01 July, 2007

News, pre-Independence Day 2007

A few short thoughts on the news.

(1) I almost never agree with the Washington Post's Richard Cohen, and sometimes he's gotten me so steamed that I stop reading him for a while. But I do read him from time to time, and he hit the nail on the head recently when he took the Democratic presidential candidates to task. Apparently they all advocated in a recent debate that the biggest problem in public education is a lack of funding. Cohen remarked drily on the irony that this debate took place in Washingon, DC, a city that spends more on education than nearly every other city in the country—yet by every measure performs worse than nearly every city in the country, year after year after year. Cohen claims something I've suspected for a while: Huge sums of money disappear into the chasm called school bureacracy, while teachers receive abysmal pay and schools go without repairs.

Cohen didn't mention that if any of those candidates were elected president, their children wouldn't attend a DC school, but would be packed off to a private school. Presidents get to live in John Edwards' "other" America, showering other people's money on the causes that matter to the interests that supported them, all the while eschewing any real reform. (In the current administration, Medicare comes to mind.) Meanwhile, many of us who would like to send our children to private schools have the privilege of seeing our money taken in taxes and squandered in school bureacracies that plan more and more meetings with high-paid consultants to figure out why they're failing to educate our children.

(2) I read in today's newspaper that ordinary folks are expressing "surprise at the notion of highly skilled medical professionals allegedly plotting what one analyst called 'white-collar terrorism.'" Yesterday I read a conservative commentator's opinion that terrorist operatives are naturally morons. I admit that I didn't exactly expect the organizers of the recent terrorist attacks to be men with advanced degrees that require years of disciplined work and education, but if this fact takes you by surprise, then you really haven't been paying attention. Terrorists have appeared among Western educated classes for at least two centuries, dating back at least to the French Revolution. I don't see why Arabs should be any different.

I'm not talking about the anarchists and communists of a century ago, who often enough were only half-educated on notions of anarchism, nihilism, and revolution. I'm talking about people with real educations. University professors, for example, have been known to use the cover of academic freedom to excuse or even advocate terrorism. Not a few academics have turned terrorist themselves. The Unabomber is probably the best example in my mind—brilliant, talented mathematician, no less!—but Abimael Gúzman isn't exactly a shining model of an academic with tolerance for different points of view, either.

Yassir Arafat, one of the pioneers of modern terrorism, had a degree in civil engineering. In fact, a fair number of Arab terrorists studied in European universities. Members of the Red Brigades (an Italian communist terror group), the Weather Underground (a 1960s American terror group), and November 17th (a Greek terror group, I may have the name slightly wrong) were also university students or university graduates.

Education≠virtue. Terrorism usually takes its cue from revolutionary ideologies that place more value in abstract ideas than in human life—ideologies like Marxism and certain susbets of any religion. One needs a certain amount of education in order to become acquainted with them.

(3) Michelle Malkin identifies my concerns when she writes that if Congress and the President want to grant a path to legalization to individuals currently residing in this country contrary to the law, they ought first to ensure that the bureacracy clears the backlog of outstanding applications. There is no better way to insult people who are waiting patiently in a line that you have created by inattention and indifference than to say, "Those of you who cut to the front of the line now have priority." From what I can tell, the proposed law would have done precisely that. Americans married to non-residents have to wait years before they can be reunited with their spouses and children. About the only way to get someone here quickly is to promise to marry each other, come here, then marry legally.

(4) Since I'm on the topic: I strongly suspect that a lot of people waiting in line would be happy to take some of those low-paying jobs for which we say we need these "undocumented persons". So, yes, I suspect that we could deport these workers without doing too much damage to the conomy, if we were to implement a real immigration reform. I personally know an excellent teacher of English in Russia who earns maybe $500 a month. That's not a typo: five hundred dollars a month. Even in Russia, that isn't a living wage, and teachers are for the most part women who live with their parents or with their husbands.

Now, the English teacher I have in mind has no intention of moving to America, but scores of Russians do line up daily at the American embassy in Moscow, hoping for a successful interview. This, despite a rumor campaign in Russia that Russians who go west are exploited for criminal enterprises. Numerous Russian internet sites provide advice on how to apply and what to say in the interview. One site that my wife reads warns that if you find yourself seated across from two particular consular officers, one of them having a nickname identifying a distinguishing facial feature, you can give it up immediately. Apparently the Department of State thought it would be funny to staff the embassy in Russia with people who hate Russians.

As for the consular officers who don't hate Russians, I can tell you how my sister-in-law fared when she applied for a visa to visit us last winter. The consular officer waved her over brusquely, never addressed her by name, and did not even look at her until she mentioned that she knew me because her sister was married to me. At that point, she told me, the gentleman looked at her fiercely as though she were his personal enemy. She was completely taken aback. Why this should have shocked the officer is a mystery to me, since the very first sentence in her application materials is from my letter of invitation, where I referred to her as my "sister-in-law". You can't get more explicit than that. To think that I wrote the other day,

Having said this, dealing with the Russian bureacracy is less pleasant than dealing with the American bureacracy. Russian clerks make a point of holding petitioners in disdain. You're not a client; you're an annoyance.
The American embassy in Moscow has apparently taken its cue on how to treat Russians from the local bureacracy. So much for exporting American ideals!

Needless to say, my sister-in-law's petition for a visa was turned down, and she didn't come to visit. She told me yesterday that the man was so rude that she has no desire even to try again.

(5) Happy Independence Day. People don't celebrate July 4th here, but someone set of fireworks last night anyway. My son says that people just do that sometime. It was a neat coincidence. :-)

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