Because I admire words, I am perplexed by the recent demonization of "sanctuary" and "amnesty" by several Republican presidential candidates. They use these words like vile slurs when addressing the immigration issue. To them, a "sanctuary city" is putting out the welcome mat for crime and lawlessness, and granting amnesty is like giving a gun to a serial killer. Does that sound wrong to anyone else?
My impressions of these words have always been strong, beneficial, and positive. With "sanctuary," I think of the scene from The Hunchback of Notre Dame when Quasimodo rescues the Gypsy girl Esmeralda from a hanging, and carries her to the cathedral claiming the right of sanctuary. Even Disney's tidy and sanitized animated version includes 12 mentions of the word sanctuary, and the famous scene where Quasimodo holds Esmeralda's body above his head and invokes the protection of the church boundaries. With "amnesty," I think of reprieve for an unjust sentence, of promoting compassion over revenge, and withholding a punishment that would be punitive. Amnesty erases a small wrong to prevent an even greater one from occurring. Robin Hood sought amnesty from King John for his banditry, Confederate soldiers were given amnesty after taking an loyalty oath to the Union, and more recently, American forces in Iraq gave amnesty to former insurgents who pledged to switch sides to fight al Qaeda.
The positive semantics of sanctuary and amnesty makes the recent political hijacking so perplexing. How can Mitt Romney and Rudy Giuliani get away with it? Or perhaps the better question is, how long can they do this without generating a backlash. New Yorker political correspondent Ryan Lizza poses that question in his December 17th article, "Return of the Nativist." He analyzes the immigration rhetoric of Romney and Giuliani, as well as John McCain and Mike Huckabee, and paints a picture of a Republican party in disarray. He calls the GOP's anti-immigrant frenzy "Trancredoism" after Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, whose anti-foreigner ideas have influenced the primaries far more than his personal appeal. Lizza also depicts Democratic strategists as gleefully watching this policy train wreck in progress.
But if voters did not support the vilification of sanctuary and amnesty, then Romney and Giuliani would not be sneering these words in speeches and ads. Lizza quoted a poll in South Carolina where 26 percent of the respondents advocated arresting and deporting all illegal immigrants. Where does that angry quarter of the population come from? I think I know. They are the people who are scared of brown-skinned men hanging out near home depots and train stations looking for construction work. They hate signs that show both English and Spanish, and pressing #1 for English on their telephones. They think immigrants are stealing jobs that belong to Americans, and are upset that migrants don't pay taxes. They can't stand that immigrants get free health care at hospital emergency rooms. They believe that most crimes are committed by immigrants against citizens. They see their towns and cities changing, and they want everything to be the way it was before. They are watching their living standards decline, are getting scared, and need someone to attack. Led by politicians like Romney and Giuliani who twist the meanings of words like sanctuary and amnesty into curses, they learn to hate those people, the immigrants to our country, who most embody what the American spirit is all about. Shame on them.
A recent Men's Journal article about kidnapped oil workers in Nigeria included a photo of a river delta rebel with no less than four ammo clips taped together (and a guy aiming an RPG at the hostage's head about two feet away from him--not a very good idea). Why go crazy by wrapping duct tape around your ammo clips? It probably has more to do with style than utility. Having multiple clips dangling from the stock makes it look like you're ready to rock and roll on full auto--so watch out! The problem, however, is that taping upside-down clips to the bottom of a gun invites damage to the clip's feed mechanism. Look closely at the photo and you'll notice the top edge of the clip is dented and scraped (the white part). Damage that joint too much and the clip might not fit securely into the magazine feed. Of course, many assault rifles, like the AK-47 featured in this photo, are designed to withstand terrible abuse and still fire reliably. But if you scrape away enough metal, no round peg is going to fit in a rectangular hole.
I realize assault rifle chic is an obscure topic to post about--but I've always wondered how people learn to do something this. Does the newbie rebel watch and learn from the veteran? Is there a manual somewhere which explains the best duct-taping methods, or even the best brands of tape, or the amount of overlap space to leave? What about the Nigerian rebel with the four-pack of taped clips--is that more like a ceremonial weapon, unusable in an actual battle? I've also rarely seen anyone write about this phenomena that nevertheless makes it into hundreds of photographs from war zones all across the world. The non-conflict, western equivalent, I suppose, would be some impractical and expensive item from a Hammacher-Schlemmer catalog, say the rope-less jump rope.
We buy gold at jewelry shops, which have thick glass windows and complex security systems. Gold is decorative, symbolic, and used in tiny amounts to enable certain electronics to function. Gold is a status symbol, and the color of power. People don't spill gold.
