Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Europe: Cultural Decay

My last post on Europe expressed dismay at Frances economic situation and pessimism towards prospects for the future. The cultural climate in France is overwhelming hostile towards capitalism:
"In a 22-country survey published in January, France was the only nation disagreeing with the premise that the best system is "the free-market economy." In the poll, conducted by the University of Maryland, only 36 percent of French respondents agreed, compared with 65 percent in Germany, 66 percent in Britain, 71 percent in the United States and 74 percent in China."
Economic failure is only part of Europe's problems. Perhaps the most serious is the France's cultural decline. This decline has many elements to it, but I consider culture to be the most important factor in France's gradual downfall. The French have always been proud of their culture, evident in their desire to maintain their language in the face of the English onslaught. From art to music to literature, the French have always held their own and have reason to be proud. Yet since World War Two, America has replaced Europe as the world's superpower and now is responsible for security over much of the world. Some observers believe this has created jealously on the part of the French as they now embrace a distinctly anti-American foreign policy. It was French foreign minister Hubert Védrine who coined the term 'hyperpower' to describe America's so called dominance. This dominance is not just economic, it is cultural. Observers use the term 'soft power' to describe the ability to dominate other states through cultural of ideological means. It is undoubtable that America has much soft power as Joseph Nye's book, Bound to Lead: The Changing Nature of American Power, indicates.
The ambivalent feelings of France towards America stem not just from power but from these different cultural values.
Robert Kagan, author of ‘Of Paradise and Power’, argues that the threat perception depends upon capabilities. France and Europe in general is less worried of terrorism and rogue states than America because of their relative weakness. To the strong, the risks of inaction are greater than the risks of action. Yet this analysis does not tell the whole story. The differences over foreign policy result from cultural values in France.
Ever since France removed its colonies, millions of Muslims have moved to France. Yet France has failed to integrate these Muslims (France is much less kind to foreigners than America - witness the income differences between Arab-Americans and French-Arabs) and instead has pushed them into suburbs dominated by government housing projects. To use a Marxist term, this has alienated these Muslims and not given them a stake in French society. More and more Immigrants are entering from North Africa making France's Muslim population already 6 million and climbing quickly. British Historian, Niall Ferguson notes Europe is becoming increasingly "sensecent" civilization. The rest of France is growing old and the smart are immigrating (400,000 French expatriates live in London). This means the majority of French could be Muslim as early as 2020. Already we have seen the symptoms of this emerging culture: Riots. Thousands of vehicles burnt and millions worth of property destoryed. One can ALMOST forgive Ann Coutler for suggesting 'Attack France'
The impact of this emerging culture on women is particularly disastrous:

"A few weeks ago, a young Arab burnt a teenaged girl alive in the suburbs of Paris. He was convicted of murder, but he became a hero and an example for other young Arabs living in the same kind of areas. Two month ago, ten Arab men who raped another teenaged girl in another district were convicted and condemned to spend five years in jail. Yes, just five years."
What about the Jews? Some are talking of a new 'Anti-Semitism' spreading across Europe. While not entirely true, as some places are still friendly to the Jews, for example, Germany (a consistent supporter of Israel). The number of anti-Semitic incidents in France have increased from 320 in 2001 to 593 in 2003. In light of this, one can see why so many Jews are leaving France. Perhaps the worst example was
a young man named Ilan Halimi in France who was kidnapped and tortured over the next few weeks. The prosecutor even went so far as saying "no element of the current investigation could link this murder to an anti-Semitic declaration or action". This sort of culture cannot be expected to produce a sound foreign policy either. French leaders are unable to see that so much of anti-Israel criticism is actually anti-semitic. Sure, you can be an anti-Zionist and not hate Jews, but its obvious that a double standard exists, one for the Arab states and one for Israel.
One observer, author Bat Ye'or, has described much of this transformation in her book, Eurabia: The Euro-Arab Axis. She sees a
transformation of Europe into a cultural and political appendage of the Arab/Muslim world. With the vigilance of a hero, she calls to attention the self-capitulation of Europe. She argues that Europe is preparing itself to become a land of dhimmitude - a reduced state where non-Muslim people must live and conform to Islamic rule. Jihad, although understood primarily as a military endeavor, can be cultural as Islamic customs become to be seen as normal and acceptable. It is a pity that those in Europe do not see this danger. Even in the US many have fallen under the illusion that September 11th was a temporary jolt to world stability and represents an aberration of the international environment. Being blind to Islamism and the fundamental challenge it poses to societies, they forget that war has been unleshed upon Western civilization. Perpetual war against the infidels like myself has been declared and we must be prepared to wage war in return.
It is hard to identify the exact cause of this cultural decay. AEI Scholar George Weigel calls it a 'crisis of civilizational morale'. He, like most analysts, are conservative and tend to place their emphasis upon civilizational roots (hence Christainity) as he claims Europe suffers from historical amnesia. Yet the remnants of rationality and hence the solution to Europes problems do not lie in a return to Christainity or any other traditional values. The sources of European decrepitude are found in Europe's intellectual climate that is heavily dominated by such ideologies as post-modernism.
More to come...



