Saturday, February 28, 2009

Will's Climate

I haven't bothered with George Will's wacky Washington Post op-ed last week on climate change. I suppose he needs to be engaged (as do the editors at the Post for publishing clear falsehoods), but really only because he apparently still has some clout as a public opinion maker... or at least in shaping other ignorant media figures' opinions who then disseminate the same silliness.

But that's it. The argument about the existence of climate change as a serious argument is over. The real discussion is about how best to engage in mitigation and adaptation efforts (which are coming up to steam anyway), how we take up our moral responsibilities to the most vulnerable, and what kinds of tradeoffs we're prepared to make. Will's and others' insistence on continuing the existence debate postpones public discussion of these important questions. In this sense, it is morally irresponsible. Unpublished data I've seen suggests real concern on the part of the public and a willingness to make significant economic sacrifices in order to tackle climate change. But the public needs to understand what is at stake much better than they do. They've been propagandized on this question for so long that there's a lot of confusion about who they ought to believe. That confusion has been intentionally nurtured by public figures like Will.

Anyway, this is all a long way of saying that you should go read Cheryl Rofer's brief piece on Will's column and electrolyzed water at Whirled View. I particularly want to point out this neat passage:

The evidence for global warming extends over the entire world and includes such things as rainfall frequency, nighttime temperatures, bird migrations, glacial ice and sea ice, soil temperatures, sea temperatures, first freeze dates, and many other things. The central way of analyzing this evidence is through complex computer models which take many of these variables as inputs to reproduce others. Some of the models describe limited parts of the system, like the movement of glaciers on land or the formation of clouds, and others are global. There are many models, coming at the problem with different approaches, and they are tested against each other.

All the results indicate that as the concentrations of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere increase, some areas of the earth will warm up and some will cool; some will have more rainfall and some will have less.

Will (and others) approach global warming like a geometry proof: one counterexample undoes the proof. That is not the nature of global warming. Any one observation needs to be woven into the complex of evidence and models to see what it means.

So, under Will's criteria, I can cite my sister's observation that vultures have arrived in Oregon, two weeks earlier than usual, or the unusually warm winter in Santa Fe as evidence for global warming. Take that, George Will!

I Got Your Family Value Right Here

It's really not all that surprising that conservative & religious parts of the US consume more porn than other parts of the country. Although the differences in consumption between states are not huge, Utah is nonetheless the biggest consumer of online porn in the US.
"Some of the people who are most outraged turn out to be consumers of the very things they claimed to be outraged by," Edelman says...

The biggest consumer, Utah, averaged 5.47 adult content subscriptions per 1000 home broadband users; Montana bought the least with 1.92 per 1000. "The differences here are not so stark," Edelman says.

Number 10 on the list was West Virginia at 2.94 subscriptions per 1000, while number 41, Michigan, averaged 2.32.

Eight of the top 10 pornography consuming states gave their electoral votes to John McCain in last year's presidential election – Florida and Hawaii were the exceptions. While six out of the lowest 10 favoured Barack Obama...

States where a majority of residents agreed with the statement "I have old-fashioned values about family and marriage," bought 3.6 more subscriptions per thousand people than states where a majority disagreed. A similar difference emerged for the statement "AIDS might be God's punishment for immoral sexual behaviour."

Freedom from desire as a meditative attempt to spiritually transcend bodily attachment is one thing. But it's an odd feature of human beings to attempt to repress desires broadly in a society that individuals who do so find particularly strong in themselves. One evangelical or political/religious figure after another is exposed as a sexual hypocrite. Some socio-cultural expressions of religious conservatism seem rather like auto-flagellation turned outwards so that others can be punished as well. Notice how extremist forms of religious culture are often built around a negative relationship to sexuality, among other expressions of the physical body.

In the large Western religions, sin is intimately related to body - Adam and Eve became ashamed of their nakedness after the original sin. Why? Why that? Why not ashamed of, say, speech used to communicate with the serpent and to convince Adam to bite into the pleasurable apple? (And why is one metaphor for traditional American values the apple pie?). Why not, then, a culture that evolves over time into a speechless culture? A culture that attempts to eliminate the pre-linguistic structure of the brain by repression of anything linguistic?

