notices suspicious activity in a nearby church; upon further investigation, he stumbles upon a box of sunglasses that allow him to see the world for how it really is:  a black-and-white world filled with subliminal messages like “OBEY” and “MARRY AND REPRODUCE,” as well as constant messages to “BUY” and “CONSUME.”  Money reads simply “THIS IS YOUR GOD.”

More shockingly, some humans appear to be fleshless, bulging-eyed aliens, akin to zombies.  Piper figures out quickly that the horrifying creatures are not friendly, and he embarks on a shooting spree—which, of course, appears like a random shooting to everyone else.

It unfolds from there:  Nada convinces Frank—after a nearly-six-minute alleyway brawl—to try the glasses on for himself.  Seeing the world for what it is, the two join up with the small resistance, which is quickly smashed by the fleshless invaders and their human collaborators (which enjoy support from the media and law enforcement).  The film ends with the disruption of the device that keeps everyone “asleep” regarding reality, with terrifying (and humorous) consequences.

Much has been written about this film, as its not-so-subtle message of anti-commercialism is low-hanging fruit.  No less a scholar than Slovene philosopher Slavoj Žižek cites They Live as an influence on his understanding of ideology.  The film inspired street artist Shepard Fairey‘s famous “OBEY” stickers (another fascinating bit of pop culture detritus).

As such, there’s not much I can add, but I have some general reflections.  In the age of attempted Deep State coups and a political and media establishment at odds with the common man, They Live contains a certain relevance to culture in 2019 (if there really are subliminal messages in advertising, I wish there were some encouraging people to “MARRY AND REPRODUCE”; the message today is exactly the opposite).

The alien invaders manage to take control because they cut a deal with America’s elites:  give us access to your resources and cheap labor, and we’ll make you fabulously wealthy.  At a swanky dinner near the end of the film, aliens and humans toast their 39% return-on-investment.  Frank Armitage, disgusted, tells one human collaborator that he “sold out his own kind”; the collaborator says, “What’s the threat? It’s just business.”

That scene seems particularly relevant to 2016:  globalist elites were eager to serve up a deeply corrupt Hillary Clinton to continue to advance their goals of cheap labor and monochromatic global conformity.

Piper’s character, on the other hand, states his optimism early in the film:  “I believe in America.”  Even as a homeless drifter, Piper believes he can succeed if he just keeps working hard.  But he’s a man of principle—once he realizes the rigged game that’s afoot, he decides to beat them rather than join them.

Consider:  the latter option would be so much easier.  Betray your own people—humans, or, in the context of the 2016 election, Americans—for a distant, indifferent, self-aggrandizing elite, and reap the rewards.  But Piper—a loud-mouthed wrestler—fights back.  He wants a fair shake for himself and his countrymen, not a rigged system at the expense of his fellow humans.

His methods are comedic and clumsy (a hallmark of another Carpenter classic, Big Trouble in Little China), but he manages—against all odds—to make it to the top of the alien-collaborator hierarchy, ultimately bringing the whole thing down.  One can be forgiven for seeing in Nada President Trump’s historic, unlikely rise to the presidency in 2016.

That said, I shouldn’t take that metaphor too far.  Carpenter had no inkling in 1988 that Donald Trump would become president amid the crushing dominance of a politically-correct, Davos Man elite (although Trump discussed the possibility of a run at the time).  Carpenter’s message is a more heavy-handed cautionary tale about excessive consumerism and materialism.

There, however, some compelling fruits that have come from ignoring those warnings.  While globalization and capitalism have reaped huge financial rewards, they’ve come at the expense of Americans.  Frank’s line about betraying “your own kind” resonated heavily with me:  just as the human collaborators sold out their people to the aliens, our elites have sold out their countrymen and culture for cheap labor and cheap plastic crap from China.

We will always engage with art and culture in terms of our own experiences, though I would caution against excessive “current year” interpretations.  The film is a product of the 1980s.  That its message still seems so fresh is, perhaps, an indication of our culture’s stagnation since that glorious decade.

Nevertheless, They Live presents a timeless warning against sacrificing our patrimony for wealth.  Judas betrayed Christ for thirty pieces of silver; was that “just business”?

***

So, is They Live worth watching?  Absolutely.  I had a blast even before Nada discovered the glasses (which is nearly half-an-hour into the film, or so it felt—it spends a lot of time showing his struggles to find a job).  The film contains the iconic line, “I came here to chew bubblegum and kick ass—and I’ll all out of bubblegum.”

Roddy Piper acts the way wrestlers in 1980s films act, which is badly, but it’s perfect for his character, a man who is principled but driven by his id (and libido, with lethal consequences).  Keith David’s performance as Frank Armitage steals the show—he just wants to make money to support his family without any hassle, but is drawn into a fight he never wanted.

