|From The Editor
The other night, with a glass of red wine, I was looking at a night photo of the Arc de Triomphe in Paris. It was taken by my dad a long, long time ago.
Two lovers embrace in the foreground. Behind them is the monument awash in brilliant light standing against a pitch-black sky, a symbol of France, its strength, its history, its accumulation of art, its political tolerance and eternal appreciation of beauty.
Looking at the photo after last week's attacks, the powerful monument, with the names of Napoleon's generals etched inside its great arch, suddenly seemed vulnerable. The light and shadow seemed to convey a culture under threat, a fading power, a way of life disappearing.
The next day, I wrote a message to a college friend that said, "Shutting the door, closing the borders, will be seen as the only option."
I wrote that from California, a nation state that over its history has withstood and been made stronger by waves of migrants, a state whose success in integrating millions of people from other nations is reflected in surveys showing a much higher level of tolerance for the foreign-born compared with the rest of the United States.
What makes the difference between a vulnerable France and a resurgent California.
From the viewpoint of one who was born in France of a French mother and spent years in French schools, and who has also has spent decades reporting on California, there are stark differences between the regions when it comes to immigration.
California has long struggled with a porous border, but the controls remain tight. Federal agents look into the window on the driver's side of each car coming across the border, often putting their hands on the bottom of the window frame and leaning in to ask questions.
In contrast, the 26 nations of Europe that share open borders have left a wide open door in Greece. Hundreds of thousands of migrants have been pouring through that door and into a group of nations with a total population of 400 million, larger than the United States.
"I wonder how long Merkel can hold out," I also wrote to my college friend.
The German chancellor has been stoic, admirable in her defense of a mostly humanitarian, partly economic position welcoming the immigrants. But news reports show growing rebellion within her own party and my guess is she cannot hold out much longer.
In contrast to Germany's official welcome, it came as very little surprise that its neighbor, Denmark, moved quickly to control its borders and wanted no part of Merkel's plan to distribute the migrants throughout Europe.
Like the French, the Danes have had their own dealings with the outfall of cartoons that perhaps intentionally caused offense in the Muslim community, after hosting an earlier wave of refugees from Iraq and the Middle East. Denmark's nativist party has since grown to become the government's power broker.
In contrast to the old civilizations of Europe, California is one of the newest states in a new nation. As part of its creation, it absorbed repeated waves of immigrants, many who survived grinding hardship. Those conditions continue today for illegals working in the shadow of the law.
At the same time, many immigrants have succeeded. The universities of the state are fairly well mixed, and its economy serves as a powerful engine of uplift.
Compared with the wealthy nations of Europe, California is stingy on its social welfare. There is an intense pressure in the immigrant population to work, go to school and get ahead. Perhaps as a result, the children of immgrants generally assimilate into the broader culture within one generation.
Ethnic enclaves certainly exist in California, enveloping Korean, Chinese, Vietnamese, Mexican, Salvadoran, Nicaraguan communities -- you can just about say, 'Name the country,' and California has a community from that nation. And accounts are common of women coming from Latin America to give birth in California and in a single stroke qualify for benefits and legal status.
But primarily immigrants come to California for work not welfare. The principal driving force here is to get ahead, rather than dwell on religious and political hatreds from half way across the world.
Europe is set up differently.
A friend once described Europe as a "country club." If you were a member of the club, life was good and the weak received plenty of help from the state. I have an enduring image of the apartment of a Danish guy who was in large part a petty criminal and drug addict. His well-maintained apartment was bigger and nicer than mine in California, all paid for by the Danish state. He had a big dog, a little yard, and no job.
But in country club Europe, the ethnic communities have largely not been assimilated. On a trip to Paris two years ago, I saw the armies of black and brown workers transferring through the Chatelet-Les Halles station on the Paris underground, a tired stream of dark humanity headed towards poor suburbs where few escape.
The forces of the world, its poverty, its grinding religious conflicts, are pressing in on Europe. And if it is to endure, I have come to the conclusion that it must follow California's model and do a better job of both watching the door and giving people a chance to move ahead.
Happy Thanksgiving to Our Friends on the Rez
Happy Thanksgiving to the 5.4 million Native Americans in the United States. And to the Anglos and black white people (as the Indians called them) and to the Mexicans and Chinese-Americans and Syrian refugees and to everyone else.
As we gorge ourselves on Thanksgiving, let us remember that our national holiday was created by President Abraham Lincoln to thank the Indians, who accepted us, and fed us, and helped us until we could survive on our own, while white people were refugees.
