Thought You'd Never Ask

Just mouthing off -- because I can.

Wednesday, May 30, 2007

"What Homeland Security?"

Michelle Malkin asks the obvious question about this scary story of the man on his honeymoon who tried to run from the cops. Now countless people are potentially infected. But the bigger question is how could he get on flights and cross our borders if his passport was "flagged"?

As one of the readers at Power Line asks, "Why is it taking us longer than World War II to get our security services up to standard, and why shouldn't key officials be fired for negligence and incompetence?"


Why I'll never vote for Hillary (part 2)

To put it short and sweet, and most of all--because she's a socialist:

MANCHESTER, N.H. (AP) -- Presidential hopeful Hillary Rodham Clinton outlined a broad economic vision Tuesday, saying it's time to replace an "on your own" society with one based on shared responsibility and prosperity....

"There is no greater force for economic growth than free markets. But markets work best with rules that promote our values, protect our workers and give all people a chance to succeed," she said. "Fairness doesn't just happen. It requires the right government policies."

Her government policies, that is. Her definition of "fairness." Ace and his commenters point out the hypocrisies.

Anyone who hasn't recognized by this time that the woman is an unabashed socialist is either uneducated or trying really hard not to pay attention. Unfortunately the majority of those who support her, whether they realize it or not, also support socialist policies (including more central government regulations) and a socialist economic agenda. Which is a crying shame in a country like ours with a demonstrated and ongoing successful free market (and with all the evidence around the world that economic freedom trumps government control of wealth in offering the best good for the most people).

How do such people manage to keep on living in a bubble? I think enough Americans know better by now than to hand this would-be dictator of such failed policies a blank check to take the juice out of the America economy, make us less competitive in a global market, and increase the footprint of governmental force in every individual's life.

Revisit Part 1.

UPDATE: Neil Boortz sees the same philosophy being revealed by Hillary Clinton as I do:

You need to read between the lines here. You need to digest what this lady is saying. Hillary Rodham is presenting herself and her philosophy on freedom and individual rights to the entire country. Her "on your own" usage is nothing less than a negative reference to individualism. Her reference to an "we're all in it together" society represents her strongly held belief in collectivism. You're not in this for yourself. You don't matter. You're in this for society. You exist to serve the needs of your fellow men, with government your life's choreographer....
Read the whole thing.

UPDATE: Betsy comments too:

People don't go to work every day and take risks with their family's well-being to create a "shared prosperity." They do it for the benefit of themselves and their loved ones. The miracle of our system is that millions of people taking those individual risks and making their own economic decisions will create a far more successful economy for everyone than any planned economy organized by the smartest individuals in government. And people can be focused on only their own personal self interest yet still promote the general interest. As Adam Smith said,
Every individual...generally, indeed, neither intends to promote the public interest, nor knows how much he is promoting it. By preferring the support of domestic to that of foreign industry he intends only his own security; and by directing that industry in such a manner as its produce may be of the greatest value, he intends only his own gain, and he is in this, as in many other cases, led by an invisible hand to promote an end which was no part of his intention.
It might have been one thing to promote such ideas for sharing wealth a century ago. But we've had a century to see how such policies play out in real life from communist societies to the failing socialist plans in many parts of Europe. Why would anyone want to emulate those policies now with all that historic evidence of how such plans work out in reality? Well, no matter their failures, telling the less well off that they should be getting some of the wealth from those who are better off will always be politically winning rhetoric to the ears of the poor. What such ideas would do overall to economic growth and economic innovation is an entirely different story.

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Monday, May 28, 2007

Memorial Day

In my Grandma's time, according to the stories she told me when I was a little girl, Memorial Day was called Decoration Day. It was a day in late May when the weather was usually fine--a welcome happy contrast to a long winter, and a harbinger of the end of school and the coming summer vacation. She and her classmates at the one-room wooden schoolhouse would walk with their teacher down the dirt road from the school to the nearby small settlement cemetery to clean and "decorate" the graves of the dead with ribbons, flowers, and flags. It was an annual lesson in civic responsibility and duty; a chance for even the smallest child to contribute to the public life of her community. It was a time set aside to show respect, especially for the veterans of America's past wars, and most especially for those patriotic and brave men who had made the ultimate sacrifice to help keep our country free.

Children can only begin to understand this at such a young age, but it is never too early to start telling them the stories.

This was what Decoration Day looked like across America in 1906, the year my grandmother was born. The majority of the "Old Soldiers" at that time who were looked up to and revered by all were the aging veterans of the Civil War that had ended over 40 years earlier. It was they (and their wives, in the auxiliaries) who organized and ran the G.A.R. ("Grand Army of the Republic"), with their lodges, or "posts," across the U.S. that sponsored patriotic events and support and honorary services for living and dead veterans. Knowing well what they had undergone, and knowing all too well the good men who had died, they took this mission to remember seriously.

Meanwhile, the newest veterans in 1906 were those like Teddy Roosevelt and his Rough Riders, who had fought in the brief but explosive Spanish-American War; or they were the U.S. Army soldiers who had been sent to the other side of the world to help put down the Boxer Rebellion in China; or they were the men who returned home from hand-to-hand jungle combat with machete-wielding insurgents in the malarial jungles of the Philippines.

All these American veterans had performed their duties when their country called upon them. And, as the 1906 Decoration Day program reads, "All residents are kindly requested to furnish flowers for the occasion.... All veterans and honorably discharged soldiers are invited to participate in all our services, together with the general public."

What a small token it seems, as a private citizen, to be called upon to furnish flowers, when others among us had answered the call and left our neighborhoods to furnish their lives. What a fitting tribute it seems to teach even the youngest children to take the time and make a point to honor our veterans.

When I was a child, my parents were survivors of World War II, the Big One, still much talked about in the aftermath. There were War Memorial buildings, statues, and plaques listing the fallen, and Hollywood movies and popular music about that war still playing everywhere. My uncle, a former Air Force pilot, was a veteran of the Korean War; he looked dashing in his uniform in old photos, and certainly didn't tell me any nitty-gritty stories of the war. I did not really understand what any of the many living veterans of my society had gone through, but I was taught to be appreciative of their service on my behalf. In those days there were Memorial Day parades and the Stars and Stripes would fly outside our house for a day. There were also picnics and barbecues, family gatherings, deviled eggs, hot dogs, orange soda--those were the things a kid would remember most. Life in America was sweet and good when war was over and peace reigned at home. That much I understood. It was a day of thanksgiving and festivity to celebrate what our veterans had won for us.

When I was in high school and college the Vietnam War raged and so did the protests. Some of our returning veterans were spat on and called "baby killers" by the nastiest hippies and radicals, the kind you'd see screaming on TV at college sit-ins and draft-card burnings. Draft dodgers and anarchists held the nation's microphones. John Wayne, former WWII hero-icon, along with most of the older generation became jokes for the values they represented, just by virtue of being over 30, it seemed. The nation was polarized then, too. The Green Berets, the flag, patriotism itself were scoffed at. Jane Fonda became an icon of "bravery," while the truly brave U.S. soldiers and sailors were abandoned of deserved support and respect.