You’ll see some of the plot twists coming from a mile away, but the film is fun and thought-provoking.  I highly recommend you check it out.  Of course, I’m a big fan of John Carpenter (Big Trouble in Little China is one of my favorite movies), so your mileage may very.  For $2.99, though, it’s worth the rental.

Trade War Favors the United States

Thanks to my dad for sending along this piece from stock guru and madman Jim Cramer about the trade war with China.  I’ve been writing a great deal lately about economics (including the “Lazy Sunday IX” and “Lazy Sunday X” compilations), and I share Cramer’s nuanced view of the trade war and Trump’s tariffsGlobalization of capital is not an unalloyed good.

Cramer gives a nuts-and-bolts rundown of this latest round in the trade war with China.  Monday saw a big selloff in the market, as investors panicked about China slapping tariffs on American goods.  As Cramer points out, the biggest loser is Apple, which is also reeling from a loss in the Supreme Court that will allow a class-action monopoly suit to go ahead against the tech giant.

The two other companies that will most be affected are Boeing and Caterpillar.  Cramer points out—as does President Trump—that there is a huge backlog of potential customers waiting to purchase jets from Boeing, and Caterpillar made a deal with the devil, so screw ’em.

Otherwise, the Chinese dragon looks a lot more like a paper tiger.  In addition to blocking imports of liquefied natural gas—like jets, a product that the rest of the world is clamoring to import from the United States—China targeted a laundry list of foodstuffs:

…[W]hen the Chinese unveiled their retaliation list it was pretty pathetic. I am going to list some of them because you are going to know how little ammo they really have. Here’s the guts of the list: beans, beers, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, carrots cauliflower, broccoli, cucumbers, potatoes, sweet potatoes, rabbit meat, frog legs, almonds, cashews, apples, pineapples, dates, figs, mandarin oranges-mandarin!-hazelnuts, pears, macadamia nuts, whey as in curds and whey although curds aren’t on the list, eggs, butter, pasta, rice, corn, eels, trout, chickens, turkeys, peanuts, cakes, wine, wheat and then here’s some odd ones: televisions, DVRs, and cameras.

Note that those farm products are the necessities of life.  The production of televisions, DVRs, and cameras, as Cramer notes wryly, has been wiped out Chinese competition already, so they’re absurd non sequiturs.

I had a friend lament the collapse of the soybean farmers because of the trade war.  While I sympathize with the farmers, one could be forgiven for thinking this an example of missing the forest for the soybeans.  Someone else will buy the soybeans, and our generous farm subsidies will dull the pain of any major losses.

That’s all to say that soybeans and temporary market disruptions are a small price to pay to restore the American economy and to hobble China’s.  China is a far more serious geopolitical and economic threat than the Russian boogeyman (not to say Russia isn’t a threat), yet we’ve kow-towed to their authoritarian corporatism for decades, with ruinous results.

Yes, some products will cost more.  I spoke with a repair technician about doing some work on an old saxophone, and he said, “Your buddy Trump is why parts are so expensive.  As soon as the trade war started, prices for parts jumped 1000%.”  Based on the value he placed on my pawn shop Noblet, I’m assuming he’s engaging in a bit of genuine hyperbole.

Regardless, the technician lamented the decline of the once-great American instrument-making industry (huge in Elkhart, Indiana), saying that parts are made in China and other countries, with only a few horns still assembled in Indiana.  He mentioned, too, that Gretsch “sold its soul to the devil” as a result of cutting corners and relocating abroad to save costs.

Again, his fixation was on the high price of parts—but those parts could be made here again, at a higher-quality and lower cost.  Elkhart could once again become the global capital of instrument manufacturing, and saxophones wouldn’t be cheap, leaky Chinese toys.

In the short-term, the trade war will be painful for some investors (although Cramer argues that this latest round will calm down as early as today, with investors getting over their textbook-based fear of a Smoot-Hawley Tariff situation), and in the long-term, trade wars tend to produce only losers.

But in the Chinese case, it’s worth some short-term pain, and the disruption of reallocating resources, to regain our economic dominance against China.  Anything we can do to hobble their rise is a net benefit for the United States, East Asia, and the world.

The Decline of Religion in America

A frequent topic of this blog is religion, specifically Christianity, and its influence on American society and Western Civilization.  Many of the problems we face as a nation are the result not only of bad government policy or dangerous ideologies, but are metaphysical and spiritual in nature.  As Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12, “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (KJV)

As such, two pieces caught my eye this week, both dealing with the decline of religion in the West generally and the United States specifically.  One is from Dissident Right blogger Z Man, “Religion Versus Capitalism“; the other is a syndicated column by Daniel Davis, “America is Still Highly Religious, So Why Do We Keep Liberalizing?”  Both offer different answers to the question posed by the latter question.

