Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Arizona Daily Star of Bethlehem

The Tucson Daily Star was purchased by Lee Enterprises some time ago, maybe a year, maybe a bit more, went through a couple of editors and format changes, and now appears to be seriously challenging the Phoenix paper for the coveted position as biggest religious trumpet in Arizona. Faced with so many choices for today's above-the-fold front page story, the editors bypassed the rising earthquake toll in Indonesia, the anti-American riots in Kabul, another 48+ dead in a Baghdad bombing, and the deaths and critical injuries suffered by a CBS news crew in a separate bombing for this story about a Christian teen abstinence dance group.

The real news was tucked away on page 2, conveniently flogged as "a second Page One" for national news, in the Star's quest to place local news more prominently. Yet again, a piece far more suited to the Accent section (if not the Sunday morning religion page) is popped into the hot spot, complete with links to more articles about faith.

Don't get me wrong. The fewer kids getting pregnant the better, and if taking an abstinence pledge contributes to that, great. Unfortunately, the real world doesn't work that way, and the abstinence kids are at least as likely as the rest of us to engage in sexual activity before marriage; unlike the rest of us, they haven't--for the most part--been properly educated about the physiology of human reproduction, STD transmission, or barrier contraceptive methods. They're more likely to engage in oral or anal sex because they think only penis-vagina action is banned.

More disturbing is the fact that they're taking this act on the road in a huge way:
On July 14, BreakDown will travel to Kampala, Uganda, where it will connect with pastor and Pentecostal leader Alex Mitala with hopes of educating Ugandans about finding God and waiting until marriage to have sex.

Though they will not be promoting the use of condoms, group members hope their message, which is also anti-abortion, will help reduce the spread of the HIV virus that causes AIDS.
Phenomenal. I hope they include some mention of marital fidelity in their spiel, and perhaps also do something to disabuse men of the belief that sex with a virgin cures HIV, and maaaaaaybe clue the Ugandan women in on the fact that being married won't do shit to keep you healthy if your husband comes to the relationship already infected. I'm not holding my breath on that one, though.

The founder of the Tucson group is one Aimee Short.
Short's paying job is director of the Sexual Abstinence Values Education Program for Crisis Pregnancy Centers of Tucson, where her mother also works, and where Short said she practically grew up.
She practically grew up in a conservative Christian setting, so perhaps we should not be surprised that
Short, who was married briefly in her early 20s, also has re-pledged.
There seem to be plenty of those folks in this movement--they got their freak on as teenagers and young adults, but now get to "re-pledge" and become not just virgins again, but righteous virgins set on shaming other teenagers and young adults out of any sexual experience, set on reducing sex ed for these people to "don't." Maybe it's because the ringleaders of these movements know full well that they don't work, but will result in more pregnancies incurred by young women who have been taught that the only resolution to their shameful behavior is to have the babies and bring 'em up as succeeding generations of uninformed true believers who will beget prodigious numbers of their own uninformed progeny.

Anyway. Thank you, Daily Star, for the news that matters.

Saturday, May 27, 2006


It's TIRADE season on the right, a nifty little acronym I coined to describe most of the discussions surrounding gay rights, gay marriage, gay-please-don't-bash... Tired Invective Repeated And Discredited Endlessly.

This particular tirade comes courtesy of Big Jimmy Dobson and the Focus on the Family gang, with their shiny new
letter-to-the-editor generator up (big hat tip to Pam's House Blend for the alert) so that the faithful minions not only don't need to form their own opinions, but also don't need to go to through the annoyance of coming up with their very own words articulating them. The form provides a four-paragraph letter and several options for each paragraph the plagiaristwriter can choose from. As a community service message, Boltgirl On The Loose provides you the text of all the options so you can recognize when your local newpaper's LTE section has been slammed; helpful translations of or comments on each are provided in italics.

Paragraph 1:

Option 1: For centuries now, in every civilized culture, marriage as the union of one man and one woman has been the building block of society. But it may not be true in America for long -- unless Congress approves the Marriage Protection Amendment. Marriage as the union of one man and one woman has been the building block of society, except where men have been allowed multiple wives. Like, say, that Solomon guy who racked up 700 better halves to go along with his 300 concubines.

Option 2: The U.S. Senate is poised to vote on the Marriage Protection Amendment, and the stakes couldn't be higher for our country and its future generations. Much higher stakes than the chump change represented by the NSA surveillance program, or outing a covert CIA operative, or the Abramoff scandal, or, oh, I don't know, maybe an illegal and disastrous war in Iraq.

Option 3: Liberals argue that the Marriage Protection Amendment, which would define marriage solely as the union of one man and one woman, would write discrimination into the U.S. Constitution. Nothing could be further from the truth. Because we say so. Trust us on this one. Just because it looks, quacks, floats, nibbles watercress, produces ducklings, and appears in AFLAC commercials... well, nothing could be further from a duck.