As a young person in the midst of what happened then, I had no real historical perspective at all. How could I? Everything that was happening then was happening for the first time for me, and I could not tell how common, usual, or uncommon and unusual anything was. I tended to believe what the media said in those days because I heard no other consistent or persistent voice telling me "that's the way it is" on a daily basis. But even now, I can't answer the question of how the minority of those who hated and dishonored our country and its veterans assumed such a priority over the larger "silent majority" of Americans who knew better.

You would think such a turn of events would inflame the American public who had long understood how to honor our soldiers for their service. But hippies and radicals were steering the zeitgeist as portrayed in the media in those days. And the "silent majority" seemed to give up the conversation without much of a fight.

But this will not happen today. Thanks to such people as the late Jerry Falwell who gave a name and energy to rediscovering the voice of the Silent Majority, our American soldiers and sailors will not be abandoned to the minority of haters and scoffers without a fight again. Such people are still among us--those who do not like the sight of the waving Stars and Stripes. Let them have their opinions, observe what they will. But I for one, will not be silent, lazy, demoralized, inarticulate, or intimidated this time.

The older, over-30 majority like me won't let it happen again. We won't let Decoration Day go by without honoring our veterans, and remembering the sacrifices--the long list of sacrifices through our exceptional country's history--of such truly heroic men and women. From the Revolutionary War to the current war against the jihadis, our veterans collectively, past and present, deserve our active thanks, respect and honor 365 days a year. It is a small price to pay, but I have learned the hard way through the past decades that it is so utterly necessary to pay it. We owe it to them to fly our flags, participate, speak up, remember, and teach our children.

As for me and my house, we will furnish flowers.

Appropriate viewing anytime, but this weekend especially: Band of Brothers


Summer reading for kids

School's out and the kids are free to flop! They've worked hard and earned some down time, for sure. But smart parents have some minimum standards of expectations for their kids during their many coming weeks of freedom. Raising smart kids during the summer vacation months doesn't have to entail lots of driving, scheduled activities, or attendance at summer camps.

This website has long lists of classic literature for children
. It also points to the list of Harvard classics for anyone to read who wants to really buff up their education. I suggest parents print out these lists and take them along when heading to bookstores or libraries.

Summer vacation is the time to keep pushing the kids to read something that will improve their minds and stir up their thinking (that is, if they have time to read on their own after slogging through the usually tepid, aimed-toward-the-lowest-common-denominator "required summer reading" books from their schools). What I love about reading the classics is you learn so much history and new vocabulary along with enjoying some really terrific, page-turning original stories. This is not what you get from playing Super Mario or watching DVDs by the hour--or "reading" trashy consumer kid lit. Encourage your kids to take the time this summer to get lost in a good book.

I look back on my summers as a child and still remember with great affection and thankfulness how I had the leisure and the opportunity to read: Little Women, Gone With the Wind, A Tale of Two Cities, The Count of Monte Cristo, and so many other great books. I thank God for my mother steering me to good literature and letting me have the time to enjoy it.

Here's another hint for parents this summer: check out the Core Knowledge Grader Series of books. For example, now that my daughter's graduated from fifth grade, she and I are going to work our way through What Your 5th Grader Needs to Know this summer to make sure she's keeping up in acquiring the basics of language arts, history and geography, visual arts, music, math, and science--whether her school has taught them to her or not (and I find there is much in this series the schools do not teach). It's a good check-and-balance technique.

But first we'll finish Pinocchio: The Story of a Puppet. We found a 1914 edition, a former library book, of the original story by "C. Collodi" (Carlo Lorenzini) in a flea market for a couple of bucks, and it has been delighting her (and me) as she's been reading it to me. What a wild and crazy story (almost nothing like the Disney version)! And she's been learning a lot of new words from it: consolation, perceived, whilst, bier, sovereign, leveret, gendarmes, carabinieri...

Finally, this: if your car still plays audio cassettes, here's a collection of stories everyone in our family (including the adults) loves to hear on long road trips. We have carried this set with us over the years and highly recommend it! It's got everything: scary stories, touching stories, real life stories, fables, and funny tales, each teaching a little something everybody should know. If your car doesn't play cassettes, buy the book and read it aloud together.

Take time this summer to teach your children some old-fashioned skills, values, and pleasures they won't learn in school.

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What's in the Bible / What's in the Koran

Michelle Malkin points out an interesting symmetry of two new blogging events: David Plotz at Slate is a self-proclaimed ignoramus studying the Bible while Robert Spencer is beginning a parallel blog-study of the Koran. I see this as a great opportunity to learn more on both counts.

Plotz blogs at Slate:

I decided I would, for the first time as an adult, read the Bible. And I would blog about it as I went along. For the millions of Jews and Christians who know the Bible intimately, this may seem obscene: Why should an ignoramus write about the stories and lessons that you know by heart and understand well? I don't intend any kind of insult. My goal is not to find contradictions, mock impossible events, or scoff at hypocrisy. Nor am I quite stupid enough to pretend that Judaism (or Christianity) is just the Bible. ... My goal is pretty simple. I want to find out what happens when an ignorant person actually reads the book on which his religion is based. I think I'm in the same position as many other lazy but faithful people (Christians, Jews, Moslems, Hindus). I love Judaism; I love (most of) the lessons it has taught me about how to live in the world; and yet I realized I am fundamentally ignorant about its foundation, its essential document. ... [my bold]

I myself reached that point in my adulthood where I realized I had to know what was in the Bible if I were going to be intellectually honest in accepting it, rejecting it, or criticizing it. And of course I realized that the Bible was important enough--in world history, in our country's history, and in my own family history--to deserve an honest reading. No matter what my final evaluation of it was, the Bible had to be part of my adult education, if only for the impact it has had and continues to have on the world. Thankfully, approaching the Bible in the way of an ignorant but intellectually curious adult is quite different, easier, and more interesting than dipping into it as a child (and a lot less scary, when you think of, say, the Book of Revelations).

While I am curious to find out whether Plotz can make head or tails of some of the books of the Bible without the kind of historical and theological commentary providing the background knowledge I found so fascinating and helpful, it will be refreshing and enlightening to see how an intelligent "ignoramus" confronts the written foundation of one of the world's major religions. My guess is that the average modern educated human's sense of moral and intellectual superiority to depictions of a superstitious and mystic antiquity will prove monolithic but can't help but give way at times to the sway and pull of the kind of truth we all know lies in powerful literature though our intellect may reject it. To me the Holy Spirit does indeed speak and work in mysterious ways through the words of the Bible (despite all of its imperfections) and enter into the hearts of people, and it will be interesting to see whether Mr. Plotz experiences that as well.

