Friday, August 27, 2010

Greece - ancient homeland of the gyro

After the emotion of last week's post (for me - I don't know about you), I thought I’d lighten it up a bit with a more personal account of one of my favorite subjects. Next week, I will be so fortunate as to get to go to Greece for my third time. 

Greece is mostly in the news these days because of its flagrant disregard for any fiscal common sense. By virtue of Greece, many countries like ours can say, we may be idiots, but we aren’t crazy. That’s because Greece, mostly due to excessive spending on far too many government employees with fat pensions and other insane entitlements, has far more government debt than their entire country can produce in total in an entire year. We spend and have borrowed too much also, but it is a still only a relatively small (but growing) percentage of what we produce in a year.

So, it is easy to imagine people not having the best perspective on Greece right now, particularly if they know little else about it. A year or so ago I was dumbstruck when some kid online (I hope he was a kid) asked with distain what was so great about ancient Greece, and I had to scold the brat and remind him that Greece invented or substantially developed so much of our culture as to be an inseparable and indestructable part of it (for a detailed list of Greece's contributions, I copied it in my 6/20/09 post, Death of the West, starting with the alphabet we all use, but really, just about everything). Even the planets, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, Uranus, Mars, Mercury, Venus and Pluto (still a planet to me), are just Latin names for the Greek gods or titans that the Roman adopted. Do they not teach this stuff in school anymore or was he just out that day?

My view is the polar opposite of his and has been since I was a little tyke. I remember clearly still my mother teaching me to read from Edith Hamilton’s Mythology when I was very little (my sister insists it was her, but, sorry, my memories are what they are), and I count it as the second book I ever read. And most of the mythology in it was Greek. So, stories of Zeus and Athena and Ares and Hermes and Apollo were soldered into my brain at the earliest possible time and they have never gotten out.

When I was little older my mother became a little concerned about my fascination with Greek gods and felt that she had to warn me that they were just stories and not real gods. I was a little embarrassed that she thought I was buying it (although, I couldn't understand how she believed in her God either). But, whether they were real or not, I couldn’t get enough of them and strange as it may seem, I have never stopped reading about them, or Greece in general (I’m too lazy to count but I have something in the area of 50 books on Greece in my living room right now; maybe obsession is a better word than interest).

In 1990, my friend asked me if I wanted to go there with him (he's part Greek and had been there many times), as he was looking for company. We traveled to Turkey, traveled down the coast and then popped over to the Greek Island of Kos for a few days. That might not seem like a Greek trip to you, but the Greeks colonized what we now call the west coast of Turkey many centuries before Christ and it is still a great place to see Greek ruins. Ephesus (as in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians in the Bible), for example, contains some of the most interesting Greek ruins I’ve ever seen and is not too far from Istanbul and the site of ancient Troy, which, if the Iliad is really history, the Greeks sacked something over 3000 years ago.

I leave aside the Turkish part of the trip (although, that is where the toilet seat bit me on the ass, where we saw an amazing underground water cistern, where I ate dog meat [not on purpose], where my friend tipped the bellhop so much less than I did that I thought he might kill him, where we took a walk one night and ended up at an outdoor whorehouse that makes the red light district in Amsterdam seem tame, where I received the most pleasurable beating of my life, and other exciting adventures) and go right to Kos, which is actually only a few miles off the Turkish coast.

We were able to rent a room overlooking a pleasant square there for the equivalent of $10 dollars. And I mean for the two of us. Even back in 1990, ten dollars was like nothing. We rented motorbikes, which provided me with some . . . excitement.

Taking the bikes out one day, we began riding to the top of the island, where we figured we would have an outstanding view. Actually, the islanders thought it would be a great place for a garbage dump and that’s precisely what it was. So, we turned our bikes around and started down the sandy road.

Now, I had never ridden a motorbike before, but it wasn’t real hard. Unfortunately, as we were leaving the dump, my back tire hit a patch of sand and the cycle was thrown sideways. Although I doubt I was going more than 5 miles per hour at the time, it was enough to throw me off. I landed on my hands and knees and ripped the skin off one of each. Now, it did hurt like the dickens, and a smarter man than I would have gone to a doctor, but, instead, we decided to go to the beach, because after all, what better treatment could I get than to submerge my wounds in salt water? Honestly, I still don’t have an answer to that question and maybe it was a smart thing to do. I don’t know. I’m a lawyer not a doctor and I failed 9th grade health.

So, away we went to the brilliant blue sea, and I walked into the beautiful Aegean, named for the legendary Aegeus, probably meaning goat-man, the father of the hero Theseus, who threw himself into the sea and drowned when his dummy son forgot to put up the white sails on his returning ship, signaling that he was alive. Kids. What are you gonna do? Anyway, it got a sea named after him and how many of us get that honor? Now, it hurt a lot when I ripped the skin off my knee and elbow, but it hurt a hell of a lot more when I put them in salt water. You know that saying about rubbing salt in a wound? Turns out it isn't just a saying.  But, I figured if it hurt that much, it must be like Bactine and be anti-septic.

But that was not the end of my motorbike adventures. You would think after the fall I would have been a little shy about riding again, but, keep in mind, I was a moron. So, the next day, with me still in a lot of pain, we took off again. I forget where we were exactly, but I was following behind Fred who passed over a little bridge. Naturally, I followed. Unfortunately, as I did so, a bus entered the bridge coming in the opposite direction. We passed each other going 20-30 mph with, I estimate, less than four inches between me and the bus on my left, and me and the concrete wall on my right. I have been near death too many times in my life not to think I might just be part cat, and I count that as one of my nine lives. I’m not being over-dramatic either. It was close.

Yet, that too was not enough. A little further down the road I suddenly felt a very sharp pain in my throat. Now, keep in mind I had recently ripped most of the skin off a knee and elbow, but, I tell you, dear readers, that was a mere pat on the back compared to this. Now, a brighter man than I might have stopped and looked in a mirror or felt around with his hand, but he wasn’t there with me. Fred, not having almost died in an accident with a bus, was well ahead of me and I decided to catch up by going a lot faster (which, again, had I a brain in my head . . . ).  The pain in my throat did not subside and while approaching Fred, I did some thinking and concluded that was one of the most painful experiences in my life up to then. I put it number three on the most painful things in my life, ahead of the times I had suffered the special pleasure of receiving a blow or kick between the legs. When I caught up with him at a light, for some reason I didn’t want to appear unduly concerned and just casually asked him, is my throat bleeding by any chance? He leaned over and pulled a thistle out of me. It had to be 4 of 5 inches long and must have just been just blowing down the road like a dart looking to kill someone when I happened along. Maybe I was lucky it landed where it did, instead of an eye, a few inches away.