Option 4: Marriage has been under attack ever since no-fault divorce laws made it easier for us to discard our husbands and wives. Now, the attack is coming from those who want to open up marriage to same-sex couples -- and only the Marriage Protection Amendment can stop them. The Marriage Protection Amendment: keeping divorce heterosexual.

Option 5: Never mind that an overwhelming majority of Americans oppose gay marriage. It's perilously close to becoming the law of the land -- unless citizens like us step up and demand our federal lawmakers pass the Marriage Protection Amendment. Never mind that an overwhelming majority of Americans have, at various times, opposed interracial marriage, the admission of women to institutions of higher learning, or suffrage for anyone not a landholding white male--civil rights are to be decided by majority rule, because that's what makes America great.

Paragraph 2:

Option 1: Yelling "discrimination" is just one strategy the left has used to defeat this amendment. They also have argued that gay marriage is a civil rights issue akin to the African-American struggle for equality. No less a civil rights icon than Jesse Jackson has denounced that claim, noting that "gays were never called three-fifths human in the Constitution." No less a civil rights icon than Coretta Scott King noted that discrimination anywhere equals discrimination everywhere. But what did she know; did you see how Those People acted at her funeral?

Option 2: Amendment opponents have asked, "How does one couple's gay marriage threaten anyone's heterosexual marriage?" This question misses the point: The goal of gay activists isn't the individual relationship of any two people; it is the revision of national policy to say that gender, especially in child-rearing, is inconsequential. Look at those uppity homos attempting to effect a policy that is broadly applicable to all couples rather than focusing on one individual relationship. Next they're going to argue that religion, especially in child-rearing, is inconsequential.

Option 3: Amendment supporters have been disparaged as "bigots." How can that be, when the language being proposed is similar to the language of the Defense of Marriage Act, passed by 427 members of Congress? Are they -- and former President Clinton, who signed the bill into law -- bigots, too? In a word, yes. The optional word for Democrats is "cowards."

Option 4: It's important to note that those who support the amendment aren't trying to deprive homosexuals of any of the legal protections they currently enjoy; gay marriage has never been a constitutional right in America. It is not "discriminatory" to want the law to continue to provide for reasonable limitations on who can marry. Just like it wasn't discriminatory to want to continue to provide for reasonable limitations on the types of jobs women could fill, or reasonable limitations on who is allowed to eat at my lunch counter.

Option 5: Backing the amendment is not about bigotry. Marriage is open to any two individuals who meet certain criteria regarding age and blood relationship, and who are of the opposite sex. Gay activists seek not to end discrimination, but rather to completely redefine -- and thus undermine -- the foundational institution of marriage. Again, just like voting being open to individuals who met certain criterial regarding skin color, gender, and property holdings. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and her herd of banshees completely undermined the institution of suffrage, paving the way for abominations such as Barbara Jordan to be elected to public office.

Paragraph 3:

Option 1: Without the MPA, there's nothing to prevent activist judges -- like those on the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, which legalized gay marriage a few years ago -- from creating not only gay marriage, but legalizing polygamy and even marriages between people and their pets. Because the legal requirements for entering into a contract in this country (say, having attained the age of majority and being mentally competent) will never stand in the face of withering attacks by the legions of men seeking to marry their box turtles.

Option 2: If the MPA were to be voted down again, as it was two years ago, we may very quickly see as many as 50 different state definitions of marriage -- not just homosexual marriage, which has already been legalized in Massachusetts, but marriages among multiple partners or even between siblings or other blood relatives. And the reciprocity clause can't have any bearing here.

Option 3: Even some conservatives say there's no need for the MPA because state marriage-protection amendments are sufficient to preserve the institution. The problem with that logic is that a federal judge has already struck down Nebraska's marriage amendment -- only a federal amendment can put marriage outside the reach of federal judges. That, and a waiver of the requirement that federal law pass Constitutional muster.

Option 4: Think of the MPA as a shield between our traditional values and radical judges intent on forcing their politically correct agenda on our nation. Without that shield, it's only a matter of time until marriage loses all meaning -- and social science data indicate children will suffer the most when that happens. It's science if NARTH and Paul Cameron say it is.

Option 5: Why is the MPA so essential? Because without it, marriage is at the mercy of judicial activists bent on overriding the will of the people and the role of the legislative branch by creating homosexual marriage -- and maybe even legalizing bigamy while they're at it. And man on dog; never forget man on dog.

Paragraph 4:

Option 1: So don't delay: Contact your senators today and urge them to support the Marriage Protection Amendment when they vote the first week in June. Because doing otherwise will make Baby Jesus cry.

