Saturday, July 05, 2008

America's Days Aren't Numbered

I have a simple request. As we celebrate the birth of the American Republic, can we all stop predicting its death? It's getting depressing. The last time I strolled through the local Barnes & Noble, there were so many books announcing the end of American power, wealth, influence, or just America itself, that I began to wonder whether my dollars would be worth anything by the time I hit the checkout counter....

As a historian, I find this trend fascinating. After all, since humans climbed out of the trees and began surveying the lion-infested Savannah, none have ever lived in a period more prosperous, secure and stable than Americans do today. The U.S. is not only the wealthiest and most powerful country on earth now, but in all of history. There's never been a better time and place to be alive than America in the 21st century.

So why all the decline theorists? Here's my theory: Prosperity and security are boring. Nobody wants to read about them. The same phenomenon occurred in ancient Rome, the last state to acquire such a firm hegemony. By the second century B.C., Roman citizens were affluent and their empire no longer had any serious rivals. With the dangers past and the money rolling in, they developed a taste for jeremiads. If you had a stylus, ink and scroll you could hardly go broke telling the Romans their empire, culture and way of life were yesterday's news.

Polybius blamed pandering politicians, who, he predicted, would transform the noble Republic into mob rule. Sallust claimed that Rome's vicious political parties had "torn the Republic asunder." Livy wrote his entire "History of Rome" just so that his fellow citizens could "follow the decay of the national character . . . until it reaches these days in which we can bear neither our diseases nor their remedies." The Romans may have been unquestioned masters of their world, but they sure didn't like reading about it. And when the empire actually did start its decline in the third century A.D., criticisms and predictions of collapse became noticeably thinner on the ground.

The military dictators who seized power in Rome and led the empire on its downward spiral did not much like reading about their own shortcomings, and they had ways of making sure that they didn't have to. These were the days of the panegyric - an obsequious form of literature that praised the emperor and empire to the skies. When you start seeing those, it's time to worry.

Of course America could be falling, but I have my doubts. For one thing, the book market is too strong. So, on this Fourth of July, I am going to watch the fireworks and be grateful for the place and time in which I live. When Polybius, Sallust and Livy wrote their books the Roman state still had more than a millennium of life in it. Perhaps ours does too.




Disgraceful British pennypinching: "Former Gurkha soldiers today lost their High Court battle over a pensions deal with the Ministry of Defence, which they say has left them struggling to live. Three retired members of the famous Brigade of Gurkhas failed in a legal challenge affecting thousands of others. Kamal Purja, Sabahdaur Gurung and Kumar Shrestha were demanding the same pension rights for Gurkhas as the rest of the British Army. The Government conceded some ground to the Gurkhas over pensions last year, but members of the celebrated regiment who retired before 1997 were not included in the new deal and there is a discrepancy in the way years of service are calculated. In today's test case, the High Court ruled that the dates and exceptions imposed by the MoD were reasonable."

California confusion: To water or not to water? Greenies trump city bureaucrats: "Sacramento city officials on Wednesday admitted their code enforcement policies may not be drought-friendly, and said they won't fine the couple featured in Wednesday's Bee who let their front lawn die to save water. The story prompted a torrent of outrage from the public, who overwhelmingly supported Anne Hartridge and Matt George, the east Sacramento couple cited by city code enforcers after they stopped watering their lawn. ... The city's director of code enforcement, Max Fernandez, told The Bee on Wednesday the front-yard rules allow more flexibility than the code language indicates. The code states explicitly that front yards 'shall be landscaped, irrigated and maintained.' This would seem to preclude yards that are simply mulched, like Hartridge's, or those that use cactuses or other drought-tolerant plants requiring no water."

MSM economics: "Quite simply, our economy is in total collapse! So says ABC News. The Yahoo headline writer put it: "Skyrocketing food prices threaten Fourth of July celebrations." There's no doubt food prices have risen, but "skyrocketing?" As the story says, food prices are up 5% over 4th of July last year. Some perspective is in order: Jimmy Carter could only dream about 5% inflation when he was president. We learn 41 seconds in that a pack of hot dogs "runs about $4.29." Are those foie gras hot dogs? At Wal-Mart, Bar-S hot dogs are $0.79. Then at 1:26 a woman displays the typical ignorance of people about economics. She says, "I don't know why we have to pay so much for the same product." Don't worry, lady. ABC will blame it on oil companies for you"

WALL-E, No thanks: "I took my family to see WALL-E this weekend. I have been a huge fan of Disney Pixar's movies. Parents are usually just as entertained as their kids are. With WALL-E, that's probably true only if you thought An Inconvenient Truth was Oscar-worthy. As for me, Pixar's latest offering was Godforsaken dreck. Mankind has had to abandon the earth because there is too much garbage. WALL-E is the only remaining garbage compacting robot in a metropolis of garbage skyscrapers. And his only living companion is a cockroach, described by a Washington Post reviewer (who doubtlessly thinks very highly of the Nobel Committee) as cute, but pretty much just a cockroach. Really charming stuff for my three-year old, who was asking to leave about fifty minutes in. When we finally see the humans, they are corpulent, lazy slobs who move around by robotic deck chairs on a giant space cruiseship. Oh, and let's not forget the mega-corporation that runs everything (ironically, the ship looked a little like a Disney Cruise ship in the year 2800). From the first moment of the film, my kids were bombarded with leftist propaganda about the evils of mankind."

McClatchy newspapers nearly dead: "Shares of The McClatchy Co. dropped almost 6 percent in trading Monday and fell to a new 52-week low, after the newspaper publisher was removed from the Russell 1000, a closely watched index. The Sacramento-based company has been battling declining advertising revenue and fewer readers for the past few months. The drop in earnings and revenue prompted 10 percent across-the-board layoffs"


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The Big Lie of the late 20th century was that Nazism was Rightist. It was in fact typical of the Leftism of its day. It was only to the Right of Stalin's Communism. The very word "Nazi" is a German abbreviation for "National Socialist" (Nationalsozialist) and the full name of Hitler's political party (translated) was "The National Socialist German Workers' Party" (In German: Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei)


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