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There Are No Anchor Babies

Many in the anti-migrant crowd are very worked up about the idea of "anchor babies" -- children born to immigrant parents as a way of ensuring that, because the child is a birthright citizen, the parents will be able to stay in the US. Like the terrorists sneaking across the border, this is one of those things that sounds like a good hypothetical possibility, but rarely happens in the real world. While many immigrants have children while in the US, and are upset to learn that those children don't give them a right to stay, they almost never have additional children they wouldn't otherwise have, or time their entry into the US to occur just before a birth, as some kind of deliberate strategy to get status.

And even if some immigrants were trying to have anchor babies, their plan would fail. Anchor babies simply do not work well enough to be a reasonable strategy. There are basically two routes under current US immigration law for someone to get status on the basis of having a US citizen child:

A. Petitioning: A US citizen can petition for a close relative to be granted status. This is probably what people who fear "anchor babies" are thinking of. The trick here is that the child can't petition for anyone until they're 21 years old. And even after the petition is filed, it could take several more years to process the application, depending on the complexity of the case, the number of waivers needed (at minimum, the mother would need a waiver for their unlawful presence at the time of the child's birth), and the number of appeals. So petitioning requires a possibly 25-year wait and is not guarantee of getting status at the end. In the meantime, this route may be cut off -- many right-wing and centrist immigration reform proposals, one of which could become law in the next 21 years, propose streamlining the hugely inefficient and backlogged family immigration system by limiting people to petitioning for spouses and minor children only.

B. 10-year cancellation: Current immigration law provides that someone can get a green card if they:
1. Have been continuously in the US for 10 years,
2. Have "good moral character,"
3. Have a parent or child with status who would suffer hardship from them being deported.
All three of these criteria are hard to meet under current case law. If you're undocumented and living in the shadows, it will be tough to produce evidence that proves that you were in the US for ten years even if you've managed to evade ICE and forgo visiting family in your home country long enough to actually accomplish it. "Good moral character" is subject to a variety of statutory bars -- you can't have criminal convictions, fake papers, etc. -- as well as also being subject to denial on the judge's discretion if they don't like you. Finally, "hardship" in practice means "your parent or child is deathly ill." It would take a pretty twisted mind to have a child hoping that in 10 years they'll be sick enough that you can get 10-year cancellation. What this all adds up to is that practually no-one ever actually gets 10-year cancellation. Of the dozens of people in the Florence immigration court over the last three years who have been prima facie eligible to apply for 10-year cancellation, exactly three have had it granted by the judge -- two of whom have had it overturned by the Board of Immigration Appeals, while the third has an appeal pending before the BIA.


My electoral prediction record is pretty dismal (though in my defense, I did correctly predict that the Republicans would retain control of Congress -- I just mistakenly thought they'd also have a majority of the seats). But for what it's worth, here are my predictions for the presidential nominations:

The Democrats: In Iowa, Clinton will squeak out a narrow win over Edwards, with Obama a disappointing third (despite winning 100% of the delegates from my mother-in-law's precinct). The media narrative will be all about how Clinton has the skills, Edwards is surging, and Obama's support is hollow. Dodd will drop out here or after NH, as will Biden (who I'm predicting to take fourth). In New Hampshire, Clinton will win easily, with Edwards a very strong third. She'll pick up Nevada, Michigan, and Flordia without breaking a sweat. Super Tuesday will finish off Obama (who won't win any states), Edwards (who will win a few but not enough to feel confident of prevailing in the long run given the money differential and Clinton's broader base of support nationally), and Richardson (who will have done poorly in every contest but stayed in in hopes of positioning himself for a VP or cabinet post). Kucinich will hang on until the very end. I have no idea when reality will dawn on the Gravel campaign.