For Davis, the problem is that, while Americans are more religious than our European counterparts, and that we say we want a greater role for religion in society, our theology is bad—infected (my term) by the social justice and Cultural Marxist platitudes of our age.

Americans embrace “feel-good Christianity,” what I call the “Buddy Christ” version of our faith:  Jesus was just a cool hippie who wanted everybody to love each other, man.  In this distorted version of the Gospel, sin isn’t a grave threat, but simply “missing the mark”—you’ll do better next time, kiddo.  Keep practicing sinning and eventually you’ll hit that mark!

(I’ve actually heard this argument from some Evangelical preachers, mostly of the hip, non-denominational type.  They get so caught up in the root of the word “sin” as “missing the mark” in the context of target practice, they inadvertently give blanket license to sin, as grace is abundant, so God will forgive you—an early heresy that the Apostle Paul addressed directly.  “Missing the mark” trivializes the gravity of sin, making it sound like “oops! My bad!”  If the “mark” is righteousness, then missing the mark is pretty serious.)

Davis points out the pitfalls of this “feel-good Christianity,” and our propensity to make God fit our worldview, instead of us trying to accept and embrace His:

What we have in America is a radical separation of God from “reality”—the real world that we claim to live in. It’s not that we reject “God” per se, but we reject a God who comes with a certified worldview package—a God who orders the universe, sets moral norms, defines our being, and binds our consciences to a moral code in this world—today.

We’ve kept God, but jettisoned the traditional package.

The problem is, this is almost the same as rejecting God completely. If believing in God has no impact on the way we view realities in this world—whether they be gender, marriage, or who counts as a person worthy of dignity and respect—then what God are we even worshipping?

Could it be that the atheists are right when they accuse us of worshipping a God of our own making?

Davis also links to a website, The State of Theology, which highlights the disconnect between professions of faith and what Christians—including Evangelicals!—actually believe.  Part of the problem is “feel-good” theology, but a big part is simple biblical ignorance.  Americans pay lip service, according to The State of Theology, to core precepts of Christianity, but don’t seem to understand them at a deeper level or apply them to their daily lives.

Z Man—who I believe is Catholic and Catholic-educated, though he stated in one podcast that he hasn’t been to church in years—approaches the problem from a different angle.  He argues, essentially, that the proliferation of capitalist materialism is at odds, fundamentally, with Christianity and other religions, and the West has embraced materialism as its true faith.

He also links the decline of religion to a decline in fertility rates, and notes that as nations have become more integrated in the global economy, they’ve become less religious and less fertile.  There are myriad possible explanations for declining birthrates in developed societies, but Z Man’s theory is intriguing.  As material wealth increases and the profit motive becomes the “highest good,” religiosity declines.  With the decline of traditional religious values comes less of an emphasis on family formation.

For Z Man, the problem is that we worship materialism—he argues that libertarianism is the irrational, passionate “religion” of capitalistic materialism—in place of God.  To quote his piece at length:

In a system where the highest good is a profit, then all other considerations must be secondary. Lying, for example, is no longer strictly prohibited. The seller will no longer feel obligated to disclose everything to the buyer. The seller will exaggerate his claims about his product or service. Buyers, of course, will seek to lock in sellers into one way contracts based on information unknown the other seller. The marketplace, at its most basic level, is a game of liar’s poker, where all sides hope to fool the other.

Religion, in contrast, also assumes certain things about people, but seeks to mitigate and ameliorate them. Generally speaking, religion assumes the imperfection of man and sees that imperfection as the root cause of human suffering. While those imperfections cannot be eliminated, the negative effects can be reduced through moral codes, contemplation and the full understanding of one’s nature. Religions, outside of some extreme cults, are not about altering the nature of man, but rather the acceptance of it.

I would argue that capitalism does not necessarily lead to liars—how do you build business if you gain a reputation for dishonesty?—but capitalism definitely needs the traditionalism of orthodox religion to work for long.  In the absence of the moral framework that socially and religiously conservative values supply, capitalism can easily become an orgiastic free-for-all of mendacious exchanges and swindling.

Indeed, China’s autocratic capitalism is a prime example of a state using the mechanism of capitalism in a moral vacuum to aggrandize its own power.  Wags and particularists will argue that China’s system is not true capitalism, but rather a corporatist perversion, which is certainly accurate—but the United States has its share of cronyistic arrangements.  To be clear, there is a world of difference separating China’s increasingly totalitarian brand of corporatism and America’s more mundane system of well-heeled lobbyists, but the Chinese example clearly demonstrates what happens when you value pure materialism at the expense of everything else.

