vendredi, août 15, 2008

Leave them burning....

I went with a friend to see "Mamma Mia" tonight. We spent a lot of time just chuckling at the absurdity of it all. The scenery was phenomenal. The acting was appropriate to the plot-which is evanescent, at best. The quotient of camp was amazing. I'd forgotten how strange the songs are-in their day, ABBA was a global phenomenon. But the Swedish popsters weren't really rooted in any one musical culture-they made their own. I wonder now where it came from-and, with all due respect, I'm ready for it to go back there!


Last night at the gym I watched a CNN panel of athletes and reporters debate whether the Chinese had put at least one underage girl on their gymnastic team-thus potentially undermining their claim to have legitimately earned Olympic gold.

Is a measure of the maturity of a nation the imperfection it is willing to tolerate? Or is that a particularly American perspective?

This commentary from reminds us (me) that collectivism, at least in China, ain't just beanbag. Whoever runs the machinery gets to set the create the standards.

Veer from the party line with a crooked tooth or a chubby face not fit for prime Olympic time, and you suffer the consequences.

We aren't without our would be collectivists here. Fortunately they are in a minority-or I think they are. Perhaps, after 9/11, we remain a state of fight or flight.

Every time we gear up to vote in recent elections we have gotten a drumbeat of ads seeking to quell debate on the basis of fear of the "the other." How stupid, how puerile, how insulting, I think-when I bother to listen at all. Why can't we debate issues on the merits? Surely there are enough real differences.

Why appeal to people's nightmares?

That's my mistake. Because those tactics actually work.

You can never go way wrong being generous with the "fear factor."