Anyway, the next day I traded in the motorbike and got a moped. Remember, like my country - I'm stupid, not crazy.

Two years later, Fred and I went back to Greece with his brand new girlfriend and another friend of ours. This time we stayed in Greece and traveled to Crete, the largest island, not far from northern Africa, then Santorini, one of the most romantic and beautiful spots in the world, and Mykonos, also a fabulous playground of sun, sand and little villages.

I will tell only one story from this trip, but there were quite a few (like the Night of the Murder, the best orange juice stand in the world, the mean-waiter faces, and my battle with an insect bigger than my thumb). This one I have told dozens of times. I believe we were on Mykynos. Fred and his new girlfriend had not known each other more than a few weeks and they were not yet getting along so well. I woke up from a nap on the beach and wandered over to the restaurant where I saw Fred at a table. I sat down and we were soon joined by Elke. I was a little concerned that Fred seemed to be flirting a bit too much in front of her with our waitress, who, for some reason, I remember was an American mortgage broker who quit her job to travel and after visiting Egypt, was then waitressing in Greece. Anyway, there were vibes going back and forth and Elke did not look particularly pleased. At some point Fred turned to Elke, a German by birth, and said to her, pleasant as can be, “Elke, my little schweinhund, do you have any money.” So, my jaw dropped and I looked at him and said, “Fred (you idiot), do you know what ‘schweinhund’ means?” He said, “Sweetheart?” I suppose that was a reasonable guess if you’ve never seen Hogan’s Heroes, but, in case you didn’t know, it means pig-dog.

Later, when our other friend came up to us and Elke repeated the story to her, all she could say was, “I hope you didn’t give him the money.”

Actually, she did. And later, in spite of the inadvertent insult, she later married him. Awww. Anyway, she says that it was one of her German grandfather’s favorite stories until the day he died. One of mine too, probably until the day I die.

Anyway, I and the little woman who reads this blog just to see if her name is mentioned are going to Crete for about 6 days and then later meeting Fred, Elke and their ten year old on Santorini for a few more days before heading to the mainland so that they can go to the beach some more, and I can go look at what’s left of Sparta and Mycenaea and Argos. I never had a good camera to take with me on earlier trips and am quite excited about it, even if it is my third time. What could be better than Greece in September? I'm also curious to see if I can understand anything the natives say. Probably not, but here's why.

A few years ago, I decided to study ancient Greek just in case when I die, there is a heaven after all, and after I get over my pique for being wrong all these years, I find out that you have to speak ancient Greek if you want to meet anyone like Aristotle, Homer or possibly even Jesus. I have a few things I'd like to discuss with Plato, for one thing, as he has always bugged me. But, actually, I really just wanted to read Homer in the original and in my fourth year now, I am at least getting somewhere with it. I should have done it when I was twenty, of course, but, next time around I’ll be a lot smarter, having all the experience from this lifetime. Earlier this year, I also started on classical Greek, which is a marginally different than Homer (reading Herodotus right now), but which is a little harder for me. At the same time – and I honestly don’t know why I'm doing this except that I found a free website teaching it – I started modern Greek.

I’ve already written here a little about my ancient Greek studies (9/21/07 - For language lovers only), so I won’t go through it again, but I have to say, I was floored right from the beginning about just how many words the author(s) of the Iliad (we don’t even know if there really was a Homer, but likely not) used are still the same basic words in English and other languages today. More interesting to me, looking at the Old English Beowulf, also one of my favorite books, was written in, it is evident that somehow, the language "Homer" used perhaps 2600-2800 years ago, is much more recognizable to an English speaker than Old English is to us from only a thousand years ago. I realize that this doesn’t seem to make sense, but it is inarguably true. I have theories about why, but I will leave it to another day when I understand it better myself. I might have to learn some Old English first and I'm not sure that is in the cards.

But, back to the issue at hand, although modern English speakers could not possibly read Beowulf in the original without a lot of study (again, it is only from a 1000 years ago), modern Greeks can learn to read Homer rather quickly, as it is to some extent the same language. That itself is remarkable. Although a Greek would tell you it is very different, coming from my perspective, the similarities far, far outweigh the changes. In fact, during the last century, when Greece was debating how to teach Greek in schools, many educators still favored teaching it through ancient Greek texts. It simply wouldn't be possible for us to learn modern English by studying Beowulf in its original form (we can read Middle English authors, like Chaucer, with a little help).

Less than 30 years ago, the Greek parliament finally, and apparently abruptly, forced through dramatic changes in their written language that caused a bit of a firestorm there. They got rid of what are called breathing marks at the beginning of words that started with vowels (whether you pronounced it with what we would call an “H” sound or not), vamoosed two of the three accent marks and chose a style called demotic (from the same word as democracy – demos – people). People were apparently pretty upset about it and there were riots. Imagine if in America the powers that be suddenly decided to officially do away with capital letters and quotation marks and so on. Actually, some Greeks I have met online through my study of modern Greek have told me they still use the old style, but that’s because they are 40 and older and had already used it. Younger people never used it and it will likely die out in another half century. Oddly, I found that many of those who learned a bit of ancient Greek in grade school seemed to hate it, and some seem to believe it is too hard to really learn. That strikes me as pretty funny, and I am sure, if they tried, I could teach any of them in just a couple of months and after that they would at least read it much faster and better than I will ever be able to, as it is their native language.

My struggles with speaking modern Greek are legion (I really don’t get to practice in a real life conversation) as opposed to just reading, where it is only a question of learning vocabulary and grammar. For one thing, in ancient Greek, scholars believe that they pronounced the alphabet not all that differently than we do now in English, with a few differences. That part was not difficult to pick up - really, a few hours. Not so in modern Greek, where pronunciation has long ago gone through some major renovations. For example, they pronounce “b” as if it were our “v,”; “d” as if it were our “th” as in “then,” “mp” as if it were our “b,” “vt” as if it were our “d,” most of their vowels and diphthongs as if they were written “ee” as in “peek,” and after “eu” or “au” you have to remember to add a “v” or “f” sound. I am not quite capable of making their “g” and “x” sounds without sounding like I am trying to swallow a feather. Frankly, when you add in that they accent their multisyllabic words somewhat differently than we do, I don’t know how I haven’t bitten my tongue in half trying to pronounce them. Sometimes I just start stuttering.

