May 28, 2006

Vinge -- Rainbows End: A Novel with One Foot in the Future

[cross-posted on Chicagoboyz]

Computer scientist and mathematician Vernor Vinge is credited with inventing the term "technological singularity," a moment of impending accelerating technological change so profound that "seeing beyond" the point isn't possible. Vinge's ideas have been widely discussed, and a recent book by Ray Kurzweil called the The Singularity is Near documents many supporting trends in computation and scientific development suggesting that a Singularity is entirely likely. In late 2004, Jim Bennett further proposed that the English common law countries have a unique cultural advantage in dealing with rapid change and with any Singularity that might appear. So how does Professor Vinge view the Singularity at the moment?

Fortunately, in addition to his academic activities at the University of Californa (San Diego) [UCSD], Dr. Vinge is a famous science fiction writer and winner of four Hugo awards. His latest novel is called Rainbows End. Though I've not read his earlier books, a positive review and podcast on the Rainbows End by the Instapundit encouraged me to give it a try.

Having neglected most SF literature in the last 25 years, I can't comment on how this new novel relates to Vinge's older works, nor even to the general trends in modern science fiction, but taken on its own, Rainbows End has many merits. Its vision of the near future seems very plausible and welcomes further reflection after reading. If we extrapolate the changes of the last ten years, the next ten or twenty years seem likely to be filled with a headlong pace of science, technology, and occasional violence.

Nevertheless, Rainbows End won't be to everyone's taste. The focus is on one individual. The "action" is reserved for the climax. The atmosphere is rather muted. The historical sense is pretty nebulous. And occasionally, the reader is left feeling the butt of San Diego in-jokes. The novel sometimes seems like an elaborate preamble for some later effort at considering the more sober international implications of the Singularity. But there are no hints. This is 2025 from the "first-class" seats. Nothing of the jungle intrudes.

Rainbows End is the story of a brilliant, famous, and famously cruel, poet laureate retrieved from the darkness of Alzheimer's disease by an improvement in medical technology, somewhere around 2025 AD. As the poet, Robert Gu, regains cognitive function and tries to fit into a "new" world, he is inadvertently caught up in an espionage attempt on the biological labs near UCSD, which appear to house surreptitious research into YGBM (You Gotta Believe Me) mass persuasion technology.

By setting his novel in the mid-future, and spending some time in the first part of his book describing an Alzheimer's sufferer regaining adult functionality, Vinge has the perfect opportunity to introduce the reader incrementally to the new technologies and realities of 2025 in a very natural manner.

It's a world quite familiar to us, a straight extrapolation of our own time. Life is now supplemented by wearable computers with contact lens peripherals. Kids are now elaborate and skilled "gestural" users of said computers. The resources of the Internet have become even more pervasive, even more elaborate. The real world is now "tagged" with virtual reality labels that can be retrieved and viewed on demand. Education consists of learning how to use the new tools of analysis, collaboration, and construction. And so the protagonist's struggle to re-orient himself to society in a school filled with other "medically-remediated geriatrics," and less-than-motivated children, contrasts with the larger themes of the book ... the role of governments in uneasy alliance, of paranoid but well-meaning intelligence agencies trying to suppress the next disaster, and of hyper-empowered individuals trying to execute their own agendas.

Vinge leaves much of the intervening historical details between our own time and that of the novel in discreet haze. There is a suggestion of a past war with China. There's an implied working collaboration of the Great Powers (US, EU, Indo-European Alliance, Japan, China) to actively suppress the use of WMDs by small groups around the world, with "extreme prejudice." Chicago has been nuked at some point in the more recent past. There's an elaborated and fully electronic Homeland Security infrastructure working in tandem with other large nations. There's a sense of medical technology making uneven success, with notable failures.

Yet somehow the mood of the novel seems largely benign, suburban, and very middle-class. Despite an implied intervening history of considerable global trauma, the characters of the novel live life much as we do, rather blasé about global circumstances. WMD attacks seem inevitable to the novel's characters but, by and large, preventable. Is the author being "cute" then about our own time, or writing a stealth satire? Are children and Alzheimer's patients the illustrative types for our society. It's never clear. Perhaps 2025 really will be much like now ... only moreso.

The novel centers itself around a very few locales in southern California: the poet's remedial school, the library at his teaching alma mater (UC San Diego), the home of his immediate family (son, grand-daughter, daughter-in-law). A few other scenes are set in Barcelona but only as foils for "foreign" intelligence service characters to have discussions and make decisions. So this is very much an American suburban novel 20 years from now, set within new technology, and working out the machinations of governments and individuals at a relatively slow pace.

The character Gu has been identfied as a useful stalking horse because his family is involved in the US Marines, the 2025 rapid reaction force based at Camp Pendleton and responsible for WMD suppression actions. His daughter-in-law has been subjected to "JITT" -- just-in-time training -- to enhance her intelligence capacities, but it is a technique which leaves most individuals with pyschological scars. [Note: This concept reminds me of John Brunner's EPTification ("education for particular task") described in the 1968 novel, Stand on Zanzibar with similar dire results.] Gu's son is a watch commander for the regional WMD monitoring command. In recovering his cognition after Alzheimer's, the elder Gu has picked up new technical aptitudes but lost his poetic sense. And it is a mysterious stranger's promise to help recover Gu's "mojo" through even more advanced medical technology that leads the poet to accept dubious employment -- an alliance with rejuvenated former colleagues to explore the tunnels under his old university to gain access to the surrounding laboratories.

Who's behind the intrusion? What do they want? Will they be stopped?

The climax of the novel ultimately mixes whimsy with high-tech military imaginings (some quite inventive). The first stirrings of the Singularity can be traced. And the age-old antagonism of personal freedom and social stability seem on the verge of entering a new and grimmer era.

