Category Archives: Politics

May First, 2010: What I Think About Immigration

Yes, I know it’s a few days later, but I think it’s fitting that I’m writing this particular post on Cinco de Mayo.

A flash back to my time in Japan: On more than one occasion I was stopped by police, asked to show my ID, what I did for a living, where I worked, etc. I was stopped because I was very obviously a foreigner, and the police in Japan routinely ask for ID from those who are obviously not Japanese. I would not say that I was harassed per se, but the whole process was inconvenient and somewhat humiliating.

More to the point though, I hated these incidents because of what it said about Japan. Every time I got stopped by a police officer, Japan revealed itself to be a country possessed of an alienating insularity. I wanted Japan to be a better country than that, a modern country, a country that didn’t really mind if foreigners were about. Clinging to national identifications seems deeply childish, and the police stops that I had to put up with did not really accomplish anything. The only thing that they did was remind me that I was a foreigner, and that Japan (as much as I loved it) could be a real dick sometimes.

Which brings me to Arizona.

I would like to believe that the U.S. is a bit more enlightened than Japan, a bit more inclusive and broad-minded. I would like to believe that the U.S. will never behave like an insular island nation, insecure in its own cultural integrity. On May first, a substantial amount of Portland’s Hispanic population was in the streets, protesting more generally for recognition and equality, but with a special emphasis on Arizona.

I have a hard time, thinking about immigration. On one hand, I do think that people should come to the U.S. legally, that crossing borders without authorization is, indeed, a crime. That said, simply trying to deport everyone in the U.S. illegally would be a massively impractical (and probably inhumane) undertaking. Something else needs to be done.

The protesters and various speakers over and over said that they were in the U.S. for jobs. That’s the crux of it, right there. Every year, thousands of people make the completely rational decision that it is preferable to be illegal in the U.S. than poor in Mexico. I find that very, very affecting. Being poor, out of work, and generally on the lowest rung of the social ladder in Mexico is so bad, that every year a very appreciable number of people make the decision that it is better to be surrounded by hostile law enforcement, live without documentation, and be in the midst of a language that you don’t understand. They choose that in favor of poverty in their home country. Think about that- think about being so completely destitute and desperate that you decide to smuggle yourself to, say, Russia in order to actually support yourself. That would take a certain amount of wherewithal.

The U.S. does not have an immigration problem with Canada. There is a reason for that- Canada offers a range of economic options for its dwellers. It’s a perfectly nice country, and the poor in Canada are not so desperate that they choose our illegality over their poverty. Canada has jobs and social infrastructure, and that’s why the Canadian unemployed tend to stay there.

The fact of the matter is that illegal immigration from Mexico is going to be a problem until Mexico gets its act together. This is not something that we can necessarily fix quickly. It has taken us over a year to fix the comparably coherent domestic economy, and as much as I’d like to believe in American economic and political power, we cannot pull up Mexico by ourselves.

Until then, yes, the people who are here from Mexico (a dysfunctional, corrupt, and impoverished narco-state) ought to be accommodated in a humane matter. This does not mean that we should open the border to all comers, but it does mean that if someone has been in the U.S. for over a decade, contributing to the economy and possibly even with a family here, then amnesty should be considered. (One set of my great grandparents also came to the U.S. illegally, so the family story goes. That also certainly effects my views on the matter.)

I most certainly don’t think that anyone who looks foreign should be stopped by police and asked for ID. I brought up my experiences with Japanese police not so much to identify my situation with that of Hispanic immigrants, but because I knew that I had it easy- I was an American white guy. I’m sure those police were much harder on the people whom they heard speaking Mandaring, Cantonese, and Korean. I’m sure the Arizona police will be much harder on Hispanics. (To be fair, the Portland police were out in force, and I didn’t see any incidents of nastiness. They seemed much more concerned with directing traffic.)