Nevertheless, for the last six months or so I’ve been trying it out, and, if I know the vocabulary I can keep up with someone speaking Greek for a few sentences, but only if I can also read along (as I can on the new website I’ve switched to). But, and I hate to use this pun, if I don’t have text to read along with – it is all Greek to me. Like listening to Martians with speech defects speak with marbles in their mouth. Bluhbluhbluhbubluh. I'll see how it goes when I get there. I'll may be embarrassed to try and speak it myself because it would just take too long to think out a sentence and I know from native Greek speakers my accent is borderline horrific. Maybe just for fun..

Until next week, as the Greeks say – Χαίρετε. Γεια σας.

*Photos, in order - ruins of library at Ephesus, the extinct volcano at Santorini, a windmill in Mykonos and the town of Fira in Santorini overlooking the sea.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

I'm almost ready to build one myself


Yes, that’s how I feel. For the first time in a while a political issue has made me so mad I could dress up as Dolly Parton carrying an AK-47 and walk into a conservative caucus and say, “Don’t panic, I’m not a Muslim.”

I’ll tell you what’s got me so enraged. It’s the drumbeat against the so called mosque in NYC two blocks from ground zero. Apparently, much of our country is against it.

Unlike the left, I don’t see the right wingers as racist – in the color sense. I don’t see the tea parties as racist. I don’t see Arizona as racist. Put Judge Clarence Thomas up as candidate for President and most conservatives will vote for him. I’m not saying there aren’t racists around, but I am saying, it is no longer part of the mainstream political movement in American politics, with the exception of some on the left who use the race card at the drop of a hat, and are part of the political elite on their side. Nor am I saying that there are more on the left than the right, but those on the right have been fairly marginalized, and there really aren't that many of either. 

And, I had thought we were really done with a lot of this religious nonsense too. It seemed to me so much of that had gone the way of the dodo in America, but, apparently I breathed my sigh of relief too fast, and I am terribly disappointed as if I've been jilted on some first amendment altar. I don’t how else to describe what people like Newt Gingrich, Sean Hannity, Joe Lieberman or Harry Reid (all of whom I’ve heard speak on this issue) are doing anything but encouraging bigotry against Muslims. But, make no mistake, this is mostly a right wing phenomena with the left wing acting in many cowardly fashion all partisan policians take. I recognize it is also the position of the majority of Americans, almost two thirds, but I can’t single them all out; just the leaders. But, it is the prevalence of this bigotry among our populace that gives the leaders the courage to take this approach.

I’ve spent a bit of time arguing on blogs (not like this blog, but blogs a lot of people actually read) this week, and I am just appalled at the hatred and anger directed towards American Muslims. And, I seem to be getting a few people riled up (though most of them seem in permanent state of anger to begin with)  in my comments because I’ve compared this movement to 1930s Germany. I didn't call them Nazi's, but, that’s what it reminds me of - an emotional demonization of a people and a surrender of rationality.

So far I've resisted the desire to taunt them by writing - since lots of critics of the center are religious people, by asking them "Don’t you want people praying, you . . . ? I thought you even wanted it in school?"

So disgusted, I don’t know where to start. So irritated, I might even break my usual rule and call a few names. We’ll see.

First, this may not be an argument about building a 13 story mosque that’s being built at Ground Zero at all, but a 13 story building which already exists and which is going to be redesigned as a Muslim cultural or community center, but which will include a prayer room (which, I presume will be pretty big). You can call it a mosque if it makes you happy. Doesn't matter to me. Doesn't matter if it's there are they are building it from scratch. It's not relevant, because they could build a big mosque there if they wanted.

Some really, really important arguments (I have to work on my sarcasm skills) are being made that because a piece of the plane went into the building, it is part of Ground Zero. As if there is some rule for what gets called Ground Zero that could be anything but arbitrary. Does that mean every building for miles that was covered in soot when the building fell is also Ground Zero? Does it means the building my friend works in, across the street from the towers, and which was physically shaken by the explosions, is also Ground Zero. Although it is right across the street, really in the same big financial district park, no one has suggested that it is. I guess it must only applies to the buildings that fell down and those belonging to Muslims.

That’s because GZ is really where there is now a big hole in the ground and we all know it.

But, again, even if we were going to make believe for the sake of those who hate and despise Muslims just so they can score a point - that it is Ground Zero, I could care less. It is immaterial. If a Muslim group owned GZ, they could build a mosque there too.

GZ is not holy ground. We shouldn't do holy ground in America. Yes, we have parks, places of historical significance and landmarked buildings, and I’m all for them, and I have no problem with a reasonable memorial at GZ either, subject to the owner’s approval, but we should not dream of taking take someone’s property just because we don’t like them or they offend us and act like we are in 1930s Germany. It is not holy or sacred and there is probably going to be fast food places and Kinkos all over it.

If you are at all familiar with NY and have been to Ground Zero, you know that it is an area that has not only been surrounded by tall buildings (since I believe the 70s), but which are going still going at a fast rate (except, ironically, at the actual Ground Zero, thanks to politics and busy bodies). The people in the new proposed Liberty Tower, which may or may not be built in my lifetime, are not going to be looking out their windows at a giant version of the Blue Mosque anyway. They might be able to see the roof top of the center, but I bet, unless they put a map up on the window with a little arrow, they aren’t going to be able to tell which one. Then again, it wouldn’t matter if it did look like a turreted mosque. That would actually be a lot prettier and I'm all for nice looking churches, synagogues and mosques.


And, sorry to offend you all, but I stopped caring what the "victims' families" thought back in 2001. Sure, I’m sorry for them. I’m sorry for everybody who has died in a terrorist attack including those in the first tower attack in 1993 (six were killed and over 1000 injured according to the wiki-God). But, those families from the second attack have no more right to decide what happens with the area than anyone else. Not even a little, unless some property owner gives them the right. Do the people who had family members die or lost their property in Louisiana or Mississippi in Katrina get to decide how the area is rebuilt outside of their own homes and property. Do our soldiers who get killed fighting our wars get to decide how Arlington Cemetery should be re-designed? Do the families of the dead from flight 800 get to tell the homeowners in Shirley, NY they have to fly their flags at half mast (there actually is a small memorial park out there, but the families don’t control it). When Ford Pinto’s started blowing up, did the victims get to name a new car?

