Archive for June 12th, 2006

Though the below Op-Ed piece is a couple of weeks old, and it references the May 1st "Day Without an Immigrant" protests of almost a month and half in the past now, the subject is still relevant, as will continue to be especially during the coming year as the Senate and the House attempt to come to a compromise on immigration legislation.  Fat chance.

Without going into it at this moment, I am wholeheartedly against the Senate amnesty bill.  Though John McCain would like you to believe it is anything but amnesty ("Call it a banana" were his words), granting legions of people citizenship who have been breaking the law for decades is amnesty.  It's a reward for lawbreakers.

I was never rewarded for speeding.  I received a speeding ticket.  Jeffrey Dahmer was not rewarded for murdering, sodomizing, and devouring men.  He was punished severely.  Illegal immigrants should not be rewarded for damaging our health care system, shutting down emergency rooms all over Southern California, devaluing our school systems, clogging up our freeways, and ruining a fair wage for legal citizens of this country.

Anyway, I'm digressing.  Here's another great piece from Cinnamon Stillwell writing for SFGate.
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Listening To Legal Immigrants
Cinnamon Stillwell
Wednesday, May 31, 2006
For several months, Americans have been embroiled in a national debate over illegal immigration. On one side you have those pushing for guest-worker programs, amnesty and open borders. On the other are those trying to keep U.S. citizenship and sovereignty intact.

All too often the voices that get lost in the cacophony are those of legal immigrants and their descendants. Whether Hispanic, Asian, Caribbean, European, Middle Eastern or African, they make up the "nation of immigrants" often referred to by open borders proponents. Except that these immigrants valued U.S. citizenship enough to pursue it lawfully.

If the hundreds of e-mails I received after my column on the May Day boycott are any indication, such voices are alive and well. Far from disagreeing with my contention that the boycott did more harm than good to its stated goals and that illegal immigration must be stopped, not encouraged, most of those I heard from were in full agreement.

Voices in Dissent

As for the boycott's effectiveness, Blanca had this to say:

What a crock. And people like me of Hispanic background and born and proud to be an American thought that the boycotts were ridiculous. Biting the hand that feeds [you] is not the way to go.

Manny Madriaga of San Jose was not moved by the boycott, either:

I am a small businessman and a naturalized citizen. I immigrated to the U.S. because it is a nation of laws and it has a vibrant democracy. Any group that shoves signs in our collective faces that they are above the law [does] not have a place in the United States of America.

I believe that people who want to become a citizen of this country ought to learn English and they ought to learn to sing the national anthem in English. I also think that immigrants should support the fundamental policies that make our nation great, such as equality under the law, and that no one is above the law.

Steve Anthony of Stockton reacted both to the boycott and to the participation of several Democratic members of the California Legislature:

It was outrageous for our elected officials to take part in this outrage, and you're right, it did backfire. I am an American of Mexican descent, born here as were my parents and grandparents. All I can say is, "Can I order 364 more of those days!"

Like Marcella in South San Francisco, many were angered at the blurring of lines between legal and illegal immigration:

Being a legal immigrant myself, I was shocked that they portrayed this argument as one over immigration, rather than illegal immigration.

What a total slap in my face to have all the hard work, time, money and effort I went through to be legal in this country to have the protesters drop the illegal part. I couldn't believe the complete naivete of a lot of these people who were continuing to spout about immigration with no concept it had nothing to do with legal, process-controlled immigration.

Art D. from San Francisco juxtaposed his own family's legal pathway to American citizenship with the lawlessness of illegal immigration. In doing so, he showed that such views are not confined to the right side of the political spectrum:

I myself am Filipino American, born and raised in S.F., who primarily commiserates with the left. Only through my parents' perseverance and hard work were they able to immigrate here. Why would I forsake that memory by supporting those who basically "cheated" their way into this country?! This is why I am firmly against this boycott and all illegal immigration of any type.

Amir said much the same thing:

My parents worked very hard to become legal U.S. citizens; it angers me greatly to see these illegals cheating their way through.

Jose from San Pablo echoed the sentiment, as well as calling Mexico to account for its part in the illegal immigration crisis:

I know many people that came into this country the right way. My parents came from El Salvador. I was born in San Francisco.

Trust me, there is no free lunch. I've worked hard for what I have and so have many people. It's time for these countries (should we say Mexico?) to fix their issues of corruption, greed and lack of social services that help push their citizens to cross our borders illegally.

