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NETGEAR Wireless Router - N900 Dual Band Gigabit (WNDR4500v1)
NETGEAR Wireless Router - N900 Dual Band Gigabit (WNDR4500v1)
Price: $99.99
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2.0 out of 5 stars Firmware problems, August 2, 2013
This router is very frustrating. It works great as long as the power never goes out. However, any time I lose power the firmware is corrupted and needs to be installed. This has happened 6 or 7 times in the 6 months since I purchased the router, including out of the box when I first tried to use it.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Aug 5, 2013 7:40 AM PDT

Pinzon Microtec Twin Blanket, Navy
Pinzon Microtec Twin Blanket, Navy

2.0 out of 5 stars Fuzzies, fuzzies everywhere, December 22, 2012
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This is a nice, warm, soft blanket, but it sheds horribly. I've got blue fuzz everywhere and washing doesn't seem to help.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows (Book 7)
by J. K. Rowling
Edition: Hardcover
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5 of 8 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A bittersweet conclusion, July 21, 2007
I love Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows. It is a great book and a fitting conclusion to a wonderful series. Sure, one can quibble - there are too many coincidences, and much of the action is driven by Harry acting like an idiot. Harry says Voldemort out loud even after he's been warned what will happen. He convinces his friends to apparate to Hogsmead even though he's just heard Voldemort thinking that he will be instantly detected if he whows up there. But, no matter - saying Voldemort leads him to the Malfoys, where he learns of the horcrux, disarms Malfoy, and meets the people he needs to help him along on his quest, and then escapes with no harm done. Going to Hogsmeade leads to him finding out Aberforth's story and getting into Hogwarts and, finally, to the final confrontation. It's all very convenient.

And that's to say nothing of plotholes and coincidences from previous books. We know that someone protected by a Fidelius Charm can be his own secret-keeper, because Bill is at his home. So why didn't James or Lily become their own secret-keeper, instead of trusting Wormtail? In Goblet of Fire, why doesn't Crouch turn any old object into a portkey and send Harry off for Voldemort's re-birthing ceremony the very first day at Hogwarts ("Potter, will you hand me that quill?")? Why doesn't Harry ever open Sirius's double-sided mirror? Why didn't Dumbledore give Harry the crucial information about he and Voldemort's mind connection as soon as Voldemort was reborn? How could Voldemort possibly think no one else could get into the Room of Requirement when the plain evidence of the room's contents shows him that hundreds, maybe thousands of people have? And, for a supposed pure, noble spirit, isn't Harry a bit free with the Unforgivable Curses? One could go on and on with that sort of thing.

But the reason I mention all these things is to dismiss them. They don't matter, because the overall story is too compelling to let them get in the way. I've never been so eager to suspend my disbelief, never just wanted to like a story so much, before. J.K. Rowling has a talent for writing suspense that on re-reading, even knowing what's going to happen, makes you want to turn the page and find out all over again. The humor, the charm, the little details all complement the action and make these books a joy to read.

So - Deathly Hallows. I loved the small bits of humor thrown in throughout, especially the self-referential ones, like Hermione scolding Ron "Are you a wizard, or what?" just as Ron had done way back in the first book. I loved seeing Trelawney pop up, doing her part in the final battle by using her crystal balls as weapons. I loved Fred Weasley balking when Lee Jordan labeled him "Rodent" - "I said I wanted to be 'Rapier'". I loved Harry finally getting a small measure of revenge on Dolores Umbridge.

Writing up my initial thoughts, I had said that the middle part of Hallows drags a bit as the trio are on the run. But I think that was just my impatience, wanting to move forward, find answers and get to the conclusion. It didn't bother me so much the second time around. I am a bit disappointed that we didn't hear more from Snape, but the chapter showing his full history was brilliant. The final fight between Harry and Voldemort is gripping, as Harry simultaneously goads Voldemort into his final, deadly rage, while also trying to reach out and help him repent. And I liked the epilogue, although it's come under some heavy criticism. I think, in the end, J.K. Rowling grew to love her characters, and she gave Harry the one thing that would make him truly happy - a family.

Three cheers for Harry Potter!

