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It's The Heart, Not The Spine

It's common to accuse the Democrat Party of being spineless. On issue after issue, they make grand pronouncements, but seem completely unwilling to fight for them. Instead of issuing subpoenas, or calling the GOP's filibuster bluff, or forcefully reframing an issue, they seem to just shrug their shoulders and give up.

I think the spinelessness analysis gives the Democrats too much credit. It's based on the presumption that they want progressive change, but are simply too scared to fight for it.

In reality, I think the Democrats are basically moderate conservatives at heart. They love big business, and lack sympathy for the situation of women, people of color, LGBT people, and other disadvantaged groups (even, in many cases, if they happen to be members of those groups). While each party may have attracted a few true believers, the typical Democrat is not that much different in their real views from the typical Republican.

American politics is a contest between two elite factions who both have the same policy preferences. The catch is that to gain the power they want, they have to win elections under a quasi-democratic system, which means appealing to some base of support in the wider population. The Republicans, for whatever historical reason, have claimed the more straightforward constituency -- big business and cultural conservatives, that is, the people who want what both elite factions want to give them. The Democrats, on the other hand, have looked to a tricker base of support -- the portion of the electorate that wants something different from the conservative program. This is potentially a larger base of support, but it's a tough one to depend on, because they have no interest in giving these voters what they want. So the Democrat Party carefully positions itself just slightly to the left of the Republicans. That way, whenever their base starts to get restless, they can point out how the GOP is worse.

When the Democrats drop the ball on some issue, it's not because they're too spineless to carry it. It's because they don't really like that ball, and they were looking for any excuse to be able to ditch it.

Stentor Danielson, 23:24, |


You Can Be A Citizen, But You Can't Have Proof Of It

Many on the right like to charge "sanctuary cities" with trying to skirt federal immigration law. Sanctuary cities, of course, are municipalities that have decided that enforcing federal law is the job of specially trained federal agents (in this case, ICE), and that local agencies shouldn't compromise their ability to do their own jobs in order to pick up the slack.

But now it seems some nativists are quite happy to skirt federal immigration law when it serves their own purposes. Case in point is a proposed Arizona ballot initiative that would bar hospitals from issuing birth certificates to children of undocumented immigrants.

Birthright citizenship is long-standing and well-established U.S. law. Nativists are welcome to try to change that law through federal legislation. But this is not some ambiguous principle that they're free to ask their state to interpret in a certain way.

The proposition would not technically take citizenship away from children of undocumented parents. It would just deprive them of the ability to prove their citizenship. They will encounter difficulty accessing various rights, such as voting or employment (or getting birth certificates for their own children!), to which they are entitled as citizens. Indeed, the first time they have any interaction with any government agency outside of a sanctuary city who asks to see their papers, they could find themselves on a bus to Nogales. Proponents of this proposition are trying to make it so that U.S. citizens will be wrongfully deported. So much for just wanting the laws to be properly enforced.

Sadly, the voters of Arizona have never met an immigrant-bashing ballot initiative that they didn't like. So if you're an Arizonan expecting a child in 2009 or after, you might want to make sure you carry your up-to-date passport at all times.

Stentor Danielson, 12:20, |

Death Of Pardoy Watch

Comedian Stephen Colbert, at the 2006 White House Correspondents' Dinner:

Here's how it works: the President makes the decisions. He's the Decider. The press secretary announces those decisions, and you people of the press type those decisions down. Make, announce, type. Just put 'em through a spellcheck and go home.

Actual reporter Joe Curl of the Washington Times, responding to a blogger who yelled at him for not being more critical of some sketchy poll numbers he quoted Karl Rove using:

And it was a news article, numbnuts. Rove said, I wrote. Get a clue. I'm a reporter, dillhole.

(Incidentally, I am provisionally in favor of the insult "dillhole," because as far as I can tell it's pure nasty-sounding onomatopoeia, rather than being a bigoted slur like most of our swears (including many of the other terms Curl uses in his correspondence).)

