Saturday, November 13, 2010

Review: Decision Points, by George Bush

This one of many books I'm reading on my Kindle

So here's the thing about Bush's memoirs: it's not a debate. He's not trying to justify, but simply explain, his decisions. It's a dry book. Much of it is boring play-by-play commentary, but occasionally it's a fascinating description of what really happened.

Bush is not introspective. He does not believe in second guessing decisions with the benefit of hindsight. It's not important what we know now; what's important is what he knew then. The purpose of his book was to explain what he knew then.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

What I remember on 9/11

Twitter this weekend is full of messages like "never forget" referring to the 9/11 terrorist attacks, but I think people have already forgotten. 9/11 wasn't just a tragedy, like an earthquake or tsunami; it was an attack. It was part of a conflict that is still unresolved.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Review: The Girl With a Dragon Tattoo, by Stieg Larsson

This one of many books I'm reading on my Kindle

This is the first book to sell a million copies on the Kindle. That's a good hint about the kind of book this is: if you like gadgets like the Kindle, there is a good chance you'll like this book.

This book is the first of a series. It's a prequel for the real story that takes place in the next two books. By the way, the protagonist is a journalist (modeled on Stieg Larsson himself), the "girl" in question is the subject of the stories.

Review: Infidel, by Ayan Hirsi Ali

This one of many books I'm reading on my Kindle

Infidel is the book I’ve most recommended to family/friends in recent times. Ayaan Hirsi Ali was born in Somalia and raised a devout Muslim. She fled an arranged marriage (and probable honor killing) to the West, and denounced Islam. She became a member of the Dutch parliament, but had to flee the country after the producer of her film criticizing Islam was murdered, with a note attached to his chest addressed to Ayaan. She is now the leading critic of Islam. Her writing is compelling, and the most original thing you’ll read on the subject.

I love watching her on video. She’s quiet and humble – right up to moment where she savages the interviewer with her superior intellect and arguments.

Her book has two points. The first is that it describes her early life and what it’s really like to grow up under Islam. Frankly, all sides of the argument are bigoted in America. There is no difference between the left-wing who claims that Islam is a religion of peace, and the right wing who claims all Muslims are violent. Both are totally ignorant of what Islam really is. What Ayaan teaches us in her book is that Muslims are more nuanced than that. Her book is awesome in the way that it teaches us to see that Muslims are people, and that they share the same good and bad traits as any other people.

We see, for example, that her grandmother is stern, but in her own way, a loving caregiver that wants what’s best for her granddaughter. Which is why she pins the young 9 year old Ayaan to ground and cuts of her clitoris, according to the age-old practice to make sure women are kept pure until marriage.

Which leads to the second point of her book: there is something wrong with Islam. She describes her journey settling in a Western country, seeing that everything she was taught about the West was wrong. In particular, she is forced to confront the fact that the West is peaceful, prosperous, and happy, unlike Islamic country. Her tail in the second half of the book is finding the reason why.

Her answer is simply this: the West went through the Enlightenment.

We in the West grew up with the Enlightenment, but we have lost our way. We no longer know precisely what it is. We don’t stand up for the principles of the Enlightenment. While Ayaan is known as a fierce critic of Islam and a champion of women’s rights, I think she is also the most interesting champion for the ideals of the Enlightenment.

The point of her book is this: Islam is also a political ideology. While Bush and Obama claim we are not at war with Islam, Ayaan says we are. While we aren’t at war with the religion, we are at war with the un-enlightened political ideology side of Islam. While we might not think we are at war with Islam, Muslims certainly think they are at war with us.


You should read this book because it will help you see Muslims as people, not just things.

You should read this book as one of the most interesting descriptions of Enlightenment.

You should read this book because the conflict between the Enlightened West and Islam has become the new Cold War, and this is the most important guide to that Cold War.

Review: Shards of Honor, by Lois McMaster Bujold (sci-fi)

This one of many books I'm reading on my Kindle

This is the first in a series of award-winning sci-fi books. Three other books in the series have won the Hugo Award, the highest honor in sci-fi. That means, if you are into sci-fi, the series is a "must read". This book is also a "trashy romance", so even if you don't like sci-fi, you might find something to like in it.

