Wednesday, March 28, 2007


The esteemed author of the Vanishing American blog has honored me by including Reflecting Light among his choices for the Thinking Blogger Award. Maybe it's because of my habit of answering questions with, "I have no idea. I'll have to think about it." No, jest justing, er sorry, I mean just jesting. VA is an A-1 blogger, thinker, and writer himself and I'm tickled pink he's awarded me the gong:


This selection does carry an obligation, to wit:
  1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think,
  2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the meme,
  3. Optional: Proudly display the Thinking Blogger Award’with a link to the post that you wrote.
I'm not sure just what no. 2 means, but I will keep the ball rolling by linking in this post to five blogs that "make me think." I'm going to take that phrase seriously. Thus, I have eliminated quite a few blogs that are entertaining and clever but not particularly vitamin-rich in ideas. Likewise, a blog doesn't make the shortlist even if it presents a good case for its viewpoint but is repetitive and predictable.

My choices below are ones I find consistently stimulating. That does not mean I agree with everything in them, but even when I am at odds with their authors about something, they can make me re-examine and defend what I might otherwise take for granted.

Lawrence Auster. In the battle of political and social ideas, liberals have the mainstream media, academia, most highbrow publications, the entertainment industry, and the judiciary. We have Lawrence Auster. It's hardly an even match. Still, you have to give the liberals credit for not admitting defeat and giving up completely.

Steve Sailer. You think you're politically incorrect? Hah. I don't know how Steve Sailer keeps from getting lynched by progressive mobs full of peace and compassion. There isn't a taboo subject he doesn't take on — race, IQ, immigrant crime, right down the list. He states his opinions boldly and unequivocally, but without rant. And he's got studies and statistics galore to back him up, as well as a steady grasp on logic. His argumentation is so good that even when he's wrong … well, I don't know, he might be right.

2 Blowhards. Written principally by the pseudonymous Michael Blowhard, with contributions from Donald Pittenger and Friedrich von Blowhard, this blog takes on almost anything, but principally culture and the arts. It's filled with fine little (sometimes not so little) essays, and each has a point of view — sweet Lord, does it ever. If anything, their postings are so thorough and multi-dimensional that this reader is hard off trying to think of anything to reply. But that doesn't stop other commenters, who tend to be an uncommonly smart and educated lot.

Chris Roach. Perhaps this country's closest equivalent to a good old-fashioned British newspaper columnist, and I mean that as a high compliment. He has a rare gift for seeing through political cant and exposing humbug. A traditionalist conservative, but nobody's mouthpiece.

Belmont Club. Coverage of worldwide political and military events, mostly related to Muslim terrorism and militancy. Some of it is about stuff going down in obscure (to some of us) places; much is depressing; but it's exhilarating to feel you're peeking behind the curtain of official lies, bland public relations, and conventional thinking that passes for news and analysis in the supposedly serious media. The author, "Wretchard" as he styles himself, must have his own worldwide intelligence agency, and it seems to be better than the CIA or MI-6 by a long chalk.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

The airline goon show

Flying on commercial airlines has become an ordeal. Even if you're one of the elect sitting in first/business, that doesn't save you from endless, degrading delays at the airport or in the cabin if you have to connect from one flight to another, which is typical of long-haul travel these days.

Ma'am and sir, I am nostalgic for the good old days when people just griped about airline food. By and large, the food they serve these days is pretty decent, certainly a great improvement. What's wrong now is the logistics of getting where you're going without going spare in the waiting rooms and security queue.

If your destination (or "final destination," a bit of flight-attendant-speak that always has a slightly sinister ring to me) doesn't have a U.S. Customs station, you get to take your first flight (call it, for discussion, eight and a half hours), then you exit at the transfer airport, collect your luggage, take it through security a second time (even if you haven't left the airside, which is past security), go through the coat-metal-shoes-laptop-watch tap strip tease, and slink toward the gate for your connection, marveling at the number of moving walkways on the way as a recorded announcement at each lets you know "The walkway is ending" every five seconds, even if you've just stepped aboard it.