Stentor Danielson, 10:37, |


Archaeology And Universal Interests

I suppose since this blog is named after an archaeology concept, and listed in's list of archaeology blogs, I should occasionally talk about archaeology. A good opportunity to do so comes from this story, which relates how some scientists are having a fit because the US Senate is considering clarifying and modestly strengthening the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act. I've written many times before (pdf) about the issues involved here, so I won't rehash why I find the typical scientists' arguments to be overblown, outweighed, and/or poor strategy. I do, however, want to highlight one aspect of the scientists' argument quoted in the story:

If adopted, the proposed changes could "result in a world heritage disaster of unprecedented proportions" and "rob our descendants of the unique insights concerning the shared heritage of all people that physical anthropological studies of culturally unidentifiable human remains can provide," the American Association of Physical Anthropologists said in a statement.

This is possibly the most frustrating and problematic aspects of the anti-NAGPRA (or pro-weak-version-of-NAGPRA) position. I can understand if you really value scientific knowledge about the past and want to fight for that value to be recognized and protected by others (I value it too, even though in the NAGPRA case I think there are other values that can outweigh it). But too often scientists -- as members of the dominant culture are wont to do -- presume to speak for the interests of the whole human species. They privilege their interests by universalizing them, presuming themselves to be a sort of (quasi-Marxist) universal class. Given the phrasing of this statement, I'm not surprised that many Native Americans are deeply suspicious that archaeology and physical anthropology (including things like National Geographic's genome mapping project, which I've been meaning to write about) function in part to produce justifications of those assumptions, such as the assimilation of all people into one culture's paradigm, thus upholding the dominant culture's position.

To be clear, I am not "anti-science" -- when its methodological presuppositions can be met, the scientific method is a powerful way of producing valid knowledge. But science is a tool that must serve the needs of the society that uses it. I think it is possible to do science in a way that respects the diverse interests and self-determination of all cultures. But paternalistically telling those cultures that what you're doing is for the greater good is not a path to that kind of science.

Stentor Danielson, 10:20, |

Reading Trans 101

I'm only about a third of the way through the comments to this thread on Feministe, but it's already made a number of things about trans issues much clearer to me. As long as I've been aware of trans people, I've wanted to side with their anti-oppression efforts, because I saw that as consistent with my general political commitments and compassion. But I didn't really "grok" what being trans was all about, even to the limited degree that I think I can understand the experience of people who are different from me with respect to gender, race, or sexual orientation. Grokking is important, though, because it allows you to be more creative and dynamic in spotting ways that you need to take the grokked people's interests into consideration. Here's a clip from Holly's opening post:

The worst crap Iíve had to deal with, through most of my twenties and now my third decade as well, is exactly the kind of stuff that most women in the world cope with: sexism, in the form of getting patronized, talked down to, sexually harassed, threatened, stalked by creepy assholes. But thatís the deal I could find to make with this unpleasantly gendered world we live in; itís the niche, the crack in a hostile cliff wall, that I could carve out for myself to be able to live, grow, resist, despite that misogyny and transphobia, racism and homophobia that I have to deal with. And the carving it out myself is the important part, you know? Being able to make a choice. I had to get out and do a gender my own way, find a livable cranny within a system that fucks with all of us whether we realize it or not. Thatís the most important reason why the ďwhy did you have to transitionĒ question makes no sense. I did it because it figuring out and expressing our own gender is one of the choices we all should be able to make. Because it was a viable and healthy choice for me, and I struggled for it and claimed it. I donít really need any other reason.

If nothing else, I think the thread does a good job of making it hard to understand how trans people could reasonably be accused of reinforcing gender binaries -- indeed, the explanations made by Holly and the other trans commenters seem perfectly consistent with feminist critiques of the gender system.

On an unrelated note, the thread is also linguistically eye-opening because Em used the expression "wev" in the first comment. I had been told that "wev" was gaining popularity as an abbreviation for "whatever," but I'd had trouble believing people actually used it.


To tangent even further, the video about northeast PA dialect that I posted earlier led me to another site (I've unfortunately lost the link) that cleared up a persistent confusion about a feature of my own dialect. I have a habit of using the word "couple" to mean "few" -- that is, anywhere from 2-5 things, particularly if the exact number is uncertain. I've learned to control this, because I've learned that most people take "couple" to mean exactly 2. It turns out that the indefinite sense of "couple" isn't just a random misprogramming in my head -- it's actually a known feature of some Pennsylvania dialects. (Perhaps since "Heynabonics" didn't work for me, I should refer to my accent as "Pennsylvania Pirah„"?)

Stentor Danielson, 09:42, |