Rainbows End is a quick and easy read. Vinge's characters have enough personality to ring true ... though the quirks of academic pettiness and suburbia may not compell all readers. The novel's pacing is rather sedate but it is all in aid of getting a better feel of American life in 2025. For me, the imagined world of twenty years from now is the most thought-provoking part of the novel. The plot itself seemed rather disengaged.

Does any of this relate to the Anglosphere?

In the end, not a whole lot unfortunately, because Vinge has punted.

He imagines 2025, after a Chinese war and episodes of nuclear terrorism, as a period when the Great Nations have formed an uneasy alliance at self-preservation. Their intelligence agencies are fully integrated into the era's equivalent of the Internet. Traffic analysis, and various kinds of monitoring are de rigeur. Yet none of this seems to reflect the current statistics on relative national prosperity , nor on market-dominant minorities, nor even the accelerating pace of global crime. The international equanimity apparently comes from undeclared historical circumstances. A bit of explanation would have helped.

The spontaneous communities of the modern Internet have elaborated in twenty years and are, in Vinge's world, dynamic participants in global entertainment. The entertainment/hobby enthusiasms of our era have become "belief circles" which fully blend fantasy and community into the adult lifestyles of 2025. Again, this all seems pretty indulgent for a society under threat of WMD. A cheeky dig at our own time? Who knows?

England and a discrete Anglosphere makes no appearance in Vinge's book. India has however, by this time, come more fully into its own and is now a global player in intelligence. The US appears as a dominant player on the planet in this novel but there is no attempt to quantify its relationship with the other Great Powers. Is it a nation in decline? Does it have effective allies? We don't know.

Information has migrated more and more from the libraries of the world into electronic storage, and the final destructive digitization of books forms one of the novel's more imaginative plot points. Ordinary kids are now living in a strange hybrid of the real and virtual worlds, and education therefore expects far more of them. They form pen-pal relationships of greater depth with other kids around the world yet that collaboration seems rather trivial.

Vinge's world seems bereft of any of the concerns of 2006 ... unemployment, crime, immigration, epidemic disease, Third World poverty. It's never made clear why they are invisible in the novel. Are these problems resolved, unresolvable, or merely awaiting a sequel?

So Rainbows End is a tight snapshot of 2025 as an American soccer mom might experience it. Not everyone's cup of tea but entirely plausible. I found it worth reading but one wonders if the other shoe will drop in a later book. If Rainbows End stands on its own, then we must conclude that Professor Vinge hasn't quite sorted out how the real world gets from here to there. We can always count on Google, Yahoo, and Microsoft to do their thing (often with unseemly enthusiasm for sundry tyrants) ... but it's all the places outside of Silicon Valley that give cause for worry. As they have for the last two decades, and as we can assume they will in the next two.

Posted by jmccormick at 02:37 PM | Comments (2) | TrackBack

May 20, 2006

Cities of the Anglosphere

In honor of the recently-deceased Jane Jacobs (who throughout her life championed the role of cities in the creation of wealth), I thought I would catalogue the Anglosphere's largest cities (to be precise, metropolitan areas with over 2 million people in population according to the most recent estimates):

  1. New York, USA (~18.7)
  2. Los Angeles, USA (~16.7)
  3. Chicago, USA (~9.3)
  4. London, UK (~7.6)
  5. San Francisco, USA (~5.8)
  6. Philadelphia, USA (~5.8)
  7. Dallas, USA (~5.7)
  8. Miami, USA (~5.4)
  9. Toronto, Canada (~5.3)
  10. Houston, USA (~5.2)
  11. Washington, USA (~5.2)
  12. Atlanta, USA (~4.7)
  13. Detroit, USA (~4.5)
  14. Boston, USA (~4.4)
  15. Sydney, Australia (~4.4)
  16. Melbourne, Australia (~3.6)
  17. Phoenix, USA (~3.4)
  18. Seattle, USA (~3.2)
  19. Minneapolis, USA (~3.1)
  20. San Diego, USA (~2.9)
  21. St. Louis, USA (~2.7)
  22. Baltimore, USA (~2.6)
  23. Tampa, USA (~2.6)
  24. Manchester, UK (~2.5)
  25. Pittsburgh, USA (~2.4)
  26. Denver, USA (~2.3)
  27. Birmingham, UK (~2.3)
  28. Vancouver, Canada (~2.2)
  29. Cleveland, USA (~2.1)
  30. Portland, USA (~2.0)
  31. Cincinatti, USA (~2.0)
  32. Sacramento, USA (~2.0)
  33. Kansas City, USA (~2.0)

(Updated to include Manchester and Birmingham.)

Posted by Peter Saint-Andre at 10:08 PM | Comments (20) | TrackBack

May 19, 2006

Wanted: set of British values

After the bomb explosions on the London Underground last July and after it became obvious that the men who perpetrated the crime were not immigrants or asylum seekers but lads who had been British born and bred, there was a certain flurry of excitement about having to impart British values to all our citizens, particularly those who might not be terribly in favour of them (if they knew what these consisted of).

The problem is that before British values can be imparted they need to be defined and for various reasons they have never been. In the past they may have been understood in a rather muddled and often contradictory fashion but there was no need for a definition.

After the bomb explosions on the London Underground last July and after it became obvious that the men who perpetrated the crime were not immigrants or asylum seekers but lads who had been British born and bred, there was a certain flurry of excitement about having to impart British values to all our citizens, particularly those who might not be terribly in favour of them (if they knew what these consisted of).

The problem is that before British values can be imparted they need to be defined and for various reasons they have never been. In the past they may have been understood in a rather muddled and often contradictory fashion but there was no need for a definition.

Now that a definition would be useful the co-ordinates are missing. Nothing daunted the government has announced that

“All secondary school pupils could be taught about "core British values" such as freedom, fairness and respect under new plans unveiled today.

A six-month government review will look at whether learning about how values such as freedom of speech are embedded in British history could help social inclusiveness.