Finally, you get to the gate, perhaps three terminals away in a different ZIP Code. The electric sign tells you that your plane will leave on time. Sit down and make yourself comfortable, or as comfortable as you can be with another recorded announcement telling you again and again that the nice old lady who asked you to carry a package to her niece may be actually a terrorist keen on seeing how many pieces you can be subdivided into.

But don't make yourself too comfortable. Because, likely as not, the cheeriest gate agent you can imagine lets you know that the flight has been cancelled for "technical reasons," or is delayed. If the latter, you have a shred of hope. The sign that said 18:00 now says 18:30. As the time gets within, say, 20 minutes of 18:30 and there is no boarding call, you can kiss that 18:30 departure good-by. Rinse, re-schedule, repeat.

But while there are things the airline could do to make your time of trial a little more bearable, I'm not here to slag off the airlines. On my most recent trip -- a scenario not unlike the above -- I was convinced that the gate agent was doing what he could to keep us posted. Which wasn't much. Chaos has reached such a zenith that the customer service reps themselves don't know what's going on.

The deregulation, hub-and-spoke system the airlines have been operating under for thirty-some years is broken. It's no longer a case of an occasional glitch; I mean you are, statistically, far more likely if you have a connecting route to find yourself with a couple of hundred other poor sods talking into your cell phone, explaining to your spouse/kids/limo driver that it's now looking like you'll be an hour and a half late, but that could change, and not for the earlier.

How did we get into this situation? The basic answer is that the air traffic system is bursting at the seams. Not enough gates, not enough takeoff slots. And there's no fix for it, at least not one that anybody except me is willing to go public with. For financial, planning, and environmental reasons, it is almost impossible to build a new airport (in the United States and most of Europe) anywhere near a city. Most airports don't even have room for a new runway and taxiways.

Mind you, this is not a safety issue. There is no reason to believe that airport crowding poses any greater risk. Air traffic control spacing for takeoffs and landing remains the same (but with more airplanes using the same taxiways and runways, that's one reason for the delays).

At a major airport you'll see a lot more airline paint schemes than you would have a few years ago. Start-up airlines rarely make money and come and go quietly, but they
appear annually like groundhogs emerging from hibernation at the beginning of spring. On my recent trip I watched in my hotel room a documentary on the BBC about the growth of start-up airlines in newly entrepreneurial India: something like 10 new airlines have been launched in the past two years. That's probably not the problem it would be in the U.S., because India is a big country and most of the new lines fly to cities that had no or minimal service previously.

The capacity problem in the U.S. and Europe is puzzling, because I was under the impression that there are a limited number of slots at any given airport. But spending time in any major terminal will convince you that more people are flying than ever before, with a corresponding increase in flights.

What's behind this situation? The explosion of low-cost carriers. I talked to an Englishman who said he'd flown from London to Amsterdam for 9 pounds one-way. That's ridiculous. According to the BBC program, all the new airlines in India are losing money. To executives of
the el cheapo airlines, it's all about market share. Carry more passengers than your rivals and you can bust their chops, even if you're losing money meanwhile. Everybody's fightin' about a spoonful.

Nobody benefits from this farce. Not the startups, who are sniffing glue if they think they can make money by losing more than the competition. Not the legacy carriers, who must continually cheapen their product to match the bottom fishers. And not the public, who are living a fantasy if they imagine lower-than-low airfares can continue indefinitely, and might find themselves stranded in Sharm-el-Sheikh one morning when their carrier is no longer carrying anyone.

The strategy of attracting more customers, each of which costs you money, might work in some businesses; it was the game Jeff Bezos played for years at could go to a profitable model anytime, but first it had to become the category killer, the company claimed. Wall Street never much bought the story, and Bezos is one smart dude.

