As much as I wish it was not the only thing on my mind, the Arizona law is making me wonder if this hype is a whole lot of nothing. Obviously I think the potential problems are quite far reaching… but the more I think about it the harder of a time I have accepting racial aspect of it. To provide a petty example, my dad owned candy stores when I was growing up. One of them was by the World Trade Center. Several days after the terrorist attacks in 2001, my dad went down to check on his store- he did not even question bringing every possible form of identification with him. There were blockades but residents and business owners were allowed entry after a certain amount of time to their residence or place of business. When my dad showed the police officers his id, the officer said, “woahhh, that doesn’t look good” My dad laughed about it and said that he was too old to be a terrorist. He could laugh about it because he had all the necessary paperwork and had been, for a long time, a loyal American citizen.

That’s not to say that everyone who is here now would not like to become a citizen, it is just that now it is more difficult than ever to become one. The immigration system is a mess. It is so backed up and disorganized, I can’t understand why anyone would even want to come here. The administrative hassle and backlog seem insurmountable. Honestly, if you want to get out of where you are, for your own sake, just move to Canada.

Any additional burdens placed on the overburdened immigration system will be tremendously problematic. Any law that puts and extra burden on the immigration system should not be enacted until the immigration system is fixed.

IT’s way too easy to point the finger at the Department of Homeland security- What highly controversial security related function is not under the jurisdiction of the Department of Homeland Security? If we look at it, terrorism, immigration, emergency relief (FEMA) are all under the Department of Homeland Security. And the department is pretty young (was not created until 2001). I don’t know if this sounds crazy to anyone else, but for all intents and purposes it feels like Janet Napolitano might as well be the US’ whipping boy. Maybe anyone that takes that job is just a fool… In New York, DHS is taking the blame for cuts in our federal security funding. FEMA- not exactly the image of competence is under the guidance of DHS.

Within immigration alone, DHS handles border security, immigration enforcement, applications for asylum, applications for work visas, traveler entry forms and the US coastguard.

white boys in trenchcoats

Blah Blah Blah immigration…

A.G. Eric Holder had to answer a multitude of questions from the House Judiciary Committee on Thursday regarding racial profiling in the new Arizona immigration bill. Although Holder did specify that he had not read the bill yet and could not comment on it, he responded to questions regarding the broader issue of racial profiling, he reacted to the inefficiencies inherent in any policy that promotes racial profiling. Specifically, regarding terrorism, Holder noted that Al Qaeda is aware of what the US government is looking for from its terrorists. He articulated that Al Qaeda is already trying to pick people that the US wouldn’t expect.

AQ’s most recent choice, Faisal Shahzad, was a naturalized citizen. Surely it would not seem appropriate for a naturalized citizen to try to attack the US. However, on the point of racial profiling, Shahzad was no John Doe USA. He was not a suicide bomber, but he is Pakistani. He is Muslim. New York 1 interviewed a former member of Giuliani’s investigative team in the immediate aftermath of 9/11 who commented that this instance of terrorism was most likely caused by a domestic terrorist. Had it been and extremist terrorist he would not have run away and likely would have “martyred himself”
Shahzad did not match the profile of a foreign terrorist because he didn’t kill himself. Even though he is a legal citizen, did he look different than a Pakistani individual in the country illegally? Racial profiling is not something I think is good, and I do think it is a tremendous danger. Holder, however, should have been a bit more careful with this example. In a way he suggested that racial profiling would not have made this case particularly worse.

construction, immigration and getting high

There is a new building going up approximately ten feet from my bedroom window. I’ve dealt with similar construction “issues” at my last two residences, but nothing like this. It is so close, the construction workers and I are actually well acquainted. Every morning I wave my fist at them yelling anything, “go to hell!”, “I will kill all of you”,”I hate you so much”, or “can you please just stop for five minutes”. My responses are juvenile, and ignorant- I know. It’s just like when my mother used to wake me in high school.

