Saturday, June 24, 2006

The Baja 500

Supporting unprecedented increases in immigration levels, as those who have taken up arms against the House’s “enforcement only” bill in favor of the Senate approach do, strikes me as a clever way to support laissez-faire economics while posturing as a high minded liberal—and the highest minded of the piously liberal at that, the egalitarian anti-racist.

Nowhere is that more in evidence than in the text of the “Open Letter on Immigration” offered by Greg Mankiw (I’m not sure if he originated it or is just a signatory, but he seems like a nice enough, if fatally mistaken, fellow to link to), and boasting of five hundred signatures from economists around the country. Here it comes to the fore, flexing the puffed up gym muscles of its moral superiority while proudly flaunting its sock-stuffed-in-the-crotch endowment of five hundred eminent signatures. Probably many of these signatories are more simply liberal individuals than libertarian economists. So it’s hard to imagine that if they were relieved of the considerable pressure to appear sublimely egalitarian they would sign off on something that proposes dispensing with the concerns of the poorest Americans because their concentrated pain is spread out to the benefit of their mostly better off fellow citizens in the form of lower consumer prices:
In recent decades, immigration of low-skilled workers may have lowered the wages of domestic low-skilled workers, but the effect is likely to have been small, with estimates of wage reductions for high-school dropouts ranging from eight percent to as little as zero percent.
While a small percentage of native-born Americans may be harmed by immigration, vastly more Americans benefit from the contributions that immigrants make to our economy, including lower consumer prices. As with trade in goods and services, the gains from immigration outweigh the losses. The effect of all immigration on low-skilled workers is very likely positive as many immigrants bring skills, capital and entrepreneurship to the American economy.
Perhaps one has to be an economist to understand how something that costs so little in the form of lower wages at one end (maybe nothing at all; it’s the rebirth of Bush Sr’s “voodoo economics”), brings significant benefits to the whole of the gargantuan American economy at the other end in the form of lower consumer prices. I was under the impression that all the well documented expenses from the public purse emanating from low-skilled immigration amounted to a subsidy of those lower prices, and then some.

Of course, one of the "restrictionist" points of view on immigration is that we should allow ourself the right, and more importantly the self-preservative concern, to place a premium on skills and education; hence the need for border security and a re-evaluation of immigration levels, as well as educational and skill levels of immigrants. Saying "many immigrants bring skills, capital, and entrepreneurship to the American economy," is not just making things more vague by lumping all immigration into one mass, it is an obfuscation of just what the debate is. By all means let's talk about skills and entrepreneurship, but let's be frank about it; some immigrants bring these things, many more don't. Why on earth wouldn't we allow ourselves the right to, brace yourself now, discriminate on the basis of these things? Perhaps the author doesn't understand that's what he is in fact arguing against. As for immigrants bringing significant capital with them, it's been a long time since Ferdinand Marcos touched down in Hawaii.

The author blunders through a couple of fatal fallacies here, not the least of which is that labor--human beings--can be viewed as not vastly different from "goods and services." Here is yet another instance of ideology running aground on the shoals of human nature. Of course, the captain is telling us that as soon as the tide turns and the children of all these unskilled laborers that are flooding the holds below suddenly reverse the trends of the past two generations and all become Silicon Valley entrepreneurs we'll be okay. Meanwhile, us rabble in the crew are bailing water like mad. Time to mutiny.

As is so often the case, the most egregious elitist callousness is lurking behind the facade of liberal concern, "a small percentage of native born" will be harmed; "vastly more" will benefit. The "benefit" claimed has never been coherently proven, other than in the form of lower consumer prices. Some would hold our civilization hostage to the price of lettuce.
In the totemic hierarchy of psuedo-liberal ritual, the poorer, the more foreign, and the less white one is, the higher the position. Dirt poor Latin American mestizo trumps native born working class every time. And pay no attention to the decidedly un-proletarian appearance of the priesthood, as they count their tithes in units of money and political power.
The author would have you believe that the costs are isolated and nearly insignificant but the benefits are spread out and magnified. Unless the nation really is struggling with a significant labor shortage, this is bunkum. Notice that the open borders argument takes for granted industry claims to this effect, despite long standing stagnation in wages in the industries that rely heavily on unrestricted immigration. Many who wouldn't dream of, say, taking General Motors at their word if they complain about the effects of CAFE standards (and I don't know anything about those claims; my point here is to illustrate the hypocrisy of certain otherwise reasonable people when it comes to this highly loaded issue), are now looking off and away, blithely whistling like a bribed umpire while certain industries are allowed to call their own strikes.