jeudi, août 14, 2008

From today's NYT: Another POV on Immigration

August 14, 2008
In a Generation, Minorities May Be the U.S. Majority
Ethnic and racial minorities will comprise a majority of the nation’s population in a little more than a generation, according to new Census Bureau projections, a transformation that is occurring faster than anticipated just a few years ago.
The census calculates that by 2042, Americans who identify themselves as Hispanic, black, Asian, American Indian, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander will together outnumber non-Hispanic whites. Four years ago, officials had projected the shift would come in 2050.
The main reason for the accelerating change is significantly higher birthrates among immigrants. Another factor is the influx of foreigners, rising from about 1.3 million annually today to more than 2 million a year by midcentury, according to projections based on current immigration policies.
“No other country has experienced such rapid racial and ethnic change,” said Mark Mather, a demographer with the Population Reference Bureau, a research organization in Washington.
The latest figures, which are being released on Thursday, are predicated on current and historical trends, which can be thrown awry by several variables, including prospective overhauls of immigration policies and sudden increases in refugees.
A decade ago, census demographers estimated that the nation’s population, which topped 300 million in 2006, would not surpass 400 million until sometime after midcentury. Now, they are projecting that the population will top 400 million in 2039 and reach 439 million in 2050.
So-called minorities, the Census Bureau projects, will constitute a majority of the nation’s children under 18 by 2023 and of working-age Americans by 2039.
For the first time, both the number and the proportion of non-Hispanic whites, who now account for 66 percent of the population, will decline, starting around 2030. By 2050, their share will dip to 46 percent.
Higher mortality rates among older native-born white Americans and higher birthrates rates among immigrants and their children are already driving ethnic and racial disparities.
“A momentum is built into this as a result of past immigration,” said Jeffrey S. Passel, senior demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center. “In the 1970s, ’80s and ’90s, there were more Hispanic immigrants than births. This decade, there are more births than immigrants. Almost regardless of what you assume about future immigration, the country will be more Hispanic and Asian.”
With the Census Bureau forecasting even more immigrants, other demographers estimate that the proportion of foreign-born Americans, now about 12 percent, could surpass the 1910 historic high of nearly 15 percent by about 2025 and may approach 20 percent in 2050.
According to the new forecast, by 2050, the number of Hispanic people will nearly triple, to 133 million from 47 million, to account for 30 percent of Americans, compared with 15 percent today.
People who say they are Asian, with their ranks soaring to 41 million from 16 million, will make up more than 9 percent of the population, up from 5 percent.
More than three times as many people are expected to identify themselves as multiracial — 16 million, accounting for nearly 4 percent of the population.
The population of people who define themselves a black is projected to rise to 66 million from 41 million, but increase its overall share by barely two percentage points, to 15 percent.
“What’s happening now in terms of increasing diversity probably is unprecedented,” said Campbell Gibson, a retired census demographer.
Several states, including California and Texas, have already reached the point where members of minorities are in the majority.
“Within the conventional definition of race, of white, black, Asian, minority vs. non-minority, this is a big change,” said David G. Waddington, chief of the Census Bureau’s population projections branch.
All the projections are subject to changing cultural definitions. The share of Americans who identify themselves as white, regardless of their ethnicity, will remain largely unchanged, declining from less than 80 percent in 2010 to about 76 percent when the majority-minority benchmark is reached in 2042.
“The way people report race 20 or 30 years from now may be very different,” Dr. Waddington pointed out.
The Census Bureau’s projections are likely to fuel debates over immigration policy, overpopulation and the changing electorate, and recall earlier eras when the Irish, the Italians and Eastern European Jews were not universally considered as whites. As recently as the 1960s, Hispanic people were not counted separately by the census and Asian Indians were classified as white.
William H. Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution, said that by the 2028 presidential election, racial and ethnic minorities will constitute a majority of adults between the ages of 18 and 29 for the first time.
Two years later, when all the baby boomers will have turned 65, nearly 20 percent of Americans, compared with fewer than 13 percent today, will be over 65. By 2050, about 89 million Americans will be in that group, more than double the number today.
“In 2020, the burdens of seniors to the white working-aged population become larger than the burdens of children,” Dr. Frey said.
The changes projected by the census point toward a nation in which the older population will be whiter (deaths will outnumber births among whites, beginning in the 2020s) and where black Americans will still have slightly higher rates of infant mortality and lower life expectancy.
Steven A. Camarota, research director for the Center for Immigration Studies, which favors limits on immigration, expressed concern about congestion and other issues related to population growth driven by the foreign-born.
Gregory Rodriguez, a senior fellow at the New America Foundation, a public policy institute, argued that while “assimilation became a dirty word in the 1960s and ’70s,” America has always been evolving and becoming enriched by new cultures, whether from Europe or from South America and Asia.
Indeed, Dr. Gibson, the retired census demographer, once estimated that in 1492 about 96 percent of the inhabitants of what is now the United States were American Indian and the rest of Polynesian origin. Well before the English landed in Jamestown, the Spanish became America’s first minority.
When the first census was conducted in 1790, about 64 percent of the people counted were white, a bit more than half of whom were of English origin. By 1900, about 9 in 10 Americans were non-Hispanic white, mostly of European ancestry.
The share of Americans who can trace their roots to immigrants directly from Europe has been shrinking. The federal Office of Management and Budget now defines whites as descendants of “the original peoples of Europe, North Africa or the Middle East.” Hispanic or Latino people, according to the same government agency, are of “Mexican, Puerto Rican, Cuban, Central or South American or other Spanish culture.”
“We may be using the same words 50 years from now,” said Mr. Passel, of the Pew Center, “but I feel confident in saying they’ll mean something different.”

mercredi, août 13, 2008

A contrarian perspective from the Times of London

I don't think the press has done enough reporting beyond the surface on Russian foreign policy under Putin and Medvedev-and why the Russians are so angry.

I have no basis for judging whether the Times editor is right about Russia's military and international standing. Calling the five former Soviet bloc republics "European" feels hyperbolic-in fact, almost irrelevant. Those five were standing up for a neighbor, not for an aspiring NATO member.

However, I assume that the State Department has a more empathetic, informed grasp of what's driving the bear than most Americans. Given our own inadequate commitment to creating a strong foreign service corps, and Congress's inattention, that may be a little too optimistic.

One man bands

When I read stories like the one linked above, I feel like a dinosaur. But I know that most full time journos are scrambling to keep up with the new technology-and to make themselves broad spectrum communications specialists so that they will find a market for their skills. I haven't figured out how to effectively work the videocam yet-so I have a lot of catchup to do. But there's hope!

