Thursday, April 29, 2010

When it comes to illegal immigration, conservatives don't understand liberals' motives

To conservatives:
In comment threads you call liberals stupid, anti-American, cynically trolling for Latino votes.

It's more complicated than that.

There are groups--ethnic, racial, religious--that were persecuted once--and not just by others. By the authorities. By the law. Blacks, Jews, Gypsies, homosexuals, to name a few. And many more in a somewhat grayer area--basically, anyone who looked/acted different than the majority--people with various handicaps, people who are extra bright or extra slow, even redheads (in England, where they're called Gingers), or just people who are homely or have too many zits, or are extra shy.

Plus there are individuals who may have been none of the above, but who had terrible, tyrannical family lives--usually a father who saw himself as the god almighty of his household, but sometimes a mother like that. Or whose parents treated them abusively because they were alcoholics or dopers.

Such people often develop a hatred of oppression and an identification with whoever they perceive as the underdog.

And those whose tribal identity (religious/ethnic/racial/national) is historically linked with persecution get a double of this underdog-o-philia.

They become liberals, who see what they see as oppression for any as oppression for themselves.

So they defend crazy people as "alternatively mentally enabled" and press lawsuits to get them out of the nuthouses and onto the streets. They argue that homosexuals have the same right to be married as anyone else. And they demand amnesty for illegal aliens.

I'm not saying my armchair psychology here is the only motive liberals have about illegal immigration. But I've known such people for many decades, and it fits what I've seen as an underlying motive, apart from other aspects.

And with those who have, as a group, suffered from government oppression, they may feel that they have to defend what they see as everyone's civil rights in every situation, or they fear that they'll lose their own rights.

I'm against amnesty for illegals myself. So none of this is a justification for amnesty.

I just think it's really, really helpful to understand what makes your opponents tick.

New York Times columnist criticizes Arizona's anti-illegal immigrant law!

Big shock, huh? This time it's Timothy Egan, their guy in the West (Seattle, apparently), who spent many words heaping scorn on those knuckle-dragging angry racist xenophobic nativist restrictionist old white guys there, all of whom are stupid idiots because all of them have stereotyped views about other peoples and talk about them in epithets (unless it's people like Mr. Egan talking about everyone who disagrees with him, in which case doing all those things is apparently justified). His column was titled "Desert derangement syndrome."

My reply (which is #83 in the response thread):

This is a well-written example of associative thinking--that is, assigning guilt to an idea by associating it with other ideas that the author presumes readers will find wanting.

His most telling phrase was this: "...young people, business owners and retirees who are not afraid of the demographic change washing over America."

That's such a delicate way of putting it. What he means, of course, is the displacement of American culture, language and people with Mexican culture, their language, and people.

Nor, in his literary evocations of places and people, did he reference these dry facts:

1. In 1940, according the the United States Census, Latinos of every sort accounted for 0.5% of the United States population.

2. Today that's around 14% and rapidly growing.

3. The vast majority of these are people with a high school education or less, are practising Roman Catholics, and have a much higher birthrate than the general population (along with a much higher teenage unwed mother birthrate).

4. In 1900 Mexico's population was 13.1 million.

5. In 1940 Mexico's population was 20 million.

6. Today Mexico's population is 111 million--eight times what it was in 1900--almost entirely through high rates of reproduction. Mexican law and practice regarding family planning generally conforms to Catholic Church proscriptions against abortion, and the use of any form of birth control device including condoms. Right now a 10 year old girl in Quintana Roo who'd been raped by her stepfather is being forced to carry her fetus to term, as local Catholic Church authorities demanded.

7. The United States general population has quadrupled since 1900--much through immigration, both legal and illegal, with a number of amnesties (each promised to be the last one ever).

8. In 1986 Ronald Reagan signed an amnesty for illegal aliens (that's the official, legal term for citizens of other countries residing here illegally. It granted 1.7 million people--mainly Mexicans--legal status in this country. Reagan promised that this would be the last amnesty, because new enforcement provisions would stop future illegal immigration.

9. Today most sources say there are at least 12 million illegal aliens here--mostly Mexican, secondarily other Mesoamericans. There could be many more, because America lacks a universal ID system, so no one knows for sure.

10. Current proposals for another amnesty promise that this will be the last amnesty, because new enforcement provisions will stop future illegal immigration.

11. American voters have never had the chance to vote in a referendum on how they feel about any of this. However, anti-illegal-immigrant measures in many states--even strongly Blue ones like California--have nearly always passed with large majorities--large enough so that many Democrats had to have voted for them--and even about a quarter of Americans of Latino origin/descent (based on exit polls concerning anti-illegal immigrant initiatives on California ballots).

12. Unemployment among Americans who are unskilled laborers (including many Blacks and Latinos) is currently much higher than unemployment in general--probably around 20%.

13. During the time period of much higher illegal immigration (corresponding to the Reagan amnesty of 1986 and forward), real wages of American unskilled laborers have declined 5-25%, depending on region (corroborated by liberal economist and NY Times columnist Paul Krugman).

You may or may not like these facts, but they're all just that--facts, all of which can be independently corroborated through multiple sources.

The only question is what to make of them.

My suggestion:

1. America needs immigrants who have skills and/or assets America needs.

2. America does not need immigrants who lack such skills and/or assets.

3. Illegal immigrants as a group overwhelmingly lack such skills and/or assets.

4. America isn't luring Mexicans here; Mexican overpopulation is pushing them here, due to Mexico's incompetent and destructive social policies, dominated by a religion that doesn't care about the consequences of its policies here on Earth.

5. Mexican overpopulation is Mexico's fault. We didn't do it. They did it to themselves.

6. There is no moral justification for demanding that ordinary Americans accept the radical demographic changes Mr. Egan demands that they accept. America has a rich, diverse culture influenced by many nations and cultures. In the Southwest all that is being displaced by monolithic Mexican culture, Religion, language and practices. They call it La Reconquista, and they're correct.

7. On the contrary, it is immoral for Mr. Egan to honor Mexican culture while dishonoring American culture. Every nation has a culture. It changes over time, usually. Ours certainly has. But this isn't change--it's replacement. That's what happens when such a huge number of people from one culture move somewhere else.

The Southwest is becoming America's Quebec.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

What does an illegal immigrant look like?

In last night's Rachel Maddow MSNBC talk show, the eponymous host asked "What does an illegal immigrant look like" as the keystone of her mocking Arizona's new anti-illegal immigrant law.

Only it's a trick question. It presupposes that everyone is standing completely still, naked, on a vacant lot, and the cops are walking through the lot looking for people who look Mexican.

In reality the cops are stopping cargo vans stuffed with 25 men women and children in ragged clothes, with backpacks and water jugs. They're investigating homes in residential neighborhoods where 50 people are living and moving in and out constantly, mostly at night. They're stopping platoons of people walking in the desert just north of the Mexican border.

They're looking for people who are acting like illegals.

Rachel Maddow has a PhD in something or other. But when she says things like this--and goes on in like vein for full segments--I have to wonder. Because it fails the common sense test. Of course looking Mexican is one possible indicator that someone in Arizona might be an illegal. But that's only actionable if other signs are also present, such as the ones I described.

So what I want to know is: is Dr. Maddow a little slow on the uptake? She doesn't seem to be. And you can't get a PhD if you're stupid. Or does she just lose her wits when something triggers her emotions?

In my experience members of groups that have suffered systemic discrimination tend to respond reflexively whenever they see or hear about something that sounds like that. Jews, blacks, homosexuals all suffered from systemic discrimination, and not just by individuals, but by the State, for example.

So I'm guessing that Dr. Maddow, as a member of such a group, loses her common sense when dealing with what seem to her to be comparable issues--not to mention the feeling that you must defend everyone's individual rights or your own will be taken away.

Therefore it's possible that she isn't consciously using manipulative propaganda on her viewers, figuring that the ends justify the means. Most likely she just doesn't know what she'd doing because her emotions have swamped her reason.

That's why we have the word "fool." It doesn't mean stupid. A fool can be brilliant. They've just subordinated their reason to their feelings.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Pulitzers for propagandists?