Option 2: The Senate must act next month, when a vote is scheduled, to pass such an amendment. Because legal recognition, societal acceptance, and their inherent beneficial effects on relationship stability are the last thing we need. If those homos act any more like us it will be twice as hard to demonize them.

Option 3: Efforts to pass such an amendment stalled in Congress two years ago, but we have another chance before senators vote in early June to convince them to do the right thing this time around. We're hoping the general dumbing-down of political discourse over the past two years has rendered more of them unconscious.

Option 4: The men and women we elected to serve us in Washington must understand these truths -- and vote the right way when they take up the matter in early June. Because otherwise the terrorists win.

Option 5: We must help our senators see beyond the liberal spin and demand they vote the will of their constituents when they consider the amendment in early June. Because the will of the 506,000 people living in Wyoming deserves the same weight as the will of the 19,000,000 people living in New York.

Keep an eye on the paper, and don't hesitate to call bullshit if some permutation of this fill-in-the-blank letter shows up. Feel free to wonder, in print, why the FMA supporters need to have their own thoughts spoon-fed to them before they can commit them to paper. There's nothing new in the arguments presented here, and nothing that hasn't already been refuted from here to Colorado Springs again. Vigilance!

Friday, May 26, 2006

The Perils of Journaling

Thought I'd read through an old journal tonight, to see if there was anything lurking in there that I could tighten up and post here in a bit of gratuitous ego-stroking (is there any other kind). Having done so, I want nothing so much as to find the nearest large rock and drop it on my head. I'm apparently a very patterned individual, the same mistakes and neuroses coming round again and again no matter the relationship.

I did find this little tidbit that might explain one of my stylistic quirks:
It must be my latent Catholicism that makes me consider things in threes, or maybe it's the structure of the language with its comparatives of good, better, best. The trinity, the states of matter, the measure of time, the three little pigs, the bowls of porridge in front of Goldilocks...
Apparently plasma wasn't around when I learned the states of matter in grade school, or it wasn't discussed in polite company.

I'm sure I've been saving this journal so I could read it one day and see how far I've come. Unfortunately, that progress must be measured more in laps completed around the same damn track than distance in a marathon. I still need more from others than they can possibly give. I still miss my family the way we used to be, before Grandpa died, before we all scattered from Illinois. Before I came out and my dad went nuts.

So many episodes I wish I could get a do-over for, both the innocuous one-timers and the excruciatingly drawn out hopeless entanglements I read about on those pages and scream at myself to GET OVER IT ALREADY and start behaving like a functioning adult.

Remind me, someone, to burn this fucking thing before I get too much older and run the risk of the book falling into my effects, for horrified descendants to read about the absolute nutjob great-grandma Boltgirl was.

Financial Guru-tude

Well, a hearty welcome to all the readers coming here via Google Finance's page on the Southern Peru Copper Corporation. Look around and stay awhile.

It's not the hot link I had anticipated, but I'll take it.

My personal financial strategy consists of (1) thrift stores, (2) 10-for $10 boxes of Stagg chili, (3) lots of rice, and (4) using puppy dog eyes to convince the other person to spring for dinner, and then stretching the leftovers into another couple of meals.

Hot Tucson Tip: that Valero gas station at Campbell/Prince has the bargain-basement unleaded for 2.87. Speaking of fuel and, indirectly, vehicles, I lucked into strategem (5) have wealthy grandparents who offer to pay off your truck loan out of your inheritance. It's a no-interest loan until you consider the guilt factor, which comes in at roughly 83%, compounded hourly when you don't call often enough. Subtip (a) you will never call enough.

Meanwhile, the ancient-by-Dell-standards desktop computer at home is groaning and straining ever more, and in fact had a major crash-freeze-burn episode a few months ago, so I bit the bullet and ordered a laptop that I hope will sustain the boy through at least a couple years of high school. It will have enough bells and whistles to let me work from home when needed, so the boss is going halfsies on it. I guess that's strategem (6) find nice boss who will pay for half of your laptop.

Somewhere in there should be (7) identify or develop a highly marketable skill. If your skillset is limited to archaeology, learn to love the rollercoaster thrill of the paycheck-to-paycheck existence.

In the end, though, I try to remember (8), pointed out by Homer: compared to most of the people living 65 miles south of here in Nogales, Sonora, I am rich beyond imagination.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

The Waiting Place

I broke free some time ago, but I find myself, yet again, in the Waiting Place.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or a No
or waiting for their hair to grow.

Everyone is just waiting.

Waiting for the fish to bite
or waiting for wind to fly a kite
or waiting around for Friday night
or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.

Everyone is just waiting.

I noticed it last night as the clock dragged on to half an hour past the time G was going to call so we could go out. The plants were watered, the dogs fed, the recycling taken out and the laundry hung, and I was sitting there in a clean shirt and jeans waiting, not wanting to start up another chore or book or crossword puzzle because I was waiting.

