Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Inferiority Complex: European Americans vs American Americans


It's not exactly news that Americans actually live in the Un-united States of America. We have Red States and Blue States, East Coast and Left Coast and whole lot of red-necks in between. The electorate as a whole over the last four or five national elections has been very close to a 50/50 split between the two parties. Then there are millions who don't consider themselves Republicans or Democrats - in fact those people may now be in the majority. But the real divide is between those who think we should be more like Europe and those who think we should be America, ruggedly independent and unique.

The Media and Hollywood mostly fall on the America-should-be-more-like-Europe side, and have been for decades. I think back to the James Bond movie in the 70's "Live and Let Die" where England was, of course, well represented by James Bond - the dashing Roger Moore in this case. America was represented by Sheriff J.W. Pepper a tobacco chewing red-neck Louisiana lawman. Actor Clifton James did an admirable job portraying every stereotype imaginable of the fat, stupid American. This treatment of a southern hick lawman was not written into the movie by accident. It was done to create a contrast, and that it did.

Millions of Americans see Sheriff J.W. Pepper as an apt representation of what America looks like to the rest of the world - and they may be right. I don't think it's accurate, but who am I to argue what others think.

I doubt Europeans care what I think of the trajectory of European culture. It makes me sad actually. It seems to me it's a culture that has decided on suicide. It's sad because so much of what makes America what it is comes straight from our European heritage. Many American's see our brash arrogance as an unfounded superiority complex while at the same time holding an attitude of our inferiority to our elders in the old world. The supposed European maturity and reasonableness stands in stark in contrast to the cowboy culture of can-do, no holds barred America.

Yes, there is probably some truth in that assessment, but what difference does it make when the writing is so clearly on the wall. In two crucial and critical areas Europe is throwing in the towel and therefore the wonderfulness of the mature and erudite European culture will cease to exist anyway. First, white Europeans have stopped having babies. No babies, no future. Having babies is a sign that the people believe in the culture and in the future. Obviously Europeans don't. Second, Europe has decided culturally on energy starvation. Without abundant energy and plenty of babies there can be no great future.

In America the pragmatic and sober in government and business have thus far thwarted the daffy Al Gore-rites. The shale gas and shale oil boom are beginning to transform the largest energy consumer into a legitimate big-time energy producer. If the Obama team can be held off for a few more years, there's an actual shot at something that has been thought an impossibility. That being energy independence from the Middle East. Now, I understand the global chess board will never actually let that happen, but having real leverage is plus for the U.S.

On the other score unlike much of Europe the U.S. is still a very religious country. Like it or not religion seems to help people believe in a future worth living. Religion is also family oriented and so is having babies. It's not to say there isn't a problem, white Americans aren't having enough babies either, but certainly far more than Europeans.

America is poised to grow, to achieve, to be relevant if Washington politics doesn't derail it, however I'm not so confident in the great European cultures. Right now Europe is a huge and relevant market, but the trajectory in terms of population, debt and energy is frightening.

Many Americans - the European Americans - see the health care systems and welfare systems in most European countries as something to be admired, without opening their eyes to the fact that they are unsustainable. Neither are they sustainable in this country without strong and robust economic growth. Current policies on both continents are not fostering strong and robust economic growth. Energy seems to be the difference - if the U.S. doesn't (completely) fall prey to the "climate change" insanity gripping Europe then America stands a chance.

How obvious does it have to be that alternative energy is a joke. They like to call it sustainable, but it cannot, will not ever sustain a modern economy. Wind and solar, both strategies that Europe has bet the farm on, are never going to be a consistent high output solutions. A child should be able to see that, yet the powers that be and apparently the people of Europe are willing to pay outrageous costs for some kind of feel good principle. Wind is just plain inconsistent and the Sun, well news flash, the Sun sets everyday - for many hours at a time.

The act of labeling CO2 as a dangerous pollutant may help them justify this insanity. It is not a pollutant but rather a vital element necessary for life on Earth.Water vapor is by far the greatest of all greenhouse gases, however mankind and his SUV's don't put water vapor into the atmosphere. Their SUV's do put CO2 into the air and thus the irrational focus on a trace element.

