Immigrants, History and Culture

We are all either immigrants or the children of immigrants. Some of us are recent immigrants, within the last few years or decades, and some of our families have been in their current homes (country, state, province, city) for generations and centuries.

I was born in California about fifty miles from where I now live. My wife was born in England and has lived in the U.S. for forty years. Although my mother was born in Minnesota, her parents and some older siblings came from Sweden. My father came from Missouri where his family had lived since at least the 1790s (originally coming from France).

Those of us who live in the United States, and are not descendants of Native Americans, are either immigrants or the descendants of those who came here in the years following the European discovery of the Americas by Columbus’ expeditions in the late 15th and early 16th centuries. Native Americans are also the descendants of immigrants, but immigrants who came here millennia ago.

Some of us came willingly, even eagerly. Some of us came as refugees, forced by circumstance to leave our ancestral homes. Some of us were brought as indentured servants, criminals or slaves. In one form or another people still come to the United States for most, if not all, of these reasons.

The same is true of people and nations all over the world. Australia was colonized by Aborigines from Southeast Asia thousands of years ago, people who left Europe for a brighter future and criminals exported from the British Isles. Refugees have fled Syria and Somalia for Europe and America. Vietnamese fled South Vietnam following the fall of Saigon in 1975. In the 1840s the United States stripped Mexico of one-third of its territory and since then millions from the remaining two-thirds have come here legally and illegally. (Of note to some may be the historical reminder that there were those Americans in 1848 who wanted to annex all of Mexico. Maybe, that would have solved today’s immigration problems?)

The point is that, as we now understand it, all of our ancestors came out of Africa tens of thousands of years ago. Wanderlust, population pressure, and warfare have caused us and our ancestors to be refugees and immigrants time and again. Groups have intermarried and interbred again and again over that span of time–there are no pure nations, races or ethnic groups.

The Egyptians of today are not the Egyptians of Cheops’ or Ramses’ or even Cleopatra’s era. Italians are not Romans; Mexicans are not Aztecs. We are not just the great-grandchildren of the Puritans and the Pilgrims. We are the sum total of all who have come before. Caesar and Constantine might not understand us as individuals, but they would recognize our multi-ethnic society–an amalgamation of people from all over the world creating a culture that would be the envy of the world.

And I have gradually come to understand that it is the culture that is important–not religion, language or race. My great-great-grandparents in pre-Civil War Missouri had quite different feelings about color, race and equality than my father held. Mine are different still. As a society and as individuals we have grown more tolerant and accepting of those whose physical characteristics and beliefs are different from our own.

It is our culture, our belief in the freedom and rights of the individual, that has allowed, and even mandated, this growth.

It did not originate in the tribalism of Africa, the Chinese “Mandate of Heaven,” the god-kings of Egypt. It originated in the city-states of Greece some twenty-five hundred years ago. It was defended at Thermopylae and Marathon and Salamis. It was spread by Alexander and the Caesars. It was rescued by the Renaissance and cemented in political reality by the Magna Carta, the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution (and its amendments).

It is this cultural heritage, brought to western Europe and the Americas by refugees and immigrants that is important. Race, religion, color and language do not, I believe, in the long term, matter.

Our children are marrying people of other races and colors and our grandchildren are a blend. That doesn’t mean we love them less. And, are we not ourselves the product of an ongoing blending tens of thousands of years old?

Let us dispense with the aberrational fears and discriminatory attitudes of previous generations (and our own upbringing) and embrace the diversity that comes with immigration and the changing human landscape. Immigration is not going to stop, and we are not going to deport millions of “illegals” anyway–at least, not without turning ourselves into a police-state that would have Washington and Lincoln spinning in their graves.

Your daughters and sons are already dating, marrying and having children by men and women of other races. Your grandchildren and great-grandchildren may not look like you, but, if you love them, they will love you in return. Indeed, they may love you anyway, despite your intolerance and prejudices.

Remember, it is our culture, not our racial and ethnic composition, that is important–and education is the key. The more people we educate in our schools to believe in the rights of the individual, in freedom of thought and equality, the safer the world will be for ourselves, our children and grandchildren.

Jump Start

Stone Soup

Random Thoughts on a Friday Afternoon

Random Thoughts–well, sort of random.

The Confederate Flag has been in the news this past week as a result of the murders of nine people in Charleston, SC. On a website registered to the accused murderer he was seen with a “Confederate Battle Flag.”

