Thursday, May 25, 2006

Good advice

As I walked back from getting coffee with my partner this evening, a man who is probably on the boundary of homelessness rode by on his bicycle and offered me the following: "Yeah, you've got nice guns but you need to have a brain, too."

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

What has brown done to you? (part, the second)

4b) Mexican, Central American and Latin American immigrants don't become a part of our culture, because they think of themselves primarily as Mexican or Honduran or whatever, and never fully learn about our traditions, culture, history, etc. This is a hard one to pull off, especially since many Americans have themselves taken up the banners of various forms of ethnic pride. Almost everybody you ask will tell you that they are French or Polish or Irish or perhaps Irish-American, Greek-American, African-American, etc., even if no member of their family has been in France, Poland, Ireland, Greece, or Africa, except on vacation in generations. In other words, we already have a culture in which people largely identify themselves as being from or of some other place. In a way, this is only natural, since in the language of one sort of political science, the United States is not a nation, i.e., a people unified by ethnicity or religion or history. We are a country made up out of different peoples, united by a commitment to a common set of ideals. So, if it is acceptable for my college friends to get all excited about their Irish-ness, wearing shirts that say "Kiss me I'm Irish", having bagpipes at their weddings and flying Irish flags outside their homes, we can hardly object when recent immigrants demonstrate the same sort of pride in their forebears and former homelands.
Now, you might argue that recent immigrants don't feel a deep connection to the shared history of our Republic. But, I must ask anyone fond of this argument to go with me into a college classroom and ask, as I sometimes do (in order to use certain examples), basic questions about American history. Upper middle-class, non-immigrant college-age Americans don't, for instance, know whether or not Washington was assassinated (we can leave aside that they don't know that someone who has been assassinated is of necessity dead), they don't know who Edison was or what he achieved, they don't know what Franklin's role was in the early Republic, they don't know when the Civil War was, that there was a Mexican-American War or a Spanish American-War, etc. If we really want to impose some sort of civics test in order to find out who is really American or tied to the US, we had better revoke the citizenship of a lot of native-born Americans.
In fact, I think that probably most immigrants, whether documented or not, have a much better idea of what the American idea and ideal is supposed to be about than most citizens. It is, after all, why they come here.

What has brown done to you? (part, the first)

It's time for Lou Dobbs--when did you stop talking about the market, Lou?--and other talking heads and pundits to admit that at least a little of what has them so incensed about "broken" immigration is that the people immigrating to the United States, whether legally or illegally are brown. Because, until they do, it's impossible to take anything that they say very seriously. And their other objections to the way that immigration fails to work just don't hold enough water to show that this is a particularly serious problem now. I'm not saying that there isn't a problem with immigration, but almost none of the problems are new, so unless it's the demographic shift in the US, the one that means that whites are having fewer children while latinos and African-Americans continued to grow as percentages of the population, that has people so upset, the crisis just doesn't make that much sense.
So let's consider some of the huge difficulties with immigration:
1) Granting amnesty is unamerican and would be tantamount to telling people that it is okay to break the law. This may be true. But, if a pundit wants to make this claim, s/he is required by justice to call Ronald Reagan, that demigod of cultural, social and fiscal (though God knows why) conservatives unamerican for the amnesty that his administration granted in 1986. Now, of course, his amnesty, like those proposed now, would not be a free and uncomplicated pathway either to permanent residence status or to citizenship, but it did regularize the status of many people who were in the US illegally.
2) People here illegally are criminals and should be treated as such. There is a difference in legal terms between breakers of different sorts of laws. For instance, if I park illegally, while I have broken the law, I have not violated the criminal code; hence, I am not a criminal. Currently, immigration law is not a part of the Federal Criminal Code, so those who enter the country illegally, assuming that they don't violate sections of the Criminal Code, are not criminals. Now, many undocumented immigrants may have forged documents, for instance. If they have done so, they may then be criminals. But the mere fact of being in the country illegally doesn't make one ipso facto a criminal.
3) An unsecured border is a threat to national security; and, in this age of a war on terror, it must be fortified and/or militarized. It's true that not knowing who is in the country is a threat to national security. However, first, there is a difference between some border porosity and the border being totally open. It isn't fully open; there are merely chinks in the armor. And, second, though people don't like to admit this, in determining even security policy, we always engage in a cost/benefit analysis: Would the amount of additional security provided by a totally fortified and militarized border be worth the cost in financial, moral, political, world-standing and resource terms? When we can't even get airline security down, haven't secured ports and our intelligence services are still in what, quite frankly, is a cluster-fuck, is this the best way to spend our resources and time?
Thirdly, if we are going to militarize or fortify a border, it will not do to ignore the other border. That would be equivalent to ordering the best security locks for your front door, while leaving your back door open. This is especially a bad idea when it's the back door--i.e., the Canadian border--that we know to have been crossed by those with terrorist designs in the past. If national security is our concern, it can't matter that one of our borders is with a poorer country than the other.
4) Mexican, Central American and Latin American immigrants don't become a part of our culture. I suppose that the evidence for this claim has to do with the fact that many immigrants continue to speak Spanish (or, in some cases, native languages like Mixtec, Mayan, etc.) as home and community languages. This is why, for instance, Lou Dobbs appears to get so excited--I think it would be unwise for him to stand up at these times--when he talks of government agencies offering assistance in Spanish.
What language someone speaks at home, or when worshipping or among one's friends is wholly irrelevant to the degree to which one sees himself as a member of the American culture. A bit of personal history might be relevant here. My family came to the United States in roughly four groups: One part were early British (Scots and Welsh, thank you very much) settlers, who arrived and settled in various parts of Appalachia before the Revolutions; another part were Pennsylvania Dutch, who arrived sometime between the 1680s and the mid 1700s (presumably they spoke German at home, but there was not yet a US, so we will leave them out of it); the other two groups were German Catholics who emigrated from Swabia in 1830 to Indiana; and, German Lutherans who emigrated from Europe at about the same time. The last two groups, though thinking of themselves as Americans, voting, sending sons to war, participating in patriotic holidays, etc., continued to speak German as a home language until about 1930. So, they spoke a foreign language for at least a hundred years after they came to the United States. They lived in communities where everyone spoke German, they worshipped in Latin and German or German alone, they had school textbooks (in their parochial schools) in German and English side by side, but they were wholly integrated and assimilated as Americans. Now, for what it's worth, the current waves of immigrants keep Spanish as a home language for about one generation, quickly devolving into Spanglish and then English only, for their children and grandchildren, partly thanks to the omnipresence of television and other media. But, if speaking a home language didn't keep my family from being American, if Yiddish language newspapers and theater in New York, if Polish and Czech and Hungarian-language papers in New York and Chicago, if German-language publications throughout the Midwest, if various Asian-language publications and communities on both coasts, didn't keep all of those people from being American, how will Spanish-speaking and telenovelas keep this wave of immigrants from being American? You either have to adopt the good old Know Nothing arguments against all of these groups, or you lose this as an argument against Latin American immigration.