I write a column of thanksgiving every year to my friends on the rez. I lived on a reservation for six years in Arizona, and spent another year on the edge of another rez, teaching English, music and Native American history.
I tell you Anglos this to establish my credentials.
I can see my Indian friends smiling, hiding their mouth with their hands, because I'm bragging.
But I'm not bragging. I'm telling white people how it is.
What a world we Anglos have created.
What a world we are destroying.
When I left the rez, I told myself, I would not broadcast what I learned there. That was between me and the people. I break my promise once a year, on Thanksgiving. Because I love the people, and I wish they had had immigration officers when the Mayflower pulled in.
But oh, well.
Here is a story from the rez. After I had lived there for several years, teaching high school and coaching track, I thought it would be cool to have a foot race to kick off a tribal celebration. So I went to the district council and asked tribal leaders for permission.
Thirty seconds of silence ensued. I'd been on the rez long enough to know I didn't have to shoot off my mouth anymore. I shut up and sat there.
Finally, a tribal official asked me, "Who are you?"
I'd been coaching track at the high school for five years. We'd won a state championship. I gave them my spiel. The council agreed to consider it. That race never happened. That's all right. Things happen slowly on the rez, and that's good.
A few years later, on the border of another reservation, I was assigned to teach Apaches about Apache culture and language, in a public high school.
Right? Mr. White Man teaching Apaches their own language - though I didn't speak a word of it - and about their own traditions - though I knew nothing about them.
For the record: I didn't quit because I knew the next white man they hired would do it worse than I did. And I was given my new assignment the day before classes began.
When I taught Apaches that year - and I believe I did teach them something - I discovered this essay by Kenneth Basso, a respected anthropologist, whom I respect too: "Silence in Western Apache Culture."
Basso wrote: "In Western Apache culture, the absence of verbal communication is associated with social situations in which the status of focal participants is ambiguous.
"Under these conditions, fixed role expectations lose their applicability and the illusion of predictability in social interaction is lost.
"To sum up and reiterate: keeping silent among the Western Apache is a response to uncertainty and unpredictability in social relations."
My Apache friends thought that Basso essay was hilarious. I think it's ridiculous.
I think that many Indians are simply more comfortable with silence than Anglos are. And that if an Indian refuses to talk to an Anglo for long enough, the white man, eventually, will go away.
I think that explains it.
|From The Courts
I was looking at some official court listings the other day when I came across one labeled "In Verse Condemnation."
Wow, I thought. What a great idea.
Sadly, I was disappointed once more when I looked at the actual lawsuit. It was for inverse condemnation.
Still, just because something is a typo doesn't mean it should be overlooked. This is a wonderful concept and it's one that can be interpreted in several ways.
For example, it could mean that convicted criminals or losing parties could be required to write poetry.
What's a more effective deterrent to crime: thirty days in jail with your friends or house arrest until you produce 300 lines of acceptable, English-major-approved free verse?
We bring down the scandalous incarceration rate and enrich our culture at the same time.
Or we could sentence offenders to have to listen to poetry - bad poetry. Think Vogon poetry from "The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy."
A true condemnation in verse.
There could be an argument that this is cruel and unusual punishment, but the occasional soothing metaphor or rhythmic interlude could make this pass constitutional muster.
There could also be a combination of the two approaches. Offenders or losing parties could be required to write poetry and then read it to other loser-authors.
It could turn into a productive workshop or therapy session.
Or a brawl.
Poetry will once again become vital and exciting.
Survey Says: I have yet another item for your collection of odd surveys. This is the headline on a press release issued last week:
"Half of Americans Use the Internet for Personal Reasons While at Work, Says FindLaw.com Survey."
Yes, I know this is shocking.
Only half? That can't be right.
And it probably isn't, because if you read the press release, it turns out that 50 percent of respondents "admit" using the Internet for personal reasons at work.
As with other surveys, I have no idea why anyone thought we needed this information or what we're supposed to do with it. Maybe FindLaw wants us to feel better about goofing off at work because so many other people are doing it.
But there are a few interesting tidbits here.
For example, the survey reports that 3 percent of the goof-offs "wanted to hide activity from family." I'm guess that's the percentage of workers who don't know about private browsing.
My favorite survey result is that 14 percent use the Internet for "other."
What could this mysterious other be?
It could be porn, but I don't think so, since there's a "YouTube or other videos" category.
Actually, I think the 50 percent who don't admit using the Internet at work are the ones looking at porn.
Maybe the point of this survey is that you shouldn't trust surveys.
I'm going to assume that the 14 percent are reading Courthouse News.
Is there a better way to spend your working time?
I don't think so.