Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Out-of-mind experience

TALLAHASSEE -- A state legislator whose district is home to thousands of Caribbean immigrants wants to ban the term "illegal alien" from the state's official documents.

"I personally find the word 'alien' offensive when applied to individuals, especially to children," said Sen. Frederica Wilson, D-Miami. "An alien to me is someone from out of space."
News-Press, February 27

The words "Frederica Wilson," applied to an individual, especially a childish one, are offensive to me. They suggest someone so alienated (if I may use such a term) from the reality of life on earth as to be from out of space. Therefore, the words "Frederica Wilson" are hereby banned from this blog.

And, if I say so myself, that neatly puts paid to the much-discussed Frederica Wilson problem. Since the name will no longer be used, Frederica Wilson does not exist. Therefore, she cannot propose any bills in the Florida legislature or represent any illegal immigrants, who also do not exist.

It's great to live in an enlightened time when the effects of catastrophic social policies can be obliterated by eliminating the words used to talk about them.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Grand Canyon

Some years ago there was a movie called Grand Canyon — not a western, but a drama based on the idea beloved of our national journalistic and entertainment media, as well as the odd low-wattage political demagogue, that there are "two Americas" divided by social class with an "enormous gap" between them: the rich and the poor, black and white, executives and workers, insured and uninsured, etc. I accept that such a division exists, and that it's disturbing, without necessarily agreeing with most proposed forms of amelioration.

More recently, a lot of us have become convinced that there is a different but equally striking split in this country, a matter of principles and assumptions rather than conventional economics or politics. It's a little harder to describe, and metaphors like "red states vs. blue states" are too fuzzy for careful discussion. Still, I think practically everyone, regardless of where they're located in the political galaxy, senses this grand canyon by now. And even if we can't agree on exactly how to define it, now and then I read or hear something that seems to embody it perfectly.

Such a revelation came last night as I was driving home with the radio tuned to the National Public Radio station. The program was "Marketplace" (NPR's idea of balance: the program is about business, so that means it's conservative, right?). It was a segment about Wal-Mart. Now, I can't say the following description is precisely accurate, because I wasn't concentrating on it, and at least part of my mind was concerned with preventing a violation of the law of physics which says that my car and another car cannot occupy the same space at the same time.

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But the gist of the story was this: Wal-Mart had announced that it would be using its huge power over suppliers to force them to hire more diverse workforces. Got that? We are beyond the point where the government tells private companies that their employees shall consist of x percent of African Americans, y percent of Hispanics, z percent of Pacific Islanders, etc. Now, big companies can require other companies to meet diversity quotas.

NPR acknowledged that a little controversy had been kicked up by Wal-Mart's announcement, but it was not the kind of controversy that some of us might have expected. The mild debate wheeled around whether this was sufficient penance for Wal-Mart's being, well, Wal-Mart. "Let's at least give them credit for doing the right thing," was one sound bite.

It shouldn't have been surprising, but I experienced an almost physical sensation of culture shock. The network, the producer, the reporter, the interviewees — and probably 90 percent of NPR's listeners: none of them saw anything the least bit strange, let alone worrying, about private organizations being forced to select their personnel from among the vast catalog of Certified Victim Groups™. Nor is NPR particularly extreme: the segment could have been on practically any of the national radio or TV networks. It's a mainstream position.

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But for many Americans, those whose outlook doesn't get much airtime, it is on the other side of a vast gash separating two fundamental ideas of the role of the state. The orthodoxy has shifted so drastically that the ordinary or moderate position is that the centralized state, and those it can cause to do its bidding, has both a right and a duty to make sure that private citizens live, speak, and even think in approved ways. In the period of cultural Stalinism we find ourselves in, only a minority, traditional conservatives, believes that the government's job is to protect citizens' lives and property, and perform a few other functions that don't readily lend themselves to capitalist competition. Otherwise, in this view, social progress as well as technological progress come about through individuals and voluntarily associated groups using their brains, experience, and creativity. There's no assurance that it will happen, but honest and deep progress can't be imposed by legislative and bureaucratic ordinances either.