During its short history, the CSA had several flags. Its first official flag–the “Stars and Bars” (right)–looked

Confederate Flag - 1861-1863
Confederate Flag – 1861-1863

a great deal like the “Stars and Stripes” and caused some confusion of the battlefield. It was changed in 1863 to incorporate the battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia in the place of the blue field and stars with the remainder of the flag being white. Eventually a large vertical red bar was added on the right.

Confederate "Battle" Flag
Confederate “Battle” Flag

What many think of as the “Confederate Flag” was the square battle flag of the Army of Northern Virginia or the rectangular Confederate Navy Jack and the battle flag of the Army of Tennessee (left).

Perhaps it is time to retire this (these) flags from official and commercial sanction. For many in this country these flags stir memories of slavery and murder that are better left to our past.

There are those who say that these flags represent their history and heritage. Perhaps, they do. They have a right to fly them. Perhaps, they do. But these flags also represent slavery, cruelty, discrimination and murder to many of us. Perhaps, we should consider their feelings.

When the option presents itself, how about choosing to be kind?

“Gay” Marriage

This week the United States Supreme Court in a majority decision–not a unanimous decision–legalized same-sex marriage throughout our country. You know what? It’s not the end of the world.

I grew up in a era when homosexuality was considered by my church and parents to be a sin–in may places it was (and still is) a crime.

I’ve had students who are homosexual; I’ve had neighbors who are homosexual; I’ve had colleagues who are homosexual. You know what? It doesn’t make a dime’s bit of difference.

If they love each other, they can now get married and have (be) a family. All they want is to exercise the same rights and responsibilities as the “straight” community–they don’t want to convert you.

Get over it–spread Peace and Love not Hate.

Affordable Care Act–Obamacare

The Supreme Court also ruled this week on the ACA and the necessity of state health exchanges. This was, and still seems to be a deeply dividing issue. Compare the editorial and op-ed comments in the Orange County Register (anti) and the Los Angeles Times (pro).

Gee, now people in all of the US can get “affordable” medical care, subsidized if necessary. Those states which refused to set up health exchanges in order to keep people from getting this care are out of luck.

Bummer, huh?

The Supreme Court decided to go with the intent and spirit of the law rather than the “state health exchanges” wording. Good decision. Of course, Congress should go back and change the wording of the law. Who knows what might happen if a Republican president (with a Republican congress) comes along and appoints more justices opposed to the majority decision. Another case and this time a reversal of the decision.

After all, we are not governed by laws but by people.


Crime and Punishment

Aaron Hernandez and Jodi Arias have been convicted of the crime of murder. They were both sentenced to life in prison without the possibility of parole. Was justice done? Did their sentencing bring the dead back to life? Did it alleviate the grief of those whose loved ones were killed?

No, the dead were not brought back to life. No, judging by the statements of Odin Lloyd’s family today, their grief was not alleviated.

Crime and Punishment

Was justice done? Yes and No. Yes, Mr. Hernandez and Ms. Arias are being punished for their crimes. (I am assuming for the purposes of this post that they actually committed the crimes for which they have been found guilty.) Their freedom has been taken away, and they will spend the rest of their lives in restricted and uncomfortable environs. They will be unable to ever inflict themselves on the general public again.

Is this just? Yes, at least in some ways.

Society (you, me and the rest of us not in prison) will bear costs arising from these crimes for the next several decades. We will house, feed, clothe and care for these people, and thousands like them, for the rest of their natural lives.

In 2010 it cost about $31,000 to keep a person in prison for a year. That’s close to one and a quarter million dollars apiece for Mr. Hernandez and Ms. Arias over the next forty years.

Think of how many meals for the homeless this would pay for; how many free vaccinations for poor children; how many potholes filled; how many or how much _____ (insert concern of your choice)?

Now multiply this by the more than one million people incarcerated in our prisons.

Is this justice? No, but it is punishment–both for those condemned to our prisons and those of us who pay for it.

What can we do about this situation?

How about we quickly execute those found guilty of murder? How much does a bullet cost? How much does a rope cost? How about a jolt of electricity? And what does it do to how we see ourselves as civilized human beings?

How about we enslave our prisoners to help pay back the cost of their crimes and continuing imprisonment?

No. We see slavery as both uncivilized and racist. Besides, any worthwhile work prisoners (slaves) might do would take employment away from those who need jobs and haven’t committed any crimes.

What about prison laundry, cooking, license plates, office furniture, fighting forest/wildfires? Isn’t this slavery? No, it’s a reward for well-behaved prisoners. It’s physical and mental stimulation; it’s freedom from the mind-numbing sameness and boredom of life in a cell.

Is there a solution to the problem of crime and punishment? Not that I am aware of. A high level of education does not eliminate crime. Religious belief does not eliminate it. Economic well-being does not eliminate it.

How about we change human nature? How? Genetic engineering? Eugenics? Good luck!

Divine Intervention

Even GOD–God, god, gods, goddesses, __________ (insert supernatural being or beings of your choice here)–has not been successful.

Back when the human population of the planet Earth was two, Adam and Eve (assuming you believe the literalness of the Bible) disobeyed divine instructions. Of Adam and Eve’s first two sons one of them committed murder. And he wasn’t executed; he was punished by exile.

Later, again assuming you believe the literalness of the Bible, everyone, with the exception of one family, on the planet was killed by drowning for failure to follow divine commands–everyone: man, woman, child, unborn child. Essentially, GOD started over, and look where we are today.

The coming of Christianity didn’t really change anything. From turn the other cheek we have “onward Christian soldiers” and “for God and Country.” By the late fifth century, we have Christianity as the official state religion of the (or what is left of) the Roman Empire–non-Christians are persecuted.

In the eleventh century we have the advent of the Crusades to “recover” the Holy Land from the Muslims–“God wills it.” Eastern Christians, Jews and Muslims all died in the fighting and the Crusaders fought among themselves.

During the Reformation and the Thirty Years’ War, Christian was killing Christian for being the wrong type of Christian.

Islam is no better. Forced conversion of pagans, discrimination against non-Muslim “people of the Book” within its domain. Jihad. Muslim against Muslim–Sunni vs. Shiite.

Punishment (Mortal and Eternal)

Most of us have been brought up with some notion of divine punishment. “God will get you.” Lightning strike? Disease? Tornado? Do we really believe this? Is God/god really out to punish everyone who gets ebola, plague, or _______ (insert disease or disaster of your choice here)? And how do we know? The victims are old, young, male, female, deserving and undeserving. Or does the deity take the good along with the bad–bad aim, friendly fire or collateral damage, maybe?

Personally, I like the idea of karma and re-birth. Do bad in this life and be re-born into a lesser and harsher life the next time around. Hitler as a cockroach; Genghis Khan as a beetle; Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili (Joseph Stalin) as flea; Idi Amin as shark bait; _______ as ________ (insert villain and creature of choice). Some would be squashed lots and lots of time, but they have a chance to redeem themselves. (We have a chance to redeem ourselves.)

Hell and Eternity

What is Hell? Hell is where you go to be punished by your deity for Eternity.

What punishment? The worst pains you can imagine and then some.

For how long? Forever.

What is forever? Longer than the human mind can conceive.

Back in the days when people counted into the tens, hundreds and thousands (and maybe a few into the millions), this may have made sense. Does it still make sense today?

Forever. A million years? A billion years? A trillion years? A quadrillion years? A quintillion years? A googol (1 followed by one hundred zeroes) of years? A googolplex of years? (Yes, googolplex is a real number.) What crime or sin is serious enough to be punished with the worst imaginable torment for a number of years that exceeds the number of atoms in the universe.

Example: Adolph Hitler

Let us make Adolph Hitler responsible for all of the deaths during the Second World War–I’ve seen figures above fifty million but that seems to me to be a nice round number.

Let’s have Hitler suffer in Hell a googol of years, a googol number of times for each death. A googol times a googol times fifty million. Yet, forever lasts a lot longer than this and his suffering would never end.

Do your beliefs, or does your religion, assign a person’s soul to Hell for a crime less than murder? A person who commits such a crime would suffer as much for as long. Is that justice?

Yet, we–you and I and our neighbors and friends–believe that it is. This is the root of our problem. We can conceive of everlasting punishment and believe that it is deserved.

We can conceive of a “just and merciful” deity that visits everlasting punishment on us. We can conceive of a deity that believes we deserve punishment and death because we do not believe or pray correctly–and many of us believe that we are the instruments of “His” will to enforce, through any means necessary, that Will.

For Myself

If you believe in a deity who punishes people by placing them in Hell and leaving them there forever, you are welcome to him/Him. You deserve what you get–and this world is part and parcel of that belief.