Robert Spencer, on the other hand, is no stranger to the Koran, and has already written several books on Islam and the Prophet Muhammad. He will offer commentary, all from Islamic sources, to aid in understanding what he characterizes as a very confusing text, and one which is perhaps as influencial in the world as, but essentially different than, the Bible:

The Qur’an is, according to classic Islamic thought, a perfect copy of a book that has existed eternally with Allah, the one true God, in Heaven: “it is a transcript of the eternal book [in Arabic, “mother of the book”] in Our keeping, sublime, and full of wisdom” (43:4). The angel Gabriel revealed it in sections to Muhammad (570-632), an Arabian merchant. Like Jesus, Muhammad left the written recording of his messages to others. Unlike Jesus, Muhammad did not originate his message, but only served as its conduit. The Qur’an is for Muslims the pure Word of Allah. They point to its poetic character as proof that it did not originate with Muhammad, whom they say was illiterate, but with the Almighty, who dictated every word. The average Muslim believes that everything in the book is absolutely true and that its message is applicable in all times and places.

This is a stronger claim than Christians make for the Bible. When Christians of whatever tradition say that the Bible is God’s Word, they don’t mean that God spoke it word-for-word and that it’s free of all human agency — instead, there is the idea of “inspiration,” that God breathed through human authors, working through their human knowledge to communicate what he wished to. But for Muslims, the Qur’an is more than inspired. There is not and could not be a passage in the Qur’an like I Corinthians 1:14-17 in the New Testament, where Paul says: “I am thankful that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius; lest any one should say that you were baptized in my name. (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized any one else.)” Paul’s faulty memory demonstrates the human element of the New Testament, which for Christians does not negate, but exists alongside the texts’ inspired character. But in the Qur’an, Allah is the only speaker throughout (with a few notable exceptions). There is no human element. The book is the pure and unadulterated divine word.

Allah himself tells him this, in the Qur’an itself: “This is a mighty scripture. Falsehood cannot reach it from before or from behind” (41:41-2). It is “free from any flaw” (39:28). In short, “it is the indubitable truth” (69:51). Allah, speaking in a royal plural that does not, according to Muslim theologians, compromise his absolute unity, proclaims that “it was We that revealed the Koran, and shall Ourself preserve it” (15:9). But reading the Qur’an is not always easy. Since so much of it consists of Allah speaking with Muhammad, it is often rather like listening in on a conversation between two people you don’t know, talking about events with which you were uninvolved. Even though a surprisingly large amount of what the Qur’an says is said more than once, still often the reader can’t figure out what’s being said, or why, without reference to Muslim tradition.

This is a great opportunity to learn more about two of the world's greatest books, both of which continue to affect all of us, believers and non-believers, today. I invite all honest people of all faiths and none who want to know more about our world to join me and take advantage of it.

Saturday, May 26, 2007

Am I becoming a splinter group?

Paul at Power Line writes about how offensive it is to have the White House characterize conservative skeptics of "immigration reform" (currently being debated in the Senate) as being xenophobic, anti-immigrant nativists:

I'm also frustrated that the White House fails to treat seriously the concerns conservatives have about its immigration package. The tendency instead is to misrepresent or demean our concerns and, to some extent, demonize us....Forgive me, then, if I tune out much of the White House propaganda on this issue. I don't like having my intelligence or my character insulted.

I agree with him totally. Read the piece for his point-by-point refutation of the Bush administration's false characterizations of conservatives' justified objections.

Michelle Malkin points to Hugh Hewitt's radio interview of Homeland Security Head Michael Chertoff, which is also amazingly infuriating. It beggars understanding that the head of U.S. "Homeland Security" can admit to millions of illegal aliens at large in our country, with still more pouring over the border every day, YEARS after 9/11, and still will try to put a good spin on things (like promising 150 miles of new double border fencing will be completed in September, while refusing to admit that as of yet NO new fencing has been completed since last year's mandate) by just not responding to questions.

Didn't Marie Antoinette do that?

What utter incompetence. It just leaves me gaping to realize that such huge failures in honesty, effectiveness, and responsibility are allowed to stand as if this is normal and acceptable. I see it is true that there is very little difference between most Republicans and most Democrats once they are elected and get their hands into the power-till.

If anybody ever needed a lesson in why "the government" should be the absolute last choice to be called upon to do or accomplish ANYTHING, here's a good one. E pluribus unum.

And to think that many Americans want to put the responsibility for their own health care into the hands of bureaucrats like these. Or pre-school for their children. (Or any mandated public schools insulated from competition.) It defies understanding.

As a conservative-libertarian (devoted to individual freedom, the free market, raising my children with traditional values and honoring our common heritage of Christian and American Exceptionalism), I vote for the better candidate in any election, regardless of party affilation. Usually I have more confidence in the Republican candidate taking the better road than the Democrat candidate (and there is usually only that choice of one or the other). I see now a very depressing trend, with both Bush administrations, that the Republican Party as a whole is moving farther and farther away from my own thinking and my own values. Newt Gingrich and Ronald Reagan had a lot of things right, but I see very few Republican leaders today willing to give more to those ideas than mere hypocritical lip service to win votes from constituents they will then ignore.

In fact, looking down the road at what the next outrageous disappointment for me might be, consider this: could Republicans and Democrats in Congress band together to pass a revival of the "Fairness Doctrine"? It would effectively put out of business the now successful talk radio and conservative-oriented programming (such as the opinion shows on Fox News). Republicans could once have been counted on to see these outlets as not only justified as free speech, but also as supporting themselves. But as conservatives like me feel more and more disenfranchised and more and more inclined to criticize the Republicans ignoring us, these people may soon see a point in cynically silencing dissent (something the Democrats have always approved of).

Depressing. The more I see of politics, the less I want to see of it. The Founding Fathers were right--it doesn't matter who's got the power, the important thing is to maintain a system of laws and civil order that LIMITS that power.

Not many "leaders" in Washington even remember that, let alone wish to uphold it in the face of selfish individual or political interests.

UPDATE: Bookworm shows how even a politician OUT of Washington still can't keep his red-hot hands out of the till.

UPDATE: Here is the first of four articles in the San Antonio Express-News about illegal aliens crashing the U.S. borders from Middle East that Hugh Hewitt referred to.

UPDATE: Trent Lott gunning for "talk radio." What'd I tell you?

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Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Non-secured borders--an impeachable offense?

I'm glad to see there's been a lot of public debate and discussion about the so-called "immigration reform" legislation being proposed in the Senate. Outraged citizens of all political persuasions are still calling in to C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" television show to vent their frustration and disappointment with our leaders for failing to secure our national borders and enforce our existing immigration laws, including deporting (not catching and releasing) illegals and prosecuting employers of same. Lots of people remember that the 1986 "amnesty" legislation for illegal resident aliens was meant to be a one-time deal; that the borders were supposed to be closed then, and that it became illegal in 1986 for employers to hire illegal aliens. As Newt Gingrich writes:

In 1986, I voted for the Simpson-Mazzoli immigration bill. We were promised that in return for amnesty for far fewer than three million illegal immigrants we would get:

  • Control of the border;
  • Enforcement of laws requiring employers to know someone is here legally before hiring them; and
  • No more amnesty and no more tolerance of illegality

The government broke its word on every one of those provisions.

Lots of people also realize that since 9/11 our porous national borders have become not just a legal failure, but a dangerous homeland security vulnerability in a time of war.

