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Thursday, February 28, 2013

From Popes to Puppies at Play

What is it about possession of a bone that makes human beings different, but not necessarily better, than man’s best friend?

It is intriguing and sometimes fun to consider the possibilities of tomorrow. For example, will the Arab Spring, so called, achieve the potential objective of many hopeful observers? Commenting on the path to peace, Shimon Peres, the 89-year-old president of Israel, was recently quoted:

The great and intriguing debate in Egypt today is about ... whether to give women freedom or not. It is here that the Arab Spring will be judged. President Obama asked me who I think is preventing democracy in the Middle East. I told him, 'The husbands.' The husband does not want his wife to have equal rights. Without equal rights, it will be impossible to save Egypt, because if women are not educated, the children are not educated. People who cannot read and write can’t make a living. They are finished.

Can we detect a comparable theme unfolding in Christianity's Roman Catholic Church? Will the church experience a Vatican Spring? Or slip further into an ice age of irrelevance? After all, its mistreatment of women over the centuries has been the stuff of legend, its problems stemming largely from this unnatural phenomenon. The first papal resignation in nearly 600 years is concentrating new light on a fundamental crisis which many feel may be nearing a head.

As the cardinals gather at the Vatican enclave to select the new pope, the ordinary citizen is not misled by what one church scholar refers to as “the media hype of grandly staged papal mass events or by the wild applause of conservative Catholic youth groups.” As was the case with the Wizard of Oz character villain, the infamous man behind the curtain, “behind the facade the whole house is crumbling. In this dramatic situation the church needs a pope who’s ... open to the concerns of the Reformation, to modernity.”

Relevant to the possibilities of tomorrow, the ordinary citizen would be well served to consider an interlude. Watching the simple behavior of puppies at play can be an interesting form of entertainment. Acknowledging the object of their behavior in a larger context can be enlightening. Are we able to learn anything from these creatures, who have never read a book? Give them a bone to play with, and they’ll squabble over it. But, it is usually more playful than serious. In a short while, the two former combatants can be found sound asleep, snuggling close with one another. They seem secure in the knowledge that their treasure will keep, that warmth and closeness mean so much more to them.

By contrast, when two humans decide they want the same thing, whatever the object, they will both cling, rigidly determined that each is right, and has a greater entitlement. But has either of the puppies asleep at our feet lost the treasure he tried so hard to keep? No, it lays but a few feet away, not a treasure, but an object of play. What is their contentment? Perhaps, it is the friend who plays this game with them, yet is still willing to snuggle, over and over again. And why cannot humans be the same way? Why can we not learn the great lesson here: that things are not precious, it is the friendships that are dear. For what good will this thing do, this precious bone, if in the end we find ourselves left completely alone?

Human beings have intellectual capacity, the ability to reason; communicate verbally, some on a high level. Scientists say this distinguishes and elevates humans from domesticated animals, like dogs and cats. That being the case, what is it about possession of a bone that makes human beings different, but not necessarily better, than man’s best friend?

-Michael D’Angelo

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Tearing Down the Immigration Wall

(The general theme of physical and psychological barriers to US immigration in a historical context continues.)

Listen up!  Is that low rumble in the distance the first indication of a structural crack in that formidable immigration wall?

In the history textbooks, the ordinary citizen will typically find the term “immigration” linked to the term “nativism” and not in a positive way.  In truth, the terms are at opposite ends of the spectrum.  The phrase “nativism backlash” refers to citizens who are ardent opponents of immigration.  To these citizens, it’s about those already here, and preserving their way of life, rather than continuing America’s rich tradition of affording the same opportunities to new immigrants.  Perhaps, these citizens have forgotten where they came from and that they were once immigrants, too.

There’s another strange big word floating around out there in this realm: xenophobia.  Quite simply, xenophobia is the fear and hatred of strangers or foreigners or of anything that is strange or foreign.   When it comes to the laws of human nature and US immigration policy in particular, the terms nativism, nativism backlash and xenophobia are unfortunately all in the mix.

The Industrial Revolution portended the next great wave of immigration, from southern and eastern Europe, as contrasted with the earlier wave from Western Europe.  Ethnic groups like the Polish, Italians, Greeks and, increasingly, the Jews, were different than prior immigrants.  Not only were they unskilled, but they also looked different, spoke different languages and had vastly different cultures than the new “native” Americans, who had earlier pushed aside the true native American culture.  T.R. had marveled in his time at both the numbers and energy of the American immigrant factory worker, without whom there would have been no industrialization and upon whom the base of the new industrial economy rested.

But nativism backlash once again reared its ugly head, slamming the golden door shut.  First, in 1882 Congress suspended Chinese immigration for a period of 10 years.  The law also drastically restricted the rights of the Chinese already in the US, many of whom were employed in the construction of the newly completed trans-continental railroad.  By the 1920s, Congress passed a series of additional laws, limiting immigration to 3% and then 2% of each nationality residing in America.

“Closing the door” on immigration became a substantial contributing cause of the Great Depression.  Politicians at the time failed to see that the overall lack of demand was partly the result of shutting off the lucrative immigrant market for such things as housing and durable goods.  Unfortunately, as with many of the other contributing factors to the Great Depression, this was not identified and understood until later.

In the late 18th century, the #1 occupation in the US had been farming.  In the late 19th century, manufacturing grew to become first.  But by the late 20th century, the service industry had become the primary US occupation.  At the same time, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1965.  This law ended the immigration-limiting European quota system of the 1920s, opening the floodgates of immigration to other countries, many from the so called “third world” which embodied people of color.

Some say the new law was designed to bring in more whites to the country.  In reality, it had the opposite, unintended effect.  Today, 1 in 5 immigrants is Mexican, fulfilling a critical need to perform a whole host of new occupations in the proliferating service industries, while 1 in 4 immigrants is Asian.  The law is consequently understood to be one of the high water marks of late 20th-century American liberalism, although not perhaps what the liberals had intended.

According to the US Census Bureau, in 2009 the total fertility rate in the US was estimated to be 2.01 children per woman, which is statistically below the sub-replacement fertility threshold of 2.1.  However, the US population growth rate is among the highest in the industrialized countries, since the US has higher levels of immigration.

On the other hand, European countries such as France and Germany have population rates which are relatively stagnant, since both have below-replacement fertility rates in combination with highly restrictive immigration policies.  As a result, they are struggling to retain their cultures, developed over the centuries, as a matter of survival in the face of changing demographics.

Latin Americans, or Latinos as they are sometimes called, are the fastest growing ethnic group in the US today.  Some look to be white, others black.  And they are also all shades of color in between.  Defying simple generalization, they are mainly identified as, first, Spanish-speaking and, second, Roman Catholic.  Latinos make up about 13% of the US population.  It is estimated to be fully 50% by the year 2050.  Most recently, US immigration numbers have finally surpassed those from the Industrial Revolution era.  This places today’s era at the apex in terms of immigrants as a percentage of the total US population.

As a result, the US is becoming the first advanced, industrial nation, in which every resident will be a member of a minority group.  Although the number one ethnicity in the US remains white (German American) according to the most recent census, each demographic statistic today portends the changing face of America.  Immigration, and specifically Latino immigration, is transforming American society for the better, since we are shifting from a bi-racial (i.e.: black and white) to a multi-racial society.

-Michael D’Angelo