Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Dissecting the Immigration Debate

To me the immigration issue is both fascinating and extremely important for this country, and really for everyone in the world. The widespread immigration of people coming from lower-income areas to higher-income areas affects the entire world whether this be country to country immigration or rural to urban immigration within countries. So what the US is dealing with is just one of the many expressions of this that are going on everywhere, which to me makes it even more interesting.

But I want to look specifically at the debate on this issue, and the arguments used both by Democrats and Republicans, and I want to think specifically about the voters rather than the politicians - incidentally I am not sure which is more difficult - understanding the opinion of millions of Democrats and Republican voters, or understanding the opinion of a single Democrat or Republican candidate.

What is so fascinating about this debate is that it has layers that transcend party lines. For Democratic voters, the party is sympathetic to the most recent addition to our diverse "nation of immigrants." This would favor less detention and deportation and less crack-downs given the sympathy for the predicament that illegals are in. On the other hand they are a party that represents workers, and thus may have constituents that are worried about job security in light of a large increase in the labor supply - and an increase of workers who are more eager to work for lower wages. Speaking of wages, Democratic voters might not be as upset about the employment of illegal workers per se, but would be very upset if that employment means that the employer is paying less than minimum wage. This would favor more crackdowns on employers and may or may not lead to more detention and deportation.

Republicans I think are the opposite of the above. They are less sympathetic to illegals since they are not playing by the rules. I see Republican voters as highly respectful of the law and the rules of the game, moreso than Democrats. So this would favor more crackdowns, detentions etc. However Republicans are also the party of business and of employers, which means a reluctance to crack down on employers to root out illegals. This might apply more to the politicians than the voters however.

I am not sure whether the debate and the arguments thrown around are dictated by the media or by the presidential candidates, theoretically the media and the candidates are supposed to represent the views of the voters and advocate them, although it's hard to know who is influencing who. Take people like Lou Dobbs and Tom Tancredo. Democrats see these guys and then assume that all Republicans are alarmist about terrorism, the deterioration of American culture, and American workers losing their jobs to illegal and legal immigrants alike. Actually I would like to hear from a conservative or a Republican on this one. Do you agree with or identify with the arguments made by Lou Dobbs? Or is it more the respect for the law and the rules of the game that is behind most Republicans' "tougher" stance on the immigration issue?

Hopefully this post served to bring out only some of the nuances, maybe the surface nuances on this debate, and also served to illustrate why it is so hard to make progress on this front.

Don't Get Your Neurons in a Bunch

For some reason or accumulation of coincidences, I have been hearing a lot about scientific studies that attempt to explain individual behavior and predilections at the atomic level. The NYTimes reported a study on undecided voters and how their brains were stimulated by photos and videos of the candidates. And apparently there is a growing concern, now that we've mapped the Human Genome (a project which initially hoped to show how similar we all are), there are reports which prove that different races and ethnic groups are, in fact, not created equal. I tend to shrug these findings off. They are intriguing studies, to say the least, but they remain lacking, in my eyes -- for in science's desire to master the inner cosmos of our minds, it blinds itself to the actuality that in the end, we still reserve the power to lead ourselves to our fates, or at least be led by the world around us.

Hamlet once said, "There is a divinity that doth shape our ends/Rough hew them as we will." Now Hamlet, unfortunately was a character in a play and subject to the whims of his author/creator -- or in his words -- "a divinity". Luckily for us non-fictional heroes and heroins, we remain to a degree the authors of our own narratives. This is not to disregard the lot we are born into or the trials we face along the way through no fault of our own. What I'm trying to say is that our genetic makeup is not to us what Hamlet's "divinity" was to him. Each of us can overachieve or fall short of expectations (based on looks, intelligence, wealth, etc.); identical twins have free will to be a odds with one another. Or, in other words, a clone by any other name could turn out to be a completely different me. In fact, I might not like the guy altogether (personal note: my clone's a real jerk).

So, whether the controversial arguments in a book like The Bell Curve prove true -- and it turns out that East Asians are smarter than the rest of us, from a genetic standpoint -- it will end up being because they have a much better education system that they will bump us out of the number one slot. Whether I'm supposed to be attracted to a certain type of woman, I might end up with what could only objectively be called a dog, because the woman might be hilarious, or maybe I was just really vulnerable when we first met and my standards had gone way way down and I hadn't had steady work for a while and didn't feel good about that...