Perhaps most moving was the message I got from Ed Lucha, whose embrace of his new homeland and service to his country speak volumes about the meaning of true citizenship:

I came to the U.S. 42 years ago as a 12-year-old. I became a citizen at 18 (the earliest I could). I volunteered for the army back in 1971 and never regretted the hardships I went through, because I knew I was doing something good, my part as a citizen. I had many folks, friends and family, against my volunteering, but I did it. In fact, you may be interested to know, I received the greatest vote of confidence from my father in El Salvador. He sent me a telegram telling me how proud he was of me for doing my part for my new country.

I speak Spanish still and am proud of it. But English is my language now, the Stars and Stripes is my flag and the United States is my country. I feel shame when I see these demonstrations because I know the intent of most of the people marching. Their intent and interest is not in making a correct and profound impact, but the opposite. No one, not even these demonstrators, is owed anything. They are not owed any land. They demand that which is not owed to them. This is plainly wrong.

I am proud that my family worked for what is has. My mother did not ask nor accept welfare. She became a citizen as soon as she could and made it possible for my brother and me to do the same. She did it the right way.

I have my own story to share: My mother is a legal immigrant. Originally from Australia, she went through the long and arduous process of becoming first a permanent resident and then a citizen. She had to pass written tests, prove she could speak English, demonstrate that she was in a desirable profession for which American citizens were unavailable and undergo health testing, evaluation and even unexpected visits from the Immigration and Naturalization Service. After all that, is it any wonder that she, like so many other legal immigrants, resents those who are trying to push to the front of the line?

Other Immigrant Stories

Yeh Ling-Ling is a naturalized citizen who was born in Vietnam of Chinese parents. Sponsored by her sister, she immigrated to America in 1980. After working 10 years for an immigration law firm where she helped immigrants get into the United States, she underwent a complete reversal in her thinking.

Having been witness to the many local problems associated with immigration-fueled population growth, Yeh became a strong proponent of immigration reduction. She herself, according to a Washington Post article, would not be able to enter the United States today were her own proposals to be enacted.

Today, Yeh is the executive director of the Oakland-based Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America, a nonprofit organization that seeks to limit both illegal and legal immigration. What makes it unique is that the DASA is led by minorities, including immigrants, American Indians and African Americans. As they put it in their mission statement, "Current rates of immigration hurt minorities and earlier immigrants the most."

Other organizations comprised of legal immigrants say much the same thing, although most focus solely on illegal immigration.

You Don't Speak for Me, a group of Hispanic Americans opposed to illegal immigration and guest-worker proposals, has become a presence on the national stage over the past two months. Formed in reaction to the pro-amnesty protests in April and the media's frequent omission of the qualifier "illegal" when covering the topic, the group sought to make the distinction between legal and illegal immigration. Their presence is a reminder that Hispanic Americans are not a monolithic bloc whose views and politics can be automatically assumed.

Another case in point is Latino Americans for Immigration Reform. They too are staunch opponents of illegal immigration, and members have volunteered with the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps in observing and reporting illegal border crossings. One such volunteer, LAIR president Lupe Moreno, is a candidate for the state Senate in the 34th District. Although LAIR's membership includes people of all races, the group's very existence pokes holes in the contention, popular among illegal immigration proponents, that the desire for immigration enforcement is rooted in racism.

Of course, none of this has stopped the open borders lobby from trying to play the race card against its opponents. I've certainly received my fair share of e-mails from such readers accusing me of being a "racist" for wanting to curb illegal immigration.

But their argument refuses to take into account the true nature of the discussion.  It's not about the color of someone's skin, but rather national identity and a shared, unifying culture. At its core, it's about what it means to be an American.

America is indeed a nation of immigrants. So perhaps we should start listening to what they have to say.

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Judge Robert Freedman is an idiot. I know this news is a week old, but this guy just exudes so much stupidity that he could give Bush a run for his money. This man struck down the statewide standardized high school exit exam, further devaluing California school systems and the students who are produced from them.

The exit exam tests graduating seniors for their aptitude of what they have learned during their school careers. It tests at an 8th grade level. Students can take it a multitude of times. Read those last two lines again.

This was the first year the exit exam was actually being put to effect (it had been postponed two years ago to 2006) but because 47,000 students were not going to graduate, Lawyers representing those students sued the state in order to get the exit exam thrown out.

The lawsuit attempted to claim that low income and english learning students were at a disadvantage; they couldn’t attend the fancier schools; they had responsibilities like work; they don’t speak english; they’re poor. Most telling was the fact that the lawyers stated the exit exam was racist, favoring wealthy caucasians, while ignoring latinos and blacks because those minorities are at an economic disadvantage. In essence, the exit exam isn’t fair to latinos and blacks, therefore it is a racist test.

