Alien Nation

Wow, this country loves nothing better than to blow a story all out of proportion for dramatic effect. I’m pretty sure if Congress could find a way to polarize the nation over Tom-Cat’s baby, we’d have pending legislation on excessive couch jumping.

Speaking of cats, you can’t swing one without seeing a story about the illegal immigrant problem. And let’s be clear, when we say “immigrant”, we mean Mexican. No one is planning to build a fence north of Montana, and no one’s too worried about an influx of Ukrainian exchange students that choose to hang out in the States after their visas expire.

Everyone is acting like illegal Mexican immigrants are something new. Like 11 million people showed up last week. Get a grip. We’ve been turning a largely blind eye to Mexicans crossing the border since World War II. Sure, it’s a new world since 9/11, but there are no known ties between Mexico and Al-Qaeda (of course that argument didn’t help Iraq much). Still, no one’s planning to invade Mexico (I hope). And few seem to be arguing against the notion that the majority of Mexicans entering the country illegally are employed in ways that actually support parts of the US economy. There’s no evidence they are taking jobs from Americans. And there’s no evidence that these people are a disruptive force in our country. In fact, the very peaceful protests in L.A. last weekend are a testament to the disposition of the majority of illegal Mexican immigrants. That protest might have easily “turned French” and resulted in rioting and mayhem. It didn’t.

The only downside to the Mexican “problem” is the drain on public resources. So rather than try to solve a bunch of problems that don’t exist, let’s fix the one that does, and be done with it.

Let’s admit that the existing border arrangement with Mexico suits both countries pretty well as is. Let’s also admit that the illegal Mexican labor would be significantly less useful if it became legal labor. Once we “legalize” the immigrants, they become protected by all the U.S. labor laws. And ducking those labor laws is arguably why employers are hiring illegal labor to start with.

Mexican immigration policy is a little like highway speed limits. No one, including the police, expect everyone to obey the posted limit. Yet there is a small but tangible chance that occasionally you’ll be caught and made an example. And if you’re stupid or reckless, the laws can be used to punish you or even take away your right to drive. We all know the risk, and the vast majority of us take that risk all the time. The Mexicans know the risk too, and it’s worth it to them to take it. And frankly, it seems to be worth it for us as well.

So how do we fix the drain on public resources? This almost seems too simple, but… stop providing them. Why is it unreasonable that legal U.S. residency be a requirement to receive any publicly provided or funded service? What part of “illegal” confuses people? We can’t get too hung up on how inhumane it would be to deny medical care, education, or public assistance to illegal immigrants. Those benefits are rights that U.S. taxpayers choose to afford for the U.S., not the world at large. Now I’m not suggesting that emergency medical care be denied a bleeding man in the E.R. because he can’t produce a green card. But I am suggesting that we need an agreement with Mexico to take these people back at the border. In this way, once the man is stitched up, if he can’t pay (or his employer won’t pay) for his care, he gets a ride to the border. In essence, “showing up on the radar” gets you a ticket.

Does this drive the immigrants into an underground of sorts? Sure, in a way I suppose. I suspect illegals wouldn’t be willing to seek out medical care for non life threatening situations, unless of course, they could pay for it. But is that a bad thing? Remember that we are not hunting these people. There are no wanted posters in the neighborhoods, and police will not pick them up on site. It’s the immigrant equivalent of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell”.

I’m okay with immigrants trying to come here and earn their citizenship, and I recognize that for a variety of reasons, not all will follow the official rules for that. But I also think it’s reasonable that if you choose to take a shortcut, you also incur the additional risk for missteps along the way. Is that too harsh? I don’t think so. It recognizes the value of these people, but still supports the rule of law. Illegal means illegal. It also encourages employers to supply services (e.g. medical, educational, etc.) to these people because they will not be eligible for public services. And additionally, charities are able (and likely willing) to help these people out. This is all goodness.

The only thing this doesn’t do is recognize the rights of these people as U.S. citizens. But I did mention they were illegal aliens, right?


Teenage Girls in Boxers

I had the most horrific experience in the barber shop today. No Sweetheart, it had nothing to do with my hair. I even left it a bit longer for you this time. But I’m getting ahead of the story.

I like this particular barber shop because it is a barber shop – not a hair salon. They have a hot shaving cream dispenser and shave your neck with a straight razor. And there’s even a sign on the wall indicating that they will shave your back for you. Now that’s full service. It’s nestled between a gas station and a machine shop. You can practically smell the testosterone.

It reminds me a bit of the shop my dad took me to as a kid. Well… almost. It lacks a small and impossibly old man with a German accent who had a disconcerting skill with a razor strap. But that’s another story.

I usually stop at this manly barber shop on my way to work. It’s early and quiet, and there’s no one there but maybe one or two other guys who also learned to read from watching Batman. We grunt at each other, make disparaging remarks about the weather, and scratch at will.

But today, I stopped in after work, which was apparently also after school. I was the oldest guy in the shop by 15 years. But the line wasn’t as long as the crowd would indicate. There was a kid apprenticing in the shop, and several of his friends had come to just hang at the shop. Well that’s an old and noble Mayberry tradition. Howard would feel right at home. And at first I thought it would be interesting to listen in on what high school guys bantered about these days. This is where the horrifying part comes in.