I realized, as I waited for the phone to ring, that I am waiting for more. I was waiting for my son to get home. I am still waiting for my woman to get home. I'm waiting for things to change. I'm waiting for my loans to be paid off. I'm waiting for the kids to go off to college. I'm waiting for things to get better.

I had a marvelous burst of energy about 6 years ago, if I remember correctly. I wish it didn't seem easier now to just sit back and let life happen to me rather than the other way around. This whole live in the moment, taking the middle path thing isn't working so well. Where does accepting the inevitable, finding peace with the unchangeable, merge into capitulation? Where is the border between sticking up for principle and simply banging your head against a wall?

Tuesday, May 23, 2006

Salvation in a Gig Bag

Flailing about for a topic today. I could write about how odd I find it to still be amazed that I'm actually using the stuff I learned in freshman algebra in my work. Thank you, Sister Jeanne Clennon, wherever you are. I hated algebra but got decent grades in it. My main memory of that class is Sr. Jeanne threatening to collect money from the boys who misbehaved to send to the Holy Cross missions in Bengal. She was an okay nun, kinda old even then but pleasant enough. The last time I saw her was when I bumped into her walking along the train tracks that led from St. Mary's College past the backside of our high school, a couple years after I had graduated. Nuns never seem to change very much.

Or I could write about the whirlwind of growing-up ceremonies my son sailed through last weekend as he exited eighth grade and promptly sprouted whiskers. He picked up a couple of awards and a token scholarship, was offered a roster spot on the club soccer team he's been wanting to play for, and hopped on the bus for his class trip to Disneyland, which he paid for out of his referee earnings. He's somehow managed to grow into an independent, responsible young man-child despite (as his grandfather never ceases to remind me) the huge--huge!--disadvantage of having a lesbian mother and living half time at the lesbo lodge with mother and said mother's girlfriend, who is also--also!--a big bad lesbian. The girlfriend's kid earned a slew of year-end high school awards of her own following a year of AP classes and straight A report cards. Despite being raised by dykes. Maybe Jesus is interceding and raising the kids without us knowing; I can think of no other rational explanation for their good grades, fine characters, and sarcastic senses of humor.

I could write about AG Gonzales threatening to charge reporters with espionage. I could write about the New York Times apparently running so low on salient news that a front-page expose on the Clintons' marriage made sense. I could write about John McCain getting his ass handed to him by the students of the New School during his ill-advised commencement address.

Unfortunately, my attention is elsewhere. I am partially in a sulk, since the girlfriend and her kid are off on a college visit to Notre Dame (!) and left me at home with the dogs and tomato plants. But--BUT--I can almost forget about that due to a certain brand new bitchin' little baby guitar waiting for me, snuggled into its bombproof gig bag, in the back bedroom. The Little Martin LX, a 3/4-size acoustic designed to be shoved into overhead bins or stuffed into the trunk, but with a rich, near-full-sized tone that belies its HPL (!) construction. Oh, what a sweet sound from such a little critter with not much actual wood in it.

I first ventured into the world of stringed instruments a couple years ago, trading an old trombone for a Laurel electric bass. Fun, fun! I was always leery of trying the guitar, though; a lifetime of playing horns had left me afraid that all those strings and fingers flying around were counter-intuitive and would be impossible to crack. But then I picked up the Little Martin and found that it's actually pretty intuitive after all, and was able to splat out some Dandy Warhols chords in no time without much trouble.

Ain't it just the cutest thing?

Monday, May 22, 2006

Book review

I am reading The Life of God (as Told by Himself), by Franco Farucci, picked up during the last trip to Bookman's. I carry a little notebook with titles of books and CDs I want written in it--it makes the Bookman's excursions like little scavenger hunts, oh! how exciting when I find something on my list--but this particular book wasn't in it. I like to just scan the titles, picking up volumes with interesting names or even just interesting designs. This one jumped out at me.

It's been a challenging read; I usually scream through fiction fairly quickly, but I can't do much more than an hour at a stretch on this one, often going back and re-reading paragraphs or pages to figure out what he's saying. God, in the first-person narrative here, is deeply flawed, confused, and at times doubtful of his own divinity or unsure what to do with it.

Essentially, it's God in my own image; thus the attraction. And of course the story meshes neatly with my own thinking about the Bible and some prominent organized religions. In the novel, God knocks heads with a stubborn Moses who's more invested in his own petty rules and regs than in discussing the nature of creation with God, ignoring his (His?) objections to Moses' heavy editing and creative re-writing of God's own texts.