The whole march had a kind of carnival atmosphere to it, and as much as I tried to stay a disinterested observer, snapping away with my camera, I couldn’t help but experience great feelings of empathy for the families carrying flags, placards, and signs in English and Spanish. The pro-pot protesters in the square looked somewhat sophomoric by comparison. Here were people asking for things like jobs and familial coherence. They were asking for something that I thought was immensely reasonable. It is a shame that their requests have to be shouted.

May First, 2010: What I Think About Legalizing Marijuana

On May first, the unofficial holiday of protests, of demonstrations, of signs and shouting and slogans, was in full swing in downtown Portland. I was somewhat conflicted- that Saturday was also Free Comic Book Day, and the geek in me wanted to bike around town to the various shops and get all of the free books that I could get my hands on. I did go to two shops, but my political curiosity got the better of me, and I spent most of the day in downtown Portland.

In Pioneer Courthouse Square, a very specific kind of music was playing, a certain slack-sounding rock, a loose, unconstrained music that immediately brings to mind tie-die and unkempt beards. Several tents were set up in the square, many of them selling glass pipes, hemp crafts, and other marijuana peripherals. The whole event was dominated by NORML (National Organization for Marijuana Legalization) and a not-unfamiliar vibe of hippie rhetoric and low-level outrage dominated the event. The police, of course, were milling about diligently.

A speaker took the stage, and began to speak about the alleged virtues of medical marijuana, and declared that the U.S. was denying sick people medicine to which they had a right. The medium-sized crowd responded favorably, applauding and whooping, all the while milling about, signing petitions, and looking at pipes. The speaker went on to extol the various virtues of marijuana, its safety and supposed health benefits, the economic rewards of turning it into a legitimate crop, etc. I have to admit, that the rhetoric coming from the stage made me more than a little uncomfortable.

I am in favor of marijuana legalization. More specifically, I’m in favor of recreational legalization, and believe that moderate use by responsible adults is fine. I have no moral opposition to the drug, and an generally a civil libertarian when it comes to what people should be allowed to do with their own bodies. I think that legalization would be a fine thing, and will probably come about in the next twenty years or so.

Nevertheless, the rhetoric in the Square on May first made me a bit squeamish. I believe that there were a few reasons for this:

1- While I don’t doubt that marijuana has some pharmaceutical benefits in specific cases, I can’t help but wonder if advocacy of medical marijuana is a fig leaf for recreational legalization. Actually, I think that this is the case more often than not. Pretending that marijuana is some kind of panacea or essential medicine being denied to sick people makes me very skeptical. There are several depressants and opiates already available to the health care industry. I would rather have honest advocacy of a recreational drug, rather than dressing it up as a medical necessity.

2- I do not like it when cannabis advocates call marijuana “safe.” It is true that it is relatively safe, compared to, say, cocaine or heroin. To classify marijuana as the same kind of narcotic as these drugs is absolutely ridiculous. However, it is still a drug, and still entails a certain amount of risk. Drug consumption is always a managed risk, and it is a risk that individuals should be allowed to take. Moreover, just because something is unsafe, it can still be managed. I would not pretend for a moment, for example, that driving is perfectly safe, or that whiskey, traveling, or sex are safe. However, all those things are worthwhile, and the benefits outweigh the risks.

3- Marijuana advocates do not seem to anticipate the economic changes that legalization will entail. The speaker in the square repeatedly mentioned everyone “growing their own marijuana.” While I have no doubt that this will happen, she and others like her seem very naive about how marijuana will be commercialized almost as soon as it is legalized. I believe (but cannot prove) that the various tobacco companies privately hope for marijuana legalization. They have the infrastructure already to manufacture and distribute smokables. I truly believe that RJR Nabisco will be selling joints as soon as they are legally able to. This does not seem to occur to many legalization advocates.