Conversely, today we can buy oil at corner gas stations, where anyone can drive up, and with the swipe of a credit card, fill up their car with gas for $30 or so (depending on your vehicle). Oil is lined up in plastic containers on shelves at PepBoys and hardware stores. We mow our lawns, fix our bikes, and even drink from plastic bottles made using petroleum products. Oil is everywhere, and for the masses.
At some point, however, will gas stations have secure pumps protected by armed guards? Instead of tanker trucks, will oil be transported in Brinks-like armored cars? Will there be a day when the price (and therefore the real value) of oil will be comparable to gold? By then we will have an alternative to oil, or will driving your car to the supermarket become the equivalent of wearing an expensive gold watch?
I'm thinking these thoughts as I read Daniel Yergin's The Prize: The Epic Quest for Oil, Money, and Power, which won a Pulitzer Prize in 1991. I'm only two hundred pages into the book, but I've already seen how oil--the result of millions of years of decomposing plant and animal matter--became the global elixir in matter of decades at the end of the 19th century. battleships are party to blame. The Royal Navy's switch to oil-fueled ships in the early 1900s led to the establishment of the Anglo-Persian oil company, and the beginning of the great hydrocarbon race in the Middle East. Britain, of course, had no oil buried in its own soil, just sweet Welsh coal.
And then last Friday in the New York Times I read this article, "Rising Demand for Oil Provokes New Energy Crisis," which described the oil market's flirtation with $100 a barrel as "the world's first demand-led energy shock." My recall of supply and demand graphs from Harvard's Ec10 course is fuzzy, but I do remember that unless supply keeps up with rising demand, the price will continue to rise. Is there enough oil buried in the ground to maintain our lifestyle, or have we built a society that runs on something as precious as gold.
I found two markers grouped together sharing the same last name. The larger stone was for the mother and father, the smaller for their son missing in action in North Korea, 1952. The mother died in 1951. The son went missing a year later. The father, who served in the First World War, buried both and outlived them by a decade. Another stone showed a young man, 22 years old, killed as a 1st Lt. in Vietnam, 1972. His father served in the Second World War. All of the Civil War veterans in this cemetery, and there were many, died in old age, some living into the 1930s. They were the men with long gray beards, stiff legs, and faded blue uniforms my grandfather remembered marching in the parades. Each Civil War veteran's grave contained a separate plaque that noted their unit--like "Co. C, 50th Pennsylvania Volunteer Regiment." Some of the men buried near each other served in the same Union companies and regiments. I found several soldiers who served in the Spanish-American War. The small metal disc attached to the flag said "Cuba." Only a handful of veterans bured there served in the Navy. Same with the Air Force. Most were Army privates, T/4's, and other ranks I didn't understand. A few men served in both World War I and II, and several more in both WW2 and the Korean Conflict. Near the top of the cemetery I found an army private killed in 1944, though it didn't say where. For the most part, however, most of the World War II veterans survived the fighting and died recently. The golf clubs etched into some of the stone slabs told me about the recreational battles they had fought in their later years.
I spent an hour weaving through the cemetery looking at all the graves marked by flags. I stopped in front of each, and spent longer with those that memorialized men who had died in conflict. Besides the flapping flags, most of the graves had no flowers or other decorations. But they really didn't need anything more. Only a few details make it on to most grave stones: your name, the dates of your birth and death, perhaps a Bible verse, and whether you served your country during wartime. And though this last detail seems less significant than the others, it means so much more when you look upon a field of stones and see the flags, hundreds of them, standing at attention just as the soldiers buried there once did for their country.
All of these applicants, both the supremely worried and the falsely confident, are like runners lining up at the starting line. Some know the race course is brutal, while others think it is similar to races they've won before. The students might think they are running separately, but in fact they are tied together. The college admissions race is a 3-legged race, where the stronger leg of the prepared applicant is roped to the weaker leg of the uninformed student. After all, it's the tens of thousands of students who apply to high-tier colleges unaware that they have little chance for admission who spur the feeding frenzy of ever-rising applicant numbers and shrinking acceptance rates. And it's Harvard's record-setting 25,000 applicants for 2,000 spots and sub-10% acceptance rate that makes thousands of hyper-competitive students agonize through their senior year. No one seems to win with the current process.
On April 29th the New York Times published an essay titled, "Young, Gifted, and Not Getting Into Harvard" by Michael Winerip about how today's students who accomplish amazing things by age 17 still don't get into the school of their dreams. That's okay, he wrote, you don't have to win this impossible battle to win at life. With that kind of headline it's no wonder the article stayed at the top of the "Most Emailed" list for a week. I was curious about how parents might react to the article, so I visited the online forums hosted by College Confidential, a commercial college consulting company. There I found pages and pages of posts reacting to Winerip's essay--most of them appreciative of his call to take a deep breath about the whole process. Winerip attended Harvard and is now a local interviewer for the school in the New York area. His kids aren't going to attend his alma mater, but he thinks one of them will go to a "good state school." The parents' posts on College Confidential also reflected this reflective optimism that 'everything will come out in the end.' On the student forums, however, I found mostly a demoralized and negative response to Winerip's article. "There goes my college dreams," posted one high school junior. Escaping the pressure, it seems, only comes with being able to win the game, or looking back with fond memories.
