Thursday, November 30, 2023

Who's the Guy?

My intention for this post was to take a brief respite from the serious (understatement of the year), news of the day. What after all could be less serious than the word "guy"? It's the very definition of casual non-commitment, a word describing someone not distinctive, but rather ordinary, mediocre and average. After all he's just a guy. 

Little did I know there are people who take the subject of the contemporary uses of the word deadly serious. I'll get to that in a bit. 

Like casual words or expressions in any language, its precise etymology is not one hundred percent certain, but the common explanation is that guy derives from a historical figure, Guy Fawkes. If you don't happen to be British, you still may have heard of him as he is ironically memorialized every year by the holiday bearing his name that takes place on November 5. Fawkes was a 17th Century English Roman Catholic mercenary who participated in a plan to assassinate King James I in order to restore a Catholic monarch to the British throne. 

In the plan, not only was the king to be done away with, but so was the entire Parliament and the lion's share of British nobility. The deed was to be carried out by the detonation of 36 barrels of dynamite positioned in a room directly beneath the chamber of the House of Lords on the Fifth of November 1605, coinciding with the State opening of Parliament. This "Gunpowder Plot" was thwarted when Fawkes was discovered among the barrels of dynamite, ready to light the match.

As you can imagine, Fawkes and seven co-conspirators met ignominious ends, they were all sentenced to be hanged, drawn and quartered, the standard punishment for treason at the time. Their immortality was sealed however by the British government who decreed that the failure of the Gunpowder Plotters would be commemorated every year as a national day of Thanksgiving, which continues to this day.

The celebrations are more like American Fourth of July than our Thanksgiving, featuring rowdiness, fireworks and bonfires which consume life-size effigies of Guy Fawkes and any other unpopular figures of the day. The effigies became known as guys. Eventually the meaning of "guy" would expand to be used as a pejorative term referring to men of shall we say, less than stellar attributes. 

The word guy made the Atlantic voyage to the New World where, shed of its original context, came to be used a generic term for men. That is to say, in our egalitarian society, you could either be a good guy or a bad guy. 

But wait friends, there's more!!!

If you're a native English speaker learning your first foreign language, you've no doubt noticed several grammatical concepts in the new language that are well, foreign to you. You may even be tempted to believe that the language you're studying is a bit strange. It's only when you start learning a second and third foreign language when you realize that in fact, English is the peculiar language.

Take for example the second person, personal pronoun. 

Many languages use different pronouns depending upon whom you are speaking to. If you are addressing a friend, family member, or child, you most likely would be using the familiar pronoun. If not, you would address the person with the formal pronoun. The line between the two varies from culture to culture, adding extra confusion when learning a new language along with the different cultures where it is spoken.

Most languages distinguish between the second person singular and the second person plural . In other words, if you are addressing one person, you would use the singular pronoun. If you're addressing more than one person, you'd use the plural pronoun.

English does not have any of these distinctions; we have only one word that covers all the options, "you".

Compare that to Spanish. In Spain, they have four words for you:

  • tú - translation: you, singular, familiar.
  • usted - translation: you, singular, formal.
  • vosotros - translation: you, plural, familiar.
  • ustedes - translation: you, plural, formal.

In Latin American Spanish, they've dropped vosotros so there is just one second person plural pronoun, ustedes, making life there a bit simpler, in that sense anyway.

Regardless, in Spanish and most languages of the world, there is no ambiguity between addressing one person, or a group of people.

In English, we have to rely on context to distinguish between the singular and the plural you. We also have ways of speaking which distinguishes between formal and informal speech, usually by the use of certain words.

Enter the word "guy". In American English, "guy," by making it plural and preceded with a "you" makes it function as a pronoun, sometimes.

In other words, "you guys" has become the go-to plural familiar second person pronoun, or if you prefer, the vosotros of American English.

Here's an example, if I were telling friends that I plan to accompany them to the store I might say:

Voy de compras con vosotros (in Spanish Spanish) = I'm going shopping with you guys. (in American English).

"You guys" obviously is plural, and it's also informal, you probably wouldn't address strangers who are older than you as "you guys".

But wait a minute folks, you ain't heard nothin' yet!!!

In the last God knows how many years, at least in this context, "you guys" has evolved to become gender-neutral. It can refer to males, females, or any combination of both, just like vosotros. 

However the gender-neutral "guys" is used in another manner which differs from vosotros, that is, in greetings.

In English if you walked into a room filled with friends you might say informally: "Hey guys." whereas in Spanish you wouldn't say "Hola vosotros", at least I've never encountered it.

Instead you might say something like: "Hola chicos" or in Italian, "Ciao ragazzi", which both literally translate to "hi boys." If it were a room filled with women you might say: "Hola chicas" or "Ciao ragazze", literally "hi girls". What if the room is filled with men and women? Spanish and Italian both default to the male-centric "Hola chicos" and "Ciao ragazzi" respectively, even if the crowd is comprised of one thousand women and only one man. That might be changing at least in some circles. One fix is being more inclusive by saying "Hola chicos y chicas" for example, or "Ciao ragazzi e ragazze" which can be a bit cumbersome, especially in an informal context. 

By contrast, "guys" has no generally accepted contemporary female counterpart. Probably the closest is gals (once-upon-a-time filling the bill), which sounds to my ears hopelessly antiquated, although some folks are trying to bring it back

It seems to me that our culture is striving to be ever more inclusive, gender-neutral and informal. In that vein, "you guys" would seem to be the perfect second person familiar pronoun.

Not everyone agrees. 

I recently came across a 2018 article in The Atlantic called "The Problem With 'Hey Guys'". Apparently, some people don't find the gender-neutral "guys" to be acceptable. As the piece points out in its introduction:

it’s a symbol of exclusion—a word with an originally male meaning that is frequently used to refer to people who don’t consider themselves "guys."

OK, point taken.

But the problem is that language seldom works as it should work, but rather how people want it to work. As I pointed out in another post, how else do you explain that the expression "I could care less" means the opposite of what the words indicate, and that we have to invent a new word for "literally" because literally, literally doesn't mean literally anymore. 

The Atlantic article goes on to suggest some more PC, gender-neutral alternatives to "you guys", such as "friends", "folks", "people", "team", and the ever popular "you all", in speech typically shortened to "y'all". 

The problem with these is they all fit into their own niche, carry some amount of baggage, and are not nearly as flexible as "you guys". For example:

  • "Friends" has a disingenuous ring to it. It sounds like something that would come out of the mouth of a televangelist or a used car salesman. 
  • "Folks" implies that what follows is bad news such as: "I hate to tell you this folks, but your pet ferret has COVID." 
  • My father always used to address us with "hello people". As English was not his first language, I'm not quite sure what he intended to convey but "people" has a very authoritarian/dismissive ring to it as in: "What were you people thinking?"  
  • "Team" sounds like someone is trying too hard. 
  • "You all"/"y'all" both make perfect sense as both a greeting and as a plural pronoun. The problem is both are SO identified with the language of the American South and by extension, Black American English, that anyone who uses those terms and is not a member of either of those groups, sounds phony.

And on and on and on...

Which brings us back to "you guys". 

Thanks in part to popular culture where so much of our casual speech originates, (think of the opening to the 1970s children's TV show The Electric Company featuring the great Rita Moreno), "you guys" has become enshrined in the American English Hall of Fame. 

I think it's really going against the grain to not accept that in certain contexts, "you guys" has evolved into a truly gender-neutral term, just as it evolved centuries before from exclusively describing an object, to describing people. 

As a generally accepted gender-neutral term, "you guys" has the advantage over its equivalents in other languages as we saw above, where you have to reverse engineer them in order to be inclusive, making them less informal in the process. And as we also saw, "you guys" has less baggage than its alternatives in English.

"You guys" has become so ingrained into our American English lexicon that whether we like it or not, it's going to be around for a very long time. 

The other day at Thanksgiving I noticed my very proper (linguistically speaking) ninety something, former elementary school principal mother using "you guys" to address her equally persnickety eighty something female friends who found no offense in it.

Just try to pry that bone away from those ladies, I dare you (guys).

Sunday, November 26, 2023

Talking Point Number One: It's All About Colonialism

This is part one of a series of posts I hope to create that deals with the current talking points concerning the Palestinian/Israeli conflict. 

There are simple problems in this world with complex solutions, and there are complex problems with relatively simple solutions. I can't think of any real-life examples of the latter at the moment but I know they exist. But the most heart-wrenching soul searching, tragic issue dominating the news at this writing, the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is a sterling example of the former.