So I'm going to propose the unthinkable. In general I'm all for deregulation; I'd even say that for most of the past 30 years it's worked tolerably well in the airline industry. But it doesn't anymore. It's ludicrous to have dozens of airlines that can't make a profit and won't ever make a profit turning our air transport system into a chicken coop. Yes, you can say, but prices have come down. True: at the cost of making air travel hideous. It's all based on the idea that cheap flights are a human right guaranteed by the Constitution and the U.N. charter. They are not. As in any other business, people should pay what good service costs. If that means some U.K hooligans can't fly over to Malaga to raise hell for the cost of a few pints, too bad.

Being an airplane passenger used to be a thrill, and at moments it still is. Passenger aviation is one of the wonders of the modern world. Let's make it manageable and pleasurable again.


Read this post from the blog Any Port in a Storm for a narrative of a Third World–like experience in airline travel. I disagree with the writer only in that I'm not sure US Airways is a great deal different from other airlines. All of them could do better, but I think we have to face it that the cause of the distress is systemic. A lot of the disgraceful dis-service is down to deregulation of pricing. Air travel has become a commodity where the carrier that charges two bucks less on a route is the winner, but to be able to do that, it has to cut costs up and down the line. That means, among other things, operating with a skeleton staff that can't possibly cope with the demands, including those of efficiency, made on it.

I repeat: air travel is not a civil right that must be made available to everyone regardless of their means. If the only alternative to purgatory is to legally impose an equitable price structure, so the industry can provide a decent service for a reasonable profit, then let's do it. Thousands of people a day shouldn't be put through hell so college kids can fly halfway across the country to visit their buds for the price of a pair of high-end running shoes.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Holland days sauce

I'm back from a trip to Amsterdam and The Hague. That is, very near the heart of transnational progressive Europe.

Not to worry, this won't be a typical travel post. It's about me only incidentally, but rather what I observed. And while some of what I saw was disturbing, it's not a Europe-bashing post.

I left admiring the Dutch. They are some of the most pleasant and helpful people I've met. Generous with help and advice, and even under pressure calm and self-contained. True, most of those I encountered were on business or in trade, so they had some motivation to behave well, but as we all know that hardly guarantees courtesy in many places. The concept of "attitude" seems unknown in Holland, and there was none of that brusque behavior that's all too common in New York and London. I had no call to keep a lid on my temper, unlike at New York's Newark Airport where I spent three and a half hours (partly because of the now-standard delay in connecting flights). People with any sensitivity to manners should avoid New York in general and its airports in particular.

The other thing that knocked me out about the old central parts of Amsterdam and The Hague was the architecture. This was my first visit to either place, and I'd assumed that there would be a few streets in the rich areas along the canals with picture-book buildings, and the rest of the city glass, steel, and concrete ugliness. Wrong. For miles and miles in the district dating from the harbor to the 19th century developments, the grace and charm of most building is a constant source of delight, on the side streets as well as on the old canal-side merchants' houses (now, needless to say, occupied mainly by lawyers' offices, foundations, and I presume the very rich). Most are in the traditional gabled style, and even the relatively new 19th century construction harmonizes with tradition. In addition you get neo-Gothic, neoclassical, straight Victorian-era, and quite a few art nouveau and art deco houses and commercial buildings. A great city for walking and perhaps bike riding, unless you are Theo van Gogh and you have offended the delicate sensibilities of the Muslim jihadists.

The area just described, though large, is only the old part of Amsterdam (and it looks like the same story in The Hague from what I saw on a day trip). Outside the historic area, you see modern suburbs of commercial and bureaucratic blight. Spectacular eyesores of housing developments in the style American urban planners went through in the '50s, boxy highrises planted in empty, windswept plazas. Office and commercial buildings of unrelieved sterility.

You may be wondering about the Muslim situation. Well, the ritzy and touristy parts of the city don't seem to have changed much sociologically due to the Muslim influx, and it's understandable that many of the business suits, government workers, and heads of institutions don't comprehend what all the fuss is about. They don't go where the immigrants gather, in the dreary suburbs that you see a little of from the train and on the way from Schiphol airport, and I have no doubt there are much worse. It seems to be the emerging pattern in European cities: a traditional core for business, government, and tourism, and seedy or dangerous suburbs where the migrants, legal or not, congregate -- just far enough out of view that you can ignore them, until the day comes when there are so many of Muhammed's civilian and jihadist army that they must be appeased and ultimately surrendered to.

