Friday, January 29, 2010
New York Times columnist Roger Cohen wrote an op-ed piece speculating on a few decades hence, when perhaps China will occupy the world position America does now. Here's my comment:
One phenomenon already evident in Southeast Asia is the presence of the Ugly Chinese. We've been to Bali half a dozen times in the last decade, and there the locals tell us that a group of Chinese tourists will go into, say, a batik shop, talk loudly with each other in the shop, trash the place by grabbing merchandise to inspect it, then tossing it in a heap, then offer the shopkeeper less than he paid for the merchandise himself and insult him in the process...After they've left, it takes the shopkeeper an hour to make his shop reader for business again.
The Balinese observe that the Chinese have no idea of "win-win" in bargaining. For them there is only win-lose. They win, you lose. And they don't think they've won unless they've basically humiliated you.
This is all a stereotype, of course. There are wonderful Chinese tourists in Bali. But enough of them behave the way I've described here to give them a bad rep with the locals, who find Americans--the ones who go all the way to Bali, at least--easy-going, cheerfully respectful of the locals, and always interested in getting to know them instead of just treating them like the help.
So there we're actually the Pretty Americans. And the Chinese exemplify the stereotype of American tourists that I've heard all my life (in America at least).
China has always been inward-looking, and as their exports of tainted products demonstrates, they tend to treat anyone they don't have a personal relationship with (including other Chinese) instrumentally.
They think we're immoral because we don't cheat on behalf of relatives, interestingly. This is why Costco warehouse stores in the U.S. now packages produce in more or less sealed packages--too many Chinese housewives were swapping, say, pears they didn't like for pears in other flats, then just grabbing pears from other flats and loading twice as many purloined fruits in their flat and shamelessly trying to check out with it. After many complaints, Costco now puts them under plastic and wrappers and whatnot in order to cope with this, um, cultural phenomenon.
So becoming good world citizens is going to come very hard for them, I predict. Especially since they take criticism badly. I'm guessing most of them have no idea what the locals think of them. Of course it's likely that they don't care either.
Someone who read this in the NYT put a comment into my Avatar a right wing plot? piece (see below). He wanted to know where I got my point about Costco.
I got my general thoughts about Chinese cultural character from a fascinating book
a bird, and a cow--and ask the viewer which two of those three items seem to go together more, most Asians will say cow-grass, while most Westerners will say cow-bird. Read it to see why.
I got my observations about Costco from personal experience. I live in an area with a huge Asian population, including many recent immigrants, and I saw the Costco shenanigans time after time over a period of years--also the paucity of anyone else doing same. I complained to Costco myself, and I'm sure other shoppers did as well, since, unlike normal shoplifting, it was completely brazen. I think they thought "If there's no rule against it it's fine for me to do it."
Remember, from the Chinese viewpoint this is not dishonesty. It's just prioritizing those close to you over strangers. So from that viewpoint we're the immoral ones, since we don't normally cheat on behalf of relatives.
So rather than say they're dishonest, I'd say their priority stack is arranged differently than ours--and it behooves us to keep that in mind.
Thursday, January 28, 2010
Some of my conservative friends are reluctant to see Avatar because they don't want to financially support an anti-American Com-yew-nist movie where the bad guys are the white American military and the good guys are the pure-hearted natives.
Now it's true that "Avatar" has a simplistic good guys/bad guys plot.
But the military being pilloried isn't the military--it's mercenaries working as corporate goons.
And while the locals are shown sympathetically, so are five or so humans--Americans. Including the protagonist. Actually, the movie has much in common with "District 9" another science fiction film about corporate interests mistreating noble (once you get to know them) aliens. Ugly as toad road kill, but noble nonetheless.
But most ironically, the Com-yew-nist Chinese dictatorship has belatedly pretty much banned "Avatar"--because Chinese viewers are seeing it not as criticizing Americans or the American military, but as allegorically criticizing...the Chinese government, famous for ruthlessly expropriating local villagers' homes and lands on behalf of rich developers and industrialists.
So the American right wing fears the film China's dictators fear.
What does that tell you?
Liberal commentators have one thing in common with their conservative counterparts: while everyone talks about how angry "the American people" are--nobody talks about the tidal wave of right wing propaganda that has shaped and molded this anger--and directed it at the very people who are trying to save them, however imperfectly.
It helps the manipulators that today's economic issues are too complex for most voters to understand. That's the simple truth. No amount of "common sense" is going help Joe Lunchbox make sense of default credit swaps and the things hedge fund managers do to "earn" their hundreds-of-millions-of-dollars incomes (taxed lower than their secretaries, natch).
This propaganda campaign employs dozens of fake populists with daily talk shows that dominate AM radio, plus a "news" station whose tag line should read "What the foreign cullud man in the White House did wrong today." That includes Fox's faux straight news programs, by the way--not just the O'Reillys and Hannitys et al.
And it includes not just general-purpose denunciation & ridicule of everything any Democrat ever said and did (often accusing them of exactly what Republicans are doing)--we also have the spectacle of the healthcare denial industry spending $1.4 million a day to defeat any kind of healthcare reform.
Commentators talk about the Massachusetts Miracle and the Tea Parties and every other sign of public distress as if people just sat in their homes poring over the Senate healthcare bill, reading annotated copies of the Constitution, and studying the findings of www.politifact.com and www.factcheck.org (two reputable factchecking organizations)...all before forming their personal opinions.
In reality, opinions are formed before any facts are found. Then people look for "facts" to support their conclusions, and for ways to dismiss or downplay countervailing facts. What really affects them are media figures who look and talk like them--only better-looking, more nicely dressed versions of them--and ads and whisper campaigns that inflame their fears and angers and appeal to their inner 10 year old.