I, however, shall believe in a deity that offers mercy even to the worst of us (though I may not feel this way in the heat of passion and a desire for revenge after a 9/11 or similar tragedy). As long as we believe in a deity that imposes a “just” punishment that lasts forever, we shall believe in, and find, an evil deserving of such–and if we cannot find one, we will create one.

What we need is a rational belief, if that in and of itself isn’t self-contradictory, in a reconciliation between good and evil, God and Satan. We need a prophet to preach belief in a god/God who doesn’t hold a grudge forever. Only then can we banish our demons and become a society that is rational, merciful and just.

For a different take on the nature of good and evil try reading Piers Anthony’s series The Incarnations of Immortality.

Yin, Yin -- Yang, Yang (Siamese cats)
Yin, Yin — Yang, Yang


“To Protect and to Serve” : Kelly Thomas and us

On July 5th, 2011 Kelly Thomas was subdued and hospitalized after a confrontation with Fullerton, California police. He died at the UC Irvine Medical Center on July 10th, 2011. The confrontation was videotaped and widely played on television news and talk shows. Two of the police officers involved were charged with involuntary manslaughter; in addition, one of them was also charged with second degree murder and the other with assault under cover of authority.

Their trial began on December 2nd, 2013 and on January 13th, 2014 a jury found them not guilty on all charges.

But the story does not end here.

Kelly Thomas’ father will go ahead with his lawsuit against the officers and the FBI will investigate to see if there is cause for the federal government to get involved. One of the officers has said he will try to get his job with the Fullerton PD back. The DA may run into re-election trouble. Life goes on.

Many of us refuse to go along with a jury verdict when that verdict does not run parallel with our own thinking. Twelve average and ordinary citizens listened to all of the evidence presented by both sides in this case and decided that the defendants were not guilty of the charges brought against them. But, many disagree and between civil lawsuits and possible federal civil rights lawsuits we’ll subject these officers to “double jeopardy” under the guise of justice.

We don’t take up our quest for “justice” with a gun; we use a lawyer instead.

Deadly Force

I think, however, that there is a larger issue here than the guilt or innocence of these police officers – the issue of police involved violence.

Is there no training for police in the use of non-lethal means to control suspects? Must police go for their guns or dog-pile a suspect to arrest him? I can understand the use of deadly force when a suspect is confirmed to have a gun and has used, or threatens to use it. But otherwise – no, NO, NO!

Mentally ill guy on the street – Kelly Thomas (?), possibly on drugs – six policemen struggle to subdue him. Is someone during the struggle going to lose it? Probably – it’s only human nature. What to do instead? Talk to him without threatening him or shouting and escalating things; wait for a supervisor to arrive and take a net out of a police car trunk and throw it over the guy if necessary. Surely there is room for a net in the police car (and the training to use it during the time an officer spends in the police academy)? Let him get tangled up and exhaust himself; don’t beat him to death.

Suspect comes at an officer with a knife – what to do? Pull out a gun and put five or six bullets into him? No – pull out a nightstick/billy club and disable him, but don’t kill him; surely police are still trained to use such traditional weapons as billy clubs (aren’t they?).

Suspect reaches into a pocket; it’s a gun – several shots from two police officers later the suspect is dead – no gun, just a cell phone beside the body.

How many stories have we seen in the last few years of people dying after confrontations with police which involved “look-alike” guns or objects which officers thought were guns but weren’t? How many stories involved police shooting at vehicles and people and hitting them multiple (many, many) times? And, how many of these incidents involved innocent people thought by police to be someone else?

We seem to have become a society which goes for the “nuclear option” first. We arm our police with pistols, shotguns and assault rifles. What about arming them with common sense and a bit more regard for their fellow-man?


During the 1950s Officer Joseph S. Dorobek submitted “To Protect and to Serve” as the motto for the Los Angeles Police Academy. It has since become the motto for the Los Angeles Police Department and, in many minds, the motto for all police.

Protect – I looked up the word on Google and got the following:

verb: protect; 3rd person present: protects; past tense: protected; past participle: protected; gerund or present participle: protecting
keep safe from harm or injury.
“he tried to protect Kelly from the attack”

synonyms: keep safe, keep from harm, save, safeguard, preserve, defend, shield, cushion, insulate, hedge, shelter, screen, secure, fortify, guard, watch over, look after, take care of, keep

I see nothing here about shooting first and asking questions later. Train police to use common sense and brain power first; use deadly force, or the threat of it, only as a last resort.