Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Contraindications (WOF)

As previously hinted at, Amy Chua doesn’t deny that Latin Americans have historically intermingled across racial and ethnic boundaries to an unusual extent. In fact, she mentions one Bolivian who stated “everyone [in Bolivia] is mestizo, everyone has some Indian blood” (71). Her first real case study of the market-dominant minority that she brings up has such serious holes in it, that she can’t help but quote people claiming that the very dynamics she sees are unfounded, impossible, and dependent on a different social reality than the one in Latin America.

Even Chua herself draws conclusions contradicting her bold claims, like:

Political, even populist movements have been organized around class, almost never ethnic, lines. And because in election after election, despite coup after coup, political and economic power always remained in the same light-skinned, ‘illustrious-blooded’ hands, ‘apathy and fatalism’ among the indigenous populations spread and deepened (72).

Chua can reasonably analyze contradictory evidence, and especially if she wants to make claims about global facts, she needs to do so. Yet, she makes these statements without explaining how her arguments stand in spite of these antithetical testimonies about reality. Initially, the various colonists had superior weaponry to compensate for their smaller numbers. They had better technology for organizing conquests and mass enslavement. Soon, however, they had shifted to using social institutions, most notably the Catholic Church, as an agent of control. Now, however, class seems to be their only remaining weapon against the indigenous populations, who have revolutionized the Church and redressed technological inequalities. The endless question is how, how have these large majorities of indigenous, mulatto, mestizo, or otherwise non-white ethnic groups failed to threaten these colonial or neo-colonial powers until now?

Instead of looking into that, she attempts to claim her arguments are predictive, hinting at a shift only beginning now. She blames the decline of class-centered Marxist thinking with the end of the Cold War (failing to predict the surge of the New Left in Latin America a few years later) and the new information age media (and increasingly access to televised broadcasts) for reducing class consciousness. In its place, an ethnic consciousness has arisen, according to Chua. She says-

Latin America’s poor masses are being ethnicized, increasingly through radio, television, and most recently the Web. They are being reminded […] that they are Aymaras, pardos, Indians, cholos, whatever identity best mobilizes great numbers of frustrated, long degraded, dark-skinned masses (72).

Aside from the weird equivalency given to indigenous identities, whatever indigenous identities, (that came up last week) there’s an admission there that even the social groups in conflict are defined by ethnicity, their clashing is defined by class. This may be Chua’s point, but she doesn’t really address why anyone should care about a shift that seems mainly rhetorical.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Fully human (WOF)

One of the first things you learn about humanity is that we’re not equal. Or, rather, that we’re not treated like we’re equal. The supposedly more desirable positions in the hierarchy are called many things – expressions of privilege, dominance, power – but they’re all fundamentally inegalitarian and undemocratic. This inequality forms a social system (again that goes by many names, hegemony, kyriarchy, patriarchy) which infects almost every corner of life, even the smallest most meaningless minutia.

There’s a variety of ways people get sorted into acceptable or unacceptable camps, more than I can really list, but it’s important to remember that these constructed categories of “good people” and “bad” are forced definitions. They’re not reality, but a social system that has contorted our perceptions, and ultimately even ourselves. That’s one of the most essential parts of these seemingly ubiquitous systems, they majorly impact perceptions. They determine which groups of people are perceived as having individualities, having identities, having a claim to humanity.

Many discussions fall victim to this thinking, inside and outside of academia. This is visible in evangelical discussions about how evangelicals won’t be raptured because they have the unifying trait of being saved, but that those left behind are a single, cohesive category – those outside, beneath, below them. Chua, unfortunately, seems to have similar difficulties fully characterizing one group (at least in this chapter), and surprise, it’s the poor!

Having argued that class categories are excellent predictors for ethnic categories, Chua seems to then spend a great amount of time in this Latin American section detailing the complexities of which specific ethnicities get included in the larger, almost racial category of “white”. She stresses that even in colonial times the colonial forces had various ethnic old world origins:

That the Spaniards were supposed to be ‘pure-blooded’ is, to say the least, ironic. Among the numerous groups that, by the Middle Ages, had inhabited and commingled with each other on Iberian soil were Celts, Phoenicians, Greeks, Carthaginians, Romans, Visigoths, Jews, Arabs, Berbers, and Gypsies (58).