The aim is to give children what officials called a 'strong sense of British identity and an understanding of British culture and traditions', beyond the citizenship classes which already form part of their curriculum.”

The very language used in the announcement tells us why this is a doomed project. Social inclusiveness? British culture and traditions? What are all those things?

A number of people on all sides of the political spectrum have pointed out that culture, traditions, values, identity are not concepts that can be defined and imposed by the state. Well, they can be as they were in the Soviet Union, where there was a reasonably clear official line about those values, but it is not advisable if support is to be maintained.

The Pub Philosopher, for instance, rightly points out that schools should concentrate on teaching children how to behave rather than tell them what is the behaviour that is most likely to be part of British cultural tradition. He also considers that all we need to know about core values was summed up by Kipling in his poem “If”, which, as it happens, was voted as Britain’s favourite poem a couple of years ago.

“I'm not sure that trying to teach a set of prescribed values is necessary or achievable. The grammar schools that used to produce such good academic results often had an underlying ethos but it was rarely overt. It was usually reinforced by rewarding and punishing behaviour, rather than by reference to a published set of values. Which would be more effective, telling children that queueing is an example of a core British value - politeness, or just encouraging them to queue when at school?”

Personally, I do not think queueing is as important as all that, though obviously, it is quite useful. But it is a little trivial to be a core value, unless it is seen as part of a general set of good manners, in its turn, seen as part of an acceptable, courteous and less selfish way of behaving.

In the same way, freedom of speech, which never really existed and cannot really exist in full (particularly not in a country that has the most ferocious and unjust libel laws in the world that are used by crooks, tyrants and financiers of terrorists from all over the world to silence their critics) has become a substitute for the old-fashioned concept of freedom and liberty.

Not only is the government not the right body to start defining or imposing core cultural values but teachers are not really the right people to transmit them as is perfectly clear from some of the comments from the unions. It could, after all, be argued that it is the teachers who have destroyed all understanding of what Britain and Britishness are all about.

Setting aside the waffle about teaching of religious values and, particularly, what is to be done about the teaching of Islam, one can discern that the review will be led by head teacher Keith Ajegbo. I know nothing about Mr Ajegbo, not even which school he is the head of, but would it not be a good idea to find out what sort of values and standards it lives by?

Then there are all the idiotic statements by spokespersons of teaching unions.

“The initiatives have also been broadly welcomed by teaching unions, but they have expressed concern at what exactly the government means by "core British values".

"It would not be appropriate to promote an imperial British myth by teaching that values such as democracy, justice and fair play are exclusively British or that Britain is superior to other countries," said Philip Parkin, general secretary of the PAT [Professional Association of Teachers].

National Union of Teachers (NUT) general secretary Steve Sinnot said the London bombings had "triggered rightly a "reflection on how society can tackle ideologies which lead to terrorism".

But he too warned the so-called core values should not be taught as the only ones that count, saying: "There is another core value which the government needs to promote, and that is respect for different points of view."”

A mish-mash, in other words. But then, what can you expect from a government whose members are unaware of the importance of parliamentary democracy and believe that gaining more votes than other parties gives them the right to do anything they like to anyone they like?

What can you expect from teachers’ unions who have consistently undermined all attempts to teach the English language (surely the greatest of all core values and integrating factors) or English language literature or the history of this country and the way it has impacted on the world? Hint: the rest of the world has been learning all those things. A recent report that showed foreign students to have a much better grasp of English grammar and punctuation was not particularly surprising.

Then there is the problem of the European project, one that all the other member states are having to deal with. It is not a question of whether Britain is European or not. In some ways she is, in some she is not. In any case, there are so many different, often contradictory aspects of being European that any assertion for or against is going to be meaningless.

The real problem is that at the heart of the European project lies a desire to do away with the national identities of European nations for the slightly reason that wars and massacres have been caused in history uniquely by European nationalism. But national identities were real, if poorly defined; European identity remains a chimaera. So, at a time when we in the West are being challenged by determined groups whose aim is to undermine and destroy our values, we can present only a weakened version of what we might or might not be fighting for.

None of the so-called European or, for that matter, British values can stand up to any kind of examination. Tolerance? Tell that to the Catholics or Elizabethan England or the victims of the Gordon riots.

Freedom of speech? I have already referred to our libel laws.

Parliamentary government, constitutional democracy, the pride of the Anglosphere? What of all that legislation that cannot be thrown out or reversed that arrives through the managerial governance of Brussels? What, for that matter, of the ability the Executive in this country has of emasculating the Legislative and, controlling the Judiciary?

One can go on like this for a long time. Perhaps, I should now turn to more specific points and make some suggestions about what could be taught as subjects, that would bring about an understanding of those nebulous core values.

First and foremost, there is the English language that has not been taught properly in our schools for several generations. Britain may be the only country in which people are proud of not knowing how their language – one of the greatest treasures of world culture – works; proud of not understanding the grammatical structures and of having no idea of the punctuation.

In addition, there is a strange notion abroad that it does not matter whether you learn the language or not. So, here are my first two suggestions:

Restore the teaching of the English language to the schools of this country and ensure that no 16-year old leaves without knowing how to read extensively and write correctly. (Given the facts of the teaching of English for the last few decades, we may well have to introduce wide-spread remedial teaching.)

Secondly, stop wasting taxpayers’ money on producing official material in twenty-seven different languages. If private firms want to recruit for their own purposes in other languages, that is their business. But it is not the job of a local council or of the NHS to encourage ignorance of the language of this country.

If people do not want to learn, they should not be forced. First generations of immigrants often did not learn the language of their new country in the past either. But such people will have to rely on the assistance of their friends and families to guide them through officialdom.

Next point: history. We need to know the history of Britain and of other countries because no country develops or evolves in vacuum. Luckily, as someone has once pointed out to me, the history of Britain is the history of the world.