A possibly even more significant surrender has already taken place. The Dutch no longer believe in or care about God. In Amsterdam, the churches -- several dating back to the middle ages, and others of great architectural appeal -- have been transformed into spaces relevant to contemporary European interests. They are now museums; art galleries; music venues for classical, jazz, rock, and hip-hop; conference spaces; and, in once case (the Grote Kirk in The Hague), commercial meeting sites. The Grote Kirk (dating from Holland's Golden Age, the 17th century, with an amazing carved wooden pulpit) has a sign that says, "Open for special occasions only."

There was a special occasion the day I was there, an Irish tourism festival timed to coincide with St. Patrick's Day. Irishmen and -women
in separate booths pitching north, south, east, west, northwest, southwest, southeast Ireland (not to mention Irish fishing, golfing, castles, Aer Lingus, etc.) , the inevitable crafts, the inevitable inevitables. The capitals of the columns in the nave, hundreds of years old, had been spray painted Day-Glo green. Removable, you hope.

Otherwise, the fine old Protestant churches are locked, when not hosting an event or milking tourists of a few Euros to get in.

The areas of Holland I saw, perhaps not entirely typical of the rest of the country, are every "progressive's" dream. Completely rational and planned (not entirely a bad thing, as the architectural preservation attests). Commercialism as pervasive and crass as anything in the U.S. An overwhelming youth culture: kids from all over the world, in the requisite rebellious dress code of blue jeans and black jackets, queueing up for an hour to get in Madame Tussaud's wax museum. The backpackers shuffle along the streets, vacant eyed (stoned on dope from the coffee shops, I guess), wondering where the next thrill will come from now they've checked off their 14th Hard Rock Cafe and got the T-shirt, and gone window shopping in the Red Light District (very few, I suspect, have the dough to actually partake of what's on offer).

To get back to the progressive's dream: here it is -- bicycle lanes in the middle of the sidewalk (and you'd better learn to watch out), commercial galleries full of "transgressive art," but most of all, the brains saturated with money and the pleasures of the senses, obsessed with global warming, placidly obedient to the EU oligarchs. (The slick, colorful tourist guides in the hotel rooms have ads for prostitutes, very tasteful, but there's no doubt what is being touted.) Spirit? "The God Delusion."

I wonder how they think those radiant tulips, red and yellow and purple and red-veined white, occurred. Just an accident, no doubt.

Meet homo economicus, for whom only money and politics are real. Amsterdam and The Hague retain enough old world charm and graciousness that being locked in time and space, with spiritual transformation sandblasted out of sight, may be the new post-theistic Western Europe at its most seductive.

Because it's not only Holland, of course. I read in an English newspaper that one of their currency notes, the 20-pound bill I think, will no longer have a picture of Sir Edward Elgar, England's greatest composer. He is being turfed out to be replaced by Adam Smith. I have nothing against Adam Smith, but the change is symbolic: Britain is now a nation of money spinning go-getters, most of whom have no trace of Elgar in their cultural bloodstream, and the currency of "cool" Britannia needs to reflect that, at least until the design is changed again to feature a mosque. Of course, the old French franc notes with engravings of Berlioz, writers and other artists has been replaced by the bland and forgettable Euro bills.

Holland is an admirable country in many ways, but I think I'll stay an unreconstructed Yank.

Monday, March 12, 2007

Britain: a dead society?

As noted previously, I am in Europe on business and don't have time to do a "real" post. But you really should see Lawrence Auster's latest. He's been on a roll lately:

"I’ve already suggested that with Britain’s Equality Act and the ensuing Sexual Orientation Regulations, which outlaw discrimination against homosexuals in the provisions of goods and services, without any exceptions, and with the position of the British government that any limitation on the number of immigrants allowed to enter Britain is “racist,” Britain has reached the acme of liberalism and is thus dead as a society in any traditional or normal sense. This doesn’t mean that Britain cannot change course and come back. But if such a turnaround is to occur, it can only happen if the British recognize that as they are now they are dead, and decide, as a people, that they want to live."