Furthermore, there’s family history’s influence on how securely “white” a particular lineage was considered. In effect, within a few centuries of colonization, pure-blood Spaniards were distinguished based on whether they had been born to white Latin Americans or white Europeans:

And throughout Latin America, landowners preferred their daughters to marry penniless peninsulares (arrivals from new Spain) rather than wealthy criollos (American-born Spaniards). The fact of being born in the Old World was supposedly good proof of being ‘pure white’ (59).

As Chua describes it, later immigrants from various locations (not just Spain) profited from their lack of Native American ancestry, and managed to install themselves securely within the “white” category. She uses the example of Carlos Slim, the richest man in Mexico:

Needless to say, Slim has no Amerindian ancestors. As elsewhere in the world, the Lebanese community in Mexico is very tight: Slim’s late wife was also Christian Lebanese, and, reportedly, most members of Slim’s extended family have married other Christian Lebanese; virtually all are extremely wealthy (63).

In short, Chua describes in detail the intricate facets of several white communities in Latin America, providing specific immigration histories and detailed genealogical descriptions. She gives them specific, historical identities. She makes them people. Her writing on the various other racial categories in Latin America could not be more different – they are an amorphous, non-descript mass. She describes perceived white intellectual and cultural superiority in opposition to various, briefly undefined others:

In Mexico, mixed-blooded mestizos were for years prohibited from owning land or joining the army or clergy. In Peru, even intellectuals believed that ‘the Indian is not now, nor can he ever be, anything but a machine.’ […] In Argentina, a popular writer wrote in 1903 that mestizos and mulattos were both ‘impure, atavistically anti-Christian; they are like the two heads of a fabulous hydra that surrounds, constricts and strangles with its giant spiral a beautiful, pale virgin, Spanish America’ (58-59).

Intermediary categories like mestizo and mulatto are equated with pure-blood Native Americans, to say nothing about how an entire category of (unwilling) immigrants – slaves of African origin and their descendents, mulatto and “negro” alike – are outside of the category of ‘white’ while quite clearly not indigenous inhabitants to the region. It’s perfectly reasonable to define them as a broad social category of those that survived white rule rather than lived under it, but that doesn’t warrant writing virtually nothing of their internal identities. The few cases where Chua does this always reflect another facet of white dominance, rather than actual issues of identity negotiated between these two groups. She writes-

Not surprisingly, according to Mexican writer Enrique Krauze, Indian women desire to have children with mestizos – ‘not to betray their race but out of a desire to spare their progeny a bleak future’ (59-60).

Essentially the only time that relations between two non-white groups are discussed, it naturally relates in total to the white hegemony. In this book, there’s little description of what these groups think or how they see things, and the little we see overwhelmingly concerns the white hegemony, white categorization. Her writing denies them a self.

At the bare minimum, she outlines three separate groupings (mestizo, mulatto, and indigenous) but seldom draws the kind of sharp distinctions between them that she described within the white community. Instead, as per her previous quoting of Krauze, she highlights how these groups converged, even as she stresses the diversity within the “white” community. Even more damning, in my opinion, is how Chua extremely rarely mentions any indigenous group by name:

Mexico’s roughly 9 to 10 million indigenous peoples, about one-tenth of the population, have the highest rates of illiteracy and disease in the country. In the states of Chiapas, just thirty-five years ago, Amerindians were forbidden to walk on sidewalks or look lighter-skinned Mexicans in the eye (59).

Or, more blatantly,

The psychological effects of the Spanish Conquest were crushing and lasting. ‘The death of the sun – the strangulation of the Inca,’ writes sociologist Magnus Mörner, was a ‘profound shock, reinforced later on by the beheading of Tupac Amaru.’ Contemporary indigenous dances still reflect the profound ‘Trauma of Conquest’ (64).

