Thursday, April 30, 2009

Technological unemployment cited in monastery downsizing

A calligraphic robot has been programmed to create a "hand"-lettered Bible, similar to those in pre-Gutenberg times. (Tip of the hat: Ministry of Type)


It's hard to imagine this application of robotic science has a future. The letters appear to be uniform, so there's not much difference between the "hand"-written version and a printed page.

But suppose you could do this: scan the pages of medieval, multi-colored illuminated manuscripts to record the exact design and color values. (As I noted once, the colored inks in manuscripts fade much less than paint on wood or canvas. The hand-painted illustrations give us an authentic idea of the tonal palettes used by artists in the Middle Ages.)

Then, you develop software that enables the robot to ink in exactly the same colors as the original on each page. You could even use parchment-like paper. When the process is complete, you have a nearly exact copy of the historical document … and besides, the software files could be stored so that reproductions could be made any time, even if the original were to be lost in some calamity.

High-quality modern color printing can give a pretty fair image of hand-painted manuscripts, but even at its best can't reproduce the sheen and mineral-impregnated tones of colored ink applied flat rather than bit-mapped in the four-color process.

Imagine recreating in actual size an illuminated manuscript such as the 15th century masterpiece, Les très riches heures du duc de Berry:




I understand that Google is embarked on a project to scan every book in print, or maybe every printed book available. I'd like to see all hand-written manuscripts preserved as well. It would be expensive (though there might be economies of scale). The writings of the ancients were copied, and often embellished, by men in much poorer societies than ours. We might do those artist-craftsmen the same favor.


Monday, April 27, 2009

Fashion notes from all over

In keeping with Reflecting Light's vacation from politics, we have called in our Soft News editor for a fashion article.

Estelle Globule-Marks and Mbukini "Pinky" Kolumubu
model latest kit at Fireperson Fashions 09

Fire departments around the U.K., tired of hearing public complaints about women firefighters being given affirmative action preferences, are rebranding their services with a new, stronger image in facewear.

"Bloke or not-bloke? It's all in the eye of the beholder," said Cmdr. Michael Toweller of the Chipping Sodbury Fire Suppression Force. "Now shut your gob and let us get on with it. Public relations is Job 1."

Michael Jackson steps out in anti-Swine Flu attire.
That's one flu over the cuckoo's nest!

Michael Jackson, in London for a series of concerts, said through a publicist: "Rumors that I have converted to Islam are categorically untrue. Pork is excluded from my diet only because of Swine Flu and because I intend to maintain my physical and mental purity. I am only here to raise money for Flu Aid 09, and my mask is a symbol to raise public consciousness of the threat of Global Flu Warming."


Saturday, April 25, 2009

The American Jacobin era begins

We interrupt Reflecting Light's holiday from politics for a public service announcement.

President for Life Obama and his radical left zombie followers have signaled that they are prepared to purge these United States of dissenters and deviationists. First came the now-notorious DHS report trying to brand opponents of his centralized-power Putsch as proto-terrorists.

Next he began testing the waters for show trials of members of the other party who served in the previous administration, a common feature of life in African one-man-rule countries. There have even been suggestions of trials like those in South Africa after the end of apartheid -- you know, where you were "forgiven" as long as you pleaded guilty. If you protested your innocence, you were found guilty anyway and jailed.

And, always in the background, the colonization of the United States by Mexicans, Guatemalans, Salvadoreans, Somalis, Muslims of various nationalities ... legal or illegal, it doesn't matter: it's the globalist strategy of divide and conquer, balkanize, replace indigenous populations, all in aid of stifling opposition.

It's getting hot in here.

We now return to our regularly scheduled non-political blogging.


Friday, April 24, 2009

Melody Gardot and the art of glamour photography


Last year Melody Gardot, a 22-year-old singer, guitarist, and composer released her second album, Worrisome Heart.