So, here is my third suggestion: teach children history from an early age. Not bits and pieces about the Tudors and the Second World War but history from beginning to as close as possible to our own day. It can be done. Other countries do it.

There is no need to keep exalting British achievements or explaining how everything Britain did was for the best in this best of all possible worlds. Children will make up their own minds on the basis of reasonably accurate information and will acquire a clear idea of their identity.

The history of Britain and of the British Empire is the history of many peoples and many nations. There is room in that narrative for all.

Next: constitutional matters. It is not citizenship, a nebulous concept if ever there was one, that we need to teach but a clear, factual knowledge of the constitutional structure of this country, of the various institutions within it and the international organizations it belongs to.

The school in which I took my A-levels had something called Civics for the sixth-formers. It was a purely factual class and the head teacher who took it, went through British legislation, other countries’ legislation, structure of UN, NATO and the then Common Market. Jolly useful, it was, too.

Of course, these matters should be taught truthfully. There is very little point in affirming that Parliament legislates in this country when the truth is that Parliament has no right to reject EU directives and regulations.

Above all, we must stop being the only country in the world where generations are growing up without knowing who the Head of State is, what the National Anthem is and how did the Union Flag come to be what it is. Believe me, every French child knows the Marseillaise and the history of the tricoleur.

If, on top of all that, schools, parents and other establishments insist on certain standards of behaviour and, of course, resume teaching other subjects as well, we might find that those core values develop all by themselves without any intervention on the part of the politicians, who, as we know, have no values whatsoever.

(Cross-posted from EUReferendum)

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 03:03 AM | Comments (31) | TrackBack

May 11, 2006

What Have the Pythons Ever Done For Us?

[cross-posted on Chicagoboyz]

From comedy troupe Monty Python's Life of Brian:
REG: All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?
XERXES: Brought peace.
REG: Oh. Peace? Shut up!

As described by the Times recently, Monty Python member Terry Jones has written a book which attempts to correct the good press that the Romans have been getting for the last two thousand years by outlining recent discoveries of the technical accomplishments of the pre-Roman Celts in Britain. They weren't such "barbarians" after all ... they built their own roads, and created their own metallurgical masterpieces, innovated with the chariot in war, and were probably nice to their kids, as well.

Now I'm wondering how a comedian and amateur historian gets placed in the role of righting what apparently is a Great Moral Wrong of ancient history -- the tired straw man of Celtic backwardness. Apparently times are tough in the history departments of British universities. No tweedy scholar with a promotional bent is up to the task. But in the spirit of Terry Jones, let me also do a bit of armchair amateur philosophizing ... about the recent popularity of downgrading Roman accomplishment, whether say in Robert Wright's Non-Zero (2001), or Mr. Jones' new book.

It's no accident that we're seeing a flurry of historical revisionism in the last five years, a time filled with loose talk about the American Colossus, imperial over-reach, and "not since the Romans." Every American mote is fondly embraced, while the rest of the world's beams are conveniently ignored. Darfur can be up to its knees in blood and the only sound to be heard is the bleating media ... "What have the Americans ever done for Us?"

So our public historical discourse has devolved into comparisons of apples and oranges, and apple seeds and apples. Cultural relativism is now about reasserting cultural self-esteem and designating the historical Victim. We can see a similar disingenuousness when economic historians of the Left attempt to explain why the Industrial Revolution occurred in Europe. Try Mokyr's "The Gifts of Athena: Historical Origins of the Knowledge Economy" for a useful corrective.

Mixed into all this resurgent Celtic love is a religious and cultural identity crisis. God forbid (er, Great Mother forfend) that the Wiccans shouldn't get equal billing with the Christian Church in British history. It's tough for the British to find their treasured Victim-hood in the overwhelming affluence and freedom of the modern Anglosphere. It's all too, how shall we say it, "Roman."

Based on my visits to several dozen Roman sites in Britain and Scotland, my reading about Roman material culture and late Medieval Europe, the Anglo-Saxon period in England, (and Lex's coaching on legal topics) over the last two years, let me take my amateur stab at comparing the Celts and the Romans.

Roman military expansion in northwest Europe had an impact very much like our own few centuries of European economic globalization. By establishing continental economic networks, the peripheral parts of the Empire (like Britain) experienced a substantial distortion of local economies (e.g. growing corn & barley to feed distant Romans rather than grains and livestock for the locals). There was also the importation of substantial technological/artistic/administrative/military skills (think intellectual property) from Mediterranean Roman culture. Those peripheral cultures could not afford to implement huge capital developments (aka foreign direct investment). Anyone who can look at the 70 miles of Hadrian's Wall, complete with elaborate ditches, stone walls, mile-forts, sectional fortresses, river bridges composed of solid multi-ton stone blocks, military roads, and shipping depots (in Newcastle) ... and claim that the Celts were somehow on par ... is flogging an agenda not a technological argument. The Brits spent 1500 years just poaching the cut stone, brick and tile from Roman construction -- literally "free money" to them. British roads weren't built to Roman standards til after 1750 (when British military engineers responded to the Rebellion of the 1740's by excavating Roman roads for technical details and then proceeded with a road-building frenzy ... often simply on top of the old Roman roadbeds in Scotland!).

The distinction with our own time of economic globalization, as noted in an e-mail exchange with Lex, was that Roman society was slave-based for much of its labour input. As a result, by definition, much of Roman construction, economic activity, and "high" culture was predicated on many, many people living in servitude. The rural villas of the Roman British era were meant for Roman landowners ... Roman slaveowners ... but people of our own era would far prefer to live in such country homes than in the buildings of any subsequent era (til the 20th century). For one thing, the Romans were clean freaks. The Celts obviously preferred more British freedom and fewer Roman concrete walls/roads/sewers/baths, etc. etc.. Whatever their accomplishments, they weren't able to unify in the face of an economically and technologically dominant culture. Squalor or servitude. Not much of a choice. As Tacitus notes, putting words in the Celt's mouth, "they [the Romans] make a desert and call it peace." One can only imagine that most of the modern world, watching its kids fawn over Hollywood actors and wearing gangsta clothing, would say the same thing.