The system we have now, which the "Marketplace" team believes is holy writ, is essentially how things worked in Nazi Germany or Fascist Italy. The government didn't own the businesses, it just directed them. Presumably the big manufacturers passed on the government's edicts to their subcontractors. In the case of the 20th century dictatorships, it was to strengthen the state. In our dictatorship of enforced equality, it's to strengthen the state — that is, to put a steel framework under multi-culturalism, which for today's Ministry of What's Good for You is the very model of national (or post-national) identity.

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The biting irony is that the thumb on the scales isn't a necessary evil to check a worse evil. Do you seriously think that any company today refuses to hire anyone of any race, sex, sexual taste, religion, handicap, or country of national origin if that person could do as good or a better job than someone else, thereby smartening up the company's balance sheet? (Sure, for any given opening, there will be qualified people who don't make the cut, but that's as true for non–Certified Victims™ as for the Vestal Virgins of the protected orders.) Never mind: for "progressive" authoritarians, it's always 1960 in Mississippi.

So-called progressives are not only bullies on a power trip, they're also hypocrites. Later in the program, Robert Reich, the Labor Secretary under Clinton, was called on to give the sermon for the day, about big international companies that have factories in what is called the Developing World. He wanted them to insist that local workers, besides being paid a reasonable minimum wage, be allowed to join unions. Why unions? Because, Reich said, they should have the right to free association. I agree, they should. But if they deserve such a right, why don't organizations, labor and business, in these United States of America?


Vigilant Investor has similar thoughts on Robert Reich and the pseudo-free-market system:

No reader should be distracted to believing the U.S.A. is operating as a free market capitalist nation. No. It much more closely resembles, by definition, a blend of mercantilism and fascism, where major corporations and special interests are quasi government fixtures, running legislation in their favor while parasitically living off the masses. I personally prefer the term parasitic capitalism for what Reich pawns off as capitalism, pure and clean. The real solution to this problem, I’m afraid, was long ago dead in the water: stop the out-of-control government growth.

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Monday, February 19, 2007

Querido Banco de America

The Charlotte, N.C.-based Bank of America, which three years ago took over FleetBoston Financial, is now testing a credit-card program for illegal immigrants in California - and tentatively has plans to expand the program nationwide next year, The Wall Street Journal reported yesterday, quoting bank officials. ...
Spitzer [spokesman for the Massachusetts Bankers Association] said the move is a logical extension of services already provided by banks, which under federal laws must give checking and savings account services to illegal immigrants, if they have IRS numbers or the Mexican government’s “matricular” identification card.

Querido Banco de America,

Hello! I am ill eagle immigrant. I like six cards de credito, please, every one with borrowing limit of $50,000 Yanqui dollars. I have business both sides of border, perhaps I not better say exactly, but very profitable. ¿Comprende?

Now you ask por que I need los cards de credito if so much dinero is made, eh? I know you good friend to migrants, so I tell you. Several of my mejor sub-patrons have looked around recently and found their heads stuck on pikes, little joke of my competitors. I believe hiring handicapped, but heads missing bodies simply no good to me as enforcers. Therefore has been temporary drop in profits.

With your so generous credito, will be going great guns again soon, and I do mean guns, where competition is concerned!

I am muy confidente Banco de America and I be fine amigos going forward. Anyway, our government, I mean, Yanqui government, has as you know affirmative action program for los illegals. I don't have to show you no stinkin' Social Security numero. My consulate provide all matricular cards you need, no extra charge if you want more for my campadres.

Your amigo,
Jorge W. Maquilladora y Gonzales

Friday, February 16, 2007

Two trains running

Two trains running
One train runs at midnight
The other runs at the break of day

— With apologies to McKinley Morganfield, the blues singer known as Muddy Waters

harmonics of 6 in the numbers from 6 to 360 ---

Two trains run for all of us. Most of us are riding that midnight train.