The few specifics are quotation, and introduced without context. The effect that this has on this section is incredible. It’s as if indigenous peoples were before European contact unbelievably monolithic, and to a large extent remain so, according to Chua. They don’t have specific identities, competing languages and ideological conceptions of reality. There aren’t Quechua-speaking Incas and Aymara-speaking Carangas who have battled and negotiated and co-operated and conflicted for centuries (and to some extent, continue to do so). There’s only a drab, generic, grey mass of indigenous peoples who exist below the colonial government, beyond the social category of white. She seems to buy into this narrative that they’re unknowable, anti-Christian, shadows of humans defined merely by what they aren’t – white.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Personal Boundaries (WOF)

When we last heard from Amy Chua (so long ago, so long ago), she had just jumped headfirst into description of the socio-economic hierarchy that dominates in most of Latin America. This was a sudden turn from previous emphasis of more commonplace examples of ethnic conflict – the former Yugoslavia, Northern Ireland – and Chua’s personal experiences as a member of the “market minority” in the Philippines.

Chua pretty quickly establishes Bolivia as the focus of this section, as the last couple pages of analysis showed. She abruptly pulls away from Bolivia after a scant five and half pages of analysis, replacing it with more general description of Latin America. Reasonably, the section on Bolivia sets up a transition to broader statements, explaining “Bolivia is one of only four countries – the others are Peru, Guatemala, and Ecuador – in which Amerindians still constitute a majority or near-majority of the population” (56). In the next section, she applies a similar framework elsewhere though. She moves the focus to conflicts between large populations of mestizos (or similar groups of mixed ethnic background) and white Latinos, specifically dealing with dynamics in Mexico.

This starts another movement into the “biting off more than you can chew” territory that Chua seems just unable to avoid. Considering Chua has already equated the basic dynamics at play in the Philippines today, the former Yugoslavia during the early 1990s, and Northern Ireland during the Troubles, her adding ethnic-tinged economic conflicts in Bolivia and Mexico at the same time is just a small part of the bigger problem. There’s an element of reductionism here that seems outright dangerous – claiming that ethnic conflict is so predictable seems foolish and hubristic. The price for failing to accurately or even completely describe ethnic conflict, when you’ve made such claims and have been widely accepted as correct, is that warning signs get missed. Preparations, negotiations, and so on begin late. People unnecessarily die, because the conditions were judged as not likely to produce conflict, at least of this nature.

In any case, what honestly seems to motivate Chua’s movement of the focus away from Bolivia and towards Mexico, is her personal experiences. Nearly every social science around has trouble with the issue of working out the proper roles for the scientific observers in the mechanics they analyze, and there’s something to be said for involving yourself in what you study. That said, Chua previously defended ethnic Chinese Filipinos, like herself, not just as people with a right to exist, but with a degree of ambiguity regarding criticism of their behavior towards less fortunate communities. Although she pointedly mentioned her discomfort with accepting the poverty of other ethnic groups, she doesn’t seem to clearly draw the line between ethnic cleansing and economic egalitarianism. After all, that seems to be the whole point of her book – that they’re difficult to untangle, but she seems to accept that, in spite of her reservations, rather than protest it. Instead she seems to condone the behavior, almost as if the book is more a rationalization of her own inaction than an academic or political argument.

Where before Chua largely defended her family, showing how invested she was in her own analysis, Chua now, with the case study of Latin America, doesn’t break out of that personal bubble. Most of her analysis concerns Mexican friends of hers, similar to how her description of Bolivia centered on her connections in the country. She introduces some of the white-dominated plutocracy, beginning with one, Alejandro Duclaud Gonzalez de Castilla, who she met while both worked at the privatized Mexican telephone company, Telmex. This all seems to indicate similar issues of conflict of interest, which Chua seems to confirm. She first presents the allegations of corruption against de Castilla (who she refers to by his first name) as dubious, then normalizes them, calling insider “profiteering” business as usual in the “developing world”. She admits that she and others are “viewing emerging market privatization through a rose-colored lens” but she continues to believe that this project, for which she worked, “was on balance a good thing for the Mexican people” (60). Clearly, she’s the best person to ask about these issues.

Next Time: the Latin American examples reveal yet another problem with Chua’s arguments.

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

"The Siege of Mecca" is a mixed bag, but necessary read

I've disappeared for quite a while, because I've been preparing a couple of new things for this blog. First and foremost, I've been reading through The Siege of Mecca: the 1979 Uprising at Islam's Holiest Shrine by Yaroslav Trofimov.