When I first started this blog and was trying to gain broad readership, I intentionally titled a post with a sexual reference to see if this attracted readers. Crass, I know, but it was simply an experiment - after all, the repressed sexuality base isn't the most desirable source of readership. And it worked. In fact, wherever that post is, it still attracts googlers. (A post which I'm not going to look up or write out again). And it is crystal clear from the stats that most of them come from highly religious states or societies. Curiously, since I apparently phrased it in quasi-English, many of the sex-googlers arrive here by googling things like, "naked mens making the sex with a lady's private."

Mark Gisleson wrote about this study a couple of days ago. His conclusion is that,
When everyone is doing something but only certain types of people ever get punished, then it’s in everyone’s interest to expose ALL the sinners and then give society the choice of repealing stupid laws or paying to lock up a third of the nation. Want gay marriage legalized? Stick cable access TV cameras in every gay bar in town. Not a good strategy for hetero prostitution. For that you’d need a Craig’s List sting, but by now I’m sure you get my point.
Of course, video surveillance and sex stings are more technical instruments of a repressive society.

Funny Weekend

Piggybacking on the labor of the ever-funny SteveG, here are a couple of quotes by Jack Handey, whose 60th birthday Steve is celebrating. They made me laugh, and laughing is a good way to start the weekend (maybe that's why we have Saturday morning cartoons...).

"If God dwells inside us, like some people say, I sure hope He likes enchiladas, because that's what He's getting!"

"There should be a detective show called 'Johnny Monkey,' because every week you could have a guy say 'I ain't gonna get caught by no MONKEY,' but then he would, and I don't think I'd ever get tired of that."

More at Steve's Philosopher's Playground.

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Carnavalia Brasileira

French cabaret dancers from the Moulin Rouge pose during a photo call in Rio de Janeiro February 20, 2009. The dancers are in Rio de Janeiro from 20-24 February to participate in the carnival festivities by the top samba groups. (REUTERS/Sergio Moraes)

I know it's kind of late, but fêting the fête of carnaval can never be fêted enough. The music, especially... it always goes on, accumulates, and, unlike most of northern pop, always remains an important part of human heritage because it generally shoots for the soul rather than the market.

I suggest checking out the downloads at Eu Ovo and their rich summary of the year 2008 in Brazilian music. From there, you might go to Brazilian Nuggets and Som Barato. And SacundinBenBlog for classics of Tropicália.

Dois no Som
Música Da Minha Gente
A Radiola Do Guga
Boa Música e Afins
Barulho Bom
Cápsula da Cultura
Samba & Soul

Plus, some more stunning photos courtesy of The Big Picture...

A member of Academicos do Grande Rio samba school work on a float in Samba City in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil on February 18, 2009. (VANDERLEI ALMEIDA/AFP/Getty Images)

A member of Unidos do Peruche samba school parades at the Sambadrome, as part of carnival celebrations, in Sao Paulo, Brazil, late February 20, 2009. (MAURICIO LIMA/AFP/Getty Images)

And this incredible photo of the Tenerife Carnival Queen from the Canary Islands...

Ana Maria Tavarez reacts after being crowned the Tenerife Carnival Queen 2009 during a carnival gala in Santa Cruz de Tenerife on the Spanish Canary Island of Tenerife, late February 18, 2009. (REUTERS/Santiago Ferrero)

Happy Spring Training

At least happy until the Padres and Nationals begin their season-long march southwards. Can you believe that? Not only a Padres fan by birth, but a Nationals fan by residence. Could it be any worse? I could be a Red Sox or Yankees fan - that would be worse - but Padres and Nationals means sustained hopelessness.