The people engineering this, like Karl Rove, are brilliant and amoral. (Does anything think Karl Rove is religious? Or shares any of the tastes of the Republican rank and file?)
They have achieved with words and images the subjugation of a people that once required militias with weapons to achieve.
It is irrational to assume that people are rational. Countless times I've seen smart people tie themselves in knots trying to reason with ranting bigots who are obviously innumerate and incapable of rigorous analytic thought. All you can tell such people is "go to a community college for a couple of years. Take statistics and basic science courses that teach scientific method before you write another opinion."
Rational people are fooled by these coached questioners--like the ones you find on newspaper website comment threads--because they've learned to parrot worthwhile terms like "junk science." Only they define "junk science" as any science whose conclusions they don't like.
At least half of the American people have been tricked by right wing propaganda. I concede that there's left wing propaganda out there as well--wielded especially well by public employee unions and organizations advancing some socioethnic group at public expense (such as the racist organization self-named "The Race"--only they translate that into Spanish so English speakers won't notice the racism).
But the left wing propaganda doesn't have the giant bullhorn provided by America's Angry Billionaire's Club, financed by people whose names you wouldn't recognize, but whose companies you would--entities like Walmart and Mars Candy, and major developers, and the people behind the Chamber of Commerce (which purports to represent small business but doesn't--just the biggest ones). There are dozens of lobbyists for every Congressman, and only a relative handful of them represent liberal causes. The rest--usually retired Congressmen--command humongous salaries paid for by the Angry Billionaire's Club.
So, yes, the American people are mad at Obama, and the Democrats, and Congress in general.
Now look behind the curtain. Please?
Tuesday, January 26, 2010
Over the history of the filibuster, it had been used in extreme circumstances (from the minority's point of view), as a last-ditch effort. Most notably from Southerners trying to stop civil rights legislation.
Today the Republicans in the Senate use the filibuster for everything, routinely--aided by a recent Senate innovation that allows them to not actually filibuster, but simply to threaten one. Thus the filibuster has morphed from an emergency device to preserve minority rights to something close to minority rule.
I believe in minority political rights. During the Dark Ages (the Bush presidency and Republican Congress 2000-2006) the Democrats used it and I always thought "Great. The Founders wanted our democracy to be somewhat inefficient, to prevent mob rule." Moreso because during the Republican rule of the Senate, its majority actually represented some 15 million fewer voters than the Democratic "minority"--courtesy of the way the Electoral College gives, say, one Montana Republican voter the same say in picking a President as around 4 California Democrats.
But now the filibuster has become exactly what Alexander Hamilton predicted in his Federalist Papers:
"The history of every political establishment in which [a super-majority] principle has prevailed is a history of impotence, perplexity and disorder."
The Senate Democrats must confront the filibuster head on. The howls will be huge. And when the Republicans regain control of the Senate, as is historically inevitable sooner or later, they will use any new rules on us--ruthlessly.
So be it. Minority rights cannot be allowed to become minority rule, regardless of who's in the minority.
When Paul Krugman said the same thing a few days ago, most of the many comments posted by readers disagreed with this advice--both left wing and right wing.
The diatribes from the political left seemed to be written in total ignorance of what Americans outside of college towns think. And they seem to think Obama was made king of the country, able to make laws by snapping his fingers. The American presidency is closer to being an administrator with a bullhorn.
You know he wants a single payer system. You should know he's just as frustrated as you are by how far the Senate bill is from that. But he lives on this planet.
So it's the mild reforms of the Senate bill, or less, or nothing. Th-th-that's all, folks. And if we get nothing--which all this left-wing howling is helping guarantee--we'll probably get a Republican president in 2012. Followed by a 7-3 Supreme Court corporatist-activist majority. Want that? Keep it up. Karl Rove is cheering you on.
The diatribes from the right mostly assume that the American people are all against the total takeover of American healthcare by European socialist death panels.
Um, the Senate bill was never anything like a takeover, and the lobbyists who form the fourth branch of government have seen to it that it's even milder than it started. It's only socialisim in the sense that Rush Limbaugh and the rest have redefined "socialism" as "any kind of regulation whatsoever."
Of course total gummint takeover is just what the Healthcare Denial Industry has been spending over a million dollars a day to make Americans think Congress is cooking up.
Odd that the right wing comments on Krugman's op-ed piece never--not once--acknowledged that American public opinion has been molded by this $1.4M/day tidal wave of advertising, PR, whisper campaigns, sock puppet pundits and more--countered by a pathetic trickle of truth. I say truth because nearly every claim the Republican leadership has said about the Senate bill has been shown to be a baldfaced lie--according to rigorously nonpartisan fact checking organizations like www.factcheck.org and www.politifact.com.
I'm not saying Democratic leaders always tell the truth. They don't. And they've certainly been swayed by lobbying and by public opinion, despite that public opinion being based on well-financed, slickly disseminated lies.
But on healthcare reform the Democrats are saints next to the the Republicans.
I only take slight comfort from knowing that when healthcare reform is defeated by rigid left-wing idealists and foaming-at-the-mouth right wing nutjobs--many in both groups are going to wind up with their tails in a crack as a direct result of healthcare reform failing again.
I heard a caller on one right wing talk show say "I don't want to pay for someone else's pre-existing condition."
Wait'll it's you. And you wind up with one of those medical bankruptcies right wing nutjobs deny the existence of (along with all science whose findings they don't like).
It'll serve you right. So go ahead and gloat at the defeat Democrats are looking at now. As ye sow, so shall ye reap.
Monday, January 25, 2010
2. Democrats downplay union influence on elections and focus on the perfidy of big business. Some even propose impeaching Justice Roberts on the basis of him perjuring himself during his nomination hearings.