The Republicans: Iowa is a toss-up between Romney and Huckabee, with McCain third and Paul fourth. Thompson and Hunter will use their poor showing as an excuse to pack it in. McCain will take a strong second in New Hampshire, with Paul and Huckabee tied for third. But despite the pro-McCain media narrative, he'll do poorly in the remaining states leading up to Super Tuesday, which will be basically a Romney-Huckabee battle. Giuliani will pack it in after placing third or fourth in Florida. Super Tuesday will tilt the race decisively toward Romney as well as finishing off McCain. Paul will hang on until the end, but won't launch a third-party candidacy.


More Immigrants, Less Terrorism

Mike Huckabee continues his swing to the hard right on immigration, using Benazir Bhutto's death to talk about how we need better border security because, according to some statistics he made up, there are tons of illegal terrorist Pakistani immigrants. (As an aside, in light of the common blogospheric complaining about how the media simply repeats public figures' claims without fact-checking them, the story linked above presents Huckabee's claim in a skeptical light from the get-go, and spends several paragraphs describing how they looked in many places for evidence to back him up but found none.)

It seems to me, though, that if one's main concern is that lax border security is going to allow terrorists to sneak in, an argument can be made that one should support a big expansion of legal immigration. I'll assume arguendo that there is some non-trivial risk that terrorists will sneak over the border -- though in fact all of the terrorist incidents that I am aware of in the U.S. were committed by either citizens or people with papers.

The argument for increased immigration to fight terrorism begins with two premises: 1) anyone who has a convenient, legal avenue to enter the country will pursue that route rather than taking the expense and risk of sneaking across the border and remaining in the U.S. without papers, and 2) there is a very large population of people in other countries whose motivation to enter the U.S. is so strong that only the harshest border security (along the lines of that between China and North Korea, as Bill O'Reilly once pointed out) could stop them.

The combination of high motivation and a lack of legal immigration routes has led to the emergence of a huge human smuggling industry. To get across the border successfully (especially if you're coming by sea or air rather than land) usually requires the services of a coyote or other trafficker. There is thus a large population of experienced people that could be hired by terrorists just as easily as tomato-pickers.

Increasing legal immigration would deprive the coyotes of their customer base, making them go out of business. In addition to all of the direct benefits of keeping people out of the hands of the coyotes (who are prone to financial exploitation, abandonment, physical and sexual abuse, and various other crimes against their charges), this would greatly reduce the availability of human smuggling services to terrorists.

What's more, the resulting great drop in undocumented border-crossing would free up Border Patrol resources to bust the remaining smugglers who are trying to bring in contraband goods such as drugs (obviously scaling back the "war on drugs" boondoggle and/or refocusing efforts away from supply disruption would have similar effects). It would also free up resources to do a more accurate job of vetting visa applicants to screen out terrorists -- since, after all, the 9/11 hijackers all came in with papers.


Other Parents Can Give Bad Parenting Advice Too

It's rude at best to pass judgment on the parenting skills of, or offer unsolicited advice on parenting to, strangers*. Except for the most egregious cases of misparenting, there is no way for an outsider to know enough about the situation and the people involved to make an informed judgment. Thus, such an outsider will tend to give their own concerns undue weight.

It's unsurprising that sentiments such as the above are most often voiced by parents, who are unhappy at being on the receiving end of such unsolicited judgment/advice. What's interesting, though, is the assumptions made about the identities of the judgment-passing strangers. Specifically, these judgers/advisors are usually assumed to be non-parents. (The instance that inspired this post came from this post by Plucky Punk, but I'm criticizing a larger phenomenon rather than just PP specifically.)

The underlying assumption here seems to be that anyone who has had a child would, by virtue of personal experience, understand why their judgment is wrong. I think this is a dubious assumption, as well as being unfair to people without children**.