Google Image Search offers quite a few photographs of her. To judge from some of the more candid shots, she is an attractive young woman, but possibly not one who would turn heads when she entered the room or someone you'd immediately fasten on in a crowd. Wonderful are the ways, however, of photographers who know how to tailor their work for show business.

I mean that as an honest compliment. Glamour photography is a true art form. (Glamour, with its luxuriously stretched, exotic ending, simply will not be reduced to the Americanized and plebeian glamor.) Why is it put down as "commercial"? Is photography intended to be hung in art galleries with turbo price tags less tainted by money? Don't glamour shots and "art" photography have similar aims, to create striking images based on color, atmosphere, and composition?

Here's a Melody Gardot gallery:





Melody has an interesting story. She was struck by a car while riding her bicycle, and suffered serious bone, nerve, and head injuries; she still walks with the aid of a cane and wears dark glasses because of oversensitivity to light. As a path to recovery, she took to music therapy in a big way, and began writing and performing songs.

That would be of no importance, except to her, were it not that she has emerged as one of the most striking new talents I've heard in years. The fact that her album was released on Verve, the prestigious jazz label, indicates that she's impressed some of the toughest music critics in the business — recording industry executives.


Her voice commands instant attention and is not one you're likely to forget, a supple and spectrally hued instrument. Emotionally, she ranges from innocent naïf to solitary dreamer to sultry flirt.

More than that, Melody has found her own musical territory. If you want to map it, the coordinates are jazz, early '60s-style folk, pop, and blues. Too much eclecticism can be dangerous, running the risk of jarring shifts from one mode to another, but she doesn't fall into that trap because she adapts each style to her own sensibility.

Remarkably for a musician who grew up in the era of iPods, 99-cent downloads, crap designed to meet the needs of formula radio, and almost purely rhythmic dance-club tracks, she writes real songs that live up to her first name. I won't say she's yet in the league with George Gershwin, Cole Porter, Harold Arlen, or even Lennon-McCartney, but this is a distinguished album that promises a bright future for her.


If her injuries released an inspiration that had been latent in her, they were a gift from God — even if, in the manner of so many of God's gifts, they arrived like a punch in the gut.


Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Time out from politics

For an undetermined time, I'm going to stop writing about jihadists, los illegals, President for Life Obama, England's self-imposed muli-cultural hell …


… huh? How'd that get in there? Just an accident.

Anyway, as I was saying: for the time being, no more about the Globalist Establishment's campaign to eliminate the middle class through open borders and race replacement, the financial asteroid crash, the I'm Getting Mine Club in Congress, etc.

Why? Because the futility of these protests is eating through my vitals, I'm tired of pointing out the West's death wish, and bloggers who follow in detail the twists and turns of liberty's struggle for survival often pre-empt anything I have to say on that subject.

Life goes on meanwhile. There is still much to enjoy and appreciate in the arts, nature, and thought. This world of appearances, based on sense impressions, normally blots out other levels of reality where the Good, the True, and the Beautiful are actualized. I hope to have something to say about all of these, with the aim of raising my spirits and, I hope, yours.


Sunday, April 19, 2009

Berlin: Symphony of a Great City


"Unique" is not only an overused word; it's misused 90 percent of the time. It means "one of a kind," "unlike any other." Am I being pedantic? Okay, sue me.

Very little in this world is unique. That definitely includes movies. Few movies are even original, in anything but details, let alone unique. But the 1927 film Berlin: Symphony of a Great City is unique in my experience.

Symphony belongs to the '20s avant-garde, and I'm sure film school dissertations have been written about its technique and structure, or the filmmaker's intended sociological message. I couldn't care less about that stuff. (But the editing -- pretentiously called "montage" in those days -- is superb, remarkable for its time.)


If there is such a thing as a visual historian, I guess I am one at heart. I'm fascinated by how things (including people) looked in the past. I want to be a time traveler (albeit, in some eras, enclosed in a cloak of invisibility or an impregnable machine).