The midnight train runs on time. In fact, it runs in time.

It's brightly lit inside, full of people on the move, charging ahead. They know where the journey will end and approximately how long it will take to get there, but they try not to think about it much. Meanwhile, they amuse themselves as best they can. They talk, eat, listen to their iPods, play computer games, swig a Coke or a Budweiser.

The landmarks and the stations slip by. Faster and faster, it seems, as the time passes. And eventually, the terminal is in sight.

xah lee -- Nested inversion of circles

There's the other train. It's dark inside. Inside, where we're not used to looking, and not very comfortable when we do. Time doesn't matter here. We aren't traveling in time or space.

We're not too sure where we're going. Others have left descriptions for us, but they're hard to understand. Some accounts of the destination seem like fairy tales. Too good to be true. And so paradoxical. A supreme Light that is also supreme Darkness. An infinite knowledge hidden in a Cloud of Unknowing. Enlightenment but also "nothing special."

We're not even sure we've caught the right train to take us there. We just feel that, somewhere on down the line, our true goal and end is waiting.

Two trains running
I said, I said, I said
Two trains running
Well, well, well
One train runs at midnight
I said, I said, I said
One train runs at midnight
The other runs …
Well, well, well
The other runs …
I said, I said, I said
The other runs at the break of day.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

Film blanc

Why do movies — or, at a further remove, books about movies — provoke critics into writing the most ridiculous tosh? Philip French, in the Times Literary Supplement, reviews a book about film noir by Edward Dimendberg. First, French gives Dimendberg the lash for name dropping:
Dimendberg is capable of going for seventeen pages talking about architects, designers and theorists such as Lewis Mumford, Frank Lloyd Wright, Le Corbusier, Siegfried Giedion [heard of him? Me neither. Dimendberg scores 5 points] and Norman Bel Geddes without mentioning a single movie.
Now French sees him and raises him:
He even ignores the fact that Bel Geddes’s daughter Barbara appeared in such noir classics as The Long Night, directed by Anatole Litvak, Max Ophuls’s Caught, Elia Kazan’s Panic in the Streets and Hitchcock’s Vertigo.
Wait! I can go him one better:
French unaccountably fails to note that Barbara Bel Geddes played trumpeter Red Nichols's wife in The Five Pennies, which, while not strictly a film noir, benefited from the underlying tension and slightly sublimated angst that Bel Geddes developed to a high pitch in her noir roles. Her expression of fear and vertigo when Nichols, played strictly for musical and comic values by Danny Kaye, cracks a high G note, hints at the psychological subtext, and would not have been possible had she not apprenticed in films in which her teeth, revealed in a limpid smile, cast lengthy shadows on crooked staircases.
Uh-oh. French tosses down his ace:
Still, there is much of value in Dimendberg’s book, including nuggets such as the suggestive notion that the recurrence of figures falling to their deaths from high-rise buildings is an instance of “Bernd Jager’s assertion that falling entails a loss of lived space”.
Lord love a duck! That would have gone right by me.

My own rather simplistic notion of film criticism is that the only things worth writing about are:

1. Dialogue. If you read it on the page, would it be worth the wear and tear on your glasses?

2. Acting. Is there any that rises above the routinely competent?

3. Cinematography: Is there anything out of the ordinary, and if so, does it help or hurt the movie?

4. (Once in a while) Direction. Does the director have any ideas, and if so, do they help or hurt the movie?

Now of course, if we're talking about Jean Renoir — son of the painter, you know — who had a son, who had a daughter who …

Monday, February 12, 2007

Guard our borders? You bet your life

Even the immigration pimps at The Washington Post couldn't ignore the story about convicted former Border Patrol agent Ignacio Ramos being beaten up in prison by other inmates — Hispanic speaking and very likely illegal immigrants, just by chance.

The Associated Press story did everything possible to trivialize Ramos's injuries, quoting only the statement of a Bureau of Prisons public relations person that Ramos suffered "minor cuts and bruises." That was good enough for the AP's incurious reporter Alicia A. Caldwell.