Viewing all this from the middle, I get the general impression that both sides have valid complaints about the other side--while often showing total blindness to the missteps and malfeasance of their own side.
Look at healthcare reform. Regardless of whether you love or hate the bills in Congress, public opinion has been molded by the health insurance companies "banding together" to spend 1.4 million dollars a day on advertising, lobbying, whisper campaigns and suchlike--most of which has been debunked by www.factcheck.org and www.politifact.com, both with impeccable nonpartisan credentials.
There have been efforts to counteract all this, but they've been buried in an avalanche of money, same as the last time anyone tried to reform our healthcare system.
All this supports the Democrats' complaints about the GOP's Golden Rule: the ones with the gold make the rules.
But the Republicans have a point about the unions, though unions in general are a shadow of what they were a few decades ago. The exception is the public employee unions. Government employees now make, on average, 40% more than comparable private sector employees--and they have lifetime security, with fat pensions, healthcare benefits, and near-immunity to being fired.
On the local level, cities large and small are facing huge deficits generated largely by that compensation advantage, with contracts guaranteeing lifelong pensions that are going to bankrupt more and more cities.
And heaven help the city councilman who objects. Those unions will campaign vigorously against anyone who gainsays them, manning phonebanks, walking precincts, mailing one slick attack ad after another against their foes and for city council candidates who kiss union rings.
And don't forget the Republican unions--prison guards and other law enforcement groups. They're not only gaming state governments, they've also turned prisons into warehouses with revolving doors where rehabilitation is nonexistent and America has become the world's leader in locking up the highest percentage of its citizens behind bars. Yay us.
Partisans left and right favor anything they think makes their side's megaphone bigger and clamps the other sides' megaphone shut.
Centrists like me demand fairness, transparency, and sophisticated legislation to try to curb the corrupting effect of both unions and corporations burying opposing voices.
I know I'm exactly as free to take out a Superbowl ad as Bill Gates or Jim's Tool and Die or the SEIU or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Only I can't, and Jim can't, and the others can.
If you think that's a level playing field you're nuts.
All the Constitution says is that "Congress shall make no law abridging the freedom of speech." It doesn't say whose speech. Suppose the government of China decided to spend $100 million to support a Senate campaign. Suppose I wanted to yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater? Suppose I wanted to visit your church during services and read loudly from a pornographic novel throughout the service? Suppose I said you had embezzled from your company, or threatened to kill you?
None of those things were envisioned by the Founding Fathers as falling under the provisions of the First Amendment. Nor did they think commercial entities were people. After all, if a corporation's truck runs over someone I can't arrest every employee of that corporation for manslaughter. Nor can a corporation marry my sister. Groups of people aren't individual people--and commercial entities are most especially not people.
Now if Democrats and Republicans would agree that no organization with lots of money should have unlimited political freedom--neither unions nor corporations--that would be a start.
How about it?
Sunday, January 24, 2010
Frank Rich, one of the New York Times' more partisan Democratic columnists, wrote a piece urging President Obama to man up, so to speak, in the wake of Scott Brown gaining "Ted Kennedy's seat" in the Senate. It was more critical of the Democratic side than is Rich's wont usually. I wrote this comment, which the NYTimes' censors deleted.
Feel free to see why:
I wonder if the President hasn't conflated assertiveness with aggressiveness. That is, you don't have to be angry to be forceful. And if, after trying to reach compromise, you find the other side waging total political war against you, you have to go to Plan B.
--Particularly if the other party owns a TV network and hundreds of AM radio stations through various proxies, so that their propaganda issues from a thousand megaphones 24x7. I've watched Fox's supposedly straight news shows--as opposed to O'Reilly/Hannity/Huckabee et al--and even the "straight" news shows should be retitled "What the traitor in the White House did wrong today."
"No drama Obama" can't rise totally above this pitchforks-and-torches frenzy. It just makes him look like an out of touch academic.
And the President can fight back without doing things his daughters would be ashamed to know he did 20 years from now.
And he has to bear in mind that the people will opt for a compelling, emotionally satisfying narrative over the truth. I don't want him to lie but he has to put out his own narrative--not just complain about Republican spin. Do something they'll complain about. Put them on their back foot. That's what's needed. Study FDR and Teddy R. They knew how to do this.
The Prez needs to peel off independents from the Republican Leadership's awkward embrace. He can do this by hammering on the ways in which the Republican leadership continually betrays Republican voters (including all those self-described Independents who nonetheless mainly vote Republican).
Of course in doing so he'll make Boehner and Mitchell and Limbaugh and Hannity angry at him. But so what? They already do everything short of burning crosses on the White House lawn.
The average Republican I know--and I know a lot of them--is honest, trustworthy, loyal, and charitable. The average Republican leader is none of the above. Yet conservative Americans follow them because the GOP leaders manage to talk and look like them--at least in public--and because the average Democratic leader tends to look like he's pandering to government employee unions and socioethnic special interests at the expense of what is still, for a while, the Anglo majority.
So many Democratic initiatives aimed at improving social justice have wound up becoming little more than gravy trains for self-appointed ethnic leaders, or moves that symbolize the abandonment of the melting pot ideal of our immigrant-derived country in favor of a hundred pots, all competing for taxpayer-funded handouts.
Multilingual ballots, amnesty for illegal immigrants, affirmative action, school integration--all these came from noble motives, then devolved into something less.
An acquaintance of mine just came back from serving a mission in Mississippi, mainly among local blacks. He was dismayed by the culture of dependence he found there, where far too many girls' highest goal in life (he said) was to have exactly four children by the age of 16 (yes, 16--that's not a typo), in order to ensure maximum government benefits.
