Friday, October 27, 2006

Post conservative turns post-conservative

Charles Krauthammer, heretofore essentially the only non-leftist on the Washington Post editorial pages (since George Will is nowadays just a Republican apparatchik), has announced he supports affirmative action for the office of U.S. president. He is touting Barack Obama for the job because — get ready — of Obama's race.
… The country hungers for a black president. Not all of the country, but enough that, on balance, race would be an asset. It is no accident that when, a decade ago, another attractive, articulate African American with no experience in electoral office went on a book tour, he was met not just with rock star adulation but with a loud national chorus urging him to run for the presidency.

The object of affection then was Colin Powell. Today it is Obama. Race is only one element in their popularity, but an important one. A historic one. Like many Americans, I long to see an African American ascend to the presidency. It would be an event of profound significance, a great milestone in the unfolding story of African Americans achieving their rightful, long-delayed place in American life.

Of course there is racism in America. Call me naive, but I believe that just as Joe Lieberman was a net positive for the Democrats in 2000 -- more people were attracted to him as a man of faith than were turned away because of anti-Semitism -- there are more Americans who would take special pride in a black president than there are those who would reject one because of racism.

The country is "hungering" to elect a man to the most powerful office in the world because he is black? No, Charles; if anyone is, it's the racial preferences industry. Most Americans would be happy to elect an African American provided he represented their views better than any other candidate and so long as he didn't use his race, even tacitly, to score points with various groups — probably impossible in this day and time.

"A great milestone in the unfolding story of African Americans achieving their rightful, long-delayed place in American life"? I don't know much about Mr. Obama, and maybe he is a good man and would be a good president, but there is no way I am ever going to pull the lever for him because of racial symbolism. I am astounded that Krauthammer would suggest such a thing. Has he gone mad?

After 30 years of racial preferences, government contract set-asides, corporate shakedowns from the likes of Jesse Jackson, and racial/ethnic "targets" enforced by the Equal Opportunitities Employment Commission, we are now in Krauthammer's view morally obligated to hand over the presidency to a black man to show we are not racists.

Et tu, Charles?

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Shedding a (very dim) light on NDEs

The International Association for Near-Death Studies is holding its annual conference in Houston, and the Houston Chronicle sent a reporter to write a feature story. The coverage is not overtly biased against research into near-death experiences (NDEs), as it likely would be in a British newspaper, whose audience would be assumed to have a scientific-materialistic disposition. The writer, Leigh Hopper, quotes a psychiatrist and supporter of the association's mission:
"These are very powerful experiences. People who have near-death experiences are transformed in their personalities, their attitudes, their values, their beliefs, their behaviors," said Dr. Bruce Greyson, a psychiatrist at the University of Virginia Health System in Charlottesville. "I've been working 30 years as a clinical psychiatrist trying to help people make changes in their lives. It's a difficult process that takes a long time. Now we have this experience that, in the blink of an eye, totally transforms personality. If we could understand how that happens, we might develop some great tools for helping people make changes."
And a skeptic, albeit a sympathetic one:
"Is this the kind of research M.D. Anderson [the university cancer center and site of the conference] is interested in? I don't think we're going to be doing that. That's not the angle of importance for our care," Fisch said. "At the end of the day, this is all about people who have experiences that are really meaningful to them and help shape who they are, and they often occur in the realm of health care."
You can see the wink — if it makes terminally ill people feel better to believe in this stuff, he seems to imply, that's a boon for medical care; makes them go quietly when their time comes. But don't expect us to waste our precious time and resources researching NDEs.

I think the reporter tried to write a fair story and deserves credit for that. But it just sends me crazy when I read sentences like this: "Recent scientific research suggests near-death experiences may be a result of oxygen deprivation and inadequate blood flow to the brain, as well as a response to a life-threatening crisis. A vision of extraordinary light may be nothing more than a blood-starved retina. … Greyson is interested in experiments to see whether the mind or consciousness can exist outside the body — or even survive the death of the brain. An experiment to test this idea might involve planting an object or "target" in an operating room where it could be seen only by a patient who "floats" out of his or her body and peers down from the ceiling."

Excuse me — a blood-starved retina? Many NDEs are reported by people whose hearts have stopped, who are by medical criteria dead. Yes, it's possible in this age of wondrous medical technology sometimes to revive people who have died for several minutes. What difference can inadequate blood flow to the brain or retina make to a dead person?

As for experiments to test the idea of a person seeing an object visible only from outside the body's location, the story implies that no such thing has ever happened. But while they may not have occurred in a strict scientific experiment (which would be quite a challenge to design), there are dozens of examples reported by doctors and nurses, who are generally not given to flights of imagination while on the job. Two psychologists, Karlis Osis and Erlendur Haraldsson (I talked with the latter at a Society for Psychical Research Conference) wrote up their study of hundreds of medical personnel reporting patient NDEs, some of which included the patient experiencing out-of-the-body consciousness and "seeing" things they couldn't have seen from their body's point of view.