No. No. No.

I know, we keep hearing these critics say – it’s not about the first amendment. They could not be more wrong – it is all about the first amendment. There is nothing else it should be about. Many of these people want the state or city to landmark the building so it can’t be changed. Or they want to use government investigations or red tape so it can’t be done. They want to use eminent domain to take it away because they are offended (at what, I still don't understand). Those are FIRST AMENDMENT VIOLATIONS.

Speak up now if you understand that being offended or not liking someone’s taste is not grounds to harass them and I will send you a free copy of the constitution (provided I can get one for free still and you pay postage).

No. No. No.

I love this incredible response I received on a blog to one of my comments – "Why don’t you go live in Iraq or Iran, David, if you love Muslims so much?" Something like that.

Because (you . . . you . . . ararrrrragghh) I love the first amendment and those countries are totalitarian dictatorships like you apparently would have this country be, if only your tribe could be in power.

When I drive to the gym a few days of the week I listen to Sean Hannity on the radio. Usually, he makes me crazy after a few minutes when he goes so far overboard that it gets frightening (because some people do really get worked up by these radio or tv pundits, and don't hide their fury from the rest of us). Lately, he has been on a non-stop rampage against the “controversial Imam,” and the “Ground Zero mosque” as he likes to say. As part of his show, he lets friends or proponents of the Imam on, but tries his best not to let them speak. When one nice woman came on to support her friend, she agreed with the host that Hamas was a terrorist group and that stoning women is awful, and was still sent off with a rousing attack from him that she sounded like a radical too.

Now, I don’t know very much about the Imam (for example, I heard that he was a friend of Dick Cheney's too, but I have no idea), but I know no one has offered any evidence that he is a terrorist or helping terrorists. I have heard that he said that the U.S. was partially complicit in 9/11, but that doesn’t bother me, because one, SOMETHING LIKE 40-50% OF AMERICANS BELIEVE THE U.S WAS DIRECTLY INVOLVED (Zogby poll) AND MOST OF THOSE PEOPLE AREN’T MUSLIMS EITHER!!!

I also heard it mentioned that he just won’t say whether Hamas is a terrorist organization. So what? One, that isn’t grounds for anything either. Two, that feeling is shared by some Israelis, 64% of who stated in a 2008 poll that they FAVORED DIRECT NEGOTIATIONS WITH HAMAS. And, get this – a recent poll of British Jews found that although they are overwhelmingly dedicated to the survival of Israel as a Jewish homeland, 52% of them do not believe that Hamas is a terrorist organization and want direct negotiations with them. We know that feeling is widely shared by our European allies. And the majority of them aren’t Muslims either. Why should the Imam be treated differently. I think Hamas is a terrorist organization, but I don't care whether he does or not when it comes to the "Ground Zero mosque" because it make no difference.

I really could care if the “controversial Imam” insists that lima beans taste good, which is about as offensive as you can get and still call yourself an American.

I also love this one – the Imam says he wants America to be “Shariah compliant (that’s how I’m spelling it – lighten up). Over and over again I’ve read and heard about the horrors of Shariah, and who could disagree – stoning adulterers or punishing rape victims is horrifying stuff. But, that doesn’t describe American Muslim desires nor does it appear to describe this Imam’s feelings, as his friends say they and he are for a version of Shariah which is in accordance with freedom and our constitution. Even different Muslim countries have different versions of Shariah. Are you aware that parties in this country can decide to arbitrate – with the force of law – in this country based on Christian and Jewish law? So what? They can’t stone anyone either, no matter what the arbitrator decides.  But, I wouldn't care if he does, because it has nothing to do with this issue. As much as I can't stand what Newt Gingrich is doing here, I don't want him to have his property take either. We get to have opinions and not suffer for it.

Before someone mentions it, we have also bombarded with the story of the NJ judge who didn’t punish a Muslim husband who raped his wife while she cried, because, according to the judge, he was only following Shariah law. Well, if no one has told you, a) his ruling was overturned by an appellate court because IT IS NOT OUR LAW, and b) THAT JUDGE IS FREAKING CRAZY AND SHOULD BE IMPEACHED!!!!! (I read he was subsequently given a lifetime appointment – I don’t know). But, if that story is supposed to mean that we are slowly going Shariah, I can't see it.

Okay, let me move on a little. Yesterday I read an article by Russ Douthat of the The NY Times which talked about two Americas – one which was dedicated to the Constitution and the other that was dedicated to keeping American for “real Americans”. He saw value in both. It was interesting sociologically, and few commenters disagreed with his analysis. But, the comments to him were really interesting. Here are some excerpts (you can probably still find it on the website – I fix the occasional errors to make them more readable – I’m not to careful with my comments either):

This one by a Muslim:

“As an American of Muslim faith, tragically you (he means Douthat, folks) tend to ignore profound empirical data regarding Muslims in America that would have led you to different conclusion: First, 45 percent of Muslims in the United States are African Americans. Another 20 percent are converts, most of this second group are US-born white middle class and upper middle class females who converted from Christianity to Islam, an interesting cultural phenomena in its own right. Unless Mr. Douthat believes that African Americans in the United States do not share the America culture or experience and/or native born white middle and upper middle class American women are somehow different from mainstream ‘Anglo-Saxon’ culture and American experience, two nihilistic, racist and historically untenable proposition at best, one simply can not arrive at the conclusion that the majority of Muslims in the United States are of a different culture or they are the ‘other’, somehow different for the Anglo-Saxon or Judio-Christian tradition. Incidentally, for the benefit of your readers, emerging scholarly consensus finds that nearly 40 percent of blacks plucked from Africa and brought to the United States on slave ships were Muslims, among them significant number of Ulema (Muslim clerics).

. . .