Basically, I don't like people telling me how it is, or worse, how I am supposed to be. And no matter what geographical and ethnic backgrounds we come from, or genetic schisms that divide us, we still retain the right to choose to be our own selves, each trying to shape our own ends together.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

The Top Ten Campaign Slogans John Edwards Would Go To Hell For

10. Vote Edwards- I'm not your daughter and I didn't rape her
9. John Edwards- For Democrats who hate whores
8. Vote Edwards- If anything, just to piss off your hippy liberal girlfriend
7. White men's brains are bigger- it's science. Vote Edwards.
6. Vote Edwards- Lets keep this thing respectable
5. Vote Edwards- That's what you're going to tell your friends at the club anyway
4. Vote Edwards- They're already voting, isn't that enough?
3. John Edwards- Against universal suffrage
2. John Edwards- No perm needed
1. John Edwards- Are you kidding me?

Sunday, July 29, 2007

Beer Me

This video sings for itself:

Also this one, hilarious:

And two clips of the show that started it all - these two are a little long and there is some overlap but I am a big fan:

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Oh Yeah, You Blend

I have just returned from a three weeks of Pan-African travel -- jarring, unpaved roads, hellaciously vivid dreams from my anti-malaria pills, more than a dozen planes, some new cuisine and some old favorites in surprising places.

It began with a jaunt up to Uganda, known to some as "The Pearl of Africa" -- a former British colony, landlocked in a collar-tugging position -- South of Sudan, East of the D.R.C. and North of Rwanda. Eeeeyikes! My travel buddy and I had not planned second one of our trip since purchasing our plane tickets a week prior. We figured English was the national language (gotta give the British Empire some credit on that one) and how hard could it be to find some mountain gorillas without a travel book, map, game plan, or a gorilla of our own, who by virtue of its ability to converse in both sign language and gorillaspeak could bridge the interspecies gap.

A few things became clear very quickly. We needed bug spray something awful; the Chinese food in Kampala is amazing; and the distance from Entebbe (where we landed) to The Bwindi Impenetrable Forrest (where the gorillas and their concomitant mist reside) gets a lot longer once you find out that the term "roads" required much exaggerated quote fingers.

No regrets, cause the endless expanse of lushly verdant hills and (hidden) valleys out our windows made up for the ass pains from the bumpy ride. I have no pictures, but the landscape made me wish that I could go back in time (Bill and Ted style) round up Cezanne, Van Gogh, Monet, et al., and set them up with an all expenses paid trip to sunny Uganda and all the Absinthe they can drink on me.

Driving through the many farming villages that line these "roads" was like being trapped inside a moving zoo. I guess I take for granted the fact that I'm white. I mean, my Mom and Dad are white, my sisters and brothers are white. Come to think of it, my whole family is white. See, I didn't even think of it til now. But staring out my window with increasing mortification I watched jaws drop, women and children stopping dead in their tracks, conversations halted in mid-sentence, the sounds of juke boxes scratching off, all because they don't see too many (dragons or) white people around.

On a side note to this, the often invoked notion that white people think all black people look alike, well I know what people mean now. We were the only two white people that we saw the whole time, blending in like My Cousin Vinny. We would go some place for a bite to eat, laugh and drink with the waiter for hours, and then come in the next day as total strangers to this man.

US: Hey, Johnny. How's it going?
John Bosco: Ahhhhhhhhh?

Because of our poor planning, we were unable to go gorilla tracking, but you can't win 'em all, as they (gorillas) say (in sign language).

Saturday, July 14, 2007

A Modest Proposal

I've never supported genocide. Like the bleary-eyed law student who on the first day discussing Brown V. Board raises his hand and prefaces his comment with "I'd just like everyone to know that I'm against slavery," I would like to put on record that I am, in a general sense, against the systematic murder of a group of people. Especially since they outlawed it in the Geneva Convention. Or some convention. I don't remember, but I'm sure someone made it illegal at sometime. Nevertheless, I've concocted a judicious proposal to address one of the most crippling plagues ever to afflict New York City.

Let's kill all the real estate brokers. Think about it. These people are completely useless. Why keep them alive? They're just dragging the rest of us hard-working Americans down. Rents would drop immediately-no one would ever have to pay that stupid 15% broker's fee anymore. Craigslist adds would be pruned of deceitful advertisements. There would be less foot-traffic in the cities most desirable locations, as there'd no longer be anyone to meet you at a random street corner and take you to the apartment that you could have just gone to yourself if the brokers did not deliberately keep the location of their apartments from you. Instead of meeting that goofy-looking twenty something who could have learned a valuable trade but for some reason went into being slimy for a living, you could just go straight to the apartment, talk to the owner, and strike an honest deal between respectable people. I see no reason not to run the streets red with the blood of real estate brokers.