It's an engaging and, in my opinion, essential guide to how Islamism has evolved in recent decades. At it's core, it revolves around the massive importance and implications of a brief hostage situation in the Grand Mosque of Mecca in 1979 (as the title suggests). This act of terrorism occurs in a context seemingly disconnected to the modern War on Terror - the location seems somewhat unusual, but odder still are the players. The leader of rebels was Juhayman, a Bedouin with only informal Islamic training who held a grudge against the Saudi state because of its betrayal of his parent's generation of Bedouin. Ignited by fanatical claims of the Mahdi's return (a pseudo-messianic aspect of Sunni Islam), he led a band along with a man believed to be the Mahdi into the spiritual center of the Islamic world, to take it hostage in the first shot of what was supposed to be an apocalyptic war against the Saudi state.

Ultimately, the real power of this work lies in how it describes the shifting alliances of political forces in the Islamic world. Until this act of terrorism, however, Islamist ideals clearly wanted to reform states, rather than demolish them. Saudi Arabia and other governments in the Arab world that placated Islamist interests with favors extended to Muslims and even in some cases incorporated aspects of Islamic religious law into conduct laws were previously safe. They were model states, even if none had quite reached the state idealized by Islamist groups - the substitution of virtually all political power for merely a circuit directing and focusing Islamic legal ideas. Raised in an environment of contempt for the Saudi government, Juhayman was already distrustful of the state, but his botched revolution would eventually begin a process of severing Islamism from state intentions, as many of the pseudo-Islamist policies were slowly revealed to be merely staged attempts at gaining legitimacy.

Initially, Juhayman attempted to bring the alleged Mahdi to Saudi-backed ulama (Islamic clerics some of which are given positions of great importance by states such as Saudi Arabia), but ultimately the resistance of the ulama to declare the chosen man to be the Mahdi cemented biases against them among the more extreme Islamist factions. Western fashions had begun prevailing among certain groups and minorities of Shiites continued to live (uncomfortably, but still) on the Arabian Peninsula, about which the Saudi-backed ulama had failed to act, according to the growing extremist forces. The failure to recognize the Mahdi, out of fear of sharing greater power with Juhayman and upsetting the delicate balance the Saudis had attempted to create established a clearer understanding of their motivations for Juhayman and other Islamists in Saudi Arabia.

In short, the Saudi-backed ulama had become part of the government, and with their authority delivered from the state, they sought to maintain its security, even at the cost of perceived Islamic ideals. The gradual shift of government into an increasingly theocratic structure had to an extent backfired, with religious authorities becoming more political, rather than politicians becoming more religious. Essentially, existing state authorities could never be purified, only replaced. Even a state as unbelievably theocratic (in that religion is a clear driving force in its authority and legal system) as Saudi Arabia is not theocratic enough, as it has been tainted by a monarchy with worldly aims, such as maintenance of the house of Saud's political power.

As a result, the history of Islamic movements is cleft in two - between those that pre-existed Juhayman's startling rebellion against mere pseudo-theocracy (such as the current government of Iran, which is quite friendly with the idea of theocracy negotiating with politics) and those that follow (such as the Taliban, Al-Qaida, and other familiar names, which larger oppose all known governments). Likewise, Juhayman's radical breaking from theocracy-light has been largely confined to the Sunni Islamic world, while the Iran-dominated Shiites have not need of his political philosophies, as they had already achieved some degree of Islamist government prior to his conquest of the mosque.

In any case, the illuminating aspects of this book are counterbalanced by its failure to understand the nuances of anti-Americanism. Islamism is largely fueled by a reaction to American dominance and abuse of power, but to leave the issue there is somewhat simplistic. In its political context, Islamism frequently depends on a coalition of related counter-American groups. The Islamic Revolution in Iran succeeded because of a fusion of both liberal and conservative elements directed against the Shah (and it was only after his ousting that the leftist communists and socialists were massacred by the Islamists who then exercised total control of the future government). In many ways, this was an additional change among the Islamists during Juhayman's failed revolution - dissatisfied anti-colonial youth even with leftist leanings became attracted to their positions. In this highly non-nationalistic context, leftist youths' contempt for the American government for both perceived slights and factual pseudo-colonial wrongs goes unbalanced against concern to separate this from contempt for the American people or for modern culture, because the latter are understood as completely distinct from the former (or at the least adequately distinct).

