I met my friend, Sayed, while living in Holland. Sayed and his family had emigrated from Afghanistan to escape the Taliban. On the way to the west they destroyed their passports so that when they had finally arrived the Dutch would be forced to seriously examine their case. Sayed is confident that if they had been forced to return, his father and maybe others in his family would have been murdered.
The Dutch authorities put him and his family in an apartment complex with many other asylum applicants while their application is processed. They were in limbo while the bureaucracy decided what to do. The apartments are densely populated but they were given enough to eat and the opportunity to begin Dutch classes. Sometimes this process can take a year or more. When they were approved they were offered a charming place to stay in southern Holland. Unfortunately, they weren’t offered any choices about where this home could be, if, for example, they had friends or business contacts elsewhere in Holland. Once Dutch classes are completed Sayed could try to get a job.
I can only speak for Holland and Germany from my personal experience, but I am familiar with France and the rest of Western Europe. To a varying degree, Western Europe doesn’t have nearly the career mobility that the U.S. does. In Holland for example, potential employees need to have an education for nearly every position conceivable. Doctors and lawyers obviously require university education which is available free to the Dutch, but you must qualify for the university while still in grammar and high school. Graphic designers need to go to school. Even secretaries have secretary school and jobs are all but closed to those without the right credentials. The government even requests entrepreneurs to go to school before they can work for themselves. The result of all this is that Sayed couldn’t really get a job unless he went to school but the Dutch government didn’t give him enough money to pay for school. They will pay for some schooling for him though. Which ones? Excellent professions for an individual who speaks six languages like, say, truck driving.
Sayed worked illegally making pizzas and studied on the side. He took any entry level position he could find at various companies trying to move into a position that he studied for. He had little success and the economy in Weert, the small town in which we lived, is hardly accommodating to a wide range of opportunity. Even though the kind and generous government housed and fed him, all Sayed really wanted was to take care of himself.
This isn’t the only problem either. Western Europeans are rightly proud of their long and rich history. There is a well-deserved ethnocentrism in Europe that differs from the U.S. American version. In the U.S., for the most part, being born here is sufficient enough to grant you the ethnocentric term “American.” Europeans are much more stingy with French, German or Dutch. Even in the U.K. they still joke about how their king was a German. Society is more insular in Europe. Sure, people are friendly and asylum seekers are treated well, but they aren’t Dutch , German or French and the majority of their friends won’t be either. I noticed this difference too, while trying to make friends with the Dutch. One could barely tell the difference between me and the average Dutchman (I’m much shorter and have a funny accent) but there were still frustrating obstacles to making friends. But try going into a department store with Sayed who is more obviously not Dutch and you could practically feel the eyeballs on your back following you around the store perhaps trying to make sure you and your buitenlander (foreigner) friend didn’t steal anything. Virtually every foreigner living in Holland with whom we spoke shared this view with us. In Holland the foreigners are strictly distributed around the country which likely mitigates the ghettos that have developed in France but the separation is there either way.
So what’s going on in France? Are Muslims really rioting because two young men, broke the law by running from the police and then trespassing in a dangerous place and killing themselves tragically? Probably not. Is the rioting because foreigners have refused to integrate with society? In some cases they haven’t, but deciding not to integrate is an easy choice given how difficult it is to assimilate in European society. Are the foreigners afraid that the police cannot be trusted to deal with them fairly? They do feel harassed and that’s not right, but it’s probably an overstatement to claim that the French justice system has collapsed and is convicting people without evidence based only on their background or religion.
The rioting in France appears to be spreading and I am not surprised because the problems I’ve described in Holland are similar in France, Germany and Belgium and probably elsewhere as well. The government provides money, housing and food but no choice. One problem is the rigidity inherent in many European societies which requires young people to decide what they will do with their careers and make choices about them that they will have extreme difficulty changing later before they even graduate high school. The Dutch have to deal with this just as much as the foreigners do, but they’re at least used to it, perhaps. Foreigners, on the other hand can’t find satisfying jobs or afford to live where they’d like. They sit at home, take money from the government and grow to hate them for it. Foreigners are generously provided with everything they need except perhaps the only thing they want–freedom.
