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Herein you will find periodic observations and my opinions on life and politics; also cogent book reviews and commentary. I welcome and appreciate your comments and questions, and encourage you sign up for e-mail reminders at each new posting, and/or to log on often.
November 18, 2011

How Civilizations Die

(and why Islam is dying too)
David P. Goldman - ISBN - 9781596982734

This is one of the most challenging and seminal works of recent issue; the equal--or better--of Huntington's Clash of Civilizations (reviewed on this site over five years ago.) He gives new meaning to critical events, ancient and recent. While primarily about the modern world, specifically Europe and Islam, he does delve into the history of most all "dead" civilizations of the past as exemplary of some aspect of his subject.

Explaining Europe's "Thirty Years War" (1618-1648)*, he renders the emigration of the pilgrims to the new world a more profound event.*** He also explains why this war began the descent of Christian European civilization, and its responsibility for the repeated wars which culminated in WW I and II (1914-1945), described by Churchill as the Second Thirty Years War. Bookends, they issued the death warrant to European civilization, which demise we are now witnessing. Europe as we have known it for the past 400 years will be gone within a century. It's not quite over, but the fat lady is in the wings.

He adds a different dimension to Mark Steyn's America Alone (reviewed several years ago.) Whereas Steyn's construal is that Muslim fecundity will overwhelm Europe in the next several generations, resulting in an Islamic "Eurabia," Goldman observes that Muslim fertility is dropping so dramatically that many of the most important Muslim countries are disappearing. While it may temporarily occupy, even rule Europe, Islam "cannot survive outside the cocoon of traditional society, which has led to despair resulting in Muslim society being on the brink of the fastest population decline in recorded history. . . . Muslim civilization is choosing decline and death," he ventures, as he cautions against being reassured, since it may take the world down with it. European culture has decided that no purpose is served by war, and so curls up to die; Islam has determined that there is nothing to lose by war, and will fight to the death.

In Iran, fewer than two percent of adults attend mosque services on Fridays; fertility, in one generation, has dropped to 1.3 per woman, the lowest in the world; prostitution and drug addiction are rampant, and far greater than in the West. He opines that a nation is never really beaten until it sells its women, and is truly damned when women sell themselves. 90% of Iranian prostitutes have passed college entrance exams, and 30% are active students; 80% of "sex workers" do so voluntarily, and girls as young as 12 are selling themselves. Things are not all that different in Turkey (now making common cause with Iran) and other Muslim states.

Illiteracy is rampant--well over 50% in Pakistan and Egypt; college degrees are awarded to people neither educated nor skilled at anything, and who are largely unemployable. Only Turkey has passable higher education, yet insufficient jobs are created to employ graduates. Egypt and other poor Muslim countries are on the brink of starvation, and will soon be driven over the edge as China and prosperous Asians drive the price of food beyond their reach. "Arab Spring" will prove to be a disaster. "There is no such thing as rational self-interest for people who believe that they have nothing to lose."

The recent great transformation has left the Muslim world almost untouched. Excepting fossil fuels, the total export of the Arab world is less than that of Finland, a nation of but five million people. Not a single scientific discovery of note, innovative firm of international importance, or contribution to universal culture has come from the Muslim world in the past century. During that period, only 133 patents were filed in Muslim-majority lands (a billion people), while Israel (7 million people) produced ten-fold more, which total also exceeds those of India, Russia and Singapore combined (another billion+ people.)

For the first time in recorded history, most of the world's peoples are forgoing their desire to live. America's most important allies--the European nations--will lose their importance as they wither away; not much later the Muslim nations will suffer the consequences of their demographic implosion, and the drastically shrunken generation that follows will prove too feeble to support the burden of elderly dependents.

The absence of the very concept of individual rights renders Islam incompatible with the legal principles of modern democracy, and Sharia cannot be adapted to western civilization. Wife beating--a pagan holdover--is a prominent issue in Muslim society; discussed in detail in the Koran. "Honor killings," while not mentioned therein, are honored within Sharia law. Neither is acceptable to the modern world, just as female genital mutilation and cousin marriages are rejected. The Koran is "frozen in time," and is open to neither debate nor interpretation. Islam is thereby forced to adopt an openly irrational stance as scholars are forbidden to search for truth.