Old movies offer a glimpse of the past, but an artificial and staged one. Literally: they were almost always shot on sound stages. It was only much later that location shooting became common. Then as now, movies did not hold the mirror up to ordinary daily life.

But that's exactly what Symphony does. Three cameramen are credited, and what they appear to have done, mostly, is view what was going on as people went about their lives, working in offices and factories, riding streetcars, drinking their troubles away, dancing in nightclubs, watching cabaret shows. The Berlin streetscape and buildings are what you would have seen at the time, not a modern set designer's or special effects person's idea of their appearance.

A few scenes, such as a woman committing suicide by jumping off a bridge, are obviously scripted and break the spell, but only temporarily. Most of the time, you have an uncanny "I am there" feeling.

(The film was originally silent, and possibly a piano score was written to accompany it. This new edition comes with a good orchestral score, appropriate to the action and with Kurt Weill-like sonorities for period authenticity.)


So what does "being there" feel like? The time, 1927, was a relatively prosperous interlude in Berlin's history. The Great War, which had ended less than a decade before, doesn't seem to have affected the city in any visible way. The mad inflation of the postwar Weimar Republic had been tamed.

We know what was to come, of course, but while we are immersed in this cinematic Pompeii it's useful for understanding if we put aside our post facto awareness and just absorb what's in front of us.

We see a city that is in many ways surprisingly modern. Some of the buildings are in the International or Bauhaus style, unornamented, with regularized window patterns. Automated factories house mechanical arms doing what human arms once did, gears turning and gripping -- the nonhuman environment Charlie Chaplin would satirize a few years later in Modern Times. Streetcars are ubiquitous, automobiles that look well cared for plentiful, office desks have telephones. Railroad overpasses are much like those that still exist.

But we see vestiges of an older Berlin, too. Shop signs with elegant 19th century lettering. Still quite a few horse-drawn vehicles, which mostly seem to be for hauling cargo. Even cattle are driven through the streets, to a slaughterhouse, I suppose, still located in the central city. We do the nasty to our cattle in remote places nowadays, out of sight and mind.

The people do not appear aware of a camera recording their activities for others to watch 80 years later. Most (not all) appear prosperous, the men well turned out in expensive suits, the women with "flapper"-style hairdos and the bell-shaped hats that were in fashion.


Looking for signs of Berlin's legendary decadence? They didn't make it into the film. There are wonderful shots of an American-style jazz band, and the cabaret dancers show a lot of flesh without being very naughty.

Looking for signs of belligerence and aggression? You won't find them. There is one shot of soldiers marching in the street, no more or less militant than any others. A dignitary is shown with an honor guard of soldiers in comic-opera dress uniforms. Police directing traffic are hardly fierce, especially under their goofy hats, like upside-down flower pots with bills.

Obviously, Symphony doesn't show everything that was going on or every side of life in Berlin. If the city Zentrum looks calm, no doubt there were Nazi and Communist cadres meeting somewhere. The smartly dressed business people may hardly have been aware of it, but surely in grim suburbs were large populations of men who had been mutilated in the war, had no work to go to, no future to look forward to.

Nevertheless, on the evidence of Symphony, Berlin in 1927 seems on the surface to have been pretty normal, and aside from regional differences not unlike any major city in Europe, or New York, or Chicago. That apparently benign appearance makes what would soon happen in the Nazi era more appalling, not less.


Although, as I said, it's worth the effort to watch this time capsule without imposing hindsight on it, when you think about it later you can't help applying your knowledge of subsequent history. Some of the young boys would have arms and legs blown off and die freezing in the snow outside Stalingrad. Many adults would meet their ends by fragmentation, fire, asphyxiation, being crushed under falling masonry in the Allied air raids that tore the city to fragments. The pretty young women we see in Symphony, if they survived the bombing, would be raped by Russian soldiers.

