Immigration and the “R-Bomb”

A piece in today’s New York Times delves into France’s identity crisis as it struggles to assimilate millions of legal and illegal immigrants, many of whom wish to live in France while maintaining their own culture. The country has seen clashes with Muslim immigrants who want their daughters to wear head scarves to school, though France, always resolutely secular, bans any religious symbols in public schools.

Sadly, in France as in America, the debate has been tainted by charges of racism. It’s an all-too-familar tactic  that has clouded our thinking on this subject for decades. If anyone tries to express concern about the impact of unchecked immigration on schools, hospitals, and neighborhoods,  the thought-blocking, debate-killing “R” bomb is launched.

Everybody understands the plight of poor people who want a bettter life in America, but it’s still legitimate–and not racist–to ask about the impact of illegal immigration on America,  and to worry about the results of millions of people breaking the law with impunity. We need to have a rational discussion of this problem without snarky allusions to Klansmen and Nazis.

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Cuban’s Mistake

Mark Cuban–tech billionaire, Dallas Mavericks owner, and blogger–has caused outrage and drawn ridicule with the announcement that he will distribute, through his film company, the paranoid  conspiracy film Loose Change, built on the poisonous “theory” that elements of the U. S. government carried out the Sept. 11 attacks in order to justify a war on Middle Eastern enemies. When a successful U. S. businessman lends his money and his name to the most scurrilous attack imaginable on our country, then justifies it in the name of free speech and debate, it’s a sad day indeed.

I agree with most of the anti-Cuban crowd, but I’m surprised nobody has pointed out yet another gap in Cuban’s Mr.-Free-Speech defense. Cuban says he’s doing this so that all sides, even the most extreme corners, of this question (is it a question?)  can be explored. But Loose Change has been available on Internet for over a year, as Cuban himself acknowledged while shouting on the radio with Bill O’Reilly.

If the film had been deep-sixed by some government censor, if its creators had been persecuted and jailed, I would hold my nose and agree with Cuban’s action, in much the same way as we insist upon legal representation for even the most sadistic child killers. But more than a million people have already seen this loony concoction; it’s no samizdat secret. Cuban’s money and name will only serve to legitimize a propaganda film that preys on uneducated, malleable, and hate-filled  minds.

For a look at how Cuban’s actions have already encouraged the paranoid set, check this blast  from one of the most vociferous conspiracy-mongers on the Web. Cuban may not have time right now to check out all the strange new bedfellows he’s made, but once the NBA finals are over (Go Mavs!), maybe he’ll take a look.

Yo–Just one More Stallone Quote

One more entry atop my recent paean to the Rocky movies. Sometimes, you can pull a piece of gold out of the dumpster of an otherwise mediocre movie. I’m talking about the largely forgettable Shade (2003), in which Stallone plays the Dean, an  aging card shark  who knows he may not be quite the player he was a few years back. Some younger hustlers are out to topple him and clean him out in The Big Game.

When the climax arrives, with a monster pot on the table, it looks like the hipper young pups have got Rocky–I mean, Stallone–whipped. They’re on to his tricks. They know his signs. It looks bad.

The young dude lays out a great hand–a full house, as I recall. Everyone looks at Stallone, who looks at his cards and then looks up at Melanie Griffith, who plays his girlfriend.

Sounding weary, Stallone says, “We always knew the day would come.”

Griffith looks like she’s about to cry. Is this the end?

“But it ain’t today,” Stallone smiles,  spreading four kings on the table.

Wham! The young dudes are wiped out. The Dean keeps his crown. It’s a big-smile moment that almost redeems a second-rate film.

I saw Shade two years ago and those lines have stuck with me ever since. Don’t they make a great mantra for middle age?

If you’re nearing fifty or past it, you know the day will come. But it ain’t today. So go out and live it all you can.

In Praise of Rocky

Though yard-beaten this evening (file under Satan, proof of: Johnson grass), I did have a  look at the last, we are told, Rocky movie last night.

Okay, sure, the Rocky movies are guilty pleasures that college-educated people are supposed to disdain, and besides,  they celebrate primitive male antler-butting rituals. And, to make matters worse, they don’t require sophisticated intellectual decoding to understand, so the big movie critics usually slam them.

Some critics would rather sit through two hours of what Joe Bob Briggs once called “spam-in-a-cabin” slasher movies than listen to Stallone dese-and-dem-and yo-Adrian- his way through Rocky 17. (Never mind that highbrow novelist Joyce Carol Oates wrote a whole book on boxing, and Norman Mailer, last of the heavyweight novelist-pugilists, has used the sport as metaphor and symbol.)

On the Rocky series, a few thoughts:

 1. What movie has ever had a more stirring theme song? If those opening trumpets don’t get your heart going, you may have six feet of dirt on your face.

 2. Stallone’s own story is a Rocky story. He was a nobody/small time porn movie knockaround when he wrote the first Rocky script. He had a hundred doors slammed in his face but stayed with his dream and made it happen in the lives of millions. That’s laudable.

3.  The Rocky movies stand against the prevailing climate of our time, which is Irony. So many people live  with  quote marks around what they do and supposedly “care” about.  Nobody’s fully commited. Everyone’s always ready to stomp on anything that’s heartfelt, vulnerable, and, God forbid, serious. Hence the mania for entertainers like Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert, who make a living showing us how to ridicule anyone who cares for capital-letter virtues like Duty and Honor.

Rocky is not ironic. He’s not detached. He doesn’t know how to stop believing in what he’s doing and just collect the paychecks.  He’s always saying things like this, from one of the early movies:

    No, maybe I can’t win. Maybe the only thing I can do is just take everything he’s got. But to beat me, he’s going to have to kill me. And to kill me, he’s gonna have to have the heart to stand in front of me. And to do that, he’s got to be willing to die himself. I don’t know if he’s ready to do that. I don’t know.

And this, from Rocky Balboa:

Life’s not about how many punches you can throw at it, it’s about how many times you can get hit and continue to punch back.