Links:

Economics, French-Style
The Death of France

Thursday, April 06, 2006

Europe

Early in 2003, US Secretary of Defence Donald Rumsfeld, coined the terms ‘old’ & ‘new’ Europe to describe the distinction between nations like France, Germany, and Belgium and those that a greater convergence of interests with the United States such as Poland, the Czech republic and Estonia. The expression was an insult; it reflected not only the differences between the US and Europe over Iraq but the perception that Western Europe was lapsing into period of economic and technological decline, exacerbated by an unprecedented cultural challenge by reactionary Islamists and a growing sense of cultural despair and complacency. With such fundamental differences the United States could never expected it interests to so closely align with Western Europe. Now after a decade of strained relations, evident early on by Kosovo, European and American leaders are increasingly willing to recognize the diverging interests. When French President Jacques Chirac talks of the dangers of ‘Anglo-Saxon capitalism’ he is speaking of the philosophical differences that have separated the US from Europe since its birth.
The differences that have provoked the indignation and resentment between the two are not over a few small disputes but rather represent fundamental challenges to the
transatlantic partnership. The problem is deep and both contribute to it; Europe through its weakness and America through its appeasement. The solution lies in a defence of liberty in both Europe and America. A consistent, passionate and long-term effort for the free-market, materialism, individual rights, and limited government is needed in both countries. For Europe to achieve this, a renaissance in philosophy will be required. Nothing less than a total break with post-modernism and a rebirth of reason will do. Until this happens, Europe is unlikely to realize its malaise and instead will remain in a state of self-righteous denial.
Europe is weak due to a variety of reasons from economic failure to demographic decline and cultural decay. For the next few days I’ll post on why I believe Europe is failing and what a rational solution to Europe’s problems would look like.

Economic Failure:

The cultural gulf between the US and Europe is made clearer with every incident. In late March, youth protests and riots broke out over a proposed law that as Andrew Sullivan noted, “would almost certainly help more of them get a job.” No respectable American politician would ever be against the law nor is even the socialist Prime Minister Dominique de Villepin. As esteemed American economist Thomas Sowell said, it is elementary economics that raising costs results in fewer transactions. Unemployment is the result of forcing the cost of labor above their freely determined level. Such profound ignorance of basic economics demonstrates many Europeans simply don’t have a clue. This represents a huge decline from the nineteenth century when French economists from J.B. Say and Charles Comte were leading the way. Remember, Laissez-Fair is a French phrase coined by a manufacturer who answered ‘Let us alone’ when a chief advisor of Louis XIV asked what he could do for the manufacturers industry. The understanding of seventieth century Frenchmen was greater than the thugs masquerading as intellectuals today.
For years now intellectuals have been touting the European Union as a superpower that is fast eclipsing the USA. This has been expressed in such books as, The United States Of Europe: The New Superpower and the End of American Supremacy and The European Dream: How Europe's Vision of the Future Is Quietly Eclipsing the American Dream. Yet these are fast becoming fantasys as the reality sets in. Despite cultural and political fragmentation, these authors loudly proclaim pointless facts like that Europe has a largest economy in the world (true, although it has 150million more people). Never mind that Europe has no hope of meeting its own target of being the "most dynamic and competitive economy" by 2010. Never mind that its per cap GDP is 25% lower than the US and has been widening for decades (a process that is only continuing). If present trends continue, the chief economist at the OECD argues, in 20 years the average U.S. citizen will be twice as rich as the average Frenchman or German. If France was a US state, it would be the fifth poorest, making it only slighter richer than Alabama. There is only one solution to such a mess: more liberty. Cutting taxes, privatizing, and deregulating industries is the only answer. Europe led the 19th century on the back of globalization and if they want prosperity back they will need to come to the realization that socialisms compassion has got them nowhere. Only significant cuts into the welfare state (ending high unemployment benefits and early retirement etc) will do and any backlash must
be comfronted. Until this is done Europe will continue too perform poorly with an average growth rate of 1.7% compared to the US at 3.5%.
Lackluster economic performance has also contributed to a decline in resources for European militaries to such an extent that the United States is increasingly unwilling to conduct military operations with Europe. In terms of global security, policy makers in the US see such little value in Europe’s contribution to global stability that they are now writing essays titled ‘Learning to Live Without Europe’. Europe is simply not pulling its weight and given it’s increasing domestic problems it is highly unlikely it will ever increase its security burden.