Whatever they thought they were doing when they elected Hitler a few years later, they didn't imagine the outcome. No one could have imagined that.


"Obama a hit with US critics" -- headline

That says a lot, doesn't it?

The most prolific Bush-basher, Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, was a model of effusive civility with Obama, telling him, "I want to be your friend" in English and presenting him with a left-wing book on Latin America as a gift.

President for Life Obama, part Lenin, part Willy "Well Liked" Loman, needing only a smile and a shoeshine, plus an occasional bow before a Muslim king, to fill his empty self with the plaudits of America's enemies, sorry, "critics."

Attention must be paid to such a man.


Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Environmental leader: Criminalize insufficiently "green" homeowners

Scottish environmental activist prepares
to educate a neighboring homeowner on the dangers
of uninsulated cavity walls.

Scotland's proud history of witch hunting, clan wars, and hammer tossing may soon add un-green persecution to its list of accomplishments. (Tip of the hat: The Devil's Kitchen.)

From The Scotsman:

HOMEOWNERS who do not to take action to improve the energy efficiency of their properties should be treated as criminals, one of the country's most influential environmentalists said last night.

Dr Richard Dixon, director of WWF Scotland, believes tough measures are needed to force people to cut their use of fossil fuels and thinks governments should consider making it a crime for members of the public not to take measures such as installing cavity wall insulation.
Rubbish. My uninsulated cavity walls bother no one but my dentist.
He also said he thought failing to put in energy efficiency measures was "as antisocial as drink driving".

Dr Dixon said: "I think it should be a crime to be wasting energy. It's clearly a moral crime against the climate, and I think we should be having a discussion about whether it should become an actual crime."
Okay, Dr. Dixon, let's do an experiment. You can ride home tonight as a passenger in a car driven by a laddie who's crocked to the eyeballs on Scotland's best-loved product, or spend the same amount of time next to a house whose cavity walls are uninsulated. Think it over, take as long as you need, but then be prepared to live (or not) with your choice.

Make fuel waste an offence, demands climate expert, the story is headlined. This is so nonsensical and so conflicts with the actual meaning of its vocabulary that it calls out for ironic quotes around nearly every word: Make "fuel waste" "an offence," "demands" "climate expert."

Dr. Dixon and mental cases like him are the environment's worst enemies, almost daring those with self-respect and a healthy distaste for bullying cranks to send forth, in his direction, a large emission of greenhouse gas from any convenient orifice.

An "offence"? I'll show you offence.

There is a character in a Kingsley Amis novel who daydreams of newspaper stories about an anthropologist acquaintance he can't stand. He envisions reading: "Ancient tribal ceremony … forced to eat … cut off his … " etc.

I hope Dr. Dixon likes haggis. You know, the Scottish delicacy made of sheep's stomach, heart, liver, and that. Right now I'm thinking: "Ancient Scottish ceremony … forced to eat … "


Sunday, April 12, 2009

ACLU to defend pirates



Somali House, a former Palm Beach luxury resort,
has been refitted to accommodate alleged Pirates awaiting trial.

Mark Steyn writes:
Once upon a time we killed and captured pirates. Today, it's all more complicated. Attorney General Eric Holder has declined to say whether the kidnappers of the American captain will be "brought to justice" by the U.S. "I'm not sure exactly what would happen next," declares the chief law-enforcement official of the world's superpower. But some things we can say for certain. Obviously, if the United States Navy hanged some eye-patched, peg-legged blackguard from the yardarm or made him walk the plank, pious senators would rise to denounce an America that no longer lived up to its highest ideals, and the network talking-heads would argue that Plankgate was recruiting more and more young men to the pirates' cause, and judges would rule that pirates were entitled to the protections of the U.S. Constitution and that their peg legs had to be replaced by high-tech prosthetic limbs at taxpayer expense.
He probably thought he was joking. The FBI, however, has obligingly turned itself into CSI: Somalia.