If you want to know what prompted this ... you may not believe your eyes.

I especially urge my British readers to check it out, think on it, and if they are still capable of taking a stand for sanity, act on it.

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Vale, pro tempore

I'm off on a business trip to Europe, followed by a few days of sightseeing. Not sure if I'll be posting during the trip, but it's possible.

As always, you will do well in the meanwhile to visit the interesting sites on the blogroll to the right.

I'll be back and blogging again after March 19.

Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Derrière garde

Ever since I added the City Journal web site to my blogroll, my description alongside the link has been "the best political magazine in America." (Peggy Noonan is prominently quoted on the site claiming that it is "the best magazine in America," period.)

I haven't withdrawn that pat on the back because I actually don't know of a better print magazine/web site on politics and sociology, and
there is still a fair amount of trenchant commentary to be found there. Other than the ideological dunce Tamar Jacoby with her commonplace open borders spiel — doing the jobs Americans won't do and all the rest of the usual sophistry — the writers are pretty sound as a rule.

But I'm starting to find the publication annoying. It seems to rattle on about the same few themes issue after issue: affirmative action, threats to free speech, ethnic balkanization, Theodore Dalrymple's latest installment on the dissolution of morality as a social value. All important issues, sure. But that word "issues" suggests why City Journal bothers me more and more — it's about issues, but in a hermetic, intellectualized style that seems aimed at persuasion rather than therapeutic action. As debate fodder, the magazine's content is impressive, but it rarely acknowledges that a 2,500-year tradition of civilization is under immediate threat and that we are called on to decide what to do, not just what to think.

Lawrence Auster has been much exercised lately about putatively conservative commentators who warn us in season and out about the dangers to the West from Islam, but who never get around to suggesting such common-sense defensive measures as stopping Muslim immigration and encouraging Muslims to remove themselves from our midst. I find a lot of the same kind of solemn, inconclusive point-making at City Journal. And the points have already been made countless times. After the fifth or eighth piece bashing sneaky college administrators for bringing racial favoritism in through the back door after a plebiscite or court decision has barred it from entering via the front door, what more is there to say? You either acknowledge that we have a social civil war on our hands, or you View With Alarm one more time. City Journal chooses door no. 2.

Currently up on the City Journal web site is a confession of sorts from Victor Davis Hanson, who acknowledges that the Mexican Invasion "has made things worse than I foresaw" when he first wrote about "Mexifornia" in 2002. I can remember that original article: he had grown up in central California with Mexicans, but now he had Doubts, albeit of a rather high-toned, academic sort. Today the scales have fallen from his eyes. We all know the joke about a conservative being a liberal who has just been mugged — well, boo hoo, friend:

Ever since the influx of illegals into our quiet valley became a flood, I have had five drivers leave the road, plow into my vineyard, and abandon their cars, without evidence of either registration or insurance. On each occasion, I have seen them simply walk or run away from the scene of thousands of dollars in damage. Similarly, an intoxicated driver who ran a stop sign hit my car broadside and then fled the scene. Our farmhouse in the Central Valley has been broken into three times. We used to have an open yard; now it is walled, with steel gates on the driveway.
His piece includes many good arguments against our paper national borders, although his jaunty assurance that "the controversy over illegal immigration [has] moved so markedly to the right" is far too optimistic, in my opinion. Yet even now, he can't bring himself to say much about what to do to stop illegal immigration and repatriate the immigrant criminals who are already here. He hides behind the skirts of public opinion, the "growing national discomfort over illegal immigration." And while he says that "we forget how numbers are at the crux of the entire debate over illegal immigration [my emphasis]," he ignores the numbers that are at the crux of the debate about immigration. For a man of his intellectual attainments (he is a distinguished classical scholar), Hanson is playing the naif by pretending we're all hung up over documents — after all, as I and many others have said till we're blue in the face, if the problem is only that we have lots of illegals coming in, we can take care of that by swallowing the bait from Ted Kennedy & Co. and handing them citizenship forthwith.