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Kith and kin

My screen tells me that I am looking at Katharine McPhee's Friends and Family, but in fact I am looking at Tori Spelling. Is Tori Spelling one of her friends, is Katharine McPhee a lost member of the Spelling clan? How can I have the So NoTorious Spelling as one of my friends or family? Will it put her in my calling plan? Someone help!

PS Who writes the special "debut singles" for American Idol finalists? And how can I introduce him/her to my pointy stick?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Eminent domain and ugly memorials

The mayor of San Diego and one of the local congressmen, Duncan Hunter, who usually spends all of his time talking about building the Great Wall of Alta California to keep undocumented immigrants out, have asked the President to exercise federal eminent domain to save the Mount Soledad cross. You see, this rather unattractive monument sits on city-owned land and the city has already spend years and hundreds of thousands of dollars that San Diego doesn't have--bankruptcy continues to loom--to defend a monument ostensibly to San Diego's war dead, but just as much a monument to the Christian beliefs of those who were allowed to put the monument up.
For what it's worth, the actual monument to those who died in WWII consists in plaques around the cross, not the cross itself. And, no one has objected to the war memorial per se. What people have objected to is the presence of a huge white cross on the top of a mountain owned by the city, a cross that seems to send the message that the city is officially Christian. In addition, unlike the ostensibly Christian name of the city--not that many people ever really associate the city with St Didacus--or the missions, the cross has a very short history. It has only been on the hill for 50 years, putting it in the same age-range as "under God" in the Pledge of Allegiance.
The city has continually lost in the courts and has finally been ordered to take the monument down. So, rather than do as the courts have consistently ruled--because some conservatives, like some liberals, only believe in the rule of law when the law is interpreted in their favor--the Republican leadership of the city and region is determined to give away or have taken away city property to keep the cross there.
I don't know for sure how I feel about the presence of the cross on Mt Soledad. I do know that the people who have most stringently defended the presence of the cross are religious groups who see taking down the cross as an attack on Christianity. Of course, this must mean that they see the cross' presence as a statement of Christianity on city property. And, if they are right about that, then it ought to be taken down, since that looks like an entangling of religion and the state. I am more inclined to think of it as a more or less standard way of representing the dead, one whose history is entangled with religion, but one that isn't that heavily invested with religious meaning anymore. Crosses as markers for the dead are a cultural motif in the West.
But, I do know that the United States is a nation of laws and that means that we must obey the law or suffer the consequences--the message of true civil disobedience. Sometimes, when we suffer the consequences, others change their minds about what the laws should be. And, I know that the mayor isn't elected to give things away. So, if the mayor doesn't want to take the cross down, he can defy the order, but he doesn't have the right to give my property (as a citizen of San Diego) away to the federal government. And, he no longer has the right to spend my money to fight a lost battle in the courts.

Who ya gonna call? Terrorist-Busters!

So, just hypothetically, if someone gave me his number and I stored it in my phone and used it a couple of times to send text messages, but then lost the number when I changed phones, because the number was stored in my phone and not on the SIM card, how do I get ahold of the NSA or President in order to find out what the number is? Anyone have an idea?

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

The triumph of ideology

While my mom was visiting last week, we went to the zoo. It's a regular feature of her visits. When we were about ready to leave--and before I went to see the river otter, who I must see each time--I overheard a conversation between a mother and her obviously perceptive daughter.
Daughter: You know the gorillas and chimps are a lot like us. The way they hold their babies and their faces. They just seem a lot like people.
Mother: They really aren't much like humans at all. In fact, dogs are more like people, because the gorillas are wild and people and dogs aren't wild.
In fact, it had been a great day to view the gorillas and the bonobos. Both groups were out with their young.
Now, I assume that the mother was doing her best to defend her daughter from the nefarious workings of the theory of evolution, and in the process defeating her daughter's natural sense of curiosity and ability to reason. I can only hope that at some point her daughter's native intelligence can overcome her mother's sense that evidence that contradicts ideology must be thrown out.