4- Enthusiasm about drugs generally makes me uncomfortable. I am not by any means a puritan (in opinion or behavior) but I think that many people mistake the easement and momentary satisfaction provided by drugs as a substitute for genuine enlightenment. I believe it was in Heaven and Hell where Aldous Huxley after (I think rather unevenly) extolled the virtues of hallucinogens, referred to the experiences they offered as a “gratuitous grace,” a momentary glimpse of supposed understanding, as opposed to the thing itself. I do not doubt the feeling of relaxation that comes with, for instance, a frosty beer after a work day, but I would not mistake that for genuine psychological well-being, the ability to be at peace in the midst of chaos. Genuine existential satisfaction comes from an array of experiences that cannot be readily obtained.

Given all that, I did agree with the protesters about their policy prescriptions- that marijuana should be legal. However, I did not feel a real connection with them, did not see myself as part of their “team.” I will vote with them, but I am not of them.

Something That Freaks Me Out About People Who Shout Loudly

Looking at the tea partiers (or, as I like to call them, “teabaggers”) one cannot help but think that they’re having a pretty good time.

Yes, their signs show all the marks of (irrational) outrage, but one of the reasons I think it is so hard to kill their mythology (for instance, about how Obama is a socialist/Marxist/Nazi Kenyan) is that they seem to enjoy it. I really think they do. I really think that the people out there, waving their signs, listening to Glenn Beck and Sarah Palin, are having a lot of fun.

Be honest with yourself for a moment- It’s kind of neat to feel aggrieved. It’s fun to feel like you’re in a wronged minority, like you’re part of some grand struggle and speaking truth to power. It’s ennobling and invigorating and gives you something meaningful (seemingly) to be a part of. The teabaggers are not the only ones who behave like this, who take pleasure in supposed feelings of persecution. Liberals do it as well. Spend any time with radical leftists and get them talking about an implacable and oppressive government/business/military/industrial complex and you’ll see that they, too, take a certain pleasure in imagining themselves as David against Goliath.

This is truly frightening.

Obviously, feeling aggrieved is fun because it gives you something to do, gives you something to rage against and yell about. The “aggrieved” are provided with straw man to whom they can assign all their woes, justly or not. For instance, I believe that one of the reasons that the U.S. has a bad reputation with the Muslim world is that Muslim elites use America as a scapegoat for domestic woes. This is not only expedient for, say, the Saudi royal family, but also fun and easy for parties involved. (I truly believe that if the Islamic world have a better, more diverse economy, we’d have less scapegoating, less terrorism, and, probably, less Islam.)

This feeling of perceived oppression, whether it be present in teabaggers, Islamic terrorists, or Portlanders who call themselves “anarchist” (while only vaguely knowing what that means) also removes responsibility from the believer. It is much easier, for example, to complain about public works than it is to build them.

If all you want is to destroy, if all you are doing is condemning and shouting, as the teabaggers are, then you are relieved of the responsibility of articulating a coherent social vision. True, idealists such as those I’ve mentioned above might have a utopian or long-range ideal, but they don’t, for example, really have anything about what we should be doing about financial reform right now. They have divested themselves of the responsibility to be creative and constructive, especially in the immediate future.

Teabaggers, shouting and carrying their signs, not only get to experience a rush of seductive emotional energies, but also, I think, a sense of relief. They relieve themselves of obligations, of pressures to provide solvency. They relieve themselves of having to have a plan, of having to articulate a coherent solution that (might) work. They play, instead, in an emotionally rewarding mythology.

Shaking your fist saves you from having to write a plan. Seeing the teabaggers (or any radicals) on television, waving signs, reveling in anger, I cannot help but think that it is not just about politics, but also release. There is an escape from responsibility, a pleasurable cessation of obligation, and in the shouting and I truly believe that the main draw is the enjoyment of a passing, false ease.

This is all much more fun, and easier, than being a reasonable participant in an educated democratic society, and that, I think, is kind of creepy.