Why don't our leaders in Washington act like they understand this too?

Instead, Congress is still trying to link securing our borders and enforcing our laws with hundreds of pages of new "immigration reform." It occurs to me this is a useful distraction device on their part, because while the public vents and debates the niggling details of what new legislation should be passed, the public is that much diverted from the bald failure of Congress to support or effectively fund the existing immigration laws since 1986.

I have long criticized our Congress for not doing whatever was necessary in the time since 9/11 to swiftly secure our borders and get a grip on enforcing our immigration laws (by, for example, passing legislation to fund effectively increased border security and customs and immigration personnel). I have long criticized President Bush for not taking whatever measures were in his power to make sure the nation's borders were secured (sending the National Guard or the Army to patrol the borders with orders to shoot to defend our nation would be a start). I have long criticized the local people and agencies on the southern border for gross negligence in allowing border-crossing crime in their jurisdictions to get so out of hand.

Some conservatives have been threatening to drop their Republican party affiliation as a way of convincing their elected "representatives" of how disgusted they are with the lack of responsive representation.

Peanuts. It's pretty clear that the individual voters are not very influential in this issue. It's pretty clear that Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress and the White House want open borders and continued illegal immigration, no matter what the American public wants.

Given that, I think looking to Congress and awaiting for even more legislation at this point may be the wrong thing to do. Maybe it is time to call a failure a failure--and it is an egregious failure in the eyes of the majority of Americans. Maybe it is time to call for the impeachment of elected officials unwilling to uphold the laws of our land as they have sworn to do. President Bush, Congress, and the Department of Homeland Security have clearly dropped the ball on securing our borders in a timely fashion since 9/11. Perhaps the failure is so vast in scale and persistance that looking to the same people for improved action is not only useless, but even counterproductive.

Maybe it is time to investigate, impeach, or sue those not doing their jobs. Sure smells like breach of contract to me. Or misappropriation of taxpayer funds. About to be papered over by more fraud.

If we can't manage to deport more than a tiny fraction of the illegal aliens at large in our country right now (as proponents of the new legislation claim), then how can we expect our government to deport all the ones who won't jump through the qualifying hoops of the new legislation?

How stupid does Congress think the American people are anyway?

Bonus: James Lileks, our own Jonathan Swift, offers highlights of the pending immigration legislation. These are my favorite provisions:

T. (t) (t) $779,000 shall be allotted to create Inez, a mascot who provide a welcoming and comic presence to the INS offices.; $3.2 million for an ad campaign that raises awareness of Inez; $2.9 million to be put in escrow from the inevitable sexual harassment suit after Woodsy Owl learns about here; that bird can’t keep his wings to himself; $1.2 million to buy out Woodsy’s contract

7 (b) (f) (f) The government shall, at its discretion, ignore the hell out of any of this

II. 5.6 All legal immigrants will be required to go through the entire process again, just to rub their noses it in. Mark Steyn shall sit in his car on a bridge between Canada and the United States until he learns his place.

R. R. (x) Any illegal immigrant from a state known to sponsor terrorism will be required to renounce terrorism by an oath of utmost solemnity. This act shall also supply funds for translators to determine the equivalent of “pinky swear” in other tongues. The translator will work through the world’s languages in reverse alphabetical order.

XX (vi) Employers found guilty of employing illegal aliens must perform the crying aria from Pagliacci.

F. (U) This bill shall be passed before anyone can read it.

Laugh, clowns, laugh.

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Friday, May 18, 2007

Illegal immigration is a toxic reality in our country--Can our government clean up this spill?

The persistence of illegal immigration and our porous national borders have been just about the scariest thing about post-9/11 life in our United States. The idea that so many unknown human beings (and they do include terrorists, no matter how they are generally romanticized) jump ahead of legal immigrants to lose themselves among Americans by breaking our laws to get here and to stay here--even in the face of ostensible new "Homeland Security" efforts--is so troubling on so many levels and for so many reasons. As is the cold fact that American employers must and do break the law to employ them, and have continued to do so with impunity.

One of the levels on which all of this is not truly troubling is the "racist" angle. "Secure our borders, process all immigrants in a professional manner, and enforce our existing laws" is not a racist sentiment. It is a plea for our government to do its job, the kind of job the government of every and any country should be able to accomplish. Unfortunately it has been a plea that has been largely ignored, deflected, or scorned in the five-and-a-half years since September 11, 2001.

Yesterday morning I was watching C-SPAN's "Washington Journal" and the call-in question was "What do you think of the pending illegal immigration legislation?"

Those callers burned up the lines. I have never heard such universal frustration and anger before, across the board. Democrats, Republicans, and "independents" to a man (and woman) all expressed deeply felt outrage that our borders had not been long earlier secured and that existing immigration laws have not been enforced. Some sounded apoplexic and some had well-argued soundbytes full of facts to share; some callers were educated and some were just mad. Only one caller used as an "argument" the platitude that the illegal immigrants were all "hard workers who just want better lives for themselves." Many of the others callers pointed out that such a refrain is beside the point, and constitutes no valid claim on a country's border security or immigration policy. Millions (billions?) of other would-be immigrants to America who do not or cannot crash our borders to jump ahead of the legal process are hard workers who want better lives and would contribute to our country if given the chance, too. But that is no reason to continue to allow unknown thousands to crash the gate each day.

It was really an extraordinary window into the sheer frustration and livid anger that now exists among Americans over this issue. And the frustration was not directed so much at the illegal immigrants as individuals, but at our government for not doing its job, and at our American businesses who put making a bigger profit margin ahead of national security, love of country, and the rule of law.

Clearly, too many lawmakers and law-enforcers have been asleep at the wheel at best; criminally derelict at worst. Many callers on "Washington Journal" could not understand why our elected representatives have been so reluctant to secure the borders and have dragged their feet on enforcing our laws in this case, with the nation's security and well-being at stake. Other callers threw in the towel and called our representatives corrupt, bought and paid for. All seemed in despair to realize that the government "elites," from President Bush on down, had separated themselves so far from the will of the people. If the C-SPAN callers are representative of the American citizens, this last realization a sad and dangerous truth.

Another fact that struck me during the show was how the media persistently plays up the racial angles of the discussion. The C-SPAN moderator would occasionally read highlights from articles in the morning newspapers about the issue. Most of the excerpts she read involved statistics dealing with race--charts showing how the Hispanics are growing in numbers in the U.S., etc. I don't dispute the truth of these statistics, but the fact remains that what is frustrating the American people who are living with this reality is not primarily the problem of what race of people is coming over the border but the idea that no matter who these people are, they are undocumented, uncontrolled, and unknown illegal border-crossers allowed by our government caretakers at every level to wander at will among American society, as known lawbreakers--even when caught and released over and over.

This disrespect for the rule of law that was tolerated by so many for political and economic reasons before 9/11, and which even then had a pernicious effect on the fabric of the nation and on the illegals themselves, should now be seen as a stark national security issue. Illegal immigration should have been stopped in the year following 9/11. Gaining control of our national borders was certainly as important as monitoring the security of our airports, cities, and infrastructure.