Nonetheless, comparing Celtic material/technological innovation with Roman material/technological achievement is like comparing Third world space programs with the NASA/EU/Russian space programs. Yeah, stuff goes up in space in both cases ... just not as often, as successfully, as significantly, or as far.

The dated straw man of "ignorant Celtic barbarians" should not be replaced by "just like each other" nor (apart from the sad old IQ debate) "just as good as each other" ... a wood road across the Severn mud-flats doesn't equate to tens of thousands of miles of roads across mountains, forests, and deserts maintained for centuries ... sorry. And the odd bit of excellent metal-work can hardly compare to a continental network of manufacture and supply that put glass windows, basilicas, massive stone sculptures, and catapults almost as far north as Inverness in the Scottish Highlands.

The parallels with modern times are striking ... because no small impoverished country in the world now makes its own watches, sneakers/trainers, televisions, business suit styles, musical notation or a replacement for the International Phonetic Alphabet. In the sorrier parts of the world, they sell copra or beachfront access for such things. In the sorriest parts of the world, they grow dope and sell humans. In the very worst parts of the world, they simply trans-ship stuff from elsewhere and provide a law-free zone. They could do all kinds of wonderful things, but in the current global economic environment none of those things have immediate economic value, nor any global cultural interest. As Strabo noted at the approach of the Current Era, Britain "produces corn, cattle, gold, silver and iron. These things are exported, along with hides, slaves and dogs suitable for hunting." Roman arrogance aside, it doesn't sound like the ancient world was in awe of Celtic creativity.

Should modern global trade collapse, for whatever reason, many nations would seek to create local replacements and would come up with some great new ideas (through unique innovation, drawing on inheritances or relict skills from the globalized period, etc.) ... just as "Dark Age" Europe, we now know, innovated widely but was still in constant contact with the ideas, money, and skills of the Byzantine Empire from 400 - 1000AD, at which point the Northern Italian republics started to reassert their technological and economic dominance of the Mediterranean. In turn, the northern Italians were instrumental thereafter in spreading a wave of new (and old Roman) skills to the Lowlands and England.

I suspect this Celts were Good Too initiative is just an amateur iteration of Bad Romans=Bad Americans ... suppressing our natural capacities at innovation and achievement, reminiscent of European claims for job-creation ... "our jobs would be much better than American jobs, er ... if we could create jobs."

The fact that it's an ex-Monty Python member flogging historical revisionism is deliciously ironic in so many ways. While Spamalot puts comfortable bums in expensive Broadway seats, Mr. Jones mutters about underappreciated Celts who lived and died two millennia ago. Nothing quite so satisfying as a life filled with both Gold and Virtue. I wonder if the shade of Togidubnus -- reputed sellout king of the Regni Celts during the Roman invasion of Britain -- recalls his glamourous Roman palace at Fishbourne in southern England (the remains are impressive to this day) and laughs uproariously at the new Celt wannabees bemoaning their new Roman overlords. "It's good to be King," one imagines him saying to himself. And for the comfortable multitude in the modern global economy, even for those much less than comfortable, the Anglosphere, and its American giant, are a target for equal parts envy and greed. How to be a Celt in a Roman World?

So "what have the Pythons ever done for us?" When we get our history from comedians, perhaps only our historians are left to record the farce of Utopianism and post-modern victimology.

Posted by jmccormick at 07:15 PM | Comments (15)

May 08, 2006

Darfur and the Musketeers of the Anglosphere

Via Instapundit, the always-invaluable Mark Steyn notices something coincidental about the short list of effective anti-genocide actions in the past several decades. UN leadership? Well, not quite.

Mark addresses a few words to George Clooney, newly excited about the ongoing genocide in Darfur, on the topic:

So who, in the end, does "multinational action" boil down to? The same small group of nations responsible for almost any meaningful global action, from Sierra Leone to Iraq to Afghanistan to the tsunami-devastated Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia and on to East Timor and the Solomon Islands. The same core of English-speaking countries, technically multinational but distressingly unicultural and unilingual and indeed, given that most of them share the same head of state, uniregal. The US, Britain, Australia and Canada (back in the game in Afghanistan) certainly attract other partners, from the gallant Poles to the Kingdom of Tonga.

But, whatever international law has to say on the subject, the only effective intervention around the world comes from ad hoc coalitions of the willing led by the doughty musketeers of the Anglosphere. Right now who's on the ground dragging the reluctant Sudanese through their negotiations with the African Union? America's Deputy Secretary of State Bob Zoellick and Britain's International Development Secretary Hilary Benn. Sorry, George, that's as "multinational" as it's gonna get.

And he concludes:

As Alexander Downer put it: "Outcomes are more important than blind faith in the principles of non-intervention, sovereignty and multilateralism." Just so. Regrettably, the Australian Foreign Minister isn't as big a star as Clooney, but I'm sure Downer wouldn't mind if Clooney wanted to appropriate it as the Clooney Doctrine. If Anglosphere action isn't multinational enough for Sudan, it might confirm the suspicion that the Left's conscience is now just some tedious shell game in which it frantically scrambles the thimbles but, whether you look under the Iraqi or Afghan or Sudanese one, you somehow never find the shrivelled pea of The Military Intervention We're Willing To Support.

Just a coincidence, probably.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 02:50 PM | Comments (7)

May 06, 2006

The English Legal Foundations of American Liberty -- A Tale of Contingency

I recently stumbled across a reference to book called Constituting Empire : New York and the Transformation of Constitutionalism in the Atlantic World, 1664-1830, by a professor at NYU, Daniel Hulsebosch. Prof. Hulsebosch gets to study for a living two of the things that have been of interest to me in the last few years -- the continuities between British and American legal and political institutions, and the under-appreciated role of New York in the development of the USA.