One of the frustrating things about psychical research is that as far as the public is concerned, were are always back at square one, no matter how much solid evidence is published. It just seems to make no impression on anyone outside the field, or to reach fair-minded writers like the Chronicle's reporter. The prevailing scientific-materialistic world view is so firmly entrenched that no information calling it into question can penetrate. Except to those who undergo NDEs or similar experiences themselves, and a handful of investigators who reason that when something happens that transforms a person's personality, philosophy, and outlook on life, it might be worth taking seriously.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Damn it, this is another Vietnam

I disagree with the agendas of leftists who've been saying since day one of the Iraq invasion that it's a quagmire, Vietnam all over again, draining resources from the fight against worldwide jihad, all that. But while their motives are wrong, their observations are correct. Let's stop kidding ourselves, no matter how much El Presidente and his neocon warlords ask us to salute the fantasy.

The Washington Post reports: "President Bush and Defense Secretary Donald H. Rumsfeld yesterday defended the U.S. strategy in Iraq, saying the ultimate goals remain unchanged despite escalating violence and increasingly somber assessments from military leaders on the ground. Speaking at a Washington fundraiser, Bush said the U.S. goal in Iraq 'is clear and unchanging': creating a country that can govern and defend itself and 'that will be an ally in the war against these extremists.'"

A light at the end of the tunnel. It doesn't matter how clear and unchanging the goal is if experience proves anew every day that you are in the Tantalus Zone, endlessly reaching for the unobtainable. Bush, Rumsfeld et al. will not acknowledge that they've based their hopes not on something that is largely within our control -- a military operation, say -- but on something that is utterly outside our control, the willingness of a Middle Eastern tribal society to adopt a pure democracy, which even the United States is not thanks to the good sense of its founders.

With the possible exception of the majority of Kurds, Iraqis don't want us there. Conceivably, given some time and no doubt more bloodshed, Iraqi Sunnis and Shiites might work out some kind of modus vivendi. It won't be a shining beacon of democracy in a blighted part of the world, but it might be better than the Saddam Hussein regime. If that happens, it won't be because our military are there trying to act as lethally armed marriage counselors between the factions.

Meanwhile, the men and women of our military serving in Iraq have targets painted on their backs. The last I read, 78 have been killed so far this month, although by now the number could be higher. Yes, we have a volunteer military, and everyone who signs up knows that at some time they might have to put their lives on the line. But they have a right to know that if they do, it will be for the good of their fellow citizens.

Even if some of our uniformed people in Iraq believe theirs is not to reason why, the rest of us need to. The only honest answer now is: so El Presidente and his neoconmen won't have to admit they were wrong. That is not a reason worth fighting for, much less dying for.

George Bush is incapable of changing his mind. I don't know whether he actually, as some of his critics say, imagines that he receives his policies via a hot line from God, but he behaves as if he does. There are times when holding steady despite criticism from all sides is a virtue, but when people from all over the political spectrum are telling you you've gone haywire, you'd bloody well better ask yourself searching questions. Bush is like the gentleman about whom Samuel Johnson said that he had but a single idea, and that one was wrong.

As nutty as the idea of nursing Iraq into full health by setting up elections at gunpoint always seemed to those of us not of the neocon faith, I can't entirely blame him for trying when a long-shot success might have had the desired sequels. But the time for that excuse passed about two years ago. To continue in the same delusion while spending American lives to maintain it is a criminal folly.

True enough, if Bush and Co. did face reality and by implication admit a mistake, the Democrats would make a meal of it. (If the situation were reversed, Republicans would do the same.) It's dangerous for the Republic when partisan total war makes it politically impossible for a politician to tell the public he's learned from experience and wants to use what he's learned to head in a different direction. Intelligent flexibiliy ought to be rewarded, not punished. In any case, Bush's insistence that we have to stay on his course no matter what is unlikely to buy him anything this November; Americans are pragmatic even when they're patriotic.

There is nothing left to win in Iraq. We should respect the wishes of the Iraqi people and get gone, except possibly for cordoning off a Kurdish state and leaving enough of a garrison to defend it. Our might is great, but it is not infinite. We'd best withdraw it from where it can do no further good and keep it in readiness for another time and place where it can.

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

How long has this been going on?

I have a standard apology, which is beginning to read like legal boilerplate, for devoting too many postings to politics and not enough to spirituality and psychical research, which are part of what this blog is supposed to be about. So here it comes again. Those subjects are harder to write about — many of their aspects can't be framed easily in ordinary language. They are subtle and complex. Maybe I was over-ambitious in incorporating them into the Great Plan for Reflecting Light.