The section of Trofimov's book I found most illuminating in this regard concerned an anecdote about the American embassy in Tripoli, Libya, after it had been raided by Islamists and Islamists-inspired youths:

The following day, just after embassy personel managed to reattach the dislodged front door, a young Libyan man arrived and started pounding at the entrance. One of the rioters who attacked the building the previous day, he surveyed the damage with glee, proud of a job well done. Then he told McCavitt [the American ambassador] he needed a visa to return to a college he was attending in upstate New York. Once McCavitt slammed the door with a curse, the flustered Libyan started screaming in English: "You can't do this to me!"

The implications that Trofimov seems to be trying to draw are that this behavior is laughable, because the young man was simultaneously an active participant in an almost violent protest against perceived and real American militarism and a student embedded in American culture and educational institutions. On closer examination, this reveals at least as much about Trofimov as the student.

The student clearly saw less of a contradiction, as he opposed the American government's actions, but not the American people and his interactions with them in terms of education, if not also financially. This seems to be the part of a classic Muslim left-wing youth's political life, as they are drawn into co-ordination with Islamists in the very limited situations where both hold contempt for the American government. Alternatively, the fact that Trofimov sees this as ridiculous shows that he equates the two - the American people are the American government, a surprisingly nationalistic thought.

More importantly, Trofimov's writing shows that he can not entertain the idea that some Muslims might not make this mental equation of government and entire society, which, as I've explained before, is a key aspect of how Islamists have garnered even remotely enough support to exert the control they have in the Islamic world and the world at large. In short, this misunderstanding of the intentions of Islamists' political allies by Trofimov and his ilk (such as Zbigniew Brzezinski, I suspect) has led to a situation where many American policy-makers simply can not figure out a method of defusing the Islamist bloc. Without any ideas, they turn to what they know best which is usually war, which in the end only gives the Islamists more support.

In short, we need a new generation of leaders who can see the flaws in Trofimov's and others' seemingly rational analysis of the Islamist bloc, if we want a lasting solution to the problem of one of the big three.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Rand Paul's White Privilege

I am white and I admit that I have experienced privilege.

I say this because not enough white people say it. Not enough whites want to learn from the advantages that they have had and at least attempt to peer into the shoes of some one whose great-grandparents may have been slaves, or whose grandparents were banned from immigrating to the US, or who is mistakenly or not-so-mistakenly branded as something less than human and merely illegal.

My ancestors were "pig-in-the-parlor" Irish, dissident Alsatians, poor Southern Whites with Cherokee aunts, and other square pegs to eighteenth century America's round wholes. They did not have it easy in the least. But they did not have to deal with the sheer amount of discrimination, hostility, and overt inequality, which for millions of others were daily reminders of their irreversible identity as people of color. For them, the Civil Rights Act of 1964 was a breath of fresh air, which has since been stifled by the right wing's return to coded talk of states' rights and increasingly overt returns to Jim Crow policies, if Arizona's SB 1070 is any indication.

Now, a challenger to the Republican Party Machine in Kentucky, thinks he is leading us into a new era of freedom by "questioning" the impacts of the Civil Rights Act and similar legislation. Dr. Rand Paul has never had to think about how life would be if he lived under the provisions he envisions as expansive and libertarian - for people of color and to a lesser extent all other minorities this constitutes a massive loss. If the private sphere no longer must serve all Americans, then mobility becomes a nightmare, since there's no guarantee that a restaurant will serve you or that a store will let you use its facilities. Confined much more tightly to present neighborhoods, ghettos, and self-segregated areas, minorities could easily be reduced to much lower living standards. There's no guarantee that a bank will give any of them a loan, or that business associations will allow them into their little clubs.

Ironically, Paul's answer to these questions is that the public institutions, meanwhile, under this ideal version of the Civil Rights Act, would have been integrated and filled the role of sustaining the economic strength and social incorporation of minority communities. No should trust him in saying this, because, as his libertarian background suggests, he cannot even commit to support of basic universal measures that guarantee such egalitarianism - such as a minimum wage.