Goodbye, Prof. Zinn

I saw Howard Zinn at PSU when I was a junior in high school. The room was packed, and security wasn’t letting anyone else in. Determined to see the man whose book I’d just read, though, I found an opening, ducked past security, and sat down on the floor in the back of the lecture hall. He was a wonderful speaker. I’d read his book A People’s History of the United States at the urging of my history teacher, Mr. Curry, who ranks as one of the four or five most influential teachers I’ve ever had. It was probably the fastest thousand pages I’ve ever read.

I didn’t agree with everything Prof. Zinn said, but he was an immense influence. From him, I learned something about history and politics that has stayed with me to this day:

When people argue about history, they’re not arguing about accuracy.

Historical arguments in the public sphere don’t really have anything to do with the fine details of what is true. Professional historians may take sides on whether something was characteristic of a given time period or carbon-dated correctly, but public historical controversies aren’t really about that. At that PSU lecture, Zinn gave the example of Columbus.

The historical record is fairly clear about what Columbus did and didn’t do, and who he was. It’s quite clear that he did not, in fact, prove that the world was round (that was already well known) and did, in fact, kill quite a lot of Native Americans. Columbus (and his crew) were professionals and kept records of what they were doing. The truth is, as they say, out there.

The perennial controversy every October 12th, though, isn’t about the accuracy or inaccuracy of the historical record. It’s not about whether or not those written records are accurate or not. Arguments about history are clashes between what people want to believe (the “truthiness” of something, if you will) and what is actually true.

Symbols, emotions, and cultural identifications all taint the way people evaluate history politics. It’s about people wanting history to be cleaner and more idyllic than it is, and the practice of willful ignorance on the part of those who want simplicity rather than truth. When the truth that people know they can’t fight, comes up against symbols and emotions, that’s when controversy strikes. One may say something like “Yes, Columbus did kill many people needlessly but…” followed by an argument about why he should still be lionized.

This is hard even for me. It takes a certain amount of emotional fortitude for me to admit to myself that Lincoln and FDR, my two favorite presidents, did some fairly awful things. Lincoln suspended habeas corpus, probably the most primal and basic of all legal rights. Roosevelt had Japanese internment, a program that destroyed my own hometown’s Japanese community.

(MLK also committed plagiarism in college. It feels sort of uncomfortable to believe that, doesn’t it? Too bad it’s true.)

Being able to face these nasty historical truths, though, is not without a certain satisfaction. What’s more, it makes the more positive aspects of history stand out with even greater dramatic effect. Zinn, though, taught me to not look for perfect figures or statuesque titans in the history books. The desire to see them as such led only to disappointment. The facts are there, the truth is out there, and longing for lionized cultural symbols only leads to controversy and argument. It is not an argument about facts that occurs every October 12th, but an argument between an emotional desire for unblemished heroes versus seeing history as-is.

Zinn taught me that history is riddled with blood, injustice, and unfairness. He made me realize that as much as one might admire an ancient city, one still has to think of the slaves who built it. History is full of those who were trampled underfoot and never given a chance, and to ignore that- to only focus on polished marble edifices of imagined ancestors -is to do a disservice to them and the truth. I didn’t always agree with him, but he illuminated truths that needed telling.

In Which it is Confirmed That I Am Not An Anarchist

Ursula K. Le Guin, now over eighty, looks even more like someone who could turn you into a newt. With her was Margaret Killjoy (who, much to my surprise, was a dude) the founder of Steampunk Magazine. The two were sharing the stage at Powell’s to talk about anarchism in science fiction, and even though I’m far away from being an anarchist, the intersection of politics and SF has always been near and dear to my heart.

The room was full of people in boots and black jackets, and honestly I didn’t look all that out of place, considering. Le Guin read briefly from The Dispossessed and Always Coming Home, only the first which I’d read. Even now she’s still charismatic, and seems immensely comfortable in front of a crowd. The passage she read from The Dispossessed highlighted a character’s dismay this his formerly anarcho-utopian society had reverted to capitalism. I wondered to myself how much of a real difference there was between anarchy and an unrestrained marketplace and thought, not much, really.