Still, they are interesting and important, and I propose in today's edition to at least keep the psychical research flag flying. My subject is what must be the only popular song — at least the only first-class one — whose beneath-the-surface subject is reincarnation. It is the classic "Where or When" by Richard Rodgers and Lorenz Hart. In case you haven't listened to it lately — if you've never heard it, you are culturally deprived and no mistake — the lyrics open like this:

It seems we stood and talked like this before
We looked at each other the same way then
But I can't remember where or when
The clothes you're wearing are the clothes you wore
The smile you are smiling you were smiling then
But I can't remember where or when

Lorenz Hart (who wrote the words), despite his well-known emotional problems, must have been psychically sensitive or had a touch of mysticism. In these seemingly simple but profound words, he has expressed poetically something I believe many people have experienced occasionally, especially when in love or infatuation: a haunting sense of meeting someone that is more like a re-meeting, a resumption of a relationship that isn't bound to the here and now.


Most varieties of occultism, and even one of the world's major religious traditions (Hinduism), say that when we leave the physical body at death our soul or spirit continues on a more rarefied plane, and after an inter-life period selects another body to be born into. But, according to this belief, the "new" person retains both unconscious memories of previous incarnations and so-called karmic attachments to the souls of individuals they were involved with in those past lives. When you meet someone who was important back then, such as a husband, wife, or close relative, that elusive "it seems we stood and talked like this before" feeling whispers to your inner ear.

But the relationships we established with them are not over and done. The give-and-take normally has to be worked out in succeeding lives.

Do I know this for a fact? No. Does evidence for it exist? Yes.

There is the testimony of mediums who are in touch with spirits able to see the larger scheme better than we can here in the physical-mental world. Don't believe in mediums? Okay. There is scientific evidence.

The best known scientist who has studied reincarnation is Ian Stevenson, M.D., head of the Division of Personality Studies at the University of Virginia. For more than 30 years he has studied spontaneous cases (i.e., not induced by hyponosis) of past life memory, mostly among Asian children.

Many people get in touch with apparent past life memories under hypnosis. This kind of evidence should be approached with caution; people who are hypnotized are usually in a state of extreme suggestibility, and unless care is taken they may make up stories based on what they think the hypnotist wants to hear. Serious researchers are well aware of this and avoid leading the witness.

The two best studies known to me of past life memory based on investigation conducted with scientific rigor are Reliving Past Lives by Helen Wambach, Ph.D., and Exploring Reincarnation by Hans TenDam.

Wambach's is particularly interesting — and persuasive — because she does not limit herself to reporting particular hypnotic sessions revealing alleged past life memories. More than 1,000 experimental participants were regressed to other lifetimes; while they were experiencing those lives, she asked them about their environment, clothing, food, what sex they were, and other questions designed to "place" the earlier incarnations. Wambach then performed a statistical analysis on the claimed previous lives as a whole.

What do you know — her subjects were (in their professed earlier lives) 49.4 percent women, 50.6 percent men, just what you would expect if their stories were authentic. The earlier lives were widely distributed geographically and temporally. Contrary to the cartoonish notion, hardly any claimed to be famous people; there were no Napoleons or Queen Nefertitis. Wambach also says that her historical research on some of the times and places of the remembered lives turned up no anachronisms or contradictions of known fact.

Do you have an intuition of a very long shared past with someone you know, longer than your current association? Seems like old times.

Some things that happen for the first time
Seem to be happening again
And so it seems that we have met before
And laughed before
And loved before
But who knows where or when

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Thinking about insurgency

Some critics of the mass media get riled about their use of the word "insurgency" rather than terrorism, enemy action, or similar strong terms. They see the word as an attempt to be value-free and refusing to take sides. But we need a word to describe a war format that has been developed to a high degree in recent years, and which conventional military terminology doesn't fit. Insurgency is an overall strategy that can include terrorism among its tactics, but much else besides.

Insurgency can take the form of recruitment through ostensibly legitimate institutions like schools and mosques; threats to demoralize a country's population and government; propaganda to de-legitimize an established political system or regime; acquisition of resources through smuggling, narcotics dealing, and other crimes; raising money using front organizations; and, of course, sabotage and violence. Most of these activities are small-scale and clandestine, not the kind of warfare that large organizations, particularly government organizations, are equipped by background and training to counter.

Such are ways an insurgency avoids a direct full-scale confrontation with a larger and better equipped force, which the insurgency couldn't hope to win, and restricts the terms of engagement to situations where it has advantages such as surprise, lack of visibility, and fanaticism — even suicidal fanaticism — among its followers. Hence the expression "asymmetric warfare."