In a nutshell, simplified only to a small degree, here is the problem:

A nation, the Jewish people, had lived in exile from their ancestral homeland for nearly two millennia. Keeping their way of life, their traditions and for the most part their religion intact, the Jewish diaspora lived as outsiders wherever they found themselves, and were often treated as such. Despised, denigrated, segregated, deprived of the rights of citizenship, and often basic human rights, antisemitism has been a given in the Jewish experience since their time in exile. 

Zionism, the movement to establish a Jewish state and homeland, has existed for centuries. It wasn't exclusively a Jewish movement as Christian groups hoping to fulfill scripture, found inspiration in returning Jews to the Holy Land in order to achieve that end.

It was in fact American Christian Zionists who coined the contentious term: "A land without a people for a people without a land."

That land of course was Palestine and suffice it to say, the first part of that aphorism was dead wrong. For centuries, Arab Muslims formed the majority of the population of Palestine, the territory between the Jordan River and the Mediterranean Sea. For the most part, they lived there in peace with Christian and Jewish minorities, all the while under the sphere of the influence of foreign colonial rule.

Meanwhile the nineteenth century saw a marked increase in antisemitism in Europe which inspired the modern Zionist movement. In the late 1800s, Theodor Herzl, a Jewish lawyer and journalist born in the Austro-Hungarian Empire in what is today the city of Budapest, would become the founder and driving force of the movement that would ultimately result in the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948. As a young man Herzl realized that assimilation of the Jews into European society was impossible. He believed there was no solution to antisemitism and that the only way for the Jewish people to live in peace and freedom was the establishment of a state of their own.

Herzl's ideas were brought to the public in his book Der Judenstaat, (The Jewish State), published in 1896. The following is the conclusion of Herzl's work:

...I believe that a wondrous generation of Jews will spring into existence... Let me repeat once more my opening words: The Jews who wish for a State will have it. We shall live at last as free men on our own soil, and die peacefully in our own homes. The world will be freed by our liberty, enriched by our wealth, magnified by our greatness. And whatever we attempt there to accomplish for our own welfare, will react powerfully and beneficially for the good of humanity.

Palestine was not the only location considered for the new Jewish State. Historically, places as far afield as sites in the United States, far eastern Russia and even Japan were brought up as possibilities. In 1903, the British suggested a territory of Eastern Africa which was under their control, in present day Kenya as a possibility. Herzl took that idea under consideration. 

One of the reasons for the rejection of the idea was that the people already there would object.

Imagine that.

Some say that colonialism is responsible for the current crisis in the Middle East and that idea is not entirely without merit. As has been pointed out ad nauseam by fervent supporters of Israel, there has never been an independent Palestinian state with Palestinian Arabs in control of their own destiny. Rather, Palestine and its people have been pawns on a chessboard representing whatever foreign power controlled them. Some would say they continue to be.

As for the Jews, if the 19th Century was disastrous for them in Europe, the 20th Century was catastrophic. 

During World War I, in exchange for their support in the effort against the Ottoman Turks, the British and the French made contradictory deals, promising self-determination to the Arabs of the Middle East, and a homeland to the Jewish people in Palestine. After the war, the two victorious European powers had a change of heart, dividing the spoils of their victory among themselves and in the process created the nations of Iraq and Jordan as token rewards to the Arabs. However due to their strategic importance, Syria and Palestine, also considered by the Arabs to be part of the deal, would remain under European power. The Europeans did keep their promise to support a Jewish homeland in Palestine however, with little regard to the people who already lived there.

The following is the complete text of the Balfour Declaration of 1917, a public pledge written by then British Foreign Secretary Arthur Balfour and sent to a prominent British Zionist, Lord Walter Rothchild:

His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object, it being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country. 

(emphasis mine)

Some staunch defenders of Israel use the highlighted portion of the text to point out that the rights of the indigenous Palestinian population were indeed an integral part of the Zionism project. 

What they fail to mention was that Britain had no intention of involving the current residents of their plan to create a homeland for another group. In a private memorandum, Arthur Balfour said this:

In Palestine we do not propose even to go through the form of consulting the wishes of the present inhabitants.

He would later add that the cause of a Jewish homeland was...

Of far profounder import than the desires of the Arab inhabitants.

Colonialism certainly created the framework that set in motion the conflict we have today where in the words of the prominent Israeli intellectual Arthur Koestler: “one nation solemnly promised to a second nation the country of a third.” 

Yet in the wake of the decline of colonialism in the 20th century, another "ism" had taken its place, nationalism. The right to self-determination is a noble concept that looks great on paper. But the real world is not so tidy and compartmentalized.  There are always groups of people who are left behind when one group is granted self-determination over their region after years of colonial rule. We have seen this happen time and again in Africa, India, the Balkans and of course Israel, to name just a few. 

The British were in control of Palestine from the capture of Jerusalem from the Ottoman Turks in 1917, until 1948 when they decided to cut their losses and go home. This period is referred to as the British mandate of Palestine. While upholding the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which declared British support for a Jewish state in Palestine, the British controlled the number of Jews who could enter Israel, even during the height of the reign of terror of the Nazis that resulted in the Holocaust. It is said this was done in order to prevent the Arab countries from siding with the Axis powers. Nevertheless, between the end of the First and the end of the Second World Wars, the Jewish population of Palestine increased from around 90,000 to 630,000, while during that time, the Arab population remained fairly stable at around one million people.

It should come as no surprise that there would be consequences to such a dramatic demographic shift over such a short period of time. The consequense was violence committed by both the Arabs and the Jews. 

In 1948 the Arab population of Palestine was still in the majority. When the British left, control of the region was given over to the newly formed United Nations. The U.N. determined that the solution to the Arab/Jewish conflict was to partition the region in two areas with each group given hegemony over their own area. The map they drew up looked very similar to the Israel of today with the West Bank and Gaza as well as the Golan Heights given over to the Arabs, while the rest of the territory, some 60 percent of the land, was to be handed over to the Jews. Given the very simple fact that the minority of the land was offered to Arab Palestinians, the indigenous people of the region who still constituted a majority of the population, they rejected the offer.  

Can anyone blame them?

Or for that matter, can anyone blame the Jews for looking to find a homeland, especially after the horrors of the Holocaust?

As I said at the top, at its heart it's a simple problem, namely two groups of people in conflict over the control of a small piece of land.

The solution to the problem on the other hand, is painfully difficult.

Sure, colonialism played its part. But blaming colonialism or any other "ism" I'm afraid, isn't in the cards as part of the solution for the here and now.

We're stuck with what we have, Israeli and Palestinian people, many with quite different agendas, some 15 million people trying, and some not, to live together in a piece of land that is just slightly bigger than the state of New Jersey.

It's a simple fact of nature that we cannot turn back the hands of time to change the past, we can only move forward.

The next talking point when I get around to it is this: anti-Zionism = antisemitism.

Stay tuned.

Sunday, October 29, 2023

Running Out of Other Hands

There's lots of blame to go around, that much is certain. What is also certain is there is not a single justification for what took place in Israel, across the border from Gaza on October 7, 2023.

None whatsoever. 

They call it Israel's 9/11 which is really saying something about a country whose entire existence has been defined by war and terror. In my opinion, in the scope of sheer depravity if not body count, 10/7 was worse. 

On that dreadful day, at this writing, three weeks ago, members of the terrorist organization Hamas, standing eye-to-eye with their victims, mostly ordinary Israeli citizens, tortured, raped, and butchered close to 1,500 people. Some were intentionally burned alive while hiding in their homes. Others were beheaded. Bodies of victims were desecrated. Many who were not killed were taken hostage. No one was spared, not the elderly, not the infirm, not children.

I'm not going to go into all the horrific details because information on that is everywhere. 

All I will say is that it takes a special kind of monster to kill parents in front of their children, not to mention all the other atrocities that took place that day.

Almost as disturbing were the scores of public acts around the world including the U.S., where people who support the Palestinian cause (a just cause in my opinion), openly celebrated the 10/7 attacks, claiming they were a legitimate response to Israeli policies.

If torture, rape and slaughter of innocent people, and cheering it all on aren't bad enough, for author/neuroscientist/philosopher Sam Harris, there is another atrocity that trumps them all, the use of human shields. In his words:

I’m talking about people who will strategically put their own noncombatants, their own women and children, into the line of fire so that they can inflict further violence upon their enemies, knowing that their enemies have a more civilized moral code that will render them reluctant to shoot back, for fear of killing or maiming innocent noncombatants.