The "must not be a parent" assumption is dubious because other parents can have bad parenting ideas too (and they can be rude enough to express them). It's simply not the case that the experience of parenting is so uniform (cutting across differences of race, class, personal history, etc. etc.), and the data it produces so compelling, that all parents understand each other's situations. Misjudgments about other parents can arise from sources as innocent as differences in personal experience, or as culpable as deeply incorrect ideologies about parenting. The latter abound even among parents. For example, commenter belle gunness on the post linked above is accused of being a non-parent in part because she tells Plucky Punk to use corporal punishment -- but it should be obvious that an enormous number of parents are advocates of corporal punishment. Further, parents can suffer from what I'll inartfully call "normative model bias." That is, they can see all the complexities and extenuating circumstances that affect their own lives, but fail to extend that recognition to others, preferring instead to read other people's behavior and situations through a simplified grid of stereotypes***. And someone who has experience with parenting may easily acquire an exaggerated sense of the correctness and universality of their own conclusions and hence set out to set others straight.

None of this is to deny that people's experiences are important shapers of their judgments (indeed, it presupposes it), nor that not having children is a possible source of ignorance. The point is rather to question the tendency for no-children to be the explanation for bad parenting advice, the first one to come to mind and to be hurled back at the judger/advisor (who is, I repeat, in the wrong).

The no-children assumption is unfair to non-parents (in a fashion similar to other exercises in crude standpoint epistemology) because of the way it generates an us-versus-them dynamic. The person making the assumption implicitly enlists all other parents (including many who probably think the speaker is raising their kids all wrong) as backing, and puts all non-parents on notice that they're suspect and poor allies at best. And it fails to point to the right solution -- suggesting "outsiders should shut up and leave us alone," rather than "understand that you can't know enough about a stranger's situation to really have a useful judgment about it, especially when they're trying to do as complex and difficult a job as parenting, so give them the benefit of the doubt." (Obviously little of this is consciously intended by people who make the no-children assumption -- but it's the cumulative effect of the use of this rhetorical strategy.)

*It is, however, legitimate to privately and/or non-directedly vent about the burdens that children impose on bystanders (crying and tantrums seem to arouse the most ire, but I am personally most annoyed by the way young children wander obliviously into other people's paths). These are real costs and may be acknowledged as such even if they are outweighed by other considerations. The line is crossed when you infer from those burdens to judgments about the parents' abilities and practices.

**I should clarify here that, while this post will doubtless show echoes of the vocabulary I've become accustomed to in writing about oppression issues, I would not claim that people without children constitue an oppressed class. Parents and non-parents certainly face quite different hurdles (which can and should be pointed out and combatted), but I'm not prepared to argue that there's a significant hierarchy at work the way there is in the case of race, gender, etc.

***A great example of normative model bias came up in a study described a while back on Pandagon (can't find the link right now) about pro-life women who had abortions. These women could see in their own personal cases that they were basically good people who had perhaps made a mistake and ended up in an unfortunate situation (thus excusing the abortion), but believed any other woman who sought an abortion was just a slut who didn't deserve it and should be forced to live with the consequences.


AZ Primary Ballot

My favorite thing about the New Hampshire primary is all the minor candidates on the ballot. It's fun watching them battle it out for first in the non-national tier -- and sometimes even fighting to get just one vote. Early in the night, a "real" candidate may even be beaten by one or more minor candidates, depending on the order in which precincts report in. (It will be interesting this year to see how many write-in votes Stephen Colbert gets, and how many of the minor candidates manage to lose to him.) Sadly, most other states have much more restrictive hurdles for getting on the ballot. But it seems Arizona is not one of them. Cpmaz has the list, with websites where available. If there's anything that could get me to register with a party, it's the chance to vote for one of these fine folks. Sadly, though, my man Ed O'Donnell (Colgate class of 1970) is not on the list (though it doesn't look like he's running in NH either).