Rowling says she's done with the world of Harry Potter, but there are endless stories still to be told, and I'll bet she comes back to them at some point in the future. I don't think there will be any more tales of Harry, but there is ample room for a prequel. Perhaps the story of the founding of Hogwarts, or of the war that culminated with Dumbledore and Grindelwald's duel? And maybe, just maybe, when Rowling does publish her promised Harry Potter encyclopedia, she'll have thought up explanations for some of those plotholes...

The Children of Hurin
The Children of Hurin
by J. R. R. Tolkien
Edition: Hardcover
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23 of 24 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars The Children of Húrin, April 30, 2007
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This review is from: The Children of Hurin (Hardcover)
When J.R.R. Tolkien passed away in 1973, it might reasonably have been assumed that his literary career was over. But Tolkien left behind voluminous papers and manuscripts: a snippet of a poem here, a half-completed story there; and many nearly-completed pieces which nevertheless were not formed to their master's satisfaction.

Tolkien's son and literary executor Christopher has made it his life's work to organize and publish as much of his father's work as possible. Most of the material concerns Tolkien's work on "the First Age" of Middle Earth, the other-world he invented and devoted his life's imagination to. It may be said that the First Age, or Elder Days, stories consumed the first and last part of Tolkien's literary life, with the far better known "Lord of the Rings" period in the middle. He first conceived and worked on these stories from the end of the Great War until the mid-to-late 1930's, when he published The Hobbit, a book so successful a sequel was commissioned.

"The Lord of the Rings", the massive three-part story of Frodo the hobbit and his friends' quest to save the world by destroying the evil ring of power, has given Tolkien his lasting fame. There are numerous references, however, to Tolkien's earlier work in "The Hobbit" and "Lord of the Rings": a mention of a famous sword, a great kingdom, a love poem, and the glory of lost civilizations upon whose ruins the late Third Age civilizations of "Lord of the Rings" are built. When his masterpiece was completed, Tolkien turned again to the long-abandoned manuscripts of the Elder Days, always hoping to perfect the stories he loved most and find a publisher for them. But for whatever reason, Tolkien's work never caught up with his vision. He never brought the stories to what he considered a satisfactory completion. He died thinking his artistic vision a failure.

Christopher Tolkien has done his best to remedy that by publishing volume upon volume of the stories his father left behind. First came "The Silmarillion", meant to be as comprehensive a history of the Elder Days as possible, from the creation of Middle Earth to the fall of the great enemy Morgoth. The twelve volumes of "The History of Middle Earth" series followed, documenting the evolution of the Elder Days tales as well as early versions of what became "The Lord of the Rings". And now, for the first time since "The Silmarillion" was published in 1977, Christopher Tolkien has put out a book in novel form: "The Children of Húrin".

Húrin was a hero of men in the Elder Days. The mightiest warrior of his time, taken captive in battle against Morgoth's forces, Húrin was brought for his torment before Morgoth himself. Incensed when Húrin resists him and mocks his power, Morgoth lays a curse on Húrin and his children, so that all they do will be turned to Morgoth's evil purposes. The novel is mainly concerned with the exploits and fate of Húrin's son, Túrin Turambar. Túrin is a cursed man indeed: he is driven from his childhood foster-home by a jealous rival; he becomes leader of a band of outlaws which is destroyed by treachery; he accidentally kills his greatest friend; he comes to Nargothrond, one of the last free kingdoms resisting Morgoth, and causes its downfall; he strives against the dragon Glaurung, Morgoth's servant, and though he vanquishes the dragon in the end, his victory is robbed of joy by the revelation of his sister's fate. That sister, Nienor, is also cursed and trapped by Glaurung, finally becoming entangled in her brother's fortunes before learning the awful truth of the dragon's deceptions at last.

The novel is an expanded version of a chapter from "The Silmarillion", fleshing out the details of Túrin's life into a book-length narrative. Its style is something between "The Silmarillion" and "The Lord of the Rings": the former is a broad overview, not too focused on the individual lives of its characters, while the latter has a well-defined quest and clear depictions of good and evil. "The Children of Húrin" is more like a biography of Túrin, and you're never quite sure if he's even meant to be a sympathetic character. For while he is cursed with evil times and always has evil choices, you sense that he might escape his fate if only he would choose wiser. He is always led astray by his own pride, his anger, or his yearning for glory. Had he been less selfish and more prudent he may well have avoided his fate, as the story hints once or twice that he might.