This is taken from a transcript of Harris's recent podcast on the 10/7 attacks titled: The Sin of Moral Equivalence.  In the podcast, he notes that while ethics and morality take on different forms depending upon one's culture and religion, human civilization has advanced to the point where there are certain fundamental moral laws in our day an age, that nearly everyone accepts. It is generally agreed for example that it is wrong to kill (unless absolutely unavoidable), or to rape (in any circumstance), or to torture, or to take hostages, or to revel in such acts. And it is beyond wrong to use innocent people as shields to protect oneself from committing these crimes.

Therefore according to Harris, there is not any moral equivalence between the violent acts of Hamas, and the violent acts of Israel, who is merely attempting to defend itself. In his words: "Intentions count." 

I agree.

But he raises a few eyebrows with the following:

In the West, we have advanced to a point where the killing of noncombatants, however unavoidable it becomes once wars start, is inadvertent and unwanted and regrettable and even scandalous. Yes, there are still war crimes. And I won’t be surprised if some Israelis commit war crimes in Gaza now. But, if they do, these will be exceptions that prove the rule—which is that Israel remains a lonely outpost of civilized ethics in the absolute moral wasteland that is the Middle East.

To deny that the government of Israel (with all of its flaws) is better than Hamas, to deny that Israeli culture (with all of its flaws) is better than Palestinian culture­ in its attitude toward violence, is to deny that moral progress itself is possible.

The problem is we could argue all day about whose culture is the morally superior, but in the end, we're still left with the question of what to do about the conflict between the Israelis and the Palestinians. 

I'm sure it makes little difference to the victims of the 10/7 attack, or the Israeli response to it, (over 5,000 people killed in Gaza at this writing), whether their or their loved one's killer was morally superior or inferior to the killers on the other side.

We can pick sides and argue until we're blue in the face as to who's cause is more valid, which side is responsible for more atrocities, and what group is more entitled to call the small patch of land between the Mediterranean Sea and the Jordan River, home.

Or we can go back and forth justifying the actions of both sides until we run out of other hands, as I certainly have after the 10/7 attack.

But in the end, there are only two realities that matter: 

Israel is here to stay and so are the Palestinians. We can either go on as we have for 75 years living with an unending cycle of violence and death, or somehow, someway come up with a solution for the Israelis and Palestinians to find a way to live together in relative peace.

Yes I know, that sounds very kumbaya of me but in all honesty, short of the mass eviction or genocide of one or both of the groups that call that land (whatever you want to call it) home, can you think of any other scenario?

No, I'm not presumptuous enough to claim to have an answer to this conflict. All I know is that it is not as some suggest a struggle between right and wrong, between good and evil. If it were, it would be an easy choice for those of us who haven't a personal stake in the issue to pick sides, like the other war we're dealing with in Ukraine. Nevertheless, many do pick sides without giving the other side the benefit of at least trying to walk in their shoes, even for a brief moment. 

To be sure there are very bad, perhaps evil actors involved in the current struggle in the Middle East, but the truth is that both sides have legitimate arguments that need to be listened to and respected, especially by each other.

In all his wisdom, Sam Harris makes no bones about which side he's on, which is certainly his prerogative. But in doing so, he illustrates much of the disconnect we have going on right now on both sides regarding this issue. 

While denying moral equivalence between the 10/7 attacks and Israel's response, Harris pays lip service to some of the issues Palestinians have, mentioning the:

the growth of (Israeli) settlements, (and) the daily humiliation of living under occupation.

 But then he adds:

Incidentally, there has been no occupation of Gaza since 2005, when Israel withdrew from the territory unilaterally, forcibly removing 9000 of its own citizens, and literally digging up Jewish graves. The Israelis have been out of Gaza for nearly 20 years. And yet they have been attacked from Gaza ever since.

This is a half-truth. While it's true that previous to the 10/7 attacks, Israeli forces were not occupying Gaza from the inside, Israel has blockaded the region, walled it off, controlling its air and maritime space, six of seven of its land borders, and as we've seen during this conflict, complete control of Gaza's utilities including water, electricity and telecommunications.

Harris's comments dismiss the dreadful conditions people have lived through in Gaza leading some to declare it, an "open air prison." And that was before Israel's current air bombardment and impending ground invasion, which have made it a living hell on earth. 

In all fairness it must be stated that a great deal of the suffering of the people of Gaza has been exacerbated by Hamas who has been the governing body there since 2007, and has been using the territory to launch missile strikes against Israel.

Sam Harris is not alone in his selective reading of history, In virtually all the assessments of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict I've read on both sides of the issue, the authors use charged language consisting of half-truths, false equivalences, conflation and other rhetorical devices crafted for the purpose of minimizing the suffering of and dehumanizing the other side.  

Folks taking the Palestinian side for example like to use provocative terms charging Israel with "imperialism" "settler colonialism", "racism", "occupation", "ethnic cleansing", "apartheid" and even "fascism". These are fighting words, terms designed to ring a bell by conflating Israel's treatment of the Palestinians with familiar grievous atrocities that have taken place throughout history such as the European conquest of the Americas, Apartheid South Africa, the brutal war in the Balkans in the nineties, and the quintessential symbol of evil, Nazi Germany.

Like Sam Hariis's occupation remark, while not entirely off the mark, these are half-truths that tell only part of the story. Israel is indeed guilty of committing grievous atrocities against the Palestinian people. What the folks who use these terms conveniently leave out, are the grievous atrocities carried out against Israelis by terrorist organizations acting, or so they claim, in the name of the Palestinian people.

Also conveniently not mentioned is the terrible history of racism and oppression against the Jewish people, culminating in the Holocaust which was the final straw that made the establishment of the State of Israel, a fait accompli.

On the other side, in a 1969 interview, then Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir said this: "There was no such thing as Palestinians."  She went on:

When was there an independent Palestinian people with a Palestinian state? It was either southern Syria before the First World War and then it was a Palestine including Jordan. It was not as though there was a Palestinian people in Palestine considering itself as a Palestinian people and we came and threw them out and took their country from them. They did not exist. (Emphasis mine)

What she says here with the exception of the last sentence, is not entirely without merit. Before the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948, the territory of Palestine had been under the control of the colonial powers of Great Britain, the Ottoman Turks, several other Muslim groups broken up for a brief period by European Crusaders, the Byzantine Empire, the Romans, (with brief interludes of Jewish rule), the Greeks, the Babylonians and the Persians. That takes us back to about 600 B.C.E. when the Hebrews still ruled over much of the area when the Egyptians weren't calling the shots. In none of that time was there a Palestinian state governed by a people called the Palestinians.   

According to Meir's framework, the people who came to be known as Palestinians, were simply Arabs who happened to live in Palestine. As such they were subjects of the imperial powers mentioned above and were referred to as Palestinian Arabs. Golda Meir compares these people to the Jews like her, who lived in Palestine before 1948, and were referred to as Palestinian Jews. 

So she's right in that there was never a Palestinian state. Other commentators point out that even the word Palestine is a Greek, not an Arab word. 

Golda Meir spent years backpedaling her remark but the idea of a lack of a true Palestinian identity has been picked up by many hardline defenders of Israel and has been the foundation of their argument that the people who identify themselves as Palestinians have no legitimate case. In their view, they are simply Arabs who should live with other Arabs in places like Jordan, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt. 

The germ of that argument may be factually true, but in its entirety the argument can be refuted in two words: so what? 

Before World War I, about 700,000 Palestinian Arabs lived in the region as had their ancestors before them for millennia. There was no mass migration of Arab people into Palestine, no one date when we can say the Arabs arrived in Palestine. Modern day Palestinians can legitimately trace at least part of their ancestry to the region back to the time of Abraham and before.

As can the Jews.

The Arabs of Palestine had their own towns, farms and way of life. They bonded as a community. They had developed their own culture and language, one of the many dialects of Arabic. And they lived in peace with members of the Jewish minority who had remained after the mass exodus during the first century C.E. after the Romans destroyed the Second Temple. 

That all changed after World War I as the massive immigration of Jewish people into Palestine, made possible by Great Britain with the Balfour Declaration of 1917 which declared British support for the establishment of a Jewish homeland in the region, which completely changed the demographics of Palestine. 

