Let's get native

I love the history of words and their meanings. Big word people call it semantics, but I think of it as word-sleuthing. I love that Shakespeare introduced hundreds of new words into popular English like "articulate" and "befriend," and how Lincoln employed the simple joiners of "that" and "here" to ground his famous, short speech in the soil of Gettysburg. I love that the right words can make a sentence memorable just by their placement, sound, or repetition.

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.


Taped magazines

No, not the kind of magazines you read. I'm referring to the magazines full of bullets. The next time you see a photo of rebels or militia fighters from the Caucuses, central Africa, or the Middle East, look closely at the ammunition magazines clipped into the underside of their assault rifles. Most likely you will see two clips taped together, top to bottom (see photo at left).

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.