Christmas In Detention

Anything of value I have to say on this blog about immigration is digested from things my wife, an immigration defense lawyer, tells me. Today she wrote a very moving post about how the people she works with will be spending the holiday season. A taste:

One of the detention centers has wreaths hung on the front security doors. These blue metal doors are the only gaps in a field of barbed wire. They buzz when you open them and slam shut behind you to remind you that yes, you really are locked inside now, and you can only leave if the guards permit you to. You're at their mercy. But, hey, wreaths! Lush ones! Aren't you armed with Christmas cheer now!.

I sat outside that cheerily bedecked detention center on a bird shit stained bench while I told a five year old that neither Santa nor God nor any of the other deities in a child's pantheon could bring his daddy home from Christmas. Daddy will be spending his fourth Christmas in immigration detention, a sentence 400% percent longer than any he served for a criminal conviction.


Compatible with either the "spineless" or the "heartless" theory

I haven't done a cartoon in a long time, but here's a new one:


Dayton Newspaper Guild picket

The Dayton Daily News is refusing to negotiate in good faith with its employees, who are still working under a contract signed in 1986 (via Brigitta).


The Ethnographic Bias of Positive Research Ethics

In terms of relations between the researcher and research subjects in the social sciences, there are two main aspects to research ethics. "Negative" research ethics is the Hippocratic element, and the focus of human subjects review boards -- avoiding harm to one's subjects and obtaining informed consent. "Postive" research ethics, which has been highlighted by researchers in the more "critical" or leftist schools of thought, demands that we go farther. Positive research ethics asserts that academic research is potentially exploitative, in that researchers get lots of information from their subjects, which they convert into power, prestige, and wealth for themselves, but usually give their subjects little more than token payments (sometimes) and vague promises that the research will help change the general understanding of the issues and eventually have some trickle-down benefits. (Ironically, this trickle-down-ness may sometimes be stronger for critical/leftist research than for traditional/mainstream research, since c/l research often produces deep critiques of entire socioeconomic and cultural systems which are correspondingly unlikely to be directly put into practice, as well as simply endorsing the critiques that the research subjects are making of those systems. T/m research, on the other hand, may say things that the subjects didn't already think, and is better able to produce concrete point-to-able outcomes such as changes in policy.)

I raise the issue of positive research ethics because some calls for such ethics that I read recently made me realize there's often what I'll call an "ethnographic bias" in the proposed solutions. That is, they assume an ethnographic or quasi-ethnographic research setting.

The typical solution to the problem of positive research ethics is for the researcher to engage in some sort of "project" (either an existing one or one created for the occasion) that gives back to the community of research subjects. Organizing a community theater is a (inordinately?) popular way of doing this*, as is doing some sort of work for some social movement organization based in the community. What's notable about this kind of giving-back is that it assumes an ethnographic research context. That is, it assumes that the research is being done in a single community, centered on some (physical or sometimes virtual) place/institution/organization, in which there are thick networks of relationships among the research subjects.

But ethnography and locality/community-focused case studies is not the only valid type of social science research. Research may draw on a set of strangers, selected because of some shared characteristic or situation but lacking any direct interactive relationship between them. This would include both things such as lab psychology experiments and large-n surveys that c/l researchers sometimes frown on, as well as qualitative interview or focus group research in which participants do not know each other. My own dissertation would fall into this category. I worked with people based on the shared characteristic of being residents of the urban-wildland interface in either southern New Jersey or the outer suburbs of Sydney. It would have made no sense for me to organize a community theater or any other such community-based type of giving back when my research subjects were scattered over 1500 square kilometers in each study area.

The ethnographic setting also explains a secondary "participatory bias." Typical solutions to the problem of positive research ethics are activities which require additional participation from the research subjects. For a researcher to give back to their subjects by organizing a community theater production requires the recipients of this giving-back to invest more of their time in acting in, or at least coming to see, the production. Contrast this with giving back through a cash payment or intervention on the subjects' behalf with some other powerful actor -- activities which, for all their other flaws, don't demand that the recipients do additional work. An ethnographic context is more likely to produce the collective interest in and commitment to such particpiatory forms of giving back.