Tens of thousands of Arab Palestinians were evicted from their homes and forced into exile, communities were destroyed, olive trees that provided Palestinian families their sustenance for centuries were uprooted, and entire towns were leveled. One incident was so horrific, The Deir Yessin Massacre, the obliteration of an Arab town near Jerusalem by radical Israeli terrorists, that it bears resemblance to what happened three weeks ago outside of Gaza, again if not in body count, in terms of sheer depravity. Remember as Sam Harris pointed out, intentions count. 

Today, Jewish people from every corner of the planet who have never set foot in the place are welcome to move to Israel upon which they automatically become citizens, yet Arab people who were born there and have since left for whatever reason, are denied that right.

I could go on forever describing sins of the past and present but what's the point?

The question of the day is where do we go from here?

Among the people making the rounds on the interview circuit in the past month is the Israeli author and historian Yuval Noah Harrari, who has friends and family members in Kibbutz Be-eri who were victims of the 10/7 massacre.

Harrari has been a strong critic of the current government in Israel led by Benjamin Netanyahu, who according to Harrari is a populist, conspiracy theory driven strongman with aims to divide Israelis in order to shore up his own power. (sound familiar?). Harrari directly attributes the "success" of the Hamas 10/7 assault to the distraction caused by Israeli political infighting which led to a breakdown of security forces and Israeli intelligence resulting in letting their guard down, enabling the Hamas terrorists to cross the heavily defended border virtually unencumbered. 
Harrari also finds Israel's response to the attack unacceptable. While he agrees that Hamas must be dealt with severely, he doesn't agree with the hard liners' stance that the terrorist group must be annihilated. 

Beyond the obvious moral ramifications of killing thousands of innocent Palestinians in order to wipe Hamas off the face of the earth, there are strong tactical points that should be considered using Harrari's logic. 

Hamas knew exactly what Israel's response would be to their 10/7 attack, and Israel is playing right into their hands. Hamas on its own has no chance to stand up militarily to the mighty Israeli armed forces. But they know that thousands of dead Palestinians at the hands of Israel will further harden the hearts of the remaining Palestinians to the thought of a negotiated peace, and turn much of the world against Israel. In this sense, every dead Palestinian at the hands of Israel is a victory for Hamas, whose stated goal is the replacement of Israel by an Islamic state. 

Annihilating Hamas, if that is even remotely possible, would inevitably result in the deaths of several more tens of thousands of innocent Palestinians and the displacement of millions. With Hamas gone at the cost of all those lives, something will inevitably arise to take its place. Something that is, that will probably be much worse. 

Demanding justice is a normal, fundamental human desire. But Yuval Harrari poses this question: what is more important, justice or peace? There will never be traditional eye-for-eye justice for the 10/7 attack, just as there will never be justice for 9/11, Deir Yessin, or the Holocaust. 

The only real justice for the victims of these atrocities is to do everything in our power to ensure they never happen again. 

Justice in the form of retribution only leads to more retribution, an unending cycle, just as we've had in the past 75 years. 

Harrari proposes a rekindling of the peace talks between Israel and Saudi Arabia that were looking very promising up until 10/7, in fact he speculates their very existence was one of the prime motivations for the attacks. The last thing Hamas, a jihadist organization wants is peace with Israel.

Then in Harrari's words, with a 
coalition of the willing – ranging from the US and the EU to Saudi Arabia and the Palestinian Authority – should take responsibility for the Gaza Strip away from Hamas, rebuild Gaza and simultaneously completely disarm Hamas and demilitarise the Gaza Strip.
With a rebuilt Gaza, and assurances from Israel to keep their hands off, maybe, just maybe there will be some hope for the future among Palestinians and the possibility that one day they will be able to live with dignity. And if that happens, maybe just maybe, Hamas and other similar groups will be seen for the truly needless destruction they cause and will be rendered irrelevant.

Yes it's farfetched but it's an infinitely better scenario then simply blasting Gaza to kingdom come, which is what we are experiencing now. 

But peace won't come unless attitudes on both sides change. 

Moshe Dayan was a formidable Israeli military leader and politician from the state's founding until his death in 1981. In 1956, he delivered the eulogy of a fallen comrade killed outside his kibbutz near Gaza by Palestinian fedayeen. Defining the reality and the terrible moral compromise forged with the establishment of the State of Israel, Dayan's words are resolute, yet filled with self-reflection and anguish:
Let us not condemn the murderers. What do we know of their fierce hatred for us? For eight years they have been living in the refugee camps of Gaza, while right before their eyes we have been turning the land and the villages, in which they and their forefathers lived, into our land.

Not from the Arabs of Gaza must we demand the blood of Roi, but from ourselves. How our eyes are closed to the reality of our fate, unwilling to see the destiny of our generation in its full cruelty. Have we forgotten that this small band of youths, settled in Nahal Oz, carries on its shoulders the heavy gates of Gaza, beyond which hundreds of thousands of eyes and arms huddle together and pray for the onset of our weakness so that they may tear us to pieces — has this been forgotten? For we know that if the hope of our destruction is to perish, we must be, morning and evening, armed and ready.
Imagine that kind of honesty coming out of the mouth of ANY politician today, let alone one involved in the Israel/Palestine crisis.

Compare Dayan's words to these words addressed to the Palestinians, of Israel's current finance minister Bezalel Smotrich:
you are here by mistake because Ben-Gurion (Israel’s first prime minister) didn’t finish the job in ’48 and didn’t kick you out.

Clearly we not only need to disarm organizations like Hamas, but we also need to encourage the Israeli and the Palestinian people to stop choosing religious-zealot-extremists to lead them, as leadership on both sides has tragically failed its people.

As I said above, Israel and the Palestinian people are here to stay, despite the rantings of sociopathic lunatics.

We need to tone down the rhetoric and be willing to listen to different voices to try to understand our adversaries, instead of demonizing or dehumanizing them. 

Most of all, rather than declaring ourselves on the side of the Palestinians or the Israelis, all people of good will should declare ourselves to be on the side of peace.

I'm not at all optimistic peace will come, but what other choice do we have?

Sunday, October 15, 2023

Yo No Sabo

Last July in Los Angeles, El Tri, the Mexican National soccer team, won the CONCACAF Gold Cup, the men's Pan-American Championship. The final game was covered by ESPN Deportes, the Spanish language branch of the cable sports network. After the game, one of their reporters, José del Valle, sought out Mexican fans celebrating their team's victory and came upon a young boy wearing the El Tri jersey. The reporter introduced the child to his audience as "the future of Mexico", but when he began asking questions, it was clear the boy was not a fluent Spanish speaker. To which the reporters in the studio lamented that the boy belongs to a generation that no longer speaks Spanish. 

So much for the future of a Spanish speaking Mexico I guess was the message of the moment.

The video of the incident posted on YouTube went viral with comments shaming the boy, his parents, and Latin American parents in the United States who do not teach their children Spanish.

Since then, the media, social and otherwise have been flooded with articles and reports asking the question: "is Spanish fluency an essential part of being Hispanic?"  

There are two words that can best describe the situation: it's complicated.

I have an opinion which I'll share at the end of this post. As I'm not a member of that community, my opinion is irrelevant. However, as a child of an immigrant whose native language was not English, as a parent, and as a passionate, yet challenged language learner myself, I do have a bit of perspective.

So here's my story:

My father immigrated to this country from Czechoslovakia in 1955. He moved to Chicago and met my mother in the fall of 1957. After a brief romance, they married in January 1958 and later that year, I was born. That's how it was done in those days I guess.

Anyway, my dad had his heart set on teaching his only son his native language, which he began to do. An audio tape of a two year old me once existed where I was speaking perfect two year old Czech. When I heard the tape perhaps ten years later, I asked what had happened, why was my Czech so much better then than it was now? I can't remember what my dad's response was but knowing him, he probably blamed it on me. 

Years later after having children of my own, it makes perfect sense. My dad married a woman who was not Czech so obviously, Czech was not spoken at home between my parents. While my dad valiantly tried to speak to me in Czech from the outset, he, a man of little patience, must have given up at some point when it became obvious that I was more interested speaking the language that was all around me, English, rather than Czech. 

Which is too bad because boy how I wished I could speak Czech, especially when I worked for my father in his paint store and got stares of incredulity from his Czech customers when I had to tell them "Nemluvím česky", "I don't speak Czech."  "What's wrong with that kid?" my mind's ear could hear them say to themselves, in Czech of course.

And boy do I wish I spoke Czech now.

So in a way I can identify with the "no sabo kids", a derogatory term for Hispanic-Americans who speak either broken or no Spanish. "No sabo" incidentally is grammatically incorrect Spanish for "I don't know", making the put down doubly insulting.