I suspect it’s clearer if you’re one who stands to gain more directly; if you’re Big Agriculture, the fast food industry, a major political party (that somehow both think they’re going to ensure their dominance well into mid-century by a sort of reverse gerrymandering of the electorate as a whole), or an economist ensuring his well feathered place in respectable punditry (now there’s a positively affected income).
They just keep laying it on thicker and thicker:
Legitimate concerns about the impact of immigration on the poorest Americans should not be addressed by penalizing even poorer immigrants. Instead, we should promote policies, such as improving our education system, that enable Americans to be more productive with high-wage skills.
This is a rhetorical head fake, albeit not a very good one. We've been grappling with disturbing trends in education for a couple of decades now. We might want to be a bit more prudent, and not sell ourselves on policy that confounds the situation further by promising we'll get around to doing something about it later. Saying we should do something about education means absolutely nothing in this context, unless you are addressing the effect of broad, low skilled immigration upon it. And we know that education is adversely affected by massive inflows of poorly educated, foreign language immigrants. The author would have you leap from a plane, promising he'll throw a parachute down after you. Come to think of it, it takes a lot of nerve to offer then we'll just have to do something about education as a sort of throw-away line. Bravo.

Of course the costs of illegal immigration on education are one of many issues left unaddressed in the letter. Since the letter makes only a few general assertions (perhaps that’s how you get five hundred signatures) I’m assuming that this is an appeal for the Senate’s mass amnesty combined with a doubling or trebling of legal immigration, as proposed in their bill.
Now someone tell me if I’m crazy, or ill-informed, or just plain mean, but this next line might be the silliest thing produced by the beneficiary of an Ivy League education (or this guy is just reaching way out of the strike zone):
We must not forget that the gains to immigrants coming to the United States are immense. Immigration is the greatest anti-poverty program ever devised. The American dream is a reality for many immigrants who not only increase their own living standards but who also send billions of dollars of their money back to their families in their home countries—a form of truly effective foreign aid.
When coming upon a lunatic thought like this, I advise sneaking up behind it. That’s why we’ll start at the ugly rear of the thing, the least of it yes but this thing is a doozy so let’s be careful; “a truly form of effective foreign aid” he says. Is it? Would we consider direct payments to individual citizens in impoverished nations "effective"? Would anyone ever propose such a thing? I'm assuming of course that we're still talking about the best policy for this nation.

If the writer were really so convinced of the entrepreneurial nature of all of these immigrants then he would be, in his oh-so-global concern, fretting about our continually draining our fellow nations of their human capital, and its hobbling effect on their perpetually underperforming economies. Of course, no such thing is happening. Mexico doesn't spend money printing out handbooks on how to sneak into the U.S., nor does it send its president on tours of apple orchards in Washington State, because skills and entrepreneurialism are migrating here. If one considers Latin American migration into the U.S. clearly, it soon becomes apparent that countries like Mexico export their least employable to the United States. They recieve back remittances and net savings on social programs. Perhaps most importantly, they export potential political strife.
This silly argument reminds me of a guy I once heard describing his educational grant as an effective form of economic stimulus, because he was going to go out and spend the money after all.

Remittances (and I think we see where much of that "0-8%" in lost wages is going) represent capital flowing out of the economy. As in not spent here. It’s nice that this money ends up in the hands of the needy, after all, but if one is concerned with preserving this remarkable economy that is such a “beacon”, then it helps to understand that this money going abroad is no different, really, from capital lost to trade deficits. Or to increased spending on schools. Or on crime prevention, or on uninsured health care, or on welfare benefits, or on environmental costs…

Thursday, June 22, 2006

Spin Cycle

Indulge me a moment.

Images merge and blend in the memory; things once seen in stark daylight or secondhand in snapshots, melding with television programs and picture shows, coalescing around imagination and vanity, clouded by dreams; the real, the transferred, the imagined and the wished intermingle, separate, and intermingle endlessly. All these charged electrons ricocheting around in my head, sometimes colliding and transferring particles, sometimes one capturing another and becoming something new.

All I know is the sum of my experiences, a collage spinning too fast to make out its parts until one slows and stands out momentarily: an old photo of a child—I know him—astride a bicycle, a Schwinn Sting Ray. This evokes a few more memories, hits showing up like the proverbial flashes in the gold pan; memories not only of images, some faint and some clear, but of sensations, some that feel like a fist in your chest, a vise grip on your heart that demands your attention.

The scent of seasonal change in the place you grew up, the smell of its dirt, home, girls—then women and maturation crowding all these out. Nothing will hold still. I didn’t even know how much I cherished these things, some of them mundane and treated with the contempt of familiarity, now viewed by a man weakened by sentiment and regret. Look around you now, yes even this will be mourned.