There's been a lot of discussion in the blogosphere and elsewhere about whether our armed forces are hogs on ice when trying to defeat insurgents. The negative argument runs something like this: our military establishment is terrific at straight-ahead campaigns of the World War II type, against identifiable state enemies. We can turn them to powder before they've had their morning coffee. But when the rules change drastically, and we face opponents playing to their strengths rather than ours, we're as vulnerable as armies behind castle walls were when faced with newly invented artillery, or World War I infantry armed with rifles and bayonets leaping out of the trenches to be shredded by machine guns.

Insurgents, this reasoning goes, use our massive strength — designed to be used on a large scale with all the implied time required to get it in place and the relative inflexibility of top-down, bureaucratic organizations — against us. Exhibit A for the prosecution: Iraq, after the waltz in.

I'm too optimistic to believe that, partly because the few active-duty (or recently so) U.S. military people I've run into in recent years weren't anything like the stereotype of the unquestioning, unimaginative drone. One of them showed me a couple of studies — unclassified, of course — that impressed me with one department of the services' ability to question its own routines and inertia. Besides — our fighting men and women are Americans, and Americans generally put a high value on improvising and pragmatism. They're still learning, but they can learn just as well, if not better, than insurgents hobbled by a certain religio-political system that has all the answers and discourages individual thinking.

Jonathan Winer at Counterterrorism Blog has posted an excerpt from an Army document that suggests our side is carefully considering what needs to be done to answer insurgencies. It says, "Because insurgents attempt to prevent the military battlespace from becoming decisive and concentrate in the political and psychological, operational design must be different than for conventional combat." And the authors go on to suggest what that design needs to include:
• Fracturing the insurgent movement through military, psychological, and political means, to include direct strikes, dividing one part against another, offering amnesties, draining the pool of alienated, disillusioned, angry young males by providing alternatives, and so forth. Relationships within insurgent movements are not necessarily harmonious. Cabals within the insurgency often vie for leadership or dominance. Identifying these rifts and exploiting them may prove to be a coup for the counterinsurgency strategy;
• Delegitimizing the insurgent movement in the eyes of the local population and any international constituency it might have;
• Demoralizing the insurgent movement by creating and sustaining the perception that long-term trends are adverse and by making the lives of insurgents unpleasant and dangerous through military pressure and psychological operations;
• Delinking the insurgent movement from its internal and external support by understanding and destroying the political, logistics, and financial connections; and,
• Deresourcing the insurgent movement both by curtailing funding streams and causing it to waste existing resources.
We can only hope that everyone, military or civilian, charged with defending us against the very real advantages that decentralized, non-uniformed insurgent forces count on is thinking equally creatively about fighting a kind of conflict that is mostly new to us.

For those who are interested in following the action on these strange, ill-defined, geographically diffuse front lines, Counterterrorism Blog is a fine source, with contributors who seem to know what they're talking about. Some of the blog postings are hard to understand without a certain amount of specialized knowledge, and some are disturbing, but as a whole they dig far deeper than 98 percent of what you learn from reporters and pundits in the mainstream media about the so-called "War on Terror."

Saturday, October 14, 2006

Oppression, noted

Read this before you take another breath!

Matter can be neither created nor destroyed, only change form. The molecules of air you are about to inhale have made the rounds. Have you considered this? Some of those molecules were once breathed by a

By pointing this out, I'm just helping to prepare you for the future, perhaps the very near future, when every product and action will come with a reminder of your guilt (if you are white, especially a white male). You can expect to see countless Diversity General's warnings to tell you that the item you are about to partake of is ideologically impure, right above the Surgeon General's warning to assure you that it will kill you -- not that you don't deserve it, you exploitative swine.

We are becoming, as Vanishing American notes, a modern analogue of the flagellants of the Middle Ages, who wandered from town to town treating themselves to expiatory glee via the lash.

These sour thoughts are prompted by, of all things, a compact disc of flamenco guitar music played by Tao Ruspoli on Mapleshade's Wildchild label. I ordered it because I'm keen on flamenco, and because Mapleshade -- one of the few remaining independent American labels not owned by a large corporation -- boasts of the audiophile-quality sound of its CDs.