Killjoy was actually and extremely engaging speaker. Very funny, very active, and utterly confident. I’ll confess that I found him charming, even as I found him hopelessly naive. He named various writers who, at one time or another, expressed an affiliation with anarachism and waxed rhapsodic on the joys of statelessness. I was not convinced. I don’t find any utopian vision all that convincing, really.

More cynically, I wondered how many of the audience hadn’t even bothered to read a single word of political theory, and just liked wearing black and the idea of disorder. Quite a few, probably.

Utopias always remind me of a particular episode of South Park, wherein a crowd of hippies decide that they are going to create a new model of living. “We’ll have one guy who like, makes bread. And one guy who, like, looks out for other people’s safety.”

“Like a baker and a cop?” says one of the children.

“No no, can’t you imagine a place where people live together and like, provide services for each other in exchange for their services?”

“Yeah, it’s called a town,” says one of the children.

I have my own issues with Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s politics, but in this instance they’re spot-on. Utopias reimagine what already exists, but with a certain kind of simplicity and straightforward innocence replacing complexity.

Now, don’t get me wrong- the reason that renouncing anarchism is difficult for me is that there’s a lot about it that is appealing. I do think that self sufficiency has a lot of merit, and there are plenty of things that the government should stay out of. When it comes to social issues I’m more or less a libertarian. But, there are certain things, like public education and urban planning, that I’m unwilling to do without. When I look at my beautiful hometown of Portland, OR, when I ride its bike lanes and zoom among its multi-use buildings, I know I’m experiencing the benefits of a government that has done something very, very right. Anarchism seems to rail against militarism and oppression, but fails to realize that smashing the state means getting rid of the bike lanes. That’s just unacceptable.

Bringing down civilization doesn’t appeal to me. I love civilization, despite all of its very real problems. When I think of an ideal world, I don’t think of anarcho-syncadalist communes. I don’t imagine bucolic local communities. My ideal world has high-speed rails connecting continents like iron spider webs, megalopopli teeming with urban populations. I imagine cures for cancer that everyone has access to and nicely funded educational systems. Does that mean that some people are going to have jobs they don’t like and taxes they don’t want to pay? Absolutely- and I have no problem with that. When I think of my ideal world, I don’t imagine a cessation of suffering.

But, despite that, I still look forward to the future, and I know that a utopian ideology, any kind of utopian ideology, cannot deliver it.

Sympathy For Sanford

I know I’m a week late on this, but whatever.

Last week, I found Mark Sanford’s press conference oddly touching. Yes, there was a certain amount of schadenfreude in me as well, as he is, in fact, a Republican and called for Bill Clinton’s resignation during the whole Lewinsky thing. But, he was obviously flustered, obviously unscripted, and obviously falling apart emotionally in a very public setting. The cameras were on him, the ticker underneath him was summarizing his words, and he seemed to constantly have a look on his face that said “Um… What do I say next?”

The whole “politician has affair” story is rather tiring. It’s commonplace and trite, and I don’t think it’s really all that newsworthy most of the time. Seeing Sanford, though, brought a few things to mind:

1: The personality of a successful politician and the personality of a successful monogamist do not overlap.

Politicians are generally outgoing, charismatic people with powerful personalities who know how to talk to people. They are also, almost by definition, ambitious. They are generally exactly the sort of people who attract others (they have to be, really) and exactly the sort of person who seek others out. We demand monogamy of our most driven, most well-spoken, most socially skilled people. It’s almost like expecting vegetarianism from orcas. Which makes me wonder…

2: How many of them are actually swingers?

No, really. It seems like there would be way more political fallout if a politician admitted to being in an open relationship than cheating on their spouse. Cheating, after all, is an indiscretion performed by red-blooded testosterone-charged Americans. Open relationships, though, are for perverts who live in filthy hippy holes like Eugene, Oregon. Better to just cop to the cheating, rather than admit being involved with weird, pervy sexual practices. Which brings me to my third point…

3: Monogamy isn’t for everybody.