I do believe that if most Americans, yourself included, did not look at 1.3 billion world of Islam through the prism of Arab Middle East which accounts for only 240 million Muslims, less than the largest Muslim country, Indonesia, Islamophobia would be less severe. For example, when one looks at the third Muslim group in the United States, the immigrant Muslims community in the United States, we find that a significant number of immigrant Muslims in the United States are from India, a country with democratic traditions. On per capita basis this segment of the Muslim community fields five times more Ph.D. than mainstream American so-called ‘Anglos-Saxon’ population; many successful entrepreneurs, medical doctors, university professors, scientists and public intellectual of the highest order, Muslim Fareed Zakaria among them. In my own small immigrant extended Muslim family here in the United States, we have four PhDs, including two from the University of California and two from Sorbonne.”

Here’s one from another Muslim:

“I mentioned in a previous post that my family has been in this country for over 300 years. My ancestors fought in the American Revolution, the Civil War, WWI, my grandfather fought in Normandy, my father was in Vietnam. Yet you are telling me to be moderate and assimilate. Into this country which my family has helped to build!

It is insulting, and I cannot fully express in words the frustration I feel.”

Here’s one I believe was from a Jewish man (he started out by talking about Jews here from the 1600s):

“I was adviser to a Jordanian major for year and saw first hand real Islam as part of daily life. This terrorist-Islam the media plays endlessly is an absurdity.

Terrorist-Islam is not Islam any more than a man murdering a doctor at a church, or claiming the divine right to raise welts on misbehaving children or claiming women should have no life outside the home, is the exemplification of Christianity.”

This one from a Rabbi:

“As for both Douthat & some commentators on this story, they ignore the public evidence of what Park51 floor plans show: that there is prayer space within a cultural center , not a super-mosque with sirens blaring the call to prayer; that the real-estate developer who bought the property had earlier tried to buy the land for the cultural center on 23d Street but the financing fell through (as reported in front-page article by the NY Times; or is 23d St also too close to the hallowed ground of the Twin Towers?) ) or that in many places in America, some people are resisting placing mosques anywhere (also reported in another front-page article in the NY Times).

I think it boils down to this: as one commentator said, SOME people think every mosque is a secret staging ground for training & equipping terrorists. And the commentator then blithely goes on, this is reason to stop the mosques.

This is straight ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’ stuff. The ‘merely constitutional’ approach of the First America was not built of airy theory, but of the real-life experience of persecuted religious minorities and the decision, sometimes undermined by fear and hatred, that a cauldron of persecution was not what America was to be.

As George Washington said, addressing a synagogue in Newport, Rhode Island, ‘To bigotry no sanction, to persecution no assistance.’ As my grandmother said, interrupting other Jewish women in line at the kosher butcher who were talking contemptuously in 1940 about ‘the shvartzes,’ ‘That's the way they talked about us in Europe. This is America, and we must not talk like that!’”.

Over two years ago the Pew Group did a poll on Muslim Americans. I started writing the following (don't jump on me - it's a very rough draft) and just never finished it up:

“I was somewhat surprised by the media reaction to the Pew poll from May earlier this year, but have always been distracted from commenting upon it. It’s only 6 months old and the views probably are relatively similar. You can read the poll report itself in its entirety at http://pewresearch/.

Many mentions I saw plucked a fact or two out of the report and left out many other considerations (find the worst stats and go with it as your lead). Pew found that 65% of the Muslim population in this country is foreign born, with the Arab population a little bit over a third of that group (24% of total), as opposed to 35% being native born with two thirds of that group being African American (20% of total). Three fifths of the native born Muslims are converts. As a group, they make up as much as a half percent of the population, and possibly much less. Still, Pew estimates 1.6 million Muslim adults and a total population of 2.3. The word estimate must be emphasized as the U.S. census does not ask questions about religion. There have been higher and lower suggestions.

While European and Asian Americans may fear Islam (I know a number of people who believe all Muslims have violent tendencies or support terrorism) these numbers often show pro-American views greater than the general population.

For example, 71% of Muslims believed you can get ahead with hard work in America as opposed to only 64% of the general population. The native born Muslims were slightly more skeptical than the foreign born. In the same manner, fewer Muslims believed you could not get ahead no matter how hard you worked than the general population. These numbers should be no great surprise as only 2% of Muslims are low income compared to the general population in the United States. Compare this positive figure with that of Britain (22%) France and Germany (both 18%) and (23%). That’s a factor of about 10 to 1.

A media outlet might get a headline shouting that only 38% of U.S. Muslims find the state of America satisfactory (45% of the foreign born). 38% is only a little more than a third. But the general public satisfaction is less than a third, on 32%. In a number of questions, Muslims seemed more satisfied or happier than the general public. When they were not, the numbers were usually not very different, and less so with the foreign born.

For example, 72% of Muslims found their community excellent or good compared to 82% of the general population. Overall Muslims seem a little less happy than their general population though. Only 24% of Muslims say they are very happy, compared to 36% of the general population. Interestingly, foreign born Muslims are slightly more likely to say they are very happy than native born ones (26% to 22%), but native born ones are far more likely to say that they are “pretty” happy (62% to 48%).

Muslims were much more skeptical than the general public about the wars in Iraq, Afghanistan and the general one on terror by large margins over the general public. However, their opinions on terrorism were not that different at all. Only 8% of Muslims in America thought suicide bombings were ever justified, although only (thank god) 1% believed the same against civilian targets. 58% had a highly unfavorable opinion of Al Qaeda (which was brought down considerable by the African-American block (only 38% ???). 40% believe and 28% believe that Arabs were involved in the 9/11 attacks.

This is far less than comparative numbers for Western Europe, not to mention Muslim countries. The bad news for us is that the numbers are much greater for younger Muslims than older ones. I suspect, but don’t know, that this is true throughout the middle east and Europe as well. For example, more than twice as many Muslim in America under 30 believe that suicide bombings may be justified (15% to 6%).

Although they have conservative social values, they prefer the Democratic Party to the Republican Party by nearly 2 to 1, and are for bigger government by a large margin. 71% voted for Kerry in 2004. Some of that may be related to their great disapproval of Bush (about a 3 times as many disfavor him as the general public).

49% believed that mosques should not involve themselves with politics. 43% said they should. This, however, is quite similar to the 2006 poll of Christians, also by Pew which found 54% against it, and 43 % for it.