A boy on a Sting Ray; a white banana seat with a half sissy-bar, sometimes we’d ride two on the seat and one on the handle bars, he has a crew cut grown out, bristly and sun bleached a grizzly-bear tan color, giving him an oversized head. His smile is hardly guileless, but blameless nonetheless. This image evokes another; riding the bicycle for the first time unassisted, surrounded by other kids, one shouting approval; and now it is the motion itself experienced in that moment that is remembered clearly. A memory so near the beginning of memory it always aches slightly of melancholic ecstasy to come upon it yet again, to indulge oneself and to hold it up to the light and peer into its cloudy, transparent core one more time. Almost afraid to look too closely or directly at it lest it vanish, like trying to observe a mote in the corner of your eye. This too will be lost.

She took me out into the middle of a field at night. This is the field I ran across when I escaped the man who put a knife to my throat. Sex and violence. Two children, furtively stealing out into the center of a shadow, dropping a bucket down into a forbidden well in the black of night. I don’t remember her face. I don’t remember her name. I remember the damp grass, the cool air on us, the scent, her; like one multi-dimensional sensation. I remember the field seemed like a mile wide expanse. I remember walking home.

The collage turns; a globe shaped mass of a million distinct, twirling particles spinning around an axis, some larger, some smaller, some surfacing in a split second to pause and reveal themselves and then submerging in the whirling mass. Here’s a girl’s face and in an instant faster than the speed of desire the heart quickens just as it did before, and this moment is now that moment of years ago, separated by a trillion moments between but connected nonetheless, and the sensation somehow travels along this chain like electrons through a wire to reach you now in an instant. The image of the face isn't clear, it won't stay put for examination, like a light smudge on your eye it skitters off to the side when you try to look directly at it, but the memory triggers a complex of emotion and desire that is real right now, even if the girl is gone forever.
But we know that electrons in a wire are lined up and waiting; flick a switch at one end and at the other one is pushed out. Instant light. Moments only line up in the imagination; in reality there is only one moment, this one.
It is bliss and heartache at once; damn, how I’ll miss this life.

Okay, I’m over it now. Back to work.

Iran, I Ran So Far Away

I have an idea on how George Bush can weaken Iran's hand in the Middle East.
An immediate, precipitous pull-out from Iraq. The inevitable civil war is the last thing the Iranians want. Of course full scale civil war may be inevitable anyway. Our continuing presence there is buying Iran more time to determine which mad mullah will prove out, al-Sadr or al-Hakim (or whoever else has surfaced). Our troops are presently Iran's bulwark against regional instability. Of course, Cheney and Rumsfeld are still holding out hope for a permanent military presence in Iraq; watch how they lower their expectations of democracization long before they give up those military bases and oil contracts.

Asia Times Online's Spengler pointed out here that Iran, whatever it may say, has a vested interest in the U.S. succeeding in its nation building enterprise, leaving Shi'ites dominant and presumably open to Iranian influence.
Ahmadinejad's high profile, anti-Semitic bluster has been in no small part an attempt to place Iran (and himself, perhaps to the dismay of the ruling clerics who reserve international policy for themselves) at the apex of a newly revolutionary and anti-Western ummah. He has made remarkable headway among the mostly Sunni populations of the region for his fiery bombast. He threatens to unite Shia and Sunni in an new Islamic revolution. I don't think it's likely; these guys take their sectarian differences a little more seriously than that.

Forcing Iran to either enter the civil war on behalf of a Shia faction and become natio non grata with its Sunni neighbors (or worse), or try its hand at occupation, or sit still and watch its influence dwindle away in the chaos ensures a weakened Iranian state, already under pressure from within.
The situation as it is may not be the boon to Iran that it should be after all; it seems the Shi'ites are already starting to break up into factions as they anticipate an American withdrawal, from The Australian:

In an exclusive interview with The Australian, former US deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage has given a gloomy assessment of the situation.
"The British used to make a big deal of walking around in their berets in the south," he said. "Now they won't even go to the latrines without their helmets. The south has got much rougher, it's mainly Shia on Shia violence."
Of course, the increased bloodshed that almost certainly will follow our departure is still on our hands. We set this all in motion through classic imperial overreach. Something to remember when someone says time to get out and leave this mess to the Iraqis. The tragedy is that we will almost certainly have to do just that, after it becomes clear that our remaining is the greater evil. That clariy is just about upon us.