But we expect it to be. As far as I’m concerned, if everyone’s on the same page and no one is emotionally maltreated, consenting adults can do whatever they wish with their anatomy. I don’t think that what Mark Sanford did was right because he obviously lied to his wife and it sounds like he was also stringing his girlfriend along. However, I think that in a more permissive culture, he could have done right by both of them. Having multiple partners, I think, is utterly possible. However, one can’t be fair about it unless they are open and honest about it. That can’t happen when you’re strutting about as a public figure pretending to have a vanilla marriage. Also…

4: Your favorite politician is a probably a cheater, so just get used to it.

Like I said, their personalities make it more likely. Better to just expect them to be boning half their staff, while the other half watches. (And who knows, maybe their wives are in the cheering section.) Barack Obama, messiah that he seems to be, is probably sleeping with someone who is not Michelle. G. W. probably had a few girls on the side. Reagan probably forgot more sex than you’ll ever have.

But you know what? I don’t care. I don’t think any less of, say, FDR for having a mistress. I don’t think any less of Bill Clinton, John Ensign, John Edwards, or Mark Sanford. If I was in their position, I would have probably succumbed as well. You probably would, too.

The idea that Sanford should resign because he cheated on his wife is utterly ridiculous. Politicians should resign because they break the law or are incompetent. Sanford was a dick to his wife, yes, and also a dick to his girlfriend, but that has nothing to do with the execution of his office. He should fill out the duration of his term according to the law, and doesn’t deserve the abuse he’s gotten in the press.

Gayest Post EVER!

Puttering around Sunday morning, I thought to myself, “Well, I could sit on my ass and listen to economics podcasts, or I could go snap pictures of crazy shit at the gay pride parade.” I like to think that in my own internal brain-battles, I tend to err on the side of “crazy shit.” I pried my eyes and ears loose from the internet, took a shower and hopped on my bike. I found myself behind a rather butch array of women on mountain bikes and thought “Yep, I’m going in the right direction.” Downtown was overcast but not dreary, warm but not sweat-inducing. All in all, a good day for it.

I found myself near the start of the Parade in Portland’s nicely green South Park Blocks. A brass band was playing a song I vaguely recognized but couldn’t really place. Once it got to the chorus I recognized it as Dancing Queen, and smirked with recognition. The crowd and participants did not disappoint. Sure, most of the people were just holding signs and waving and such, but there was no shortage of weird costumes makeup. The gentlemen below were not extras from Amadeus, but rather on a float promoting affordable housing.

This guy was waving around a sword and shouting “God save the queen!” a lot. I have no idea what he meant by that, but the atmosphere was only improved by having a Don Quixote show up. He was waving that sword around quite enthusiastically, and I wished that I could have directed him to an obliging windmill.

Inevitable political digression: There were plenty of people (like the folks below) who were parading about their own unrelated political agendas at the parade. I can understand why they’d do this- the liberal, open-minded population of Portland was out in force, and they wanted to both energize the base and target a demographic that would be more inclined to agree with them.

I found their presence, though, to be a little weird. The whole atmosphere of the parade was one of joy and liberty. Even though I’m not gay, I do appreciate what the gay movement has done for everyone. Because of lots of really dedicated people demanding respect, the field of what is sexually “legitimate” has been expanded for all of us. Even though there’s still a lot of work to be done with regards to reformatting the stupid bits of American culture, there was a general atmosphere of celebration and achievement. A lot has changed for the better, and we should really be happy about that. Oregon used to have a governor who was an out-and-proud member of the KKK. Now, Portland has a mayor who’s an out-and-proud gay dude. That’s real progress.

Hearing familiar angry shouts about how we need a revolution or whatever clashed with that feeling. I suppose the right has it’s own contingent who love being victims as well. In the midst of party-town were a bunch of people whom I think secretly love being “oppressed.”