In September 2007 PBS will broadcast Burns' latest documentary, "The War," a story of the Second World War told from the perspective of young men going from hometowns to battlefields. Using letters, reports, and archival footage, Burns will follow kids from Luverne, MN; Sacramento, CA; Mobile, AL; Waterbury, CT and other towns and cities to where they fought and died in small and obscure places in Europe and the Pacific.
At at time when young men and women from the same hometowns are fighting and dying in equally foreign places in the Middle East, I wonder how this new documentary will be received? Part of the appeal of "The Civil War" film was its originality in presentation, and its focus on a topic most people last studied in 10th grade. The topics seemed so fresh despite the lack of archival video (ie. Abraham Lincoln posing in a stovepipe hat, and all of that). Burns also made characters, both big and small, come alive through readings of their letters and private diaries.
Interest in the Second World War, however, has enjoyed a resurgence ever since Tom Brokaw and Steven Speilberg hit us in the gut with the 1998's 1-2 punch of "The Greatest Generation" and Saving Private Ryan. With "The War," will Ken Burns present a film that inspires the same passion for knowing our history that "The Civil War" accomplished? Will Americans make comparisons between the struggle against fascism and the current conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan? Will they yearn for a war that they could understand and support? We'll all find out in September of this year.
This case has done something rare in First Amendment litigation: It has united both the ACLU and the ACLJ (Pat Robertson's Christian-friendly legal group) on the same side. Opposing Frederick, and arguing the brief for the school district, are Ken Starr, former special prosecutor of the Clinton-Lewinsky scandal, and the Bush administration.
I can't wait for the Nina Totenberg oral argument "play-by-play" later today, in which Ken Starr and Antonin Scalia debate the precise mean of the term "Bong Hits," and what the Founding Fathers would have thought of the matter.
The book is At Canann's Edge, which completes the "America in the King Years" triology by Branch begun in 1980s. All three books rest together on my book shelve--3,000 pages of civil rights church rallies, stone-pelted marches, tear gas and billy clubs, court room farces, and occasional transcendent success.
The books belong to the special category of history that I think of as impressionism. Branch spent years researching each book, conducting hundreds of interviews and sifting through great mounds of archive boxes (the endnotes for this last book extend for 200 pages). The resulting narratives capture both the grainy detail of a hotel room SCLC strategy session 40 years ago (who argued with whom, the food they were eating, and how King reclined on a bed and listened with his shirt sleeves rolled up), and the baited questions that King parried on the Sunday morning talk shows (which supposedly reflected the mood of the country). Branch's writing style examines each pixelated perspective of an event many times over, before sweeping on to the next multi-colored dot, or to an entirely different spot in his novelistic canvas. His books can be expasperating to read, especially if you want a single, resounding declaration of the history that happened. But if you persist, and endure some of his aimless pursuits historical alleys, you come away from his books realizing that history is an endless curve with no sharp, easy corners.
The most surprising revelations for me in these books involve the actions that the FBI and J. Edgar Hoover took to discredit, embarass, and even place King in grave danger (by not communicating threats to his life they received). Based on all of the formerly secret documents that Branch reviewed involving secret wire-tapping, and smear campaigns, I think it is only a matter of time before official Washington, DC realizes that naming the FBI building after Hoover is a poor choice. His name will come down, as has his reputation in history. And the second startling take-away from this books was how involved King became in the anti-war movement towards the end of his life. When school children are introduced to King, they learn about bus boycotts, bloody marches, "I have a dream..." speech, and the Nobel Peace Prize. But they don't hear about King's strong and very controversial stance against the Vietnam War--which, according to At Canaan's Edge, consumed much of his last year and half of activism. And then there are another thousand odd details that leave you amazed that history unfolded the way it has. But in the end, I believe, you are better for knowing all of what happened--even the stuff that that upsets and ashames you. I wish more history was taught the way of these books.
In the First World War the defensive technologies of the machine gun, barbed wire, mines, and trenches stalemated the lingering 19th-century offensive tactics of massed infantry and cavalry charges. The result was a bloody slaughter and front lines that moved only hundreds of yards during years of combat.