And if any whites complain about any of this they're instantly branded as racists and told they're guilty of "hate speech" which is grounds for dismissal in a fair number of colleges.
Most whites don't want special favors for whites. They’d vote against such a measure if it were to appear on a ballot. They want justice blind to accidents of birth. They want to see all Americans given the same opportunities, instead of seeing the son of a millionaire black doctor given preference at a college over the son of a white sharecropper. They profoundly resent being told they must sacrifice for someone else because their great-great-great-great grandfather exploited that someone else's equally remote ancestor.
Every attempt at reparations--by whatever name--for historical injustice creates a present injustice. The Democratic Party has not acknowledged this simple fact.
So the President needs call the GOP leadership the betrayers of their own constituents that they are, while at the same time pounding on his own party's leadership to embrace the little guy regardless of race, creed or national background. Affirmative action based on pure economic background would be embraced by many, for example.
And the Prez has to do the public employee unions exactly what Michelle Rhee is doing to the teachers’ unions in Washington DC's schools, on behalf of stude. Now there's a cheerfully ruthless leader to emulate. She never frowns—and she never backs down.
Thursday, January 21, 2010
To quote the Spanish saying, "Algo es mejor que nada" -- "Something is better than nothing." Because our only alternative to the Senate version is no healthcare reform for another generation. So don't let your congressman ride the Horse of Pride right off the cliff.
Anything but the Senate bill means the healthcare denial industry wins, along with their sock puppets in Congress, otherwise known as the Republican leadership. The Republican rank and file will think they're winning but they'll actually be losing. A small consolation if it turns out that way.
If you're trying to decide what to tell your Congressman, just read the right wing diatribes that will throng Krugman's comment thread. Look at their gloating contempt for you and everything Democrats stand for (or at least should stand for). They want the House Democrats either to blink and pass nothing or stiffen up and demand changes to the Senate bill--but either alternative will produce exactly the same result.
The healthcare denial industry is spending over a million dollars a day, every day, seven days a week, to flood the airwaves with lying propaganda that is working. This propaganda is backed up by a legion of self-aggrandizing, self-styled pundits and rightwing talk show hosts, all in lockstep with the healtcare denial industry's message du jour.
That message is that Obama is a European Socialist, every Democratic congressman is a European Socialist, and the mild healthcare reform of the Senate bill is actually a Soviet-style nationalization of the healthcare industry that will institute death panels to kill Grandma. You laugh. But half the electorate--that half that doesn't live where you do--believe all of this.
If you think we have a snowball's chance in Hell of getting anything better--just because you and your educated friends in your college town want something better--you're dreaming.
I want something better. I want France's healthcare system, OK? I want single payer. I want to see the CEOs of the health insurance companies on the streetcorner, in rags, selling apples. Or pulling oars in slave galleys.
But the universe repeatedly fails to reconfigure itself according to my desires. How about you?
Call your congressman and say "Pass the Senate Bill. Now. Do the people's work."
Yesterday the Supreme Court reaffirmed its predecessors' late 19th century decision that corporations are people (along with trade unions and other organizations). As people, they have exactly the same right of free speech as you and I have.
So if you want to take out an ad during the next SuperBowl to tout your candidate or oppose the one the Chamber of Commerce is spending tens of millions of dollars to tout, well, you're free to do so. So to speak. That's a level playing field (as long as you're a billionaire).
Ok, fine. Corporations and unions and the Chamber of Commerce etc. are, I guess, collective people. So if a corporation is responsible for people's death, we can arrest that company's entire chain of command for manslaughter and send them to prison? A corporation can, um, marry someone? It gets one vote--instead of the votes of all its employees?
Honestly, is there any way to see this judgment as anything other than giving corporations all the rights of individuals but none of the responsibilities?
And the "corporatist five" who made this judgment call...they tend to call themselves originalists, don't they? How is this an originalist reading of the word "person" in the Constitution? Which Founding Father said corporations are persons?
Now we've all heard a lot of ignorant commentary on Supreme Court decisions. These people have a challenging job (if they choose to take it that way, which their lifetime tenure lets them avoid if they choose as well). They're certainly more knowledgeable about American jurisprudence and the Constitution than most of us.
But all of them have political affinities, and they show. This--along with the one in 2000 that tossed out Florida's legal system in favor of a judicial fiat--seem overtly political. And judgments like these show that George Bush II still presides over one of our country's three branches of government--and will do so for decades.
Remember that next time you're deciding whether it's worth voting.
Tuesday, January 19, 2010
Magnum mysterium shmisterium.
Religion is entirely explainable via anthropology and sociobiology. So are ethics. Religion and ethics derive from us being pack animals that take a decade and a half to raise our young.
Science is the practice of studying reality--and we know we've studied it well when replicable experiments and observations lead to predicted results.
Whether religion leads to good behavior or bad is irrelevant to whether there's a god(s) or not. Same goes for science.
So many people with no religious affinities are well-behaved, contributing members of society, because our character (pack animal+long-dependent young) hardwires us to be happy when we behave well. I've known a lot of putzes, and not a single one was happy. That's no coincidence, and religion is unnecessary to explain it. what's even more interesting is how many boastfully religious people behave badly (of course many religious people behave well).
Saddam Hussein was not religious. Bin Ladin is. Both were/are mass murderers. Some kill for gain, others for religious reasons. I find both flavors equally despicable, but the religious ones are more dangerous. Few atheists are suicide bombers.
Since religion's premises and conclusions can't be studied scientifically, science can only discuss religion in the aspect of it being a human phenomenon. A scientist can't say "there is a god" or "there is not a god" as a scientist, because the word "god" isn't scientifically definable. it's exactly the same as asking "Do you believe in slgoahdshn?" All attempts to define the word "god" scientifically produce tautologies.