Muslim incomes are almost identically spread as the general population. For example 16% of Muslims earn over $100,000 compared to 17% for the general population, with similarly near identical numbers all the way down. Far greater differential exists, particularly at the higher end, in Western Europe. Numbers for educational achievements for Muslims as opposed to the general population are similarly close. However, a far greater percentage of the general population are homeowners compared to Muslims (68% to 41%). 50% of American Muslims accept the Koran as the Word of God compared to 40% of American Christians who feel similarly about the Bible. Most American Muslims believe in one god, Allah, and in judgment day and angels. 72% of Muslims say religion is “very important” part of their lives compared to 60% of Christians (how many Christians think that’s a bad thing). But 71% of Christians claim they pray every day compared to 60% of Muslims. Christians are also slightly more likely to say that they attend church once a week (45% to 40%).

Black Muslims were less likely to completely condemn Al Qaeda than other Muslims.”

I think you get the idea.

Here’s my pledge. I have no idea who I would vote for in November, because I do not want to vote for any Democrats or Republicans. I’ve decided neither party is dedicated to the country, but the very nature of the two party system we have makes them beholden only to their parties and whatever special interests their party favors. On one hand, I definitely don’t want the Democrats to continue in their powerful grip on congress and the presidency (or the Republicans to regain that fully either). So, I may end up voting for a Republican over a Democrat. But, I definitely will not vote for a Republican who uses this phony bologna issue or seeks to demonize American Muslims.

Think of any other arguments you can. I’m fired up on this one.

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Is it illegal to make illegals illegal?

So, I pissed myself off the other day. I saw a collection of opinions by law professors on The New York Times website concerning the U.S. District Court Judge’s decision in the immigration case brought by the federal government against Arizona and read them.

I had already formed somewhat of a general opinion on the whole issue, mostly favoring the state. That is, I liked the law and only had a few quibbles with it. I offered a comment before I read the judge's opinion, something I try not to do. It’s not that anyone is scoring me on whether I change my mind or not, but I try not to do it because news reports or opinion pieces of most court cases are generally only political or ideological. By that I mean completely skewed. I thought that these law professors would be a little more realistic, but, when I read the actual opinion, saw they were as willing to exaggerate or twist as any so called pundit (by the way, if I ever use the word pundit without the "so called" prefix, please assume it. 

And,  after I read the court's opinion (twice now), I changed my mind a little. I had not the background in immigration law to really see the whole picture, and now, at least, I see it better. When Arizona first passed its law (and I did read that), the consensus was that if the federal government sued Arizona the issue would be about the law being too vague and therefore a violation of the due process clause (14th amendment). But, everyone also knew, or thought, anyway, that the underlying issue was really whether the law was racist. But, the federal government apparently realized that they had a weak case on that ground as the law specifically made racial profiling unlawful and to a large extent mirrored federal law.

But some learned soul at the Attorney General’s office knew something that Eric Holder (the attorney general) and Barack Obama (the law professor) and Janet Napolitano (Department of Homeland Security and former Arizona governor) didn't know and when they sued they went on much stronger grounds that almost no one saw. I certainly wasn’t expecting it.

Preemption is a fairly esoteric legal issue that only comes up when federal law is pitted against state law. In a nutshell, the constitution contains a supremacy clause, which basically places federal law over state law. Sounds easy. Unfortunately, not.

Preemption happens two ways. If congress actually says we mean to take this area for ourselves and the states can’t legislate about it, that’s express preemption. But, if the courts feel that congress has made such a comprehensive scheme that it appears they intended to preempt, without actually saying it, that’s implied preemption. Implied preemption happens when either the federal scheme is so pervasive that it appears the congress has occupied the field, and also where a state law interferes or makes impossible to enforce federal law. Naturally, there's a lot more to it, but I felt eyes glazing over all ready.

Express preemption is fairly easy. But whether or not there should even be implied preemption is not seriously argued by almost anyone anymore. It is well established and even the two ideologies – liberal and conservative – like it. Neither side wants the states going off the reservation when they have control of the federal government.

Here the question is - has congress preempted the field of immigration. Although states’ rights enthusiasts would like the federal government’s power limited to powers expressly mentioned in the constitution, they can’t realistically argue that immigration isn’t one of them, as naturalization, migration and importation are all specifically mentioned there.

In fact, over 30 years ago the Supreme Court held in an 8-0 decision that congress has clearly preempted the states when it comes to immigration, in a case called De Canas v. Bica (1976). And, when you think about it, there’s good reason for it. You can’t have 50 states making the rules for who gets to be in the country and who doesn’t, who is an illegal, who gets thrown out and how. It would be like having the states being able to declare war. In some areas everyone recognizes unanimity is a good thing.

But, it's never that simple. In the same '76 case, the court also made it clear that states can make laws which affect immigrants as long as they aren’t speculative and only indirectly affect them.

So, the question here is not whether preemption applies to this case – it does, and as a general principal, Arizona doesn't really disagree. Justices as left wing as Brennan and Marshall and as right wing as Burger and Rehnquist all agreed to the De Canas decision. The real issue is whether or not the Arizona law affects immigration in a non-speculative and indirect way.

I wasn’t even keen on briefing cases when I was in law school, and I don’t intend to do it here either. But, following are some of the important things you might want to know about this case if you intend to have anything other than a polemical argument about it. If this seems dense to you, all I can promise you is that it is an attempt to make something complex as simple as possible while still being remotely comprehensive. You want more - read the case. You want less, you can find that on any news channel.

This was not a trial. No final decision was made. It was merely an attempt by the U.S. to have the court stay the law until the trial on their lawsuit. In order to win the motion they had to show that it was likely they would win at trial, that the U.S. would suffer irreparable harm if the motion wasn’t granted, and last, that the balance of equities and public interest was in their favor (yes, these are vague standards but are, far as I know, except for the public interest part, the standard elements in every similar motion throughout the country).

The district court (that is, the lowest federal court judge who will handle this case) did not enjoin the entire law. For one thing, the law, which contained some new provisions but also amended some old laws, contained a provision which stated that if some of the provisions were found unconstitutional, the rest could stand on their own. Although the U.S. asked for this, it's argument that the law was an "integrated statutory enactment with interlocking provisions" probably made everyone giggle, but didn't wash.

So, despite what you may have read or heard, most of the law Arizona law still stands and is now in effect. There are four provisions which were stayed pending trial because the judge found that it’s likely the U.S. will win on these four parts (plus the irreparable harm and balance of equity stuff I'll get to later).

