Thursday, April 29, 2010

Arizona's Law Isn't Racist; the Bulk of Its Citizens Are

This is my response to an editorial by Doug Gibson, in the Ogden Standard Examiner.

The majority of Arizona citizens are racists.

I agree with Doug that Arizona's law is the wrong solution to a neglected problem. And he is right, the law is not racist. However, a savvy opponent to his point of view doesn't claim that the law is racist or Nazi-like. Laws, per se, aren't racists or Nazi-like; laws have no volition. They can't act. They aren't moral agents. People can be and are racists and Nazi-like and do have volition. People, like Doug, are racist in suggesting that such a law won't lead to racism. It will.

My dictionary gives two definitions of racism: First is the belief that race accounts for differences in human character or ability and that a particular race is superior to others. Second is that racism amounts to discrimination or prejudice based upon race.

We, as citizens of the U.S., through our less-than-wonderful elected representatives who have allowed themselves far too often to be prompted and influenced by big (and, to a lesser extent, small) businesses' lobbying efforts for many years, have caused the problem. We citizens had for decades before our recent financial meltdown tempted the residual humanity of Third World countries to flee harsh and often dangerous conditions and corruption where they lived to come the U.S. because their coming here so was beneficial to us. Truth, be known, it still is beneficial from an economic perspective.

Further, we U.S. citizens, through our elected representatives who are so easily influenced by powerful money-brokers and influential lobbyists, didn't adequately oversee, through regulation and adequate funding, the enforcement of adequate laws and regulations over our financial and business markets so that we collectively got robbed and bilked. If you don't lock the car doors and have the police patrolling, you invite trouble and break-ins. Their incidence increases.

Now, while we're still licking our wounds from the resulting downturn in the markets and the loss of jobs, we citizens, who, having gotten, through our own neglect, all of these alien folks here, the bulk of whom demographically look different from the bulk of us, now want them gone. So we start enacting such inane laws as Arizona's.

In Utah, county records show undocumented immigrants are not big criminals over against citizens and documented immigrants. So, are all undocumented immigrants criminals? Many claim they are. They say “What part of illegal don’t you understand?” inferring that they're criminals. We hear that all the time. For people who actually do some thinking, though, who see murder and rape and those types of crimes in a different league than illegal crossings and document fraud, such easy answers don't prove a thing. Citizens race up and down the roads and highways way faster than the posted speed limits all of the time. They run red lights and litter. But we don't consider ourselves criminals for doing so. Our acts don't hurt people the way criminals' actions do. The illegal-border crossers --- many who have been here most or a good share of their lives, including some 2.5 million children nationwide --- who live in a given area don't cripple a community. Rapists, murderers, and violent gang members do that.

That's not to say people who cross without documents never rape, murder, or get involved with violent gangs. Some do. But in Utah from 2004 to 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants increased 57 percent. During that time, undocumented state prisoners increased 10 percent. So the facts show that the vast majority of undocumented immigrants coming here obey our laws once they're here; they're not a main source of crime, not any more than citizens or documented immigrants are.

So, we citizens of the United States have gotten these desperate folks from other places here to do our dishes, etc., and for the most part these folks work hard, obey our laws, pay taxes, and contribute to our society. But then, when we, who have power and control, have a financial and employment crisis of our own making, a state like Arizona starts taking national immigration matters into its own hands, against the advice of experts galore. In a sense, we as a citizenry have made these folks our new-age, new-style slaves. They have no voice, no power, and, increasingly, no life.

Doug asks can a state take action when the federal government won't. Truthfully, states and federal governments don't ever take action. People do. We deflect our responsibility by talking like this. It's not Arizona who will be enforcing the subject law. It is real people. Flawed people. As such, they will be making judgments that inevitably will, in some instances, lead to discrimination or prejudice based upon race. Racism.

Doug makes a specious argument when he refers to Arizona spending billions in educating children of undocumented immigrants (he, or course, doesn't know if such children might be U.S. citizens or not), because he also fails to mention the taxes and the economic contributions such undocumented families make. Undocumented immigrants pay taxes, directly and indirectly, just like anybody else, only they don't benefit from the graces awarded to citizens in our tax system. Furthermore, they buy goods and services, just like citizens do. Doug also makes another false argument when he talks about a violent gang using Arizona as a conduit for human and drug smuggling, failing to mention our failure as citizens to elect national representatives and a president who will adequately work with other nations to resolve international issues such as the toleration of corruption in their governments. Of course, it's hard, because we citizens have tolerated such corruption in our own elected officials, and now we reap what we have sewn.