This means that the scientific perspective is not agnostic. An agnostic says "There may or may not be a god." Nor is it atheistic, since an atheist says "There is no god." Ask a scientist "Do you believe in God?" And the proper scientific response is "Sorry, I didn't understand one of the words you said, so I can't answer the question." That is, the word "God" can't be defined in a way that's scientifically comprehensible.
Now about 2/3 of American scientists profess to be religious--though the more eminent the scientist, the less likely he/she is to be religious. I'm guessing that religious scientists simply compartmentalize these aspects of their life. Like having a wife at home and a mistress near where you work (I won't venture to guess which is which in this metaphor).
What religious enthusiasts find hardest to swallow is not that scientifically trained people may criticize or oppose religion. It's that so many of us find it completely irrelevant--except perhaps to study it as a human phenomenon. it's a holdover of our species' youth, like the gill slits every human embryo develops at an early stage.
And what religious people find hardest to understand is that entirely nonreligous people want to do the right thing from exactly the same pack animal motives as religious people experience. It's why we can weep at a Bach fugue, or, more popularly, some of the big numbers from Les Mis.
The only difference is that religious people put an elaborate cognitive superstructure atop these primal motivations. We don't. We just realize that while humans can exhibit a wider range of behavior than any other animal, we can't alter our core nature. That's what I meant by "hardwired."
And it's why I tell my religious friends that if they woke up and realized suddenly that there was no God, no heaven, no hell, no eternal reward and no eternal punishment--I would expect them to treat others exactly the same as they had before...if they know what's good for them.
I'm fascinated by the human face, and I've seen what I'd call the Religious Face and the Scientific Face.
The religious face shows someone with their focus turned inward, experiencing ecstasy from ideas residing deep within themselves. The Scientific Face is turned outward, utterly enthralled by observing reality and figuring out how it ticks without fear or favor. (The third face is the affective face--the one used to communicate feelings to other people, to influence them; actors excel at this face, while they often have a hard time with the scientific face--they generally just come off looking distracted.)
I'd find religion a harmless hobby, such as stamp collecting, except that some religions--not all by any means--are guilty of being accomplices to planetary ecocide through encouraging overpopulation and discouraging some or all forms of birth control.
This is the sense in which they energetically pave the way to Hell with their good intentions.
Sunday, January 17, 2010
Saturday, January 16, 2010
President Obama decreed that Haitian citizens living here illegally would get a pass for the time being. A news item about this in the Washington Post brought proponents and opponents of illegal immigration out of the wood work. One proponent made the standard arguments, quoting from the inscription at the base of the Statue of Liberty, along with the "we're a nation of immigrants" stuff. If you have friends/relatives/workmates making these big-hearted arguments, you might find my rebuttal useful. Here it is [the graph shows US population growth BTW]:
joeyangel1 rebutted those opposed to letting hundreds of thousands of illegals stay by quoting the Emma Lazarus poem on the Statue of Liberty ("give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to be free)", then invoked the standard leftist arguments that we're a nation of immigrants and that anyone who objects to illegal immigration ought to go back to where they came from themselves.
Well, that's somewhere between fatuous and insane.
Point 1--the Emma Lazarus poem:
Lazarus wrote her poem in 1883. She was campaigning on behalf of fellow Jews in Russia who were being attacked by Russian pogroms.
In 1883 the world's population was around 1.6 billion. America's population was around 58 million.
The world's population has quadrupled since then, and America's--without adding appreciably to its territory--has quintupled.
So yeah, in Lazarus' day America needed immigrants. Now, with five times as many people...it doesn't. Unless they have skills or investment capital we need.
Unless you're invoking our compassion.
Many Haitian are starving today, and they certainly need our help. Many are also deserving people.
Um, according to United Nations estimates, ONE BILLION PEOPLE are starving today. They live in Latin America, Africa, the Middle East, Southeast Asia. Starving Haitians aren't starving any more or less than any of these other one billion people.
So by your logic, we are morally obligated to take them all in.
That gets you an America with the same demographics as India, which has a middle class about the size of our entire current population--plus a billion starving, illiterate peasants with no job skills other than manual labor.
So quoting Lazarus may make you feel good about what a wonderful, compassionate guy you are, but trying to apply that poem to the radically different situation today is ridiculous. And I seriously doubt you'd actually vote to let those one billion worthy souls move here. If that's true you're a hypocrite as well.
Point 2: "we're a nation of immigrants." I'm not an immigrant. I was born in California, and I've lived here all my life.
If by "nation of immigrants" you mean ancestry, every single nation on Earth is a nation of immigrants except for Kenya/Tanzania and thereabouts, where the human race evolved.
By your logic we'd all have to move back there. Or if you just mean people who displaced other people--and not counting the Neanderthals as people--everyone in Europe today except for the Celts, Basques and Sami, pretty much, would have to move back to central Asia. Mexicans of Aztec ancestry would have to move back to what is now the United States. Navahoes would have to cede much of their territory to Hopi. The Japanese would have to cede Japan to the Ainu, except for those with Ainu blood--which is most of them.
For that matter, I'm 3/32 Cherokee. So 3/32 of me gets to stay? Which 3/32?
I have to assume people make arguments like these because they were never trained to actually think.
Point 3: Applying your logic to the Dominican Republic:
The Haitians occupy 1/3 of the island of Hispaniola. The other 2/3 comprise the Dominican Republic. It's easy to tell which is which if you fly over the island. Haiti is the part with no trees that's turning into a desert.
Now by your logic, the 10 million Dominicans should let the 10 million Haitians walk over the border. Dominica has plenty of trees the Haitians could chop down for firewood, and only 1/3 the population density of Haiti.