Climate Change Lobbies

The Center for Public Integrity shows what sound climate change policy is up against.
...while the Obama team readies to take on the global warming challenge, the special interests that seek to derail, blunt, or tailor any new climate policy to their narrow agendas have already gathered in staggering numbers. A Center for Public Integrity analysis of Senate lobbying disclosure forms shows that more than 770 companies and interest groups hired an estimated 2,340 lobbyists to influence federal policy on climate change in the past year, as the issue gathered momentum and came to a vote on Capitol Hill. That’s an increase of more than 300 percent in the number of lobbyists on climate change in just five years, and means that Washington can now boast more than four climate lobbyists for every member of Congress. It also means that 15 percent of all Washington lobbyists spent at least some of their time on global warming in 2008, based on a tally of the total number of influence-peddlers on Capitol Hill by the Center for Responsive Politics.
They know. With serious climate change people now holding most of the main environmental and energy related positions in the Obama administration, and with an environmental policy network in DC that knows climate policy is finally going somewhere, corporate lobbying is manning the ramparts. This is going to be bloody.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009


Are We All Adults Now?

Ezra Klein:
Obama doesn't talk to us like we're stupid. This wasn't an inspiring speech. And it wasn't a terrorizing speech. It was an explanation. The president told us what he was planning to do. And the speech was written as if he believed that we could understand him. He didn't wrap his agenda in a lot of rhetoric about America's mettle or hide it behind stories and icons.

Bamboo Curtain

Photo: NIC Dunlop / Panos Pictures
I hadn't seen this smart September 2008 Atlantic piece on regional political strategies regarding Burma until Andrew Sullivan linked to it a few days ago.
The Burmese junta craves some sort of weapons-of-mass-destruction capability to provide it with international leverage. "But the regime is paranoid," Heine­mann points out. "It's superstitious. They're rolling chicken bones on the ground to see what to do next...."

Get Some Sleep or You'll Go Nuts

I think I've got this problem. Recent research by separate groups of psychologists suggests that bad sleep habits cause psychological disorders, not the other way around.
[Matt Walker of UC-Berkeley] and his colleagues uncovered key evidence for why this should be so. The team showed a set of increasingly disturbing images to people who had slept normally and people deprived of sleep for 35 hours. In the sleep-deprived group, the gruesome images produced 60 per cent more activity in the amygdala - a primitive, emotionally reactive part of the brain - than in well-rested people. Further scans revealed that in those deprived of sleep the amygdala was failing to communicate with the prefrontal lobe, which normally controls and sends inhibitory signals down to the emotional brain. "The reason we don't blow our top when someone says something we don't like is because we have a highly developed prefrontal cortex, which acts as an emotional brake," says Walker. A loss of communication between the amygdala and the prefrontal lobe is one way that sleep loss could create psychiatric symptoms, he thinks. "In a number of psychiatric disorders, such as depression, it has been demonstrated that the frontal lobe's activity becomes disrupted. There's also preliminary evidence [of this] for ADHD and post-traumatic stress disorder," Walker says.

In another strand of research, evidence is growing that sleep - and dreaming, REM sleep, in particular - helps the brain to process memories. Disrupt this mechanism, and you could end up with psychological problems such as PTSD.

In August 2008, [Robert Stickgold] and colleagues reported that when people are presented with pictures of an emotional or neutral object or scene, their memory for these scenes decreases during the day. After a night's sleep, they forget pretty much everything except the things that roused their emotions, for which their memories stay the same, or even improve (Psychological Science, vol 19, p 781). Cast your mind back, says Walker, and you will appreciate that almost all of your memories are emotional ones. He thinks this is because emotions act as a red flag for important things that we should be remembering. But, crucially, if you recall them now you don't re-experience the visceral reaction that you had at the time. Somehow, the brain has retained the memory while stripping away the visceral emotion. Both Stickgold and Walker believe this stripping process occurs during REM sleep.

They note that during REM, production of serotonin and noradrenalin shuts down in the brain. Noradrenalin is the neurochemical associated with stress, fear and the flight response; it translates to adrenalin in the body. Serotonin modulates anger and aggression. "You get this beautiful biological theatre during REM sleep, where the brain can go back over experiences it has learned in days past, but can do so in a situation where there are none of these hyping-up neurochemicals," Walker says. So although dreams can be highly emotional, he thinks that they gradually erode the emotional edges of memories.