I don't blame my father one bit. I have friends who successfully taught their kids to be bi-lingual from the get-go without the help of their spouses, and understand the commitment it took on their part, both parent and child. I especially appreciate it when I think back on all the things I wanted to do for my own children but didn't, simply because life got in the way.

No Pop, it wasn't your or anybody else's fault that I didn't turn out speaking Czech, although I haven't given up hope that one day...

I said I can identify with the no sabos "in a way" because the issue is vastly more complicated for Latin American people than it was for me. 

Here are some thoughts:

With the exception of Anglo Saxons, every racial/ethnic group in the United States has experienced marginalization and discrimination to a degree, some obviously more than others. With some groups, once members became culturally integrated into the population, usually one or two generations after family members first arrived on these shores, successfully assimilated children, grandchildren and great grandchildren of immigrants transformed from being the marginalized into being the marginalizers. Assimilation historically involved losing the traits that define the culture from which one's ancestors came, or at least sublimating them to a degree where they don't interfere with the traits that once defined a "typical" American. 

Being a "typical" American, even as recently as a half century ago, meant fulfilling certain well-defined requirements. It meant having values such as personal liberty, upward mobility, and owning a home. A typical American may or may not have been a church goer, but usually identified him or herself as Protestant Christian of one denomination or other. A typical American spoke Standard American English without a trace of a foreign accent and above all, a typical American was white.  

You can see this for yourself in popular culture by watching movies from an earlier era. Even a film with "progressive" sympathies such as the 1947 classic It's a Wonderful Life, presented its vision of that wonderful life as centering around a small town, (another typical American value) populated by White Anglo Saxon Protestants. The handful of people in the film that did not fit that description were Annie the black housekeeper, Mr. Martini, the Italian bar owner, and the nameless immigrant residents of the housing development on the outskirts of town, made possible by the honorable and humble Building and Loan at the center of the story. 

These "ethnic" characters while treated with a modicum of respect by the filmmakers (unusual for the time), were outsiders looking to land themselves a piece of that wonderful life, the so-called "American Dream." One of the implied messages of the movie is if the people in the projects kept their noses to the grindstone and strove to achieve those requirements and maintained the values mentioned above, they too could one day be welcomed into the town proper as full-fledged members. Martini, with his strong Italian accent may never quite reach that promised land, but his children, whom we assume would have lost the accent, might. 

But what about Annie's offspring? Well, they would still be black and at least in the Bedford Falls we see in the movie, there are no black people other than servants, whom we assume lived in their own section on the outskirts of the town proper. Their skin color meant there would be no assimilation for them, therefore no membership in the promised land.

1947, the year It's a Wonderful Lif e was made, was a watershed year in American history. It was the year the color barrier was broken in "organized baseball", a milestone in the history of race relations in the United States. 1947 was the year things began to change in this country, albeit drop by drop. 

Much has been written about the modern Civil Rights movement coming to life after World War II when black veterans after serving their country with distinction, came home to find they were still treated as second class citizens.

The same was true for Hispanic veterans. 

Discrimination against and the marginalization of Latinos in the United States may have taken different forms, but both have been as pervasive and have existed at least as long as the discrimination and marginalization of black people in this country. The two groups are intrinsically connected by their subjection to racism, exploitation, segregation, rejection, and even by the issue of slavery.

In an article published in August 2019 in the Washington Post titled A History of Anti-Hispanic Bigotry in the United States, responding to the idea that resentment against Hispanics has increased since the rise of vile rhetoric on the part of the ultra-right, the article's author Maria Arana assures us that:

It has not. These are long-held resentments. For centuries they have been fed by ignorance, racism and a stubborn unwillingness to understand a population whose ancestors were here by the millions — long before the first pilgrim set foot on Plymouth Rock.

A pivotal moment for Americans of Mexican descent was the Mexican-American War of 1846-1848. The westward expansion of the United States all the way to the Pacific Ocean was considered by many, to be the will of God. This was expressed by the term "Manifest Destiny" which was coined in 1845 by a columnist named John L. O'Sullivan who wrote the following in the New York Morning News:

And that claim is by the right of our manifest destiny to overspread and to possess the whole of the continent which Providence has given us for the development of the great experiment of liberty and federated self-government entrusted to us.

The chief obstacle to U.S. Manifest Destiny was Mexico which at the time included what is now California, Nevada, Utah, most of Arizona, New Mexico, and Colorado, and parts of Oklahoma, Kansas and Wyoming. Texas, once also part of Mexico, declared its independence in 1836. However, Mexico refused to recognize that independence even after Texas U.S. statehood was declared in 1845.  

The high-minded expansion of democracy and liberty from the Atlantic to the Pacific was not all that drove the United States to eventually go to war with Mexico. Southern politicians were eager to gain territory for political reasons, chiefly to expand slavery into potentially future states. Increasing the number of slave states would add like-minded representatives to Congress to strengthen their standing against the free states of the North. 

Efforts to purchase land from Mexico were unfruitful leading the United States to send troops to disputed parts of Texas. When Mexican forces repelled the U.S. forces, Congress declared war against Mexico. 

The war was short lived; in a little over one year of fighting, U.S. forces marched into Mexico City.

The U.S. government was at odds over the terms of settlement, some going so far as to advocate for complete U.S. annexation of Mexico.  

Annexing land that once was Mexico's was met with opposition by South Carolina senator and former vice president John C. Calhoun whose words would be reflected in the attitudes of generations of Americans to follow:

We have never dreamt of incorporating into our Union any but the Caucasian race--the free white race. To incorporate Mexico, would be the first instance of the kind of incorporating an Indian race; for more than half of the Mexicans are Indians, and the other is composed chiefly of mixed tribes. I protest against such a union as that! Ours, sir, is the Government of a white race.... We are anxious to force free government on all; and I see that it has been urged ... that it is the mission of this country to spread civil and religious liberty over all the world, and especially over this continent. It is a great mistake.

The following year Mexico and the United States came to peace terms with the signing of the Treaty of Guadalupe Hidalgo which saw Mexico ceding 55 percent of its territory to the United States, and the establishment of the U.S. /Mexico border which exists to this day.

Along with land, the U.S. inherited the people who lived there. 

Here again is Maria Arana:

...that victory came with hostages: the Mexican American people. That grudging population was not easy to exterminate; not by war, nor by verdict. There were too many to be herded down trails of tears or consigned to faraway exile, and they were useful, if vexatious. They knew the land, worked the land and could be put to work for white overlords.
The people living in the lands ceded by Mexico to the United States were automatically granted U.S. citizenship. But much like the rights (including property rights), granted to former enslaved people after the Civil War by the Reconstruction amendments, the legal status of these new American citizens was largely ignored. 

As Maria Arana suggests, so long as Mexicans proved useful as a reliable source of labor, often doing work other Americans refused, they were tolerated. Once that usefulness faded, Mexican U.S. citizens were shunned, blamed for taking jobs away from "real" Americans, and were often the victims of segregation, forced replacement to Mexico, violence and even lynch mobs. 

Most related to the subject at hand, despite there never having been an official language of the United States, speaking Spanish in public in parts of the country was strongly discouraged and even outlawed. 

And so, the die was cast for the next century and half of Americans of Mexican descent living as foreigners in their own country, much as Martin Luther King said of Black people in his "I Have a Dream" speech.

Of course, people with ties to the Spanish speaking nations of the Americas living in the United States are not limited to Mexicans. Hispanic people come from the Caribbean, Central and South America, all with distinct cultures, reasons for being here, and legal status. Latinos are an ethnically and racially diverse group, their ancestry is African, Indigenous American, European, Asian, and all possible combinations of those.   

Chicago alone has two major groups representing nearly 85 percent of the city's Hispanic population, one from Mexico, the other from Puerto Rico, two countries with vastly different cultures. The remaining Hispanic population of the city has representatives from Central and South America and other Caribbean island nations, each with its distinct culture. Many things make up a culture, history, tradition, religion, values, art, music, cuisine, sports, dress and of course language, just to name a few. The one and perhaps only thing all these cultures have in common is the Spanish language.

Several years ago, well before the 2016 presidential election, I got into a conversation with a white guy during a long train ride. We got along well until the subject of language came up. He mentioned that there were people seriously studying Klingon, a pretend language invented for the Star Trek movies. I suggested that perhaps their time would be better spent learning a real language such as Spanish. He reacted almost as if I had made a disparaging remark about his mother. 