FBI Begins Building Criminal Case Against Somali Pirates

WASHINGTON — FBI agents planned to interview the crew of a U.S. cargo ship Saturday as the bureau began building a criminal case against Somali pirates who attacked the ship and took the captain hostage. ...

"The FBI has informed us that this ship is a crime scene," John Reinhart, president of Maersk Shipping Line said Saturday, explaining why crew members cannot immediately leave the ship.

I can't wait for tomorrow's announcement from President for Life Obama.

"I'm here to tell the world: the United States of today is not the arrogant United States that committed aggression against the Barbary Pirates back in, er, er, the days of Abraham Lincoln. Under My administration, we recognize our obligations to international opinion, including that of the Pirate community.

"I regret that it may be necessary to take action against a few Pirates who are alleged to have taken premature possession of the international cargo ship Maersk Chicago and detained its captain for negotiations. My press secretary will issue a strongly actioned statement later this afternoon.

"In view of the difficult situation allegedly caused by the actions of a few extremist Pirates, who have hijacked the profession of the vast majority of moderate Pirates, I have ordered -- uh, consulted with My Director of Immigration to fast-track the transfer of the entire nation of Somalia to the United States, and place them on a path to citizenship. The mayor of Minneapolis has strongly backed the move, which will assure all moderate Pirates that we seek their safety first and foremost.

"Meanwhile, the alleged perpetrators will enjoy the fullest protection guaranteed them by the Emancipation Proclamation and the U.N. Declamation of the Rights of Persons."

Lawyer up, everybody.


It turns out that Obama & Co. did what needed to be done — whether out of conviction, or because various parties told him in no uncertain terms that if he didn't the country would turn decisively against him, who knows? Nevertheless, I'm happy about the outcome, glad to give credit where it's due, and am a little embarrassed about the tone of the posting above.

But once everyone is no longer basking in the afterglow, let's see how long it takes before the usual mopes start worrying about a dangerous precedent having been set, how the rescue's tactics will only fuel a cycle of violence, and how Obama caved in to the "extreme right wing."

[A few minutes later] Not long at all. The Telegraph, which passes for a conservative paper in the U.K., already Views With Alarm, saying: "The dramatic rescue of an American cargo ship captain kidnapped by Somali pirates may have put the lives of hundreds of other hostages in danger and raised the stakes for future hijacks, experts have warned."

Look, once the captain was taken hostage, there was no course without current and future risks. Prolonged negotiations and an eventual payoff for his release would almost guarantee more piracy and raise the price of future demands, while further making the U.S. look like a weak, supplicating opponent.

U.S. merchant vessels should at least be permitted to carry defensive weapons and counterterrorism crewmembers, and the Navy should maintain a very visible presence in the waters where piracy is a problem. And if we don't already have it, we should gather intelligence posthaste about the pirates' bases, supply sources and financing. Then arrange a little surprise for them.

Yes, the pirates may bluster and vow revenge to save face. But watching a few more of their lot taking bullets in the brain pan or finding a smart bomb in their Wheaties could encourage them to switch careers.


Death shall have no dominion


Friday, April 10, 2009

Beautiful homes for books


Our increasingly post-literate age honors books possibly less than ever in Western history: the ruling Greek family's library at Alexandria, Egypt, collected books (which were scrolls at the time) from all over the known world. Rich Roman senators prided themselves on their personal collections. Public libraries once had a mission to enlighten and uplift the public, and some librarians still believe they carry the torch of knowledge, but must be frustrated by the tendency to devote increasing shelf space to best sellers, popular magazines, and DVDs.

Those of us who are avid readers also enjoy libraries, but can be dismayed by sterile, businesslike (or occasionally showily offbeat) modern designs. Except for the contents, many are newly built libraries are indistinguishable inside from bank branch offices or grocery stores.