Murakami and the Right Side of Conflict

Barba pointed me to this brief speech by the Japanese novelist Haruki Murakami on the occasion of winning the Jerusalem Prize.
Between a high, solid wall and an egg that breaks against it, I will always stand on the side of the egg.

Double Voices and Dream Cities

Zadie Smith's beautiful take on what I've called, in my own ugly version, the traveling self.
...I haven't described Dream City. I'll try to. It is a place of many voices, where the unified singular self is an illusion. Naturally, Obama was born there. So was I. When your personal multiplicity is printed on your face, in an almost too obviously thematic manner, in your DNA, in your hair and in the neither this nor that beige of your skin—well, anyone can see you come from Dream City. In Dream City everything is doubled, everything is various. You have no choice but to cross borders and speak in tongues. That's how you get from your mother to your father, from talking to one set of folks who think you're not black enough to another who figure you insufficiently white. It's the kind of town where the wise man says "I" cautiously, because "I" feels like too straight and singular a phoneme to represent the true multiplicity of his experience. Instead, citizens of Dream City prefer to use the collective pronoun "we."...

...It's my audacious hope that a man born and raised between opposing dogmas, between cultures, between voices, could not help but be aware of the extreme contingency of culture. I further audaciously hope that such a man will not mistake the happy accident of his own cultural sensibilities for a set of natural laws, suitable for general application....

Cunningham, Foggo, Wilkes,...

Via TPM, new documents reveal deep-seated political corruption in the Bush administration CIA. I know that's not a huge surprise, but these are new details on the cozy relationship between Dusty Foggo and defense contractor Brent Wilkes. This is, of course, still unfolding.

UPDATE (26 Feb.):

Cool. Three years in prison.

Obama Code

Nate Silver hosts an interesting piece by George Lakoff (of "framing" fame) on "The Obama Code."
“Freedom” will no longer mean what George W. Bush meant by it. Guantanamo will be closed, torture outlawed, the market regulated. Obama’s inaugural address was filled with framings of patriotic concepts to fit those ideals. Not just the concept of freedom, but also equality, prosperity, unity, security, interests, challenges, courage, purpose, loyalty, patriotism, virtue, character, and grace. Look at these words in his inaugural address and you will see how Obama has situated their meaning within his view of fundamental American values: empathy, social and well as personal responsibility, improving yourself and your country. We can expect further reclaiming of patriotic language throughout his administration.

All this is what “change” means. In his policy proposals the President is trying to align his administration’s policies with the fundamental values of the Framers of our Constitution. In seeking “bipartisan” support, he is looking beyond political affiliations to those who share those values on particular issues. In his economic policy, he is realigning our economy with the moral missions of government: protection and empowerment for all.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Friday, February 20, 2009

Friday Readings

Juan Cole directs us to 666 Reasons Sentient Citizens are Still Celebrating the Long Overdue Departure of George W. Bush. And that's enough of that apart from the pursuit of war crimes.

A photo-dictionary of Japanese Buddhist sculpture. And a guide to identifying Buddhist images in Japanese sculpture. (Spent a couple of hours yesterday at the Sackler and Freer Galleries here in DC specifically looking at Japanese, Chinese, SE Asian, and Indian Buddhist art. Incredible.).

Tom Dispatch: What Does Economic "Recovery" Mean on an Extreme Weather Planet?

A tax on vehicle miles? Maybe the wave of the short-term, "we'll get past this" future.

Dani Rodrik on Capitalism 3.0.

French-bashing alert down to code blue/green or guarded/low. Politics steady.

IAEA tackling food insecurity through mutant banana strains? (via Global Dashboard)

Agricultural sabotage.

Good advice on "bipartisanship."

Hoarding things that will help prevent you from hoarding things.

Alternatives to those fugu testicles cravings.