Today's New York Times features a rant by their Supreme Court reporter (and Pulitzer Prize winner) Linda Greenhouse, titled "Breathing while undocumented," about--surprise--Arizona's new get tough on illegal immigrants law. Here's my response:

However you feel about illegal immigration, you should object to Linda Greenhouse trying to sway you with propaganda instead of persuasion. For example:

1. She calls Arizona a “police state,” thus equating it with the regimes of Burma, North Korea, & Iran. This isn’t just hyperbole—it’s a grotesque insult to the political prisoners of real police states, trivializing their plight by the comparison.

2. She equates Arizona’s proof of legal residency requirement with the Soviet Union’s rigid internal passport system. But we all have to show valid ID all the time—to buy something with a check or credit card, if a cop asks for it, if we’re carded in a bar or a liquor store. And when you travel abroad you have to show your passport in a variety of circumstances, pretty much daily.

Soviet internal passports were part of a system that decreed where legal citizens could live or even travel. Arizona places no such controls on legal residents, so it isn’t comparable--and again belittles those who suffered under totalitarian oppression.

3. She redefines illegal aliens as “undocumented” people. Iillegal alien” is the term you see in all legal documents. Ot clearly denotes their illegal status—which in this country is a misdemeanor--a crime. Not a felony, but a crime nonetheless. Redefining them as “undocumented” is a legal fiction that purposely obscures their status as petty criminals, & equates their status with yours if you’d lost your driver’s license & a cop stopped you & asked for your ID. In that instance you’d be “undocumented.” Otherwise it’s a legally meaningless term.

Suppose Linda Greenhouse took a vacation, came home & discovered me living in her home. She orders me out. I say “Why? I’m just undocumented.” Think she’d call the cops & have me arrested?

Not one country on Earth has laws allowing you to enter their country on the excuse that you’re “undocumented.” Why do Leftists want America to be the sole exception?

Besides, the term implies that these people just dropped out of the sky. But these people are—every single one of them—citizens of another country. A country they were born in, mostly with documents from that country. So they aren’t “undocumented” at all.

Calling them undocumented is a framing device—a way to tilt the conversational playing field in your favor. Instead of arguing that they have a right to be here, leftists like Greenhouse use words like this to slip the assumption in without bothering to make a case for it. To be fair, right wingers do the same thing (“activist judges” comes to mind) all the time.

It’s yet another example of how ideologues have more respect for their ideas than for you as an individual; they believe sliming you is justified by their noble ends, forgetting how ex-Communist Emma Goldman observed that “the means reveal the ends.”

4. She claims that it is illegal to treat an illegal alien as if they’re illegal, in the name of civil liberties, calling it “a new crime of breathing while undocumented.” Um, a trespasser is a trespasser as long as they’re trespassing. Actually, legally they’re still guilty of the crime of trespass even if they leave where they trespassed—just as you’re guilty of speeding even if you slow down later.

Of course what she’s implying with that cutesy turn of phrase is that Arizona cops will stop anyone who looks Mexican & lock ‘em up if they can’t prove they belong here. That is illegal, but it’s not what the law actually says, & it’s not what Arizona police departments say they’ll do.

Which is to look for people who look like they’re smuggling or being smuggled. Like a Ford Econoline van stuffed with 20 ragged men, women & children, along with backpacks & milk jugs full of water. Or a file of 50 such people in the middle of the desert, half a mile north of the border. Or a residential house with 50 such people camped out inside it.

Now if they look Mexican and/or don’t speak English, that’s another clue. But mainly it’s situational—which is what cops do if they’re trying to do their job & stop crime.

5. She calls this an “anti-immigrant spasm.” Here she conflates legal & illegal immigration. Again, no argument supporting that assumption, making it a classic dirty trick.

6. She refers to a 1975 Texas law as “a law to deprive undocumented immigrant children of a free public education.” But you could as easily call it “a law to require citizens of other countries not here legally to obtain social services—including educational ones—from their own country.” Here again, Goodman’s language presumes that illegals dropped out of the sky, absolving their own countries of any responsibility for them.

Finally, she never mentions that the primary reason Mexicans come here illegally is Mexican overpopulation (from 13.1 million in 1900 to 111 million to day, an eightfold increase). Leftists avoid this fact because it’s not America’s fault…so it can’t be true.

What Mexico needs isn’t an American overpopulation escape valve—it needs China’s one child law.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Arizona's anti-[illegal] immigrant law and the Washington Post

The Washington Post printed an editorial denouncing Arizona's just-signed illegal immigrant law, titled “Arizona's shameful 'immigration' bill.”

The writer, A.J. Dionne, is one of the Post's mainstay left-of-center columnists and a practising Catholic. The Post published hundreds and hundreds of comments, including many foaming-at-the-mouth denunciations of Arizona's government, and many others by Tea Party types--but it censored out my comment.

However, you can read it here, and see what the Post believes violates its editorial standards (and maybe let me in on the secret, since I can't figure out what led them to delete this):

The closest thing to a valid objection to this law is that it’s discriminatory, because it employs profiling.

That’s fine with me. It just applies statistical probability to real-life practical situations. But it is a good thing for our society to be—and to be seen--as color-blind.

So here’s how to achieve it: deploy a universal biometric ID database. This is doable today, & other rich countries are starting to implement one. It doesn’t even require a card you’d have to keep on you.

For example, Fujitsu has been selling palm readers for years. We all have a unique pattern of veins in our palms. This reads it. You can’t fake it, you can’t alter it, & you can’t erase it (short of cutting off your hand).

So—we implement universal biometric ID. Then, whenever you interact with a government agency—cops, hospital, school, whatever—or an employer—you just hold your hand over a reader for a second. If you’re in this country legitimately, cool. If you aren’t but need emergency medical help, we’ll help—then deport you. If you have legal American children, you can choose to take them with you or send them into the foster care system. Your choice.

After someone’s deported, make illegal re-entry a felony.
The readers are small & easy to link to the database using wifi, so every cop car can have one.

Of course all this presumes that you believe in countries & borders & stuff—and that this still-majority- white country has a right to exist, & has a right to decide who gets to come here. And that it’s worth offending pro-illegal-immigration-Latinos to do so.

1. Countries & borders: Every single rich country has many, many millions of people from poor countries trying to move there.

Shallow people look at the situation & say “Oh those poor deserving nonwhite people! Let us take them in.”

It never seems to occur to them to figure out why they want to come here. Honestly it’s a form of chauvinism—assuming that we’re so wonderful everyone’s dying to be us—that our “job magnet” trumps their entire culture.

But most people like their own people & culture. They only want to come here because they’re starving. And why are they starving? Because there are too many of them.

The world’s population has QUADRUPLED since 1900. Today the human race is growing at the rate of 140 more people every single minute. It’s even faster in the poor countries, because rich country natives mainly have small families (except for Catholics & some other religious groups).

Take Mexico. Please. Mexico had just 20 million people in 1940. That number QUINTUPLED in just 60 years. Mexico can’t remotely employ that many people. Or feed them, for that matter.

And here’s the kicker: we didn’t do that to them. They did it to themselves, under the domination of a primitive religion (which, by sheer coincidence, A.J. Dionne shares)—a religion that forbids any form of contraception, & which insists that even a 10 year old child raped by her stepdad carry the fetus to term (this is a current case in the state of Quintana Roo in Mexico; you can find many other such cases in Latin America).

Another case: Haiti. Its population zoomed from 3 million in 1950 to 12 million (including Haitian expats) in 2010—quadrupling in 60 years.

So—in what bizarre world are we morally obligated to take in such countries’ overpopulation that we had no part in producing?

Only if you don’t believe in countries. We’re just one big world. Of course the people of every single other country believe they’re countries. And if you’re in another country & wind up in a jail there, are you gonna call the UN? Or your church? Not likely. You’ll call the American consulate. And if that’s true for you, then you do believe in countries in general & ours in particular, & anything you say to the contrary is what’s known in philosophical circles as hypocrisy.

2. Does America in particular have a right to exist? First, let’s clear up the myth of Mexicans being the original inhabitants of the Southwest. Um, it was the Hopi, Navaho & other Amerindian tribes. I’d love to see a Mexican make this “it’s ours really” argument in front of a bunch of Amerinds.