Showing his discontent with Hispanic people and his disapproval of the amount of Spanish he was subjected to on a daily basis he said:  "If only these people would learn to assimilate and speak English..." although I don't think he said it quite so politely. 

Fortunately, we had just about reached our destination and soon parted ways.

Unfortunately, many Americans are under the mistaken impression that the majority of Hispanic people in the U.S. do not speak English and have not adequately integrated themselves into American society.

Here's a link from the Pew Research Center that proves otherwise. 

Having said that, I realize the impossible position Latinos find themselves in this country. For generations they have been pilloried for not speaking English well enough, and now the ones that do are shamed for not speaking Spanish well enough. 

I guess you just can't win.

But there is another factor involved, race. To illustrate I'll use another example from popular culture of the past. 
Lucille Ball was already a star before the creation of the television show that bore her name: I Love Lucy, perhaps the most successful program in television history. The show was created to be the TV version of the radio program, "My Favorite Husband" where Ball played alongside Richard Denning as her eponymous husband.

For the TV version, Ball insisted that Denning's roll be played by her real-life husband, Cuban American bandleader Desi Arnaz. CBS, the network that was to produce the program, balked at the idea of presenting a show featuring the mixed marriage of an "all American girl", and a "Latin man". Despite the network's objections, Ball and Arnaz were able to convince the sponsors, the tobacco company Phillip Morris, that the idea of pairing two individuals from different backgrounds could fly on broadcast TV.

I Love Lucy was groundbreaking for several reasons, not the least of which was its depiction of a cross-cultural marriage, a subject barely touched upon in popular culture at the time, even though it was becoming more and more a reality in American life, my parents being an example. The show also played a role in popularizing Latin American culture with the general American public. 

Of course, Desi Arnaz was white.

Were he black like the great Cuban bandleader and singer Benny Moré, or of mixed heritage, the show would never have gotten off the ground. That kind of pairing in popular culture would have to wait another decade and even to this day, the issue still fraught with unease and difficulty, at least in some circles.

The truth is, it's all about race. 
A majority (62%) of Hispanic adults say having a darker skin color hurts Hispanics’ ability to get ahead in the United States today at least a little. A similar share (59%) say having a lighter skin color helps Hispanics get ahead. And 57% say skin color shapes their daily life experiences a lot or some, with about half saying discrimination based on race or skin color is a “very big problem” in the U.S. today, according to Pew Research Center’s National Survey of Latinos, a bilingual, national survey of 3,375 Hispanic U.S. adults conducted in March 2021.
 About a quarter of Latino adults say they have personally experienced discrimination or unfair treatment from other Latinos. Having darker skin and being born outside the United States are associated with an increased chance of experiencing this type of discrimination, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2021. At the same time, Latinos say they are as likely to experience discrimination or unfair treatment from non-Latinos as from fellow Latinos, regardless of skin color or their country of birth.
Racial discrimination and the poverty stemming from the lack of opportunities for people of color is not unique to the United States, this from the United Nations Chronicle:
What is rarely mentioned is that most (Latin American) nations still confront deeply seated racial inequality and discrimination that impacts all aspects of economic and social life...
Data illustrates that race continues to be one of the most persistent predictors of poverty in the Americas, which is particularly troubling because African descendant populations tend to speak their nation's language as their mother tongues -- whether it is Spanish or Portuguese -- and are in close proximity to urban, coastal, port or mining areas, which tend to be centres for employment and economic growth opportunities. 
A few years ago, I told a Latina friend that I had resumed studying Spanish forty years after I took it in high school. She gave me a sly look and said: "Spanish is the language of the colonizers, what you really should be studying is Quechua", one of the languages of the Inca civilization.

Romantic and wildly impractical to be sure, especially given my lack of language learning acumen, but my friend brings up a good point.

If helping preserve a heritage is your intent, why learn Spanish? Spanish, just like English, Portuguese and French, is merely one of the lingua francas of the Americas, languages of power, authority and subjugation. The majority of people in North and South America can trace their own heritage, (not very far back in some cases like my own), to people who had no connection to any of those languages. 
Great cultures existed in this hemisphere before the arrival of the Europeans who did everything in their power to wipe them out. They mostly succeeded.

Fortunately, they couldn't wipe out the people, many of whom in addition to facing discrimination of their own, are struggling today to preserve the remnants of their Pre-Columbian cultures, the most tangible symbol of which is their language. Sadly, thousands of indigenous languages have become extinct and most of those that survive are in danger of the same fate.

On the other hand, the last time I checked, testimony to the tremendous success of, second only to Great Britain's, Spain's rapacious appetite for conquest: 
  • Spanish is the fourth most spoken language in the world. 
  • Just behind Spain itself, the United States ranks number five in the world's nations in the number of Spanish speakers. 
  • Mexico is number one.
  • 75 percent of Latin Americans in the United States claim to be at least somewhat fluent in the Spanish language. 
  • The U.S. Census Bureau predicts that the Hispanic population of the United States will reach 111.2 million, nearly double that of the Hispanic population of the last census. 
In other words, Spanish is not an endangered language by a long shot, not in the United States, not in the rest of the world, and especially not in Mexico.
So it would appear the appropriate response to the anchors over at ESPN Deportes who were so bothered by the young Mexican fan of El Tri not speaking Spanish well enough is the following:

No se preocupen chicos, ¡siempre tendremos español!

As promised at the top of this post, here is my entirely irrelevant opinion:

Should Latin American parents living in the United States teach their children Spanish? 
Of course they should! 
If they want to that is.

Should no sabo kids learn the language of their ancestors?
If they would like to.

Should Hispanic people be shamed for not speaking Spanish?
Absolutely not. 

After all, south of the Rio Grande and in the nations of the Caribbean, you won't hear people referring to themselves as "Hispanic" or "Latino" or any of its derivatives, as those categories have U.S. origins.

Instead you will hear "mexicano", "boriqua", "guatemalteco", "venezolano", and other Spanish and indigenous words (properly not capitalized here), adjectives describing the people and cultures of Latin America.*
What this means is that Hispanic, or if you prefer, Latino culture, is primarily an American** and Canadian culture.

What THAT means is that Latino culture is a mixture of the cultures of ALL of Latin America (including the non-Spanish speaking parts), on top of the already diverse cultures of the U.S. and Canada. Would you call that diversity squared or diversity cubed?

That to me is wonderfully mind-blowing.

Even more exciting is that Hispanic/Latino culture is a work in progress, evolving before our very eyes. 

It may not be to everyone's liking but fortunately, at least for me, the "typical" white bread America of Leave it to Beaver (to use another pop culture reference), doesn't exist anymore, if it ever did. 

We are a diverse lot and that is something to embrace, not to fear. Of all the groups who call our country and Canada home, (hopefully no one objects to me conflating the two), by far the most diverse is el pueblo Latino. 

What diversity means, or should mean, is that everybody gets the chance to be him or herself, ideally without being judged. That kind of liberty is still the great promise of U.S. and Canadian culture. We may still be a long way from there, but despite the recent hiccups, that's the trajectory we've been heading in for quite some time. 

As the most diverse community in an already diverse culture, in my humble opinion, el pueblo latino should and usually does lead the way as far as embracing its heritage(s) ALONG WITH the diversity of its people, including their language(s) of preference whether they be Spanish, English, Portuguese, French, one or more of the plethora of indigenous languages, or any combination therein.

That is indeed something to celebrate. 

¡Feliz Mes de la Herencia Hispana!


* There are Latin American people in this country who still refer to themselves by their or their ancestors' country of origin, yet the generic terms of "Hispanic" and "Latino" are becoming more common, thanks largely to the U.S. Census Bureau. Answering the call for the government to provide more resources for Americans of Latin American descent, in 1980 the bureau decided to create a new race category on their forms, adding to their previous list which was then limited to "black", "white", and the ever popular, "other".

Thus, the category "Hispanic" was born. As one might guess, the term Hispanic is problematic as the word implies people who speak Spanish, therefore it is not inclusive of all the people from Latin America, which is not exclusively Spanish speaking. Brazil is an example, Haiti another.

Enter the term "Latino" which was adopted by the U.S. government in 1997 to be inclusive of all people with Latin American connections regardless of language spoken, even presumably the hundreds of indigenous languages that have absolutely nothing to do with Latin, the origin of the colonial languages of Latin America.

But Latino has its problems too. Spanish is a highly gender binary language where all nouns including inanimate objects are assigned a gender. So, in traditional Spanish we would refer to men as Latino and women, Latina. Infuriating to modern sensibilities, a mixed group of men and women, even if there are many women and only one man, defaults to the masculine Latino. There are also people who do not wish to be identified by any gender. 