It's a scene repeated in each of God's visits to various major philosophers, priests, and mystics through time, including Jesus (if you have a delicate constitution when it comes to dogma surrounding either the Annunciation or the Crucifixion, you probably shouldn't read this book). Only Buddha stumps him, only John and Magdalene recognize him without skipping a beat; the rest--Augustine, Ambrose, Heraclitus, Seneca--see him but are so possessed by their preconceptions of both the nature and will of the divine that they can neither recognize him nor hear the message he's trying to impart. They are ultimately destroyed by their inability to live up to the artificial, impossibly high divine standards they've constructed in their own minds. Indeed, even the devil is presented as insurmountable, not because he's evil, but solely because he's a creation of human imagination. A fascinating thought, that.

Anyway. I guess I find comfort in the notion that God doesn't know what the hell's going on either, a god seeking not perfection or adherence to man-made laws but collaboration in an inquiry into the nature of existence. Huh. No wonder the Greek philosophers have such significant roles in the book.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Format Change

*&#$^% Blogger... the orange background in the old template had a nasty habit of encroaching and eating the brown text, so we've gone austere here at the Jim-Jam. It's all about the content, right?

Those Who Would Give Up Liberty for a Little Security...

The girlfriend tells me I should stop reading the paper, or that, at the very least, my breakfast table letters-to-the-editor-reading privileges might be revoked. Maybe she's tired of me sputtering Cheerios everywhere at the latest in the long parade of mind-boggling letters from the right side of Tucson's citizenry.

Yesterday dawned hopefully, with a separate little section of letters about Qwest's refusal to cooperate in the NSA call data-mining operation. Then I actually started reading the letters and, well, the Cheerio deluge began.

Rick in Tucson writes:
I've written Qwest and demanded that my phone records be immediately turned over to the NSA and have also demanded that Qwest immediately begin assisting the NSA in any way possible.

I thought it was satire. I hoped it was satire. Maybe the hook at the end, the little emoticon wink letting us know it was satire, inadvertently got edited out. But then I moved on to another letter, from James, retired Air Force:
I'm a Qwest customer and am disgusted that my phone provider did not see fit to help our government compile data to ferret out those who would gladly kill us.

And finally, we have this from Rod:
Qwest once again has demonstrated its insensitivity to the communities that it serves by denying the National Security Agency the opportunity to collect data on telephone traffic over its system.

The decision is but another example of Qwest's historic contempt for their customers. This time it is their customers' safety.

Two pro-Qwest letters were interspersed with the above. Somebody demanded that Qwest turn over his phone records to the NSA? Holy Grail, anyone? Spank me first! No, me!!!

The multiple layers of blind trust are impressive, if disturbing. Rick and James and Rod are rock-solid in their conviction that (1) the data-mining system is an efficient means to identify a couple hundred? a thousand? how many? al Qaeda stooges both in the US and foreign countries by combing through billions of calls made; (2) being automatically covered in the net of suspicion by the mere virtue of subscribing to telephone service is a-okay, because (3) the NSA would never (a) make a mistaken connection between an innocent patriotic American and a terrorist cell due to a call for carryout baba ganoush or (b) start transcribing actual conversations rather than simple numbers called or (c) use the calling patterns to investigate activities other than terrorism.

This is the kind of shit we used to revile the Red Menace for, the kind of government-sponsored snooping that prompted so many people to try to climb the Berlin Wall. The general lack of outrage over the NSA program disgusted me enough. The subsequent desire by individuals to actively participate in the same leaves me speechless.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006


Yesterday was a bit frantic, so I didn't have time to properly reflect and then, of course, write a brilliant post. Yesterday, May 15, marked the four-year anniverary of my grandpa's passing.

The best parts of me, I think, in many ways came from him. He was a fallible human like any other, I'm sure, but thinking back on him I can't remember those faults in any detail.

He taught me the rudiments of carpentry--how to handle a saw, how to measure using a story stick. He was a prodigal musician (the picture is from his army service during the war, when he was the leader of the 8th Air Corps band over in Blackpool) but found time to be a student of the natural world. He could predict to the minute when it was going to rain. He knew all the wildflowers and the trees, where to find the best mushrooms, the secret spot where you could pick bitterroot. He had a wicked, droll sense of humor and a love of elaborate practical jokes.

He grew up in a Czech community, in a tiny town outside St. Louis in southern Illinois, the son of the high school principal, the grandson of Bohemian immigrants. He told me stories of growing up on their small farm, his mother baking pies every morning and drying wild mushrooms on an old screen door to keep in a bag over the stove, his father having to catch their ill-humored horse every Sunday if they were to have a chance of driving their wagon into town to visit his grandmother. How the horse, named Dan, usually escaped before being hitched. About Dan's predilection for following a mother hen across the barnyard, snapping up her chicks one by one until there was nothing left but yellow tufts around his mouth. Wondering why his dad ever kept that horse.