While I don’t completely accept Z Man’s analysis, I do think he makes a solid point.  Christians should never subvert true faith in Christ to the false god of capitalist materialism.  Indeed, such faith is merely the more benign face of a two-sided Marxist coin.

Both unbridled libertarianism and full-throated Communism are premised on a materialist worldview that discounts the metaphysical.  The former allows religion to exist as a largely private, subjective concern, so long as it doesn’t get too insistent about its truth claims.  The latter seeks to destroy any loyalty to anything other than the state—or the “Party,” or “Dear Leader,” etc.  The former is certainly preferable to the latter, but both ultimately will leave followers unfulfilled.

The Church—Orthodox, Catholic, High Protestant, Evangelical Protestant, etc.—needs to commit itself fully to foundational biblical Truth.  We should be reading and debating Augustus and Aquinas, not to mention the Gospels and Paul’s Epistles.  Preachers need to move beyond the mega-church formula of glossy advertising campaigns, Sunday morning rock concerts, and blandly inoffensive, pop-culture-laden sermons.

Instead, unabashedly proclaim the Gospel.  Denounce abortion from the pulpit.  Call out homosexuality.  Call out radical Islamism and progressivism as the existential threats they are to Western Civilization.  Deus Vult!

Frontier Sucks

A quick phone post: I’m sitting on my front porch, waiting for Frontier, my awful rural Internet service provider, to show up to fix my connection, which has been down slightly over a week.

That’s right: I’ve been without Internet access at home for one week.

I can see Spectrum trucks down the street running high-speed fiber optic lines. I’ll be switching over to them at the earliest opportunity, two-year contract be damned (that’s right: in 2019, there are still ISPs that make you commit to a two-year contract).

It’s not been all bad: I’ve watched some great DVDs, like Evil Dead and Big Trouble in Little China (“China is here”), and I’ve gotten more sleep.

On the other hand, so much of our lives and work are online, and it’s been quite difficult getting everything done during the day. In addition to teaching high school and maintaining this little blog, I also teach classes online. Talk about a conundrum.

So, here I am, desperately using my planning period to wait at home during my four-hour appointment window, which expires in about thirty minutes.

When Frontier installed my Internet—about six weeks after I placed the original order—I burned an entire personal day waiting for their arrival. They simply never showed. After a series of angry phone calls, a nice technician arrived two days later.

They also charge a mandatory modem rental fee of $10/month. ¡Ay caramba!

I don’t have much else to say. This post is pure self-indulgent complaining. But I do have some takeaways:

1.) Life in a rural town, while very pleasant, comes with certain challenges. Everything operates the way it did thirty years ago—for better and for worse.

My mail wasn’t delivered for two weeks because the rural mail carrier wouldn’t stop because I put my mailbox in front of my house—not across the street, like the only other box on the street (most folks still get mail delivered to the local post office). Finally, my neighbor—not anyone I talked to at the post office—told me my carrier wouldn’t stop until I moved the mailbox across the street.

2.) Adults are meant to work in pairs: a breadwinner and a household manager. My “wife” is my job, unfortunately, and she’s an overbearing, possessive bitty. That’s the case for most everybody. Someone needs to be at home, keeping the home fires burning and keeping the place running efficiently.

Global Poverty in Decline

Regular readers know that I frequently cite pollster Scott Rasmussen’s #Number of the Day series from Ballotpedia.  I do so because a.) his numbers often reveal some interesting truths about our world and b.) blogging is, at bottom, the art of making secondary or tertiary commentary on what other, smarter, harder-working people have thought, written, and done.

Yesterday’s #Number of the Day dealt with global poverty; specifically, Americans’ ignorance to the fact that global poverty has declined substantially over the last twenty years.  Indeed, global poverty has been reduced by half in that time.

I’ll confess I was ignorant of the extent of this decline, too, although it makes sense that poverty has decreased, especially when you consider the rise of post-Soviet market economies in Eastern Europe and China’s meteoric rise since the 1980s.

I suspect that the perennial culprit of the Mainstream Media is to blame, in part, for this ignorance, coupled as it is with progressive politicians.  The rise of “democratic socialist” candidates—as well as the lingering effects of the Great Recession—would have Americans believe that the global economy is in terrible shape, and that “underprivileged” parts of the world labor in ever-worsening poverty (so, let’s just move them all here—that’ll solve poverty!).

It’s refreshing to see that capitalism is working its economic magic, and people all over the globe are lifting themselves out of poverty.  If representative republicanism and strong civil societies can take root and flourish in more places, the ingredients will be in place for continued economic and cultural growth.