Leon Hadar has been arguing for a while now that we need to sit down with Iran for comprehensive negotiations beyond the nuclear issue. Wouldn't it have just been easier to leave Iraq be and sit down with Iran when they were reaching out previous to the Iraq war? (sullen leadership responds with dirty look) Just asking.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Apology Excepted

It pains me to say it, but John Derbyshire's apology for his support for the Iraq war suggests that the estimable Derbyshire still completely misunderstands the nature and degree of corruption that brought us to this tragic impasse. Derbyshire's reasons and proposed designs for the Iraq war are, if anything, far worse than the stalking horses (which he hasn't yet recognized as such) of WMD and democracy promotion:
One reason I supported the initial attack, and the destruction of the Saddam regime, was that I hoped it would serve as an example, deliver a psychic shock to the whole region. It would have done, if we'd just rubbled the place then left. As it is, the shock value has all been frittered away.
Now there's the one strategy that is less sensible than trying to make a democracy of Iraq: destroy it, creating a Somalia-like madness of the entire oil rich, heavily armed nation with its highly trained quasi-fascist military/political party, and leave. What we have now with more chaos and no green zone. Someone is missing the point still.
The idea that retribution for the 9/11 attacks should be leveled on any handy Arab despot at hand is mind-numbingly, tragically unwise. If it is sometimes necessary to dissuade pacifists of the childlike belief in the absolute wisdom of pacifism, here is its conservative mirror-opposite: the childlike belief in the absolute efficacy and justification of military might. Sometimes one has to be a bit more adult about things, and accept that the world is not so simple. (It's also worth noting here that this time the pacifists were right, from the start, as they sometimes are.)

You may be saying, Dennis, you fool; Saddam is hardly any handy despot. Well no, he wasn't; he was ideally situated, atop considerable oil reserves and between Iran and Israel. This is why we invaded, and it seems that, somehow, it will still be many years before this fact becomes commonly accepted. For the meantime, we are to pretend that Bush, Cheney, and Rumsfeld took seriously the intemperate Rousseuvian fantasies of the neocon nursery. Just long enough for them to get out of Dodge, I'm afraid.

Saddam's misdeeds against us, as opposed to those against his own and his neighbors, are not quite so obvious. If we are going to condemn him for the gassing of his own people, by all means, but let's have full disclosure; his fondness for poison gas was not only well known but ignored as a matter of expedience when Donald Rumsfeld met with Saddam in 1983. There's also the sticky question of where he got those chemical weapons. It may have been from us. Whatever the case, from the time of Rumsfeld's visit our support for Hussein never wavered, until he ran afoul of us by invading Kuwaitt.

Yes, I've heard the litany of Saddam's crimes. They are sadly common methods in Third World governance. If we are going to be sober, unsentimental conservatives about this, then let's do it right: what the insurgency in Iraq tells us, with its savagery, with its dizzying array of factions, in its irrational nature, is that among those countless innocents that Saddam butchered during his reign were countless of his peers in bloodthirsty ambition. The harsh nature of Iraq produced Saddam; as skilled as he was at mastering it, and you have to hand it to the bastard, Saddam did not originate the brutality of the Arabian desert.
Every time a "conservative" stands to cite the brutality of Saddam as justification for either of the Persian Gulf wars he is no longer a conservative, but a liberal interventionist. No matter, because Derbyshire is indulging in the same sentimental shell game of the lesser lights among the war's backers, working up the crowd with tales of Stalin-esque despotism but giving the risible notion of a "gathering threat" to the United States from the impoverished and creaking Ba'athist state as reason for blowing the lid off the simmering Mesopotamian desert:
I've never been able to work up any guilt, either on my own behalf or the administration's, about the WMD issue. So far as I am concerned, what did I know? Saddam's behavior sure made it look as though he was hiding something nasty. As an ordinary citizen, getting my information from newspapers and the TV, I had every reason to suppose that the WMD claims were true. Just why Saddam was behaving like that is now a bit of a mystery. Possibly he was a secret fan of classic Chinese literature (or opera) attempting a sort of Empty Fort Strategy. As for the administration: Well, either they knew the intelligence was worthless, or they didn't. If they knew, then their duty was to assume the worst, and present it to us as the worst. If they didn't know, then they honestly believed the lousy intelligence. None of this excuses the CIA's incompetence, of course; but even that incompetence serves the good conservative purpose of driving home to the populace the fact that the federal government sucks at pretty much everything.
This is not worthy of anyone who expects to be taken seriously outside of a boozed up bar debate. We know that the administration crafted an alarm out of dubious evidence and concealed its real motivations. To go to war, mind you. An outright lie leading to the deaths of tens of thousands and counting. This is not overstatement; outright lie is as fair a representation of it as any. It warrants more serious consideration than "what did I know?"
The question is what do we know. We know of the lies told; we know of the evidence ignored; we know of the testimony and warnings of professionals arrogantly dismissed. We know that the administration has since sought to discredit and destroy those who honored their responsibilities by advising the president truthfully. What we have witnessed is a crime of limitless facet and proportion, still redounding daily, not only by the blood of our soldiers but by the deaths of innocent Iraqi civilians. To treat this subject with this level of glibness is to beg to be taken for a callous fool. For the love of God man. Out on the far reaches of this catastrophe's blast area we find the smoking remains of the reputations of falsely contrite pundits.