To be clear, I am not saying that there is anything wrong with ethnographic research or the kinds of giving-back that are suited to it. What I'm saying is that focusing on one kind of research leaves out discussion of the full breadth of research forms. This post recognizes the generality of the issue of positive research ethics, and the specificity of the way that the issue has been addressed heretofore (due to the specific situation of the research school that first raised the general issue). The next step is for those of us with different specific situations to figure out ways to address the positive research ethics issue in our own ways. I unfortunately don't have any good answers to that question at the moment. In my own research mentioned above, my positive giving-back was minimal -- a token cash payment (in the first phase, US$30/AU$40 for 1-2 hours of participation, in the second phase US$2/AU$5 for filling out a survey that usually took about a half hour) and whatever intrinsic satisfaction they got from telling me what they think.

* There's a sometimes-spoken assumption in much of this literature that language-based ways of expressing and sharing ideas are subject to various barriers with respect to jargon, articulateness, hegemonic discourses etc., but non-linguistic forms of expression/communication do not. This seems clearly not true. Performance, visual art, music, etc. are different ways of expressing oneself, and individuals or groups who find one such way difficult may be more "fluent" in another, but all of them can potentially experience the same sorts of expression/communication barriers as language.


It's too tasty to be wrong

I hate to pick on Hafidha Sofia, since she's almost always a thoughtful and morally serious person, but in an earlier post she made a comment that's one of my pet peeves in discussions of veg(etari)anism:

I'm glad I'm not a vegan. I love cheese way too much.

I like cheese too. And I used to like meat quite a bit (though I now usually find it gross). Talking about how much you enjoy animal products is fine in the context of a general discussion of food preferences, or of "personal" arguments for veg(etari)anism, e.g. health concerns. Gustatory pleasure is a reasonable thing to balance aginst health.

But in the context of a discussion of "ethical" arguments for veg(etari)anism (environmental and especially animal rights), I find such offhand mentions of the tastiness of animal products somewhat inappropriate. Their effect is to trivialize the ethical concerns motivating veg(etari)anism. I think tastiness is a mostly impotent argument in such cases -- if the animal rights position is correct, the harm done to animals by eating meat or dairy is serious enough to outweigh even the most orgasmic taste sensation. For tastiness to come into play, you have to have already discounted the animal rights position.

What elevates tastiness from a bad argument to a pet peeve is that it's usually framed to preclude treating it as an argument. Tastiness is presented as an expression of shoulder-shrugging personal preference, often with humorous and/or self-deprecating overtones. The implicit strategy here is in the same family as the "it was just a joke" defense.

I'm reminded of the way a friend and I used to harass a vegetarian friend when the three of us sat together in the dining hall. We would loudly rhapsodize about how great meat was, and how everything (even absurd things like milkshakes) should be meat-flavored. That's something I regret now (and not just because I could be on the recieving end now).

Political Science Question

Every so often someone proposes to reconfigure the U.S. Senate in order to do away with the absurd situation that every state has an equal number of Senators, meaning that the 500,000 people of Wyoming have the same number of votes as the 34 million people of California. (My own preference would be to make the Senate elected by nationwide proportional representation.)

The response to this is usually to cite the reason that the Senate was originally structured to represent states equally: If big states had more representatives, they could outvote the small states. Small states need equal power in order to keep their interests from being trampled.

My question is: what evidence is there that big states ganging up on small states is a real problem in the 21st century US? The protection-of-small-states rebuttal assumes that interests and solidarity naturally fall along state lines. This may have been true in 1787, when the 13 states had been separate colonies for over a century and then quasi-independent for another decade under the weak Articles of Confederation. But I find it harder to imagine this happening today.