Well, that’s tough. You know what? Life isn’t fair. It’s true. Students who come from a wealthier background do have it generally a little easier in school, while students who come from a poorer background often have to work a little (or a lot) harder in order to maintain good grades, and yes, pass exit exams.

And this is what’s racist–the lawyers who brought this lawsuit and the people who supported it. They’re saying that latinos and blacks are just too stupid to pass this test. Yeah, latinos and black are too damn dumb to pass an 8th grade level test that can be taken over and over and over again until it’s passed. That’s preposterous, and I don’t buy it. They’re the racists.

All this motion by the judge does is devalue California schools. It hurts students who worked hard in school. It means those students who did pass the exit exam are just as good as the ones who didn’t–that you can simply show up to school, and get a diploma.

A diploma is not a right. Though Freedman seems to think so. You don’t deserve it. You have to work to deserve it, and while some students will have to work harder in order to earn that diploma, I would hope they’ll feel a sense of accomplishment for it, and not fall back on racist arguments as to why they feel they should just get one.

And finally, let’s just go ahead and throw out ACTs, SATs, and any other standardized test while we’re at it, because that’s also what this ruling declares. No standardized testing. Hell, no tests period.

Here’s a little clip from an article about this…

Liliana Valenzuela, an 18-year-old senior from Richmond and the lead plaintiff in Valenzuela vs. California, was in an English class at Richmond High on Friday when she got a cell phone call informing her of the judge’s decision. Containing her excitement, she quietly told her teacher, then slipped from class to meet her lawyers.

“I feel very happy,” she said later in Spanish. “Now I’ll be able to have my diploma and fulfill my desire to become a nurse.”

And do you really believe you can be a nurse when you can’t even pass an 8th grade level multiple choice test? Best of luck.

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Here is a phenomenal Popular Mechanics piece written back in March 2005 that debunks all of the rediculous consipiracy theories that still (and will continue to) float around today, mainly on the internet. Anyway…

9/11: Debunking the Myths

Here's a small exerpt from the introduction…
Healthy skepticism, it seems, has curdled into paranoia. Wild conspiracy tales are peddled daily on the Internet, talk radio and in other media. Blurry photos, quotes taken out of context and sketchy eyewitness accounts have inspired a slew of elaborate theories: The Pentagon was struck by a missile; the World Trade Center was razed by demolition-style bombs; Flight 93 was shot down by a mysterious white jet. As outlandish as these claims may sound, they are increasingly accepted abroad and among extremists here in the United States.

In the end, we were able to debunk each of these assertions with hard evidence and a healthy dose of common sense. We learned that a few theories are based on something as innocent as a reporting error on that chaotic day. Others are the byproducts of cynical imaginations that aim to inject suspicion and animosity into public debate. Only by confronting such poisonous claims with irrefutable facts can we understand what really happened on a day that is forever seared into world history.

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Slippery-slope.  Schmippery-schmope.  I will be glad to know that an asshole who kidnaps two young girls,  and rapes them in his own private dungeon will face the death penalty.  Planet Earth does not need a person like that using up valuable oxygen.

Death for Some Sex Offenders OK'd in S.C. 
COLUMBIA, S.C., May. 31, 2006

(AP) The South Carolina House on Wednesday passed a pair of bills that would allow prosecutors to seek the death penalty for some repeat child molesters.

Support for the package picked up steam after a man was charged with kidnapping two girls and raping them in a dungeon behind his home earlier this year.

The related measures could send to death row offenders convicted twice of raping a child younger than 11.

One bill was approved earlier by the Senate and now goes to the governor's office, but the second must go back to the Senate for reconsideration.

Opponents accused their fellow House members of casting politically favorable votes during an election year, and questioned whether capital punishment is constitutional for people who haven't killed anyone.

"I'm concerned about the emotional part of this whole issue," said state Rep. Ken Kennedy, a Democrat. "We're getting ready to do something in South Carolina that will cause us a lot of problems down the road."

In March, Kenneth Hinson of Hartsville was accused of kidnapping two 17-year-old girls and confining them in a closet-sized underground chamber. Authorities say the girls were sexually assaulted and left bound inside the room, concealed under a shed, but managed to free themselves and walk to safety.

Hinson, 47, was captured after a four-day manhunt in the woods near his home.

Under the existing law, if convicted Hinson faces a sentence of life without the possibility of parole. He was previously convicted in 1991 of raping an 11-year-old girl. No trial date has been set.

Louisiana, Florida and Montana allow the death penalty for sex crimes.

Now, if we can just remove stupid judicial officials like District Judge Kristine Cecave for letting this guy off on probation instead of giving him jail time.