One way to address this issue is the introduction of the non-binary term "Latinx" (pronounced "Latin - ex") which has become accepted in some circles. However, Latinx is a word that would never occur in the Spanish language, consequently it is offensive to the sensibilities of many native Spanish speakers who accuse users of it as culturally appropriating Spanish by anglicizing the word. The more Spanish sounding Latine has been proposed but it hasn't really caught on. Likewise Latin@ (not quite sure how to pronounce that one), which looks like it was taken from standard Martian.

As there is no consensus in the community regarding the best word to describe itself, I decided in this post to use the terms Latin American, Hispanic and Latino(a) interchangeably.

** By "American" here I'm referring to the United States of America, another topic of controversy. People from Latin America understandably object to the adjective "American" specifically pertaining to the United States. After all, they live in America too. Unfortunately, in English we don't have any other adjective describing the U.S. Spanish does, the rather awkward  estadounidense, which translates literally to United Statesian. What do you think?

The argument for keeping American to describe a person living in the United States is that this is the only country in all of the Americas, with the word America in its official name. For that reason, I use it whenever necessary.

Thursday, September 28, 2023

A Quick Post Mortem

In the "I watched it so you won't have to category", here are some quick thoughts on the winners and losers of last night's Republican Presidential Debate:

A winner, sort of: Tim Scott, who sleepwalked through the first debate last month, woke up last night and scored a few points by directly going after some of his rivals on the stage. He took swipes, as did practically everyone else, at Vivek Ramaswamy on his business dealings with China, and at Ron DeSantis on his state's controversial guidelines for history education. That exchange produced the highest moment of gravitas in the evening when Scott who is black said: "there is not a redeeming quality in slavery." He said that because the Florida guidelines put in place by DeSantis suggest there was.

This led to a brief discourse by the junior senator from South Carolina on how despite the injustice and depravity of the institution, black people in this country survived slavery, discrimination, poll taxes and literacy tests "woven into the laws of our country." He went on saying that black people have had a much harder time surviving Lyndon Johnson's "Great Society" and the welfare system it produced which according to Scott, did much to destroy the black family and create a permanent underclass. This is a classic, traditional conservative argument that will certainly win him some votes as much as bring out the the wrath of the left.

Scott looked downright silly though when he challenged his former mentor Nikki Haley about expensive curtains she supposedly bought for her office at the UN when she became the U.S. Ambassador. Haley correctly pointed out that the curtains preceeded her. "Did you send them back?" was Scott's response.

A loser: I was less than impressed with Mike Pence this time, perhaps because I over-estimated him after his last debate performance. While he thanked the moderators for every question sent his way, more often than not he refused to answer those questions. He is however the surprise winner of my bat-shit crazy idea award, when he proposed as a solution to mass shootings, a fast track to execution for the perps.

Runner up to that award and clear-cut winner of my constitution schmonstitution award is Ramaswamy's plan to eliminate birthright citizenship in the United States, something that is guaranteed in Section One of the Fourteenth Amendment.  

Best line of the evening goes to Nikki Haley for this response to Vivek Ramaswamy: "honestly, every time I hear you, I feel a little bit dumber for what you say." Second best line goes to moderator Dana Parino. I don't remember the exact line but after one of Mike Pence's many end runs around one of her questions, she interrupted him saying, "yes that's great Mr. Vice President but what about (then she restated the original question)", which again, he failed to answer.

Biggest lost opportunity of the evening goes to there being not one mention of the exPOTUS's recent comment about executing the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff. Oh, wait a minute, this debate was hosted by FOX News, how silly of me. As if...

OK the biggest lost opportunity goes to Ron DeSantis for once again failing to man up and just, as Tim Scott suggested, drop the line that suggests that people benefited from slavery from his school guidelines. Instead, while intentionally mispronouncing her name, DeSantis claimed the whole issue was dreamed up by Kamala Harris. No, it wasn't Ron, it's right there in black and white, if you'd only bother to read the guidelines you insisted forcing upon the schools in your state.

The lamest attempt at humor goes hands down to Chris Christie for two clunkers. First was his comment that went something like this: "Trump ducks out of these debates so much we're gonna start calling him Donald Duck."  If he had said it like that it may have sounded a little funnier but he added a lot of words between the ducking out part and the punchline so that if you were drifting off like I was, you might have missed the connection. "Oh I get it!"  I  said to myself this morning when I heard it replayed on the radio 10 hours after the fact, once again proving that in comedy, timing is everything. 

The other was his rather cringy line reacting to the problem with education in this country: "Joe Biden is literally in bed with a member of a teachers union" (his wife).

Bad humor plus a real slap in the face to union members including this new union member, makes Christie in my book, the biggest loser of the evening.

The I still can't remember his name without looking it up award goes to, wait a minute...oh yeah, goes to Doug Burgum.  

Once again I have to say the overall winner of this race to second place in the Republican primary goes to Nikki Haley who so far at least, seems able to run circles around the rest of the competition in a debate. In marked contrast to her last appearance where she appeared to be looking ahead to the general election by talking about consensus and reasonable goals, this time she went all in on the issues Republicans want to hear such as border security and energy independence (there is no such thing by the way). She went in lockstep with DeSantis and his idea to send troops into Mexico to stop illegal immigration and the flow of fentanyl. She even out-flanked DeSantis to the right when she challenged him on his resistance to fracking and off-shore drilling in his state. In characteristic fashion, rather than reasonably explaining his position, DeSantis huffed, puffed and shrugged it off, claiming Haley was wrong. 

She wasn't.

Many pundits are claiming that these candidates slugging it out against each other in a race they know they can't win are auditioning for vice president. Some of them perhaps are, such as Ramaswamy whom I imagine would be thrilled to be Donald Trump's second fiddle. I'm betting that DeSantis is still going for all the marbles in this go around, and sticking to my call in a previous post that Haley is running for the 2028 nomination. Trump would be wise to pick her as his running mate if he wants to actually win the general election fair and square, but I think he's looking for more of a toady, someone without a shred of integrity like Marjorie Taylor Greene or Matt Goetz to do his bidding and nothing else. 

For her part, being Trump's running mate would be a lose-lose proposition for Nikki Haley. If a Trump/Haley ticket should lose in the general election, that probably would not bode well for her future aspirations. If they win, she would more than likely end up being the next Mike Pence, which would be even worse.  

As for Mike Pence, well I don't think he's looking to be the next Mike Pence either.                                

Nikki Haley certainly understands that things have not worked out well for anyone who has ever gotten close to Donald Trump, and she'd be foolish to accept the offer if it comes her way.

I think she's way too smart for that. 

But I wouldn't bet money on it, I could be wrong, I certainly have been before.

Let the good times roll.

Saturday, September 16, 2023

Saving Democracy from Itself?

During the reign of the 45th president of the U.S., I often contemplated who would have made a better chief executive. One of the many candidates was my cat.

"That's ridiculous..." you say, "a cat can't be president." 
Really? Well, here's what Article II, Section I, Clause 5 of the U.S. Constitution has to say on the matter:
No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.
Notice the restrictions apply only to persons. It says nothing about similar restrictions applying to cats, dogs or any other animal, vegetable or mineral. 

In other words, nowhere in the Constitution does it explicitly stipulate that the President of the United States has to be a human being.

So why can't my cat Ziggy serve as president? And if the logic of many Americans holds true, if I were able to convince a critical mass of my fellow citizens that Ziggy would indeed be a fine president and got her onto the ballot, wouldn't it be considered "election interference" if people sued to get her off the ballot, claiming she was ineligible to run for president due to her catness?

Yes, that is ridiculous, but not a whole lot more ridiculous that a convicted felon serving time in prison being elected president, something the Constitution also doesn't mention. I guess the Founding Fathers must have assumed Americans would be smart enough to not consider voting for pets or incarcerated criminals for president, so they didn't bother with those stipulations. 

A cat being president is also not much more far-fetched than a president who took an oath to support the Constitution, blatantly violating that oath while in office, then expecting to be eligible to be president again. The U.S. Constitution does say something about that:
No person shall be a Senator or Representative in Congress, or elector of President and Vice-President, or hold any office, civil or military, under the United States, or under any State, who, having previously taken an oath, as a member of Congress, or as an officer of the United States, or as a member of any State legislature, or as an executive or judicial officer of any State, to support the Constitution of the United States, shall have engaged in insurrection or rebellion against the same, or given aid or comfort to the enemies thereof. But Congress may by a vote of two-thirds of each House, remove such disability.
If you've been paying attention to the news lately, this text, Section Three of the Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, (here with my added emphasis) should be familiar. 