Related Links:
Barbarians of suburbs target French Jews at TimesOnline
The striking idiocy of youth at TimesOnline
Wake up, Europe, you've got a war on your hands at Jewish World Review

Wednesday, March 15, 2006

Update

If anyone has seen Syriana, a recent hollywood film concerning the oil industry, they should check out this thread of mine at Internet Movie Database (free reg required). I found this film to have some ridiculous plot lines. As liberal commentator Matthew Yglesia says, "portraying oil companies as the sole drivers of American mideast policy strikes me as a bit daft".
If you've seen the film I recommend this discussion between George Clooney (who won best supporting actor for his role), writer Steven Gaghan (who spent 2 years travelling the Middle East for research) and former CIA officer Robert Baer (author of See No Evil - the starting point for the movie).

"Our Constitution was not written in the sands to be washed away by each wave of new judges blown in by each successive political wind"
Further articles on Originalism:
Jon Hanson and Adam Benforado on Why the Supreme Court makes justices more liberal

Monday, February 13, 2006

End of Good Rock?

Many people, myself included, were not only astounded at how fast U2 tickets sold out but at the disaster that surrounded the selling of the tickets. Considering U2 are one of the most successful rock groups of all time (presently equaled only by Rolling Stones in sales/years of touring), I should have expected that they'd be plently of people willing to wait outside Post Shops for hours. The entire controversy over scalping (re-selling tickets at a price higher than what one paid) is idiotic, as Not-PC long ago pointed out. Nothing is wrong with scalping, and in my view, the smart ones are those who take advantage of it. There is money to be made only because the offical ticket seller continues to under-price their tickets. Market demand obviously indicates Bono and co could get alot more for their performances in Auckland. Why they aren't doing so and investing the cash in some utopian scheme to save Africa I don't know.
Anyway, the hyseria and enthusiasm shown over U2 is kinda what I feel when I heard my favourite childhood band, The Smashing Pumpkins, was getting back together. Although 2 of the original members will not be participating, I do not think this matters a great deal. The Pumpkin, like many bands, are defined by their lead songwriter. The replacement of one member with another doesn't necessarily alter the band fundamentally. Anyone who listened to Zwan, Corgan's short-lived post-Pumpkins band, should be able to recongise the dominance he has over songwriting.
To me this is great news, as my passion for rock music has long been on the wane. So many bands today lack not only the technical virtuosity of yesterdays greatest bands, but the experimental and artistic credibility. Pink Floyd, Yes, early Genesis, Rush, or even Led Zeppelin were more ambitious and rarely settled on the same formula. They're sound progressed as further instruments and ideas were explored. A few newer acts have some appeal to me (Queensryche, Mars Volta) but most that are around - from Breaking Benjamin to Coldplay - are just too plain. Rock may continue to sell records, but it seems the age of Rock has come to an end.
Apart from the Smashing Pumpkins, there is only one other band I really would care to see today. That's Rush. To see why, take this example from the LA Times about their drummer, Neil Peart. Some may find Rock a stale form of music, but there's no doubt some within the genre are still pushing boundaries.

The passing of rock drum solos was so unlamented that I might have missed it but for a new DVD by Neil Peart called "Anatomy of a Drum Solo." Peart is the drummer/percussionist for the arena rock institution Rush and is widely considered the greatest living rock drummer. By my calculation, Peart is also the most prolific drum soloist ever. In its astounding 31-year history with its original lineup, Rush has spent more time on the road than the Roman army, and there was always, always a drum solo in the show. At least there was the five times I saw them.So I called Neil Peart to ask: What happened to the drum solo?

"Rock drummers killed the solo themselves," Peart tells me when we meet at a coffee shop in Santa Monica. "It got to be so predictable and manipulative. They cheapened it by making it a clap-along or a boring ramble."

