December 07, 2004

Christmas Vacation Reading

I have just selected some books to bring with me for Christmas vacation. We will be spending about two weeks with my in-laws and I anticipate some time to catch up on my reading. Here are my choices (I'm not sure that I'll be bringing them all, mind you):

*The Man Who Would Be King: The First American in Afghanistan
by Ben Macintyre

*Basic Economics: A Citizens Guide to the Economy, Revised and Expanded
by Thomas Sowell

*Applied Economics: Thinking Beyond Stage One
by Thomas Sowell

*Gentleman Revolutionary : Gouverneur Morris, the Rake Who Wrote the Constitution
by Richard Brookhiser


*To Rule the Waves : How the British Navy Shaped the Modern World
by Arthur Herman

My father in law also has an excellent library. But I do like to have a couple of my own books, too.

Posted by Random Penseur at 12:50 PM | Comments (6)

November 09, 2004

PG Wodehouse

Thanks to Mark for the Random PG Wodehouse Quote Generator from which I take the following:

I was sauntering on the river bank with a girl named something that has slipped my mind, when there was a sound of barking and a large hefty dog came galloping up, full of beans and buck and obviously intent on mayhem. And I was just commending my soul to God and feeling that this was where the old flannel trousers got about thirty bobs worth of value bitten out of them, when the girl, waiting till she saw the whites of its eyes, with extraordinary presence of mind opened a coloured Japanese umbrella in the animal's face. Upon which it did three back somersaults and retired into private life.

I don't know what it means, really, but it did speak to me.

Posted by Random Penseur at 02:31 PM | Comments (3)

July 21, 2004

Life Insurance

I beat the NY Times up all the time, but sometimes they get it right. There has been an interesting series on the sale and marketing of inappropriate financial products, including but not limited to life insurance and mutual funds, to soldiers. Apparently, for as little as $1500, you too can buy congressional intercession on behalf of your sleazy business practices. The first article is here and the second one, run today, is here. Go read the second one to understand my comment about how cheap it is to buy access.

This practice, by the way, stands in sharp contrast to the actions of the most prominent Americans during the Civil War. I have been reading, at night, the McCullough biography of Theodore Roosevelt, called, "Mornings on Horseback: The Story of an Extraordinary Family, a Vanished Way of Life and the Unique Child Who Became Theodore Roosevelt". The President's father, during the Civil War, was instrumental in creating the Allotment Commission. I find nothing of any consequence about it after a Google search, but let me explain.

The men went off to fight in the Civil War and left their familes and women behind, often made destitute by the lack of income after the men left their civilian jobs. Roosevelt, and others, conceived of the Allotment Commission. They presented it to Lincoln and secured his agreement. What was it? Simple. It was a mechanism by which Union soldiers could allot some portion of their pay to be subtracted from their pay check and transmitted directly back home. No one else had ever thought of this. Roosevelt traveled to practically every encampment and preached to the men the value of this service. Many signed up and many millions of dollars were sent home. This was a selfless act on Rooselvelt's part.

We dishonor the memory of the men who toiled on behalf of the common soldier, without recompense, by permitting these scum to prey upon our soldiers. It is just shameful.

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:25 AM | Comments (1)

July 20, 2004

"Root Causes"

This one may take me awhile, so if you plan on reading the whole thing, grab a pew, missy (as I tell my daughter when I want her to sit down and as she delights in repeating back to me). If you don't plan on reading this one, that's ok, I bet someone else is writing about this in a better way than I am.

The Root Causes. Everyone seems to think that we need to understand the root causes of terrorism, the root causes of ceaseless anti-American hatred, the root causes of anti-Semitism, the root causes of _______ (fill in the blank, how about obesity?). The world faults us for failing to understand the root causes. They want us to ask: why do they hate us? What did we do wrong? The media drumbeat on this point, in our own newspapers and from our allies, is as relentless as it is nonsensical and downright contemptuous.

You can see how silly this is here, in the words of British "journalists" (dig my scare quotes?):

Why is there no coverage in America given to the root causes of terrorism? We try to understand why Palestinian people feel driven to take such extreme measures as suicide bombings. I understand why Israel is building a wall to stop terror, but terrorists only flourish if they have grievances to exploit.

The root causes of terrorism are hatred and fear, not economic. The suicide bombers are not motivated by issues such as fair trade and labor regulation. As others have noted, the World Trade Center bombers were from the highest socio-economic classes their society had. They were not protesting American influence on foreign exchange rates. No, they hated us. They still hate us and we are to ask why, if you believe the pundits. What impels the hatred?

The hatred, I believe, stems from fear. They fear our freedom and our liberalism because the freedom to decide for yourself is not compatible with their vision of a society subservient to the dictates of Islam as they understand them. We are seductive and corrupt. We will infect their youth and destroy the power they hold over their women. We are a disease that must be halted. This is not hard to understand. They hate us because our values are so different from their values. They hate us because they cannot fathom how they are righteous and we are not and yet we are successful (so, add jealousy to the volatile mix).

In other words, while I am prepared to ask the question why, I reach a conclusion different from that urged by those who constantly stress the necessity of its asking. I conclude that the fault lies not within us, Horatio (nor within the stars), but within them.

There. I asked why, I answered it and I feel so much better now.
Well, not really. Now I want to ask about the root causes of another problem (no, I don’t mean stomach issues experienced after too much spicy Indian food, although I am curious to know why Indian food and why not Thai): Western anti-Americanism. You know the kind I mean, the feelings and beliefs expressed by our allies, by Europeans, among others, who believe that America is evil and the greatest threat to world peace but who stop short of flying planes into our buildings or bombing our Naval vessels (the USS Cole). This question is one I’ve been exploring of late and I don’t have a real good answer for it. How is it that a book in France which hit the best seller list there and was taken seriously when it asked whether the attacks on the WTC and the Pentagon were faked. I really don't know. But I can send you to some of what I’ve been reading to help me understand it and maybe these works will help you (assuming you share my confusion).

First of all, I’ve been reading Jean Francois Revel’s book, Anti-Americanism. I cannot excerpt any of it here. It is too tightly woven for me to pick apart any of its arguments here. I think it is a must read. I seldom urge people to pick up a book, but I do so now.

Second, I just read Bruce Bawer’s essay in the Hudson Review: Hating America. This is also a great read. Dr. Bawer is an American living in Norway.

Third, I’d send you to Robert Kagan’s slim book, Of Paradise and Power: America and Europe in the New World Order. It seeks to explain how and why America and Europe have taken such different paths.

If you have other recommendations, I'd be pleased if you'd share them with me.

What does it all come down to? Europe resents the Pax Americana, at its base. Europe lacks the capacity or ability or will to project power beyond its borders and, while enjoying the fruits of a free society protected by American servicemen and women, is unhappy about it at the same time. At the end, I perceive that nothing can be done about it.

So, where does that leave us? Where are we now that we’ve asked the questions about the “root causes”?

We are at the same place we were when we started (although you didn’t know that). We are at my cousin’s funeral. I attended my cousin's funeral in the days after 9/11 and her death at the top of the World Trade Center. It was a funeral held with an empty coffin. There is space enough in her plain wooden box to fit the questions of why do they hate us and what did we do wrong. I’d like to bury these fucking questions there and get on with the business of uniting our country to oppose a common foe who seeks our destruction.

Of course, that won’t happen, but I can dream, right?

Posted by Random Penseur at 11:57 AM | Comments (12)