I called 311 twice. The second time I called, the 311 operator heard the construction over the phone and told me there was a decibel limit for residential construction. They may be breaking the rules!! heaven!
Less than a week later- impressive!- the EPA inspector went to check out the construction site. Unfortunately,and probably because of the construction, the 311 operator had written down the wrong address. The inspector told me I had to re-submit my complaint.
I just did not have the energy to explain the situation again.

Instead, what I have done is try to take advantage of the one element over which I have control: I can wake up earlier than the construction starts and leave the house before the noises ruin my day (7am). It may not be ideal, but it is a real solution to the problem, and it is totally under my control. No administrative hassle necessary.

Quoting Congressman Steve Cohen, from Tennessee, I had to “get to a ‘higher place,’ if you will”

Cohen was talking about immigration. The House judiciary oversight committee was questioning Attorney General Eric Holder about, among other things, the justice department’s interpretation of Arizona’s new immigration law. Cohen approached the issue from a different perspective. He noted that there may be other ways to solve Arizona’s problems.

A lot of the criminal activity comes from Mexican drug cartels supplying marijuana to the desirous American population. Maybe, by decriminalizing marijuana, we could prevent a lot of the violence that the Mexican drug lords are bringing into Arizona. I am 150% in favor of legalizing marijuana; but I am even more in favor of people solving problems using means already in their control, rather than undertaking institutional hassles- especially when it is petty partisan politicians in charge of both. Even though 311 was responsive to my call, the chances that they will respond to my re-submitted complaint before the building is fully constructed is unlikely… and I’d love to stop cursing a bunch of hard working people first thing in the morning every morning.

Schwarzenegger, killer insects and conspiracy

Last weekend I saw the documentary “Gerrymandering” at the Tribeca film festival. It was interesting, boring as hell, too long and a little confusing. It reminded me of a paper I could have written; the filmmaker brought up too many points without really explaining any of them thoroughly. The most clear point of the film was that gerrymandering is harmful to the democratic process because incumbent politicians draw the district lines to which they are elected. Some politicians finagle district lines by as little as one block in order to exclude a challenger from voting for himself.

The documentary addressed the issue of why redistricting is necessary (e.g. why aren’t districts just defined graphically according to population density). To this point, the documentary drew discussed racial gerrymandering, “The drawing of districts to create opportunity for minority voters to elect a candidate of their choice” which is based on census data – and actually should not be called gerrymandering according to the definition on the movie’s homepage. It is important, alleged the film, that neighborhoods dominated by a particular race (not ethnicity) are represented accordingly by their state legislators. The documentary illustrates the point as such:

Congress and the courts have placed certain requirements on the redistricting process:

1. Each district must be equal in population
2. There must be an equal opportunity for minorities to elect the candidate of their choice

So, every ten years, each state is forced to redraw district lines to account for both adjustments in the size of their overall congressional delegation, and variance in the populations of their already-drawn districts.

Maybe this is why the odd check-box choices on census under the race question are what they are… But I’m not sure that it makes them any better. I wholeheartedly agree that minorities should have a voice in choosing their legislators- but wouldn’t socioeconomic concerns be more important? Socioeconomic distinctions are generally more indicative of shared experience. Something about this leaves a bad taste in my mouth. Maybe it is the fact that a legislature defined by race seems undemocratic- I think that everyone should be fairly represented, but for the most part I don’t see how the dictates of the census race question can accurately account for racial distinctions that are relevant to this effect. If neighborhoods are defined by a particular ethnic group, wouldn’t this be unnecessary? If neighborhoods are not defined by race, isn’t that a good thing? and wouldn’t it be regressive to evaluate racial information in drawing the lines? Especially if it would require crossing socioeconomic groups who are likely to have the most shared needs from their legislators. I think I just have trouble wrapping my head around these sorts of definitions, based the negative track record of anything that seeks to define people based on racial and ethnic identity.

Census part deux

I would like to re-address some of the issues I discussed in a previous post regarding racial data collection on the 2010 US census. The census(.gov) attempts to answer my questions about why “race” doesn’t seem to be an appropriate heading. If you look at the categories, or the check-box options for your answer, the boxes are inconsistent with one another and with “race”.