Both Victor Davis Hanson and the editors at City Journal need to let go of their above-the-battle attitude and get their silk breeches dirty, or settle for remaining spectators in the drama that will determine whether there is a future for the civilization whose ancient history Hanson has chronicled.

Friday, March 02, 2007

The eerie music of the gods leaving

Corby, England: Too, too white to keep their jobs.

Reading about life in contemporary Britain has the sick fascination of gawking at a bad traffic accident. You know it's an unedifying sight, and unless you are first on the scene there's nothing you can do to help. Your curiosity to see mangled metal and perhaps human gore does you no credit. You can't even thank your luck or divine protection for keeping you out of the dreadful event — the odds are by no means overwhelming that you'll never fetch up in a similar crash.

His followers heard the eerie music of the gods leaving Mark Antony shortly before his demise in Shakespeare's play. The gods are piping and mewing again, this time for Formerly Great Britain. I really ought to look away, say a prayer for the living dead, and get on with it. But some residual fondness for a country I apparently came to admire during my incarnation in England in the Victorian and Edwardian periods keeps me fixed on the ever-advancing symptoms of the country's end-stage sociopathy.

Thanks to the invaluable Daily Mail, whose total lack of intellectual respectability apparently allows it to delve into dark corners of U.K. life that the "quality" broadsheets can't be bothered about, we learn that the government is transferring jobs away from a Midlands town because its residents are "too white and too British."

The Prison Service is relocating the posts to a nearby city where there are more ethnic minorities.

It is the first known case of its kind, but MPs warned similar moves could secretly be taking place across the country as civil servants are under enormous pressure from ministers to boost the number of ethnic minorities working in the public sector.
Corby, in Northamptonshire, still has (rather amazing in today's U.K.) a population that is — brace yourself for a shock — 93.7 percent white British. Leicester, to which 80 of the jobs in Corby are being shunted, is only 59.6 percent indigenous British.

Lest you imagine that Corby is a bastion of ancient aristocratic privilege or an upper-middle-class enclave in the stockbroker belt, it is no such thing. I've never gone to Leicester, but I have been in Northamptonshire, and it is in the part of England stretching from the Midlands to the North that has fallen on hard times with the economic decline of the working class in the post-industrial era. My point being that these too-pale, too-British subjects of Her Majesty are not your posh-speaking Land Rover customers. They are mostly poor people who need their jobs and the security that working for the government brings.
Director of finance Ann Beasley - one of Home Secretary John Reid's top civil servants - said the town [Corby] had too many white British residents. As a result, it does not satisfy the drive to recruit more ethnic minorities.
No one should be surprised by now that the U.K. Labour government is embarked on a scheme of race replacement for the country, or that anti-white discrimination is a firm policy. It (and, for that matter, the so-called opposition Tory party) are pushing the multi-cultural agenda in every imaginable way, and they won't be satisfied until Britain is an amalgam of the Carribbean, Arabia, Africa, Poland, and anywhere else as long as it's not white and traditional British.

What is still a little breathtaking, though, is that the country's ruling bureaucracy doesn't even think it's worth the bother of practicing sleight-of-hand. The manipulation is right out in the open, and the multi-cultists are so confident history is going their way that they don't even pay white Britain the tribute of hypocrisy. I'd be the last to deny that the U.S. elites who identify themselves with the transnational Marketing State are following the British and EU playbook, but we still have enough operational backbones in this country that our masters feel it necessary to use weasel words when they replace American workers with Third Worlders inside or outside our dysfunctional borders.

A few generations ago, if Britons had been told that their jobs were being taken from them and given to others who had done nothing to earn them except for their skill in the use of skin pigment, they would have marched on Whitehall and stuffed the responsible civil servant down her own throat. But that was another Britain, where even poor people had self-respect. Today they are drones whose existence is owed, directly or indirectly, to the State. There are no more civil servants in Britain. From dingy cubicles to thick-carpeted offices, civil masters rule.