Plus most Mexicans are mestizos—part Spaniard, part Indio. So part of most Mexicans has to go back to Spain. I don’t know whether it’s technically feasible to put someone in a blender & separate out one set of DNA from the other.

And I’m 3/32 Cherokee—so some of me gets to stay. Yay.

But face it: every country on Earth is squatting on top of someone else’s earlier territory, except for the highlands of Kenya where humanity originated (thus every American is actually an African American BTW).

3. And who has a “right” to come here? No one. Who should come? Folks with skills we need with clean criminal & medical records. But given the unemployment rate of American unskilled laborers—peasants need not apply.

BTW Latinos comprised 0.5% of America in 1940. Now they’re 14%. Who voted for that?

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Reform immigration or the climate?

The Washington Post just published an opinion post posing this question, titled "Immigration vs. climate: Reid, Pelosi do what's politically easier." It talks about how Congressional Democratic leaders opted to go for immigration over climate legislation because it's easier--especially since it lets them pander to Latino voters.

Here's my comment:

The irony is that under the hood they're the same issue. Climate change is the direct result of Earth's human population more than quadrupling since 1900.

Earth's human population is now expanding at a rate of over 140 more people every single minute.

If it weren't for overpopulation, we wouldn't be having any effect on the climate.

And immigration? The same. Mexico had 20 million people in 1940. That exploded to over 100 million people by 2000. Mexico lacks the carrying capacity and the social infrastructure to hold that many people.

So Mexico's ruling elite had a bright idea. Encourage Mexico's least literate, least educated peasantry to move to America. If any Americans object, we'll just claim they're racists and they invited them anyway.

Of course most Americans did no such thing. America's richest of the rich invited them, so they could bust the unions and drive down blue collar wages, meanwhile pocketing the profits of their cheap labor while outsourcing their massive social costs to ordinary taxpayers.

They've been abetted in this scheme by the Catholic Church, which has ordered American Catholics to disobey American laws when they conflict with Church doctrine and has shamelessly meddled with our political system in its drive to dominate America as it does Latin America.

The result has been anti-abortionism becoming the only issue millions of Americans care about, while overpopulation has all but disappeared as a social issue.

So it's not the supposed "job magnet." Mexicans didn't come here in earlier years, even though that job magnet was just as strong. They started coming here when overpopulation destroyed Mexico's economy.

And now American liberals have drunk the Kool-Aid, believing that it's somehow America's fault that Mexicans had more children than they could feed. The Mexico's wealthy ruling class laughs at our foolishness.

So overpopulation fuels both climate change and immigration.

And if we had the wits God gave gophers we'd offer to help Mexicans in Mexico--help them establish planned parenthood clinics across the country and, most critically, to implement China's One Child law.

And then, since Mexican overpopulation is not our fault, we should implement a universal biometric ID system and use it to make jobs and social services unavailable to anyone who isn't here legally (except for emergency medical services, followed by prompt deportation).

This is especially critical since Americans consume far more of Earth's resources than the average Mexican in Mexico. So we'll do the planet a favor by making citizens of Mexico return whence they cometh.

Republican leadership lied about financial reform

I could break it down but already did the job:

Be sure to read this before you talk with another conservative relative or workmate about the Democrats' Wall Street reform efforts--especially since the GOP is doing a quick 180 on this issue and trying to pretend that they weren't carrying Wall Street's water originally on this issue. Be sure to save and document the GOP leadership's pronouncements on this subject before they flipflopped on it.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The F-35 Joint Strike Fighter--another military-industrial complex boondogle

Liberals never met a weapons system they liked.
Conservatives never met a weapons system they didn't like.

Centrists like me try to make more nuanced judgments. And even if you don't have any intrinsic interest in weapons systems, surely you care about where an impressively big chunk of your tax dollars go: to fabulously expensive weapons systems--all of which are nearly impossible to kill off, whether they work or not, because military contractors always subcontract components and subsystems all over the country, so every Congressman has a stake in keeping it alive. Thus we have one zombie system after another lurching across the landscape, which will only be replaced if we use it in a shooting war and it fails spectacularly.

In WWII the Brewster Buffalo was such a fighter plane. The first week it saw combat was its death knell. You probably haven't heard about this aircraft because it sucked so mightily.

The opposite also happens. The best piston engined fighter of WWII (in any air force) was the North American P-51--a private project that the Army Armed Forces only adopted reluctantly until its spectacular success in combat proved its worth.

Something like this also happened with the Fairchild A-10, a relatively cheap, ugly, slow ground attack aircraft that the Air Force loathed and tried to kill repeatedly, because Air Force generals see their role as dogfights and bombing runs at 50,000 feet--not ground support. But the grunts loved it because it could kill a tank with one five second burst from its 75mm gatling gun and was nearly invulnerable to small arms fire from the ground, and it could loiter around the battlefield for a long time, thanks to its using fuel-efficient airliner engines.

The Air Force replaced it with a ground attack version of the F-16, a fine high altitude fighter utterly unsuited to ground support. The A-10 engines are mounted above the tail (for less exposure to ground fire), and it has two of them, either of which can get the plane home if the other gets shot up. And its crucial wiring and plumbing run along the top of the fuselage, not the bottom. And the pilot sits in a titanium tub. The F-16 has none of this, and it can't fly slowly--something the A-10 needs. And it can't destroy a tank without using expensive missles, whereas the A-10's cannon could do the same job far more cheaply.

The Air Force argued that using one fighter plane for everything achieved great economies. Maybe. But at the cost of pressing the F-16 into a role it wasn't designed for, wasn't suited for, and wasn't good at.

Now the same argument is being made for the F-35. But often one size fits none, or few--not all. Like the F-16, the F-35 isn't suited for ground support. It isn't suited for Marine use either. It's so much bigger than the Harrier it's supposed to replace that its engines melt runways when their thrust is directed straight down for takeoff.

It's great for fighting the Soviet Air Force at 50,000 feet.

Oh wait. There is no Soviet Air Force. OK, scratch that.

It's great for putting live pilots into situations that are usually better served with UAVs (remotely piloted drones).

Oh wait. We can use drones for most things piloted planes are now used for, and for many things piloted planes are really hard to use for, such as loitering over a battlefield for many hours, or close ground support when the enemy has shoulder-mounted RPGs and Stingers that can down a 747.

What we really need is a new class of small aircraft carrier that mainly hosts armed and reconnaissance UAVs, many more UAVs of different types (much to the annoyance of old-time ex-flyboy generals and admirals), and a ground support fighter for Marines that isn't VTOL (vertical takeoff and landing), which is really, really difficult, but rather a pretty radical STOL (short takeoff and landing) vehicle that only needs a few hundred feet of gravel to get off the ground, is simple to maintain, tough to shoot down, and cheap to build because its engines don't have to swivel and its wings can be optimized for short takeoff, not supersonic flight.

It's like the military works from the needs of the systems to the needs of the troops, rather than vice-versa. And the F-35 looks to me like an exercise in nostalgia for the good old days of air combat during WWII...

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Is Islam the enemy?

Today's New York Times published a news article about how "an attack on a professor at University of the Punjab highlighted a power struggle between an outward-looking, educated class and those pushing an intolerant vision of Islam."

My comment:

Every major religion has its totalitarian wing.

American Christianists have murdered physicians and intimidated so many others.

Jewish hard liners have murdered Palestinians (remember the guy who gunned down as many worshippers in a mosque as he could before others killed him? Not to mention the one who murdered their prime minister.

Hindu fundamentalists have become increasingly violent in India, while Thai Buddhists have cracked down brutally on Muslims in the south.

But Muslims are in a class by themselves, making the worst features of the Dark Ages come alive today.

Sure, it's only a small minority that does the actual violence. But they're in charge--and a lot of Muslims support the violence of the few, even if they don't actively participate.

Liberal Muslims are on the defensive everywhere. Another current NYT article describes how the supreme court of Indonesia--the world's most moderate Muslim country, probably--just upheld a law treating "blasphemy" as a felony.

I've seen this firsthand after traveling in Indonesia half a dozen times in the past decade. I've met a lot of great Muslims in my travels, but everywhere there you can see the iron fist of Muslim cultural imperialism, promoted and directed by Saudi-trained Wahhabis.