The census FAQ explains that,

The racial categories included in the census form generally reflect a social definition of race recognized in this country, and are not an attempt to define race biologically, anthropologically or genetically. People may choose to report more than one race to indicate their racial mixture, such as “American Indian and White.” People who identify their origin as Hispanic, Latino or Spanish may be of any race. In addition, it is recognized that the categories of the race item include both racial and national origin or socio-cultural groups. You may choose more than one race category.

a social definition of race? What does that mean? is it what most Americans see as a distinct race? That seems morally reprehensible to me… (I visited a friend in Tennessee when I was in high school. His grandmother was over for breakfast and could not, bless her efforts, understand my name. My friend’s mother was irritated – as anyone would be after repeating themselves multiple times to their mother in law, exclaimed “SHE’S JEWISH!” I’m sorry, but I think that’s a social definition of something cultural. Tamar is a biblical name and a Hebrew word… but for the sake of pronunciation, it’s tomorrow without the “ow”)

I recently got offered a new job for which I had to be finger printed/background checked/questioned (and probably drug tested but no one has explicitly said so). When I initially spoke to the recruiter on the phone she asked me what my race was. She read me the options once, twice, and before asking her to repeat again what my options were a third time I just said “Caucasian?”. I couldn’t even remember if Caucasian was the default word she used for white. Later that day my roommate called me to say he was going to send back our census form and I had the exact same experience I had had with the recruiter.
When I went to get finger printed I guess the forms used by the security department in my new building were not updated… and as such gave me familiar options. The options were simple. I had no problem checking off “other” because the other options listed were Caucasian, African American or Black, Asian, Native American, Pacific Islander, or other. The Caucasian option itemized which ethnic, or regional backgrounds fall under the broader Caucasian category. As I checked off the box for Other I had no internal conflict. It was incredible. Then I remembered what I told the recruiter, and had to cross it out and check off Caucasian… I signed so many documents saying that I did not lie in my application process, it was not worth the risk.

That aside- It was so refreshing to be able to answer a question about who I am without getting stuck; finding myself wondering if I had ever met a “Samoan” and what a “Samoan” person looks like (which frankly makes me feel uncomfortably racist and ignorant – why would it matter what a “Samoan” individual looks like? I was just curious…). I was able to read the damn thing one time and know the answer. I don’t think that I feel left out of the census so much as I feel horribly confused by why it is necessary to segregate people according to such specific and bounded/ fickle geographic lines.

In this respect, I think my primary concern lies with Asian Americans. The census provides check boxes for Filipino, Vietnamese, Japanese, Chinese and Korean and other Asian “(For example, Hmong, Laotian, Thia, Pakistani, Cambodian, and so on)” What about Taiwanese people? why no shout out for them? are they supposed to call themselves Chinese? Or are there more Laotians in the US than there are Taiwanese Americans? Is that fair? I honestly don’t know. What’s worse is that I think it would be more offensive and damaging if the census did include a specific Taiwanese box. The 2000 census resulted in “some other race” being the 3rd largest race in the country. Why not just let everyone write in what they consider themselves to be, without any categories?

Personally I think the number of people that actually fill out the census would be much higher. The additional personnel the government plans to hire to knock on non-responders’ doors could be used to in-put the non-check-box information. I got paid $12/hr for doing data entry while I was in college. On average, census takers earn $18/hr.

Shutter… the GS

The MTV reality show, The Jersey Shore, was viewed by many as an affront to Italian culture. They kids on the show advertise their Italian-ness in unflattering ways using unflattering terms. They like to eat lasagna, take steroids and be merry with one another… I’m not positive what Italian stereotype they pander to, but they have wild tempers and love to fight. No one wants their culture represented this way.

Members of the cast flaunt Italian flags on everything and scream about being Italian and how they are Guido’s and Guidette’s and blah blah blah… it is difficult to ignore the implied association between their proud Italian heritage and their behavior.

What is interesting is the way these individuals used the Italian flags everywhere and excessive references to Italian culture and upbringing to cloak the fact that they lack Italian heritage. Many of the cast-members are half Italian, and a few are not Italian at all.