In Iraq the insurgents are benefiting from numerous offensive technologies that make them a more formidable fighting force. Cell phones, shaped-charged warheads, digital timers and electrical components for detonators, downloadable satellite maps, abundant motor vehicles, and even chlorine gas and YouTube are all elements of their arsenal that didn't exist in previous insurgencies. When military historians look to the past to learn how to quell uprisings, the most recent examples they can cite are from the 1950s and 60's--several technological ages ago. And our soldiers in Iraq--armed with tanks designed to fight tanks and helicopters designed to destroy massed formations of enemy armor--are scrambling after flip-flop wearing young men who design and execute their deadly attacks with military technology that can be purchased at a strip mall Radio Shack. Could we have forseen this incredbile leveling of the asymmetry in insurgent wars? I don't know, but the daily newspaper headlines show that it is happening.
If NASA predicted with 90% probability that a large asteroid was going to strike the Earth, resulting in a massive global climate change, would these naysayers find solace in the 10% chance of a near miss? Or would they join the rest of us (and Ben Affleck) to figure out how to use leftover nukes to blast that hunk of space rock out of our solar system?
I've noticed that much of the inertia to cast doubt on global warming science comes from the conservative media net. Every afternoon my Google News bot deposits dozens of articles with the phrase "global warming" into my inbox. Fully one quarter of those articles blast global warming as an unholy alliance between Al Gore, Hollywood, the United Nations, and rabid environmentalists who secretly desire to take away our SUVs. Many of these articles come from websites like FOXNews, DrudgeReport, Newsbusters, CyberCast News Service. Others are written by rotund pundits from the Hoover Institution, and AEI, and all the way down to the local crumedegons who write op-eds for their small-town newspapers.
But no matter where these articles come from, they all follow the same formula:
1) Claim Al Gore is still a sore loser.
2) Trot out one or two compromised and has-been scientists to claim that "not everyone" believes that climate change is manmade (just 99%).
3) Draw broad scientific conclusions about climate fluctuations based on their marginal understanding of the "little Ice Age" in the 1500's.
4) Blame the United Nations and especially the French.
5) Talk about solar flares even though you don't really know what they are.
6) Don't forget to blame China and India for burning so much coal (even though the U.S. produces 1/4 of the planet's greenhouse gases with 1/20 of its population).
7) Hey, global warming will make winters milder, and can't polar bears relocate to Madagascar or something?
The arguments of global warming skeptics remind me of the playbook adopted by the religious right in the 1990s to counter the supposed "secular humanist" agenda taking over the public schools. In those skirmishes, their oft-repeated logic was that when compulsory school prayer was declared unconstitutional in 1963, teenage birth rates, school violence, and the worship of Satan went through the roof. It sounds laughable, but I heard these claims made at countless school board meetings and read them in dozens of pamphlets. And to some people, this faulty deductive reasoning makes sense.
The problem is that the victims of the religious right wars were high school kids who had their constitutional rights trodden on. The victims in the global warming war of ideas, however, is the heath of our planet.
1. Sword of Honour (1965) - Evelyn Waugh
2. Life and Fate: A Novel (1985) - Vasily Grossman, Transl. Robert Chandler
3. War Diaries, 1939–1945 (2001) - Field-Marshal Lord Alanbrooke , Ed. Alex Danchev and , Daniel Todman
4. Eastern Approaches (1949) -Fitzroy Maclean
5. The Recollections of Rifleman Bowlby (1999) - Alex Bowlby
6. To the Bitter End: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer, 1942–45 (1999) - Victor Klemperer , Transl. Martin Chalmers 7. Kaputt (2005) - Curzio Malaparte, Transl. Cesare Foligno
8. The Stalin Organ (1955) - Gerd Ledig , Transl. Michael Hofmann
9. Slaughterhouse-five: (1970) - Kurt Vonnegut
10. The Naked and the Dead (1949) - Norman Mailer
According to a Washington Post editorial on Friday, Stimson challenged the heads of major corporations to find out if their legal firms were involved in defending detainees. He predicted:
"I think, quite honestly, when corporate CEOs see that those firms are representing the very terrorists who hit their bottom line back in 2001, those CEOs are going to make those law firms choose between representing terrorists or representing reputable firms."
Stimson, who has the pacific-sounding title of "deputy assistant secretary of defense of detainee affairs," is a former U.S. attorney and graduated from George Mason University School of Law in 1992. But I think he needs to pick up a copy of David McCullough's wonderful biography of John Adams. There he would learn that Adams, a committed patriot and later a leading proponent of independence from Great Britain, served as the defense counsel for the redcoat soldiers and officer accused of shooting down five colonists. Despite the fervor for British blood in the streets of Boston, Adams took the case because he believed the soldiers deserved a fair trial, and that it was his duty as a lawyer to provide his services when asked. Now if Cully Stimson believes that John Adams is a bad role model for lawyers and patriotic Americans, he should say so directly. Otherwise he shows his ignorance of both his profession and his country's great history.