So--you're the president of the Dominican Republic. Here come the Haitians, heading for your border, desperate. Your nation isn't destitute but it ain't rich. Taking in all the Haitians will with 100% certainty destroy your country. And BTW they speak a different language and have a different culture.
What would you, with your big compassionate heart....do?
Friday, January 15, 2010
Thursday, January 14, 2010
Few have talked about the fact that all this came to a boil because China started a massive cyberattack on computers physically located in America in order to hunt down Chinese dissidents the government thinks are using gmail to communicate with each other.
Such attacks are a violation of American sovereignty. China is no different from dozens of other fascist dictatorships in suppressing freedom of speech domestically. But it stands alone in the cyber warfare it conducts worldwide but especially against America. It routinely steals trade secrets and constantly tries to steal military information from us. The NSA probably knows a lot about this, but they aren't talking--nor should they. But attacks on American private companies, such as the recent one on Google, are also violations of our sovereignty.
Everybody spies on everybody, and I'm sure we try to spy on China just as they do on us. I'm not making a moral argument here. Just pointing out that China's government is engaging in a massive cyberwar on our political and business interests, and whether you applaud Google's stance or not, or even whether you believe in freedom of speech or not, it's incumbent on us to build up the battalions of hackers comparable to those the Chinese government employs to steal from us, compromise our military security, and spy on our systems as part of their system of repression at home.
That's what we should be most concerned about.
Tuesday, January 12, 2010
Here in California, self-appointed minority student advocates demand an end to exit exams because many black and Latino students are failing, despite having stayed in class and got passing grades.
They say the tests are biased because of this. It never occurs to them to blame the students or the cultures the students come from, where, for example, black kids who study are viciously harassed by other black kids for "acting white."
But I have a solution that might placate the Al Sharptons of the world and still provide high school diplomas that prospective employers and colleges would find meaningful:
Give a diploma to every single student who kept his seat warm for four years. Give an exit exam to every student. Then, on the diploma, show the grade level achievement of the student in match, English, science, social studies, and particular vocational areas (such as auto shop).
That way no one gets off the hook, while those who don't know much but at least showed up are duly rew3arded and get to march down the aisle.
And by the way, what a waste of money to have every state reinventing the wheel. We need a national exit exam, if for no other reason than cost containment. Well, and to have the sorts of national standards every other civilized country has.
Exit exams have had the lamentable effect of reorienting entire educational curricula around teaching to the test. I hope that this proposal would mitigate that, st least somewhat. But even if it doesn't, and even though teaching to the test is honestly terrible...today's alternative may be even worse: dumbed-down courses aimed to make kids feel accomplished without the actual accomplishment.
Oh, and as for the ideologues whose comments blame them dayum lib-er-uls for the mess or those awful right wing bigots--you're both equally to blame.
Both sides have conspired to make school textbooks so contentless that reading them is like eating tasteless hospital food: everything that might offend anyone about anything has been removed. And this is exactly as true for the right wing as for the left wing. Both extremes put their cause ahead of our country, and they should hang their heads in shame.
Thursday, January 7, 2010
Last Sunday the New York Times' lead editorial called for comprehensive immigration reform legislation. It cast the usual aspersions on opponents of this, along with trotting out the usual tropes ("bring them out of the shadows" and suchlike). You can read the editorial here, but it goes where many, many liberal editorials on immigration have gone. Not much new here.
Now recently I've focused on ways to defend supporting healthcare reform against right wing attacks. Here I'll try to help you defend against liberal attacks on immigration opponents.
Ideologues' attacks (both left and right) often depend on unspoken assumptions. If I ask whether you've quit beating your wife, you can't say yes or no without agreeing to the unspoken assumption that you have been beating her.
Likewise here, though less obviously. So check out my comment on this editorial. If you have friends, coworkers or relatives insisting that you have to support "comprehensive immigration reform" this may help you hold your own in such discussions. Challenging underlying, unspoken assumptions can be quite entertaining at the very least, because it's not the field ideologues want to play on.
[The NYTimes editorial board recommended this as one of the 10 top comments (out of 171), with 191 readers recommending it--the 2nd highest of the top 10.]
Let's examine the unspoken assumptions of this editorial:
Assumption #1. That America's demographic composition and total population size are to be determined by the government of Mexico and the Catholic Church.
You see, in 1940 Mexico's population was 20 million people, and America's population was 0.5% Latino. And Mexicans weren't trying to move here.
But by 2000 Mexico's population had exploded to over 100 million people, courtesy of a toxic combination of modern medicines and a dominant religion that forbids its members from using any form of contraceptive device--even condoms--and forbids abortion as well.
So now they're coming over the border in the millions. And swelling the ranks of the Catholic Church in this country--ranks that had been depleted by secularization and scandal. So the Catholic church profits immensely from Latino immigration--legal and illegal.
I implicate the Mexican government in this because it has actively promoted emigration of its peasant class. Not its engineers and teachers and doctors. Just its peasants. The Mexican government actively interferes with any attempts at our slowing down the flood.
But wait, there's more. These millions of Mexico's peasant class aren't settling evenly across our country. Mostly they're settling in the Southwest--especially in my state, California, far from the offices of the New York Times. Latinos (mostly Mexicans) will be the majority ethnic group in California by 2050.
In New York City you have a melting post of ethnicities--or at worst, a tossed salad.
We did too, here in California. But that melting pot is rapidly morphing into a monolithic extension of Mexico. Today you can spend your entire life in California without having to know one word of English. The most-watched TV station in LA broadcasts only in Spanish.