It is in this sense one might say this is the most fully realized of Tolkien's novels. Although Tolkien despised allegory, and was critical of his friend C.S. Lewis's work on that account, he sought to create "new myths" in keeping with the Christian worldview. The constant presence of evil, the temptation of the quick and easy path, the perils of pride and the misery a man can create for himself show the misery of the fall. This is not an uplifting tale but a saga of damnation.

Leaving aside those heavy themes, any Tolkien geek will want to read this book. How could you resist a new epic in the canon of Middle Earth? I also wonder if Christopher Tolkien might not have more books planned...perhaps a treatment of Beren and Lúthien, the love story of which the tale of Aragorn and Arwen in The Lord of the Rings is an echo? I hope so.

Counterpoints: 25 Years of The New Criterion on Culture and the Arts
Counterpoints: 25 Years of The New Criterion on Culture and the Arts
by Roger Kimball
Edition: Hardcover
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37 of 39 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Counterpoints considered, April 12, 2007
The New Criterion, Hilton Kramer and Roger Kimball's journal of culture and the arts, is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. To commemorate the occasion, Kramer and Kimball have put out a new anthology of essays from the magazine, Counterpoints. This is not a work of poetry, but in fulfilling Horace's dictum it is both delightful and instructive.

The aim of The New Criterion, the editors tell us in their short introduction, paraphrasing Eliot, is to "foster common concern for the highest standards of both thought and expression" and to "discharge `our common preserve our common culture uncontaminated by political influences.'" In an era when Western culture is constantly under attack from within by relativists and from without by recidivists, and art has descended to little more than political propaganda by other means, this mission is more important than ever. The essays chosen for inclusion in this volume distill TNC's work splendidly.

Most of the great political issues of the past quarter century are discussed in Counterpoints. Are you concerned about Islamic jihadists? Read Mark Steyn on demography and David Fromkin on Turkey. Has immigration got your goat? Roger Scruton examines Enoch Powell, the British politician whose career was lost when he riled up an early PC mob. Care to revisit the Cold War? Roger Kimball and David Prcye-Jones discuss the gulag and the West's useful idiots, respectively. Keith Windschuttle battles anti-Americanism by exposing the hypocrisy of Noam Chomsky and Mordecai Richler shows us the rest of the world's warts with Mark Twain's The Innocents Abroad. The academic left is excoriated in Heather Mac Donald's examination of the Smithsonian institution and James Franklin's essay on scientific irrationalism, while Robert Bork decries the judicial power-grab in this country. And there's more.

Much more than just politics is discussed, however. The New Criterion's culture warriors also do battle on the artistic plains. The poetry of Frost, Eliot, and the New York School is considered, as well as the criticism of Yvor Winters and F.R. Leavis. The writing of Simon Raven, Paul Valery and Lord Acton is lauded while Ralph Waldo Emerson and French writer Michel Houellebecq come in for some harsh treatment. There are essays on art (though not as many as you might expect from a New Criterion anthology), music, the theater, dance, and even architecture. Theodore Dalrymple's examination of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde and its possible effect on our society is a particular pleasure.

I found this collection enormously edifying, and the only very small quibble I might make is that none of James Bowman's excellent media criticism or Jay Nordlinger's writing on music found its way into the volume. Still, Counterpoints has a little something for everyone. It can be enjoyed in its entirety or taken off the bookshelf to lightly read an essay or two. Recommended.

We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah
We Were One: Shoulder to Shoulder with the Marines Who Took Fallujah
by Patrick K. O'Donnell
Edition: Hardcover
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8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Book Review - "We Were One", December 11, 2006
"We Were One: Shoulder-to-shoulder with the Marines who took Fallujah" is the story of Lima Company, a close-knit squad of Marines who saw the toughest fighting in the November 2004 battle to take Fallujah in Iraq. (This is a different squad than the Columbus, Ohio based Lima company.)