Sure plenty of American's believe this tripe too, but so far rational men have not allowed it to kill our future - so far. It's no coincidence that a number of large European companies - many from Germany - are building huge facilities in the U.S. precisely because of energy costs. Among the companies setting up shop in the U.S. we see Airbus going to Mobile, Alabama. Siemens, to Charlotte, North Carolina. BASF, to Research Triangle Park, North Carolina. Michelin, to Greenville, South Carolina. BMZ GmbH, to Virginia Beach. SO.F.TER Group, to Lebanon, Tennessee. Prufrex Innovative Power Products, Virginia Beach, Virginia. Thomas Magnete GmbH to Brookfield, Wisconsin. Wacker Polysilicon, to Chattanooga, Tennessee. Kayser Automotive, to Fulton, Kentucky. British-based Rolls Royce to Prince George County, Virginia for producing engine parts. The Kűbler to Charlotte, North Carolina. The Austrian steelmaker Voestalpine AG to Corpus Christi, Texas. Royal Dutch Shell to Pennsylvania.

That's a veritable who's who of  major European companies. The German government in particular has committed to alternative energy, to the point of doubling down in recent years. Their corporations have taken notice. They may argue that lower labor costs can be found in many of these southern U.S. states, but even lower labor costs can be had in any number of places - it's reliable energy at reasonable costs that are attracting these German titans. I have also heard rumblings that some American companies are seriously considering bringing manufacturing home from China for the very same reason.

None of this will ever convince European American's that America need not emulate European socialism. It's not say there aren't many, many admirable things about Europe. The rat race pace of modern American life borders on it's own form of insanity, but we will mature, because our culture will survive. It's not that certain that great cultures of Europe will survive in any recognizable form.



Ugh




  



Saturday, September 14, 2013

Darlings of Devolution and Destruction

Our Political and Corporate "leaders" have Driven Us to the Brink of Destruction

As a person who tends to list center-right politically it has been a frustrating and depressing century. There was a short time early on, after the attacks of 9/11, that it seemed that America as a nation, as a people, was going to pull together. It didn't last. The leftists who pollute the discourse in every conceivable walk of life saw to that. Perhaps the saddest, most frustrating aspect of the unraveling of a great nation is the sheer apathy of the people. Who can blame them?

As it turns out it really doesn't matter who or what you support politically any more (I think it used to, many years ago) simply because while our so-called leaders may not be cut from the same cloth they all end up dyed same the color, the color of money. Regardless of their party affiliation, regardless of how much they pledge to fight for you. Regardless of how much they say they love their country, or of how sincere and pure they are during the acceptance speech on the eve of their first election they really only care about themselves - eventually.

We accept less of corporations and business, and we should, because they have not pledged to serve us the way politicians have. It's the people we've elected and involuntarily forfeit our tax dollars to that sell us down the river for their own personal gain - and it happens at all levels of government. Oh yeah there may be outliers, men like Obama, Reagan and the few dedicated public servants - even people like Ron Paul who actually believe in something. These men are either demonized, laughed at or in Obama's case, worshiped. And, we the people take it, or rather just shrug it off. If anyone objects and starts a real grassroots movement, say like the Tea Party bent on opposing exactly the kind of policies that make $300 elected suits millionaires after two terms, the boot-licking lapdogs in the media will beat them down with charges of racism or any other negative that will stick. Is it any wonder there is mass apathy.

Unless the people who believe themselves to be good liberals are purposely deluding themselves, then they cannot honestly say things are going well for the United States. They can't continue to blame George W Bush or the the feckless Republican party since the Democrats have held congressional power since 2006 and the presidency since 2008 - it will soon be 2014. Even the life long liberals have to see we are running off the rails. I'm not deluded enough to think they will ever change, but something has to.

To be perfectly fair apathy is a coping mechanism for most people. This is a complicated world made all the more complicated by liberal sensibilities turned in law and policy that runs counter to human nature and legendary conservative belligerence. These policies destroy lives - the lives of an entire race of people in 40 short years. The African American population has been devastated by the welfare state and corporate, government and union action that deprives black men the jobs needed to raise families. While some continue to pour on the soul-killing compassion the others look the other way and pretend it doesn't exist. The black man has been replaced by a government check and food stamps, leaving young boys to grow up without fathers. What happens to them when they become men? Prison - or death.

Yet every four years it is these same people who support the purveyors of the very poverty they can't escape. The Democrats skillfully poison any notion that there could possibly be a better way. Dopey ass Republicans can't get out of there own way and articulate a return to sanity - if they even care. Now the country is at a tipping point where half the population does nothing but collect a subsistence check from one government agency or another. Seriously how can anyone say this is good?