These photos (tip of the hat: graphic art site FFFFOUND!) were built in old times for people who considered books to be treasures. Point conceded in advance: they are not comparable to public libraries, since they were associated with aristocrats or august private institutions. But anyone whose spirits rise a little when entering even a humble neighborhood branch library can enjoy in imagination what it would be like to have any of these spaces to read or browse in.

FFFFOUND! — what an awful name for an interesting site — unfortunately doesn't include identifying captions for the photos. I recognize the location pictured above, though, having visited it. It's in Prague, designed in the 18th century for the Strahov Monastery.

Some other artistically designed libraries:

I'm less sure about this one, but it reminds me of the library in the monastery at Melk, Austria, which I saw decades ago.

No idea where this is. Judging from the somewhat severe neo-Romanesque style, I'd date it to the late 19th century.

This job ran over budget, so as you can see they had to cut back on the decoration.

Late Victoriana in excelsis. The influence of the machine age has already left its mark. But dig the staircase and railings.

This, too, looks familiar. Is it the library at King's College, Cambridge?

The West has never been the redistributionist, egalitarian paradise that President for Life Obama would like America to Change into. If it had been, I doubt any of these libraries would exist.


Wednesday, April 08, 2009

When did the English surrender their liberty?

England's St. George flag:
"Racist symbol"

An English football supporters' club had its banner confiscated because it included the flag of St. George, which represents England and is part of the Union Jack. The officials who took the flag said it "could be viewed as a 'racist symbol.'" (Tip of the hat: Dennis Mangan.)
The Arsenal [football team] spokesman said: “Arsenal as a club prides itself on being inclusive with respect to all nationalities, cultural and ethnic groups.

“We have therefore decided that in order for all of our fans to enjoy their experience at Emirates Stadium, we are asking that only flags without any national emblems, are displayed within the stadium.”

There is nothing in the news story to indicate that the people whose flag was taken had any response, other than the usual grumbling. It's the typical reaction to every heavy-handed official act against English or British national pride. The beaten-down mopes mutter "political correctness gone mad," etc., and wait for the next insult. Rinse, repeat.


While a body might well get into trouble for flying the St. George flag, rest assured you can trash it to your heart's content, provided you belong to a sensitive, protected group.

The nation whose empire once extended around the globe now apologizes not only for the empire, which on the whole improved life everywhere it operated, but for its own existence. How has it come to this? Let's work backward in time, looking for causal factors.

We can start with the "New Labour" government that came to power in 1997. The "New" meant basically that, while a hard-left party in other ways, it dropped its overt socialism and made nice with corporate capitalism.

And instead of waving the bloody shirt on behalf of The Workers, who showed a disconcerting tendency to put revolutionary ideals to one side,
the canny Labour tacticians instead opted for the latest, and most effective, Marxist ploy: recruiting a new population from the Middle East and Africa including huge numbers of Muslims, a perfect clientele of "disadvantaged minorities" for the all-encompassing nanny state. One of the results was a further marginalizing of the indigenous working class into a permanent non-working underclass.


But while the New Labour regime has been, in my view, devastating for English self-respect, it was only the culmination of a long process. Immediately following the country's victory in World War II, it showed its appreciation to Winston Churchill by replacing him with a socialist prime minister and parliament. Key industries were nationalized, bureaucratic control reigned. Margaret Thatcher's government undid most of the overt nationalization, but Mags was neither a social conservative nor a proponent of limited government.

Further back in time. Before the war, communism and socialism were all the rage in academic, artistic, and ruling class circles. A ring of Cambridge University graduates (the most famous: Burgess, Maclean, Philby, and Blunt) was recruited to spy for the Soviet Union from their positions in the Foreign Office and MI-6, the secret intelligence agency.

But English leftism's vogue didn't begin in the 1930s, either. As long ago as the late 19th century, the Fabian Society of socialists was influential, and included such luminaries as George Bernard Shaw and H.G. Wells.