The book had a sample chapter available online. I will offer one excerpt:

To understand the legal culture of the British Empire and the early United States, we must understand the intellectual transformation in the idea of law on which colonial resistance was premised: the shift from jurisdiction to jurisprudence, the rules in a legal system to the rule of law, English liberties to American liberty. The fundamental legal tension of empire was between the rule of law and the expansion of rule, a striving toward universals of government and rights on the one hand and toward increasing territorial jurisdiction on the other. The American founders' resolution was to attempt to control a space by law that could not possibly be controlled by men.

The expansive space could not be controlled by traditional means because the people moving across it would not submit to such control. This relentless mobility was the paramount expression of popular sovereignty in America, and it expressed more than traditional "customs in common." Popular constitutionalism, which was performed in petitions, protests, parades, and mobbing, persisted after the Revolution and connected white Americans to their British past. But overland emigration, which only with nationalist hindsight can be called internal migration, had always distinguished North American constitutional culture. That movement, which expressed radical notions of liberty and property, infuriated the British imperial agents while also making some of them rich from land speculation. Frustration fell away after the Revolution, and mobility became the country's most important capital investment; without it, the Union's greatest resource—land—remained worthless. And without ties of cultural identity, foremost among which was constitutional identity, much of that land might not have become part of the United States. People moved west, acting out what they believed were their liberties; their governors called them American; lawmakers incorporated them into the Union; because that incorporation offered the settlers the prospect of equal citizenship, they accepted it. In retrospect it is manifest destiny. At the time it was a speculative project, a kind of political speculation. The hard fact of mobility—of popular disregard for jurisdiction in the traditional sense of legal boundaries of both liberty and power—was a fundamental fact of early American constitutionalism.

I like this passage because it does some things I want any work of history to do for me, to show that nothing had to happen, that things could have gone differently, and that people did not know how anything was going to turn out. This expansion into the wilderness somewhat surprisingly gave rise to a country with a more or less unitary system of law, which was consistent with earlier practice but appropriate to new conditions. This did not happen by accident.

As Roscoe Pound describe in "The Formative Era of American Law", there was a scramble to come up with law which was felt to be appropriate law for US conditions. The first thing people did was apply their traditional treatises, Coke and especially Blackstone, and try to come up with rules that worked from those tried and true sources. In the early years of the Republic (down to 1860 or so), there was popular animosity in the early years toward things English, and a sense during the Jacksonian era that a democratic legislature could and should do anything a majority wanted without any restraint. These attitudes ran afoul of what the lawyers were doing and wanted to do. The better lawyers and judges were too smart for that, no matter how popular it was, and they created an American style of law which was continuous with England's but not the same. So a countervailing approach was taken by the elite of the bench and bar. The response was the production of treatises on major topics of concern to the bench and bar, which then were widely disseminated. Pound names about a dozen men. James Kent was perhaps the most outstanding example. As Hulsebosch notes:

[New York's] unusually sophisticated legal culture produced works that influenced law throughout the United States. Paramount among these was James Kent's Commentaries on American Law (1826-30), a Federalist-inspired primer for students and practitioners. Works like The Federalist Papers, Kent's Commentaries, and other legal treatises were shipped west on the Erie Canal and helped forge a national legal culture.

(The prolific Joseph Story was the other outstanding treatise-writing founder of American law from this era.)

I will be interested to see how Hulsebosch's analysis varies from Pound's much older work.

What arose in America during this era was a common law-derived system, shorn of a lot of its historical baggage, and simplified for ease of use. The British bar was interested in preserving an arcane system that kept up high barriers to entry. That kind of formalism could not survive here. The Americans were interested in a comprehensible system that relative amateurs could make work under difficult and primitive conditions of settlement. The variations from state to federal court, or between state courts, were largely matters of detail. Of course to a practicing lawyer, those details would mean the difference between defeat and victory. But as a matter of legal culture, no lawyer going from one state courthouse to another, or reading the statutes and reported cases of another state (partially excepting Louisiana), would have been unable to make sense of what was going on. It is very much the same today. As a result of the activities of Kent and Story, and countless less famous men, even in the State courts, we acquired something like a uniform national system of law. This was in no way a fore-ordained outcome.

I am sure the book will be good.

Not wanting to wait around all that time for the book to arrive, I dug some more and found this article by him entitled The Ancient Constitution and the Expanding Empire: Sir Edward Coke's British Jurisprudence. It was most interesting, revealing much I had not known about Lord Coke, and the legal underpinnings of the colonial, pre-revolutionary world. I think it is the best thing I have seen yet on how the common law actually made the transition from Britain to the USA. (It is long -- 20 pages, with 14 pages of notes. You'll need to print it out. Go do that now.) Hulsebosch notes that in Coke's day, the unwritten English constitution appeared to be under threat from the Stuart kings, specifically that the Stuarts were going to "impose Roman-derived civil law on England". The modern scholarship suggests that there was no coherent plan to do this. Nonetheless, "the English "parliamentarians and common lawyers" wanted "to erect a barrier against absolute monarchy". The fear of Stuart usurpation led them to "generate the political fiction of a timeless legal framework guaranteeing the liberty of the subject. At the core of this constitution were common law institutions, like the jury and secure land tenure, that provided ballast against royal governance. Common law was the glue of nationhood, a nation defined as limited monarchy." Coke participated in this enterprise, and in particular was a critical figure in establishing the independence of the judiciary from the executive. Hulsebosch shows that Coke himself did not believe that the common law applied in lands beyond England. However, by his published cases, which invoked or at least suggested principles underlying the law in any narrow sense, and his treatises which were published and widely circulated, by his record of opposition to the over-reaching of the Stuart kings, and by his promotion of the idea of an "ancient constitution" embodying ancient liberties, Coke came to be seen in the American colonies as an exponent of a more generalized bundle of "English liberties" which were applicable to "Englishmen" outside the jurisdiction of the English common law courts.