So although there are liberal Muslims and illiberal Christians etc., Islam stands head and shoulders above the rest as a force of repression in the world today.

And Muslims who want this to change must bestir themselves, because the voice of their religion today is antithetical to everything the Western world holds dear, and no amount of feel-good multiculturalism can change this hard fact.

And not only is this true, but the Muslim world has been going backward for decades. In Egypt in the 1960s you wouldn't find one woman in a veil. Now you won't find one woman not in a veil on the street--including Egypt's Coptic Christians, who were there long before Islam came into being.

Christian fundamentalists argue that Islam is incompatible with Western values. I despise Christian fundamentalism--in fact I think it's incompatible with Western values, for that matter.

But what I'm saying here is different. I'm not making any claims about Islam as a religion, one way or another. I'm talking about it as a political/social entity, while the fundies are making a blanket judgment.

In practical terms, I'm not too worried about American Muslims. We got the most educated Muslim immigrants, not the semiliterate peasants thronging European barrios. We should monitor what goes on in American mosques and websites, but allow them the same freedom of religion we allow others.

Still, when the Danish cartoons came out, only two American newspapers--not including the NYTimes--had the courage and integrity to publish them. That alone shows how much the Muslim world has succeeded in intimidating the Western world.

That's the kind of kowtowing to primitives that we must stand against, even as we support Muslim moderates as best we can (though we can't do much, because our help makes them Western puppets to most Muslims).

Muslim fundamentalism is at war with the West, and it considers every Western man, woman, child and fetus a soldier in this war. Their militias would kill the most impassioned Western defender of their multicultural heritage exactly as quickly as they'd kill a Christianist.

And they'd view the most modestly dressed Mormon housewife as looking like a hooker.

Not to mention widespread Muslim support across most of Africa for female genital mutilation, possibly the most heinous cultural practice carried out against large numbers of girls today.

I live in a highly multicultural area--Silicon Valley--and have friends of many faiths (and none) and cultures and races. But Americans who live like me often have trouble imagining the depths of division between us and the average Muslim, much less their extremists, who truly do worship death, just as Bin Ladin said.

So please pay attention to articles like this. We all have to realize what we're up against, and rid ourselves of the illusion that all can be settled by an honest exchange of views.

Hope clouds observation.

CNN's fair and balanciness

CNN got rid of Lou Dobbs' show a while ago.

OK, that makes sense. CNN has moved to presenting the news from a neutral viewpoint, in contrast to Fox Television's becoming Republican TV and MSNBC becoming Democratic Party TV.

Lou Dobbs vociferously opposes illegal immigration (while being fine with legal immigration--a point lost on many who complained about his TV show). Most of his shows did a segment on it. He did bring on those on all sides of this issue, but his own viewpoint was anti-, to be sure.

So far so good. But for quite a while CNN's 3-5pm daily slot has been occupied by someone who thumps the tub in favor of illegal immigrants, pretty much as strongly as Dobbs did against, and in a similar time slot. This anchor's name is Ricardo Leon Sánchez de Reinaldo (he goes by "Rick Sanchez").

I conclude that CNN isn't neutral on immigration. It's on the side of pandering to those promoting illegal immigration and demanding citizenship for illegals, and it got rid of Dobbs for arousing the ire of such people.

This will be the case unless or until CNN gets Ricardo Sanchez to quit advocating for illegals or gets rid of him, as it got rid of Dobbs.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Tea Parties

Most Tea Party types will tell you that the ideas they express are their own, derived from getting the news, thinking about it, and by the sheerest coincidence arriving at the exact set of conclusions that the Republican Party leadership and its patrons want them to adopt.

This isn't necessarily stupidity. For example, I have one Republican friend with a very high IQ who believes most GOP talking points and tells me I've been brainwashed by the "MSM" (a Republican curse word meaning any news outlet to the left of Fox TV).

No, it's tribalism plus the peculiar human trait of believing that we aren't influenced by marketing, while anyone who doesn't think the same as us is the other side's sock puppet.

The stupid think this, and are easily led, of course, but intelligent people like my friend can be led as well, given sufficiently adroit propaganda, soaring eternally on the wings of vast wealth.

Also, women are generally more conservative than men (I don't mean they're Conservatives--just that they're more cautious; remember, if the tribe loses one fertile woman there will be fewer children next year, while the tribe could lose most of its men and still have as many babies next year). So when fear is instilled in them, their first impulse is to cling to the status quo and resist anything they perceive as changes.

Meanwhile, men are generally more aggressive than women, so when you scare them their first impulse is to attack what they think is their enemy, rather than engage in self-examination, or in considering and weighing alternatives. They're most likely to attack when they feel emasculated. Many men have died for their countries--but even more have died for their, um, male organs, once you strip away the layers of rhetoric and rationalization.

Put both atavistic responses together and you get the average Tea Party get-together, egged on by demagogues like Congressman Michelle Bachman, who called the Obama administration "gangsters."

And as I said in a previous post, we Democrats have pushed them into the Republican leadership's eager arms.

To boil down that post:

Tea Party person: We white working-class people have been shafted, and we're angry.

Democrat response: You're racists.
Republican response: You're right, and it's the Democrats who've shafted you. They've taken what's yours and redistributed it to foreigners and bums and blacks and Mexican illegal immigrants--everyone but you.

Tea Party person: Great. Now I know who the enemy is.

Democrat: But the enemy is the Republicans and their big business patrons--and you racist Tea Party types.
Republican: See, the Democrats hate you, so they're lying. And they're in cahoots with big business. [followed by factual warpage, such as the fact that Wall Street donates to Democrats whenever they think Democrats might win an election--and to Republicans as well, in hopes that they'll win, so that whoever wins they'll have their hooks into them; but the Republicans don't mention all that stuff of course].

Tea Party person: Right. Down with the Democrats and their bailouts of big business (and all those unwhite unAmericans)!

I'm not certain whether democracy itself can survive the use of state of the art psychology and sociology in the service of the richest--and most amoral--of the rich.

When "pro-life" is "pro-choice"

Our local public radio station regularly runs op-ed pieces by listeners. Today's featured a 38-year old mother of one who was trying to have a second child. She got pregnant, but testing showed that the fetus had a genetic defect called Trisomy 18. Many with this defect don't even survive to childbirth, and 90% of those who are born die before they're a year old after living a life mostly of suffering.

The mother really wanted a second child. At her age her childbearing years were nearly over. She chose to abort the fetus with Trisomy 18 so she could have a chance to try again--meaning that from this mother's point of view, she chose life.

I bring this up because you can use this true story in talking with people who oppose abortion. Stories like this can help moving a discussion from the equivalent of waving posters and shouting towards more thoughtful discussion.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Judicial activism--one side is lying

Here's the big secret about the Constitution of the United States: it's short. Really short. It only takes up 8 1/3 pages in my almanac. So, necessarily, a whole lot of it isn't defined clearly--in fact, much isn't defined at all.

Those who wrote it could have spelled out everything. Many other constitutions do, in excruciating detail. But our founding fathers chose not to. Why?

Because they wanted successive generations to reinterpret it according to the needs of the times, using the guiding principles set forth in the Constitution. Several said so explicitly in their correspondence, including Jefferson and Madison. And I think that because it represents a compromise intended to bring the backward Southern slave states under the national umbrella, the founders used intentionally vague language they perhaps hoped could be made more explicit once the slave states were firmly incorporated into the Union.

However we might guess their intentions, one thing that's clear is that they weren't inviting a free for all. If they wanted that, they could have skipped writing a constitution in the first place. Some countries--like the UK--have no constitution at all, and instead use the accumulated laws and precedents called the Common Law.

Our founders wanted our nation's judiciary and legislatures to take the middle path between a free for all and crippling fundamentalist exactitude.

So they weren't inviting judicial activism, which means judges making up laws, nor were they inviting the rigid originalism/textualism of explicitly spelled-out governing documents like the Qu'ran or the Old Testament.

Of course judges who are ideologues are often activist judges. But whether they're left wing or right wing, one thing they have in common is they never admit that they're activists.

In fact, I'd hazard to say that the more they invoke the sanctity of the Constitution, the more likely it is that they're about to trample it.