The unique religious history and culture of America, he posits, exempts it from the life and death cycle of nations, as Islam's very different theology explains the Muslim world's extreme vulnerability to the demographic effects of modernization. (The Islamic Allah and the Judeo-Christian Yahweh/God are not at all the same. Again, he explains in detail, often using as his source the observations of modern Muslims.) The Ayatollah Khomeini proclaimed that he/they would stand against the world: "either we all become free (i.e. Islamic), or we will go to the greater freedom which is martyrdom."

Contrary to present operational strategy, the most likely way to avoid war in the Middle East is not to reach out to Iran but to humiliate it.**** We cannot engage it. "We shall have to ruin it."

In but two generations, our foreign policy has passed from adolescence--the Wilsonian misapprehension that America could remake the world in its own image--to senescent repudiation of world leadership, having omitted maturity. The Obama doctrine is the self-liquidation of American influence, an unprecedented and astonishing gesture from an American leader. America has neither the means nor the moral obligation to transform failing Muslim states into entities compatible with our civil preferences.

In 1948, Truman gambled American policy on his religious belief that the Jewish people had a sacred purpose in returning to their homeland, and allied us with what now is the most stable state in the Middle East. Obama now gambles American policy on support for inherently unstable and potentially hostile regimes: the most detrimental foreign policy decision taken by an American president in living memory.

America has the potential to be the last man standing for the Western world, though an alliance with India and other emerging democracies may rescue the driving forces of Christian, Western civilizations. At least we may pray so. Even Israel, he suggests, will likely survive.

* Rival versions of Christianity fought to the death in that war. But it was not, as we have been taught, a Catholic-Protestant war.** "It was a war between Christianity and neo-pagan national idolatry, and Christianity lost." WW II defeated national idolatry--the ongoing argument of which nation was the chosen replacement for Israel--thus destroying Europe's civilization (while it explains European anti-Semitism.)

** It was a Catholic war between France, Spain and the Hapsburgs battling, using Protestant allies as proxies. The Catholic Church--as Empire--lost.

*** A year after the Mayflower sailed, Spain invaded Holland. While ultimately defeated by the Dutch, Goldman emphasizes, had the Pilgrims stayed, and Spain prevailed, they almost certainly would have been burned at the stake as heretics. (Bet you didn't learn that in school!)

**** He takes to task American foreign policy, especially that of George W. Bush, noting that the naïve idea that America imposed democracy on the defeated countries after WW II, and should liberate free Muslim dictatorships in the same way for the same reason. The world and all its citizens hanker for democracy. It might appear "to be a positive outcome if not for one snag--the fact that all of the vanquished countries are dying."

Posted by Curmudgeon at 1:33 PM

The Disappearance of Childhood

Neil Postman - ISBN - 978-0679-751663

Originally published in 1982, this '94 reprint is still available. It has been recently released as an electronic book. Now deceased, he was a university professor, and one of America's leading social commentators. Looking for something to read t'other day, anticipating a long wait in the doctor's office, I picked up my old copy and took it along. It is a phenomenal book--one of Postman's best, which is saying a lot.

He posits that childhood is a creation of the post-Gutenberg era, wherein the oral culture was gradually replaced by the printed word. From time immemorial there was little to separate adults from children, since all information was available to all people. Only with the advent of mass print capability did the opportunity for first-hand information become available to the common man; scholarship advanced, and lines were drawn separating the informed from the uninformed. "Almost all of the characteristics we associate with adulthood are those that are (and were) either generated or amplified by the requirements of a fully literate culture: the capacity for self-restraint, a tolerance for delayed gratification, a sophisticated ability to think conceptually and sequentially, a pre-occupation with both historical continuity and the future, a high valuation of reason and hierarchical order." Childhood was born, and adulthood was advanced and redefined.

The word "child," had referred to offspring; only in modern times did it begin to adopt its present meaning. Up until medieval times, children as we define them, became adults with the mastery of language, usually about age 7. Few went to school; fewer still continued through advanced education. Virtually none were spared the secrets of the adult world and its harsh realities.