The recording is well engineered, the disc enjoyable. Ruspoli has a formidable technique, although to my ears it's somewhat careful and studied. He's not yet a major league flamenco artist (shoot, I've known guys in Santa Fe who could play rings around him). Anyway, in his self-written insert notes, he wants to make sure we understand the political dimension of flamenco:
Like jazz or blues, it's improvised music, an oral tradition created by people who'd been forced to the bottom of society: poor, oppressed, marginalized. Flamenco was born 150 years ago in the melting pot of Andalusia. It was born among poor people of diverse Mediterranean backgrounds, back then -- and now -- the victims of prejudice and exclusion, much like blacks in America.
Thank you, Tao; I'll listen much more reverently now that I know I'm hearing the authentic voice of the World Grievance Society. Next time I run into a Gypsy pickpocket on the no. 64 bus from Stazione Termini in Rome, I'll wish him a nice day. I'd give him a chocolate bar, too, except that I would be deterred from purchasing one by the EU warning label informing me that chocolate owed its origins to the Amazon Rain Forest, rapidly being decimated by corporate greed, and that the original European stash of cacao beans was brought back to Europe by Hernando Cortez, stolen from the gentle, peace loving Aztecs.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Steyn out of line


Oh, no! I have to take issue with Mark Steyn's new book, America Alone: The End of the World As We Know It.

Steyn is one of my contemporary heroes -- he's in The Gold Standard section of the blogroll -- so I was keenly looking forward to his latest book, and a little disappointed that I need to register a partial dissent.

Mind you, most of his book about America as the only power that stands between raging Islam and all the rest is spot on. America Alone is timely, original, and full of acid humor. Steyn is incapable of writing a dull paragraph, and he scores with wit even when his ideas are shaky. The book is a great read and I recommend it.

Don't look for comfort in his pages, even as you're laughing yourself silly. Steyn thinks the really bad news hasn't reached us yet, and he'd rather deliver it himself than wait for a jihadist madman to make the point in some very unpleasant, if not lethal, way.

Steyn sees trends leading us to, as he puts it, "the dawn of the new Dark Ages (if darkness can dawn)": The West's loss of civilizational confidence and belief in its virtues and achievements. Check. A Muslim intoxication with itself and an absolute belief in its mission to convert all humanity, by force where necessary. Check. And, apparently above all else to his thinking, a European fertility rate that is too low to replace or grow the population -- the indigenous European population, that is. Here's where I part company with the estimable Steyn.

"The single most important fact about the early twenty-first century is the rapid aging of almost every developed nation other than the United States: Canada, Europe, and Japan are getting old fast, older than any functioning society has ever been and faster than any has ever aged," he writes. "A society ages when its birth rate falls and it finds itself with fewer children and more grandchildren."

Ah, but some populations are breeding to a different beat. In Afghanistan, Steyn says, the rate of births per 1,000 people in 2005 was 47.02. In Albania, it was 15.08. "That means Albanians are breeding at a third of the rate of Afghans," Steyn says. Replacement rate -- the number of babies per woman at which the population remains stable -- is 2.1. "Some counties are well above that: the global fertility leader, Niger, is 7.46; Mali, 7.42; Somalia, 6.76; Afghanistan, 6.69; Yemen, 6.58. Notice what those nations have in common? Starts with an I, ands with a slam. As in: slam dunk."

Replacing themselves much less rapidly, in a "population death spiral," are Canada with a fertility rate of 1.5; Germany and Austria, 1.3; Russia (where 70 percent of pregnancies are aborted, and "women are voting with their fetus") and Italy, 1.2; and Spain, 1.1.

If the population is shrinking in places, some of us think that's a good thing for the planet and the quality of life. Steyn has no time for anyone who worries about overpopulaton, though. To be fair to him, he doesn't descend to the complete idiocy of arguments like, "Look at all that empty space we've got," as though new additions to the total population head straight for the desert wastes of Nevada or the tundra up there 'round Hudson's Bay, rather than to ever-expanding urban areas. But he can't resist blasting away at sitting ducks, as when he makes fun of Paul Ehrlich's ecological doomsaying in the 1970s. Ehrlich was a self-promoting charlatan, of the sort you can find in any field, and it won't do to trash the population stabilization movement by dragging in its least responsible spokesman.

So why does Steyn think these low fertility rates in most Western countries mean big trouble? First, because it means that the population will be, on average, much older than the best-of-breed countries. Old people tend to be inflexible, challenge-avoiding. Whereas the younger populations -- those that start with I and end with slam -- are full of energy, ready to take on the world. Which is what they're doing.

More than that, on the nature-abhors-a-vacuum principle, Steyn expects that Muslims will pour into every place that has a population loss and quickly become a majority.

And so they will ... if we allow it. Steyn assumes that we will, even implies that we have no choice. Herein lies Steyn's number one blind spot. For all his good conservative credentials, he seems to have bought the tranzi argument that national borders are obsolete and irrelevant. He's not an open borders advocate so much as someone who just takes them for granted. As far as I know, and I've been reading his columns for at least five years, he has barely noticed the invasion from Mexico to the U.S. and has never urged European countries to shut down the Muslim immigration factory and the asylum racket.