Why did socialism magnetize them in the first place? Aside from the usual psychological factors you find in artistic-intellectual culture — a need to rebel, to feel superior to the dreary conventional bourgeoisie — the industrial revolution had destroyed what there was of a social safety net for the rural population now forced to work in factories. It bred terrible slums and working conditions. Further, there was almost no way to escape from the working class if that's what you were born into.

I admire Victorian and Edwardian England in many ways, especially its artistic climate. It was one of the more genuinely civilized times and places in world history. But there is no denying it had a dark side. Social class differences will (I think) always exist, but they shouldn't be insurmountable. The wretched condition of most of the urban and rural poor of the time led to a reaction that is still with us, having been transformed into multi-culturalism and political correctness, and a government addicted to rules, numbers, and bureaucracy.


So, for over a hundred years, with minor time-outs for world wars, the statist left has been on the march in England. And it has been wildly successful, especially once it dropped the idea of nationalizing the means of production and substituted a strategy of regulation, regulation, and more regulation; subservience to the European Union (another nest of authoritarian collectivists); plus in recent years population replacement.

I don't wonder that the English character has been transformed into a complaining, ineffectual submissiveness. Tell me it won't happen to Americans under President for Life Obama. No. Show me.


Monday, April 06, 2009

Beware of pickpockets. Especially in government

Revenue Department SWAT team prepares for
action in suspected illegal right turn incident.

The Washington Times reports that three suburbs of Washington, D.C. plus Virginia Beach "are preparing to stimulate public spending with new red-light camera programs. This is part of a push to fill government budget shortfalls by ramping up tickets for moving violations."

It's no news that states and municipalities count on fines for infractions of regulations, ostensibly designed for public safety, as cash cows. But many people are not aware how big a business this is, and how it has become a form of stealth tax. And, for any leftists who chanced on this site, you should be especially aggrieved — it is a highly regressive tax, stomping the poor more heavily than the rich.


With the possible exception of "gotcha!" red light cameras, most of the regulations are reasonable, and in better financial times the discretion of police added a further check against abuse. But with the country's economic graveyard spiral continuing, and dragging localities with it, governments are relying on fines to make up what they don't collect in tax revenue from people and businesses no longer making money.

I had my own epiphany on stealth taxation recently when I was clocked for having an inspection sticker on my car that was out of date. By six days. I was in violation of the law and the officer had every right to issue me a ticket. Had it been for, say, $25 I would have considered justice done. In fact, the fine was nearly four times that, which I don't think is reasonable. It was official larceny.

Here is a list of violations of traffic and similar offenses in Fairfax Country, Virginia (one of the locations that will soon have cameras seeing red) along with their associated fines and "processing fees." The processing fees are in many cases way in excess of the fines. It figures that the state or county government set the penalties "too low" for the authorities' needs, so they topped up the fines with these additional fees.


Some examples of what you can be nicked for in Fairfax County: "Drinking in public" (aren't restaurants and bars public places?), $97; "Trespassing at [sic] cemetery at night," waking the dead I guess, $107; "Impeding traffic by slow speed," $92; "Causing or permitting vehicle to be driven more than 13 hours in a 24-hour period" (depriving the vehicle of its rest?), $92; "Failure to obey traffic lights," $162 — this is why the revenue hawks love red light cameras; "Failure to dim headlights on parked vehicle" (If your lights drain your battery, we'll drain your wallet!), $82; etc., etc.

I am not suggesting that improper driving should be tolerated, and a fine commensurate with the act uses Professor Edward L. Thorndike's Law of Effect to drive home (pun intended) the lesson. But when the fines degenerate into highway robbery (pun intended again — help! How can I stop doing this?), a generalized, cynical disrespect for the law is one consequence.

A republican form of government speeds into a danger zone (ultimate fine and processing fee, unlimited) when it starts to look on its citizens not as people to whom it has a duty of care, but as marks who are there for bureaucrats to shake down. Should that happen on a wide scale, as looks likely in the economic debacle, we will lose something even more important than money.