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Sex Offender Ruled Too Short For Jail
LINCOLN, Neb., May 26, 2006

(AP) A judge's decision to sentence a 5-foot-1 man to probation instead of prison for sexually assaulting a child has angered crime victim advocates who say the punishment sends the wrong message.

But supporters of short people say it's about time someone recognizes the unique challenges they face.

Cheyenne County District Judge Kristine Cecava issued the sentence Tuesday. She told Richard W. Thompson that his crimes deserved a long prison sentence but that he was too small to survive in a state prison.

Though he could have been sentenced to 10 years behind bars, he ended up with 10 years of probation instead. On Thursday, the state's attorney general, Jon Bruning, promised to appeal within two weeks, calling the sentence far too lenient.

"I'm concerned about the message this sends to victims and perpetrators," said Marla Sohl with the Nebraska Domestic Violence Sexual Assault Coalition, adding that it shows more concern is being placed on the criminal and his safety in prison than the victim.

But Joe Mangano, secretary of the National Organization of Short Statured Adults, agreed with the judge's assessment that Thompson would face dangers while in prison because of his height.

"I'm assuming a short inmate would have a much more difficult time than a large inmate," said Mangano, who is 5 feet 4 inches tall. "It's good to see somebody looking out for someone who is a short person."

Thompson, 50, had sexual contact over a couple of months last year with a 12-year-old girl, said Sidney Police Chief Larry Cox. He was sentenced on two felony sexual assault charges.

As part of the probation, he will be electronically monitored for the first four months and was told never to be alone with someone under age 18 or date or live with a woman whose children were under 18. He was also ordered to get rid of his pornography.

Thompson's attorney, Donald Miller, had no comment on the ruling. Cheyenne County Attorney Paul Schaub, who prosecuted the case, did not return a call seeking comment. Cecava did not return a message seeking comment.

The judge's reasoning confounded Amy Miller, legal director for the Nebraska chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union.

"I have never heard of anything like this before," she said.

No one has ever come to the ACLU to complain of height discrimination, she said. And using Thompson's height as a reason to avoid sending him to prison is surprising, because neither the U.S. nor state constitution provides protections based on physical stature, she said.

A spokesman for the prison system said Thompson's height would not put him at risk among the state's 4,400 inmates. There are protections available in prison to help inmates who feel threatened, prison spokesman Steve King said, but to his knowledge, no one has ever taken advantage of them based on fears related to their height.

"He's not the shortest guy we have in prison," King said. "We've got some short guys that are as tough as nails. We've got people from all ages, physical stature of all sizes, in general population."

State Sen. Ernie Chambers, a longtime critic of judges, said he was baffled by the sentence.

"If shortness is an excuse and protection from going to prison, short people ought to rob banks and do everything else they would wind up going to prison for," Chambers said. "We're talking here about a crime committed against a child, and shortness is not a defense."

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The Brain Workout

Are you one who's inclined to believe that video games elicit amoral behavior in those who play those games?  Do you think that Eric Harris and Dylan Kleybold would never have ventured forth on their bloody rampage, killing 13 people, if only they hadn't come across that horrible video game Doom?
Is it time to make it a federal crime to sell "M" rated games to minors?

If you answered yes to any of these, then kiss my ass.

The Brain Workout
In praise of video games.

Friday, June 2, 2006 12:01 a.m.

A few weeks ago, Sony and Nintendo both revealed their newest video-game systems to great fanfare, complete with slicker graphics and motion sensors. But not everyone was pleased. An increasingly noisy chorus of critics charge that the video-game industry–whose receipts now top the Hollywood box office–threatens to transform American kids into drooling zombies or out-and-out sociopaths. "We're trying to keep children away from R-rated violent movies that last 90 minutes," grumbles conservative media critic Brent Bozell, "but in too many basements and kids' bedrooms in America, children are role-playing murderers for hours on end, ad infinitum."Raunchy, blood-soaked video games, unleashing "a silent epidemic of media desensitization," are "stealing the innocence of our children," agrees Hillary Clinton. That's why she and fellow senators Joe Lieberman and Evan Bayh have introduced legislation to regulate the video-game industry, codifying its voluntary rating system and making it a federal crime for retailers to sell or rent inappropriate games to minors. Even the latest edition of Dr. Spock's famous guide to childrearing deems gaming a "colossal waste of time" at best, anger-stoking at worst.

The hysteria isn't surprising. New media have always met with suspicion: As The Economist editorialized a while back, a "neophobic" tendency dates from antiquity, with Plato's argument in the "Phaedrus" that the relatively newfangled medium of writing corrupted the memory-building powers of oral culture. Of course sometimes the new is bad. Yet the critics of video games are not only conjuring up a threat where none exists; they're ignoring the positive moral lessons and cognitive benefits that many of today's sophisticated games offer.