But our President, so strong on fighting terror abroad, either did not understand the need or did not agree with the majority of the American people who want secure borders first, with controlled, documented immigration. He talked about it, and around it, but he did not seem to accomplish much. Maybe none of us should be surprised, since he comes from one of those border states that have slumbered while letting the illegals swarm in for years. President Bush seemed curiously, maddeningly in the pocket of the Mexican government and the American businesses who employ and exploit the illegal workers. He seemed deaf to the dangers of deadly criminals crossing our borders, and to the destructive effects of a massive influx of illegal aliens into our border states and our heartland.

Congress similarly lacked the will to tackle the job. It was left to local and state municipalities and private citizens to attack piecemeal the myriad problems brought on by illegal, uncontrolled immigration. It became, basically, private citizens and individuals doing the jobs that the U.S. government wouldn't do.

With the agreement announced yesterday, Congress finally appears to be taking some action. Yesterday Ted Kennedy announced a new bipartisan Senate agreement on comprehensive and compromising legislation. Nowhere yet has the 380-page agreement been published so that the public can study it, and nobody really knows for sure what its effects will be, or its chances of becoming law, for that matter. It will be debated in the Senate next week, then in the House. What we do know is that "immigration reform," another stultifying bureaucratic mess requiring attention, has once again been cobbled in the political realm to the ostensible goal of securing our borders and putting a stop to illegal aliens.

Two of the senators who worked on the agreement are Johnny Isakson and Saxby Chambliss, both from the state of Georgia, which last year passed one of the toughest state laws against illegal aliens (The Georgia Security and Immigration Compliance Act, which goes into effect this summer). Both senators have long held that any comprehensive "immigration reform" legislation must include a provision of first securing the national borders. It was evidently these men who are responsible for the inclusion in the agreement of "triggers" and "touchback" (sending illegal aliens back to their home countries before they can apply for U.S. citizenship)--

Isakson said he will reserve judgment on supporting the final bill until the debate is complete, but he said that at a minimum the bill must include his border security “trigger” prohibiting implementation of a temporary, probationary work permit program until the Department of Homeland Security certifies to the President and to the Congress that the border security provisions in the immigration legislation are fully funded and operational.
Senator Chambliss writes on his website:
My top priority in this debate is border security, because if we do not secure the border then we will fail to address a serious national security issue and we will fail to prevent future illegal immigration. The bill must not include a new pathway to citizenship for people who have come here illegally; rather, those who have come here illegally must go home and get in the back of the line if they want to apply for a green card.
The problem with any legislation that will emerge from Congress is that it will be an unwieldy, incomplete compromise that will have loopholes galore creating unintended consequences (so what else is new?). Unfortunately our government does not seem capable of passing principled legislation in the form of a few paragraphs (as our Founding Fathers did), merely directing the country's resources to "secure our borders and enforce our laws." That would be a REAL first step, but one we peon citizens are evidently not going to be privileged to see delivered from on high.

The other problem is, the American people don't trust our representatives to do what they say they will do. The "triggers" may require that our border be secured before immigration reform provisions go into effect, but nobody believes the government will a) be able to accomplish this or b) will really want to accomplish this. Ted Kennedy has led the disrespect for our immigration laws since 1986 that amounted to systematic nationwide benign neglect toward illegal immigration. Unless our lawmakers pass something so clear, concise and simple as to be an unmistakable first priority of effectively securing our borders, the American people will not be assuaged (nor should they be). A 380-page agreement among Washington politicians is not convincing.

People are already asking, if you can't fund or build the security measures you called for last year, why should we believe any of these new provisions will be met either? If you can't monitor the immigrants already in the country now and you have 30-year backlogs, how are you going to administer new bureaucratic regulations on the proposed Z Visa to make sure illegals become legals legally?

Not all of us were born yesterday. In short, the Senate agreement is a laugh because the political process and the general disrespect for the rule of law in Washington has become a laugh. And not a very happy laugh.

I recently heard Newt Gingrich air his own proposals on stemming illegal immigration and reforming immigration policy. I particularly liked his commonsense advice to privatize the manufacture and administration of tamper-proof identification cards and a documentation system for all U.S. aliens to any good private credit card or banking company, and insist all illegal aliens return to their home countries before being able to apply for U.S. citizenship. That's called using your head and modern technology backed by American ingenuity to put the horse before the cart. You know, consequences for good behavior, incentives, accountability, responsibility, and all that moral stuff any good parent of children would know. Something most of our politicians seem baffled by.

I can only say again that it is frustrating that President Bush has shown so little leadership in this whole matter. Had he made Newt "Immigration Czar" a few years ago, and made it his priority to control our borders within a year, we would be in a much better place for Senate leaders to be compromising and tinkering with the details today.

UPDATE: Further comment on the "triggers"--they don't have any teeth in the current agreement. Fred Thompson, the Heritage Foundation, and Newt Gingrich are against it.

Thursday, May 17, 2007

Same as it ever was

Hollywood's know-nothing activist celebrities are not doing anything original or cutting-edge, as I discovered while reading old issues of the Boston Daily Advertiser (this one's from 1866)--and your average cynic being preached to hasn't changed much either:

Letter from London.

(From our regular correspondent.)

London, Jan. 24, 1866.

We have one Miss Emma Hardinge lecturing in London on the grandeur of the United States. She intimates that a new moral world is beginning there, and that the wretched nations of Europe will have to follow the lead of America in attaining the secret of happiness. The United States provide us with a splendid example certainly, and some of us like to look at a great people prospering and increasing in strength as well as in riches, without the aid of a monarch, or a State church, or a poor law; but we don’t like to see quondam actresses hiring large public rooms and delivering “orations” which represent spirit-rapping as the distinguishing sign of American superiority, and predict for the Union a career in which various ideas for which we have a good deal of respect are to find no place. Some novelty hunters praise her delivery and even her sentiments, but, if I may be excused the rudeness, the lady seems to me too vain to be either eloquent or earnest.

I was struck by the novelty of an actress praising the United States to foreigners--indeed, even thinking that the U.S. could be superior to European nations! How quaint. But the self-righteousness of a certain breed of self-styled preacher/celebrity/actor seems to have held firm over 150 years.

I also liked stumbling across the word "quondam" -- for all you people in the age range of having to take SAT tests, it's an adjective meaning "having been formerly;" "sometime," or "former."

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Postcards from Disneyworld

James Lileks has just started blurting about his visit with his wife and daughter to Disneyworld. I love this man:

I resized some graphics on the plane, but don’t we all. Right now I can’t even get into my email, since it’s all on my laptop, and the power brick is in a bag which was mistakenly sent to another city as part of AirTran’s “See The World” program for luggage. I can’t complain much about AirTran – they had XM radio in the armrest, which was highly cool, and they have equipped their jets with the most powerful toilets known to the airline industry. I’m serious: there should be a sign that says WARNING: forming a tight seal while flushing may result in concave eyeballs, as the ocular fluid will be draw from your head via your urethra.
And he's not even off the plane from Minnesota yet.