Europe has thrown itself open to Muslim immigration, is paying the price and will soon pay a much greater price, in my reckoning. But the pathology is self-inflicted. No country has to accept the spillover from Afghanistan, Yemen, Somalia, and the other Petri dish countries. So with a sane immigration policy -- viz., one that quarantines Islam -- a falling population is no threat to Spain or Italy.

To be sure, the mad fecundity in the Arab world will have devastating consequences locally. Too bad. It is not the West's job to save countries, especially those where a majority of people see the non-Muslim world as the enemy to be overcome, from the consequences of their own folly. I'd like for African countries and suchlike to see the light and start encouraging birth control for all they're worth. But if they insist on reproducing irresponsibly, they shouldn't look to Europe to take up their excess population, and if it means they find out what one of the horsemen of the Apocalypse looks like up close, I'm sorry -- but maybe famine will teach them a lesson.

In the modern world, more than at any time before, strength is not in numbers. If it were, India and China would rule the world. Maybe they will one of these days, but if so population size will have little to do with it. Civilizational strength comes from economic strength, technological progress, a rule of law, guarantees of private property, self-confidence enough to take risks, and a spiritual foundation. It no longer (if it ever did) derives from having the most bodies to throw into the front lines for cannon fodder.

Steyn's other reason for alarm about shrinking populations is the much discussed problem of having enough workers to support the welfare programs that modern societies, especially in Europe, have grown accustomed to. "The progressive Left can be in favor of Big Government or population control but not both," he says. "That mutual incompatibility is about to plunge Europe into societal collapse."

If he means that we may have to choose between the kind of vast largesse Europeans have become accustomed to -- government-sponsored visits to health spas, six weeks paid vacation, two years of paid maternity and paternity leave, all that -- and a quickly and steadily declining population, then he's right. If those are the only options. But I don't see why they have to be. Surely all the world's brilliant economists, or even just one of them, could figure out a plan for a "steady state" economy provided there was a reward for that model instead of theories demanding constant growth. If the ratio of young workers to old stays about the same from generation to generation (rather than soaring, like in Mali), why should they not balance out and provide for an acceptable though not extravagant social security and retirement benefits system?

What's the alternative? Mark Steyn's. He thinks we ought to be doing our damnedest to outbreed the Muslim world, and presumably have more babies to keep the welfare state going -- although he is as dubious as I am about the overall benefit of a system where people feel themselves dependent on the government for every earthly good. If that means continuously going above replacement rate, then Steyn in effect bids us to keep growing in population forever. Forever. A world of seven billion, 10 billion, 20 billion ... ad infinitum. But that's a crock. Anyone who thinks about it seriously, and for the long term, knows that the Earth's population can't keep growing indefinitely. At some point, it's got to stop. We can debate what that point should be, but some think we've already gotten there if we know what's good for us.

Any day now it will be officially announced that the U.S. population has reached 300 million, or twice what it was when I was born. Many businesspeople will find that cause for celebration, and Mark Steyn will too. He's proud of the U.S. for its wombcentricity. I won't be celebrating more traffic of every sort from cars to airplanes, more urban density and highrises, more land converted to ever-creeping suburbia. Although it is something of an ad hominem, I can't resist pointing out that Steyn himself lives in a one-horse town in New Hampshire; he is among the knowledge workers who can drop out of the urban rat race at will and send his product bouncing off satellites. Most people with jobs are not so lucky. He can easily escape the side effects of the population growth medicine that he prescribes for the rest to swallow.

Enough on that. I've been giving a one-sided account of America Alone. There's far more to it. Steyn's book is an antidote to complacency in the face of implacably aggressive Islam, and showcases the wordplay and outrageous humor that his devotees (myself among them) admire. He's right about the big picture. It is the end of the world as we've known it, and we'd better be thinking hard about what we want to replace it, and how to get there.

UPDATE 10/12

I thank the reader whose nom de blog is Vanishing American and Lawrence Auster for their comments. (Auster replied in a personal e-mail and I will not try to paraphrase his thoughts, but he has expressed his views on Mark Steyn often, most recently yesterday.)

The casual reader might wonder why all this carry-on about Steyn. The answer is that he is a popular author and columnist with a devoted following, and therefore likely to be influential among people who consider themselves conservatives and perhaps others who read him for his clever rhetoric.

The hard line on Steyn is that while ostensibly sounding an urgent warning, he is actually a defeatist who has written off Europe and reduces the great struggle for preservation of national identities and personal freedoms to a demography derby. Taking his work as a whole, but America Alone in particular (because that book is freshest in my mind), my impression — based on the written record; I can't look into his soul — is that he is genuinely alarmed at what he sees and wants to motivate his readers to save what can still be saved (which for him doesn't include Europe).