And, finally, from Pruned, "city upon a chicken":

A “multiscape” by Pim Palsgraaf, 2005

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

An Asian Underground Railroad

Photograph by Chien-Chi Chang
Bryan Finoki links to a National Geographic piece on the "Asian underground railroad" between North Korea and Thailand...
...[an] Asian underground railroad that refugees from North Korea continue to use at great risk to reach Thailand, where they have the best chance of finding a new livelihood since, unlike many of the region's nations, Thailand does not practice a policy of returning North Korean "illegal immigrants" back to their homeland. Back in the nineties when North Korea was plagued by famine the migration route mostly passed though Southern China, but the Chinese have since increased border controls there, which have relocated paths through Mongolia. However, it wasn't long before the Mongolians established their own security barriers and pushed migrants further out into the hard traveled Gobi desert. Eventually, the exodus geographies began to extend into Mynammar, but the dangerous militarized zones there have highly discouraged this option from becoming too well tread. After getting through China, Vietnam used to be an option, but in 2004 the government dramatically clamped down on the informal border crossings there and send refugees back to Korea. Today, the most commonly used escape route has been diverted through South Korea, China, over the mountain ranges of Loas, and then into Thailand.


Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Testimony of the Normal

There's a lot in this testimony of Spc. Brandon Neely, a former guard at Guantánamo. But I want to point out one somewhat peripheral remark.
...He [David Hicks, Australian prisoner] then went on to say he was attempting to leave the Afghanistan when, one night, he was on board a taxi and the taxi was stopped by the Northern Alliance. He was captured from there. He then stated that the Northern Alliance didn't treat him too badly and that, the next thing he knew, he was told he was being sold to the Americans for $1500 (there were many detainees during my time at Guantanamo who stated that they had been sold as well to the Americans; they said that the more valuable the Americans thought you were, the more they payed for them).
Consider the incentive structure combined with American fear and anger.

Vulture Era

Bowl & Board was in a desperate situation. They made that much clear to landlord. But instead of taking the money and wishing Bowl & Board the best of luck in these tough times, the Capital Properties’ pack of lawyers decided to keep the store locked into the contract. They figured their boss would make more money if they pushed Bowl & Board into bankruptcy. That way, not only would back rent be recovered, but they’d also be able to liquidate the store’s inventory and cover most of the balance on the remaining lease...

...“What can I do? I’m in the same situation. Everyone is in the same situation. There’s going to be more of this,” said one shopper defensively. Her house had been foreclosed and now she was out and about shopping to decorate her new apartment. Her logic was brutally simple: I was screwed by my bank and need money. So I’m gonna do what I have to do any way I can, even if it means screwing someone who is as badly off as I am...

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Economic Crisis Solved in Two Steps

1. Nationalize the banks
2. Institute currency controls on China

Thank you. (Of course, both are politically difficult).

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Bionic Woman

“I’m able to move my hand, wrist and elbow all at the same time,” she said. “You think, and then your muscles move.”
....The process requires no more conscious effort than it would for a person who has a natural arm.
NY Times

Kyoto's Tale of Genji

We should also celebrate the 1000th anniversary of The Tale of Genji (源氏物語 Genji Monogatari) by Lady Murasaki Shikibu (紫式部, a pseudonym) a masterwork of world literature and considered by some to be the earliest literary work in the form of the novel. The city of Kyoto, a world treasure in itself, is celebrating the millennial anniversary as the birthplace of Lady Murasaki and the setting for much of her famous novel (as the city Heian-kyo, Kyoto's earlier name).

Photo: Ishiyama-dera by Ko Sasaki, NY Times

I'd like to talk much more about Kyoto itself as it is a city so rich in history and beauty that it is a unique living monument to itself. Other cities in Japan are perhaps as historically important, depending on the moment in history, and as beautiful: Nikko and Nara in particular, to a lesser extent Takayama, Kanazawa, and Himeji (for its most beautiful castle), many beautiful small villages, and of course other Japanese cities for their role in modern history.

Kyoto's history, however, is richer, more condensed, and more awe-inspiring, at times its places of quietness literally taking away one's breath: the most famous zen rock garden at Ryoan-ji temple; Kiyomizu-dera temple and arrival through the old streets of the Higashiyama district; the geisha district of Gion, the garden at Nanzen-ji; the Golden Pavilion (Kinkaku-ji); the torii gates of Fushimi Inari shrine; the spectacular Daigo-ji in the eastern part of the city; Sanjusangendo temple and its 1001 stone statues of Kannon; Nijo castle, built by the great emperor Tokugawa Ieyasu; the gardens at Sento palace; the moss-covered Koke-dera; and hundreds of other sites.