Early the next morning:

Bus to the Magic Kingdom. Our bags are given a perfunctory look; we enter our index fingerprints into the database. The park isn’t open, so we join the throng of hardcores and neophytes, waiting for . . . what? The answer comes in a few minutes: a train, an actual steam train, appears above, with all the Beloved Licensed and Trademarked Characters leaning out and waving. Including Cindyrelly! A welcome song is sung; everyone waves back (including me, I note – I haven’t even set foot in the place yet and I’m almost weeping at the sight of Goofy.) The music! The architecture! The trains! From the very first moment, it’s like a live wire jammed into your Disney Lobe, a part of your brain that’s been rewiring since you were very small, just so it could release endorphins at this very moment. All that’s missing is Disney himself in a white robe and sandals, carring a lamb, projected against the sky. If they’d done that I would have bloodied my knees.

The park opens, and in we stream. My first glance at Main Street. Wedding-cake Victoriana; it somehow brings out your inner Teddy Roosevelt. Bully, I think. Let's go to war with Spain. ...

Gosh, I've been there, done that, felt that--but I'm not half as funny, and he's got it spot on. Stay tuned.

UPDATE: Part Two and Part Three. And finally, Part Four.

Monday, May 14, 2007

The henhouse door is unlatched

and it is only a matter of time before we are plucked.

Here are bold words and true from Mark Steyn (a superlative essayist and always a grand read) in "Fortress America's Gate is Open" (read the whole thing):

...It's time to hunker down in Fortress America. Which brings me to the fourth lesson: What fortress? The three Duka brothers were (if you'll forgive the expression) illegal immigrants. They're not meant to be here. Yet they graduated from a New Jersey high school and they operated two roofing companies and a pizzeria. Think of how often you have to produce your driver's license or Social Security number. But, five years after 9/11, this is still one of the easiest countries in the world in which to establish a functioning but fraudulent identity.

Consider, for example, the post-9/11 ritual of airline security. You have to produce government-issued picture ID to the TSA official. Does that make you feel safer? On that Tuesday morning in September, four of the killers got on board by using picture ID they'd acquired through the "undocumented worker" network in Falls Church, Va. Half the jurisdictions in the United States issue picture ID to people who shouldn't even be in the country, and they issue it as a matter of policy. The Fort Dix boys were pulled over for 19 traffic violations, but because they were in "sanctuary cities," any cop who suspected they were illegals was unable to report them to immigration authorities. Again, as a matter of policy.

On one hand, America creates a vast federal security bureaucracy to prevent another 9/11. On the other hand, American politicians and bureaucrats create a parallel system of education and welfare and health care entitlements, main- taining and expanding a vast network of fraudulent identity that cor- rupts the integrity of almost all state databases. And though it played a part in the killing of 3,000 Americans, leaders of both parties insist nothing can be done to stop it. All we can do is give the Duka brothers "a fast track to citizenship."

The Iranians already are operating in South America's Tri-Border area. Is it the nothing-can-be-done crowd's assumption that the fellows who run armies of the "undocumented" from Mexico into America are just kindhearted human smugglers who'd have nothing to do with jihad even if the price was right? If you don't have borders, you won't have a nation -- and you may find "the jobs Americans won't do" covers a multitude of sins.

There are sanctuary cities (recently in the news, San Francisco) in the U.S. and then there are state and local jurisdictions passing legislation to discourage and disincentivize illegal aliens from living, driving, or working within their borders. Because the U.S. Congress has been shamelessly unwilling and unable to secure our borders and enforce our existing immigration laws, it is being done piecemeal, incompletely, and with acrimony in a thousand different ways and places.

The majority of Americans want our borders secured for just the reasons Mark Steyn points out. It is no secret. Yet we get little discussion of this from most of the Presidential candidates, and no progress on this from our lawmakers.

It is hard to understand such blindness and denial among our national leaders. But it is illustrating to see the truth of the old saw: the more decentralized and the closer to home the governmental power, the more it reflects and responds to the true will of the people.

Nuts at work down at the schoolhouse

What a way to start a Monday morning: Michelle Malkin points to two stories that pretty much sum up every parent's nightmare: "Great Moments in Public Education." These kinds of anecdotes never seem to end. And we send our kids off on the school bus every day hoping there are enough checks, balances, common sense, and vigilance in our own local public educational, legal, and law enforcement systems to keep such whackos from acting out. But should we?

Meanwhile, EconoMom sent me this link to the trailer of a new film, "Indoctrinate U." Seems the plague in both elementary and higher education is these would-be dictator-indoctrinators with political agendas and an overblown quasi-religious righteousness who feel entitled to run roughshod and amok over other people's children--all in the name of "educating" them.

As Breath of the Beast writes:

I think the answer lies in the educators’ navel-gazing meditation on their own childhood hang-ups. I just makes you want to scream. Give me a break; it’s not about you, you self-absorbed losers. It’s about kids...and helping them to become better realizations of who they are. Just because you are not able to let go of the angst of being a poor child or a social dud as a kid, you have no right to torture these kids and force them to ape your insipid version of social justice. ...Get over it, get a life and join the celebration of freedom and creativity that is America. In the words of Pink Floyd:

“Hey, Teacher! Leave those kids alone!”

But even these latest anecdotes of misbehaving adults in the classroom aren't as nightmarish as contemplating this.

I could take over and homeschool my own children any day of any week, if I needed to. In a pinch, I have no doubt the few stay-at-home moms in my neighborhood could within a week or so whip up a "one-room virtual schoolhouse" for all the kids on our few streets, at least. We may not be growing enough Victory Garden vegetables here in the 'burbs to sustain our nutritional needs in the event of full-scale war, but I think very highly of the intellectual and creative capacities of the average stay-at-home American parent with internet access.

UPDATE: Here's a review of "Indoctrinate U." I would advocate this film being shown at every college's mandatory "Orientation" session for incoming freshmen. They should know what they're about to step into.

Sunday, May 06, 2007

Pro-capitalism shocker: France ain't dead yet

I am still reeling from the news (via Instapundit) that a majority of the good citizens of France have turned out in record numbers at the polls to say "Non" to a Socialist candidate in their latest election and have instead elected a new President who believes in capitalism and understands economics (via Drudge Report). Nicolas Sarkozy will now succeed Jacques Chirac and has promised "an economic revolution"--calling for the end of "the nanny state," a loosening of the grip of political correctness, lower taxes, a diminishment of the power of the nasty French unions, and the breaking of the mandated sanctity of the vaunted French 35-hour week so that those who want to "work more to earn more" may do so.

Mon Dieu! Now, there's a fresh breeze blowing through a stale land (with over 8% unemployment)! A breeze I imagine our own Democratic lawmakers can feel blowing on their tails, as evidence of the common man and woman getting wiser all the time to the ways of the world and the wiles of the socialists. I congratulate the French on their victory. Welcome back to a seat in the theater of freedom, progress, and economic common sense--if you can keep it.