The fact that most Americans support anything, as in Doug saying that most Americans support the Arizona law, doesn't mean that what they support is right, moral, or the smart thing to do. In the years before the civil rights movement, there were many times when most Americans supported segregation, too. Same with Nazism. So was it right? Nah. The majority of people in the South supported slavery? Did that make it any less barbarous?

So Doug essentially admits the Arizona law in question is flawed; it wasn't Arizona's place to act; it only did so in frustration, and its law doesn't really do what's needed. Yet, he goes on defending it: it's only there because the U.S. didn't do what it should have [the citizens didn't]; it's more mild than what others on the national level are, in part, proposing; it doesn't require officials to harass [harassing was misspelled in the article] law-abiders (from your viewpoint, a Latino standing on the street, ostensibly doing nothing wrong, could very well be "illegal" (undocumented) and, therefore, not law-abiding).

Why not tell it like it is, Doug? We failed. Now we're desperate. Citizens in Arizona are desperate.

You and me and ever single citizen failed.

We failed in the past to elect representatives who would enact necessary laws relative to immigration to protect us and to protect immigrants, too, and we failed to fund the laws on the books and to enforce them because we were, in an ugly way, benefiting from our omissions. So now, Arizona --- actually, the citizens of Arizona --- gets to take out our failings, our collective immorality in treating these people as our new-age slaves --- who are slaves here willingly because, in contrast to the dire lives they lived, it is still better for them --- on these very people who have no voice and no standing except through us, and often, in comparison to us, live such simple lives, and can only speak out at the risk of an arrest, deportation, and losing everything they've been working on for years, and perhaps even losing their very lives?

I think we can all agree we don't want criminals here, maybe even especially undocumented ones. I agree that compromise is necessary. But I deplore the idea of a spreading plague of Arizona-like immigrant law virus because it causes us to be racists, to prefer our collective demographic over something else, largely on the basis of race and color.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A Day with Little Accomplished, but Oh What a Day!

It has been a long day with little accomplished. In our lives it seems like there are far too many days like that. Well, perhaps I shouldn't use the word 'our,' but 'my.' But seriously, doesn't it seem like some days are just wasted.

However, once you start contemplating it, no day is truly wasted. No day you can experience the phenomenal aspects of living and sensing the data that is out there for you or me to enjoy is wasted. Can anyone adequately capture the wonder of the human eye and what it is capable of capturing in vision? Or the sounds, whether it's the chirp of the bird at the end of the day saying goodnight, the hum of the fan in the computer keeping things from getting too heated, or the sound of the television in the other room.

Not only do we experience the sensory data our faculties collect, but we are able to analyze it and integrated into our lives. So I am so thankful even though it wasn't the best of days, and it seems I didn't accomplish much of anything at all.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

A Second Home?

I didn't notice any screen doors on the houses up there, and there certainly was no wind. I guess screen doors aren't that popular anymore are they? I didn't see any. They say it doesn't blow much in the valley up there, but it is located in Wyoming, and Wyoming is known for its wind, isn't it? However, situated in a valley sitting at over 6000 feet above sea level and surrounded by mountains of even greater heights, I guess it's true, it doesn't blow much up there. That's good because it gets cold --- I read it gets down to forty-six degrees below zero --- and, as the real estate agent from the valley told us, the snow in the valley gets high enough to reach the butt of a tall Indian. (Indian, as a Native American, I take she meant. It's too cold and the snow is too deep up there for political correctness.)

This late in the year there is still snow on the ground, deeper, of course, on the north side of buildings. The daffodils and crocuses are still asleep. Some places, there is lots of snow there. The day we were there looking, it was nice, though, and I didn't need a coat or anything, and I didn't wear a hat, although, somehow that makes you feel somewhat naked and unmanly up there.

It was a nice leisurely day. In the small town we visited it looked like there was only a couple of places to eat, none of them the familiar fast-food outlets of cities. We ate at a small place that served Mexican food --- well, American style Mexican food, I guess, although its proprietor looked like he was a Latino. It seemed like he had no accent and spoke perfect English. And he was a perfect gentleman.

People were folksy, and the real estate experts were about as friendly and helpful as you can imagine. They gave us some attractive properties to look at and to consider. So in the last few days we've spent more than an inordinate amount of time gawking at things on the Internet, considering our finances, contemplating the logistics of it all, and vacillating back and forth in making a decision relative to our next step.