While I'm in recommendation mode, let me also suggest the animated Japanese-produced film, "Murasaki Shikibu: Genji Monogatari," which was released in 1987. Haruomi Hosono did the soundtrack - an existentialist atmosphere of traditional instruments and discreet electronics - which I also recommend highly, although it's extremely difficult to find.

Bicentennial Birthday Boys

Abraham Lincoln and Charles Darwin were both born on this day, February 12th, 200 years ago in 1809. An auspicious date for intelligence and good works.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Blossom Dearie

She died on Saturday in her sleep. Soul Sides has a couple of mp3s, including one of my favorites, "Sunday Afternoon." Another great one, "I'm Hip," at Keep the Coffee Coming. Sigh....

Monday, February 09, 2009

Firecrackers Threaten CCTV Building

Photo: David Gray/Reuters
The Rem Koolhaas designed CCTV building in Beijing is on fire and pretty much demolished. Geoff Manaugh at BLDGBLOG has more.

Climate Change Threatens Art

In my real life, I do some work on climate change, among other things. But I'd never heard of this particular threat to art in tropical countries.
Art treasures in tropical nations are under threat from climate change which is likely to speed decay, U.N. experts said on Sunday. "The art world is made of materials that bugs like," said Jose-Luis Ramirez, head of the U.N. University's programme for biotechnology for Latin America and the Caribbean. "Climate change is a threat because it is going to increase the amount of fungus and bugs in many regions," he told Reuters of a meeting of experts in Caracas from Feb. 9-12 on new ways to protect art collections. Much of the world's cultural heritage is made of canvas, wood, paper or leather which "in prolonged warmth and dampness, attract mould, micro-organisms and insects, causing decay and disintegration," a U.N. University statement said. Many museums, especially in tropical nations, lack even air conditioning to protect collections of paintings, sculptures and other art from likely shifts in humidity and temperature, Ramirez said.
There's a lot of focus on the large-scale effects of climate change - desertification, flooding, etc. But I wonder whether the relentless accumulation of stories of smaller-scale effects is not, in the end, a more effective way of communicating the gravity of climate change.

Friday, February 06, 2009

FAIR on Colombia and Venezuela

Any evenhanded comparison of the Colombian and Venezuelan governments’ human rights records would have to note that, though Venezuela’s record is far from perfect, that country is by every measure a safer place than Colombia to live, vote, organize unions and political groups, speak out against the government or practice journalism.

But a new survey by FAIR shows that, over the past 10 years, editors at four leading U.S. newspapers have focused more on purported human rights abuses in Venezuela than in Colombia, and their commentary would suggest that Venezuela’s government has a worse human rights record than Colombia’s. These papers, FAIR found, seem more interested in reinforcing official U.S. policy toward the region than in genuinely supporting the rights of Colombians and Venezuelans....

Damned Sichuan Dam

Photo: Ng Han Guan/The Associated Press
Nearly nine months after a devastating earthquake in Sichuan Province, China, left 80,000 people dead or missing, a growing number of American and Chinese scientists are suggesting that the calamity was triggered by a four-year-old reservoir built close to the earthquake's geological fault line.

A Columbia University scientist who studied the quake has said that it may have been triggered by the weight of 320 million tons of water in the Zipingpu Reservoir less than a mile from a well-known major fault. His conclusions, presented to the American Geophysical Union in December, coincide with a new finding by Chinese geophysicists that the dam caused significant seismic changes before the earthquake...

"Any kind of government-related disaster presently is very, very damaging and politically extremely sensitive," said Cheng Li, the China research director at the Brookings Institution....


Cabinet Magazine.