I thank my lucky stars I learned Spanish in school. It's becoming a survival skill here. Oh, and the latest Pew poll shows a majority of American citizens of Mexican origin identifying themselves as Mexicans. Not American. Not even Mexican-American. Just Mexican.
Assumption #2: That America desperately needs millions more people, and that those millions should be unskilled laborers who don't speak English.
America's population has doubled since the 1960s. Doubled. We're only keeping up with Americans' need for food and water through intensive agricultural practices that are exhausting the land and poisoning our waterways. We're overpumping our wells, causing widespread collapse of our porous aquifers (which is irreversible). We're also experiencing water table salinization in many places.
As for needing more unskilled laborers...do you know what the unemployment rate is for American unskilled laborers? Upwards of 20%. How do you think they'd feel about this editorial? And those laborers are disproportionately black. But that's yesterday's cause du jour I guess.
Assumption #3: That there's no such thing as the greater good.
I feel sorry for illegal aliens whose parents brought them here as little kids, who speak no Spanish, and are hard working, deserving people. But no nation can survive if it puts the needs of citizens of other countries ahead of the needs of its own citizens. These hardworking young adults can learn Spanish. I did. And as people speaking fluent English, with American high school or college educations, they can do well in their country--Mexico. The Mexican tourst industry is desperate for such people.
Assumption #4: "Country" and "culture" are outmoded concepts.
America is a country of immigrant ancestry. Not immigrants per se. And all those immigrant ancestors assimilated into this American culture. It's not just a culture of xenophobic mouthbreathers. It's the culture of Gershwin and "Avatar" and Frank Capra and hip hop and so much more. It's a culture. I honestly don't think the New York Times editorial board realizes the extent of displacement of this culture here in the Southwest. I'm not dissing Mexican culture, nor of Latin culture feeding into our multicultural character. But that's not what's going on in this neck of the woods.
Please, guys. Take your next vacation out here. Try to get more of a feel for what's really happening here. The "job magnet" is an illusion. It's an overpopulation problem. And until the last several decades, it wasn't ours. Nor did we cause it. And those who did will never face up to their responsibilities to their own country, as long as they can outsource it to us.
Why should they, as long as we do?
Tuesday, January 5, 2010
New York Times' conservative columnist David Brooks knows how to obscure underlying truth with shallow truths. That is, Brooks’ sins are sins of omission.
In this case (a column on the Tea Party movement) he has omitted the financial interests that profit from promoting the anti-intellectual redneck populism of the Tea Party movement--and which have propelled and shaped it.
That would be
Back in the 1950s
Today none of that is true. Our income distribution resembles that of
That didn't happen by chance. Key elements included a 40 year campaign that used anti-Communism and Ronald Reagan's faux populism to make ordinary Americans fear and distrust government. The hyper-rich don't need government services, after all, and they certainly don't want government regulation that might limit their limitless greed and sense of entitlement.
It was a master stroke to co-opt populism to make the little guy vote against what they imagined to be the Big Guy (big government), when that was the only force strong enough to protect them against the real Big Guys.
Lyndon Johnson helped by committing the Democratic Party to helping Blacks achieve legal equality. That guaranteed a White Southern anti-Federal government block vote that persists to this day, and shows up in the character of the nonstop attacks on Obama's citzenship, inteligence, family, etc.
The most telling was a poster imitating the famous "Yes we can" poster, only showing Obama uplifted chin, looking down on us, captioned "Snob: It's an elitist thing. You wouldn't understand." This combines Southern Whites' bete noir, the uppity Black, with general-purpose anti-intellectualism.
Because above all else the hyper-rich need Obama and the Democratic Congress to accomplish nothing. It's not that they love Republicans. They have nothing but contempt for the average Tea Partier, and treat Republican Congressmen as their house servants. Our ruling class isn't fundamentalist or ignorant. Just self-absorbed and brimming with a sense of entitlement that would make Paris Hilton envious.
These people like to stay out of the light, but I've seen interviews of some of the ones who are CEOs. They look upon the rest of us like you'd look at bugs.
Of course there are fellow travelers who don’t share the hyper-rich class’s narrow focus on its money and privileges and freedom from government interference.
The Christianists made a Devil’s Bargain with these people in the Reagan era, and it has served them well, even as it has corrupted them more and more.
And every right wing talk show host and think tank pundit is an entrepreneur out for himself ultimately, but more often than not it also serves their interests to play footsie with those who can bankroll them and hand them a megaphone. And make things very hard for them if they don’t play ball.
The hyper rich have spent a fortune in marketing aimed at making Americans reject government (this doesn’t excuse government’s failings, but this campaign goes on regardless of whether government serves the people or not).
Then, building on this foundation campaign, we get more specialized multimillion dollar campaigns designed to thwart reform of particular sources of the hyper-rich class’s riches.
Hence the anti-healthcare reform campaign that’s in full song now, swamping the cable news channels with advertising (against a dribble of pro-reform ads), along with much greasing of palms behind the scenes, along with whisper campaigns and chain email campaigns that say things that would be challenged in court if they were said in ads.
And rank and file Republicans and Independents fall for all of this because they’ve had no training in spotting manipulative political campaigns. They sure don’t get it in school. The Far Right wants nothing but the 3Rs taught in school, after all. And it has been remarkably successful in reducing the education system to vacuous pablum (aided by liberal demagogues who do the same pablum-ification in their areas of concern, in the name of Political Correctness).
So when David Brooks talks about public opinion swinging against healthcare reform and the burgeoning Tea Party movement, it’s telling that he leaves out all of this. Public opinion isn’t formed in a vacuum. It’s shaped by experts working for people with big fortunes and no scruples. None.
How could Brooks ignore all of this? Unless he’s the genteel, smiley face of this operation…the Good Cop.
