Last night there was a show on Fox “News” with the unwieldy title of War Stories on the Border: The Third Front, featuring convicted felon* and probable drug dealer Oliver North. Because some of it was shot in my neighborhood and I heard there was a chance that people I knew might be on it, I checked it out. But by the time I knocked off writing for the night, the show was half over. If my area showed up at all, it was in the half I missed. What I saw was mostly North running around as breathlessly as a man shredding vital government documents right before the authorities showed up, spouting statistics designed to scare people about the situation along the U.S. Mexico border.
To be sure, there’s plenty to be concerned about. Violence south of the border is taking a terrible toll on that already damaged country—damaged by its own political and economic realities—and could spill over into this country more than it has so far. Some of the practices of illegal immigrants are environmentally destructive, and they cause property damage that further complicates and adds expenses to the lives of hard-working ranchers, who feed us and whose lives should be made better, not worse. There are jobs lost to immigrants, although no doubt fewer than we are told, since many of the jobs they do, we wouldn’t. There are social services sucked up by immigrants, although this too is less costly than it first appears, since those who are paid by paychecks typically have taxes withheld, which they don’t dare claim refunds on since they aren’t here legally. If they’re using phony Social Security numbers, they’ll never see that money again either. I’ve said it before, but it bears repeating—the immigration issue is one that is far more complicated than most people grasp, and the ones calling for easy answers are the ones who understand it least.
North seemed interested only in the issue as a scare tactic, and as a way to demonstrate the efficiency (though ultimately unsuccessful efficiency) of the militaristic response to the border issue—the hardware, the weaponry, the boots on the ground. He didn’t say these things would solve the problem, didn’t actually seem to arrive at any conclusion more sophisticated than “Things are really, really, really bad, and scary!” So I don’t know exactly what message he was trying to get across. I don’t know if he discussed the fact that the Obama administration has been far more proactive than previous ones about deporting illegal aliens, or that they’ve put far more money and resources on the border. And in the part that I saw, at least, he didn’t talk to anyone who—like us—moved here on purpose. He only talked to people who were trying to stem the tide, but he didn’t talk to those of us who love it here, who relish the natural beauty of the borderlands, who appreciate the cultural contributions of our southern neighbors. That doesn’t mean I approve of open borders—although that’s an approach to the problem that bears inclusion in any honest discussion of solutions. But it means that I don’t automatically distrust every Latino face I see. North seemed only interested in telling the story of those who are alarmed, and alarmist, about the border, not the story of the richness of life on the border. I guess he wasn’t here long enough to understand that part of it. I’d invite him back, but... naaah.
Today I spent some time, as I have been doing off and on for weeks, putting up new fencing in the dogs’ corral. I was using a kind of fencing called Hardware Cloth, which has a fairly close mesh, so the dogs can’t get their muzzles through to yank and tug at it. It comes from a company called Garden Zone, which I thought from the packaging was a strictly US company, but which the website says is American and Chinese. I buy it at our locally owned Ace Hardware, and it's good stuff.
Having used several rolls of this product, I realized today that the thin strands of wire used to hold each roll together have all been tied differently. That told me that the wire tying (and possibly, though not necessarily) the rolling, is all done by hand. Each person who ties off a roll adds his or her little fillips to the task, pointing to a sort of pride in work that most of us might consider more or less mindless. Certainly a college degree is not necessary to tie off rolls of wire fencing. It’s work that could easily be done by immigrants or uneducated laborers from China’s interior, or anyone. It’s no doubt hard, especially on the fingers and probably the shoulders, and it probably doesn’t pay well.
Neither, I might add, does putting it up in the corral. But it’ll keep the dogs in, and that’s worth its weight in gold
While I was working—in sustained 20-30 mph winds, the kind that tries to tear every last leaf from every last tree—I appreciated the work those wire-tyers had done. I appreciated the strands of wire that I could use to tack the fencing in place until I got out the heavier-duty stuff. I appreciated that someone was willing to do that relatively thankless task, and to do it well, and to add a little tiny spark of personality to each roll of fence. And in spite of the wind and the cold, I appreciated getting to work outdoors, in sunshine and nature and beauty, on my little patch of the borderlands.
Ollie doesn’t get it. Ollie will probably never get it. We don’t live in fear, here, most of us. If we did, we couldn’t live. Do urban dwellers live in fear of their own city streets? Murder is far more common in cities than in the country. Do pilots and flight attendants fear terrorists every time they go up into an airplane?
Bad things happen, and they happen when nobody expects them to, and there’s little, if anything, that can be done to prevent them all. If Ollie wants to fear the border, that’s fine. But people should know that there’s another side to the story, that it’s not a war zone, and that we’re not living in bunkers with our guns pointed out the firing slits. We love it here.