Imagine, for simplicity's sake, that the whole US consists of just Pennsylvania and Delaware, and that laws are made only by the House of Representatives, where representation is proportional to population. The 19 PA representatives could stick together in order to screw over the people of Delaware, who have only one representative to defend them. But that DE representative could just as easily join up with 18 of her PA colleagues to screw over the remaining PA representative -- after all, the people of the southeastern PA districts would generally have a lot more in common with the people of Delaware than with the people of far northwestern PA.

In the real US, no one state is big enough to trample the others. So you'd need a coalition of big states to gang up on an equal or greater number of small states. But what interests would unite (say) the representatives of New York, California, Florida, and Texas on the one hand, and Rhode Island, Delaware, Alaska, and North Dakota on the other?


Pro-Choice, Anti-Meat

At the end of a post otherwise supportive of the right to an abortion, Hugo Schwyzer comments on his conflicted feelings:

I still have many good friends in the pro-life community, and I still feel the deep emotional pull of the arguments they make. My longing for the "seamless garment" approach to life is powerful: it’s at the root of my veganism, after all.

The implication here is that there's something potentially inconsistent between being a vegan and being pro-choice. But I think the two fit together quite comfortably.

The potential conflict only arises for people who are vegans for animal rights reasons. You can go vegan because of concerns about environmental impacts, your own health, or because it's more "natural." But none of those have any direct implications for the abortion question -- abortion isn't bad for the environment (it's debatably good in terms of keeping the population down), the health impacts of getting an abortion are balanced by the health impacts of carrying a child to term, and the concept of "natural" human behavior is so fundamentally confused that I can't properly understand the grounds for calling veganism natural, much less how to apply that standard to abortion.

Animal rights veganism is necessarily sentience-centric. That is, it grants (a higher level of) moral considerability to beings that are "subjects" capable of feeling that things are going better or worse for themselves. Moving in either direction from sentience-centrism -- to pure anthropocentrism, or to biocentrism/ecocentrism -- takes away the grounds for animal rights veganism, because it takes away the grounds for singling out animals (or some subset thereof -- jellyfish are almost certainly not sentient, though few people eat jellyfish) as deserving of protection.

Sentience-centrism can accept most abortions. There is no medical consensus as to exactly when a fetus has developed the necessary biological equipment to become sentient, in part because fetal development is gradual and "sentient" is a fuzzy s Nevertheless, the important developments seem to happen relatively late in the pregnancy.

Whatever rights the fetus may acquire by virtue of its emerging sentience have to be balanced against the interests of the mother, who clearly has a high level of sentience (however "addled, deceived, and confused" one might imagine she is). And it seems clear that the affected interests of a mother seeking an abortion grow more important. That is, someone who is getting an abortion because she just doesn't feel like raising a kid right now is likely to get the abortion very early in her pregnancy, before the fetus is able to care about being destroyed. Women who only decide to get an abortion late in their pregnancies are usually doing so because the pregnancy now threatens a very central interest that they have, such as their own lives or health -- interests which are strong enough to outweigh the level of sentience that the fetus has acquired by that point.

What's more, reducing the financial, institutional, and cultural barriers to abortion would allow women to get abortions earlier in their pregnancies, thus minimizing the likelihood that there would be a serious conflict between the interests of the mother and fetus because the fetus's sentience would be less developed, or absent, at the time of the abortion (as well as eliminating a great deal of harm to the mother). Reducing the financial, institutional, and cultural barriers to carrying and raising a child would minimize the likelihood that women will feel they have an interest that conflicts with other interests they have, or with the fetus's interests (as well as being good for both parties post-birth).


It's The Heart, Not The Spine

It's common to accuse the Democrat Party of being spineless. On issue after issue, they make grand pronouncements, but seem completely unwilling to fight for them. Instead of issuing subpoenas, or calling the GOP's filibuster bluff, or forcefully reframing an issue, they seem to just shrug their shoulders and give up.

I think the spinelessness analysis gives the Democrats too much credit. It's based on the presumption that they want progressive change, but are simply too scared to fight for it.