The immigration laws are somewhat complex and often puzzling. For example, I did not know the following. In fact, I'm betting only a small group of immigration lawyers know:

*It is not a federal crime to be unlawfully present in the U.S., although oddly, it is a crime to unlawfully enter (or to re-enter after deportation) or do a few other related things. This wasn’t an oversight. Congress determined it should not be a crime. As Johnny Carson used to say - "I did not know that"(but it was funny when he said it).

*Nor is it a crime for an unlawful alien to apply for or to work here. I did not know that.

*Immigration law already has a scheme where it can work with certain local governments on immigration issues wherein the Department of Homeland Security can contract with the states to have certain trained employees work on immigration. Arizona participates in it. I did not know that (but, unlike the first two, it kind of makes sense).

Let’s look at the four sections the court stayed and see why the court found it more likely the U.S. will win on these points and then, you lucky dogs, I’ll tell you what I think.

Section 2 requires that an officer make a reasonable attempt to find out the immigration status of someone who is arrested, stopped or detained and if there is reasonable suspicion he is not legally here, and that, if arrested, they must keep him detained until they have verified his legality.

I think we can all agree that being stopped, restrained or arrested is a traumatic event that needs to avoided by authorities who have this awesome, if necessary, power over us. We all know it is going to happen to innocent people, and we have to deal with that. And, we have safeguards in the 4th (they need probably cause to arrest and an arrested person needs to be brought before a magistrate very quickly) and 8th amendments (reasonable bail) which protect us.

Looking at the last part of this section (holding onto suspect after arrest), this means that not only will unlawful aliens be held until the authority feels they are certain as to the immigration status, but also legal aliens and citizens will be held.

Remember, the law requires the authorities to enforce the law to the max at the penalty of civil suits. Yet, this would allow them keep citizens, lawful aliens and even citizens in jail indefinitely after arrest (normally, many people who are arrested are not “booked” or go to jail, etc.) until they feel satisfied they have evaded their personal liability. This isn't the usual - sorry, sometimes the innocent get arrested - this would undoubtedly be a violation of 4th amendment rights and the 8th amendment right to reasonable bail. Even if you feel illegals are the worst threat to our nation and don't care what happens to them – how can this be justified for lawful aliens or citizens?

Moreover, as Arizona authorities must do mandatory checks on immigration status with DHS and ICE, the U.S. has complained that handling these greatly increased requests interferes with the government’s own policy decisions as to which requests to handle (and the people will sit in jail until they do them). And, yes, the courts have found that merely overburdening a federal agency may trigger preemption. As the court noted, the problem can’t be looked at in a vacuum as numerous other states (apparently 18) are considering a similar law. However, it certainly could be argued that this complaint is speculative and not worthy of an injunction prior to trial or it actually happening.

The first part of section 2, which requires officers to check the immigration status upon reasonable suspicion a person who is lawfully stopped, detained or arrested may be illegal, raises the same issues as detention after arrest, but also another. While it is repeatedly stated that aliens are required to carry their papers with them in public, the U.S. pointed out that there are a number of situations where lawful aliens who the United States is aware are in the country but who will not have papers. I have to say, I did not know this either. These include foreign visitors:

- from visa waiver countries

- seeking asylum whose cases have not yet been adjudicated

- with “temporary protected status”

- applicants for certain non-immigrant visas (I had to look this up, but it refers basically to those who are victims of certain specified crimes and their families).

- those petitioning for help under the Violence Against Women Act.

Keep in mind, this is going to happen a lot because the authorities MUST apply this process to any person they reasonably suspect is an unlawful alien who so much as jaywalks or walks their dog without a leash (examples used by the court). And don’t argue with this too much, oh ye supporters of the law, because that is specifically what Arizona intended – a "war" of attrition on illegal aliens. Regrettably, others will be affected who have constitutional rights or are being afforded protection by the government.

The issue of not over-burdening lawful aliens (not to mention citizens) is one congress considers quite important. The U.S. has argued and the court agreed that the federal government long ago decided we are not a country where aliens’ papers are going to be routinely checked as it is too much of a burden on lawful aliens. This is important not only for lawful alien and citizen rights, but because the U.S. has an interest how our citizens are treated abroad too, not to mention its relationships with other countries whose citizens may be involved. It is a fair argument that we have a border problem or crisis, but it is also a fair argument that we have a democratic system and elected leaders who made these decisions.

Section 3 makes it a crime for aliens not carry their federal registration papers.  Basically, this makes it a state crime to violate federal law. And, there is nothing inherently wrong with a state doing just that in the abstract.

However, the Supreme Court long ago held (Hines v. Davidowitz [1941]) that the federal registration act was a “single integrated and all-embracing system” and precludes the states from either conflicting with OR complementing the law if it conflicts with congress’s purpose.

The Arizona law plainly seeks to complement the federal law. The U.S. argued and the court agreed that this is in conflict with the federal immigration law because it shifts the penalties involved and that “stands as an obstacle to the uniform, federal regulation scheme”. This seems to me to be one of the court’s weaker decisions, but I do not think it is absolutely without merit. If the U.S. has decided in a field which only they can regulate that the penalty for such and such a violation is X, is it not a conflict to have a State decide it is Y.

Section 5 makes it a crime for an unlawful alien to solicit, apply for or perform work. Here again, the U.S. argues that Arizona’s law conflicts with its own and this is clearer than in section 3. As I stated earlier, it is not a crime for an illegal to seek or do work. Congress considered it and decided against it. Thus, the U.S. argued that Arizona’s criminalization of the failure, where none existed in the federal scheme, is pre-empted pre-empted.

Arizona argued that there is no express preemption by congress (well, d’uh – it be easy if there was) and that work is traditionally a function of the state and preemption should not be lightly inferred in that situation. And there is some case law supporting this position (and as always, some others making it less than clear). The court however, found it was likely the U.S. would win this point, given that it has so regulated the field, but deliberately left these actions un-criminalized. I'd like to make that clearer, but its really foggy.

