The Long View 2006-08-18: The Endings of Various Epochs

 Iron Dome system in use  By Israel Defense Forces and Nehemiya Gershoni נחמיה גרשוני (see also ) -, CC BY-SA 3.0,

Iron Dome system in use

By Israel Defense Forces and Nehemiya Gershoni נחמיה גרשוני (see also ) -, CC BY-SA 3.0,

I learned a lot reading Matti Friedman's Pumpkinflowers, once I finally got around to it [it sat in my to-read pile for two years]. The suicide bombings started shortly after the Lebanese occupation was over, and then the security checkpoints installed to stop the bombers led to missile attacks. Currently, the Iron Dome system helps to mitigate the damage done by such things. This is in fact the bullet-hitting-a-bullet thing that SDI naysayers always insisted couldn't be done, and probably benefited from that particular R&D expense by the US. Also, the Israelis are assholes to their neighbors.

John also talks here about the impact of gas prices on suburban and exurban America. Even at $3/gallon and more the result has been, not much. I think we could gain some benefits from denser development, but the truth is cars are freedom and convenience, and Americans are still among the richest people in the world, and we can afford the gasoline. But I should talk, I work 5 minutes from my house.

The Endings of Various Epochs


The missile barrages on Israel began in earnest after the West Bank Wall made frequent suicide-bombings impossible. But suppose this story means what it implies?

The Pentagon's Missile Defense Agency has begun working with Israel to help find ways to counter enemy rockets, ... The system at issue, called Skyguard, is built by Northrop Grumman Corp. and based on a tactical high-energy laser the company co-developed with the Israeli army in the 1990s. ... Company officials told reporters July 12 they were awaiting a show of interest from Israel to kick off an export-license request for the updated system.

Deprived of the ballistic option, the jihad against Israel would have to find some other tactic. If Israel proper is largely invulnerable, then perhaps Israel's commercial and academic contacts in the West would be targeted. Heretofore, this has been attempted with boycotts organized by fellow travelers, but the jihad requires photogenic rubble.

In any case, even the partially successful public use of these defensive weapons would mark a change of epoch. There are psychological and professional explanations for opposition to missile defense. One reason for the opposition is that the increasingly gray eminences of the Cold War cling to strategic deterrence as the one aspect of the Cold War world that never went away. Very soon, though, it will be hard to assert that MAD is part of the permanent structure of the universe.

* * *

Speaking of the end of an epoch, could it really be that rising gas prices will kill the suburbs?

There's even talk of crude hitting $100 per barrel -- or 10 times what it sold for in the summer of 2005.

Once the realization soaks into the American consciousness that high-cost gas is here to stay, Gabriel predicts, those high commute prices will pull more homeowners -- even young families -- to live in central cities and create a push for more public transportation. ... But with the cost of gas hovering around $3 per gallon on average in the U.S., it's worth considering whether a shorter commute would pay for the incremental cost of a more expensive in-city home.... Assuming a full-time job, $3 gas, 26 mpg and 50 cents a mile for maintenance and no parking fees, a 50-mile roundtrip commute costs $646.15 a month, or $7,753.80 a year, according to the City of Bellevue, Wash.'s, Commute Cost Calculator.... Moving closer to work boosts your house-buying power. Everything else being equal, a 10-mile, roundtrip commute costs just $1,550.76 yearly -- saving about $6,200 per year, or $517 monthly. That can add about $80,000 to the total amount of a mortgage loan, says one Chicago lender. The rule of thumb: Each $250 a month you can free up for mortgage payments equals roughly $40,000 more you can borrow at current rates (using the recent national average of 6.5%), says David Kasprisin, district sales manager for National City Mortgage Co. in Chicago.

Might I remark that, before there were suburbs, there were many small towns? These were relatively densely built places where people both lived and worked and did not commute to. I don't doubt that the older core cities will benefit from higher fuel costs, but other things will be happening in addition to the abandonment of the more ridiculous suburban housing tracts.

* * *

Every Wednesday morning the first thing I look at online (after checking for credible death threats in my email) is The Onion. I can't say that i have ever had trouble telling an Onion headline from the headline of a real news story. Still, reading The Onion and then reading the real news does create a certain amount of disorientation. Look at this list of Onion headlines and headlines from non-satirical sources:

Osama Bin Laden Found Inside Each Of Us

Blues Musician To U.N.: 'Yemen Done Me Wrong'

Casino Has Great Night

Exit Interview Goes Well

Comedian Confesses To Killing Them Out There

Harsh Light Of Morning Falls On One-Night Stand's DVD Collection

JonBenet suspect was 'threat', ex-wife said

Judge orders halt to NSA wiretap program

Lebanese troops deploy in Hezbollah heartland

No compromise on sovereignty: PM

I don't know about you, but I can't stop looking for the joke even when I know there isn't one.

* * *

Mark Twain once observed that wherever the early French explorers of North America went, they always brought a Jesuit to explain Hell to the savages. In rather the same spirit, Mark Steyn has been traveling through Australia, on what he says "I like to think of as my 'Head for the hills! It’s the end of the world!' tour.” The Australian recently published he text of one of his harangues under the title Mark Steyn: It's breeding obvious, mate, in which he shared with his audience his familiar concerns about the jihad and Western demography. He makes all good points, but again, I would suggest that he is extrapolating trends whose very direness ensure that they will reverse. Towards the end, he adds this useful point:

....But it’s important to remember: radical Islam is only the top-eighth of that iceberg – it’s an opportunist enemy taking advantage of a demographically declining and spiritually decayed west. The real issue is the seven-eighths below the surface – the larger forces at play in the developed world that have left Europe too enfeebled to resist its remorseless transformation into Eurabia and call into question the future of much of the rest of the world. The key factors are:

i) Demographic decline;
ii) The unsustainability of the social democratic state;
iii) Civilizational exhaustion.

I would not lengthen that list, but the factors he mentions are facets of larger phenomena. The US immigration crisis (which might be defined as the transformation of the whole country into a border town) is in some ways the same crisis as Europe's; certainly both have a demographic foundation. The anti-natalist project of the past 50 years is just one manifestation of a deep cultural dysfunction that shows up in the oddest places: future histories may categorize the whole gay episode (1850-2050?) as just another reflection of it. Actually, among the pathological symptoms I would also include libertarianism, survivalism, and every account of the state as an evil that must be overcome rather than a precious and fragile tradition that must be cultivated, like classical music.

Finally, let me note that "exhaustion" is not something that civilizations do, at least according to the sunlit and tranquil philosophy of Oswald Spengler. The future is not Mad Max, but the Glass Bead Game. These present troubles are sent to us to get us moving in that direction.

* * *

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