As for that last sentence in the quote above, normally one has to tune into Rush Limbaugh to get such a sloppy, careless sort of rationalization. When it was time for the war whoops, the CIA was just tits up* provided they were delivering the plausibility. As for the value of undermining the public's faith in their government, is this then what we destroyed a nation and imperil our republic for? Please direct me to the punch line, because I'm beginning to get that sinking feeling one gets when witnessing a friend utter something inappropriate in public.

Presented with the shameful mendacity of our president, the corruption of both political parties, and the negligent silence of the media, Derbyshire accepts uncritically the dubious alibi of an administration that has red up to its elbows and fobs it all off on the CIA as a hapless and inept postal service of imperialism. This after the administration did everything to present the hazy and incomplete view of Saddam's war machine as a crystal clear vision of impending doom.
The CIA dropped the ball is a bill of goods, offered by a bankrupt concern. This will not do.
Imagine the vitriol for the UN, for the IAEA, for Messrs. Blix, el-Baradei, and Ritter had, say, those two measly trailers in the desert held something akin to a "smoking gun." But of course, they were right. In the case of Iraq sanctions, themselves of dubious justification, worked. Still, in Derbyshire's apology he invokes the hoary cliche of internationalist appeasement:
Every time we defer to some United Nations resolution, every time we offer an olive branch to some thug ruler, every time we declare our willingness to sit around a table with some crazy demagogue, I think of the old League of Nations, which was mighty big on resolutions, olive branches, and sittings-around of tables. Of course, those things are the basic stuff of diplomacy, and we have to do a certain amount of them. There comes a point, though, where they don’t suffice, and a nation must act.
As the Beatles sang, "nothing's going to change my world..." Not even reality.

If Iraq has taught us anything, it is that war is still a necessity of last resort, whether you're the most powerful nation on earth or not, and that means you don't wage war to "send a message" if that message is anything other than "we are destroying you because our survival depends on it." I'm assuming of course that we're still capable of recognizing and telling the truth.

That's not to say that I'm against retribution. On the contrary. Retribution was the most legitimate reason for seeking to destroy Al Queda in Afghanistan. Precisely because we've long ago pawned our right to retribution to satisfy our addiction to national sanctimony we find ourselves bogged down in Afghanistan; and the indulgent triumphalism of Pax Americana fuels not only the imperial war machine but also that most un-conservative liberal contraption of "nation building." A nation has never been built from without.
We should be asking ourselves why our legitimate right to destroy a terrorist organization that seeks our destruction burdens us with the impossible task of transforming in Afghanistan what evolution (or God, if you prefer) has taken millennia to create. Time to return to a conservative tenet: accept the limitations of mankind and nature.

The Taliban stood in our way and defended Al Queda. That was the only reason we had for attacking them. The two organizations are not one and the same; the Taliban are not terrorists but religious zealots. Instead of swift brutality in crushing them both followed by swift departure, as Derbyshire bizarrely suggests we should have done to Iraq, we instead commited ourselves to an indecent interval of occupation in what is perhaps the most inhospitable environment to civil society outside of Africa. I characterize it as an "indecent interval" because it's hard to imagine that there aren't many in the intelligence and diplomatic corps who realize the futility of nation building in Afghanistan, yet remain publicly silent.

Let me indulge my obscure self and say what even the frank and normally sensible Derbyshire won't allow himself: Afghanistan will not become a democracy in this century. It is far less amenable to it than Iraq. We are unnecessarily holding the line there against "Talibinization." Afghanistan is entitled to their Taliban, but not to their Al Queda. A good cuffing and the explicit warning of more to come if the terrorist camps return would have been a good initial strategy. But let's be honest, we probably never could have sold it politically. Still, it would have been wise of the administration to try. Alas, we are instead imposing an unnatural form of government there that will collapse once we remove the prop of military occupation.