In reality, I think the Democrats are basically moderate conservatives at heart. They love big business, and lack sympathy for the situation of women, people of color, LGBT people, and other disadvantaged groups (even, in many cases, if they happen to be members of those groups). While each party may have attracted a few true believers, the typical Democrat is not that much different in their real views from the typical Republican.

American politics is a contest between two elite factions who both have the same policy preferences. The catch is that to gain the power they want, they have to win elections under a quasi-democratic system, which means appealing to some base of support in the wider population. The Republicans, for whatever historical reason, have claimed the more straightforward constituency -- big business and cultural conservatives, that is, the people who want what both elite factions want to give them. The Democrats, on the other hand, have looked to a tricker base of support -- the portion of the electorate that wants something different from the conservative program. This is potentially a larger base of support, but it's a tough one to depend on, because they have no interest in giving these voters what they want. So the Democrat Party carefully positions itself just slightly to the left of the Republicans. That way, whenever their base starts to get restless, they can point out how the GOP is worse.

When the Democrats drop the ball on some issue, it's not because they're too spineless to carry it. It's because they don't really like that ball, and they were looking for any excuse to be able to ditch it.


You Can Be A Citizen, But You Can't Have Proof Of It

Many on the right like to charge "sanctuary cities" with trying to skirt federal immigration law. Sanctuary cities, of course, are municipalities that have decided that enforcing federal law is the job of specially trained federal agents (in this case, ICE), and that local agencies shouldn't compromise their ability to do their own jobs in order to pick up the slack.

But now it seems some nativists are quite happy to skirt federal immigration law when it serves their own purposes. Case in point is a proposed Arizona ballot initiative that would bar hospitals from issuing birth certificates to children of undocumented immigrants.

Birthright citizenship is long-standing and well-established U.S. law. Nativists are welcome to try to change that law through federal legislation. But this is not some ambiguous principle that they're free to ask their state to interpret in a certain way.

The proposition would not technically take citizenship away from children of undocumented parents. It would just deprive them of the ability to prove their citizenship. They will encounter difficulty accessing various rights, such as voting or employment (or getting birth certificates for their own children!), to which they are entitled as citizens. Indeed, the first time they have any interaction with any government agency outside of a sanctuary city who asks to see their papers, they could find themselves on a bus to Nogales. Proponents of this proposition are trying to make it so that U.S. citizens will be wrongfully deported. So much for just wanting the laws to be properly enforced.

Sadly, the voters of Arizona have never met an immigrant-bashing ballot initiative that they didn't like. So if you're an Arizonan expecting a child in 2009 or after, you might want to make sure you carry your up-to-date passport at all times.

Death Of Pardoy Watch

Comedian Stephen Colbert, at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner:

Here's how it works: the President makes the decisions. He's the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spellcheck and go home.

Actual reporter Joe Curl of the Washington Times, responding to a blogger who yelled at him for not being more critical of some sketchy poll numbers he quoted Karl Rove using:

And it was a news article, numbnuts. Rove said, I wrote. Get a clue. I'm a reporter, dillhole.

(Incidentally, I am provisionally in favor of the insult "dillhole," because as far as I can tell it's pure nasty-sounding onomatopoeia, rather than being a bigoted slur like most of our swears (including many of the other terms Curl uses in his correspondence).)


Archaeology And Universal Interests

I suppose since this blog is named after an archaeology concept, and listed in's list of archaeology blogs, I should occasionally talk about archaeology. A good opportunity to do so comes from this story, which relates how some scientists are having a fit because the US Senate is considering clarifying and modestly strengthening the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. I've written many times before (pdf) about the issues involved here, so I won't rehash why I find the typical scientists' arguments to be overblown, outweighed, and/or poor strategy. I do, however, want to highlight one aspect of the scientists' argument quoted in the story:

If adopted, the proposed changes could "result in a world heritage disaster of unprecedented proportions" and "rob our descendants of the unique insights concerning the shared heritage of all people that physical anthropological studies of culturally unidentifiable human remains can provide," the American Association of Physical Anthropologists said in a statement.