With the advent of printing, "secrets" could be limited to adults, and literacy was acquired thru years of training and education. School was designed for preparation for adulthood, and included not only literacy, but the disciplines needed for successful adulthood: personal restraint in matters of behavior, foul language, sexual appetites, etc. As well, a grasp of history, society, morality, logic, reason were associated. Children were protected from the challenges and vagaries of adulthood, which were introduced to them gradually, as they matured, and under specific, guided circumstances. Information was sequestered in places seldom explored by youth.

The electrical media, beginning with the telegraph and culminating in television, changed all of that as it resurrected the oral culture and is burying the literate culture. Television exposed the formerly private concerns, secrets and realities of adulthood. They were again dispensed, wholesale, as it became the dominant source if information. It requires no special talents or training to absorb; it confers no skills, and it "adultifies" content. Worse, it eroticizes children and infantilizes adults. Adulthood, as understood for centuries, is disappearing along with childhood.

Children, as in medieval times, know what everyone else knows. Nothing is mysterious or awesome, and nothing is held back from public view. When challenged, executives brag that today's children are better informed than any previous generation. TV is the "window to the world." While a correct statement, no one enquires why that should be taken as a sign of progress. Television erodes definitions because it requires no instruction to grasp its form, it makes no complex demands on mind or behavior, and it does not segregate its audience. "Having access to the previously hidden fruit of adult information, they are expelled from the garden of childhood."

For years, researchers have endeavored to determine TV's impact upon children. Vivid depictions of violence, sex and drugs are front and center, but no one asks to what extent the depiction of the world as it is undermines a child's belief in adult rationality, in the possibility of an ordered world, or in a hopeful future. To what extent does it undermine the child's confidence in his future capacity to control the impulse to violence?

Childhood crime is exponentially more common than before (11,000% increase between 1950 and 1979!) Sexuality and STDs, drug and alcohol abuse are rampant. Musical tastes, language, literature, movies, clothing styles and behavior are all shared with adults. Nothing is uniquely "childish." Even organized sports have replaced childhood play. Favorite programs are the same for little kids, adolescents and adults, and leveling is, as always, down.

"There is no turning back"--and he drew this conclusion before the Internet. "Resistance" he insists, "entails conceiving of parenting as an act of rebellion against American culture."

Posted by Curmudgeon at 11:59 AM

August 28, 2011

The Old Limey

H.W. Crocker III - ISBN - 9780895261625

This historically praised comic novel comes highly recommended by, amongst many others, Christopher Buckley, whose comment was "Until I read The Old Limey, I had no idea that sex, drugs, booze and elderly British generals could be such fun."

It is a daft work in which British humor meets wacky American flair. Set in California, a retired British general arrives to rescue his goddaughter from uncertain harm, thought to have been kidnapped by a Mexican drug gang in order to secure a quarter-of-a-million British pounds previously stolen from a Caribbean drug gang operating in England. Just after he totals his rental car, he meets and teams up with her friends: a pair of typical valley girls, half-gainfully self-employed in an image consulting business, who speak in a vernacular he can hardly understand (ya know . . . like . . . and he goes . . . then she goes . . . etc.) one of whom is promptly kidnapped. Nigel (the general) promptly sets out with the other half of the pair to rescue the captive, which task he engineers by disarming his well armed foes with nothing but a taser gun, and leaves with both girls and a handful of captured weapons.

And that's only the beginning. Along the way, after being struck on the head, he fantasizes about converting Islam in order to justify the acquisition four wives (he's a lifelong bachelor), only to decide against it because Fergie (the former Duchess of York) is destined to be one of them. He has other equally wacky fantasies to embellish the story line, many dealing with various postings around the globe during his military career. And there's much adversity along with many challenging adventures.

After several more run-ins with the Los Angeles, San Diego and Mexican police, the FBI, the border patrol, several drug gangs and the wacked out (former Green Beret) father of one of the girls, he succeeds in accomplishing his original mission, as all ends happily, and wholly, unpredictably nutty.

It is, indeed, a fun read. I have to admit, however, that several of Buckley's books are better: Florence of Arabia, and Thank You for Smoking, as is Christopher Moore's Lamb.

Still, it's worth the price of admission if you're in the mood for diversion and a spate of laughs.

Posted by Curmudgeon at 12:40 PM