We don't need apologies but action and a new culture of discourse; as it stands now, the more prominent a leader or pundit the more untenable is forthrightness in the face of failure.
We have somehow created an atmosphere where no matter how wrong someone is and no matter how far reaching the consequences of their mistakes, they still suffer more professional and personal damage by admitting error and adopting to new realities than by holding the line, dissembling and discrediting their opponents to the bitter end. Spin, spin, sugar.
Admit you're wrong and your fellows will denounce you; your president, no matter how faithfully you've served, will destroy you if your honesty threatens the administration.

We haven't even begun to catalogue the flaws laid bare and immeasurable damage done to our republic by the Iraq war. But everyone will be busy for quite some time covering their asses;
brace yourself for more apologies with attendant self-conscious penitence. As there's no real penalty at hand anyway, I suggest we offer open amnesty, sparing us this unnecessary spectacle, and cut to the chase: what have we learned and what are we going to do about it?

*(6/14) I seem to have misused this phrase. "Tits up" as in on one's back, apparently means in a bad way; medically for people, mechanically for machinery, and logistically for organizations. I thought it meant something like "just dandy." A friend in the service used to use the term in that fashion, often approving of something by enthusing, "tits up, nipples north." It's odd, because the definitions given above are, apparently, from the military. I had always taken it to mean, er, pleasantly buoyant.
I'm going to leave it in as contrition, seeing as we're on the subject of apologies and all. I think the phrase would make a jaunty sign off as well. Let's give it a try.
Tits up.

Monday, June 12, 2006

Damned Lies

Sunday’s New York Times continues the paper’s campaign on behalf of the Senate approach to immigration reform in a lubricious feature on Colorado Democrat Senator Ken Salazar:
"The story of Hispanics in America has not been told," Mr. Salazar said in a recent interview in his office here. "My election and my profile in the U.S. Senate is an opportunity to tell that story."
If that sounds like the beginning of some genteel raconteur's tale of ethnic America larded with all the creaking clichés about melting pots and salads, well, you're thinking about somebody other than Mr. Salazar.
The story he tells, with greater frequency and gusto these days, to groups all over the country and especially among Hispanics, is about power.
Meet the next generation of brokers in our increasingly fragmented and corrupt racial spoils system. Loyalty to something beyond ethnic identity and the graft it produces in a republic is a sucker's bet in their racket, and a compliant press will, as they have in the past, imbue their corruption with a false narrative of triumph over racial discrimination.
If Salazar’s naked grab for power gets a critical pass, so does his blatant dishonesty:
Mr. Salazar is not an immigrant. His family roots can be traced to Spain, and Salazars helped found Santa Fe, N.M., in the late 1500's, decades before the Mayflower set sail. That also means, technically speaking, that he is not quite Mexican-American, as he sometimes says, because his ancestors arrived before there was a Mexico, or a United States, for that matter.
“Not quite”? No, not at all. In fact, Mr. Salazar is descended from an early wave of European colonists displacing indigenous Americans, yet here he is, in 2006, pretending to be the opposite. He even, apparently with a straight face, allows himself to use one of the trite slogans that buttress the increasingly platitudinous argument for negation of the southern border:
"It was a border that came over us," Mr. Salazar said. "We didn't come over the border."
What is particularly galling about his use of this slogan is that his own family history is in fact proof of its disingenuousness. When the United States wrenched the Southwest from a corrupt and ineffectual Mexican government the region was home to about 100,000 Spanish speakers, largely ignored by a capital in Mexico City that was continually rent by internal power struggles and periodic revolutions. Those who are now invading the U.S. daily from Mexico are descended from people who never lived in what is now the United States. Still, the sentiment behind this slogan presumes that the western U.S. would be the same wealthy and open society that it is today had it remained part of Mexico. The border not just geographic. It is ideological as well. That border marks off the First World from the Third.
Hispanics who ended up north of the border were very lucky; Hispanics who ended up south of the border weren't, but the existence of a thriving Anglo nation to the north has been a boon to them as well; as millions of immigrants and a homeland grateful for billions of dollars annually in remittances can attest. If we're going to be honest about the imperial nature of the U.S.'s acquisition of the Southwest, let's also be honest about what the Southwest would be if it had remained part of Mexico.