Nearly every large city and state that has been completely controlled by liberals and liberal policies for decades is bankrupt and in tatters physically and spiritually. Yeah they'll argue that capitalism and big business left them abandoned and the liberals are compassionately picking up the pieces - but wasn't it also big taxes, onerous regulation and inflexible unions that set the stage? Yes, probably both. The liberal answer then is to double-down until the economy is choked off completely -
and continue writing hot checks. Republicans don't even bother themselves to offer an alternative in these locales. Yet the elected officials and their benefactors in corporate world responsible for driving the economy into the ground do pretty well.

The corporations, particularly the largest ones could really care less about the U.S. They prove it everyday. Now that they've moved a huge share of manufacturing jobs overseas they are petitioning congress to hurry to enact aggressive immigration laws. This is a double slap in the face for native born American's in the wake of mass layoffs. They want H1B visas for the skilled workers because they can pay immigrants less than skilled Americans. They want cheap Mexican labor for unskilled work, leaving the rest of the working class high and dry. It's both Democrats and Republicans that support this kick in the head. Their arguments - their lies - that it's all in our best interest fall on deaf ears when we can see the evidence before our eyes. Twenty-five million people already here can't find decent work. The labor participation rate is reaching 40 - 50 year lows. In some counties in the south 1 in 4 collects a disability check, no doubt many of them fraudulent because they can't find any work. This while Wall Street racks up new highs month over month. And the 7 counties in Virgina and Maryland that surround Washington DC are the richest in the country.

It seems the game is rigged. The corporate/government cabal wring everything they can out of the American people. We are reaching a tipping point. The progressives or liberals if you will, have helped usher in better days a hundred years ago with their fair labor laws. Unfortunately it is genetically impossible for them to leave well enough alone. The continue to tear down the very fabric of the free market capitalist system, the foundation of America's success. Those who caucus with Republicans, the champions of free market capitalism, unfortunately are surrounded by imbeciles or flim flam men like congressional leader Eric Cantor. Who in the hell would follow that guy? If Cantor and dullards like John McCain are the alternative to liberals (who at least act like they care) it's no wonder there is such voter apathy.

There is a nascent, unorganized reactionary movement of highly intelligent people who understand things can't continue this way for America and frankly for the rest of the world either. Using the Internet as a platform they easily identify the culprits, their tactics and their motivations (power and money, of course), but they've yet to offer much in the way of solutions. It's early for the reactionaries - but it's late for the rest of us. Is societal collapse and anarchy close at hand? I don't know. I think there is still time.



I could be thinking wrong...



Ugh








Saturday, September 07, 2013

Premium Style (...cars)

This is going to be a hard hitting piece, nothing held back on this subject of great importance. I want to talk about the style and design of high end sedans. I know, I know, rarely does anyone even dare to tread into these waters, but I am not afraid!

All kidding aside this is a fluff piece I'll admit. The thing is, in this part of America we are smack in the middle of our second season. Season one being winter, which ran 9 months this year, and the other being road construction season. So I have been stuck in traffic and therefore left with plenty of time to admire nice cars.

The cars that really catch my eye are usually premium luxury sedans and of course sleek, low slung, 2 door sports cars. I am going to focus on the last few model years of premium sedans here. I'll key on the aesthetics, my visceral reaction to the style and form of the visual package as seen on American roads.

The Europeans:
By far the lion's share of European sedans on American roads are the BMWs. These are beautiful cars, and only getting better as the years go by. I particularly like the 3 and 5 series. There is something to be said about the tradition of the styling cues that BMW honors. There is no mistaking these cars from any other. In the past few years the visual sleekness and streamlining of the look has only enhanced my appreciation. Clearly other car makers pick up on some of these cues and incorporate them in their own premium sedans. These are the gold standard for style and class in this market segment.

On the downside it can be confusing trying to distinguish one model line from the other or telling if it's a BMW or a pretender from a distance. A small downside really. That these are supremely competent cars on the road only adds to the instant admiration I have for these cars. The other downside is that there are thousands of them, they are everywhere you look, a dime a dozen if you will. Reliability studies put these cars above average.

Mercedes also relies on the tradition of unique styling cues that date back decades. It's another model that is instantly recognizable. Less popular on American roads than the BMW's these are nearly as eye catching - easily recognizable for many decades. The newer model year sedans are precise works in form and function. On the E-Class the only thing that detracts in my opinion is the front "scoop" below the grill that is too much of a gaping maw. It could have been toned down a bit.