Families and friends that upon emigrating split off to go to Europe while the rest go to Canada or the U.S. all seem to share the same experience. Life is easy in Europe and they can’t wait to get out to get to the land of opportunity and choice in Canada or the U.S. Meanwhile, new American citizens are given little money and less support when they arrive but all the opportunity their hard work can generate. We’ve described to Sayed how hard life can be for new immigrants to the U.S. There will be no free house and terrible health care. You will have to struggle just to feed yourself in the U.S. But, if you work hard and have skills you will be able to find a job. If you perform well in that job you will earn more responsibilities and more salary. No guarantees, except that you can quit and try again somewhere else. It’s amazing to see how enthusiastic he is about losing his house and welfare checks just for the opportunities here.
“Eight school board members in Dover, Pa., who backed “intelligent design” were ousted by voters Tuesday.” Meanwhile, Kansas will require students to study “doubts about modern Darwinian theory.”
If Kansas students were only required to be skeptical of Darwin that might be great news. The reality is that they will not be shown how to be skeptical but rather educated about the doubts of “irreducible complexity” raised by Dr. Michael Behe which give the unfounded impression that questions about evolution theory are insurmountable.
The trial in Dover, Pa. continues however, even while the people of that town have tossed out all of the school board members who started it!
I doubt this debate is over but while I am heartened by the political process Dover, I’d hate to give up on Kansas. I am sure there are at least a few rational people there!
This last Halloween I dressed as a porcupine. I attached one hundred quills (drinking straws) to a brown hooded sweatshirt and painted my face brown with a black nose and whiskers. For some reason people noticed only the straws and thought I was a “straw-man.” The idea came to me because I wanted to be something different and didn’t feel the need to be anything all that funny or clever. Porcupines mean a little to me too, thanks to a recent experience.
I was hiking with some friends when we saw a porcupine waddling in the forest by the side of the road. Porcupines are large solitary rodents and any one who knows me knows that I am interested in most animals but especially weird ones and rodents. For several nights after seeing the porcupine I had dreams about them. In the dreams the porcupine would speak to me and answer questions or tell me things. It wasn’t some Disney anthropomorphized talking porcupine, instead I would see a porcupine in a tree looking down on me and I would hear a voice as if by telepathy.
I told friends about these dreams and they joked that the porcupine was my spirit guide. I don’t believe in spirit guides, but I was more than happy to have the porcupine as my personal mascot. Attaching straws to a brown sweatshirt seemed like a cute way to honor my personal mascot and simultaneously be sure that I had a unique costume.
Turns out the choice was even more appropriate than I thought at first. The Free State Project is a group of activist libertarians who want to see true freedom in their lifetimes. Their strategy is to move to a state of the union and take it over from within the system through simple majority. Their vow is to create “a society in which the maximum role of civil government is the protection of life, liberty, and property.” It sounds suspiciously like John Galt’s valley in Ayn Rand’s Atlas Shrugged. The Free State Project considered a variety of logos that would capture the meaning and goals of their movement. The Gadsen flag “Don’t Tread on Me” was a strong candidate but someone in their group suggested the porcupine instead. “Porcupines are certainly cute and non-aggressive, but you don’t want to step on them!” they claim.
With about half of the party-goers wondering what the straw-man was all about I certainly questioned the wisdom of selecting a solitary rodent with dangerous quills all over his back as my costume, but maybe it wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Check out the Free State Project’s logo if not their whole site. The idea seems crazy at first, but read their FAQ and pledges and you might not want to join them but you’ll surely see they’re at least fairly reasonable in their quest. Meanwhile, porcupines are pretty cute even if my costume was a failure.
According to a CBS News poll last month, 51 percent of Americans reject the theory of evolution, saying that God created humans in their present form. And reflecting a longstanding sentiment, 38 percent of Americans believe that creationism should be taught instead of evolution, according to an August poll by the Pew Research Center in Washington.
51% of Americans believe God created humans in their present form. Anyone have any idea what that statistic looks like outside of the U.S.?
President Bush is probably not enjoying his trip to south America. “Polls show,” according the Herald Tribune, “that Bush is the most unpopular U.S. president ever in Latin America.” And this is a man who actually speaks Spanish! Latin American countries honestly fear President Bush’s agenda. In Panama he was asked if he saw parallels to the invasion of Panama by his father and the invasion of Iraq. Hugo Chavez regularly accuses the U.S. of planning an assassination attempt on him. The U.S. has meddled frequently in Latin America so perhaps we can excuse his paranoia.
