Rants and Raves

Opinion, commentary, reviews of books, movies, cultural trends, and raising kids in this day and age.

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Amnesty amnesia part 2

The amnesty bill got voted down in congress again. No fear, they'll put it up again - and again and again until they get it passed. Never mind that the overwhelming majority of Americans, of both parties, want border security and enforcement of existing laws before dealing with the illegals we've already got.

Like any sensible person in a small boat taking water, they want to 1) plug the leak, then 2) bail out the boat - in that order.

Our elites evidently, see it differently. And since We the People of the United States disagree, they are bound and determined to abolish us get a new people, unencumbered by quaint notions of consensual government.

I suppose I'm dating myself, but I remember the last amnesty. This was one of the best examples of the Law of Unintended Consequences I can remember.

At the time I was finishing my first M.A. and living in a rooming house with a number of Iranian girls whose immigration status was in limbo, run by the head of the university Hispanic Student Services. So you could say I was in the thick of it.

The Iranian women were earning, or had earned, advanced college degrees and desperately trying not to get sent back to the mullahocracy their country had become.

Among the people I knew trying to get legalized, was the daughter of an illegal Mexican who worked as a janitor and had if memory serves, ten kids. Sylvia had embraced the American dream, done well in school and was the recipient of several scholarships to college - if she could get legalized.

Another was a 19-year-old Guatemalan girl who had come as an au pair and overstayed her visa. Like a lot of people from Latin American and then-communist Eastern Europe, she often seemed desperate to communicate to clueless Americans that where she came from, you could be killed for speaking out of turn.

When the amnesty was announced, one of the weird and unexpected things that happened was all the undocumented English and Irish that came out of the woodwork to get legal. Most had evidently come on tourist visas and simply stayed. So who ever questions the status of an English-speaking white person?

I thought it was a great idea at the time. These were the kind of people I'd cheerfully trade for any number of the Americans we've already got. But now we've got a minimum of four to five times the number of illegals, and apparently they are, compared with the last lot, less willing to assimilate, more crime-prone and far more likely to brazenly use public assistance.

So what happened?

Well, we didn't fix the border for one. And believe me, I've travelled along that border and when I hear talk about "building a fence" I immediately suspect that the speaker hasn't been there. For much of it's length, the border runs across country so wild that the Border Patrol finds it easier to man checkpoints at choke points on the highways, often as much as a hundred miles or so from the line.

For another, it is now evident that Mexico is "dumping" population on us. The governing oligarchy of Mexico is so corrupt, the economy so stagnant that revolution is always a terrifying possibility. Their economy is hugely dependent on remittances sent by Mexicans in the US, and what stability there is, is partly maintained by encouraging the troublesome to leave for the States.

So what is to be done? More to the point, what can we stand to do when confronted with an invasion of people who have such a claim on our sympathy?

Send them all back? Do you really think our people have the stomach for the sight of mass deportation? Hundreds, maybe thousands of surprise raids with all the attendant damage and inevitable mistakes? I saw the evactuation of the last Russian troops from Eastern Europe heading home in cattle cars - one of the most pitiable sights I've ever seen. Things will have to get a lot worse before most Americans could stand to watch that.

Sealing the border would require the use of military forces empowered to use deadly force. Yeah right, doesn't really work for me either.

Force Mexico to clean up their act and make it a decent place to live for ordinary people? Mexico is heartbreaking, a place that could be paradise if power were not so ruthlessly exploited.

But that's imperialism! Which we all know is always and forever a Bad Thing.

So what's left?

I don't know - but at least we can refrain from making things worse.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Civilizing kids

Thomas Sowell recently made one of those throw-away remarks that really get you thinking. The kind that seems like a statement of something obvious - perhaps something so obvious that people have forgotten it.

He said that nobody is born civilized.

This came back to me the other day when I had to tell my 5-year-old to say "please" for the gazillionth time. We've been working on "please", "thank you" and "excuse me" for... a long time now it seems.

The kid will say, "Give me..." sometimes in the most demanding tone. What we do is the classic, "What's the magic word?" or just "What?" (Repeat until desired result.)

We constantly have to make him say "thank you" to friends and strangers (such as wait-persons) when they give him something and "excuse me" when he brushes past people. We've been doing this since he became verbal - and though we're making progress we really wonder when it'll become habit.