He went to college at Illinois Wesleyan, somehow a couple of years younger than the rest of his class. He joined an engineering fraternity that required the freshmen to entertain faculty members at dinner once a week, where they were expected to not only serve but sit and hold quality conversations. He always credited that experience more than anything for teaching him how to deal with people and handle himself in situations where he didn't know anyone. Maybe that's why he expected quality conversation from me, gently correcting my hicksville accent along with my posture.

He went on to be the high school band director in the slightly larger small Illinois town where he and Grandma settled down, and later was an administrator after retiring from the classroom. He gave me wheelbarrow rides around the yard and carried me on his shoulders, running to the back of the lot to see the freight trains rumbling by. He learned from an old woman how to barbecue chicken for hours until it would fall apart under your fork. He favored Foster's beer and escaped Grandma's imposed diet by wandering over to my dad's house for sandwiches when he got hungry.

His name was Leo, but he picked up the nickname "Gus" in college, which stuck for the rest of his life.

He was the most gentle, quietly confident and steadfast man I ever knew. I will always miss him.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Immigration, Again

W is set to address the nation tonight on the topic of (illegal) immigration, likely including the announcement that the National Guard will be deployed along the Mexican border. This administration is fixin' a veritable spiral-bound church social cookbook of recipes for disaster. At first blush, I'm all for anything that keeps the boys and girls out of Iraq, but a Sasabe-to-Douglas game of Red Rover with guns is not, perhaps, the most healthy alternative.

A few letters to the editor in the Tucson morning paper over the past few weeks have harped on the message that, well, my ancestors came over here legally, without sneaking in, so everybody else should do it that way too, because the illegals are just cutting the line in front of the people doing it the right way. Let's take a look at that. I'm making broad assumptions here that may be unfounded, but I'm guessing that most of the My People Came Through Ellis Island So Why Can't Yours crowd are of European descent. As I've pointed out before, the hordes migrating here from Ireland, Poland, Germany, Hungary, and Russia only had one option when it came to travel--get on a boat whose accomodations they could afford and get off in the port where it docked. Walking to the US was not an alternative, at least not since the Bering land bridge flooded several millenia ago. My immigrant ancestors didn’t have much money—farmers from England on one side, Bohemian miners on the other, a German here, an Irishman there—but most of them had the fortuitous timing to duck the waves of fill-in-the-blank anti-immigration sentiment that rolled through the country beginning in the mid-1800s.

The legal process of immigration those people went through bears little resemblance to The Process so reverentially referenced by modern immigration reformers. Depending on the ship line available to them, 19th-century immigrants from Europe may have entered the US through any number of ports, and, given enough personal wealth, faced an “immigration process” as simple as signing on the dotted line:

First and second class passengers who arrived in New York Harbor were not required to undergo the inspection process at Ellis Island. Instead, these passengers underwent a cursory inspection aboard ship; the theory being that if a person could afford to purchase a first or second class ticket, they were less likely to become a public charge in America due to medical or legal reasons. The Federal government felt that these more affluent passengers would not end up in institutions, hospitals or become a burden to the state.

Passengers with limited financial means were required to jump through an additional hoop, although for most, the delay in admittance was on the order of half a day or less :

Upon arrival in New York City, ships would dock at the Hudson or East River piers. First and second class passengers would disembark, pass through Customs at the piers and were free to enter the United States. The steerage and third class passengers were transported from the pier by ferry or barge to Ellis Island where everyone would undergo a medical and legal inspection.

If the immigrant's papers were in order and they were in reasonably good health, the Ellis Island inspection process would last approximately three to five hours. The inspections took place in the Registry Room (or Great Hall), where doctors would briefly scan every immigrant for obvious physical ailments. Doctors at Ellis Island soon became very adept at conducting these "six second physicals." By 1916, it was said that a doctor could identify numerous medical conditions (ranging from anemia to goiters to varicose veins) just by glancing at an immigrant. The ship's manifest log (that had been filled out back at the port of embarkation) contained the immigrant's name and his/her answers to twenty-nine questions. This document was used by the legal inspectors at Ellis Island to cross examine the immigrant during the legal (or primary) inspection.

The automatic status accorded the wealthier immigrants and the cursory controls placed on the poorer ones expose the myth of the noble, legal Ellis Island immigrant who allegedly faced the same bureaucratic entanglements modern would-be immigrants face and still managed to build a fortune on the 43 cents he had in his pocket when he walked through the gates. The poorest migrants were delayed less than a day in their quest to enter the country, even if they had no resident relatives or job prospects. Modern migrants—even those with connections in the US—must navigate an extremely complicated, hierarchical system with built-in preferences and national origin quotas, and even then expect to wait six months to several years for a visa.