The book touches on Lima company's training and early patrols as they are deployed to Camp Abu Ghraib (yes, the famous prison). What comes through is the close friendships the Marines form with each other as they go through the grueling training regimen, and the difficult task they face in Iraq as they try to build a rapport with the local population. They are asked to build trust, but it is dangerous for Iraqis to be seen as too close to the Americans - they are likely to get killed for it. They must also deal with cultural barriers as well as the fog of war. In one case, the neighborhood where the Marines have ingratiated themselves is fired upon by a separate Army unit. The frustration of having the trust you've built up destroyed by errors on your own side is palpable.

The heart of the book, though, is its on-the-frontlines report of the battle for Fallujah. By November 2004, Fallujah had become the locus of the insurgency in Iraq. An estimated 7,500 - 10,000 hardcore jihadis - known as the mujihadeen or "muj" for short to the Marines - were entrenched in the city. From it, Abu Musab al-Zarqawi directed the insurgents all over Iraq, established bomb-making factories that supplied the IEDs put to devastating use throughout the country, and set up torture facilities for the muj's captured victims. The jihadists are a motley crew of Islamists, criminals, and former Saddam regime elements. The Marines would later find out that jihadis in Fallujah came from 18 different countries. The most deadly enemies were highly trained veteran fighters of the Chechen civil war. All of them would have to be cleared out of Fallujah in dreadful urban, close-quarters combat.

Lima company's 1st platoon, which is the focus of the action, fought in Fallujah for 10 days, and at the end only 14 of the unit's 46 soldiers were unharmed. They saw the heaviest fighting of the battle. Their mission was to "clear" every house between their starting point and their objective - ranging from several hundred meters to nearly a mile away. "Clearing" a house consists of kicking down the doors of every room in it and verifying that it's empty or killing its occupants. Entering the room is the most dangerous part - the door is a killzone for any enemy inside. They know the Marines are protected by body armor and have been instructed to aim for their exposed heads. Every jihadist's hope is to take a Marine with them before they themselves die.

The survivors of Lima company tell their stories first hand, while we also get the recollections of military historian and author Patrick O'Donnell, who encountered the 1st platoon during the battle for Fallujah and asked to go along with them. The reader experiences the intensity of battle and the fatigue of a long combat operation, the frustration of fighting under political constraints and the despair of seeing comrades-in-arms fall. The dedication of the Marines is astounding, as is their willingness to sacrifice themselves for their buddies. When a Marine unit is in combat, they are not fighting for country, God, or honor, but for the fellow soldiers at their sides. They know the objective and they will achieve it, and every Marine wants to be the first in line. Every one would rather take a bullet himself than see his friend get hurt.

The striking thing about the book is its portrayal of individuals and their loyalty to each other, but the big picture comes through in subtle ways as well. It is clear that the Marines feel that politicians back home have unfairly constrained them. They have established rules of engagement that give a marked advantage to the enemy. The soldiers are frustrated with fighting an enemy who breaks every law of war, and who will never be held to anything like the standards the Marines themselves are. Muj can use a mosque or hospital as a weapons cache and the Marines can't do anything about it, because if they do the media will portray it as a war crime. The rules for holding an Iraqi prisoner are so lenient that roughly half of the 2,500 enemy combatants taken prisoner during the battle for Fallujah are set free again within 72 hours. This kinder, gentler way of war results in more American lives lost.

Fallujah was the worst urban combat the Marine corps has seen since the battle of Hue City in Vietnam. The men who fought there belong in the annals of American history as some of the toughest, bravest warriors who have ever served their country, under some of the worst conditions and restraints imaginable. "We Were One" reports that some of the World War II and Korean War veterans who greet the soldiers when they come home from Iraq have taken to calling them the "next Greatest Generation". We are lucky to have them, and we should all be grateful.

The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life
The Party of Death: The Democrats, the Media, the Courts, and the Disregard for Human Life
by Ramesh Ponnuru
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $23.06
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18 of 25 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book Review = "The Party of Death", December 4, 2006
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National Review contributor Ramesh Ponnuru has just published his first book, The Party of Death. The Party of Death consists of politicians (not necessarily, but mostly, Democrats), the media and the courts. In witty and concise fashion, Ponnuru seeks to explain and defend the pro-life side of the cultural debate about issues like abortion, euthanasia and stem-cell research, draw back the vale of euphemisms currently surrounding them and examine the political effects of Roe v. Wade and the likely results if it should be overturned.