How can this happen here?

I didn't know anything about the deaths of some immigrants in American prisons.

What can anyone, on either side (or multiple sides) of the immigration debate say about this story except what happened to this young man deserves an investigation and justice? As I read it (linked), I kept saying to myself that it couldn't happen in an American jail, and that at some point someone would have intervened and gotten this 34 year old medical care.

But they didn't and Mr Ng died, leaving behind a wife and two sons.

Does that fact that prisoners are routinely denied medical care and tortured in many other parts of the world allow us to give this one a pass? All the more reason for us to be appalled that it could happen in the USA-and to try to find a way to give prisoners the humane care they deserve. Humane meaning that prisoners get a basic level of medical attention.

This young man's story is more complicated than the "routine" illegal immigration one. Apparently he overstayed his visa, and didn't appear at a deportation hearing (the notice did get sent to the wrong address). But it underlines the need for us to get a handle on the illegal immigrant issue-and that of overcrowding in US jails.

I have a staunchly conservative friend who has an interesting perspective on immigration. He came over here from Poland years ago, and has made a huge success of himself. He argues that hardworking illegals should not be punished-they are contributing to the US economy.

I really don't know what I think, except that before we can grapple with the macro issue, we need to figure out ways to deal with the prisoners we have in jail already-and try to find ways to continue to improve our justice system so that it can indeed be a model for the world.

mardi, août 12, 2008

The individual and the collective

The NYT columnist David Brooks has been investigating some fascinating by-roads recently. He's was the the sole Times conservative columnist for way too long, until they decided to augment their editorial page with William Kristol. Now he is routinely out-rhetoricked, which is probably a good thing.

All of these folks are really good writers.

But the ones who hold your attention past the second clever paragraph are the ones who are willing to stray away from orthodoxy, liberal or conservative, and fellow the logical questions, even when it takes them away from the thundering herd. Thus Maureen Dowd gets a little dull, while Nick Kristof continues to challenge.

Back to Brooks-his column today is on the way some nations/peoples think in terms of the group, and others in terms of individuals. Here in America, and in Western Europe, we tend to think individualistically. But most people see life in terms of the group's well-being, and tend to look at their own achievements in a group context.

There are pluses and minuses to each perspective. But if Brooks is correct, then it raises a whole host of questions about how we Americans view other societies-and how they see us. What of our attempts to "export" democracy? Is there a way democracy can be more oriented towards group welfare? What can we learn from collectivist culture? What can they learn from an individualistic society like ours?

Taking a step back, and viewing culture from this kind of sociological lens, also helps us, as individuals, cast a cool eye at the way we judge conflict-and individual bias. Just this morning, as I read about Georgia and Russia, I was feeling very disturbed by the whole idea of tribalism, and the insanities it leads to. That's my Western prejudice.

Now I'm wondering whether it's not built into the gene pool in some societies-and how to make it a force for health, rather than illness.

lundi, août 11, 2008

While we were sleeping

As Russian threatens to invade Georgia, even those of us who oppposed the invasion of Iraq from the bottom of our hearts can still be horrified.

I cannot defend President Mikheil Saakashvilli's decsion to send soldiers into the breakaway regions of Abkhasia and South Ossetia. Apparently this was the match that lit this tinderbox-but perhaps, as Robert Kagan argues in the linked article, it was more of an excuse.

It seems like a big mistake-impelling the Russians to attempt perhaps to overthrow him and regain some influence in Georgia.

What if we had a state (perhaps Minnesota) that wanted to be independent sitting between us and Canada? Would we be so angry that we'd bomb it? Or would we go after Canada?

So far we really haven't done anything to help Georgia. And our words, particularly those of our President, really sound pretty stupid. Do you really think Vladmir Putin cares that you are "very firm" with him?

Weakened by a struggling economy and a war sucking billions out of it, we don't have quite as much capital-or perhaps even power, to affect events, as we'd like to pretend.

That being said, we have a moral obligation to do everything we can, in collaboration with Western Europe, to say to Prime Minister Putin that what he is doing puts him in danger serious consequences from the West. Because if we turn our head-where else will he want to go next?