Coke's work contributed more to the spread of common law culture than he could have imagined, let alone intended. American lawyers who invoked Coke did so without respecting the jurisdictional limits of the common law that for him made it the national law of England. Coke had contributed to the sense that English law, especially the common law of property, went abroad, but he never envisioned the common law as a free-floating jurisprudence that could be invoked as a shield against royal administration. This jurisdictional limit on Coke's jurisprudence was lost as his books circulated through the Atlantic world. …Early Americans encountered Coke's work in an environment that was close enough to his for basic comprehension and far enough away, in space, time, and political context, to facilitate creative reinterpretation.

All this is gripping stuff. My only quibble with Hulsebosch is his seemingly dismissive references to the "myth" of an ancient English constitution. I think Coke may have been sincere in propounding such a thing, and he was probably right to do so. Even if it is true that there was some politically expedient mythmaking going on, it is also true that the English constitution really was ancient and continuous. F.W. Maitland, the greatest of all historians of English law, put it this way:

...if we look back at the ages which are the most famous in the history of English legislation—the age of Bentham and the radical reform, the age which appropriated the gains that had been won but not secured under the rule of Cromwell, the age of Henry VIII, the age of Edward I ("our English Justinian")—it must seem to us that, for all their activity, they changed, and could change, but little in the great body of law which they had inherited from their predecessors. Hardly a rule remains unaltered, and yet the body of law that now lives among us is the same body that Blackstone described in the eighteenth century, Coke in the seventeenth, Littleton in the fifteenth, Bracton in the thirteenth, Glanvill in the twelfth. This continuity, this identity, is very real to us if we know that for the last seven hundred years all the judgments of the courts at Westminster have been recorded, and that for the most part they can still be read. Were the world large enough to contain such a book, we might publish not merely a biography, but a journal or diary, of English law, telling what it has done, if not day by day, at least term by term, ever since the reign of Richard I; and eventful though its life may have been, it has had but a single life.

Beyond these seven centuries there lie six other centuries that are but partially and fitfully lit, and in one of them a great catastrophe, the Norman Conquest, befell England and the law of England. However, we never quite lose the thread of the story. Along one path or another we can trace back the footprints, which have their starting-place in some settlement of wild Germans who are invading the soil of Roman provinces, and coming in contact with the civilisation of the old world. Here the trail stops, the dim twilight becomes darkness; we pass from an age in which men seldom write their laws to one in which they cannot write at all. Beyond lies the realm of guesswork.

We never quite lose the thread of the story, for over a millennium. I think "ancient" is a fair adjective under the circumstances.

(Prof. Hulsebosch also has this review of Fred Anderson, Crucible of War: The Seven Years' War and the Fate of Empire in British North America, 1754-1766 which was also interesting. I have had the Anderson book on my shelf for a long time, and this very favorable review encourages me to get to it soon.)

Inspired as I was by this Hulsebosch stuff, I dug around a little more, and found this fabulous list of references for this class on Early English Constitutional History , one of several that sound interesting which are being taught by Professor Frederick Hokming Cheung (scroll down for English) at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, an institution I had not previously heard of .

Prof. Cheung included on his reading list a book entitled The Origin and Growth of the English Constitution: an Historical Treatise in which is Drawn out, by the Light of the Most Recent Researches, the Gradual Development of the English Constitutional System, and the Growth out of that System of the Federal Republic of the United States by one Hannis Taylor, originally published in 2 volumes in 1889. We no longer have book titles like they used to in the good old days. This sounded extraordinarily Anglospheric – i.e. it covered a subject dear to my heart, the transmission of English legal and political institutions to America, where they mutated and evolved in striking ways, yet still discernibly of the same original seed-stock. The book lust was swiftly upon me. Sure enough a tolerably priced set was easily to be had from Bookfinder.com.


Also while poking around, I came upon this article entitled How Equity Reached the Colonies by the Hon. Justice B.H. McPherson, CBE, of Queensland, Australia. This one may be too arcane for non-lawyers. It tells how the Anglophone court systems in the colonies, by one means or another, managed to establish or reestablish courts of equity , despite the initial opposition to it among the colonizing populations – because the equity courts did not have juries, among other reasons. But, why did they all eventually do so? Because, I think, it was an essential part of the system even though not "common law" strictly speaking. And the English speaking legal world has always paid attention to the mother country and to the sister polities and the judges and lawyers managed by hook or by crook to get the complete tool kit -- including, importantly, a secure foundation for the law of trusts.

One of the themes of “Anglospheric” history is the idea that England developed on its own unique path, not because it innovated something radically new, but paradoxically because it preserved what was old – medieval constitutionalism – while the rest of Europe adopted the revived Roman law. I stumbled across a reference to a book which seems to address this issue, The Common Legal Past of Europe, 1000-1800, by Manlio Bellomo. It sounds extremely intriguing because I want to get a better grasp of the medieval constitutionalism that preceded the modern era. (The book is described here). Bellomo apparently argues that Europe was ruled under a ius commune that created a body of law that was common to all of Western Europe while preserving local difference, and he decries the rise of codification in the 19th Century down to the present day. However, I think that translating ius commune as "common law" is misleading to English-speakers, for whom “common law” has a very particular meaning. (I found the reference to the Bellomo book at this very interesting site.)

Cross-posted at ChicagoBoyz.


Posted by Lexington Green at 11:55 PM | Comments (7) | TrackBack

Did these elections matter

On a most obvious level local elections do not matter in Britain. Local councils have long ago lost many of their powers; most of their money comes from central government, which decides which council gets the most funds and practices redistribution of wealth between them; legislation is made in Westminster (or Edinburgh or Cardiff) at best but much more likely in Brussels. Recycling, so beloved by David Cameron (though not much discussed by Tories at the local level) is an EU competence as are all environmental issues, and the decisions taken locally are very limited.