What is really bothering the latin Americans, however, is that they simply don’t see what’s so good about Bush’s free trade offerings. Republicans, in particular, have promoted free trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) and the Central American Free Trade Agreement (CAFTA) as being the height of capitalism. Latin Americans aren’t so easily fooled because they can see what is really happening. The U.S. uses it’s overwhelming economic power to squeeze imbalanced trade agreements where U.S. farm production, for example, is protected while everything else is wide open.
The fact is NAFTA and CAFTA are anti-capitalistic! If you and I agree to preferential trade conditions, that since we’re such good friends and trust each other we’ll agree to forego certain customs requirements or quotas or whatever rules are normally associated with trade for everyone else, then we do not have a level playing field for trade for our neighbor cannot compete with our agreements even if he’s offering better products. We have a complicated system where some participants trade easily, on some items, with each other while others may not. Goods that two countries both offer are now no longer on equal footing based only on economic agreements that the countries have with each other and not at all on the merits of the products. That is not capitalistic and it guarantees that we will not have a free market for the goods we sell or the best value for the products we buy.
So why is the party that claims it’s so fond of the free market system pushing preferential anti-free trade agreements? Why did the last democratic president push them almost as hard? Power. NAFTA and CAFTA are good for the U.S.; in the short run. Worse they’re good for a handful of U.S. Americans who are well positioned to take advantage of the complex agreements. Finally they’re good for presidents. These agreements are almost exclusively negotiated by the president himself and the U.S. gets to weave these agreements just exactly as they wish while the participating countries get take it or leave it deals. They aren’t good for the U.S. in the long run though and the hatred being expressed for President Bush in Latin America is evidence for this. These countries have begun to notice that while trading with the U.S. is a good and desirable thing, it hasn’t significantly improved the lives of the poor in these countries trading with an 800 pound gorilla. Instead, those companies and individuals with access to those in power have benefited while the poor have remained poor.
What’s especially disheartening for me is that these so-called free-trade agreements are providing ammunition for anti free-trade movements in both Latin America and here in the United States. Leftists on either side of the border point to these agreements and can easily say “see, the free-market is dangerous and hurts the poor.” Alas, the evidence they use to support this claim is free-trade in name only.
I’m sorry. This link truly isn’t in the tone of this blog and nor is my laughter. Rather, I would hope Traveling Hypothesis inspires respectful discourse. So I’ll rescue my blog’s dignity by pointing out that the comments to Cenk’s post actually are quite thoughtful and secondly that his view is rarely spoken about these days and so could use a little attention, even if it’s just a rant.
Sorry about the laughter.
I decided to take on a very difficult subject for this post and the result was about 1000 words that led nowhere. I had selected abortion to write about and from the very beginning I wanted to point out just how challenging this discussion is. Failing any conclusion, I started asking friends to discuss their views with me and promptly discovered that, just as I thought, this is a very difficult subject about which few of us have thought thoroughly.
So I am beginning again, this time not so much with a conclusion but with a thesis that I hope you will comment on and either strengthen or weaken it. Abortion will be on many people’s minds very soon, what with the latest supreme court nominee, so it’s a good time to start giving it some real thought.
No matter which side of the issue you’re on, abortion rights shouldn’t be considered lightly. Advances in modern medicine have made the debate even more difficult. In the past, deciding to have an abortion was probably a bigger risk to the mother than bringing the baby to term. Meanwhile, delivering a baby before full-term meant that it’s chance of survival was extremely unlikely. In both cases, the situation is better today. Legal abortions now pose less risk to the woman than a tonsillectomy, but the question of viability is more difficult to answer as well as more than 90% of premature babies who weigh 800 grams or more (a little less than two pounds) survive. Figures are much lower but not insignificant for babies at around one pound.
Pro-life supporters make a wide range of arguments for their position. They state that abortions are dangerous for the mothers in spite of the fact that women’s health is in graver danger from illegal abortions. Some women regret having abortions, even though many women, their children and their partners, if they have any, may also suffer greatly from the burden and responsibility of an unwanted child. Pro-life supporters imagine that making abortions illegal means there will no longer be abortions or at least that there will be fewer of them. Making rape illegal hasn’t reduced the number of rapes either but, there probably will be slightly fewer, it’s just difficult to say how many. Abortions increased after Roe v. Wade but since leveled off. Meanwhile, illegal abortions are under-reported for obvious reasons.