It is highly unlikely that any self-respecting Italian American would flaunt symbols that evoke their heritage so flippantly. But the cast members on the Jersey Shore, for whatever reason, felt compelled to advertise it.

The more removed someone is from a particular culture or heritage the more they pride themselves in identifying with it, even if their identification is somehow inaccurate. I have another example, but it is so extreme it will seem made up.

When I first started working at my job, I was a temp, and next to me sat a certain fully employed paralegal. My cube-mate, Gerald, claimed to be Syrian. A Syrian political science major from California. With the last name Ellis. Odd, but whatever. I have never met anyone with less middle eastern blood than this kid. He was all California. He had no convictions, no passion, no knowledge of the Middle East that did not come directly from a textbook… (no offense to California..) (he was from Southern California…)

He would readily volunteer his ethnic background to anybody. If people asked him what his background was, he’d quickly respond, “I’m Syrian!” but the question was usually unprovoked. I went on a campaign to prove him wrong – the phony!! long story short, His great, great grandfather may have come from Syria, or Lebanon, but something about ELLIS Island where they changed his last name…

Every other member of his family was Mexican. Not once did I ever hear him refer to himself as Mexican. Why the hell not?!?! Who would choose to call themselves Syrian when it is totally unbelievable, and cannot be backed up at all- if they have an equally interesting cultural heritage to which they are actually connected?!


census question 9

Twice in one day I was asked to provide someone with my “race”. Dictionary.com defines race as:
a group of persons related by common descent or heredity.
a population so related.

Without going into further detail (the list goes down to #10, and #3, Anthropology has 3 subcategories) race is what it is. It is ethnicity, I guess. But if it really is a group of persons related somehow to one another, why does the census choose to list out some countries and territories and leave out other regional or ethnic groups on its checklist?

At the risk of sounding redundant like the census, why is question #8 specific to Hispanic people? “Is Person 1 of Hispanic, Latino, or Spanish Origin?”
From there it gives you the options: Mexican, Mexican American, Chicano, Puerto Rican, Cuban or other Hispanic, Latino or Spanish origin.

And then why are hispanic people not given a box to check under race? Is hispanic not a race? And lastly, why is there no check box for Middle Eastern? Now, in all honesty, this should not apply to someone like me who has really never been accurately profiled… but what about those individuals of Middle Eastern descent that have been? The same rules should apply… if they are to apply at all.

This exhibits a fundamental misunderstanding of Middle Eastern culture that I think explains very well why the US and other Western European countries have no business in the Middle East. It’s like they acknowledge everyone’s differences but those of Middle Easterners who are a very distinct group of people united by very distinct characteristics and attitudes towards themselves and others. There is a specific middle eastern culture that I may not be a part of but I have witnessed enough to identify and understand. The absence of a check-box for this group on the census form is an aberration; a society so culturally diverse as to have separate questions for those of Hispanic origin should certainly not exclude a group that is distinct in any way.

I live in an apartment with three other people. One other of my roommates and I opted for “other” and filled in the boxes with “other”. He is half Moroccan and half Italian.

Generation Gap – Once Removed?

Only one set of cousins on my father’s side are full-breed Iraqis, and first generation Americans. There are three boys and a girl and they grew up in Roslyn Long Island, which you would never guess from meeting them. Roslyn is a very showy and flashy suburb where all the girls straighten their hair and dress in Abercrombie and Fitch (or equivalent) uniforms. Needless to say I don’t want to imagine what it was like growing up in their shoes.

That being said, for the past 8 or so years my oldest cousin and my father have engaged in political debates over American politics. My father is proud conservative (one of maybe five Jews in New York with that political affiliation) and my cousin is very liberal. This Passover the debate was over the popular health care/taxes discussion. For my father, social programs in the government represent constraints. He does not trust the government and because of various experiences he has had, I do not blame him.