This is becoming the new face of the right in American politics as Republicans are purged from the Republican party - a new front for the reinstatement of Jim Crow.

The "Bloodless" Coup

When the Zelaya Administration of Honduras fell to a corporate junta, the newly installed neo-liberal Obama Administration gently condemned the perpetrators and as no violence (allegedly) occurred or continued, the issue quietly disappeared from public concern.

Looking back, nothing could have been further from the truth.

Scattered reports surfaced at the time of violence by the military and police, suggesting that political murders happened before brief return of ousted President Zelaya and have continued in growing numbers since his second exile. While the vast majority of the violence has taken the more overt route in targeting anti-brutality activists, anti-neo-colonial and environmental protesters were among some of targets, including one of the most horrendous murders yet:
Dora Alicia was a member of the Cabañas Environmental Committee, and had been active in opposing the mine. She was eight months pregnant when she was shot dead, and her two year old son was also wounded in the attack.
If we have any decency, we would be on the street protesting.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Supreme Court Insanity

For years now, the nationalist right has approached political issues surrounding the Supreme Court with an utter detachment from sanity, which has only grown worse with time. Because the court appointees essentially serve for life, maintaining a degree of control over the court is central to any political movement. During the Great Depression, the Supreme Court was packed with appointees from various earlier presidents, whose efforts reduced the efficacy of the New Deal. Similar limitations have been placed on the Obama Presidency's reforms by the Bush-appointee Chief Justice, John Roberts. Lasting change in the United States requires a prevention of any strategies to undermine Obama's placements to the court or limit his options in that regard.

The people who want to change this country with the President, to usher in an age of responsibility, compassion, and justice (in other words, precisely what was lacking under our previous President) need to take on a hateful subculture which prayed for sitting justices in a still recent court to die and continues to use bigoted tactics in its "war" for America.

Given the speculation that President Obama might attempt to nominate a lesbian or gay justice to fill the coming vacancy, the American Family Association immediately stepped up an offensive against the potential nomination of the first sexual minority to the court. Earlier this week an AFA correspondent wrote:
Sen. John Cornyn has regrettably opened the door to the possibility of an openly gay Supreme Court justice, saying he'd "have to think about" it, and adding, "As long as it doesn't interfere with their job, it's not a particular issue."

The problem with Cornyn's position is that a gay judge's sexual preference will, without any question whatsoever, "interfere with their job." It's not possible for it to be otherwise.
The commentary in the second paragraph is surprisingly insightful. This AFA correspondent is so insulated (from the larger, secular, sexually-pluralistic culture that has come to dominate the United States in the past two decades) that he cannot conceive of a gay or lesbian or bisexual or otherwise sexually atypical judge having a political career and ideology outside of their sexuality and the perceived cultural trappings of it. He thinks that any of us Americans who register as less than a Kinsey one live entire lives oriented around that sexual difference. This is a degree of "othering" so profound that it's patently ridiculous.

Even more shocking is the emphasis placed on sexuality as an ultimate litmus test for a nomination to the Supreme Court. This religious arm of the larger surge of American nationalism has made a name for itself as moral arbiters who seek to return America to a purer, safer, better time. But this reveals that this branch of the nationalists unsurprisingly thinks of morality in exclusively sexual terms. Thus, the actual job (according to the AFA) of any Supreme Court Justice is not to rule on constitutionality and illegality but morality. "Immoral" laws are to be struck down. "Moral" provisions are to be prescribed. All of this pseudo-theocratic judgment occurs only regarding the issues the AFA concerns itself with (the rights of historical scapegoats of theocracies, women and sexual minorities) making a natural alignment between anti-populist economic groups (the Republican Party donors) and one-issue socially conservative voters (the Republican base).

The article continues on past this revealing bit of hopeful wishing for theocracy to the dreadful idea of retroactively reinstalling Sodomy bans:
If we elevate an open homosexual to the Supreme Court, we will be elevating someone who freely admits that he (generic use) engages routinely in behavior that was still a felony in every state in the Union as recently as 1962 and a felony in the other 49 states until 1972.
Or, if we're playing a numbers game, 14 states in 2002. Funny how it going for more recent data suddenly makes the AFA look like it's out of touch with the majority of state laws.