But it's always easier to point out what's wrong than to devise realistic, coherent and practicable solutions, and Steyn is no exception. Perhaps because of a demanding publishing schedule (he calls himself the "one-man content provider"), he tends to fall back on a well-rehearsed routine of viewing-with-alarm, which seems reasonably original each time because he is gifted at finding funny and striking ways of expressing the same thoughts about the dangers of Islam. It may be that he doesn't have time to ponder deeply what our reply to Islam should be, or it may be that he has taken the soft option of peddling a simplistic solution, i.e., mass production of the Weaponized Baby System.

Why can't he understand that the first line of defense, and the easiest to achieve if the will is there, should be a reassertion of national boundaries and a refusal to accept immigration of people whose main reason for arriving is to undermine existing institutions and substituting their own? I don't know; but Steyn is so enthralled with the "demography is destiny" vision that apparently just enforcing border controls seems to him routine and undramatic by comparison with a Fecundity Five-Year Plan.

Given his prodigious talent with words, I'm glad Steyn at least gets the problem mostly right and I'm happy to have him trashing multi-culturalism, political correctness, etc. But I too wish he'd think more deeply about how we can turn back the moral and political plague that is eating our future.

Friday, October 06, 2006

Hold the champagne

Don't break out the bubbly and clink glasses yet.

It is remarkable, and encouraging, that Congress has passed a law for fencing off part of the border with Mexico, and that El Presidente felt the heat enough to feel he had to sign it. Even one year ago, such an event would hardly have been conceivable. It shows that American patriots aren't consigned to history, that they can still make their principles count against both transnational progressives' ethnic replacement schemes and the President of Mexico, who currently sits in the White House oval office.

Symbolically, it really is something to celebrate. Symbolically, America has triumphed over the Latin American invasion.

But, according to our strange political system, the practical effect may be nothing at all.


This morning, American Pravda, sometimes known as The Washington Post, gleefully explained how the tranzis and El Presidente are working at full steam to nullify the vote. El Presidente and his ruling junta will pretend, against the obvious intent of Congress and the people, that the vote was for “a combination of projects – not just the physical barrier along the southern border. The funds may also be spent on roads, technology and ‘tactical infrastructure’ to support the Department of Homeland Security’s preferred option of a ‘virtual fence.’”

So, our representatives foolishly imagined that they were voting in favor of a barrier to close part of the Mexican border to trespassers. El Presidente, however, knows better than mere citizens and their voices in Congress. It was really a vote for more roads, with signs in Spanish directing "migrants" to sanctuaries where they can evade the Border Patrol.

George W. "I-am-the-law" Bush is our Julius Caesar. He will observe the formalities of the old Republic while undermining them. The irony is that Bush, nominally a Republican, knows he can count on Democratic wrinkled radicals who own the courts to support him. The people of Arizona recently approved through a referendum the bizarre idea that to vote, you ought to have to show that you are the person you claim you are; naturally the Politburo members on the federal court overturned it this week.

I am not Brutus. I preach no insurrection and plot no plots. Unlike our Caesar, I believe a government of laws, not men, and the quaint notion that the government is there to serve the people rather than rule them. Bush should be impeached for treason and convicted.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

British police excuse Muslim cop from guarding Israel embassy

London's pathetic Metropolitan police allowed police constable Alexander Omar Basha to decline guard duty at the Israeli embassy during the Lebanon invasion because of "his personal concerns which included that he had Lebanese family members."
This claim unleashed a fierce debate about the duties of a police officer. But representatives of the Muslim Police Association denied the decision was based on moral concerns, suggesting it was a “welfare issue.”
No one explained the welfare issue involved for Constable Basha in guarding the embassy, presumably since the explanation would have been embarrassing for the British Establishment's reigning multi-culti pushers: other Muslims might have taken revenge on Basha's relatives.


Not surprisingly, some of London's cops took issue with the decision to allow the policeman to decide for himself whom he would and would not protect. Typically, though, even the critics had to find a politically correct formula to justify their complaint. Said one: "If they can allow this, surely they’ll have to accept a Jewish officer not wanting to work at an Islamic national embassy? Will Catholic cops be let off working at Protestant churches? Where will it end?"

Yes, I'm sure the Met has been inundated with requests from Jewish police officers to be exempted from guarding Islamic sites, and Catholics from protecting Protestants. According to the moral-equivalence rules of discussion in modern Britain, you can't criticize anyone or anything Muslim without making it clear that you're only talking about a general principle and a problem that any other group is just as likely to present.

Once the facts came out, the head of the Met, Sir Ian Blair, should have instantly started proceedings to dismiss both Constable Basha and the superior officer who allowed Basha to set his own rules for doing the job he had sworn to do and was paid to do. That is part of his job as top cop — to knock heads until every police officer in the country can entertain no doubts that he is to serve all equally, and not only those he likes.