M. Sarkozy also claimed in his victory speech that America can count on France as a friend and ally. I sincerely hope that may turn out to be true. I am sure he must speak for some French people who do feel that way. I know Chirac did not speak for all French people (and I wonder if now that he is out of office and no longer immune from prosecution, he will finally be investigated for his own and his administration's roles in the U.N.-Iraq Food for Oil scandals).

Meanwhile, No Parasan has been closely following the election and the violent tantrums being thrown by "French Youths" (i.e. fascist losers).

As a cautionary aside, Hillary would be wise to take the Socialist Madame Royal's defeat to heart:

Her campaign was shambolic. There were many last-minute agenda changes and she often arrived late. Socialist staff moaned about her personalised leadership style. An opinion poll found that 63 per cent of voters thought her campaign was poor.

She never seemed able to escape from her party’s rigid ideological barriers. Every time she tried, for instance by suggesting military camps for young offenders, it provoked a volley of criticism from the party apparat.

Moderates attracted to her early campaign were disappointed by her manifesto, filled with generous spending pledges and little indication of how to fund them.

Party disunity exploded into public view when Eric Besson, her economic adviser, quit saying she was “dangerous for France” and joined the Sarkozy campaign.

François Bayrou, the centrist who came third in the first round, cited her economic policies as his reason for not endorsing Ms Royal. “Her manifesto, multiplying the interventions of the state, perpetuating the illusion that the state must take care of everything… runs in the opposite direction to the orientation needed,” he said.

I especially like that word, "shambolic."

UPDATE: Roger Simon says "the biggest loser in the Sarkozy blowout is the media."

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Artificial intelligence

I'm sure you've all played "Guess the Dictator and/or Television Sit-Com Character" before. (If you haven't, go there and make up for lost time.) This deceptively simple little "20 Questions" game has been on the internet for a few years now. For some reason my son was revisiting it the other day, trying to have the computer guess his rather obscure "sit-com" character, the nameless "Cigarette-Smoking Man" from the now-defunct TV series, "The X-Files." My son has been watching the show on DVD's and has become a huge fan of Mulder, Scully and the whole mytharc.

The ingenious online game works by using logic and a decision tree algorithm, based on your yes or no answers to its questions, to arrive at its final guess at who your dictator or sit-com character must be. The questions the computer asks and the way it "thinks" (as you answer truthfully but try to stump it by choosing obscure dictators or sitcom characters) are the truly entertaining parts. My son's game went like this:

Are you female?
Are you often seen dating different women?
Do you have trouble performing everyday tasks?
Do you put down rebellions?
Are you European?
Have you been off of the Earth?
Did you lead a revolution?
Do you have a mustache?
Are you African?
Do you play golf?
Are you from the Western Hemisphere?
Are you black?
Are you alive?
Are you the brunt of jokes at your workplace?
Did you secede from the United States?
Are you fat?
Are you a teenager with an annoying little brother?
Are you from Latin America?
Do you have stairs in your house?
Are you Robin, the friend of Batman?
do i score at the nudie bars?
Do you dye your hair?
Has the USA ever attacked you?
Was Jessica Alba your girlfriend?
Did you create a plan to break out of prison?
Are you a dog?
Have you ordered multiple killings or kidnappings?
Do you smoke cigarettes?
I guess that you are Cigarette Smoking Man from The X-Files! Am I right?

How does it do that!? The questions seem all over the map, but obviously have to be eliminating and sifting down through the "tree" according to rules of logic, to finally narrow down to one guess. As Stephanie Kuenn has said, "The beauty of this game is not winning (although it's fun when you do, and if stumping the computer is what you're after, stick with the dictators), but with the questions the computer asks on its way to victory."

What is perhaps most interesting about this game is that the database of questions and possible dictators and characters has been contributed by the users--it is an "open" database that "learns" when it fails and when players contribute new data to it. This means there are some clunky questions and some bad spelling turning up from time to time, as well as some really clever or funny possibilities.

This kind of creativity on display (both on the part of the public contributors at large and by the original code-writers) is a delight. I think it's one of the sorts of things Americans are especially good at. It makes me want to find out more about how humans are able to construct and program these examples of artificial intelligence. And I can't help wondering if the computer code-writers who can master the basic building blocks of computer logic with such discipline are equally good at rigorous thinking in their own private human lives. I think it certainly wouldn't hurt to teach this kind of thing to all our high schoolers. A little study of how artificial intelligence works would probably enhance the real thing.

Leftists, Islamists, and non-thinking

Breath of the Beast blogs a readable, informative essay entitled "Understanding vs. Nonthought: Why the Left Does Evil with the Best Intentions." In deft synthesis, it starts off describing a part-time job in a college laboratory filled with monkeys, and ends up with a TV interview of Whoopie Goldberg. In between I learned some things I didn't know about inventor and "pragmatic problem-solver" Charles F. Kettering and the Czech writer Milan Kundera. Here are just a couple of key excerpts:

The dominant kitsch of our age in the west are surely the fetishes of the left. They are the very means by which the left attempts to analyze and solve every problem by fitting them into “what they already know” rather than understanding them on their own terms. Hence, the persistent and obdurate refusal to believe in the threat posed by the bloody and brutal Caliphate Islamists. Because, for instance, they already “know” that multiculturalism is a universal and that according to its dictates “all people are brothers”, they cannot see that this sweet but dangerously mistaken belief is not shared by many other cultures. They also already know that all of humanity are brothers and that if you treat your enemy with dignity and resolve your problems by talking them out there is never any need to have a war. These seem like nice principals but they are deeply flawed and not universally shared, in fact, the Islamists view them as a fatal weakness to be exploited....

Ms Goldberg speaks in half truths with half sentences. We must continue to advocate real understanding. When she says, “everyone is entitled to their opinion” she has omitted the most important part of that assumptive sentence- the other half is “no matter how ill considered and uninformed it may be.” The entitlement to opinion and expression is not a validation of content--in fact, it is a call for responsibility. Equal rights to speak them doesn’t mean all opinions are of equal value; it means that they should to be considered and supported rather than merely indulged....

Another good post at the same blog is "Terror Attack of the Month Club," again talking about how the left seems stalled by its embrace of multiculturalism in a paralytic state of willful denial about the threat posed by militant Islamism:
It is the look you get from people who are prepared to ignore any fact, accept any contradiction and succumb to any peril in order to support their current state of belief and comfort.

I see that look often when I try to have a real dialog with (most) feminists and many of the gay people I meet. It strikes me as odd that feminists and gay activists can remain blind to the horrors faced by women and gays in any Islamic society. It is even more bizarre to see the blink of the toad flash across their faces as they recover their composure and prepare to rationalize their antipathy toward Israel and western civilization.

I see it in the faces of the glazed, parrots of political correctness and multiculturalism when they refuse to pass judgment on a culture that abuses its children, represses and beats its women and even boldly asserts its own manifest destiny to dominate and convert the rest of the world....
Of course it is not just American society struggling with solving problems, understanding vs. wishful thinking, and willful nonthinking. This New York Times article, "The (Not So) Eagerly Modern Saudi," highlights how Saudi Arabia is ambivalent but compelled by circumstances to be somewhat (how much?) open to forces of modernity and enlightenment (with opposition by its religious fundamentalists and cultural traditionalists).