Meanwhile the article plugs onward into oblivion:
Sodomy is still a felony in the criminal code of about a dozen states. The Lawrence decision of 2003, an egregious act of judicial activism, prohibited enforcement of these laws, but the fact remains that 25% of the states in the Union still regard it as criminal behavior.
Those laws are still in the criminal code in the same sense that Jim Crow is still on the books where it was struck down by Brown v. Board of Education. Similarly, womens' suffrage is not extended in all states. The proponent of this argument either does understand how federalism works, or actively seeks to undermine how it works.

The rest of the article (about the remaining half) dumps these previous arguments in favor of a bitter argument in favor of
A fundamental requirement of a judge is impartiality. He is to be as impartial as an umpire or a referee. His responsibility is to take rules written by others (including and above all the Constitution) and faithfully and neutrally apply them without bias or favoritism, and without changing the rules in the middle of the game to give the advantage to the team he happens to like best.

Tim Donaghy, an experienced NBA referee, was recently banned for life when it was revealed that he placed bets on games he himself officiated. He eventually plead guilty to federal conspiracy charges and is in prison as we speak. You just can't have a referee - or a judge - who has a built-in bias towards one team or the other.
In short, straight people have no biases, unlike those gays.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Targeting Weapons Not Ideas

The unsurprising reaction to the Christmas Day (attempted) bombing has been more restrictions on travel, more troops in a relatively innocent Middle Eastern country, and generally more of the same. Obama, how you've failed us.

Since this marks now the third attempted terrorist attack on a plane since 9/11 which managed to only be thwarted by passengers, people are asking once again how can the TSA prevent would-be terrorists from bringing various explosives on board. There's quite a precedent for this sort of recoiling in the face of an utter failure of a terrorist act - the Shoe Bomber nearly caused matches and lighters to be more strictly controlled, and the London-based cell that attempted to create a lethal chemicals in the lavatory famously caused the ban on liquids (with varying forms, from either all liquids being banned as in parts of Europe, to the lighter American ban that restricts passengers to only three ounce containers). So what exactly are the recommended changes this time around? Well, according to one expert:
There are two machines that might -- and I say might -- have revealed the old bomb in the underwear ploy. One is the machine, which we encountered in the airport in Paris and is in a few airports in the US, that puffs air at you and analyzes the atmosphere for chemical residue. The other one is the X-ray machine, which was very controversial in the US for the prudish reason that it showed the faint outline of genitalia.
Are we honestly reaching the point where essentially strip-searching people is being debated? Both are fairly invasive procedures, and yes I've been subjected to both while flying in the United States. The ultimate irony is that the paragraph a few lines above this intense search for methods to prevent terrorist suspects from bringing dangerous chemicals or devices onto planes, the same expert mentioned that:
And yet, what we have so far is incredibly expensive and cumbersome security procedures that can be easily circumvented by your average Joe Terrorist. I have always wondered, for example, how metal detectors would respond to explosives made of plastic. Answer? They don't. I have also wondered why, since it is well known that one must remove one's shoes at airport, any terrorist would put explosives in his or her shoe. Answer? They don't: they sew the bomb in their underwear.
Truly what we have here is a failure of the imagination with this expert specifically and on almost every party in this debate generally - humans solve puzzles naturally, what we need to target is the motivation, not the ultimate action. That isn't to suggest that we resort to criminalizing the idea of terrorism (to an extent that's already happened, it seems), but that we should attempt preventative measures that start before people board planes - that start with addressing why such a large percentage of the Muslim world is so angry at Americans and the West. This isn't, as that expert says, "cooperation and meekness in the face of jihadi fanaticism," this is actually addressing the problem instead of ignoring the conflict and preventing it from affecting Americans outside of airport security.

Obama's landmark speech earlier this year to the Islamic world seemed to be the end of a long violent campaign against Muslim nations, and the beginning of a dialogue and a constructive solution. Hopefully this single failed attack won't break the nascent reconciliation and boost the chances of a war in Yemen.