WorldNetDaily, however, quoted Ramos's wife, who had gotten a telephone call from him:
"He said he didn't have a chance to turn around and look at any of the guys attacking him at that time. He just felt a blow to the back of his head. The prisoners were kicking him with steel-toe shoes, the work boots they are issued in prison. They kept kicking and kicking. And they kept calling him in Spanish a **** immigration officer, saying 'darle, darle,' which means, 'give it to him.' They were cussing him out in Spanish. He couldn't fight back, he was outnumbered." …

Ramos told his wife that he was badly bruised and bleeding from the ears. He said that immediately after the attack, he was placed back into solitary confinement, where he has been for the last two days.

"He told me that he asked to call me Sunday, after the attack," Monica Ramos continued, "but the prison wouldn't let him call me and they wouldn't let him call his attorney. He said the only reason the prison was letting him call now, on Monday, was because the Congress intervened, otherwise he wouldn't have been permitted any calls at all."

Ramos and his partner, Jose Compean, may or may not have not followed the proper procedure in the non-fatal shooting of a drug dealer at the border, although according to WorldNetDaily the case against them was a stitch-up. The federales — ours, not the Mexicans', although it's increasingly hard to tell the difference — cut an immunity deal with the illegal border crosser and drug dealer for his testimony against Ramos and Compean. They asked for and got outrageously long sentences for the agents. They wouldn't allow them to stay outside the prison system until they had exhausted their appeals. They didn't take the obvious precaution of separating Ramos from inmate thugs who would have it in for him, a courtesy routinely granted to child molesters and serial killers.

Does it seem to you like George W. ("Call me amigo") Bush was sending a message to his Border Patrol agents about how seriously they are to take their jobs? That if they get too enthusiastic about guarding the borders, they should not look to him for their safety? Well, it seems that way to me.

Bush will go down in history as the finest president Mexico ever had. And he'll take us down with him.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Stealth fighters

Only a conspiracy theorist crank could imagine that the leaders of the United States, Mexico, and Canada would get together to plan an "evolution by stealth" toward eliminating national borders and uniting them in one North American Union. The very idea is so flaming ridiculous that — oops.
OTTAWA - Canadian, U.S. and Mexican politicians discussed using "stealth" to overcome public resistance to the integration of the three countries at a confidential meeting last year, according to documents just released under U.S. Freedom of Information laws.

Top military brass, corporate executives and diplomats also attended the meeting in Banff, Alta., where participants discussed everything from the harmonization of food and drug standards, to common immigration policies, and the pooling of energy resources. …

Presentation outlines for the forum acknowledge that the concept of North American integration - which some call a "North American Union" - is unpopular, and note that it might be tough to sell as a concept. "While a vision is appealing, working on the infrastructure might yield more benefit and bring more people on board ('evolution by stealth')," the notes said.

"Evolution by stealth" means using regulatory changes, such as food- and drug-safety benchmarks, which don't require parliamentary approval, to lay the infrastructure for North American integration. This allows for change with little or no public debate, critics say.

This is what "the government of the people, by the people, and for the people" has come to in our time: a multi-national group of appointed officials and corporate heavyweights meeting secretly to plan ways to continually slice off bits of national sovereignty while keeping the chumps, er, citizens in the dark.

Maybe it's quixotic to make a stand in front of this charging elephant. An international politico-corporate elite, including some of the most powerful people on the planet, has no use for the history and traditions of particular countries. Countries? Subdivisions of a worldwide marketing target area. Citizens? What a nuisance with their petty loyalties to places and peoples. They must be taught their place as economic units of consumption and treadmill turners in the service economy.

When I read stories like this, I get that "Last of the Mohicans" feeling. Quite possibly the country I grew up in passed away, quietly, while I wasn't — we weren't — looking. Maybe today's "countries" are as unreal as most of those that made up the Soviet Union, except that rather than being tributaries of one empire state, they are sales divisions of global corporations.