This is possibly the most frustrating and problematic aspects of the anti-NAGPRA (or pro-weak-version-of-NAGPRA) position. I can understand if you really value scientific knowledge about the past and want to fight for that value to be recognized and protected by others (I value it too, even though in the NAGPRA case I think there are other values that can outweigh it). But too often scientists -- as members of the dominant culture are wont to do -- presume to speak for the interests of the whole human species. They privilege their interests by universalizing them, presuming themselves to be a sort of (quasi-Marxist) universal class. Given the phrasing of this statement, I'm not surprised that many Native Americans are deeply suspicious that archaeology and physical anthropology (including things like National Geographic's genome mapping project, which I've been meaning to write about) function in part to produce justifications of those assumptions, such as the assimilation of all people into one culture's paradigm, thus upholding the dominant culture's position.

To be clear, I am not "anti-science" -- when its methodological presuppositions can be met, the scientific method is a powerful way of producing valid knowledge. But science is a tool that must serve the needs of the society that uses it. I think it is possible to do science in a way that respects the diverse interests and self-determination of all cultures. But paternalistically telling those cultures that what you're doing is for the greater good is not a path to that kind of science.

Reading Trans 101

I'm only about a third of the way through the comments to this thread on Feministe, but it's already made a number of things about trans issues much clearer to me. As long as I've been aware of trans people, I've wanted to side with their anti-oppression efforts, because I saw that as consistent with my general political commitments and compassion. But I didn't really "grok" what being trans was all about, even to the limited degree that I think I can understand the experience of people who are different from me with respect to gender, race, or sexual orientation. Grokking is important, though, because it allows you to be more creative and dynamic in spotting ways that you need to take the grokked people's interests into consideration. Here's a clip from Holly's opening post:

The worst crap I’ve had to deal with, through most of my twenties and now my third decade as well, is exactly the kind of stuff that most women in the world cope with: sexism, in the form of getting patronized, talked down to, sexually harassed, threatened, stalked by creepy assholes. But that’s the deal I could find to make with this unpleasantly gendered world we live in; it’s the niche, the crack in a hostile cliff wall, that I could carve out for myself to be able to live, grow, resist, despite that misogyny and transphobia, racism and homophobia that I have to deal with. And the carving it out myself is the important part, you know? Being able to make a choice. I had to get out and do a gender my own way, find a livable cranny within a system that fucks with all of us whether we realize it or not. That’s the most important reason why the “why did you have to transition” question makes no sense. I did it because it figuring out and expressing our own gender is one of the choices we all should be able to make. Because it was a viable and healthy choice for me, and I struggled for it and claimed it. I don’t really need any other reason.

If nothing else, I think the thread does a good job of making it hard to understand how trans people could reasonably be accused of reinforcing gender binaries -- indeed, the explanations made by Holly and the other trans commenters seem perfectly consistent with feminist critiques of the gender system.

On an unrelated note, the thread is also linguistically eye-opening because Em used the expression "wev" in the first comment. I had been told that "wev" was gaining popularity as an abbreviation for "whatever," but I'd had trouble believing people actually used it.


To tangent even further, the video about northeast PA dialect that I posted earlier led me to another site (I've unfortunately lost the link) that cleared up a persistent confusion about a feature of my own dialect. I have a habit of using the word "couple" to mean "few" -- that is, anywhere from 2-5 things, particularly if the exact number is uncertain. I've learned to control this, because I've learned that most people take "couple" to mean exactly 2. It turns out that the indefinite sense of "couple" isn't just a random misprogramming in my head -- it's actually a known feature of some Pennsylvania dialects. (Perhaps since "Heynabonics" didn't work for me, I should refer to my accent as "Pennsylvania Pirahã"?)