And another thing: these people have apartments themselves. Did you think of that? If we killed all the brokers, there would be a massive jump in supply. Now, they probably don't live anyplace that you or I would want to rent. But any supply shift will effect the entire market. Brutally maiming all real estate brokers in New York and leaving their bloodied, mutilated corpses in the streets for ravens to scour would be the best thing to happen to rental prices since the stock market crash of 1929.

I know there will be some resistance to my proposal. You can't just kill tens of thousands of people because they are useless and annoying and it would be great for the rental market and the morale of the city and pretty much what everyone wants to do anyways. It would be expensive. To that I say "Come on- live a little. You've gotta spend money to make money. Lets forget about the budget just once and do what we know is in the best interest of the city. Lets just get out there and start killing brokers. Expenses, and obnoxious people, be hanged."

Plus, think about the job creation, people. Someone would have to actually butcher the brokers- hey, that's a catchy slogan: Butcher the Brokers, a 2007 initiative for the city. Anyway, genocide doesn't happen by itself. Someone would be collecting a pay check after this thing, and that's what we call economic stimulus.

But of course, its a slippery slope. Today we're killing real estate brokers, tomorrow we could be killing stock brokers. Before you know it, there's not a single over-paid middle-man left in New York and there's perfect information and transparency in every transaction. Wait, maybe I've been narrow-minded about this. I'd like to amend the proposal. Kill ALL brokers. Now we're talking.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Mostly Lounging on Denali

Last month I took a long walk in the snow and reached the highest point in North America, but, lest I be accused of productivity, I’ll have you know that I abandoned neither my tranquil constitution nor my taste in leisure to do so. The story I would like to recount now is how I, in true Brooklyn fashion, passed an entire day lounging in a café at 14,000 feet.

On June 1st I traveled from New York to Alaska to take a guided trip up Mt McKinley, or Denali, as it is sometimes called. This story of “Café 14” took place three weeks into the trip. I had reached camp IV (elevation 14,600 ft) on the north side of Denali, late on June 21st, though you’d never know it from the Alaskan sun. I was tired and hungry and the weather was moving in. I rested the next day to acclimatize in preparation for the move to high camp. On June 23rd, I awoke early to check the weather and found the skies clear. After a quick consultation with the guides and my fellow climbers, we decided to ferry a load of food and fuel up to high camp and return to sleep at camp IV. As I readied myself for the move, a paralyzing bout of mountain sickness knocked me on my haunches. At extreme altitudes, lower atmospheric pressure inhibits air intake, depriving the brain of oxygen. The effect is similar to a hangover and can be quite debilitating. I had it bad that morning, and knowing the results of working through hangovers, I opted out of the move.

One other climber stayed down with mountain sickness that day and one guide. We all retired to our tents to “hunker,” the honored climbing pastime of killing time in tents, and none too pleased about it. We had been moving quite well up to 14,600 and were all excited to be moving higher. The idea of a second consecutive day hunkering in stale-smelling tents was as unappetizing as the left-over beans from dinner. Then a miracle happened: “I was getting signal on my radio last night,” the guide explained. “Why don’t you two come to my tent and we’ll see what we can get.”

Amazing. Deep in the Alaskan wilderness, on one of the most remote climbing routes in the world, we were able to get radio signal all the way from New York. At such high altitudes there were no intervening land masses to disrupt the signal. Our spirits were rescued from despair. We packed into the tent, lit some incense; brewed some coffee. The guide and I began a game of cribbage. I joked that life in the tent was not so different from my life at home in Brooklyn. To call it an oasis in a desert would not be far from the truth. We played cards and listened to music for several hours until we all fell into a luxurious sleep.

We joked and called it Café 14, after the elevation. It was a momentary reprieve from the ardors of climbing a treacherous and vindictive mountain. A small taste of home’s civility, carried three weeks over glacier and rock, to be unpacked there in the harsh environs at 14,600 feet, on the side of Mt. McKinley. I was very happy for it.

I awoke the next day and my mountain sickness was gone. So was the other climber’s. Three days later we both reached the summit at 20,320 feet and began the happy descent back towards thicker air and an easier way of life, having had our fun- lounging on Denali.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Nursery Rhymes

Ricky Gervais from the original British office, doing stand-up. Hilarious.

Sunday, July 1, 2007


The funny thing is that I know Virginia Dissentator is still reading this, silently. Yeah that's right. I'm lookin at you, fella.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Flight of the Conchords

For those of you who have or haven't seen Flight of the Conchords, it is amazing. Kind of reminds me of Arrested Development where a lot of people probably won't think it's funny and will think it's too weird, and then other people will think it's the funniest thing since probably Arrested Development.

But FOTC is definitely its own show and what a show it is. Most of it is just like a regular comedy but then a few times per episode they do songs since the two main characters are in a band.

A band called Flight of the Conchords.