Safety, wealth and comfort have become the highest goals publicly conceivable," wrote Jim Kalb at his site Turnabout. "Consumer goods are king."

The principles behind the NWO [new world order] are thus enormously powerful. Much of that power results from the weakening of other principles of social organization. In spite of its innate corruption, the NWO will remain as long as there is nothing to replace it, and it is very good at subverting possible competitors. The destruction of ethnicity, religion and sexual distinctions as recognized legitimate grounds for action is universally praised today as a victory over bigotry, and it leaves little upon which social order might be based other than bureaucracy and markets. Nor is the comprehensive victory of bureaucracy and markets merely ideological. That victory has been practically entrenched by disruption of such fundamental principles as family, faith and nation, a disruption sufficiently radical to make them increasingly incapable of grounding social order.

I am sorry for it. One of the best principles of political philosophy ever devised, and largely an invention of the United States's founders, was — no, not democracy, or even the consent of the governed, but the federalist system. The basic idea was to have not one government over a country but lots of governments, each with its own role and jurisdiction. It is one reason the United States did not until recently fall to the European disease of the centralized bureaucratic state.

Federalism officially lingers, but in a terminal decline. Not only do we have an unchecked federal judiciary that strikes down any law (U.S., state, or local) that it disagrees with, but the public itself no longer cares enough to defend the rights of individuals or limited jurisdictions. Today, if most people identify with anyone at all outside their family or business, it's with their ethnic group. The nation-state has broken down into a culture of competing tribes, tenuously held together by a consumerist ethos.

So it's not surprising that the new ecclesia, the top political and corporate leaders, think it's time that the tribal, commercial society shed its old skin of nationhood. All ideals outside the self are irrelevant to Economic Man; all individuality outside race and ethnicity is irrelevant to the rationalist and the government vote hog. Both these groups of visionaries (for that is how they see themselves) know the way forward. And that a little "evolution by stealth" might be needed to speed things along.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Neither a waver nor a drowner be

Nobody heard him, the dead man,
But still he lay moaning:
I was much further out than you thought
And not waving but drowning.

Poor chap, he always loved larking
And now he's dead
It must have been too cold for him
his heart gave way,
They said.

Oh, no no no, it was too cold always
(Still the dead one lay moaning)
I was much too far out all my life
And not waving but drowning.

— Stevie Smith
"Not Waving But Drowning" 
As far as I can determine, I am still alive, but have certainly been too far out all my life. Not waving, not drowning, just being an outsider. Not a capitalized Outsider — that would make me part of a special group. I've been outside the Outsiders.

Every now and again, I fantasize about being Accepted. Part of the Inner Circle, a Peer Group, the Invisible Government. At such times, bursting through the reality barrier, I envision myself on the cusp of being admitted to the ultimate sanctum sanctorum of this world: an exclusive club on Pall Mall in London.

club 4
My London digs. (In my dreams.)

My Sponsor is ready to put me up for membership. He assures the Members that I am a sound fellow.

"I say." "Hear, hear." "That's the spirit." "Sounds like one of us, old boy."

Sponsor: "Can trace his ancestry back to when his forebears emerged from the sea onto land."

"Should hope so." "Very good, that." "I trust that was English land, or at least one of the colonies." "But which side in the Wars of the Roses?" "Oh, come along, Reg, if I've said it once I've said it a dozen times, we need to let bygones be bygones." "Mmm, a bit new on the scene, I should say, but one mustn't be an old fuddy-duddy."

Sponsor: "Mr. Darby is known as a Traditional Conservative."

"Quite." "Quite." "Quite." "Quite." "Quite."

club 5

I can feel it. I'm almost in. A sound fellow at last.

Sponsor: "Another of his ancestors was elected to the Royal Academy of Bison Art for a drawing he did in the cave at Altamira."