And we won’t be chased away.
*Overturned on a technicality, not because of any doubt about his guilt.
Back in October I posted here about my indignation that the far-right group the Family Research Council had sent an anti-Gabrielle Giffords text to my cell phone--on which I intentionally don't have a text message plan--and then, when I went to their own blog post about the issue in question and tried to comment, refused to run my comment with a bogus claim that I was behind a proxy. Only I wasn't--they just didn't want comments that questioned their policy.
A commenter on that post (which I freely accepted--the only comments I delete are those that are purely spam and are trying to take readers from this blog to commercial sites) said that he had been planning to pick up my novel City Under the Sand, but now he wouldn't. I acknowledged his anger and said that I read books by authors with many different political leanings, and was sorry he wouldn't do the same.
Now the well-respected Southern Poverty Law Center has declared FRC a hate group, for its constant anti-gay rhetoric. This gives FRC the same designation that the KKK has earned for its ongoing demonization of blacks and other ethnic minorities. I'm a contributor to SPLC, and I receive all its literature, and I don't believe they hand out this designation lightly. Here's an article about their study and report, which amasses data from the past 14 years and shows that gays are twice as likely to be the victims of violent, hate-inspired attacks than blacks and Jews, 4 times as likely as Muslims, and 14 times as likely as Latinos. Given these findings, it's hard for groups like FRC, which constantly issue dishonest and degrading rhetorical attacks against gays, to claim that those attacks aren't contributing to actual, physical violence.
I won't link to the FRC here--if you want to find their site, no doubt complete with Tony Perkins's misleading denials of anti-gay attitudes (although, significantly, in the reports I've seen of his response, he hasn't claimed that FRC hasn't said the things SPLC claims, only that he doesn't think there's anything wrong with it), you can do so easily enough. But here's a page that has collected and documented some of its most scurrilous anti-gay rhetoric, in case you want to see what these so-called Christians think about our gay brothers and sisters.
I don't think my previous complaint about FRC was out of line. In fact, since it focused on their attempt to run up my cell phone bill by spamming me with an attack against a candidate I supported, it was probably too forgiving. What they did to me is minor compared to what they've done over a period of years to innocent people. I'm glad SPLC has called them out for it, and I have no doubt that the designation is well earned. If that makes a few people not want to read my books--and if those people are as full of hate as FRC apparently is--then there's probably not much they'd enjoy in my books, anyway. In my books, the haters are the bad guys. And that, I think, is as it should be.
This is the time of year when the land itself seems to be preparing for a long sleep.
The lawns, such as they are, have turned pale and crisp. Yellow leaves tumble from the cottonwoods, and the sycamores’ are brown and gnarled. Most days, we couldn’t water these things if we wanted to—the hoses freeze up overnight, and depending upon where they are and how much sun they get, they might remain frozen all day.
This morning was the coldest of the season thus far, 19 degrees. By the time I took the dogs out to the corral the temperature had climbed to 33, but I had to break a thick layer of ice on top of the trough for them to have any water at all. And I couldn’t refill the bowls or trough from the hose—see above.
This morning’s 19 will be bested, no doubt, in the weeks and months ahead. These are not extreme temperatures to people in some parts of the world, but they’re often surprising to those who think of Arizona as a superheated wasteland. The fact is that we’re a big state with a remarkable diversity of climactic regions, containing everything from arid low-elevation deserts to snow-capped mountain peaks. On my daily drive to work I cross two valleys, one mountain range, and a river. Along the way are dozens of trees in shades of red and orange and yellow, standing like frozen bolts of fire. But their multihued beauty is transitory, and soon they’ll be nothing but jagged branches clawing at a crystalline sky.
Outside, except for the calls of a few birds and the occasional rustle of a breeze through dried leaves, the first thing one notices is the silence. No traffic rushing by, no human-caused sounds of any kind. The land--and everything on it--is hunkered down. One last yawn, a stretch or two, and its eyes will close. Rain, if it comes, will disturb its rest only slightly. Until the cold moves on and the warmth of the sun returns in spring, the land will catch a much-needed nap.
Happy Thanksgiving! Even if you don't celebrate this uniquely American holiday, it doesn't hurt to take some time out of our busy lives to think about the things we're thankful for. And as we go into the holiday season, I hope you're blessed with good health, good friends, loving family, and lots of good reading!
Our state's senior senator, John McCain, made his 59th appearance on Meet the Press this week. Here's how the conversation began:
DAVID GREGORY: Welcome back to the country. You were, as I said, in Iraq and Afghanistan. You just heard David Axelrod say any withdrawal will be conditions based. Is that not enough to satisfy you?