If you haven't been paying attention, calls from a wide range of folks representing different ideologies and political parties, have brought up that Article Three of the Fourteenth Amendment, also referred to as a "Disqualification Clause", clearly states that because of his actions on January 6th, 2021, Donald Trump is ineligible to be president again, short of two thirds of both chambers of Congress voting to reinstate his eligibility, an unlikely scenario.

As you can imagine, like the four criminal indictments encompassing 91 felony counts of wrongdoing that preceded the calls to declare him ineligible for office, the exPOTUS has dismissed the proposition as nothing more than an act of "election interference." Here's a quote from one of his campaign spokespeople:
The people who are pursuing this absurd conspiracy theory and political attack on President Trump are stretching the law beyond recognition much like the political prosecutors in New York, Georgia, and D.C.

I'm not sure what any of this has to do with a "conspiracy theory" or even a "political attack". Section Three is unequivocal and at least according to my non-legal mind, it is not stretching the law one bit when it comes to applying it to Trump who.... 

  • took an oath on January 20, 2017 to preserve. protect and defend the Constitution of the United States then...
  • following his reelection loss, took extraordinary measures to remain in power, all the while misleading the American public (those who would listen) by claiming without any evidence that the election was a fraud, then...
  • as a last-ditch effort to remain in office, summoned thousands of people who believed his lie to the U.S. Capitol to interfere with the formal certification of his opponent, and petitioned his Vice President to violate his proscribed constitutional duty to officially confirm the results of the election, then... 
  • did nothing when many of his supporter/rioters stormed the Capitol, even after they chanted to hang the vice president.
None of these acts are disputed. While the facts of the case could be challenged in a court of law as worthy of constituting criminal incitement of an insurrection, the majority of both chambers of Congress in bi-partisan votes agreed that Donald Trump did in fact, incite an insurrection. 

Regardless of one's take on the matter, there can be no doubt that without the president's lie of a stolen election and his call to fight it in his speech earlier that day, the dreadful events of January 6, 2021 would never have happened. The kicker is this: once the protest got out of hand and the Capitol was attacked and vandalized leaving dozens of Capitol Police officers and others severely injured, some of those injuries resulting in death, despite having the power to stop the violence and bloodshed by a simple tweet telling his supporter/rioters to cease and desist participating in an uprising against the government, he chose to remain silent and enabled the occupation of our Capitol to go on for hours.

If that does not constitute "engaging in an insurrection" I don't know what does.

Now let's see: taking an oath to defend the constitution, then engaging in an insurrection, put the two together and what do you have? According to our Constitution, ineligibility to hold office. So simple, a first grader could understand it. Heck even Ziggy the cat who is not particularly bright, even by feline standards, might understand it.

Donald Trump and his supporters don't or won't understand it.

Of course, the question arises if declaring Trump ineligible is worth pursuing. 
Author, staff writer for the Atlantic, and former Republican speechwriter (but no fan of Trump by a longshot), David Frum, argues it is not. In his August 29th article for the publication titled, The Fourteenth Amendment Fallacy: The Constitution won’t disqualify Trump from running. The only real-world way of stopping him is through the ballot box., Frum argues that the move to disqualify the former president is little more than a stunt based upon a heretofore obscure section of the Constitution intended specifically to prevent Confederate politicians from holding office in the post-Civil War South. Because of that, Frum claims that Section Three has little bearing today. Much better he contends, that the issue of Trump be settled at the polls. 

The real problem in Frum's mind are the repercussions that would result if the move to disqualify Trump would succeed. Would his supporters Frum asks, reject the results of a general election where their candidate lost because his name was left off the ballots in select states? *
Considering Trump supporters have already rejected the results of the 2020 election, probably the most scrutinized election in American history, the potential 2024 rejection Frum suggests is a forgone conclusion.

Frum goes on:
the use of the section to debar candidates would not stop at Trump. It would become a dangerously convenient tool of partisan politics...

If Section 3 can be reactivated in this way, then reactivated it will be. Republicans will hunt for Democrats to disqualify, and not only for president, but for any race where Democrats present someone who said or did something that can be represented as “aid and comfort” to enemies of the United States.
Well guess what?
The Republicans have been hunting for Democrats to disqualify for years.
Here are just some recent examples:
  • As we speak there is a movement underway in the House of Representatives to impeach Joe Biden. On what grounds you ask? "Don't worry, we'll think of something" is the general response. 
  • Trumplicans in Georgia are seeking to impeach Fulton Country District Attorney Fani Willis for doing her job in her role in the prosecution of Donald Trump and 18 co-defendants in their attempts to defraud that state's election process.
  • There's something even more sinister going on up in Wisconsin where newly elected State Supreme Court Justice Janet Protasiewicz is threatened by impeachment by the Republican legislature because she refuses to recuse herself from a gerrymandering case that benefits those same Republicans. Their grounds are that she called the newly Republican drawn legislative map, "rigged" in public during her election, admittedly not wise but certainly not grounds for impeachment, according to precedent in that state. Silencing her, which is a distinct possibility, will allow them to keep their map that has more twists and turns than Chubby Checker in a blender, (sorry, I couldn't resist), thereby ensuring minority rule in the state for at least another decade.
The reality is this: if the "disqualification clause" is invoked, nothing will change, it would only be one more weapon in the Republicans' toolbox to hold on to power by dismantling our democracy. 
The other day, Frum was featured in an NPR interview with Kim Whele, a constitutional scholar from the University of Baltimore. Whele is of the opinion that it's worth a shot to attempt to disqualify Trump:
...there's a faith in the electoral process that perhaps has failed us in this moment... the framers of the Constitution did include Section 3... I don't have confidence that it's worth the gamble to see if the process is going to work in the old-fashioned way, in getting people out to vote and having, in this instance, the front-runner with 60% of the Republican voter base... (and) hope at the edge of our seats that democracy is going to prevail and not put someone like (Trump) in office. Because in my view, if that happens, it's over.
I don't quite see eye-to-eye with Whele either, as she appears to be saying here that democracy is great when it yields acceptable results, but we need to shift course when it doesn't. In other words: we need to save democracy from itself.
I think she's missing a huge point which is this: democracy is never absolute; it is governed by rules. If the majority of the American people voted to bring back slavery, that would be a non-starter because of the Thirteenth Amendment
As we saw above, the Constitution, while it doesn't explicitly exclude cats from serving as president, (maybe we'll have to do something about that someday), does restrict the office to people over 35 and naturally born U.S. citizens. Which means that Congressman Maxwell Frost, currently 26 years old, and former Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, born in Austria to Austrians, would both be ineligible to serve as president, for now at least in Frost's case. And the Twenty-Second Amendment disqualifies Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama from serving third terms. Are any of those disqualifications, examples of unjust election interference or threats to our democracy? Certainly not, they're just the rules. 

It should not matter in the slightest that Article Three of the Fourteenth Amendment has not been used to date to disqualify someone from the presidency. It is as much a part of the Constitution as any other. It's not a new-fangled strategy to get rid of someone we don't like, but rather a very sensible rule proscribed by the Constitution 155 years ago that keeps elected officials, including presidents, from abusing their power by violating the will of the people and attempting to overthrow the government.     

What a novel idea.


* Here Frum is assuming the move to disqualify Trump would happen after the Republican nomination, leaving Republican voters out in the cold with a candidate who would ultimately be declared ineligible to serve. I agree that would be unreasonable. However, the Republican Convention is a little less than a year away and Republican voters have a large field of candidates to choose from who are not criminal defendants that engaged in an insurrection to overthrow the government. I'd say at least five of them have as good a chance to win the 2024 general election as Donald Trump, which is to say, not a very good chance. And there is one Republican candidate who in my book at least, has a very good chance to win the general election in 2024. You can read my previous post to see which one. 

I'd say it is incumbent upon those who are of the opinion that Section Three should be invoked, and can do something about it, to act quickly and let the matter be decided by the Supreme Court before the nomination process begins. If the Court agrees that Trump is ineligible to serve as president again, then Republicans will only have themselves to blame if they choose the one candidate of the bunch who cannot serve. 

If the Court does not agree, all we can do then is rely on the wisdom and common sense of the American electorate. 
Because without either of those, one day we might end up with this: