Monday, April 24, 2006

Some Things That Caught My Attention

A couple of years ago, Jacob Weisberg and Jack Shafer had a celebrated "bake-off," a trial period in which they competed for the top job at, replacing founding editor Mike Kinsley. Weisberg won and became editor, but Shafer stayed on to write his brilliant media criticism, about which I've often enthused here. But Jacob keeps demonstrating that while he now spends most of his time commissioning and editing the work of others, he's still a brilliant writer. This piece wonderfully ties together three seemingly disparate scandals, and forcefully (and tightly) argues how similar they are. And it's even fun to read. Imagine, good writing that doesn't make you feel like it's homework to read

I Hate To Agree With Peggy Noonan, But...This piece she wrote in the Wall Street Journal on the demonstrations by illegal immigrants said it well. Especially this passage: "While the marchers seemed to be good people, and were very likable, the march itself, I think, violated the old immigrant politesse--the general understanding that you're not supposed to get here and immediately start making demands. It would never have occurred to my grandparents to demand respect. They thought they had to earn it. It would never have occurred to them to air mass grievances, assert rights, issue a list of legislative demands. Especially if they were here unlawfully."

Finally, The Economist Says Women are Behind Much of Globe's Growth. This Guide to Womenomics finds that "arguably, women are now the most powerful engine of global growth." In the last decade, the author argues, the increased employment of women in the developed world has contributed more to global growth than all of China has. But then, those who are married to female dynamos, as I am, can't be too surprised by any of this.


At 9:45 AM, Anonymous Roldo Bartimole said...

I have to disagree strongly with you and Peggy Noonan on the immigration issue.

The times are so different today compared to when our grandparents came across that you can't compare what our grandparents did or would have done with today's immigrants.

One thing for sure, however, if our grandparents, I'd like to believe, wouldn't have been so cowed had they not been so fearful, and had the economy not been so depressed and had they been in greater numbers.

Today's immigrants don't come across an ocean unaware of how people here live.

Today, people are not as fearful about demanding their rights and more power to them.

We need to have some control over immigration but this world is much different from that of the early 1900s.

Noonan may want to "kiss their hands," as she wrote, however, her politics would keep them out or subservient.

At 10:27 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You make some good points, of course. And let me be clear that I don't agree with everything Noonan wrote in this particular piece (needless to say, I don't agree with most of what she's written in total), only with the passage from which I quoted.

And one more clarification: my comparison point on immigration isn't the turn of the last century, but more mid-20th century, which is when my dad happened to come to this country from Italy.

We're all of course caught up in our own family stories, which leave us with various biases about politics. But I can't shake free of the gravity of some stories I know about how tough he had it for many years, and how he overcame those hurdles with sheer work ethic, and also by falling back upon the shelter of his extended family and particular immigrant community. So there it is: those are some of the main ingredients that have gone into my thinking.

I admit that one thing that particularly rankles me is how many Mexican and other Central American immigrants seem to think we should become a multilingual country in order to accomodate them. This seems arrogant to me.

Again, my father' own story can't help but inform my bias. He once told me that in the early days, he worked at an auto plant in Canada, and his English was so poor that he picked up a wrench to defend himself when a supervisor came over to talk to him about something minor. In time, he learned the language, of course. It would have never occurred to him that all Americans should learn Italian in order to accomodate him, since he'd chose to come to their turf.

At 10:58 AM, Anonymous Roldo Bartimole said...

Those are certainly poignant personal stories, John. I take nothing from those who came before us. Personally, when I returned to the small village where all four of my grandparents came, I cried to think that they had to leave such a beautiful place to come, as at least one grandfather did, to work in Bridgeport, CT., as a factory sweeper.

I do think, however, that immigrants today work just as hard under as severe conditions as ours did.

I don't get too upset either about the language. In some parts of the nation there are more Spanish speaking people than English. So arrogance can go both ways.

I mentioned to a boyhood friend who last week sent me a e-mail bewailing today's immigrants, similarly to Noonan. I told him how I worked in my father's grocery story and the old Italian women would come in speaking Italian. I stupidly told them, speak English, you're in America now. Instead, had I been more caring and smarter I would have picked up a language I wish I had now. I didn't remind him that his mother, who lived here for decades, never legally became a citizen and ran into trouble, therefore, he should be more sensitive to today's immigrants.

That's all I'm saying. I certainly don't count you a Noonan advocate.

At 11:14 AM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

You make a great point about how we should all be open to acquiring other languages. Having said all I did about Spanish-speaking folks, I also studied Spanish for perhaps seven years in school, and now can speak it half-serviceably when forced to muddle through.

And our American arrogance about English was brought home to me forcefully, in a way I'll never forget, when Jule and I briefly stayed with a French guy outside Paris in 1983, on an exchange program. She knew a bit of French, but I'd studied none at all (not even a few phrases to get me by), and he patiently explained to me in wonderful English how absurd it seemed to him for someone to visit a country whose native tongue they knew nothing about. I was guilty as charged.

And finally, you're sure right about how sad it is to think of these folks having to leave some of the loveliest spots on the planet to come here to make a living. But then, that has left me with the lucky legacy of feeling bicultural, if not bilingual, strictly speaking. Anyway, thanks for a nice and unexpected exchange today, Roldo.


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