You can't listen to right wing talk shows for five minutes without hearing the name "Constitution" taken in vain, over and over.

And our Supreme Court's right wing majority has left the "impartial umpire" touted by Chief Justice Roberts at his nomination the dust.

Same thing happened in the 1930s, when an equally ideological court dusted off the most arcane interpretations of the Constitution that you could imagine in its efforts to derail FDR's New Deal. And then as now, partisans of both sides believed they were dealing with an existential threat to the Republic, coming from the other side. Some might say the efforts of the SCOTUS of the 1930s succeeded in prolonging the Great Depression.

But whether that SCOTUS did or not, it was activist, and so is the current SCOTUS majority. Its long string of 5-4 decisions on big, important cases is a sign of that. Roberts said in his Senate hearings that he preferred unanimous decisions on narrowly defined issues to 5-4 decisions on sweeping ones. Instead he has shepherded one big 5-4 decision after another through the court.

I'm no law professor, but one who is lays this out in detail in a New York Times op-ed piece. Read it here.

He says--and I concur--that America's right wing ideologues have sold America a bill of goods in claiming that they're judicially modest while the Left and only the Left is activist. And backing up this claim by saying that they only go by what's in the Constitution is a baldfaced lie. The intentional fuzziness of the Constitution expects and demands continual reinterpretation. The Founders knew they couldn't know the future. That kind of humility is absent from Roberts, Alito, Thomas, and Scalia.

Take the 2nd Amendment. An originalist interpretation would take this as supporting the right of states to have militias, of which our National Guard is a distant cousin--and the "arms" those militias have a right to bear would be flintlocks.

Yet no self-styled originalist says any such thing. And SCOTUS recently declared that the 2nd grants citizens the right to bear modern firearms such as , say, AK-47s, which one competent soldier could use to destroy an entire company of Revolutionary Era troops. And it simply ignored the first phrase of that amendment's famous sentence that talks about state militias.

The SCOTUS judgment may be a good one--that's not what I'm contesting here--but it's patently a modern interpretation and not anything like originalism/textualism. Yet the justices who wrote this decision portrayed it as just that.

I'm not saying this because I always agree with the minority. I don't. But I don't like hypocrisy, which invariably leads to Bad Things, even if the immediate result is to my liking. As Emma Goldman said, "the means reveal the ends."

And the ends of right wing activist judges is to comfort the comfortable and afflict the afflicted, just as the ends of left wing activist judges is to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. That sounds inherently fairer, but it can lead to terrible errors.

However, those errors don't matter as regards SCOTUS, because it will have a right wing activist majority for decades, almost certainly, regardless of who's president or controls Congress, due to the comparative youth/health of that right wing majority and the relative age/health of the more liberal minority.

Plus, since the court almost invariably sides with the rich and powerful, the rich and powerful spare no expense to promote the current SCOTUS majority, using their sock puppet "think" tanks, talk show pundits, and other marketing venues.

Of course the left have their equivalents, including most unions, but they have far less money and power. It's an unequal contest, as such conflicts always have been.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Sin vs. structure

A comment on my entry about Catholic Church structural reforms said:

I wish there were a structural solution to the problem of child abuse. But the problem has to do with sin and human nature, not with the structure of a human institution. As you note, all human institutions have an incentive to bury scandals.

Every one of us believes we are the captains of our souls, the masters of our fates, autonomous and self-creating, unaffected by political spin, by advertising, by the influence of our peers and parents and authority figures and society, and even the very language that we speak.

I feel all these things myself, all the time. To understand otherwise takes as much effort as trying to grasp 10-dimensional string theory. My mind is Newtonian--I don't know where to tuck all those extra dimensions, and I bet even those who can grasp the mathematics still have to wrestle with the human mind's Newtonian nature.

Yet as someone trained in the social sciences (and having worked in marketing in a previous career), I'm here to say the first step towards true autonomy is recognizing the degree to which each of us is an atom embedded in a social structure.

As Spinoza said, "Freedom consists of arranging your chains as comfortably as possible" or words to that effect.

Note that my commenter alluded to human nature trumping institutional structure. But human nature is social. We lived in small tribes for roughly 100,000 years. Our morality evolved to be constantly socially mediated--especially considering the fact that we had to be both murderous (towards enemy tribes) and tenderly loving (towards our own), and able to switch between those very different states quickly--and never adopt one state when the other is called for.

Years ago I read a powerful book on the Nazi phenomenon titled "They thought they were free." An American journalism professor (also a Jew, unbeknownst to those around him) got a job in a German university after WWII. He got to know a bunch of ordinary citizens who'd been Nazis, and this book is about how they became Nazis--and it's dedicated to them.

That really showed me how good people do bad things. I'm not talking about sociopaths and psychopaths. Just ordinary people with ordinary brains, ordinarily raised.

The infamous Stanford University prisoner-jailer experiment of the 1970s took just such people, and with nothing more than a different social structure, turned them into sadistic jailers and hardened prisoners in 24 hours.

Abu Graibh did the same thing, only for real. Most of the sadistic jailers were ordinary people, not -paths of any sort (though one ringleader probably was abnormal--but the others followed him).

Other social experiments have shown the same thing repeatedly, including a recent one in France disguised as a game show, where participants we led to believe they were administering painful electric shocks to contestants.

All this is only shameful if we cling to our false image of ourselves as totally independent. Yet even the old Aesop fable about the stork and the crows talks about the company we keep.

None of this absolves us of individual responsibility, or of the personal dark nights of the soul we have when we're wrestling with the toughest moral issues.

But it should affect our approach to criminality. If it's all about morality, then the law is about punishment. But if it's about keeping us safe, then the law is also about keeping us safe--in preventing future crimes above all.

And that's why the Catholic Church should change its structure (as per my previous blog entry), and why we need to adopt nonpartisan redistricting and proportional electoral college representation, and why we need to keep after large institutions constantly to keep/make them transparent.

None of this is a substitute for personal morality. It just takes our influence-ability into account, and it tries to tilt the playing field in favor of the sort of behavior we want as a society.

Religion's unasked-for gift

The NY Times' online offerings include a columnist named Stanley Fish, whose essays remind me of the sorts of lectures most of us had to force ourselves to stay awake for in philosophy classes.

The goal seems to be the same as the one I think Mercedes Benz engineers have: how many parts can we possibly use to accomplish a given task, with the mechanism designed to make routine maintenance impossible without a dozen custom tools?

Fish seems especially given to lecturing those who lack religion on the error of their ways. I don't know why religious intellectuals seem to regard those of us who find religion irrelevant as such a bone in their throats. I'm not talking about Professional Atheists who make a point of attacking religion. I'm talking about people who simply go about their business without taking religion into account one way or another.

The latest stab came out yesterday, titled:
"Does Reason Know What It Is Missing?--
Secular reason is missing something, and one noted philosopher now feels that something is religion."

Numerous reader comments followed, mostly tackling Fish's thesis with learned reasoning. I took a somewhat different tack:

Fish's entire (and rather prolix) argument rests on the unspoken assumption that there's no such thing as human nature. We're a blank slate, wandering purposely over the landscape until we fall over a cliff and expire meaninglessly--unless Religion writes Purpose on that blank slate.

Um, there is such a thing as human nature, however. And it give us purpose aplenty, built right into our DNA, there for the taking. Fish should spend more time observing people and less time wandering about in his philosophical cloud.

This is just one more example of the patronizing condescension of religious intellectuals towards those they define as "secular humanists"--a term crafted to describe the religion we lack instead of the life we have.

It all helps justify one wag's description of what "PhD" means (at least in the liberal arts): "Piled higher & Deeper."

Last Thursday I rode my bicycle--with great effort--up a steep hill for a total of 2,500 feet of climbing, despite being in my 60s. It was a crisp spring day here in California, with clouds in the sky and birds in the trees around me. I needed two hours and a few minutes to summit, and another hour to get back down safely. This evening, after showering, I cuddled with my spouse of 28 years and watched a particularly good episode of "House."

As Camus described in "The Myth of Sisyphus" my afternoon's labor was both meaningless and, existentially, entirely meaningful. Ditto snuggling with my spouse.

Get it?

Monday, April 12, 2010

Racism isn't exactly racism

As a scuba diver I should have realized this: racism isn't racism.

It's actually a natural part of speciation--the way in which one species of animal or plant divides into different races, then into different species (more on this later).

Our race has outgrown the need for what we call racism, but treating it as innately evil is a big mistake.

You can't "cure" people of a natural trait, nor can you stamp it out with moralizing and accusations. Those can shut people up--but they'll keep on muttering the things you don't want them to say, and they'll say them out loud to like-minded people, while using cover terms with you that give them plausible deniability.

Thus "keep the Negro down" morphs into "states' rights" and a devotion to "limited government." And that makes it triply hard to do anything about it, even when proponents of these things don't hesitate to trample on states' rights and aggressively expand government when it suits them.

So first we have to understand just what racism/speciation is.

Basically, it's the way in which a new part of a species consolidates whatever evolutionary advantage that caused the new race to develop in the first place. Humans are visual animals, so the differences we use are mainly visual. A scent-oriented species would focus more on differences in smell.

Suppose some members of some animal species start to exploit a new ecological niche. I'll illustrate this with a neutral example, from another species.

The Namib desert beetle was originally a black beetle, and it still is across most of southern Africa's Namib desert. The beetle's black shell enables it to crawl out into the sunlight at dawn and warm up quickly (remember, insects are cold-blooded). It goes about its business until the heat of the day, when it hides from the sun and takes a siesta to avoid overheating. In the late afternoon it comes out again, and uses its dark shell to stay active as late as possible.

But some of these beetles wound up living on the coastal strand of the Namib desert. There the noonday heat isn't so hot. There a beetle with a light-colored shell can stay active through the heat of the day, which more than makes up for them having to wait longer to get going in the morning (because the light shell doesn't absorb heat so well).
Where what we call racism comes in is how did each Namib beetle race "fix" its geographical advantage? Speciation works not just from isolation, but from the speciating races coming to prefer their own kind when it comes to mating. That preference preserves the advantage. Otherwise you'd get a mid-hued beetle that's inferior to the white and black phases in each one's ecological niche.

I brought up my experience as a scuba diver because tropical coral reefs are the richest, most diverse habitats on this planet. And it has become clear that the wild color and fin variations among similar races/species aren't just mating displays--they help those races/species preserve the advantages they have in each one's ecological niche.

That advantage doesn't have to have anything to do with the differentiator. Thus one butterfly fish might have a longer snout but a smaller mouth, letting it get at prey in crevices that others can't reach. However, its color/fin scheme could be what helps males and females find each other.

And once two races become reproductively separated, they progress to becoming actual different species--i.e., the different species don't produce fertile offspring if they mate with each other. A horse can breed with a donkey, but the resulting mule or hinny is sterile, and so take no part in evolution.

The trick with the human species is that we've been around long enough--perhaps 100,000 years--to divide into different races and subraces, each adapted to a different environment, but not long enough for those races to become different species. And once we started adapting the environment to ourselves instead of vice versa, and started flying all over the place, the process of speciation stalled, and will probably never occur now, although we keep evolving at a microscopic level.

So--racism is really just an aspect of speciation. It isn't immoral or moral. It's an evolutionary holdover designed to keep, for example, the Oriental's epicanthic fold over their eyes and flatter nose and thicker, coarser hair, all to protect their eyes and faces and heads from the incredibly harsh winters on the steppes of central Asia. These adaptations to nothing to help a Han Chinese in Shanghai or an Indonesian living on the equator, but they stick around because the adaptations don't reduce their effectiveness elsewhere either.

Whereas Oriental skin tone does vary from Siberia to the equator, because that does make a difference. Though now there are light-skinned Han Chinese living in equatorial Sulawesi. They just use lots of sunblock.

You might ask why, then, is there so much plastic surgery done in Asia to make Orientals look more Caucasian; why Tehran is the world nose job capital; why the first black millionaires in America made their fortunes from skin lighteners and hair straighteners; why there are more bottle blondes of every race than real blondes. And why so many mixed-race marriages occur.

The answer is that the human mind is flexible. You can find individuals who go against the tide about almost everything. Also, there's an additional human trait, which pushes against incest (children never fall in love with parents they were raised with, nor siblings), and towards exogamy (hybrid vigor--visit Pitcairn Island and you'll understand).

It's also possible that blondes are regarded as prettier for biological reasons we don't fully understand. The zoologist Desmond Morris has some interesting speculations about this in his book "the Naked Woman."

Racism is speciation. It exists, and its universal, not just among humans, but among most if not all living organisms. For humans it's also obsolete (unless we start colonizing other planets with really different conditions). But the way past it isn't enraged accusations of immorality. At worst the racists are just atavistic. Mainly it's an educational challenge.

That still leaves us with about 20% of Americans unable to admit that President Obama is a smart guy (independent of whether you agree with his policies), solely because of his skin color.

We just have to keep patiently pointing out the flaws in their reasoning. Or, if you share my mischievous streak, you could try to explain to fundamentalists (as most of them are) that they're just being Darwinian when they do this.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

How to reform the Catholic Church

A simple set of structural reforms would probably create a Catholic Church that was much safer for both its members and the world at large:

1. All priests must be married men with children of their own [See Andrew's comment for the biblical justification for this].

2. All priests must have normal day jobs and do their job as head of a congregation avocationally, not vocationally.

3. To make (2) possible, most of a priest's day-to-day duties are distributed among the congregation, with no one getting a portion too big to be done by someone who also has a day job. In computer science this is called distributed processing. It lets a network of ordinary computers do many software operations that used to require a big honking mainframe.

4. Make most of the church hierarchy above that of congregation leader (i.e. priest) also avocational work, with full time work reserved for the highest levels, and all of those only done by people who had previously had a career in the real world.

5. Make all the work in the hierarchy callings, not jobs you can apply for. This ensures that ambitious, power-hungry individuals will look elsewhere as an outlet for those ambitions.

Someone familiar with comparative religions will recognize these as features of the Mormon church. But there's nothing in the Bible that would prevent other conservative Christian religions from adopting these innovations. And it certainly doesn't create the sort of religion conservatives would be uncomfortable with. Look at the Mormon lifestyle--about as conservative as it gets.

Just as the Episcopal/Anglican churches preserved many features of the Catholic church--ancient rites etc.--a Catholic church with these innovations could retain the look and feel of today's Catholic church. But it would be orders of magnitude harder for pedophiles to get into positions of responsibility. Not impossible--but much, much harder. Especially homosexual pedophiles. And the church hierarchy would be more connected with ordinary people's lives and challenges.

NYTimes columnist Maureen Dowd has written several columns questioning her Catholic faith and berating her church for failing to protect its children. The column got hundreds of comments, nearly all talking about how the church had to go after its pedophile priests and stop harboring them, or about the futility and evil of all religion, along with a handful of defenders of the faith.

My structural comment got almost no reader recommendations. I think because people find structural reforms bo-ring, while defending your faith in toto or attacking it in toto or seeking revenge on the bad guys is exciting.

But even if the Catholic church quit protecting its pedoPriests, its structure will continue to attract them and the problem will continue.

It's like if your home is invaded by ants. Sure, you can get out the Raid and kill ants right and left. But they'll keep coming until you keep the kitchen so clean that ants will find nothing to eat and quit coming.

It's the fate of centrists to find their observations rejected by zealots of the Left and Right, who prefer to live in a hard, bright world of Right and Wrong, even though it doesn't map to reality.

[Note: I posted this as a comment to a column by conservative Catholic columnist Ross Douthat. The NYTimes editors picked as one their highlighted comments.]

Friday, April 9, 2010

Linda Greenhouise says we're a nation of anti-immigrants

In a recent New York Times op-ed piece, Pulitzer Prize-winning Supreme Court reporter Linda Greenhouse took recent SCOTUS decisions as meaning that America is anti-immigrant. The decisions involved immigrants and drugs.

My answer (which the NYT highlighted):

One could draw very different conclusions from the facts you lay out.