"What? Altamira? That's in Spain, man." "Really, Sir Giles, it was 25,000 years ago." "Yes, old boy, but the apple doesn't fall far from the tree." "Couldn't agree more, Sir Giles. Never had any time for the Spaniards. Steal the cream from your coffee."

"Where is his hunting estate?"

My Sponsor: "Lord Swallow, old boy, he says he doesn't like hunting."

Dead silence, punctuated only by a discreet cough. Finally Sir Quincy Fleet-Mothkin manages to mutter, "I say." Getting no response, he adds, "I say."

My Sponsor: "He doesn't enjoy shooting animals."

"How extraordinary!" "Doesn't enjoy shooting?" "Jolly odd, what!" "Well I'm, what do the young people say, gobsmacked." "You are having us on a bit, old boy?"

I can see where this is going. Or rather, isn't. Yes, still too far out. Not waving. Not drowning. But not shooting animals for sport, either. That's how it is.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Are they sleeping, or are we?

And I guess I just don't know.
Lou Reed, from The Velvet Underground and Nico

A sleeper cell, in intelligence jargon, is a subversive group that hangs around for a long time (years perhaps), its members behaving completely normally as far as anyone outside the group can see. But they are gathering resources and waiting till the order is given, or the opportunity arises, to strike.

Dave Gaubatz, a former "U.S. Federal agent" (a little vague there) who was assigned to Iraq for missions during the run-up to the invasion and is now a freelance counterterrorism specialist, says in an article on the American Thinker site that
"there is every reason to suspect that we will endure suicide missions by Islamist sleeper cells. They are already in place. They are waiting for the right time. I know this from experience."

They may be "sleeping" for the moment, but so are we, he says.
Upon returning from Iraq I left Federal Service to pursue a career educating U.S. law enforcement in the U.S. … I began conducting research and talking with experts from various fields and determined three significant facts that I corroborated by further research:
1. The terrorists groups such as Hezbollah, Hamas, and Al-Qaeda each had different leaders and to some degree operated in different ways, but they each had the same two goals (destroy Israel and destroy America and any country that supported either).

2. Our nuclear research centers were very vulnerable to an attack and the potential for a suicide bomber using a dirty radiological bomb from these facilities was and is a high probability. Note: Vic Walter and Brian Ross of ABC News did an excellent report on the lack of security at these facilities. I received an enormous amount of information from individuals associated with Russian nuclear programs that there is nuclear material being sold on the black market and nuclear material is in the hands of Islamic Extremists.

3. Terrorist sleeper cells are located primarily in North Carolina, Michigan, and Canada. The "sleepers" are prepared to conduct terrorist attacks within the U.S., and nuclear material is available to them. "Prepared" in this instance indicates they have the necessary tools to carry our their attacks and are prepared to die.
I assure you, I have no inside information of any kind. My guess is that in the five years since 9/11, numerous sleeper cells have been operating quietly, taking advantage of our wide-open borders, our unwillingness to impose any limits on Muslim immigration, and a deep yearning by the American people to forget all this security stuff get back to our national business of selling and buying (we no longer make anything, of course, plenty of $2-a-day wretches in the world's backward countries — excuse me, I mean developing nations — to do that for us).

When the balloon goes up, the next target(s) probably won't be anything spectacular like nuclear power plants or airliners. Why go to the trouble when there are so many soft targets — shopping malls, schools, bridges, office buildings?

If Gaubatz is to be believed (read his article), law enforcement officials aren't very interested in evidence of sleeper cells. Of course, you can't take his word as gospel. He is in the lecture and training business, and predicting terrorist-induced disaster is one way to gain attention (like this posting). And maybe the law enforcement agencies he said ignored the information did no such thing, and just didn't feel like sharing the details of their counterterrorist activities with Gaubatz, who is now a private citizen. If they have agents inside these cells, they're not going to broadcast the information. They'd want the cell members to believe that the FBI is just a clutch of paper-shuffling, form-filling mopes.

Personally, I think American counterterrorism forces are smarter and more activist than they seem. I hope, anyway. And I guess I just don't know.