An artist had taken up residence in one of the houses we witnessed, and it was nicely decorated and well kept. One house was situated between a house where the tenants were abusers of animals --- a couple of poor hound dogs had been confined to a space in the backyard that was barren and filthy, with a pile of crap two feet deep in the corner. The house on the other side bore a number of stars on its exterior walls. Its owners, who we were told were quite wealthy, must've thought to replicate the Milky Way.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Stinking Rumination

It's funny --- well, kind of funny, how life passes by. I'm tempted to say, how life passes me by, but then I realize it hasn't passed me by; it just is. I don't grab parts of it I want to and make the most of them, I guess. I suppose nobody does. Or rather, I don't bother to grab what I think I want, and then I grouse mentally about it. That's probably pretty universal. I suppose, to be completely honest (is there anything that is truly completely honest), I grab pretty much what I want. The trouble is, reflecting upon it all is sometimes very discouraging and depressing. It doesn't seem like very much gets accomplished that I want to get accomplished. It is so difficult to quit comparing myself to other people and their massive accomplishments. And the problem with that is that I focus on those who have excelled, not on ones that have merely struggled along or have even failed.

Spring is such a phenomenal time of the year. It's fun to watch the ongoing development of massive reproduction in the world --- the robins dancing around in pairs, gathering twigs and whatever else it takes to make a nest. Same with the magpies and other birds.

It seems like the birds are most noticeable, but all life begins to stir. The trees. We even have some green trees now. The willow-like ones. I really ought to find out what they are. But not right now. Maybe later. Anyway, they're the first with leaves on their branches. The sugar maples will be budding, and the Gambel oak. Around here, they call it scrub oak. It's the predominant tree in the yard. The one tree I see the most of out in the backyard.

I ought to figure out how many varieties of different trees I can see out in the yard and in the surrounding yards, the ones that border our yard. I ought to at least know the names of all those types of trees. It seems like it ought to be in bare minimum.

At 2:30 AM on Easter morning I got up to go to the bathroom. No sooner had I gone out the bedroom door and headed toward the bathroom down the hallway than Asia stood up, hurried past me, and started running down the hall growling, and went through the kitchen and out the dog door. I went into the bathroom to do my business.

As I sat there, I was amazed that what I was passing was smelling so --- rigorous? --- and it made me start wondering what was the matter with my. My stomach wasn't hurting, and I hadn't eaten anything to account for the peculiar smell. As soon as I opened up the bathroom door, though, I knew exactly what had happened. Asia had gone outside, encountered a skunk, been sprayed, and had come back in the house.

I went back down the hall and into the bedroom where Shelley said something was wrong with the dog. Asia had ran into the bed and into the wall, as if she couldn't see. I turned on the light to see her --- the dog, that is --- and Asia was on her doggie pillow, foaming at the mouth. She had definitely been sprayed by a skunk. The funny --- poor choice of words, I know --- thing about the whole thing was that the smell in the house was very very strong, but it didn't smell so much like what a skunk smells like that you usually smell when one comes into the neighborhood. It was somehow very different. VERY different.

I hurried to give Asia a bath, and Shelley consulted her greyhound book, trying to find out what to do when a greyhound gets sprayed by a skunk. The first thing it said was not let the greyhound come back into the house. We laughed at that, even though it was so late, and we were tired and the intrusiveness of the situation was so very frustrating and aggravating. We knew we had family coming for Easter lunch and we had a lot to do to get ready. Yet now we had the smell in the house, and we had to do something about Asia.

Anyway, I took Asia to the bathroom, put her in the bathtub, and gave her a shower/bath. I didn't use anything on her --- no shampoo, no soap, no other chemicals. I just sprayed her off with warm water as well as I could, dried her, and let her go back in on the bedroom pillow.

The next day Shelley read about how Asia should be bathed in hydrogen peroxide, I believe it was. Early the morning Shelley began calling --- well, as early as Shelley dared --- our sleeping children on a weekend. She told them what had happened and told them they didn't need to come to be our guests for Easter lunch and if they didn't want to. Amy said she would come with her family and I think Mike was a little noncommittal.

I don't know how much we slept after the late-night encounter. Perhaps the smell had enhanced our sleep, for all I know. Maybe it's just luck we ever woke up again. I know that I did drift back off to sleep and slept okay for a few hours.

By morning, we were fairly accustomed to the smell. Kiele woke up and she didn't even know anything had ever happened until we told her about it.

Norman was the first person to show up on Easter, sometime afternoon but not quite one o'clock, when we were scheduled to begin having guests arrive. He was just checking in to see how we were doing and seeing what was going on. We were glad to see him and to hear about his trip to see his friend, Cory, in Arizona. He could smell the stench of a skunk, but it wasn't offputting enough to drive him away, and he stayed and enjoyed the meal with us.

Oh, did I mention that Easter Sunday was also general conference? Well, it was. And it isn't a joke to say that it was the stinkiest general conference we ever experienced in our home. To tell the truth, we were so busy, we didn't really get to listen to much of Sunday conference. We'll check it out later. I understand it was actually pretty good, especially morning session.

Today is my brother's birthday. Happy birthday, brother, wherever you are. I wish you well, and wish I could be more for you.