Like the BMW's the C-Class and E-Class are stylistic twins, sometimes making it hard to distinguish between the two at a glance. The Mercedes is a pleasure to look at from all angles and this is not always true of premium sedans. The larger models in years past have been yawners, but the late model S-Class is about as non-stodgy as you get. Mercedes has always meant competent luxury, and in years past they wouldn't have won any awards for "style" but in the last few model years they've stepped it up quite a bit. Reliability studies put these cars well above average.

Audis have never impressed my stylistically - that is  - until now. The older plain Jane A4's and A6's have been absolute yawners, this while some of the Audi sports models have been real eye catchers. The newest versions of the A4 and A6 are a real pleasure to look at. Except for overall size it's really hard to tell which is which. The subtle differences need to be less subtle. That said, with these newer models we see some satisfying creases in the sheet metal where there were none before. In years past I would not have given an Audi a second look. I will now.

The upline models - the A7 and A8 are stretched out an decked out, definitely eye catchers. They are pretty rare in these parts. Their prices are rarefied too, like the higher end of any of the European brands. I'm still not blown away or even instantly attracted to Audis, but they are getting better every year. They are top performers when pushed, on par with their German counterparts and reliability studies put these cars above average.

Volvo... What can I say about Volvo, except that I've always hated them. They were ugly, uninspiring boxes. Did I say were? Indeed. Like the Audi's I've have been drawn to Volvo in recent model years - finally. I've always heard they were really good cars. And expensive cars, which only made my disdain all that much higher. Who would pay premium dollars for that wart?

These are not common cars around here particularly the S80, but like the other new models the S80 designers have rounded some of the box-like creases to make for a unique yet instantly recognizable sedan when you do see one. The tail light treatment is the first thing I reacted to. The rest of the car still says Volvo and while that used to be a turn-off  I find myself looking in the rear-view as I pass one to get a glimpse of the car from all angles. Reliability studies put these cars above average.

Jaguar. These may no longer be purely European having been bought by Tata Motors of India for
around $2.8 billion back in 2008 it still belongs in the European sphere of influence. I have always had a love for the Jaguar's style. In the past few model years the sedans have been  visually stunning head turners. These are very expensive cars and we don't see a lot of them around here so when we do it's a real treat. The XF and XJ models are truly beautiful. I'm not as pleased with the tail lights on the 2013 XJ as I am the rest of the car, preferring the more traditional tail lights on the XF.

There was a decade or more in the twentieth century that Jaguars were dismissed in both style and function, they were terrible cars, but all that has changed. With the new F-Type (not a sedan) they've crossed a threshold in style - the F-Type is drop dead gorgeous. Reliability studies put these cars just above average.

Honorable Mentions: Volkwagen CC - is a very sleek and beautiful car,  clearly built off one of Audi's upline models. Maserati - these cars are so rare and expensive (and beautiful) they are in another league altogether. Rolls Royce and Bentley - ditto. Porsche - I know they make some 4 door cars, but no matter, I have never liked Porsche's visual style, they just don't do it for me.

The Americans:
For Americans one name has always been synonymous with luxury and that was Cadillac. At times this reputation was well deserved and at others certainly not. Cadillac rivaled Jaguar for spiraling down to near joke status during the later part of the twentieth century. But a theme that continues across the Atlantic, things have changed for the better. For full disclosure I own a 2nd gen CTS that I really love.


Crawling back up from the depths of the Cimmaron, Cadillac turned the corner in the early 2000's with the introduction of the CTS and it's new highly cleaved styling cues that set it apart from all the other high end sedans. Along with the 2nd generation CTS the entire lineup has received the same sleek angular treatment. In 2013 the ATS and XTS were introduced. The ATS is a smaller more nimble and quicker car, by all accounts this car will go toe to toe with it's 3-Series, E-Class and A4 counterparts. The XTS is to fill out the larger segment previously filled by the DeVille and the DTS. I'm not as enamored with the overall look of the XTS, though I'm not sure why since I love the way CTS and ATS look. As I said I am partial to the new look Cadillacs. Reliability studies put these cars above average.

Lincoln... Ever since they re-badged the entire Lincoln line-up with the MK moniker I have taken notice. Previously I had dismissed Lincoln along with older Cadillacs as land yachts. The current model year has seen the introduction of the new MKZ. It's a stunning to look at. I love the backend treatment especially. This car is sleek and classy, it screams luxury and performance. I had really liked the previous version and in particular the vertical grille slats and wasn't sure about the horizontal slats on the new model, but they're growing on me.