And of course, as parents of a boy we have to deal with hitting issues too. As in, we don't hit just because we're mad at someone. The other day he came in with a split lip after hitting his best friend - who hit back. We took the opportunity to explain - again, that that's what happens when you hit. I suspect it'll sink in eventually, that lesson was worth a lot of sermonizing.

It seems like rearing every child recapitulates the invention of civilization - if you succeed. Children have to be taught that the world does not revolve around them and that other people should be treated as if they mattered, which is the essence of manners.

I think that a lot of parents these days feel that the times we live in often make this difficult. People espousing trendy child-rearing fads seem to think that they can reinvent human nature, and have the right to experiment on our kids. The "self-esteem" movement, and perhaps the trend towards the one-child family, seem to have produced a lot of self-absorbed narcissists lately.

Sometimes (often actually) it's maddening and frustrating, but we have to keep at it. If we don't, we'll be raising rotten kids. And if enough of us don't, we'll be passing on a civilization rotten at the core and ripe to fall.

In the long run, we'll have our reward when we see what kind of young men and women we've raised. In the short run, we sometimes get thanks from people, like the cashier who thanked me for making my son say "thank you" when she handed him his sno-cone.

But it worried me when she told me it was very rare in her experience for parents to do that.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007


* Yesterday I picked up my family at the airport after a month visiting family in Poland. The boy didn't seem changed, but the baby looked huge compared to what I remember last month. ("What are you feeding her? Smaller weaker babies?" was how one person put it.)

Baby Judyta went from the western border near Wroclaw, to Lublin near the eastern to meet her three surviving great-grandparents and assorted aunts and cousins.

* A few days before, a friend and I took a trip up to the Black Mesa area in the Oklahoma panhandle. Look at a map, it's in the upper left hand corner. It's actually part of the eco-zone of the New Mexico desert, however it had just gotten drenched by the rain that is right now flooding parts of north Texas.

I had never seen the desert after such a heavy rain. The blooming prickly pear and cholla cactus are very beautiful.

* Whoopee, Nifong disbarred! Next comes the lawsuits and criminal charges.

Sorry, I've got no sympathy at all for sociopaths in office who use their power to advance their careers at the expense of innocents.

I only hope that the 88 Duke professors who signed that infamous manifesto get sued as well - and that the university takes a major financial hit for their disgraceful conduct.

* My wife wanted to know if the American media covered President Bush's visit to Poland and the brinksmanship with Putin. I had to tell her that it did mention it, but that Paris Hilton got far more air time...

* Speaking of Bush and Putin, the whole thing only confirms my belief that the biggest problem with dealing with the Russians, is convincing them that we really, truly wish them well. We honest-to-God want them to be free, rich and happy.

That's actually quite a problem with the Russian paranoid mindset. Bush was pretty right on when he tried to explain to Putin that it's not a zero-sum game we have to play.

The nice thing about Freedom is, that there is always enough to go around.

* I had this insight while talking with a Russian acquaintance some time ago. I said, "You know, we never hated you, even during the worst of the Cold War. We don't even have a nasty name for you. Nothing with real venom, like "Jap", "gook", or "Hun". But these people here in Eastern Europe - they hate you, make no mistake about that. They're often perfectly willing to be decent to you on an individual basis, but as a nation they hate your guts. We are literally your only friends."

Sunday, June 10, 2007

The new Iranian hostages

The government of Iran is holding four Iranian-Americans on charges that appear either bogus (spying) or simply tyranical (working for NGOs that promote reform and human rights).

According to the L.A. Times http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg-usiran2jun02,0,750031.story?coll=la-home-center they are:

"... Haleh Esfandiari, director of the Middle East program at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars in Washington; Kian Tajbakhsh, with George Soros' Open Society Institute; journalist Parnaz Azima, with U.S.-funded Radio Farda; and Ali Shakeri, a peace activist and founding board member of the Center for Citizen Peacebuilding at UC Irvine."

In addition, one Robert Levinson, a former FBI agent, is "missing" in Iran. They say they have no idea where he is.