Because the number of immigrant visa numbers that are available each year is limited, you may not get an immigrant visa number immediately after your immigrant visa petition is approved. In some cases, several years could pass between the time USCIS approves your immigrant visa petition and the State Department gives you an immigrant visa number. Because U.S. law also limits the number of immigrant visas available by country, you may have to wait longer if you come from a country with a high demand for U.S. immigrant visas.

In a very real sense, then, the historical Ellis Island experience is more closely paralleled by the modern illegal immigrant crossing the Mexico-US border than by the “legal” immigrant waiting for official entry. Ease of access to the US was and still is largely conditioned by the financial resources at the immigrant’s disposal; those with little money face the danger of walking across the desert now and faced a long crossing made hazardous by crowded, unsanitary conditions in steerage then, compounded by an increased risk of denied entry due to disease contracted on the voyage or the determination by inspectors that the poor immigrant posed an unacceptable social risk. The better-off illegal migrants now increase their chance of a successful entry by being able to buy forged paperwork and a ride, just as the well-heeled legal immigrant in 1875 bought instant credibility and a free pass through Customs with his first- or second-class ticket stub.

In either scenario, though, comparing the current immigration requirements with the effective turnstiles at Ellis Island and other ports of entry in the late 1800s is dishonest. Why, people ask, don’t the lettuce pickers and construction day laborers do the right thing and get in line at the immigration office with the rest of the upstanding citizens of the world? Read the immigration preference system and see if you can find “unskilled laborer” listed under any of those categories. Actually, I’ll save you the trouble: you can’t. Why do they choose, instead, to risk death by walking across the desert or pay their meager savings to a coyote for the guided tour? Because they are desperate. And desperate people do not have the luxury of waiting for a visa number that will never be issued.

Yes, my ancestors and probably yours did it “the right way,” coming through an official port of entry, spelling their names for the man who wrote them in the ship’s registry, standing in front of a doctor who rubber-stamped their health as acceptable, answering a couple of questions from the form filled out on the ship, and walking directly through the golden door. Given the choice of that kind of “process,” don’t you think the hundred of thousands sneaking across the southern border would opt to do the same? And if today’s immigration restrictions and requirements had existed in 1850, would you or I be sitting here in the US today, or would our ancestors have decided they couldn’t hack it, and either stayed home or found more creative ways into the country?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Dig Dig Dig, Dig All Day...

The federal government cut secret (until today) deals with AT&T, Verizon, and BellSouth to acquire telephone records. Of every call made within the United States. By anyone.
"It's the largest database ever assembled in the world," said one person, who, like the others who agreed to talk about the NSA's activities, declined to be identified by name or affiliation. The agency's goal is "to create a database of every call ever made" within the nation's borders, this person added.
The White House, apparently sensing more immediately pending doom than in any previous point in this entire six-month NSA wiretapping story arc, trotted W hisself out to explain exactly what's going on here.
Making a hastily scheduled appearance in the White House, Mr. Bush did not directly address the collection of phone records, except to say that "new claims" had been raised about surveillance. He said all intelligence work was conducted "within the law" and that domestic conversations were not listened to without a court warrant.

"The privacy of all Americans is fiercely protected in all our activities," he said. "Our efforts are focused on Al Qaeda and their known associates."

Okay... compiling a database of all telephone calls made within the borders of the US, by all of the citizens who are of phone-calling age, suggests upwards of 250 million known AQ associates, does it not? And if the government doesn't really suspect all of us MoviePhone dialers of being terrorist collaborators, well, excuse me, but what the fuck? W asserts no data mining will take place. So they're simply collecting the phone records for fun, then, no? Like stamps, or butterflies, or heads on pikes.

The confirmation hearings for the new CIA chief should be very interesting in light of this, especially given the fact--should the nomination not be withdrawn--that Michael Hayden has demonstrated either a fundamental misunderstanding or deliberate misconstruing of exactly what the Fourth Amendment contains.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Food Poisoning Fun!

What's that rosy glow, you ask? A souvenir of a bliss-filled day hiking under the Arizona sun? Perhaps a memoir of an erotic encounter?

No. The rosy glow would be the result of all my facial capillaries having exploded during a six-hour marathon session on the bathroom floor Sunday night, involving every plumbing fixture in said bathroom, to say nothing of every plumbing fixture installed south of said face. Let's just say the passionate relationship with Pei Wei teriyaki chicken is on hold for now.

I tend to fixate on one or two thought trajectories that whirl around violently in my head when I'm in that situation, usually apropos of nothing, and the intensity of the obsession causes almost as much discomfort as the nausea. This particular occasion had me wondering (1) what percentage of the calories consumed at dinner six hours ago have I heaved up, and (2) you know the actress who plays the mom on 7th Heaven? Yeah, what's her name, again?