The MKS is the upline model. Built on Taurus platform it unfortunately resembles it's cousin a little too much. Its not to say either is bad, the MKS is also a great looking car, but you instantly know there's a Taurus in there. It sits up high in the rear exactly like the Taurus. There is a nice family resemblance with the MKZ. It remains to be seen if Lincoln will stretch this new look across all models consistently, one certainly hopes so.

Lincoln (and Ford) is really making some of the best looking cars in America now. Gone are the land yachts of yesterday as new day has dawned for American premium sedans, Lincoln has arrived. Reliability studies put these cars well above average.

Honorable Mentions: Buick - is producing very, very beautiful cars - finally, I've truly hated the Buick look until about 3 years ago. These cars have been at or near the top of reliability for years and years and yet until recently I wouldn't have touch one with a 10 foot pole. Chrysler - I literally wouldn't touch a Chrysler with your ten foot pole. The 300 is all right to look at, but I can't get past the Chrysler name. I will take a few more years of Fiat era successes to rinse off the stench left by previous owners Daimler-Benz AG and Cerberus Capital Management. Tesla - Not enough real world exposure to their sedan for me to even have an opinion.

The Japanese: (Asia)
This is the car line that forced all manufacturers to step up their games. If Lexus hadn't come
around it's likely Cadillac and Jaguar would still be jokes, and BMW. Mercedes and Audi would be resting on their laurels. Lexus changed all that. They did it by building phenomenally good cars. I thought the first generation Lexus line-up were ho-hummers, nothing get excited about - dull actually. Over the years that has changed dramatically. By 2011 the IS and ES lines were sharp and sleek. I really liked the look of the IS-250, IS-350 and the ES-350. True, I see a bit of BMW in these sedans but they differ enough that they are unmistakably Lexus.

In 2013-14 they adopted a new look front clip that I don't like. They sort made the grill/front scoop area look like a kind of hour glass with the scoop being over-pronounced. There needs to be some visual separation between the grill and the scoop in my opinion. On some models they've even ringed it with a chrome strip making it look even more unbalanced. I find the front clip detracts from the overall picture. I hope in years to come they tone it down up there. The rest of the car is a beautiful, flowing statement right to the excellent tail-end treatment. Reliability studies put these cars well above average almost in a class of there own.



Acura. What happened to Acura? When this line came out as Honda's response to Toyota's Lexus I loved the look of these cars instantly. They just had such a smart, well balanced look to them. They always seemed a bit smallish to me, but they had an understated appealing style and flair. I really loved the older TL line. The last three model years I'm sorry to say are atrocious.The front clip on the  entire Acura line bugs me, the grill is like a hyper-chromed overbearing beaver tooth. The whole car looks like it was designed by committee, maybe several committees. The rear clip on one of the recent model years had the taillights severely angled in such a way it looked out of place with the rest of the lines, it actually would have looked pleasing set at a horizontal or slightly angled orientation. Acura has gone for a highly cleaved angular look, but unlike Cadillac they've failed to pull it off.

Four or five years back I was admiring every Acura that passed me on the highway and got me believing Acura gets it. Now I actually cringe. For years the Pontiac Aztek took the prize as the ugliest car on the road - thankfully that car has been put out of it's misery. That prize now goes to the Acura ZDX. Oddly there is a passing resemblance between the Aztec and the ZDX. Reliability studies put these cars well above average.


Infiniti. In Infiniti I have an almost mirror image of my feelings about Acura. Infiniti impresses! When these cars first appeared on the scene I thought they were plain and completely uninspiring. Lately as I pass a new Infiniti I am doing a double take. I ask myself was that a Jaguar? I slow down and look it over only to find it was an Infiniti. The M-Series sedan is stunning. I find I really like the G-Series coupes, but I like the sedans well enough too.
The smooth flowing lines of the M-Series allow the eye to follow from fender to fender without breaking concentration. There is subtle grace with the way these cars come together that really attracts my attention again and again. I am developing a quiet admiration for Infiniti, not unlike my fond feelings for Audi these days. Everywhere Acura went wrong in style Infiniti went right. Infiniti gets it! Reliability studies put these cars well above average.

 Honorable Mentions: Hyundai and Kia - not marketed as luxury lines each of the Koreans offers a premium luxury sedan. The Genesis by Hyundai is a beautiful car, not as striking as the Lexus or Infiniti but very well done indeed. Hyundai's Sonata is a smooth looker as well. Kia has a new premium luxury sedan called the Cadenza that I have only seen in commercials, so I have no real world looks at this car - which looks rather nice actually.

There you have it, my take on the premium sedans that zip past me - or I see in my rear-view...