SEN. JOHN McCAIN (R-AZ): Well, I'd like to see the president say that it's only condition based. According to Mr. Woodward's book, his problem is the political--the left base of the Democrat Party. You don't fight and conduct wars that way. You win and then you leave. And that's what we've done in Iraq.
So the question is, where has John McCain been for the last few years? When he was running for president, was he also paying attention to the world around him? Does he remember that President Bush signed a deal with the Iraqi government that called for a timed withdrawal from Iraq, not a conditions-based withdrawal? A timed withdrawal, in fact, that's still going on as scheduled, right now?
And he thinks we won in Iraq? What, exactly, does he think was the last war we really won, for that matter? We won WWII, that one is a certainty. Since then? I'm not so sure. But if his idea of winning is what happened in Iraq...well, that's not my idea of winning.
Senator? Where've you been? What news are you reading?
Our visiting dog, who we took to calling Ralph after Ralph Wrinkle of Axecop.com fame, has been adopted by our neighbors, who have a big family and plenty of hands to look after him. We already miss him, but he'll have lots of love, in a house full of joy and music. And he'll be close enough for us to see, and watch how he grows (especially since we've come to believe that he's at least part Great Dane).
Here he is, before he left:
After summer’s heavy rains painted the landscape in an incredible variety of greens, autumn’s dry days bleached the color from most things. The cottonwoods are holding onto some of their color, variegated greens and yellows, but the grasses are a tan that’s almost white, leaves are gone from many trees, tumbleweeds are cut loose from their moorings and drifting into the roads and piling up against fences.
Already—and it seems early to me, though I don’t remember for sure—the sub-freezing nights are here. When we rise at 4:40, the temperatures are in the low 30s or high 20s, and they go down from there until the sun rises and begins its warming.
On a few nights and mornings recently, the motion light in the carport has been coming on mysteriously. Then, on Wednesday, the day after our first morning in the 20s, Maryelizabeth found out why. There was a visiting dog (we had seen other dog-signs, but assumed that one of the neighbors’ many dogs had been over), who had been spending nights in the open laundry room off our carport. Not exactly warm in there, but warmer than outside.
Once he decided to show himself, he was friendly and well behaved. He’s a mutt of some kind, with a coat like a Dalmatian but a head like a Boxer, maybe, far more squared-off than a Dalmatian’s. We kept him separated from our dogs, that first day and night, tried to encourage him to go home. He seemed pretty convinced he already had.
Thursday we called the local radio station’s Trading Post, the call-in show on which people in this area report lost and found dogs, offer items for sale, and so on. Nobody called for him. Given where we are, out at the far end of the paved road, it seems more likely he’s an abandoned dog than a runaway. At any rate, he showed no interest in running away from here. We gave up and let him go into the corral with our dogs, since although there were a few tense moments, they were happier having him inside than running around outside while they were in.
Yesterday afternoon, we went to a movie. When we got back, our dogs met us at the front gate—which they shouldn’t have, as they had been confined to the corral when we left. They made a hole in the fence and got out. The stray stayed in, waiting for us to release him. After that, he was allowed inside for the night. He’s underfed, starved for affection. He knows the command to “Sit.” He doesn’t pee in the house. He eats his own food without attacking others’.
We’ve been telling ourselves we can’t keep him. Three dogs are a handful, four are just too many. We’re hoping our dogsitters will like him enough to take him. We hate the idea of dumping such a good dog at a shelter, although chances are he would be adopted, since he’s young and housebroken and has a pleasant demeanor. We will if we have to, I guess.
Three dogs are plenty.
So the Republicans are clamoring for an extension of the Bush tax cuts for the wealthiest Americans (which, remember, they passed ten years ago using what they called the "nuclear" option when Democrats briefly considered using it for health care reform). By law, they had to attach a 10-year deadline to any legislation that would add to the deficit, which these cuts clearly did. Now, though, they're claiming to be interested in taming the deficit, while at the same time wanting to extend the cuts for people with after-tax income above $250,000--which, over the next 10 years, will add $700 billion to the deficit.
Fortunately, Ezra Klein at the Washington Post put together this handy chart showing how Obama's tax proposal compares to an extension of the Bush plan. I know where I do better... how about you?
From Nov. 9-Nov 15 I'll be a guest at BabelClash, a sf/fantasy blog on Borders.com. The exact link is here. I'll be on with a couple of other writers and we'll be talking about all kinds of things. Come visit, bring your questions and comments, and let's have a great time!