Had no idea about the calorie thing; with my luck I probably absorbed all the fat and carbs within seconds of eating but hadn't quite gotten around to the protein and vitamins before they vacated the system; and about four hours into it managed to come up with Catherine Hicks.

While I was out, Bush apparently decided it would be a good idea to give the NSA job to a sitting general who's seriously misinformed re: the actual content of the 4th Amendment.

Meanwhile, I'm discovering that granola is not a good breakfast choice for a traumatized stomach.

Friday, May 05, 2006

What's in a Name?

This demonstrates how far beyond the pale the situation is in Iraq, "on the ground," as Dear Leader likes to say, how far removed from our day-to-day reality and powers of comprehension the place has become. Sunni men named Omar are rushing to change their name(s?) to Ammar in order to avoid being culled at Shiite checkpoints. Because "Omar" is an exclusively Sunni name, while "Ammar" is religiously neutral. One Omar, as recounted in the story's lead, was spurred to change his name after a dozen other Omars ended up dead in a trash dump near his home.
"It sounds like Omar, and if someone calls you, you will remember that it's you," he said.
Can any of us here truly wrap our brains around a life where every pedestrian approaching a crowd of people may be a suicide bomber, where every box or pile of trash on the side of the road may conceal an Improvised Explosive Device, where the name on your birth certificate effectively pins a "kill me" sign on your back?

Maybe the Bushies think Iran will be easier because at least it's all Shiite.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Science Calls

I have been so engrossed in the minutiae-based research currently commanding my attention at work that I completely forgot to go to the meeting yesterday where we were all supposed to talk about what we've been working on for the past month. Oops. The boss graciously accepted my e-mailed apology. I could go into detail about the work, but it's pretty damn dry.

In lieu of stone flake size parameters and their behavioral implications, here's a link to a horrifyingly interesting story about female hyaena reproductive anatomy. The possibilities offered by a 4-inch clitoris might be initially appealing, but the rest of it? Uh, not so much. Sweet Jesus.

Tomorrow's forecast calls for a 90% chance of more mind-numbing sets of calculations with scattered runs for coffee alternating with banging the scientific forehead on the scientific desk. Accumulations may be heavy at times; travelers to the Cube of Science are advised to take precautionary measures. Dangling a cold beer from the end of a stick might be a good start.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

May Day mayday

Eric Zorn's column in the Chicago Tribune this morning addresses the immingrants' rights marches that were held across the country yesterday. He wandered down to the Chicago rally, looking for some unified message, trying to figure out what, exactly, those thousands of people want anyway. Then he threw the floor open for comments, and I must say it was far more right-leaning than I would have expected. The comments run probably 90% in favor of fuck 'em, they're criminals, send 'em back to Mexico if they don't like the way things are here, where they shouldn't be anyway because my grandparents took the time and effort to come through Ellis Island like everybody should.

My comment, as posted on the Trib website, below:

The people who complain about illegals from Mexico (and other Latin American countries) "cutting the line" and sneaking into this country while legal immigrants wait to do it "the right way" appear to believe that the Mexicans come skipping across the border with ice cream cones, waltzing in droves down a wide paved street. I wonder if the complainers can understand the desperation that will spur people to walk a couple hundred miles across the desert in the middle of the summer, when the air temperature right above the ground pushes 120. Or to scrape together a couple hundred bucks to pay a coyote to cram them into a container truck, which may or may not deliver them to the place they thought they were going, and whose driver may or may not unlock the container and let them out before they asphyxiate or roast.

It's too complex a problem to be addressed by throw-away sound bites of either the "deport 'em all" or "give 'em all amnesty" variety. Did my desperate ancestors walk over here from Ireland and Bohemia? Nope, mainly because they couldn't walk across that ocean. Does that somehow make them--and, by extension, me--better than this generation's crop of desperate people looking for the chance to earn a living for their families? I don't think so.

Sanction the businesses that knowingly hire illegals to take advantage of a cheap labor pool? Absolutely--but don't naively assume there won't be direct effects on the economy. For most businesses, it's simple math, or at least one of those word problems from 8th grade algebra. Business B needs 3 workers in job X, two in job Y, and five in job Z. The available payroll is quantity P. For B to stay afloat, 3x + 2y + 5z better be less than or equal to P.

With gas climbing over $3 in many parts of the country, how happy will people be to see consumer prices rise as well, to the often cited $5 head of lettuce? Maybe a guest worker program would be a solution, but that legislation would effectively create a permanent official underclass of cheap workers who, American laborers could logically argue, actually are being sponsored by the gummint to take American jobs.

Meanwhile, as our knees jerk in both directions, a couple hundred people continue to die every year making that long walk across the desert. Consider them felons if you want, call for them to be deported if you want, but don't shrug at the desperation that drives them to risk their lives to get here and then work their tails off once they do. That may be any number of things, but "lazy" ain't one of them.