It is speculated that the Iranian government may want to exchange them for some of their diplomats held in Iraq, or maybe they are just pushing the US and Europe to see how far they can.

George Bush has demanded their release - but in this case, much as I hate to say it, he may not have a legal leg to stand on.

Let me explain. My children have dual citizenship (US/Polish) and my sister as well (US/UK). When my son was born in Warsaw, we went to the American embassy to get his US passport and they explained to us how dual citizenship works.

First point, they don't like it much. They recognize that it happens, but it's the kind of thing that makes life complicated for diplomats and makes for potential diplomatic incidents.

The upshot of it is, my kids have to enter Poland on their Polish passports, and America on their US passports. Everywhere else they can use the one that gets the cheaper visa. (When my wife and I last visited Belarus together for example, her visa cost about a tenth of mine.)

When they reach the age of conscription, if there is a draft the country they are in at the time gets them.

And here's the alarming part - if they get arrested in either country, the other one can do nothing. Zip. Zero.

That's why the Iranians are conspicuously holding the four Iranian-Americans, and denying all knowledge of the whereabouts of Robert Levinson. They're giving us the finger, and we may have to take it. I shouldn't like to be any of them right now.

Dual citizenship can be very convenient if both countries are good on human rights. This is one of those times when it's not so good.

Saturday, June 09, 2007


* The Prague conference must have been the greatest gathering of dissidents and freedom fighters since, well perhaps since the Continental Congress that signed the Declaration of Independence.

They arrived at a set of points, evidently in remarkably short time, with remarkably little contention. Perhaps it's because the ethical issues are in fact for once, quite simple and clear.

They addressed this at somewhat greater length, but at bottom it starts with: don't lie about tyrannies, call them what they are, name them and shame them.

Heroes of liberty who have done hard time in terrible conditions, some of whom were there, others of whom were represented by friends and relatives, have said time and again that what sustains them in captivity, and through prolonged torture is the knowledge that somewhere someone knows that they are being wronged.

* Paris Hilton is an Upper Class Twit, and a Trust Fund Idiot. Though nice enough to look at, there is something vacuous about her face, and she only has to open her mouth to make a man indifferent to her looks.

Nonetheless the outpouring of scorn and glee at her re-imprisonment is a bit unnerving. TV news types were openly jubilant at the sight of her weeping and crying for her mother as the judge sent her back to jail.

Perhaps she's finding out what Alcibiades did all those centuries ago: that the democracy loves to raise its idols high - but equally loves to dash them low.

The same TV personalities who covered this with such glee would pause from time to time and wonder, why the heck are we doing this? What is it about this no-talent, famous-for-being-famous spoiled brat that grabs and holds our attention?

Well I'll tell you, I think there's something great about all this. We're having a much-needed conversation about the way the law operates in practice, about the "best justice money can buy". About how the rich are treated by the law as opposed to the rest of us - and it's centered around a trivial case in which no one died.

This is the conversation we didn't really have after the O.J. case. And we can have it without the O.J. race baggage.

Buck up Paris. That little vacation in jail will give you time to think (if you know how), and now you know what fame is worth.

* I can hardly believe what I'm hearing on the FOX business news. A business-news talking head has just openly said what I've speculated about for years.

On the question of whether we should buy oil from countries hostile to us, he said that we should use up all of the rest of the world's oil before we tap into our own considerable reserves, whose exploitation is currently blocked by the environmental lobby.

About 20 years ago I wondered in a bull session whether somewhere in the higher policy circles that decision had already been made.

OK so maybe I'm paranoid. But am I paranoid enough.

* And speaking of oil, yesterday I saw a commercial for CITGO which is of course, the state oil company of Venezuela. It had a number of clips of tankers on the sea and some nice tropical scenery and a written line, "A plentiful supply of Venezuelan oil." I wonder what the heck that means?

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

European Republicans, Liberals and Libertarians

I mentioned in my last post that in Europe, that if you call yourself a liberal, it is understood as something far closer to 'libertarian' or even 'conservative' in America.

In America you'd have to say 'classical liberal', since 'liberal' has come to mean something like 'moderate socialist'. (I remember an iconoclastic professor of political science who used to like to point out that Barry Goldwater was a 19th century liberal.)