In my book you're blaming the Supreme Court for the sins of Congress. Many would agree that both Congress and many state legislatures take a draconian approach towards mind-altering substances (well, substances other than the ones the legislators themselves use regularly (i.e. alcohol, nicotine, and an ever-widening array of pills that legislators use via prescription)).

Some of the instances you cite--the poor shmoe with a tab of Xanax and a joint--are indeed ridiculous, but the laws about drug possession are also ridiculously harsh for native-born citizens.

OK, I agree. But the Supreme Court can't (or shouldn't) overturn laws just because they're stupid, too harsh, etc.; it gets to overturn them if they're unconstitutional. And you didn't make a clear case for that being the case. So it seems to me that your beef should be with our legislatures and their obsessions with sumptuary laws.

I use neither drugs nor alcohol nor tobacco--heck, I don't even drink coffee or cola drinks. So I have no ax to grind personally, except for being appalled at seeing our government spend billions to little effect on the hyperbolically misnamed "war on drugs"--and in the course of doing so, inadvertently financing criminal organizations including the Taliban.

But that "war on drugs" seems to be the culprit here, with the harsh treatment of immigrant drug offenders having more to do with the drug part than the immigrant part.

After all, it's a matter of record that this country welcomes more legal immigrants than any other nation on Earth. I've attended naturalization ceremonies for friends that included people from over 60 countries.

Personally I think we should make it a lot easier for skilled and/or rich people to immigrate and a lot harder for those without needed skills to come here--along with felons. And transporting half a ton of marijuana under our current laws sure qualifies someone as a felon. If it were up to me that would be legal, but at this time it isn't, and the guy knew it. So out he goes, and if you think the lawyer who advised him incorrectly messed up (and I agree he did), then sanction the lawyer. The felon didn't realize it would get him deported, but he obviously knew he was committing a felony.

Every infraction you listed concerned drugs. If you wanted me to think it was all about immigration you should have cited something besides drug offenses.

So yes, I do think you're indulging in hyperbole when you breathlessly intone that we're in danger of
"losing our moral center" for being anti-immigrant.

Anti-immigrant? Have looked at a ballot lately--available in how many dozens of languages? Have you looks at our immigration laws, that let one productive guy bring in a dozen freeloading family members in the name of "family reunification?" Have you looked at the sheer numbers of legal immigrants we choose to admit to this country? Have you looked at the amnesties we periodically grant to those who came illegally? Have you looked at the fact that a pregnant Panamanian can fly to Miami and have her child in an American hospital free of charge, and that baby is automatically an American citizen with full welfare rights? Have you looked at our hate crime laws that mandate bending over backwards to be courteous to every kind of immigrant, legal or not?

There are a variety of ways in which our country is less welcoming, and you've discussed some of them here. But to conclude that America is anti-immigrant by cherrypicking our laws fo the ones that support your generalization is laughable, given all the ways in which we do welcome immigrants. And even illegals. Illegal immigration is a felony in many countrie--such as Mexico, until recently. It's only a misdemeanor here.

All of which means I think you took the truth and lied with it, using selective citations and extreme examples that are emotionally appealing. I expect better from a Pulitzer winner.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Men and women are really the same. All differences are cultural--right?

On a radio talk show interviewing the author of "Man's Brain," a woman listening to the show wrote this entry:

I can't believe I'm hearing this. The "chasm" you talk about between boys and girls is almost completely socially constructed from the day of birth. The emerging understandings of epigenetics and the malleability of active genes within a person's lifetime is showing that there are very few basic behavioral traits that are innate, and those really have little or nothing to do with whether you are born with a penis or vagina.

As a mom of a fourth-grader I see the way the already socially-programmed adults in a child's life push that conformity agenda on children.

You say you know what your gender is before you know your name, but the reality of the large number of people with a "transgender" experience shows that your gender is separate from your reproductive sex anatomy. Again, the "boys vs girls" or "men vs women" behavioral "chasm" is almost completely socially constructed and programmed into people's behavior patterns through a complex system of reward and punishment to conform to societal expectations based on your reproductive anatomy.

My reply:

Some cultures overstate gender differences--Arab society comes to mind, as well as the "thug culture" promoted on MTV…while mainstream American culture normatizes the innate traits of one gender as the ideal for all.

Thus, statements like yours are seemingly egalitarian but they actually enshrine the female mind and demonize the male one. Boys are taught that they're defective girls.

Be honest. Aren't the cultural values you expect our society to teach all children the ones traditionally associated with females? Gentle, collaborative, cooperative, sensitive...

Thus in Europe or Brazil, men and women wear equally revealing swimsuits, while in America, mens' suits hide male sexuality while women's suits are closer to the Euro norm. And--this change is recent. In the 1950s through the 1960s American mens' and womens' swimsuits were similarly revealing. This dramatic change happened later, and correlates with the rise of feminism. It's also true of youth clothing in general now, BTW.

Moreover, the claim that epigenetics proves that it's all socialization is just the latest instantiation of the nurture over nature crowd. While the relative malleability of the human mind enables aberrant cultures to skew developing character, and while one way to skew character is to exaggerate sexual dimorphism--another way is to deny it, as you did.

So while we're malleable, boy are nevertheless bigger and stronger than girls. For example, in pro tennis both men and women train themselves to near-perfection. And while the top women players could mop up the floor with 98% of the world's male players, if there were just one unisex competition today's top women champions would rank no better than 100-200. You're never see them in grand slam tournaments. Yet it's not like the women champions are being discouraged in any way. Far from it. Some of the best-paid athletes on Earth are women athletes.

And didn't you hear the author? Men have 10-15-20 times the level of testosterone that women have, from puberty to death. I remember a show on NPR about a woman who decided she was really a man after having considered herself a radical feminist man-hating lesbian for years. She/he said that she got her first testosterone shot, then walked down the street, and discovered that she'd instantly become the men she'd disparaged for so long--looking at every woman sexually, mentally undressing them, imagining sexual encounters with them. She was horrified and enlightened all at once. Our gender-based hormonal differences have a profound effect on personality.

Human men and women are different because we're descended from ground-dwelling primates. Arboreal primates behave and look relatively similar, because if a troop is attacked up in the trees, the best defense is to jump away in all directions shrieking.

However, all primates that descend to the ground wind up with bigger, more aggressive males, because there you have to mount a defense, and it's ridiculous to expect a pregnant female with a baby on her back to fight a leopard.

I worked in a church nursery for a year once. The children ranged in age from 18 months to 3 years. All the workers agreed that the boys were different from the girls, clearly, obviously, and it was equally clear that none of them were socialized yet.

As for transgender/LGBT differences--those are genetic variations in brain chemistry. Only that church in Topeka that pickets servicemen's funerals holding up signs saying "God hates fags" thinks otherwise these days...and, I suppose, doctrinaire feminists.

You don't have to like the facts of our nature, and you're entitled to be dismayed at these facts. You aren't entitled to reach your opinion through denial of reality, though. That's just what Bush II did, isn't it?

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Spirituality on a crowded lifeboat

Spiritual values have helped our species pull through, time after time, during our 100,000 or so years on Earth. And sociobiologists will tell you that this tender regard for our tribe is built into our DNA.

Sadly, few go on to confront the spiritual challenge our species now faces: how to continue to be kind and loving, yet at the same time incorporate the stark necessity of reducing our numbers.

Some of this goes with our tender loving instincts. For example, the more rights and opportunities women have, the few the children they have, on average.

But that will only slow the rate of growth, not get our total numbers down to the point where a billion of us aren't starving and 16,000 children (according to the UN) die of starvation-related causes every day. And down to the point where we aren't emptying the oceans of edible fish, stripping the land of its fertility, outstripping the supply of drinkable water, destroying the tropical forests that generate two thirds of the oxygen we need, and stop amping up the climate through such massive greenhouse gas production.

To accomplish all that we need less "we." A lot less. Like the one billion or so that existed around 1900.

But how to do that and stay human? It goes against our fiber to celebrate every disaster that kills people by the thousands, to encourage abortion and sterilization, to celebrate war and death (I know, Al Qaeda does most of this with gusto, but they're aberrant).

The world--especially the poor countries--needs to adopt China's One Child law. The world needs to make responsible family planning a core value. Large families need to come to be regarded as a crime against humanity.