But neither is the reason I recommend this book. Instead, I recommend it because it's "crafted". Most fiction is written quickly, without little thought about the art and craft of writing. Most fiction is easy, and stupid; I think this book is a bit smarter.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Review: Economics(2e), by Krugman and Wells

This one of many books I'm reading on my Kindle

The reason I got this book is because Krugman is a well-known liberal. He writes a blog for the New York Times called "Conscience of a Liberal". He is a mainstay on news and talk shows, refuting the evil right-wing economists. Having learned economics from evil right-wingers such as Greg Mankiw, I wondered how Krugman's textbook might be different.

Review: What's Right with Islam Is What's Right with America, by Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf

This one of many books I'm reading on my Kindle

Imam Faisal Abdul Rauf is the guy building the "Ground Zero Mosque". His book What's Right with Islam Is What's Right with America tells us what he really thinks of America, in his own words. Is he a radical that hates America? Or a truly moderate Muslim? His book tells us the answer.

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Visualizing the Laffer Curve

From Greg Mankiw's blog, this article asks economists "Where does the Laffer Curve peak?". I thought I'd graph some of the answers.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

A Test of Honor: Everybody Draw Mohammed Day

Today is "Everyone Draw Muhammad" day, so here is my cartoon of the prophet Muhammad. It's banal, poorly drawn, and not very funny. The content isn't important -- what's important is that the cartoon exists.

The "Everyone Draw Muhammad" day is the result of a controversy surrounding South Park's depiction of the prophet Muhammed. South Park is a TV show on cable network Comedy Central, and is some of the most interesting social commentary of our times. The creators got death threats for criticizing Islam and depicting Muhammad. The show was heavily censored by the television network, because the network was afraid of violent retribution.

When I told my friends I was going support South Park, and draw a picture of the prophet Muhammed, they all reacted the same way. They were afraid for my safety. They couldn't understand why I would stick my neck out for a principle. After all, we are safely in America. There is no personal benefit to angering Muslims; nothing could be gained from this, there are only negative consequences.

But it's a question of honor.

When I was in college, I studied German history, especially the pre-war era and the rise of Nazism. I asked myself whether I would be one of the meek who would quietly submit to the mania of Nazism, or whether I would be one of the courageous and honorable people who vocally stood up against it saying "this is wrong!". The political issue is different today, but the question of honor is the same. Do you avoid confrontation with the bullies, the Nazi Brown Shirts and the Islamic extremists? Or do you risk confrontation to stand up for what you believe in?

I can't respect myself unless I stand up for honor. I don't see a choice here.

Neither did the creators of South Park. In this interview Trey Parker and Matt Stone point out that it would be hypocritical to make fun of Catholics because "they won't hurt us", but not similarly rip on Islam. They point out that the cartoonists now live in hiding, precisely because the western media back off and censored themselves. If instead western media treated Islam like everything else, if all political cartoonists supported their peers, then it wouldn't have become such a big issue, and the cartoonists would be safe.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali is a well-known critic of Islam. She escaped oppression in her own country (Somalia) and got asylum in the Netherlands. She rose to become a member of Dutch parliament. She made a film about the subjugation of women in Islamic culture. Her partner in the project, film director Theo Van Gogh, was murdered in retaliation. She has lived under government protection ever since. In a recent interview related to the South Park controversy, she pointed out that she would no longer need protection if everyone freely criticized Islam. She would be safe because there would be too many of us critics to kill.

The conflict here isn't between Islam and Christianity, it's between a totalitarian ideology and modern civilization. In the secular west, nothing is above criticism, insult, or ridicule. In Islam, everything is subject to ideology. In the west, we teach our kids that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but names will never hurt me". In Islam, even moderates are quick to take offense, such as in the Danish cartoons controversy. (There, of course, exist a large number of civilized non-totalitarian Muslims, I just don't see them being in the majority or setting the national tone, such as in Pakistan's banning of Facebook over this controversy).

The proper response to such totalitarianism isn't appeasement, as is now common in our press. The proper response is vocal opposition and solidarity, so that the bravest of us do not have to stand alone.