Friday, October 20, 2006

Book review of Only In America An autobiography by Paul Oreffice with Tom Hanlon

(Review by "Ken")

This is an extraordinary life by an intriguing man, written in a page-turning style that that never flags. I could easily reiterate the comments on the back cover of the edition that I read, and laud an obviously gifted communicator and self-confident man of amazing fortitude and foresight -- but who am I in the exalted company of ex presidents and other luminaries? I thought it might be more interesting to look more closely at the book’s title.

While reading of Mr Oreffice’s privileged background and family support, I couldn’t help recalling the story of an interview with a self-made American millionaire who said he had arrived in New York with all of his possessions in a small brown paper bag. When a perspicacious journalist asked what was in that bag, he was told ‘1.2 million dollars in cash and bonds.’

Mr Oreffice came to America with many resources that helped him to achieve what he did; not least of which were an extraordinary set of talents, an extended family support structure and a circle of influential Italian acquaintances of his well-connected father. None of that, however, should be allowed to detract from his achievements and physical and mental acuity.

Mr Oreffice’s generosity in attributing his rise in the world to “America” is admirable and humble but every page of his book tells me that this is an extraordinary man who would have succeeded whatever environment he found himself in. Certainly the political and social atmosphere of America allowed him to express himself with impunity but it is not the only country in the world to offer those conditions.

I am an unqualified admirer of Mr Oreffice’s philosophy, drive and enthusiasm but I think those qualities were genetically imprinted by equally talented parents and a set of life circumstances that imbued him with special qualities.

It is interesting to examine the strange dichotomy that is American democracy; on the one hand citizens are encouraged to conform and to not ‘rock the boat’, whilst the real entrepreneurs do exactly the opposite by having no regard whatsoever for conventions or existing traditions.

Significantly, it is not until two thirds of the way through the book that Mr Oreffice finally lands in America to take a university course, by which time his personal philosophy had been well and truly formed by his life experiences. His father was able to start his own business wherever he went and use his entrepreneurial skills to build factories and provide a decent standard of living for his family. He could not have done this without money and nepotistic support.

So, back to the title; I believe that it is misleading in the extreme and suggests that, not only does America possess some magical property not found elsewhere but that this degree of success is available to everyone. In the highly competitive capitalistic economy that exists in the western world, to succeed requires intelligence, personality, dedication, talent and a degree of luck. Given these parameters anyone can make it in America (and, indeed, pretty well anywhere else in the world.)

As an autobiographical document, “Only in America” is an excellent read. It does trot out Carnegie-style platitudes but they still have validity in context, and good advice is always good advice. I found the early years in Italy far more interesting reading than the American years. Watching the war develop from within Europe allowed a different perspective for me and confirmed my distaste for sheep-like patriotism. Mr Oreffice’s distaste for unions and civil servants lifted my faith in humanity and my only hope is that America listens.

Friday, October 13, 2006

WAR OF THE WORLDS: Planet Civil Libertarian versus Earth

The article below by Australian lawyer James McConvill argues that the major threat to our security comes from an increasingly loud civil libertarian movement

American journalist H. L. Mencken once said: "The average man does not want to be free. He simply wants to be safe." Mencken's quote pretty much sums up the attitude of the average Australian. The average Australian cares little about fluffy concepts such as human rights, particularly the rights of others. Give average Joe the choice between a Bill of Rights and a plasma TV, and I think that you would have to place an order for a large amount of TV's.

In Australia, if you are wanting to win friends and influence people, you do it by appealing to their hip pocket, not to their moral conscience. Yet, if you are unfortunate enough to flick through the editorial pages of the Fairfax broadsheets (particularly Melbourne's Age newspaper), or turn on the ABC, you would think that I've lost touch with reality.

Well, in fact, it is the soft lefts in the media, and their civil libertarian friends in the social sciences faculties across the country, who left reality behind long ago. The result is a growing disconnect between the well-groomed elites and the hard-working average Australian.

The majority of Australians simply have little time for the misconceived bile stemming from the remote civil libertarians. That is why the circulation numbers of the Fairfax broadsheets are laughable. Apart from the precious academic and Camberwell housewives, nobody has time for the idealist dribble pumped out on their editorial pages day after day.

On Planet Civil Libertarian, every street corner has a shiny cafe with skinny lattes flowing like water. With people having very little to do in their day, with no responsibilities, and a constant hunger for blueberry muffins, everybody mingles around crying over coffee about the plight of the poor "refugees" coming for a visit, about how "Jihad" Jack cannot slip out for a smoothie at 1 a.m. due to the dreadful control order imposed on him from the bad people in Canberra, and then after a buzz of caffeine run over to the nearby garden park to jump for joy that Victoria will soon have a Bill of Rights.

It is not expensive to get to Planet Civil Libertarian. One simply needs to cruise down to the local newsagent to pick up a copy of The Age or The Sydney Morning Herald, open up the editorial pages and get a fix. If the newsagent is too far away, turn on 774 ABC.

Back on Planet Earth, things operate a little differently. While the cafes are springing up, people don't have pictures of Papuan warriors and bomb-buddies of Osama Bin Laden pinned up above their bed. Instead of drooling over a pretentious Bill of Rights document, most people actually get excited about such things as paying off a family home, having the ability to put their kids through good schools, and appreciate not getting bombed on their way to work.

Civil libertarians are becoming louder and more organised in trying to switch people over to their side. They have even convinced themselves that they are stepping up to protect the public from the conservative government. But the reality is they are grandstanding. They are becoming desperate. As Professor Mirko Bagaric argues in his new book "A Matter of Opinion", civil libertarians have now become the extremists.

The terrorists wage war through hijacking planes and bombing buildings; the civil libertarians have waged a war on mainstream public opinion through hijacking leftist newspapers and bombarding the ABC.

The average Australian wants just three things: national or military security, cultural security and financial security. If they were smart, the civil libertarians would concentrate on the possible human rights implications of the Howard Government's Work Choices legislation. This is where the average Australia might be prepared to listen because workplace relations affects their financial security.

While the civil libertarians preach from their taxpayer-funded Ivy Tower about the plight of queue-jumping asylum seekers and those who have trained with the likes of al-Qaeda, the Australian people will continue to turn a deaf ear. So they should.

Dr James McConvill is author of "In the Pursuit of Truth: Reflections on Law, Life and Contemporary Affairs" (Sandstone Academic Press, 2006)