Section 6 permits an arrest without a warrant if there is probable cause the person has committed an offense that would make them removable from the United States. The court took pains to note it isn’t clear what it means as Arizona authorities already seem to have this power. It obviously refers to aliens as only they can be removed from the U.S.  And Arizona, in argument, suggested it is only for those aliens who committed crimes outside of Arizona but who are now in Arizona. Moreover, the court noted that it was also putting Arizona's officers in the position of making a determination which Justice Alito has noted is very complex and really is the determination of judges - that is - which offenses are removable? Consequently, she believed that it made it likely that Arizona officials would make a lot of mistakes in trying to apply this rule. This is by far the weakest of the court’s holdings.

As to the question of whether the U.S. will suffer irreparable harm if the motion isn't granted, whether the balance of equities are in its favor and this is in the public interest, the court answered yes based upon the premise (and case law) that a state violating a federal constitutional right or law always (or presumptively) causes irreparable harm, is inequitable and against the public interest. As the federal government is in charge of foreign relations, not the states, and this law has already (fairly or unfairly) caused an international sensation, this does not seem to me illogical, although perhaps overstated.

One might fairly suggest that what seems like irreparable harm one week, may seem like nothing the next. One could argue that there have been enumerable actions by our government which have caused irreparable injury to our relations with other countries, yet, somehow, when the mood is right, we even get past it with such implacable historical foes as Britain, France, China and Russia. Our long war with Vietnam doesn't seem to have created irreparable harm. What’s so irreparable here? Is Mexico going to stop doing business with us or declare war? 

Nevertheless, I doubt the courts will look at it this way - the finding of the first element - the likelihood of victory after trial will itself satisfy the other two elements as well.

So, here are my conclusions. Forget the political bull you hear from both sides. 

Overall, I think this judge did a fair judicial job. She did not enjoin the whole law, as was requested. She did not enjoin all the specific sections the U.S. argued in favor of enjoining. The sections she did enjoin may, in fact, be shown to be preempted after trial. In my humble opinion -

- as to section 2 (the one concerning checking immigration status before the prisoner is released), I think the court is correct, although I think the strongest argument is not preemption, but the 4th amendment.

-as to section 3 (the one concerning failure of aliens to carry papers), the only real issue is that the state penalties differ from federal ones. That may be enough to trigger preemption because, if the federal government completely control who is in the country and what they have to do, then they must be able to control the penalties, not the state. If Arizona is smart, it will modify its law and take this one out of issue.

- as to section 5 (the one where congress has decided that illegal aliens working is not a crime), if that's what congress decided, then a state cannot decide differently. Even though employment is normally within the police power of the state, it is not where the only target and concern is purely an area of federal law for which preemption has been found. As an analogy, congress controls the nuclear energy sector. A state law which concerned itself with nuclear energy within the state, even if dealing with employment, would likely still be found to be preempted. I see no real difference between express preemption and areas where the Supreme Court has already found implied preemption.

- as to section 6, (the warrantless arrest section), I had real trouble with this. If Arizona officers are empowered to do this anyway, I do not see how it can be enjoined simply because some of the people they do it to might be illegal aliens who committed a crime in another state. I do not see how the U.S. can win on this section and thus, would not have enjoined it.

Uh oh - hold everything - facial versus "as applied" challenges

But . . . although I left this last complicated issue out, it is an important one. This case is a facial constitutional challenge. That means, the law is unconstitutional in all applications. Let me give you an easy example. If a state passed a law that said no one may publish a political opinion disfavorable to the governor in power's party, that would clearly violate the 1st amendment on its face, without exception. There are no situations where it would not be.

The other kind of challenge is called "as applied" and is when the plaintiff asks for the law to be found unconstitutional in particular situations. The courts give the states and congress a lot of deference and these challenges are much more preferred by the courts.

Like much constitutional law, this tortured issue has a whimsical history and facial challenges . Under the Roberts court, facial challenges have been made very hard to win, and it has been argued, they may have made it close to impossible to win one, because it is often not hard to find a situation where a law would be constitutional.

Don't be surprised if the Supreme Court finds that the district court judge may have been partially right in her analysis except she did what she said she herself couldn't  do - created hypothetical situations where the law might be unconstitutional instead of asking - will this be unconstitutional in all situations? I can't deny that it appears to me that at least in some of the sections, the court may have done just that, particularly with regard to sections 2 (post arrest detention) and 6 (arrest for removable acts). All that would mean was that the facial challenge will have lost (at least for some sections) and that we can expect years of litigation out of Arizona and other states as to whether these laws were unconstitutional as applied. It is very hard to say whether the court will do this, but I suspect it will (the question is always - what will Kennedy do?). if it does, you will see state after state making these laws.

I personally am not a fan of the state of the law on facial challenges, but who am I?

Last thoughts

As the lower court recognized, Arizona is essentially a state under a slow motion siege by illegals from the Mexican border as are the other border states. Regardless of my approach here, most of the law is still in effect and I'm glad. It angered me that some politicians and civic leaders have boycotted Arizona for trying to protect its citizens and I would like to take a trip there in support (it is an unbelievably beautiful state if you haven't been there). I do not for a second believe this is a law with racist underpinnings (courtesy of unfortunate race baiting from the left). Were there plenty of jobs, were there not a drug and gang war going on bleeding into our country, were crime not so rampant, Arizona would be welcoming foreign Hispanic immigrants.
However, I also am chagrined at the right wing's assault of this court's character. She doesn't deserve it, whether she is ultimately right or wrong I believe she showed courage in rendering an unpopular opinion and her analysis in this thorny issue, was impossible to make without credible criticism from both sides.

About Me

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I started this blog in September, 2006. Mostly, it is where I can talk about things that interest me, which I otherwise don't get to do all that much, about some remarkable people who should not be forgotten, philosophy and theories (like Don Foster's on who wrote A Visit From St. Nicholas and my own on whether Santa is mostly derived from a Norse god) and analysis of issues that concern me. Often it is about books. I try to quote accurately and to say when I am paraphrasing (more and more). Sometimes I blow the first name of even very famous people, often entertainers. I'm much better at history, but once in a while I see I have written something I later learned was not true. Sometimes I fix them, sometimes not. My worst mistake was writing that Beethoven went blind, when he actually went deaf. Feel free to point out an error. I either leave in the mistake, or, if I clean it up, the comment pointing it out. From time to time I do clean up grammar in old posts as, over time I have become more conventional in my grammar, and I very often write these when I am falling asleep and just make dumb mistakes. It be nice to have an editor, but . . . .