I realize how terrible this all sounds. And we don't have to do any of this. You're free to deny the truth of what I'm saying, to extemporize and equivocate, to demand yet more "studies" be done to see if we're really in this much trouble. You can denounce people like me as Enviro-nut Jeremiahs.

But then Nature will solve our problem, and you'll like Nature's blind, brutal solutions a whole lot less that what I'm proposing here.

Want a sneak preview? Visit Haiti, where the population has quadrupled since 1950 and they've chopped down 98% of their trees for firewood, leaving the denuded land to turn into desert as each winters' rains wash away more and more topsoil.

Things don't always work out. The dinosaurs reigned for 100 million years, but then an asteroid took them out. The tragedy is that we don't need an asteroid. We've figured out how to do it ourselves.

So now we have to sacrifice part of what we hold dearest, in order to leave our future generations a place to live that isn't a hellhhole.

Remember, to paraphrase someone, "Civilization exists by Nature's consent--revocable without notice."

Monday, April 5, 2010

Vaccinationphobic mothers sacrificing their children

Across the nation a significant number of college-educated, middle class mothers are refusing to let their kids get vaccinations. Because of something they read on the Internet. As a result, diseases we had firmly under control are spreading again.

Measles--which can cause retardation in children--and which is highly contagious--is a prime beneficiary of these mothers' foolishness.

I haven't seen a study on what % of these mothers are Republican/Democrat. I'm guessing there are lots of each. What's certain is that these mothers have liberal arts educations with little or no scientific/technical coursework. They don't understand how science works, and they don't accept the conclusions of scientific studies.

I noticed a similar phenomenon when I taught high school. Even middle class kids would be amazingly credulous about total quackery like astrology, while at the same time incredulous/suspicious of scientific findings. They'd swallow the former while demanding impossible levels of certainty for the latter.

These mothers live in a magical universe. They use technology every second, from their minivans to their cellphones to their microwaves, without ever showing the slightest curiosity about how all that stuff works. For them it all might as well all be juju.

And then they sacrifice the safety of their children and ours in the name of protecting their children and ours. They couldn't do more harm if they despised their children and hoped they'd fall off a cliff and quit bothering them. In the case of some vaccinations--such as the one for the HPV virus that protects girls from cervical cancer but only if they take it before they're exposed--some mothers are murdering their children (albeit in slo-mo).

Their magical thinking is, strictly speaking, associative thinking, as opposed to analytical thinking. Primitives in the Amazon rain forest use associative thinking, as do the Taliban, as do probably 90% or more of the human race. Analytical thinking showed up in ancient Greece, then reappeared in the Renaissance, and is now used by many educated people around the world. And not used by many others, such as these foolish mothers.

The exact mechanism is that we have a threat assessment heuristic built into the human brain. It served to protect our remote ancestors, putting them on alert in dangerous situations. Unfortunately that heuristic can't tell the difference between a bunch of dangerous-looking toughs hanging out at the end of a street you're walking down vs. seeing a similar scene on CNN that's taking place 3,000 miles away. Much less the Internet. So these mothers are acting instinctively, no differently than a chimpanzee mother would, without interpreting their instinctive responses to adapt them to modern times.

Their harmful actions argue for including in high school curricula mandatory coursework in practical, applied technical thinking--how to evaluate a home purchase contract, how to assess political advertising, how to decide whether vaccinations are safe. Such people probably blow off science courses per se, but they might pay attention to courses that focused tightly on what they need to know to mediate between instinct and reality.

And this curriculum needs to continue in college, of course. Too often the science survey courses that liberal arts majors take don't connect to these peoples' lives. I didn't need that connection made for me--I could do it myself. But I'm smarter than them, frankly. So they need courses that aren't astronomy, chemistry, even sociology per se. They need what I described in the last paragraph--coursework whose starting point is the decisions/evaluations people have to make in everyday life, then which works backwards from those decisions into the kind of thinking and the kind of knowledge ordinary people can use to make those decisions better.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Of oil spills and elections

The supertanker Exxon Valdez spilled its oily guts into Prince William Sound in Alaska on March 24, 1989. The damage to the Sound and to the livelihoods of the locals who lived there was immediate and catastrophic.

After the usual foot-dragging and denial, Exxon Corporation belatedly spent a lot of money on cleanup there. When things looked normal again it stopped.

But even today, in many inlets around the Sound, if you pick up a rock or dig up a shovelful of beach sand, you'll still see the abundant black guck of Exxon Valdez crude.

Environmental scientists went back there in 2009 and concluded that it would take another 30 years for the environment to really recover.

I was thinking about this because a Chinese coal freighter just ran aground near the Great Barrier Reef in Australia, and will probably break up. Of course in a space of weeks the sea will look as it did before. The reef this ship crashed into will not. Reefs can take centuries to recover fully from reef groundings by big ships.

This has a bearing on elections.

Here in America, every two years the voters call their elected representatives to account. In this year's elections, the Democratic Party's legislature and executive branch will be held to account for current high levels of unemployment, housing foreclosures, healthcare costs, government efficiency (or lack thereof), general recovery from the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression, the size of the deficit, doing something about the estimated 12 million citizens of other nations residing here illegally, and the progress of the wars/occupations/recovery of Iraq and Afghanistan.

I believe in holding legislators to account, as do we all. But the current situation bears comparison with the Exxon Valdez disaster. The damage was done in a space of hours. The recovery will have spanned 50 years before it's done.

Publicly held corporations often have a similar problem, with management being forced to work towards each quarterly report even if the issues can't be solved in that timeframe. This distorts businesses, just as elections with shorter timeframes than proper solutions distort government.

This is an advantage dictatorships like China have over us. They can match plans to problems, while we have to match plans to elections--often at the expense of the problems.

This is true of so many things. You can get shot in a second and take months or years to recover...or never recover. Car accidents, ditto. Bank robberies, ditto. Earthquakes, wars. A nasty kid kicking over a building block structure another kid spent half an hour to build.

Hence the saying "sin in haste, repent at leisure."

It took the Republican Party eight long years to do the damage the Democrats are now being given two years to fix--and that's not even taking into account the fact that the Republican minorities in Congress are routinely filibustering over two thirds of legislation and appointments. The Republican belief in swiftly putting things to an "up or down vote" vanished when the Democrats took power.

Republicans say "wait a minute. The recession was caused by Barney Frank!" i.e. forcing banks to make all those subprime mortgages. This has an element of truth, but it's a red herring, because it's Republican deregulation that enabled banks to export the risk of those subprime loans to the general economy, aided and abetted by risk-evaluation organizations in the pay of the financiers making the risks.

It's deregulation that turned the banks into gambling casinos. If banks had had to take full responsibility for bank loans, they wouldn't have made such risky loans. Also--doesn't anyone remember Bush II prattling on endlessly about "the ownership society" ? Now we've become the "foreclosure society."

But however the situation was created, at the moment the Democrats took over in 2008, no democratic (as opposed to dictatorial) solution to these myriad problems could show significant results in two years. Just as, even if Exxon hadn't slow-footed the Prince William Sound cleanup, it would still have taken decades to achieve.

Plus there's an underlying problem that I think is equally the fault of Democrats and Republicans: failure to maintain our nation' s infrastructure--water pipes, bridges, the electrical grid, roadways etc.

This was something that could have been deferred without the problem surfacing in the time between one election and the next, and so the money was stolen at every level, from city to nation, and diverted into expenditures with showy, immediate results.

The problem being that deferred maintenance costs more--much more--than regular maintenance. For example, I had a bicycle once whose chain I didn't lubricate and clean regularly. As a result I had to replace most of the drivetrain prematurely, for over $300. The same holds for roads and bridges and tracks, oh my...

So in addition to Republican major sins and Democratic lesser sins we have bridges falling down and killing people from decades of bipartisan deferred maintenance...and that's just the tip of the iceberg.

And in addition to that we have a very well-financed campaign to make people believe government is always corrupt and ineffective and that virtually all government functions can be done better by for-profit private enterprise. This campaign is financed by for-profit private enterprises. What a surprise.

And right now this campaign is telling people to kick out the people trying to fix the henhouse, and put the foxes back in charge. After all, who knows more about henhouses than foxes?