Thursday, February 05, 2009

Lux Interior

It's a year of death of beloved people. Last week John Martyn, before that Lukas Foss, John Updike, Arne Naess, "Fathead" Newman, Patrick McGoohan, Andrew Wyeth, Claude Berri, and Freddie Hubbard and Davy Graham in December. A friend who I've known since I was born, Victor Vacquier, died last month at the age of 101.

Early yesterday morning, Lux Interior of the Cramps died from a heart condition at the age of 60. Our best wishes to his wife, Poison Ivy.

Downloadable mp3s at Crud Crud, Music Slut, Vinyl District, Heart on a Stick, For the Sake of the Song, and An Idiot's Guide to Dreaming.

Wednesday, February 04, 2009


Football Politics

I've been thinking about writing something on this, but Cheryl says it succinctly:

In some universes, this would be unbelievable. A political party came into power when budget surpluses were so large that there was concern about what would happen when the US stopped issuing its well-regarded bonds. This political party took care of that by spending all those surpluses down into debt and, in the process, wrecked the economy, started a couple of disastrous wars and badly damaged the country’s standing in the world. Now that it has been voted out of power, with minorities in both houses of Congress, it still insists that St. Jude’s (Wanniski) tax miracles be invoked, even after the failure of last year’s try. Further, as the country rapidly slides into recession and the financial institutions stand by, furnishing their executive offices with $1400 wastebaskets, that expectation of miracles is so strong that the faithful choose financial immolation for the country rather than to go along with sin in the form of providing jobs for those for whom $14 wastebaskets are pricey.

But not the universe of the Republican Party...

Steve Benen gets their narrow view of the politics pretty much right. No sense in giving the enemy a success. Might as well let the country slide down the tubes if the alternative might benefit the Democratic Party. And hey, the free market will just right itself! That’s what St. Herbert said.
The Republican Party thinks it's a football team - in fact, they think they are "America's Team." It's about winning. Victory is the victory of The Party. Failure on the part of the country must be managed and projected onto political opponents so that The Party's image is protected - the country serves The Party.

Sure, they can disagree - unlike how many of us were told to shut up during the past seven years. Disagreement that's healthy for the country, however, takes the form of constructive criticism, not ideological propaganda statements with the supreme end of protecting The Party.

Sunday, February 01, 2009

The Immigration "Problem"

The NY Times editorial board today:
The relentlessly harsh Republican campaign against immigrants has always hidden a streak of racialist extremism. Now after several high-water years, the Republican tide has gone out, leaving exposed the nativism of fringe right-wingers clinging to what they hope will be a wedge issue.
Uh huh. We've been doing posts here for some time arguing that, once you clear away the fog of the various kinds of weak arguments advanced by anti-immigration folks, you're left with very little other than racism. That tends to be the case worldwide - Bosnians and Serbs, Koreans and Japanese, French and Algerians, humans and cylons. There's nothing new there. But it is a pervasive reaction perhaps especially because immigrants - unknown strangers who are a different color than "us," have strange religious and cultural practices, and speak incomprehensible languages - are such an easy, painless target for provincialists who view moral responsibility and empathy as things that fall away once the other people are out of sight (and I think this has much more profound implications than dealing with the "other").

At best, arguments regarding immigration are debates about differential treatment and the nature of citizenship, the nature of the state and nationality, and the future of human socio-political organization in the face of transnational problems of all sorts. But the anti-immigrant positions in the US boil down to racism. That's the reality.