[This comment--#169--was a New York Times editor's choice and got 120 reader recommendations]
Monday, January 4, 2010
My first experience with a troll was on an immigration forum, back when the NY Times hosted subject forums & not just comment threads on articles.
And she was a liberal troll. They aren't just right wing nutjobs. Any nutjob will do.
She seemed reasonable at first. Very collegial with other participants, as long as they agreed with her pro-illegal immigrant stance. But she was quick to call anyone who demurred a troll (and some were, to be sure), and if something fired her up she'd spam the thread, cutting and pasting in lengthy lyrics to pro-illegal immigrant ballads and so much other stuff the thread became nearly useless.
Things haven't gotten better. Now whenever an article on a hot button topic has a comment thread, it seems like 2/3 of the comments will be from trolls.
They're troll comments because they're usually rants filled with ad hominem attacks and raising red herring issues. The trolls always accept anything anyone on their side says at face value, while denying that anything said on the other side has the slightest credibility, and further claiming that it's the product of a vast conspiracy.
Usually trollspam is obvious, due to the level of invective and the semiliterate writing. It's usually offtopic as well. For example, trolls flooded a recent Washington Post op-ed piece advocating more involvement of scientists in public forums to combat disinformation campaigns about climate change, evolution and the like.
But there's a more sinister kind. These are usually long posts, literate-seeming, and seeming to raise plausible objections to climate change, evolution, atheism, abortion etc. I say "seeming" because the objections are almost always red herrings--things that have already been raised and settled within the valid community of thought/knowledge of the field being discussed.
These posts always draw equally long, literate answers from valid members of the community of thought who've gotten sucked into the trap. It's a trap because it usually diverts people's brainpower from the real issues to phony ones and diverts the comment thread into topics of the opponents' choosing--always variations of the "have you quit beating your wife? Yes or No." attack. Thus the climate change opponents want to divert climate change threads onto discussions of "Climategate"--a pseudoscandal with no bearing on the real issues.
Seems like most of the trollspam comes from the same cranky old coots who call into CSPAN talk shows and all those AM radio talk shows. In my stereotype they usually have a thick hick Southern accent and sound like they're red-faced and shouting.
We got to see them in the flesh at the congressional town hall meetings on healthcare.
And like those meetings, these attacks appear to be orchestrated to varying degrees.
Whether orchestrated or not, they fill comment threads with so much chaff that they make many of them nearly useless--as well as leaving average readers with a false impression of how representative these nutjobs are.
Even if you think there's no such thing as human-caused climate change, that we didn't evolve, that abortion is a mortal sin etc.--you shouldn't approve of dirty, anti-democratic tactics used in support of such stances. If you do, you're saying that your positions can't be defended honestly. What does that say about such positions?
As for the issue of whether these threadspammings are orchestrated...from the point of view of the far right, they do disrupt "enemy" communications and create misleading impressions. And they are diverse enough to give all readers something, from the literate-seeming to the thug shouters writing in all caps. It's not like the crude old days when a congressman would get thousands of identical letters. These are all different...they still say the same things, though.
The thing that makes me suspicious of orchestration is how many comments come from people who are obviously not real readers of the publication--and how quickly they come. Thus you'll have someone writing at a 5th grade level, commenting on an editorial on Scientific American Magazine's website--and doing so shortly after the editorial was published. I've been reading SciAm for decades. I know what the readership is like. These drooling nutjobs aren't part of it.
So where'd they come from? How did they learn about this editorial? Who told them? And if SciAm, why not the NYTimes and Washington Post and everything else. The issues involved generally have seriously big money weighing in--for example, energy companies like Exxon on climate change. Exxon has spent many, many millions of dollars campaigning against it. Just a few of those dollars would be sufficient to cover having a few dozen operatives tracking every relevant publication and communicating via websites with their simian shock troops.
It's what I'd do if I worked for Exxon and had no morals whatsoever.
Friday, January 1, 2010
People in many forums are making their wishes for humanity in 2010. They want world peace, feeding the poor, the spread of justice and fair play, education for all, women's rights, no nukes, the elimination of abortion, etc. etc.
All of these dreams have no chance of coming true unless humanity tackles overpopulation.
The Left and the Right unite in denying that this is a problem.
The Left want to feed the poor without recognizing that all that our advanced food production technology has achieved is robbing the future to feed the present, in terms of porous aquifer permanent collapse, fertilizer pollution of waterways and oceans outside rivermouths, monoclonal agriculture that puts us at huge risk for rapid spread of newly evolved plant diseases, completely inadequate control of livestock waste products, unanticipated consequences of overuse of pesticides, and many more issues.
The Right obsesses about stopping abortion while not giving a thought to the fact that the human race includes A BILLION PEOPLE who live horrible short lives in a permanent state of starvation; that our total numbers are increasing at a rate of 10 people every 4 seconds, and the fastest increases are occurring where people can least afford it.
Overpopulation has already led to the greatest extermination of animal and plant species since the large dinosaurs were exterminate 65 million years ago, to immense human suffering, and to competition for scarce natural resources that will lead to wars in many regions, especially over access to water.
Two hugely overpopulated countries, India and Pakistan, are both nuclear-armed nations that have been at each others' throats off and on for decades. If they had a nuclear exhange it would put so much dust into the atmosphere as to cut agriculture to a tiny fraction of its current output, leading to a catastrophe few can imagine but all will experience.
All these issue and many more are the result of the world's population quadrupling since 1900.
There. Are. Too. Many. Of. Us.
And almost nobody is willing to face this, so it isn't being worked on.
And all these wishes for world peace and fewer wars and resolution of conflicts between neighboring overcrowded nations will come to nothing, because we aren't working on our real problems--just the superficial symptoms.