Instead, Sir Ian's response was typical of the shrinking nature of the uniformed bureaucrat. He asked for a review and report. Meanwhile Constable Basha will no doubt be reassigned to duties he finds more congenial. I suspect the review will be a protracted business, certainly long enough so that public recall of the incident evaporates. Eventually the Met lawyers will find some wiggle room that will allow the force to avoid setting a precedent, except by default. So the next British Muslim who wants to go by the laws of his own state-within-the-state can be confident that it will fall into a legal gray area.

I have very little hope anymore that Britain will stand by its traditional principles of fair play and rule of law as its guest hijackers demand their own way.

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Ode to the … MKZ?

We read that the Ford Motor Company is looking for a marriage partner so it can become the second of the Big Three U.S. carmakers that will no longer exist on its own — because, among other reasons, it doesn't make vehicles that enough people want to buy. And we read in the September 25 number of Business Week that the deckswabbers of industry at Ford are planning to change the name of their Lincoln Zephyr to, are you ready for this?, the MKZ.

What bright light at Ford came up with this idea? Somebody who considers himself real cool, very likely. Someone who's downgraded brains to make room for more coolness. If you want one nearly infallible sign of a failing corporation, look for one that tosses aside names for its products that have an imaginative resonance for people in favor of meaningless alphanumeric designations or made-up neologisms.

Probably many a business school student is writing a paper decrying acts like Ford's as symbolic of what's wrong with our corporate leviathans. They will argue that renaming a product is a bad substitute for improving it: true, but the implication is that the name is irrelevant. Names are never irrelevant, however. A name is the first impression you get about a person, a car, a place — anything. It colors your attitude to the thing named.

So the people who mattered at Ford actually understood this truth better, in principle, than their critics. They decided that MKZ would be a more attractive name.

zephyr 1

Zephyr. The gentle west wind, a much more benign character than Boreas, the north wind who loves to put the boot in. Full of associations for poets, lit'ry types, and art lovers. Botticelli painted him in Primavera. Shelley wrote his "Ode to the West Wind":

Thou who didst waken from his summer dreams
The blue Mediterranean, where he lay,
Lull'd by the coil of his crystàlline streams,

Beside a pumice isle in Baiæ's bay,
And saw in sleep old palaces and towers
Quivering within the wave's intenser day …

The rail enthusiasts' favorite train in the United States is the historic California Zephyr; would they be as lyrical over it if it had been called the California CVS? For that matter, the Lincoln Zephyr, a name that was introduced long ago, has its own mystique for some car buffs.


The Vice President for Cool Nomenclature at Ford might have thought that in our unpoetic, high-tech age, "Zephyr" doesn't register anymore. If he or she had Googled it, though, more than a few contemporary and even tech businesses named "Zephyr" would have popped up. Clearly it still sings to some minds.

Why do companies shoot themselves in the foot like this — convince themselves that their customers are soulless circuit boards? Why do they abandon venerable names and logos that many people are fond of, and replace them with machine language?

Why not scupper "Lincoln" while they were about it? "Listen, Henry XXII, I've been meaning to talk to you about this 'Lincoln' thing. I know it's got sentimental points with your family and all, but I mean really, what does it say to our 25- to 49-year-old Gold Card cohort today? Some Revolutionary War dude with a tall hat? Listen, I've focus grouped the name 'Britney' — yes, I know all about the buy-out costs, but wait'll you see the name recognition scores."

Do dreamers of dreams see themselves behind the wheel of a spitting-new Britney G2VSD4? Either there are no longer dreamers, or our edge-of-the-edge marketing managers no longer know how to speak to them.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Blogger's block 2: 60 to zero in 10 seconds

All right now. This is getting serious.

Reflecting Light has been up for one year now and I have nothing to say before sentence is pronounced, or even mispronounced if cliché is not your native language. The highwayman has pointed his pistol at me and ordered me to hand over all my volubles. What's yours is yours and what's mine is mime, leaving me speechless.

I have truly made de grade, and been made degraded. Is anything lower for a blogger than posting about being blocked? It's like a first novelist turning out 100,000 words about How I Suffered as an Adolescent.

Sleep won't come, except to my readers. My dry wit has run wet. I need to be told, every hour on the hour, that it happens to all bloggers. I need to be told comfortingly, "There, there." But as Gertrude Stein said of Oakland, there is no there, there.

The problem is not that I no longer imagine anybody cares what I have to say about anything. It's that I no longer care what I have to say. I read a news story and know with a crushing certainty that someone else has already commented on it, and better than I could.

Oh, Mama, can this really be the end? To be stuck inside, immobile with the blogger's blues again?

If nothing else, I hope I have at least left you in suspense as I suspend misjudgment until the next posting.