Oh yeah. Few things in music are so grating as a long, thrashing drum solo by some sweaty dude working his way around the trap kit (Tommy Lee, are you listening?). The trouble is, it was always so. One of the sacred texts of solo drumming is Ron Bushy's notoriously flatulent 2 1/2-minute tumble on Iron Butterfly's 1968 monster hit "In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida."

"Even as a kid I hated that song," says Peart. "It was the anti-drum solo. There was no technique, no musicality, no dynamics at all."

If you owned this album, that's not incense you're smelling, it's shame.

Peart's larger point is that the rock drum solo, which emerged out of an honorable tradition of showmanship set by big band players such as Gene Krupa and Buddy Rich, rapidly descended into musical cynicism. Partly at fault was the economics of the arena itself. When rock bands started selling out 10,000-seat coliseums in one town after another, any sense of intimacy—or rock's rebellion—was swallowed by the vacancy of the venue itself. The drum solo became part of a repertoire of arena-rock tricks to pull huge and disconnected audiences into the show.

"Asking the audience to clap along can be part of a really sincere desire to include the audience in the music or the performance," says Peart, "or it can be just like pressing a button. It can be a beautiful thing or an ugly thing."

So what started out as a virtuoso exploration of an instrument's solo potential became, almost immediately, rock's 7th-inning stretch.

The other big problem with drum solos? The audience. It became clear to me after watching Peart's explanatory DVD that civilians—which is to say non-drummers—don't really understand what they're hearing. In one section of Peart's "Der Trommler" solo, he keeps waltz time, 3/4 rhythm (PA-tah-tah, PA-tah-tah) with his feet, while playing lightning-fast 6/8 and 7/8 drum fills across his other drums. In terms of physical coordination, this is something like playing badminton with two rackets while typing with your feet. But if you hadn't been enlightened, you might think it just sounds like billiard balls in a dryer.

Peart amiably disagrees, wincing at the suggestion that the audience somehow just doesn't get it. "Drumming shouldn't be something you need an education to appreciate." After all, he says, "You can't blame the audience for everything."

Other Links:
Understanding Ayn Rand through the music of Rush
Rush, Rand and Rock

Thursday, February 09, 2006

News

As readers of this blog you will have noticed the considerable drop in posts. When I began I wasn't attempting to be the 'Instapundit' of New Zealand. David Farrar already has that title. But I did seek to update often enough to keep people coming back and to give another voice to defenders of liberty. I still hope to be a voice for liberty, but this blog will not be continuing in its present form.

Beginning sometime in March I hope to begin my Masters in Political Science. I've chosen to do this after the realisation that without it, I just won't achieve my goals. I'm in the early stages of research, but my thesis will deal with Turkey's accession into the European Union. I'll use this blog as a way of submitting ideas to others for commentary and advice. Otherwise this blog will inform people on how its going and what opinions i've established so far.

Scalia & Originalism

Justice Antonin Scalia's famous and influential 1988 Taft Lecture, entitled Originalism: The Lesser Evil, was a landmark in the movement away from original intent towards original public meaning. In earlier posts, I explained why, properly concieved, originalism is the only sound theory of constitutional interpretation. Scholars like Richard Epstein, and particularly, Randy Barnett (author of The Structure of Liberty) have defended the conception of originalism as meaning 'the oringinal intentions of the framers'. There has been many significant disputes over what counts as intentions, but most libertarian scholars of law have nevertheless agree on definition of originalism.
Yet as this post points out, Scalia is not with us on this issue. Since The Lesser Evil he has developed his ideas in an essay titled A Matter of Interpretation. Although Robert Bork (a failed Reagan nominee) could plausibly claim that he invented the idea in The Tempting of America, it was never developed extensively. Thus Justice Scalia can reasonably claim to have started the development of original-meaning originalism. What is most interesting from that post is the claim that Scalia no longer even follows an original-meaning originalism. The author claims he has shown infidelity to the original meaning of the Constitution as a whole:

"
I would conclude from his Taft Lecture and his behavior on the Court that Justice Scalia is simply not an originalist. Whatever virtues he attributes to originalism, he leaves himself not one but three different routes by which to escape adhering to the original meaning of the text. These are more than enough to allow him, or any justice, to reach any result he wishes. Where originalism gives him the results he wants, he can embrace originalism. Where it does not, he can embrace precedent that will."