It's important to note that these lands were claimed by Mexico by virtue of Spain's claim to them, but not settled or developed in any significant way by it. Mexican Texas was overwhelmed by Anglo settlers, encouraged by the Mexican government, who then were allowed to declare their independence provided they didn't become part of the United States. They of course did just that, feeling a greater sense of loyalty to those with whom they shared a language and culture. Sound familiar?
Mr. Salazar, if honesty were expected of him, would have to acknowledge that he is very fortunate indeed that his family settled in what would become the United States. But no, the romance of racial discrimination won't be left un-utilized by a dime store demagogue of Mr. Salazar's character:
But he is a personal witness to ethnic bigotry, he said.
"I've been taunted, called names — from dirty Mexican to lots of other names — as I was growing up, and even now as a United States senator," Mr. Salazar said. "To have that personal experience in having gone through that kind of discrimination, it helps in terms of informing the debate and bringing a certain sense of reality to some of the issues we are dealing with on a national level."
How being called names, and one has to wonder if the senator isn’t embellishing here a bit when his description of himself as Mexican American is in fact a lie, gives one a greater understanding of the debate than, say, an Anglo who has been on the receiving end of Chicano bigotry is never explained. Salazar, recruited by Senator John McCain for his current role promoting the Senate amnesty bill, is milking it for all it’s worth:
In recent months Mr. Salazar has spoken to the League of United Latin American Citizens and to a nationwide audience in a Spanish-language radio address on behalf of Democrats. There have been profiles and interviews in publications like Hispanic Today and Latino Suavé.
"Whenever a Hispanic reaches that level, other Hispanics will tune in — they're really not your constituency, but they are," said F. Chris Garcia, an emeritus professor of political science and former president of the
University of New Mexico. "To ignore that constituency is to look for trouble."
Indeed.

Saturday, June 10, 2006

Ducks

Well I don’t know how you take in all the shit you see
No don't believe anyone and most of all
don’t believe me
Believe you
G-ddamn right it's a beautiful day
Eels, Mr. E’s Beautiful Blues

Who would not choose to follow the sound of running waters?
—Thomas Mann

Today I went down to the water, to a park I’ve recently found on the lake that is mostly ignored during the week. It can hardly said to be out of the way; it isn’t even out of earshot of the highway. But it provides a respite. Even the sound of nearby traffic is relaxing in this setting; as for the large homes on the water that I can’t help thinking would be better set off a bit and made less obtrusive, no matter; neither does a jet skier in the distance disturb this, just another type of fauna, natural and as in-its-place as anything else here; and who can begrudge an occasional water takeoff or landing by one of the pontoon-outfitted planes that are part of a tour fleet stationed nearby? I’ll never recover from my childish sense that witnessing that is something of a treat. No, I’m not looking to escape my fellow humans, just to put a little distance between us. Forgive me, but sometimes I like them better from this remove; standing back from humanity so as to appreciate it more fully.

Even though the area is thoroughly settled by humans, everything but the depths of the lake belongs to the birds. Just now as I walk the footpath to my spot a crow passes by with a sardine-sized fish in its mouth, maybe an unfortunate salmon fry. The birds are all anglers each with its own ingenious methods and remarkably resourceful in their own way.
The gulls and crows are the working class toughs; stout and homely, moving about in conspiratorial groups, cawing mysterious orders back and forth. They’ll snatch a fish from the surface of the water, they aren't too proud to scavenge, they'll steal from another bird or from one another; they are generally disorderly. The crows gather in gangs like ruffians; the seagulls collect in twos and threes, carousing like sailors on shore leave.

Occasional swallows flit about with an odd, arrythmic fluttering of their swept back wings; a burst of effort, a short glide, another burst of effort. Terns (I think) pass overhead, long out front like old World War II fighters; capable, all purpose aviators. There are at least three bald eagles living near the lake; massive things that motor along with big, broad wings that don’t flap but push huge cushions of air out from under them with a calm, confident motion, unfurling a bit with each stroke. Today one of them is working the lake's surface, scoping out his prey from on high before coming down to a low level glide over the water, perhaps pursuing a school of fish. He makes a diving grab, raising a splash of white. I can’t see if he was successful. Another large eagle, maybe a female with a brood, chases him off and then returns to a nest high up in one of the evergreens.

I am depressed; an insidious low-energy sort of depression. That’s why I’m here. Sometimes depression gnaws at you; “rage turned inward.” Sometimes, for me, it is simply a void in my chest harboring a vague, unidentifiable dread that commands the bulk of my attention until it subsides, entirely of its own inscrutable logic. You just have to endure it as you would any pain; a place like this is as good a balm as you'll find.

I have taken up the pretense that I would use my newfound haven to read, and that here I would read things that were of no pragmatic concern or compromise. Only things to be appreciated entirely for their own sake; fiction or poetry. I choose a picnic table bench that is placed too high, inconsiderately leaving my feet to dangle like a child in a high chair. This won’t do, so I find another. The lake stretches out before me. I settle into a book but, as is so often the case, can’t keep with it. My eyes are repeatedly drawn to the water.