But enough about the angry socialists. Check out this dude’s nipples!

Gyration!

Other, different nipples!

Zombies!

I found this group especially endearing, actually. It was gay parents and their kids, and for whatever reason, they’d decided to dress up as monsters. I like the idea that whatever someone’s aesthetic is, it’s welcome and legitimate. Whatever sort of style you’ve got (in this case “zombie”) is a potential catalyst for niftiness. This might sound trite, but I like aesthetic and stylistic pluralism. Seriously! Hooray for multitudes! Hooray for the varied panoply of people and stuff! Woo!

And of course, hooray for mostly naked chicks. Yes, most of them would want absolutely nothing to do with me or my filthy, filthy testosterone (unless some of them had unladylike anatomy that was not on display) but I found them visually appreciative nonetheless. Also, a rather tall drag queen told me that I was “beautiful.” I said, “Thank you, so are you!” I’ll take praise from all quarters.

All in all, a lot of fun, and quite the display of awesomeness and drove home my admiration of Portland. Since I’ve been back, I’ve really come to appreciate this place, more than I was ever able to in high school, when I last lived here. I know that there are lots of other fun, liberal cities, but this one is mine. This place, this effusive and varied place, is my home. The next time I leave it will probably be for good, but in the meantime I’m immensely happy to find that my geographical parent is more awesome than I could have ever hoped for.

King Abdullah Has A Posse

As much as teaching in Japan challenged me, there were two pretty fundamental areas where me, my students, and Japanese coworkers pretty much agreed about the basics of things: politics and religion. Yes, yes, I know that you’re probably thinking “WTF, Joe?” at such a statement, but I’m talking about the very basics here. We all believed that democracy was pretty good, that having elections and whatnot was a desirable form of governance. On the front of religion, we shared various shades of nonparticipation.

So, it’s been quite different teaching students from Saudi Arabia.

I’ve got to admit that, on paper, I’m not Saudi Arabia’s biggest fan. In fact, I think it is something of a disgrace to the modern world. The fact that we still have a religious monarchy on the face of the earth would be mind-boggling in and of itself, but that coupled with the country’s atrocious human rights record makes Saudi Arabia’s existence truly staggering. This is the future, after all. Why the hell is there still a country where women can’t drive and beer is illegal?

(Okay, I know the answer is some form of the resource curse, but it’s still weird.)

Anyway, I’ve got a bunch of Saudi students in my class now, and it’s been a fairly enlightening experience. This kids (and they are kids- around college age) are extraordinarily bright, and are from fairly well-to-do (and I’m guessing more liberal) families. They’re well-travelled, and a joy to have in class. However, I do find it a little weird that they don’t drink, and are filled with all kinds of effusive praise for King Abdullah.

As much as I like Obama, I still think that, on principle, his words and actions should be highly scrutinized, and I worry about the cult of personality that he seems to have. My skepticism regarding heads of state, though, is not shared by my Saudi students, who have nothing but good things to say about their king. King! A guy who actually got his job as a ruler because of the accident of his birth. They absolutely love the guy, and whenever they talk about him I listen for little rustles of dissent. I haven’t heard any yet. They are, though, in my class because of a scholarship set up by His Majesty, so that might explain part of it.

I’m not waving about the firebrand of demoncracy in my classroom. That’s not my job, and I wouldn’t have the interest or energy to do so, anyway. I find it all to be fascinating, though. My Asian and European students are more than happy to complain about their governments and specific politicians in familiar ways. The current PM of Korea has a grand total of zero fans in my classroom.

So the most-loved world leader that I get to hear about is an absolute monarch who doesn’t allow critics of his country to travel there. They love the guy. I’m not saying that it’s good or bad, just really danged interesting, and hearing about it is a nice occupational perk.

Thirty Seconds of Amusement

This right here is one of the reasons why I love Slate Magazine. Most of the “first 100 days coverage” I find pretty artificial, but this is definitely an exception.