On the current bench, Scalia is no real friend of liberty. Thomas Clarence is the best they've got.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

The problem with originalism

In the past I have written in defence of originalism (any theory that supposes the U.S constitution has a fixed and knowable meaning) as it would have prevented the federal authorities from cracking down on medical marijuana even in states (e.g. California) where it is legal. Originialism, as a theory of interpretation, is a family of theories and it is important to understand the differences between these theories if we are to understand the difference between conserivative judges like Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.
The school of thought that Scalia heads rejects objective law and original intention and hence sees freedom not as a principle, but as a frozen abstraction. He thinks the interpetation of the constitution ought to be based upon what it meant at the time of ratification, which is to say, it asks this question:
"What would a reasonable person living at the time of ratification have understood these words to mean?"
This cannot be considered objective. According to Scalia, slavery would be accepted, because at the time of ratification, it was considered legal. Hence when we come to issues like the illegality of homosexaulity in Texas we find Scalia on the Supreme Court arguing that Texas has legitimate authority to punish a man for a consensual act. When we ignore intentions we freeze law at the 18th century
Tara Smith explains further:

Laws are necessarily written in broad terms, designed to govern an array of cases that are similar in principle but different in particulars. Judicial rulings are needed when the proper application of those laws, in a specific case, is not transparent. The logical application of a Constitutional provision to novel circumstances is not, therefore, a case of creating new rules ex nihilo. Rather, it is exactly what we need judges to often do. While Article I, for instance, provides for the common defense and the specific maintenance of an army and navy, courts have not been activist dictators by also allowing an air force. While the First Amendment protects freedom of "speech" and of "the press," courts have not brazenly "legislated" by treating written letters as also protected.
In doing their job, judges must be mindful of the 9th Amendment. The Constitution does not provide an exhaustive catalog of every right that citizens possess. The 9th Amendment explicitly instructs us that those rights not named in the Constitution are retained by the people. It is thereby laying down a principle to guide Constitutional interpretation. Accordingly, judges must apply the law in a way that respects all the rights of the citizens, unenumerated as well as enumerated. It is no more legitimate to subtract from the Constitution, by ignoring this provision, than to arbitrarily add to it.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Movie: Serenity

Libertarians have been getting pretty excited over Serenity, a movie by writer/director Joss Whedon based upon the television series 'Firefly' (which was cancelled by fox after episodes that were aired out of order proved unpopular). Julian Pistorius and Not PC have both blogged about the movie and there are plently of quality reviews avaliable online.
For example,
Scott Holleran at Box Office Mojo
Julian Sanchez at Reason Magazine - Out to the Black: The existentialist libertarianism of Joss Whedon's space western
Science Fiction Writer Orson Scott Card calls it "the best science fiction film ever"

These reviews mostly stress the libertarian/individualist themes of the movie. As someone who has seen the movie, I do not think that these qualities would be able to redeem it in the eyes of those who do not enjoy science fiction and adventure movies. This movie will especially appeal to those who enjoyed Star Wars or anyone who enjoys futuristic and action-based movies. As the Roger Ebert review says:
"I'm not sure the movie would have much appeal for non-sci-fi fans, but it has the rough edges and brawny energy of a good yarn, and it was made by and for people who can't get enough of this stuff. You know who you are"
While I agree with Not PC that Buffy (Whedon's most famous creation) the Vampire Slayer is just plain silly I do think we shouldn't be taking it too seriously - after all Whedon himself doesn't ("It insults me that people take my work seriously. I just wanted to meet chicks." ). The only real similarity between Buffy and Serenity is Whedons characteristic style of dialogue. This witty dialogue helps make Serenity fun as well as intelligent. When compared to the banal scripts of the recent Star Wars films, Serenity is refreshing. The slang (including Chinese words) that Whedon has created is intelligible and fits the film well. It is just one area where Whedon is being unique and inventive.
As someone who has also seen some of the television show, I am impressed by how well this translated into the big screen (unlike this reviewer - Joss Whedon should stick to TV). The television show was just too slow for my tastes and I can't really recommend it. The movie runs at a much quicker pace and contains plently of action hence is worthy of a larger audience.
Overall grade, 7/10.

Of the films I've seen recently, I can say these 2 were superior. I highly recommend them.
The Insider (1999) - Russell Crowe, Al Pacino
Platoon (1986) - William Dafoe, Charlie Sheen, Johnny Depp (I consider this to the best anti-war movie ever.)