Why do I always find myself staring at the water like a dullard? It’s the eyes that need this place most, I think. The eyes are so put upon in our world, loaded up, freighted down and overtaxed, all sorts of unnatural behavior is demanded of them; deciphering text, making sense of pulsating television screens, enduring all manner of artificial light. It’s much needed relief then, for the eyes; an apology, for the same four walls everyday, for the familiar tedium, for television, computer screens, newspapers, billboards, crowds, halogen lamps, mirrors, spandex clothing. The sight of the water is a purgative for the eyes.

I’m at my wooden bench when before me a Canada goose appears, first just the head popping up at the water’s edge as she struggles up the steep, muddy bank that's out of view. Comically, her head drops out of sight suddenly, as if a trap door had opened up beneath her feet; she has slipped back down the incline. She’s back just as quickly, somehow looking more determined, step-slipping up the bank until I see her entire neck, black down to its base with a martial white chin strap. She moves inland a few feet and strikes an impressively stern and upright pose, scanning the landscape for predators that aren’t there.

Struggling up the hill behind her appears a youngster, much bigger than a chick but about half adult sized, with small undeveloped wings that look like palsied arms. He manages the climb with greater ease than mom, and soon another and then another appear, all scrambling up the hill in a hurry like soldiers assaulting a position. I return to my book and a while later look back to see there are eleven siblings, all little dull brown feathered dinosaur-like creatures moving about on their backward folding legs. There are three adults with them, shepherding them along as they move in an orderly mass, pecking at the ground. One of the adults guards the landward side of the perimeter, standing still and periodically turning her gaze, sometimes with one leg up and poised, like a runner in the blocks. Another adult takes the shore and a third brings up the rear of the flock, alternating between feeding himself and herding the youngsters. Occasionally one of the adults communicates with another by a sudden, insistent downward movement of the head. Sometimes one moves an adolescent from a spot by lowering its beak to just above and parrellel to the ground and extended out in front like a mechanical arm, then giving a honking charge. Occasionally one of the adults rears up and flaps her wings, for no apparent reason. Sometimes one of the adolescents mimics this behavior with its own undeveloped wings.

They make a little circuit, moving up the bank for a distance and then turning back and inland, making their way back to their little bay where they came ashore. Then as a group they all set about grooming, and they become little feathered masses of movement, twisting and turning their necks about to rub their heads, like scrub brushes, over as much of their body as they can reach. This goes on for some time until their energies subside gradually, and before too long the young ones are all napping, with their heads tucked away, and the adults keeping guard.

A small sailboat comes in, slipping noiselessly into the marina. Overhead a 737, a dark grey silhouette emerging as if a product of the pale grey clouds above, silently begins its descent into the city. There’s a dock that extends well out into the water where some kids are fishing. One calls out to another; a hit on the line that turned out to be nothing. I head on home.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Mos' Def'

Following up on the post below, Seattle Public Schools has now posted an explanation for the disappearance of their controversial "Definitions of Racism":

In response to the numerous concerns voiced regarding definitions posted on the Equity & Race website, we have decided to revise our website in a way that will hopefully provide more context to readers around the work that Seattle Public Schools is doing to address institutional racism. The intended purpose of our work in the area of race and social justice is to bring communities together through open dialogue and honest reflection around what is meant by racism and the impact is has on our society and more specifically, our students. Our intention is not to put up additional barriers or develop an “us against them” mindset, nor is it to continue to hold onto unsuccessful concepts such as a melting pot or colorblind mentality. It is our hope that we can explore the work of leading scholars in the areas of race and social justice issues to help us understand the dynamics and realities of how racism permeate throughout our society and use their knowledge to help us create meaningful change. This difficult work is vital to the success of our students and families. Thank you for sharing your concerns.[Boldface mine.]

Can't wait for more context from leading scholars on race and social justice.

They weren't just catching flak from conservatives; in addition to the many, mostly conservative blogs that lined up to have a go at this pinata, at least one local liberal publication, the free press Seattle Weekly, was highly critical.

addendum: I just happened across this quote from the irrepressible, irreplacable Fred Reed:
This brings me to my belief that the intense racial discord that quietly underlies American life is largely the product of the policies of special privilege and lack of responsibility. As I’ve said before, when I was twenty I believed that policy should be determined without regard to race, creed, color, sex, or national origin. I was called the merest liberal and perhaps a dangerous communist. Now, forty years later, I believe that policy should be determined without regard to race, creed, color, sex, or national origin. This makes me a racist, a racist being one who does not believe that blacks should automatically get everything they want.
I don't suppose the folks at Seattle Public Schools are ready to consider this possible explanation for the so-called "unsuccessful" nature of assimilation and meritocracy, but they deserve to hear the truth as well as anyone, and seem to need it more.