The Chosen One

Talk about a thrilling scenario. The one Carol Lynch Williams has carved out for this novel's protagonist is a very compelling one.

Kyra, the novel's first-person narrator, is a girl growing up in a polygamist community in contemporary America. Presumably, she lives someplace near or on the Arizona/Utah border. Hence, the landscape is stark and barren and unusually hot, as it seems are the hearts and minds of those who control the religious lives of the polygamous people who live there. This is a story that explores the implications of faith at the extremes of blind obedience and the use of ostracization of community as a tool in implementing such extremes in obedience.

Lynch throws this delicate, young girl, Kyra, who is just thirteen-years-old and who takes risks to be able to read books, directly into a boiling pot of incredible religious expectation and conflict for her and her family.

After all this time since reading it, I can still see Kyra --- because of Carol Lynch Williams's incredible ability as a writer --- sitting in the branches of a tall tree in that barren landscape reading, reading and gathering information about the wider world, reading and finding in the stories she read inspiration to resist evil designs of power-hungry, delusional men that were ruining people's lives in the community where she lived and who wanted to ruin Kyra's and their families' lives, too.

I can't believe I hadn't added this novel to my list of books read on Goodreads. I read it some time ago, although I don't remember exactly when now. I read it before I went to listen to Carol Lynch Williams speak at the League of Utah Writers Roundup writing conference last fall. I had intended to do a review of it back then. However, completing it escaped me, even though the story and Lynch's incredible writing has not.

I grew up in Utah and have been exposed to the culture there throughout my lifetime, even during periods of absence from there. The history of polygamy permeates the entire history and culture of Mormon people whether they live there or not, even though polygamy is not widely practiced anymore among Mormons, and even though it is now viewed widely by the hierarchy of the mainstream Mormon church as almost a forbidden topic.

Many years ago, after returning to Utah after living in the Midwest, on the West Coast, and in Idaho, my wife and I encountered a friend of ours. He told us that his wife --- who is related to my wife --- was leaving him for an older polygamist. That meant that this friend's children would be ripped from a monogamous marriage and exposed to the polygamous culture and its extreme religious views.

It was heart-wrenching for me to realize my friend would lose his family, and not just lose them in the regular, everyday divorce-and-move-on scenario that is so commonplace. But he would lose them also to a culture of closemindedness and blind obedience. I began writing my own story relative to the expectations of polygamy and the whole dynamic of its intrusion into regular lives and the expectations of its blind obedience. Polygamy always posed in my mind unseemly expectations, perpetrated by men who, it seemed to me, were operating with ulterior and evil motivations rather than the motivations they suggested came from God. Things haven't changed in that regard for me.

Some of my highlights from reading the book:

"I am warmed to the teeth at my father's smile. My good father. I REMEMBER sitting on my father's lap."

"That's all I'm not allowed to read anything but the Bible."

"... that everyone in the world is wrong, and just The Chosen Ones are right... there are so few of us and billions of them."

"We don't speak of that," Mother says. Her face turns pink. "That is sacred. Never meant for anyone but a husband and his wife."

"Satan is in what we read, if we read anything the scriptures."

"Prophet Childs moves into the trailer, taking up all the good air. I actually wince, then moved behind Father."

"At last I can breathe the air that isn't coming between clenched teeth."

"We walk toward the light in the house and the girl."

All I can say is that Kyra found release from her dire situation in her disobedience to those generally accepted as authority figures in her culture and environment. Sometimes it is more righteous to be disobedient than obedient. Sometimes it is more important to act than to be acted upon.

Friday, April 2, 2010

The Intimidating Library

You know how libraries are: intimidating.

So many books, at least in big libraries; you could never read them all. So much information. So much opinion. So many pictures and diagrams. Things to listen to and watch.

I could never read them all, not with the time I have left and with my inclinations to do something else. But there's a lot there in a library. A lot to learn. A lot to contemplate. A lot of varying opinion.

The trouble is, after you go to the library you come home and think about all the things you missed in your life by not being able to read all those books. You think of all the time you wasted when you were younger, and all the time you wasted when you were not so young. It can be depressing.

And then, on top of that, people are coming along every day wanting to add to the library stores, publishing books they think should add to the collection, or replace something else there.

Maybe all of this is why I don't go to the library too often to check books or other materials out. I know I should, but the truth of the matter is that I have a pretty good library right here at home, one that is fully capable of intimidating me and making me realize how little I know. So I don't need to get in the car, navigate my way down to the library, and become depressed thinking how little I know and how much is out there to know.

No, I'm perfectly content to sit here and to utilize the content of the library I have here at home, the one I have been slowly working on converting to e-data. Well, most of the time, that is. Sometimes I'm up to a little intimidation and depression.