First, there was a discussion of who’s house they were going to watch “The O.C.” at. I’ve never seen the show, but it’s basically a nighttime soap. It is on Fox, so I can only assume (hope?) that it’s laden with half naked women and sexual innuendo. But none of the discussion centered on “hot chicks”, so they might not have noticed anyway.

Then they went on about the best value in tanning salons and how to get a good base before spring. I was briefly encouraged by the topic of cell phones and who’s was the coolest. But then they started talking about the virtues of hair gels, mousse, and whether or not one of the “guys” should cut his hair.

What the hell? Who were these girls? And were they representative of teenage boys in general? I suddenly fear for my own boys. Hell, I fear for the girls. I fear for the military (“Does this body armor make my butt look fat?”). Or maybe I just need to go back to a hair salon, or at least to mornings.


It’s Hard Out Here For a Meerkat

I had the pleasure of attending The Lion King stage show last night. I know, I know, it’s been around for 10 years, but it finally reached my little cultural backwater, and it only seemed right that The Beauty and the Beast should pay them a visit. So we did. The production was nothing short of awesome. The costuming… the creative and imaginative ways they brought the animals, and even plants, to life was simply spectacular.

The other amazing thing was that it was very true to the movie. Yes, a few scenes and songs were added. But what surprised me was not that the plot and the music remained, I expected that. It was that the characterizations remained. The actors voiced the characters as if they were imitating the movie. This was unfortunate for the guy playing Mufasa, as you really wanted to hear James Earl Jones’ voice, and no one was going to pull that off. And I did miss Jeremy Irons as scar. The guy tried, but it’s hard to sound quite as premeditatedly evil as Irons. Still Zazu and Rafiki were amazing, as were the young kids who played Simba and Nala.

Of course the night was not without the usual remindings from the fates that I am unworthy. We had just tucked ourselves into our snug little seats when the woman arrives who will be sitting to my left for the next couple of hours. She was overflowing with… well, maybe it’s enough to say that she was overflowing. I’m still listing to the right in my chair as I type this.

And there was some amusement at the intermission which occurred just after Hakuna Matata. The row of seniors behind us was querying each other about what that odd looking creature with the warthog was supposed to be. Was it some sort of weasel? It was amusing to listen for a bit, but finally I turned and offered helpfully that Timon was a meerkat.

“A what?”

“A meerkat.”

“Well that doesn’t help me much,” snorted Grandpa in a self derisive sort of way.

“Think of it as sort of a… well… an African prairie dog.”

“Yeah, that’s what it is,” confirms the woman sitting mostly in the chair next to me.

But Grandpa is still clueless. It would seem that not only is he unacquainted with mammals not found in his backyard, but he doesn’t get cable either. And age has apparently eroded memories of all those Mutual of Omaha’s Wild Kingdom episodes. Oh well. I tried. You can shine a light, but sometimes the darkness is overwhelming.


It’s a Sada Day in Iraq

Former Iraqi General Sada has written a book titled Saddam’s Secrets. This guy claims to have been the number two man in Saddam’s Air Force and part of Saddam’s inner circle. This despite being a Christian, and contending that he told Saddam the hard truth, whether it was what he wanted to hear or not. Now Tariq Aziz was also a Christian, although Aziz was often touted as “the only Christian in the Iraqi government”. Perhaps Sada was considered military and not government, but it does call into question just how tight he was with Saddam. My point being mostly, that I’m not sure how credible this guy is, and most of those who could validate his claims are dead.

By far, his most provocative claim is that just prior to the U.S. invasion, Saddam ordered the removal of all his WMDs to Syria. The exodus was executed by both truck and plane. And Sada claims to have spoken directly to several pilots who flew WMDs into Syria. Sada’s claim is that this is why the U.S. has not found WMDs in Iraq.

This is an interesting claim, and really changes the historical landscape for the Bush administration – if only it were true. But several things trouble me about this story, so I doubt its veracity.

First, Sada claims he was not involved in the transport of the WMDs to Syria. But if he was really the #2 guy in the Air Force, and military transports were used to get the weapons out of the country, is it really likely that he’d have been out of the loop? Saddam just doesn’t seem like the sort of micromanager who would directly contact lower level field commanders to execute an order such as this. It seems more likely a chain of command would have been used.

Further, it is in the Bush administration’s best interest for this story to be true. It would justify the war and possibly restore credibility to an administration that is clearly on the ropes right now. And moreover, the administration has hardly been unwilling to assert sophistries in the past. Hell, Cheney’s still sticking to the Iraqi involvement in 9/11 as well as the WMD story. Why not assert that the weapons were squirreled away into Syria? It’s not like we’re worried about ticking them off.

But I think the administration knows it would need to answer for the implications of this claim. For months (at least) prior to the invasion, we had Iraq blanketed with satellites, radar, and every other snooping technique we had at out disposal. How could we have missed a convoy into Syria? We’ve enforced no-fly zones over part of Iraq for years, and have clearly been monitoring air traffic in and out of the country. Wouldn’t military planes flying in and out of Syria have raised a few eyebrows somewhere?

I can’t accept that our military is that incompetent. And I can’t accept that the administration would pass up the opportunity to cover its collective butt if there were even reasonable plausibility to this claim. Therefore, I’m forced to conclude that Sada knows way more about selling books than he knows about the regime of Saddam Hussein.