My cousin is very, very liberal. He supports health care and government stimuli. I won’t get into detail about this (cough, my cousin worked for WaMu, cough cough) but my father remarked in the car ride back (which included my grandmother and another uncle who lives in England) how astonishing it was that my cousin saw himself foremost as an American. My cousin is very different from other American kids his age (30). He has not moved out of his parent’s house, he dresses like he learned about American culture from watching Michael Jackson music videos and the Jersey Shore. He is almost defensive about his cultural heritage.

There is an interesting contrast between my sister and my cousin. My sister is so proud of her heritage. She finds my cousin creepy because she says that every time she looks at him she thinks about how, if they lived in Iraq back in the day, they would have been married. I think she is just jealous. And I think my cousin suffers from the same thing that many first generation kids do: they are defensive of their Americanism. Many that I know say they are or were embarrassed growing up. One of my friends whose parents moved here from Israel right before he was born says that he learned everything he knows about American culture from the television. He is proud of being Israeli but he is one of the most patriotic Americans I know. First generation Americans are the most patriotic people I have ever met other than a group of kids from Texas, who attended Baylor University, and with whom I spent a summer in Italy during high school… but they may have been a little too publicly patriotic… I don’t think that first generation American kids have the same problem.

Just another tuesday afternoon


My office is located unfortunately close to the Waldorf Astoria Hotel. On Tuesday evening when I left my office there was a diverse group of individuals protesting a fundraiser for the Friends of the Israeli Defense Force (FIDF).

The FIDF’s Mission Statement is this:

The FIDF initiates and helps support social, educational, cultural and recreational programs and facilities for the young men and women soldiers of Israel who defend the Jewish homeland. The FIDF also provides support for the families of fallen soldiers.

Although I understand the intention of the protest I took offense to a lot of what I saw. The protesters held signs advertising the number of Palestinians killed by IDF soldiers during various unspecified instances. The protesters themselves were too culturally diverse and not culturally diverse enough. They were all holding pre-printed, uniform signs. (what could be less genuine than pre-printed signs? I saw three variations… why distribute signs at all?).

The FIDF as an organization does not advocate increased military action. It does not advocate killing Palestinian children. It simply supports soldiers and their families who have suffered while fulfilling their legal obligations as citizens of a state. I cannot imagine an anti-Iraq war protest being held at a dinner to benefit veterans of the war.

I have to wonder if the organizations protesting the event knew anything about the FIDF. And if the organizers printed and distributed signs based on an inaccurate perception of what they were protesting- it is just as disturbing as if they willfully protested a benefit for veterans and their families.


Lately I’ve been questioning the validity of a lot of written works that we assume are factual. If one has access to an oral, first hand account I wonder if it is more credible than a second hand, studied or scholarly account. I think sometimes slight misunderstanding are codified; even if they result from justifiable ignorance.

With this blog partially in mind, I asked my father today, I think for the first time, to explain to me the history of sectarian divisions in Iraq. My father went to college in the US and studied political science. I know he has some personal biases, but I know him well enough to know what they are.

I’m not saying that my father is more reliable than scholars, but I do think that his understanding is much more nuanced. My father was born in 1938, but his father was born in 1902. My grandfather (who I never met) was a contractor. He used to do business with the British, Jewish Iraqis non-Jewish Iraqis- both Shiites and Sunnis.

The Shiites viewed Jews and Christians as dirty. Supposedly when my grandfather’s Shiite business partners went to my father’s house, they would not even drink a glass of water, because my family was Jewish. My father attended a Jewish school. If a Shiite teacher wanted to reprimand a student, (a socially acceptable practice at the time in many places) they would grab the student’s ear with a piece of paper to avoid dirtying their hand. The Jewish schools still hired Shiite teachers. My father did not find it offensive; it was an understood cultural difference. What I find so striking is that it did not bother anyone or obscure relationships.

Objectively it sounds crazy to me. But subjectively it makes so much sense. Some cultures tolerate things that sound outrageous. Not to say that Female Genital Mutilation is so acceptable, but when a mutual understanding is acceptable and not harmful to relationships, I see no problem with it. I think the story is kind of beautiful. Can these sorts of stories ever really be conveyed publicly?