Pro-life supporters speak of responsibility. Shouldn’t women be responsible for their own bodies? “She’s had her fun now she must pay the consequences” I’ve even heard. This hardly sounds like the line of reasoning that is pro-families and about protecting lives, but the fact is women should be responsible. Except that we cannot legislate responsibility any more than we can legislate supportive families for these women who, once an ‘irresponsible’ accident has occurred will now have to have and potentially raise a child. Condoms break, birth-control pills fail. There will be unwanted pregnancies in teenagers who do not practice complete abstinence and there will be unwanted pregnancies among loving married couples living check to check who think they are taking every precaution. Our only alternative is complete abstinence, although there will be unwanted pregnancies from date-rapes and violent rapes too. Alas, abstinence-only is a naïve solution. (Three states have now refused federal education money because this money demands abstinence only sex education. The state of Maine recently turned down that money because they felt that refusing to teach about methods of contraception in addition to abstinence would be tantamount to turning the clock back 20 years and ignoring the lessons they’ve learned and the lower rate of teen pregnancies they now experience.)
Most effectively, however, pro-life supporters refer to abortion as murder. And for all the arguments of the pro-choice side against the claims of pro-life claims, few if any address this claim. Is it or is it not murder? Various religions have different views on when life begins, and scientists do too. A couple of cells in a blastocyst certainly has the potential to become a life but hardly a strong likelihood. (Many, if not most, pregnancies are naturally aborted.) An eight month, 20 day old fetus is another matter entirely. How can we reconcile just when life begins?
The idea suggested to me (and the one I hope you’ll comment on) is that there is something special about the ‘life’ inside the womb that distinguishes it from a newborn baby. The fetus inside the womb is utterly and exclusively dependent on the mother. Once the baby is born any human would be capable of taking care of it. The mother, a midwife, an adopted parent, anyone. Before it is born, it is quite literally part of the mothers body. And here’s the sticky part: as an integral part of her body, she has complete domain over it. Are we denying the rights of this unborn baby? Yes! For it is not an independent life like the mother’s. This is not without precedent. Once the baby is born it still will only have limited rights until it is 18 years old. The parents can’t arbitrarily end it’s life or even make the child perform undue labor but the baby and teenager do not have the same rights as adults do.
We may still have a quandary here, but at a minimum we’ve addressed whether or not the act of abortion is murder. The unborn fetus is not an independent life and part of society and therefore is not privileged with the same rights. To end it’s dependent life is not the same as ending the life of an independent being such as a newborn and therefore cannot be subject to the same rules.
Does this mean that we have to support abortion? No, To quote the Clinton administration, abortions should be “safe, legal, and rare.” There might be a scientifically determined point where ‘consciousness’ begins that will make this discussion easier. A point before which the fetus doesn’t even satisfy Decartes’ “I think therefore I am.” Pending that, both sides of the discussion can probably agree that there should be no reason, outside of the health of the mother, to abort a child after the second trimester. If the mother hasn’t been able to decide what to do at this point, she’s signed up to the next three months and even child-birth. She hasn’t signed up to raising the child, of course–she can immediately put the child up for adoption.
Without this new definition, both sides get caught in a dilemma. Pro-life protects unborn babies at the expense of the mother. They make a value judgement on who is more important. Worse, in the case of rape, they are divided into two groups. Those who would allow the unborn children of rape victims to be aborted, thus claiming that some lives are more important than others and those who would force the mother to have this child and thus diffuse their own argument of responsibility as well as force a woman through a terrible ordeal. At the same time, without the dependent life distinction, pro-choice supporters protect the mother, and along with her, all women’s rights to have domain over their own bodies, but without even addressing the idea that aborting a life might be reasonably perceived as murder.
I propose, therefore, that this dependent life might very well become a human being someday, and that ending pregnancy is not something to be taken lightly, but that we can also, very reasonably distinguish the newborn and the unborn which is still an inextricable part of the mother.
While you’re thinking about this see if you can find where on NARAL they even discuss whether or not abortion could be considered murder. See what you find at the National Organization of Women too. You’d think they’d at least have a counter-argument to this fundamental point in the pro-life movement. I missed it somehow.