When this trend started to become more obvious in the 50s (though G.K. Chesterton noticed it far earlier) a now almost forgotten intellectual Frank Chodorov made the suggestion that us old-fashioned liberals call ourselves 'libertarians'. Libertarians thus conceded the term liberal to the leftists.

Nowadays I have heard with my own two ears that some libertarians in various foundations and think tanks are avoiding the term because of the negative branding caused by the flakier (and noisier) "radical libertarians", mostly of the anarchist kind. Ironic because in parts of Europe, the term libertarian has always been close to anarchism.

So what is a conservative in Europe? Well, if a conservative is someone who wants to conserve what he thinks is best about the country and its traditional institutions, then a conservative in Europe has often been something like a royalist. Only in America does it carry the meaning of 'defender of traditional liberty'.

Thus in (say) England, a 'conservative' (or 'tory') is the oppposite of a republican.

Huh, how's that?

An English republican is a leftist who wants to abolish the monarachy and House of Lords and make the United Kingdom into the Republic of Great Britain. In Ireland, a republican was someone who wanted to sever all connection with the United Kingdom and establish a republic in Ireland (hence the Irish Republican Brotherhood and later Irish Republican Army).

If all this seems confusing, remember that up to the beginning of the 20th century libertarians also called themselves 'socialists'. The individualist anarchist writer Benjamin Tucker wrote an essay "State Socialism and Anarchism" wherein he talked about the "two socialisms", one authoritarian and one libertarian. One which wanted to lower heads that were too high, and one which wanted to raise heads which were too low.

All this confusion of terms brings to mind a dispute I had with a Marxist when I referred to the Nazis as "leftists". He was of course outraged and demanded to know how I could say such a thing?

Uh, give me a hint. Is it because they said so way back when?

Nationalsozialistische Deutsche Arbeiterpartei (National Socialist German Workers' Party), sounds real right-wing huh? The Nazis were considered part of the non-Marxist Left, which also included types like Fourierite socialists (who weren't murderous, merely unbelievably flakey).

Clear? As mud you say.

Wait! I still haven't gotten into individualist anarchism, anarcho-communism, anarcho-capitalism, anarcho-syndicalism...

Perhaps another time.

The George Bush speech in Prague

As I write this, George Bush's speech in Prague is on the television. In the audience are Vaclav Havel and Natan Shransky among other luminaries.

I'd cheerfully take a job as usher in that auditorium just to be in the same room with men like these.

So what's the speech like?

In classical rhetoric, the five parts of an oration are:

Invention (Latin, inventio; Greek, heuresis)
Arrangement (L. dispositio, G. taxis)
Style (L. elocutio, G. lexis)
Memory (L. memoria, G. mneme)
Delivery (L. actio, G. hypocrisis)

George Bush's speech writer should be proud. The type of speech is epidectic or panegyric - to praise or blame. This is a speech in praise of freedom, and of the men present, and of those who fell along the way to freedom. In terms of invention, arrangement and style, it's a great speech.

One unintentional irony in the speech is that Bush used the term "democratic ideals". In Europe he could have said "liberal" ideals and been understood perfectly by all. In America it is the so-called* liberals who will either militantly ignore the sentiments of the day, or consciously belittle them.

Memory is probably not so relevant in this age of teleprompters, but what the heck, points awarded for smooth reading without noticeable breaks in continuity.

In future years, I think people will probably read this speech with inspiration. Unfortunately, this is an age of audiovisual recording media - and the Delivery is pretty bad. Bush horribly mangles the pronunciation of several Slavic names and though he does seem to have improved his delivery somewhat during his terms of office, it is still awkward and often painful to listen to.

Bush is often derided as simple and stupid. But - though his pronouncements are often cringe-making, he does seem to see what quite a lot of clever and sophisticated people do not seem to: that between free peoples and the masters of unfree states, there can be no permanent peace.

This is always an alarming message to those of us who live in rich, free and comfortable countries, not one we really want to hear. A leader who aspires to tell unpleasant truths to the people must necessarily be articulate - which Bush isn't.**

* "I am a liberal - it's those other people who aren't liberals." G.K. Chesterton

** Consider, "I have nothing to offer but blood, toil, tears and sweat." If you want to tell that to the electorate, you'd better be articulate.