Most video games aren't violent or racy. A recent survey from the Progress and Freedom Foundation, a free-market think tank, found that more than 80f the top-selling titles for the past five years came with the video-game industry's "Everyone" or "Teen" ratings, meaning that parents can assume reasonably inoffensive game content. About 15f 2005's games received "Mature" or "Adults Only" ratings–surprisingly few, given that 65f gamers are 18- to 34-year-olds.The industry's self-imposed rating system is informative, featuring not only the rating but also a description of what might be offensive in the game. A T-rated game for example, might warn: "Blood and Gore, Intense Violence, Strong Language and Suggestive Themes." The content reports are accurate, at least in my experience as the father of two young video-playing boys. And with many titles selling for $50 or $60 a pop, how many children can get a hold of games without mom's or dad's consent in the first place?

But even if your 13-year-old is spending a lot of time offing enemies thrown at him by Tom Clancy's new Ghost Recon, there's no hard evidence that he'll want to try homicide in real life. The most comprehensive study yet on the social effects of such kill-or-be-killed games, conducted by researchers at the University of Illinois and the University of Michigan, found that prolonged playing of Asheron's Call 2–a gory online multiplayer fantasy–didn't make study participants more belligerent. Some observers speculate that playing violent video games may be cathartic, channeling pre-existing violent impulses into virtual reality, where they can do no harm. It's worth noting that the emergence of video games as a major youth enthusiasm has occurred at the same time as a striking drop in juvenile violence. Maybe Sen. Clinton should be encouraging more gaming instead of calling for a federal crackdown on it.

The truth is, critics are often ignorant of the moral universe of video games–violent games included. Yes, the wildly popular Grand Theft Auto series, in which the gamer plays a criminal on the make in the big city, is pretty amoral. But most violent games put the player in a familiar hero's role, notes Judge Richard Posner in a 2001 Seventh Circuit appeals-court decision overturning an Indianapolis anti-video-game ordinance. "Self-defense, protection of others, dread of the 'undead,' fighting against overwhelming odds–these are the age-old themes of literature, and ones particularly appealing to the young," Mr. Posner observes.

Nonviolent games like The Sims franchise, an open-ended computer simulation of suburban life likened by visionary creator Will Wright to a "digital dollhouse," teach players bourgeois virtues. Blogger Glenn Reynolds, who devotes a chapter to gaming in his recent book on technology and society, "An Army of Davids," overheard his young daughter chatting with a friend about The Sims (a favorite among female gamers). "You have to have a job to buy food and things, and if you don't go to work, you get fired," she said matter-of-factly. "And if you spend all your money buying stuff, you have to make more." Thanks to The Sims, Mr. Reynolds says, his daughter now knows how to budget and how to read an income statement. In SimWorld, he notes, "narcissism, hedonism and impulsiveness are punished" and "traditional middle-class virtues, like thrift and planning, generally pay off."

Video games can also exercise the brain in remarkable ways. I recently spent (too) many late-night hours working my way through X-Men: Legends II: The Rise of Apocalypse, a game I ostensibly bought for my kids. Figuring out how to deploy a particular grouping of heroes (each of whom has special powers and weaknesses); using trial and error and hunches to learn the game's rules and solve its puzzles; weighing short-term and long-term goals–the experience was mentally exhausting and, when my team finally beat the Apocalypse, exhilarating.

Technology writer Steven Johnson likens the intellectual process at work in video gaming to "the basic procedure of the scientific method." True, I might have better used my time reading Phillip Roth's new novel, but as mind-aerobics this exercise surely beat watching the tube. As for my kids navigating the game, wouldn't it be comparable with their playing chess for hours?A growing number of innovators recognize the intellectual benefits of gaming and seek to use video games for educational or therapeutic ends. The Serious Games Initiative, USA Today recently reported, got its start in 2002, when the U.S. Army released America's Army, a free online game that allows players to "live" the Army. More than five million people have registered to play. Venture capital and philanthropic dollars are now pouring into Serious Games projects in health care, mathematics and government and corporate training. One encouraging early result is Free Dive, a game that distracts children suffering from chronic pain or undergoing painful operations in real life with a calming underwater virtual reality.

With the next generation of high-powered consoles on the market or soon to appear, gamers will have even richer, more complex virtual environments, many of them nonlinear, to explore. Working through these worlds alone, with friends or–in the ever more popular "massively multiplayer online role-playing games," or MMOs–with thousands of strangers is far from a "colossal waste of time." Video games are popular culture at its best. Critics would do better to drop the hysterical laments and pick up a joystick.

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