Ponnuru begins by exposing many of the lies and misconceptions that surround Roe v. Wade. It is common for people to think that Roe allows abortions during the first trimester of pregnancy and restricts them thereafter. Indeed, the Roe opinion itself purports to do so. However, Roe allows for exceptions in the latter 2 trimesters for the health of the mother. In Roe's little known but very important companion case, Doe v. Bolton, the Court then proceeds to define the health of the mother so widely the result is the most radical abortion law of any nation on the planet: abortions at any time for any reason. Ponnuru argues that this misconception (that Roe allows only first trimester abortions), fostered by the pro-choice movement, the media, and pollsters, is the decisive factor when polls show nearly two thirds of the public support the Roe v. Wade decision. Another common error in regard to Roe v. Wade is the sentiment that its reversal would ban all abortions. But this would not be the case - the issue would merely be relegated back to the state legislatures, where it was before Roe swept aside all existing abortion laws and restrictions in 1973.

Ponnuru then addresses the central question itself: the right to life. He argues that a human embryo, far from being a "clump of cells" or mere "protoplasm", is simply a human being at the earliest stage of development. Pro-choicers have sometimes argued that an embryo isn't like a "real" human being because it doesn't look like us: no fingers, no toes, no discernible human features. But, again, an embryo is a human at the earliest stage of development: we all looked like that at that age. The question, then, is whether every human being is to be afforded the right to life. There is no difference in kind whether an embryo a few days old is destroyed, or a fetus 6 months old, or a newborn baby.

The pro-choicer must eventually argue that there is such a thing as a human being which is not also a person. Just being a living and functioning member of the species homo sapiens will not be enough. Personhood will have to be defined as having consciousness and some knowledge of one's own being. But this will lead us down a very thorny path. The author shows that by pro-choicers' own logic, it is very hard to admit a right to abortion without also positing a right to infanticide. For if a fetus 6 or 8 months old can be destroyed, why should parents not be allowed to destroy their newborn child? The newborn infant will not be a "person" by this definition either. Neither will the disabled and infirm. Indeed, we will be forced to come up with a definition of whose life is worth living and whose is not. If someone loses their consciousness, but is not dead, are we allowed to kill them? Is a person like Terri Schiavo, whose brain could perform all the functions necessary to live and who lacked only the ability to feed herself, dispensable?

Once we've established that some human beings are not persons and therefore have no right to live, why not go a step further? The severely handicapped and disabled will never have the quality of life an average person does. In the unborn and infants, the problem can be dealt with quickly - those who are not up to standard can be liquidated. For example, Down-syndrome cases have declined in the U.S. in recent years - because 75% - 80% of cases are detected prenatally and abortions are performed. Infanticide because of disability has already gained acceptance in Europe (Ponnuru says that 8% of infant deaths in the Netherlands are due to doctor-performed infanticide - and parental consent is not required) and is creeping in America. Those who perform and argue in favor of such policies congratulate themselves on how compassionate they are in deciding that the unfit should never be allowed to live at all. It was thought that the dogma of eugenics had died in the ashes of Nazi Germany. Not so.

The inherent dignity and worth of every human is also belied by embryonic stem-cell research. The exciting promise of stem cell research is the cure for a range of diseases. Stem cells, theoretically, could be used to grow a tissue culture matching any cell of the human body - for instance, generating new neurons to inject into Alzheimer's patients to cure their affliction. The potential of this research has generated wild exaggerations - like the media repeatedly referring to "magic cures" or Vice Presidential candidate John Edwards telling an audience that "Christopher Reeve would get up out of his chair and walk" if he and John Kerry were elected. One problem with these claims is that they're overblown - the research probably will not lead to a cure for Alzheimer's. Another is that in order to get these supposed miracle cures, a human embryo has to be created and destroyed.

Again, every human embryo, from the moment a sperm cell and an egg cell join, is a unique member of the human species at the earliest stage of development. There is no other definition for it. It possesses its own DNA and a distinctive genetic makeup that will allow it to grow into an adult human being. For embryonic stem-cell research to work, a few skin cells from a person would be taken and implanted into an embryo. The process rips the embryo apart and destroys the unique human it was to create a tissue culture matching the skin cell donor's own DNA. The skin cell donor has destroyed another member of its species to produce a clone of himself - and yes, clone is the correct word. This is where euphemisms come in. The public reacts very negatively to the term "cloning" and so its advocates try alternatives - "therapeutic cloning" or, to make sure no one knows what he's talking about, "somatic nuclear cell transfer". The advocate must rely on obfuscation or deception to pursue his goals.

It is hard to truly gauge the public's stance on abortion and other life issues - Ponnuru shows that the results of such polls are highly dependent on the language used by the pollsters. As mentioned earlier, a generic "Do you support the Roe v. Wade decision" question will generate a roughly two thirds majority in favor. But polls also show that a majority of Americans oppose abortion after the first trimester and support restrictions like parental notification. Likewise, a poll question such as "Do you support stem-cell research that may lead to a cure for Alzheimer's?" will generate strong positive support. But a question that makes clear an embryo is destroyed in the research usually finds opposition. The key for pro-lifers is to educate the public as best they can while not taking any steps that frighten them.

Abortion has been the key to unlocking these other evils - infanticide, the devaluation of human life, embryonic stem-cell research, and so on. Roe v. Wade, and the public's subsequent acceptance of abortion, put us on a slippery slope and we've been sliding ever since. Ponnuru believes that incremental steps are necessary to finally win the battle for the pro-life side. He argues that pro-lifers were on the defensive from Roe v. Wade until the early 90's. Until that point, the pro-life movement's overriding goal had been a Constitutional amendment to guarantee the right to life from the moment of conception. But that was a goal the public did not support and that was not attainable. With the rise of the partial-birth abortion issue in the mid-90's, a tactical shift was under way. Pursuing smaller goals like restrictions on abortion, instead of an all-or-nothing ban, would advance the movement's goals more quickly and efficiently - and with the public's support.

The Holy Grail of the incremental strategy, of course, is the reversal of Roe v. Wade. Once that is accomplished, the battle will move back to the states (where it never should have left, but more on that to follow). The incremental strategy will be accomplished most readily at the state level. If a state enacts a ban on abortion after the 15th week, for instance, pro-lifers might then call for a ban after the 14th week, and so on. The incremental shift, Ponnuru hopes, will also signal a cultural shift. As abortion becomes more restricted and less common, respect for human life will be restored. And if that happens, the problems of infanticide, euthanasia, embryo-destructive research, etc. will also be reduced. And then the Party of Death will finally be defeated.

Ramesh Ponnuru has produced a tour de force in favor of the pro-life movement. The book makes light and easy reading for such a serious subject, while being clever and sharp. I am glad that Ponnuru eschews religious arguments in favor of cool logic. If one is engaged in a debate about these issues, one is likely enough to be dismissed as some sort of religious fanatic without giving explicit fodder to one's opponent. It is possible to be pro-life without being religious and vice versa, and it is a concern better left on the sidelines here. Conversely, I am disappointed that Ponnuru did not focus more on the pro-choice movement's propensity to sidestep the democratic process by appealing to the courts. The abortion issue is one that should be decided by the people via their elected representatives, and as an issue not mentioned in the Constitution should be left to the states. Ponnuru discusses the courts and some of their decisions, obviously. Yet he does not point out, for instance, how Planned Parenthood and their ilk went shopping for plaintiffs and friendly courts to challenge laws they wanted struck down, in order to enact their agenda via judicial decree. Also, in discussing stem-cell research, Ponnuru mentions alternatives like adult stem-cells and cord-blood cells, which have yielded medical treatments for decades, but does not point out that embryonic stem-cell research has yet to generate any successful treatment or remedy (let alone miracle cures). These minor objections aside, this book gets my highest recommendation. Read it to inform and entertain yourself.
Comment Comment (1) | Permalink | Most recent comment: Jul 26, 2014 7:16 AM PDT

America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It
America Alone: The End of the World as We Know It
by Mark Steyn
Edition: Hardcover
Price: $22.11
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25 of 30 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Book Review - "America Alone", December 4, 2006
It's the end of the world as we know it, but Mark Steyn does not feel fine.

Steyn's compact new book America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It features themes that will be familiar to any of Steyn's regular readers: demography and a society's "secondary impulses" versus its "primary" ones, and the looming specter of Islamism.

The world according to Steyn is stuck in a "demographic death spiral" - 17 European nations are beneath the "lowest-low" birth rate level of 1.3, from which no society in human history has ever recovered. Replacement rate is 2.1 - 2 parents make 2 babies. At a rate of 1.1 - which is where several European countries plus Japan are at - the population is halving every generation - 2 parents making 1 baby (the U.S. is right at 2.1). The effects of this are far-reaching: cradle-to-the-grave welfare policies cannot continue with no new workers to pay the taxes. Wild animals are taking back terrain previously conquered by human settlers. Small towns in Germany are having to narrow their sewers - because there's not enough people to flush their toilets and keep the flow going. Etc.

This is a problem in and of itself. But add in the demographic trends of the Muslim population, and Europe is headed for disaster. A generation ago, the West constituted 30% of the world's population and the Muslim world 15%. Today, they are even at 20% apiece. And in 20 years?

Steyn says that Britain conquered the world because they were the first nation to overcome child mortality. The resulting population surge meant the British had the necessary manpower to colonize the world and establish bureaucracies to maintain the empire. In the 21st century, it will be the Muslims who have the excess manpower, and the West that reaps the whirlwind. Many European countries already have Muslim populations of 5-10%, and it's getting closer to a 50/50 split among those under 25. In the next century, Islam will do through fertility and immigration what it could not in more than a millennium of warfare: conquer Europe. In 2003, whatever else his motives, it would have been politically dicey for Jacques Chirac to aid the invasion of an Islamic country when 30% of his own population shares their religion. Do you think France will be willing to sign up for next imperialistic adventure when it has a majority Muslim population?

Europe has only itself to blame for this crisis. 50 years of Americans paying for their defense made the Europeans soft: instead of the French building another Maginot line, they established a luxurious welfare state. Now, no European nation except perhaps Britain has a military capable of projecting power abroad. The ministry of defense is considered a small job on the way to career-makers like health. They have become so enamored of their peaceful existence they've forgotten how to fight. All the while, they eroded the institution of marriage and the principle of "go forth and multiply" - and have gotten their own likely subservience to an alien and hostile culture in return. They have promoted an assimilation-killing doctrine of multiculturalism. By denigrating Western culture to the point of nonexistence, it has made the prospect impossible. How does a Muslim assimilate when there's nothing to assimilate to? Of course an immigrant and his children will consider themselves a Muslim first and a Dutchman second. And Europe will need to bring in another 50 million Muslim immigrant/workers just in the next few decades to keep the welfare systems its pampered citizens refuse to give up afloat.

Steyn does not offer much optimism. He thinks the Bush administration's strategy to promote democracy in the Arab world is the only solution for ending militant Islamism's potency. But it's Muslims already living in Western countries who are the most radicalized. Steyn does not offer a solution for that problem, except to express hope that once a country or two has collapsed under the weight of its unsustainable welfare system or given in to sharia law, it will wake the rest up. What happens if and when they are awake is left unsaid.

This is Steyn's first original book - as opposed to collections of his newspaper and magazine columns - and it doesn't disappoint. But, as I said at the beginning, the content will be familiar to those accustomed to Steyn. Many of the points he raises are recognizable as having been used before - there's the obligatory line about how Russian men now have a lower life expectancy than Bangladeshis or the crack that he doesn't think Donald Rumsfeld would consider it a promotion to go from the Department of Defense to Health and Human Services, for example. He does not explore new ground.

So if you're already a Steyn reader, this book is hardly a must-read. But if you haven't sampled Steyn before, this is a short and readable book that lays out what some of the major problems of the 21st century are likely to be with witty and entertaining style. Recommended.
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