Breath of the Beast also touches on this, too, in a post linking to this fascinating article in the London Times, "How a British Jihadi Saw the Light." Teaching in Saudi Arabia, the author, Ed Hussain, realizes:
...All my talk of ummah seemed so juvenile now. It was only in the comfort of Britain that Islamists could come out with such radical utopian slogans as one government, one ever expanding country, for one Muslim nation. The racist reality of the Arab psyche would never accept black and white people as equal....
Crushing poverty, racism, violent sexism, abuse and subjugation of women, blame of the infidel West and denial of reality, lack of compassion for non-Muslims and non-Arabs--all are part of Saudi Arabia that this author is honest enough to confirm.

Above all, it is good that the international conversation about what reality is and how to deal with it continues, and that those who can see and share the truth are willing and able to keep pointing such things out.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Marching to the beat of a different drum

Conservative (not necessarily Republican) I may be, but I didn't watch the televised Republican Presidential Election candidates' "debate," just as I didn't watch the Democrats' version of same. I am probably more interested in politics than your average American, but I mean, come on, isn't it a little early to start sniffing into every crevice of that minute, daily horse-race when months must still ensue before it gets really serious? Where does politics end and "entertainment" begin? Wherever entertainment begins, following the election ups and downs becomes a choice, not a duty.

I'm glad others are live-blogging, keeping up, and offering post-mortems and really informed analysis for my own enlightenment--it saves me time. I guess that separates me from the Big Boys (and rightfully so). My own interest in the candidates certainly falls short of the professional and the ambitious.

I am still psychically readjusting (and not sure I want to) from my trip abroad, too. It seems to me right now more significant and rewarding for me to fill my "free" time reading Thomas Hardy's novel, A Pair of Blue Eyes, one of his earlier works (1873) of which I found a paperback copy in a Cambridge, England flea market, and bought to read on the plane home. I am much intrigued by the fact that now that I have visited England as a middle-aged woman, I can at last visualize the landscapes, old churches, villages, society, and people he describes SO much better than I could visualize them as a teenaged California English Major. Talk about worlds apart.

And I am most struck by how slow-paced and quiet ordinary village life was for the English people of the late 19th-century. They would see the kind of chronic rush and estrangement from nature by which I live my own ordinary life as a kind of diseased, perverted, and intolerable state of madness, I think. That we spend so much time either jumping into our cars and rushing about, or sitting indoors glued to computer or TV screens, I believe they would rightfully consider absolutely appalling, cruelly punishing, and sheer madness for being self-imposed.

I don't long to live in a more slow and bucolic world without antibiotics, education, electricity, anesthesia, good nutrition, or the other appurtenances of wealth we enjoy. But it is sobering to be reminded that not in all ways have we enjoyed unalloyed "progress" in the way our lives and our time are spent.

That difference in living is the truest gulf between our generation and the irretrievable past, in my opinion. I believe the change came most rapidly in our parents' lifespans, when air and car travel, radio and television mass communication (instant global news) and finally the computer/internet really took hold. But you can see the beginnings of the process in Hardy's world with the inroads made by the telegraph and the train pushing their ways into the most remote villages of Cornwall, where previously life had little changed over the course of hundreds of years.

A change of scene and a good work of art are both effective for helping one to stop, jump off the merry-go-round, and take a look around. I'm trying not to get sucked back into losing that perspective right now.

Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Anti-Americanism--is the pendulum swinging back?

Davids Medienkritik, a blog that focuses on German-American relations and news, has for a long time been pointing out how and why the German media seems addicted to flogging anti-Americanism to its readers (or is it the other way around, and the current anti-Americanism of the majority of Germans fuels the market for such fare?). At any rate, reading this blog gave me my first graphic indications of how far America's image had plunged in the popularity polls of other countries once thought friendly to us, and how foreign media has taken an active hand in that process.

Here Davids Medienkritik offers an English translation of "The World's Bellyache" by Jan Ross, an article published in Die Zeit that summarizes the state of global anti-Americanism. What's remarkable in this is the very fact that it has been written--in Germany, no less--and that finally others in the German media (besides Davids Medienkritik) are noticing and documenting the extent of the phenomena (including the media's biased hand in it) and beginning to explore and question it.

Meanwhile, a friend sent me a link to this essay by Neil Macdonald that appeared in the Canadian press, entitled "On American Decency." My friend, an ex-pat American working for a university in the Middle East, said it made her feel better about being an American. Granted, she is in the trenches of anti-Americanism. To me, Macdonald's essay just summed up some of the obvious facts of why the worst of the currently fashionable anti-Americanism is sheer mean-spirited and ignorant bigotry (or purposely driven by doctrinaire anti-capitalism or fundamentalist Islam). But I was glad to see it written, just as I was glad to see this video not too long ago (pointed at from the blog, BritainandAmerica): "A World Without America."

It is not so much that Americans "want to be loved" as it is they just want to be given a fair shake--not lied about, slandered, kicked in the teeth for their generosity. We have a pretty good idea now what sort of people, both inside and outside of America, enjoy doing that kind of kicking.

Thanks largely to the internet and fueled in its first wave by blogs around the world, I think the pendulum now pointing toward rabid, dogmatic anti-Americanism is starting to swing back into the zone of rationality and more honest and balanced discourse. America is not perfect, but it is also nowhere near among the worst powers in the world. America is just the biggest power, and that in itself brings out a lot of nuts and cranks. Because it is a big and a benevolent power dedicated to freedom, nuts, cranks, and dissidents of all stripes and nationalities are free to use us as a punching bag they know won't punch back--and to use America as an excuse to "solve" or salve a host of their own personal problems.

America may rarely be unthinkingly admired around the world, if indeed it ever was--just as the French will never again be unthinkingly admired in America as they were back in the "American in Paris" heydays. But I believe more and more people will turn to a better-reasoned and informed view of our country and that kneejerk, emotional anti-Americanism will run its course and take on the tarnish it deserves.

Maybe even more people will rethink their views and start to say, along with The Anti-Subjugator: "Thanks America"--

If there was any justice in the world, the rest of the free world would provide money to fund the American military, and hand over a cheque with a BIG SMILE. Instead, what do we see? Protests in places like South Korea. Unbelievable. How you can put up with the South Koreans is beyond me. The fact that you do put up with them, with a smile, exemplifies the inner beauty of the American soul. Thanks America!

And then there's the fact that after defeating an enemy, instead of rubbing his nose in the dirt, you instead show great magnimity and help him to his feet, immediately, ala Germany and Japan. You show that the best way to defeat an enemy is to turn him into a friend. You teach that we should judge people by their current behaviour, not past bad behaviour. If only the rest of the world could learn from America. But instead most of the rest of the world maintains grudges for centuries, transferring guilt to perfectly innocent people, and pretending to inherit suffering and permanent victimhood. If only people would adopt the American way, the world would be so much better. What can I say? Nothing. I am humbled in the face of American largesse. Thanks America!

UPDATE: "British Reparations" - when another country gets treated as America does, the comedy is obvious.