You could take a look at any of Barba's many posts written from the militarizing borderlands of Texas/Mexico (search blog: "immigration"). But I want to direct to you one in particular. Barba:
Talking and writing about migrants has become tricky: what leads people to feel angry about immigrants in America -- for as long as we have had what is presently characterized as a “national debate” (nothing about popular and popularly-accessible discourse about immigration can really be called a “debate,” can it?) -- what seems to anger people, or to scare them, about migrants is difference. Am I wrong about this? People make all kinds of claims that sound logical: immigrants take jobs from Americans, they are a strain on health care and educational systems, they drive like crazy lunatics. The closest people will come to articulating their fear of the less-than-white Other from the South is to claim that their value systems are incompatible with American democracy, that folks capable of making two-thousand-mile continental journeys -- trips totally unimaginable, I think, for most Americans, in their sordidness and difficulty and even in their natural and human landscapes -- sustained by little more than faith in the Virgin cannot possibly be expected to understand the rich heritage of civil democracy in our country, cannot really be expected to “contribute.” Setting aside the degree to which the majority of Americans themselves fail to “contribute” (and ignoring the absurd reality that we congratulate one another for casting votes and behave as though this constitutes contribution), this concern strikes me as most worth discussion. Even (especially?) if it amounts to little more than veiled fear: it could only help all of us to talk a little more plainly about what it means to be a citizen, to take that discussion beyond simplistic claims in which taxes buy things like “education” for people like “our children.” I admit that imagining that our putative debate could ever become a discussion is crazy optimism.
And Helmut, who insists on wanting to know the real nature of the so-called "immigration problem" as a problem:
I've been thinking about why immigration is such an important subject especially for conservatives. Living in DC one doesn't get a good sense of what drives the concern. I was in Texas last May, however, and asked about the immigration issue. It's a more salient issue there and has been as long as I can remember.

Running through and rejecting the standard arguments and claims (taking away American jobs, not paying taxes, being a drain on the healthcare system, etc.), which we know don't hold up, I would find that the Texas conservatives I talked to ended up mostly saying something vague along the lines of this: "well, we are here legally; and they ought to be here legally too." Of course, a response could then be to ask why amnesty - legalizing undocumented immigrants already in the US - isn't an option if legal status is the foundational concern. This then gets the whole cycle through the other claims/arguments going again. I wondered aloud, perhaps unfortunately even if in Socratic fashion, if racism isn't at the heart of the issue. Of course, few people are going to overtly argue that.
Well, apparently, now they are, notes the Times editorial:
Last week at the National Press Club in Washington, a group seeking to speak for the future of the Republican Party declared that its November defeats in Congressional races stemmed not from having been too hard on foreigners, but too soft.

The group, the American Cause, released a report arguing that anti-immigration absolutism was still the solution for the party’s deep electoral woes, actual voting results notwithstanding. Rather than “pander to pro-amnesty Hispanics and swing voters,” as President Bush and Karl Rove once tried to do, the report’s author, Marcus Epstein, urged Republicans to double down on their efforts to run on schemes to seal the border and drive immigrants out...

What was perhaps more notable than the report itself was the team that delivered it. It included Bay Buchanan, former adviser to Representative Tom Tancredo and sister of Pat, who founded the American Cause and wrote “State of Emergency: The Third World Invasion and Conquest of America.” She was joined by James Pinkerton, an essayist and Fox News contributor who, as an aide to the first President Bush, took credit for the racist Willie Horton ads run against Michael Dukakis.

So far, so foul. But even more telling was the presence of Peter Brimelow, a former Forbes editor and founder of, an extremist anti-immigration Web site. It is named for Virginia Dare, the first white baby born in the English colonies, which tells you most of what you need to know. The site is worth a visit. There you can read Mr. Brimelow’s and Mr. Buchanan’s musings about racial dilution and the perils facing white people, and gems like this from Mr. Epstein:

“Diversity can be good in moderation — if what is being brought in is desirable. Most Americans don’t mind a little ethnic food, some Asian math whizzes, or a few Mariachi dancers — as long as these trends do not overwhelm the dominant culture.”

The Times concludes with the generic proposal that we ought to be more vigilant about racism, especially in times of economic downturn. That's right. But I think we can go further and say that the "immigrant problem" is nothing other than the problem of racism in the US (and elsewhere, of course). That's the pernicious ongoing problem.

The question becomes whether, in the case of the US, the right manages to turn the American reality of diversity into a fantasy of white Christian ownership of the nation. Such a nation would set up landmark and selective historical moments, imbued with nationalistic oogedy-boogedy magic, as the sole truth of the nation; not the profound strain of experimentalism and pluralism in its thought and spirit, in the deepest thoughts of the founding fathers in their best moments, in its philosophical lineage and evolution, and in the very best of its culture. I mean, really, what has a white supremacist done for any of us lately?