So, really, who sits in the local council is of little interest or importance to the people of Britain. This is reflected in the turn-out: uniformly low. This year it was 36 per cent on average, a couple of points down from 2004, though there were anomalies, as I shall point out later.

Local elections can be used to give an unpopular government a bloody nose but this does not necessarily translate itself into a subsequent general election victory.

Bearing all that in mind, it is fair to point out that the Labour government was given a spectacular bloody nose, just as everyone expected. They lost 319 seats and control of 18 councils. The Conservatives won 316 seats and gained control of 11 councils, some rather unexpected.

On a most obvious level local elections do not matter in Britain. Local councils have long ago lost many of their powers; most of their money comes from central government, which decides which council gets the most funds and practices redistribution of wealth between them; legislation is made in Westminster (or Edinburgh or Cardiff) at best but much more likely in Brussels. Recycling, so beloved by David Cameron (though not much discussed by Tories at the local level) is an EU competence as are all environmental issues, and the decisions taken locally are very limited.

So, really, who sits in the local council is of little interest or importance to the people of Britain. This is reflected in the turn-out: uniformly low. This year it was 36 per cent on average, a couple of points down from 2004, though there were anomalies, as I shall point out later.

Local elections can be used to give an unpopular government a bloody nose but this does not necessarily translate itself into a subsequent general election victory.

Bearing all that in mind, it is fair to point out that the Labour government was given a spectacular bloody nose, just as everyone expected. They lost 319 seats and control of 18 councils. The Conservatives won 316 seats and gained control of 11 councils, some rather unexpected.

London has gone blue in a way it has not been for a long time, if ever. One contributory factor has been the role of the Mayor Ken Livingstone, his antics, his ultra-left agenda, the financial burden he continues to impose on the inhabitants and businesses of London. Most boroughs managed to keep the increase in local taxes down (though most of these are already inordinately high) but the Greater London precept went up by a whopping 13 per cent, having gone up by a similar proportion last year. This is supposed to finance the Olympic construction, but the 2012 Games are perceived as yet another of Ken’s attempts at self-aggrandizement.

My own borough of Hammersmith and Fulham has slipped into Conservative control for the first time since 1968 and even the normally rock-solid Labour ward I live in now has a Conservative councillor. Being just across the tracks from Cameron’s Kensington and Chelsea, one could argue that this is the sort of borough in which his vacuous charm and media-driven agenda are likely to be appreciated.

However, I was told by one of the Tory councillors some months ago that they had high hopes of winning the Council and of doing extremely well across London. In fact, the local campaign ignored Cameron and his fatuous comments about voting blue to go green. The leaflets did not carry his picture – usually de rigeur in Conservative political literature – and the main issue was tax cuts, not an official Conservative policy. This, I suspect, was replicated in other boroughs. The best one can say about the Cameron factor is that it did not impede Conservative success.

The success has been very uneven, with little headway being made in the northern cities. In fact, the famous victory is not so astonishing if you consider that we are in the third term of a highly unpopular government, that went into something approaching a melt-down in the weeks before the election.

Surprisingly for some people, the Liberal-Democrats have not done well at all. Overall, they gained 2 seats and control over one council. UKIP has managed to throw away all the advantages they might have gained from the present political situation and the publicity they were presented with by Cameron in his rather silly but calculated outburst against them. They won a single seat in Hartlepool. The Greens have gained 20 seats and are suitably jubilant, though this is nowhere near their glory days.

The big story, of course, has been the BNP (British National Party). They had predicted that there would be 30 seats and there were 27 at the end of the count. There would have been more if the three main parties had not created virtual alliances in some northern cities to keep the outsiders out.

In Barking and Dagenham, where not only Livingstone but Gordon Brown had campaigned, there are now 11 BNP councillors and (?1) Conservative one with one ward not declared as there was some kind of a clerical error and the High Court will decide. As against that, neighbouring Newham has 3 Respect councillors (all in one ward rather tellingly) and Tower Hamlets, just beyond it, has 11 Respect seats. There is good evidence that the wards that elected BNP and Conservatives in the East London boroughs had a higher turn-out than average. The vote-casting was very deliberate.

So far we have not heard those expected calls for the banning of the BNP. With this many seats and such a high proportion of the votes in other places (around 27 per cent), even the BBC and the political establishment in general must realize that calling for the party’s ban would only add fat to the fire.

On the other hand, the ridiculous re-trial of their leader Nick Griffin and his friend for various comments they made at a private function, is still scheduled. In the first trial they were acquitted on two charges and the jury could not agree on the other two. The re-trial on the latter may well go the same way.

In the meantime, the BNP made much in their election literature of the demonstrations outside the Danish embassy in March and of the demands for the beheading of cartoonists and journalists, the threats of a new holocaust and so on. Only now have two people been charged with incitement to violence. In fact, the police was content to leave well alone and started arresting participants only because of the widespread outrage in the country.

There is no question about it, unless the various issues and growing grievances that drove people to vote BNP are addressed, the party will grow in strength. The sort of shrill attacks on it we have seen from all the main parties are unlikely to harm them – to the contrary, their popularity will increase.

Another week, and the elections will be forgotten. Blair’s astonishingly swift cabinet massacre will remain. It was known that there would be a wide-ranging reshuffle immediately after the local elections but most of us expected a leisurely change-over during the week-end, not an immediate axe-wielding on Friday morning.

Some of the changes were expected. Charles Clarke, as the man at the heart of the biggest scandal, that of the absconding would be deportee criminals, went to the backbenches.

John Prescott was deprived of all his departmental responsibilities but left with his position of Deputy Prime Minister, huge salary, two grace-and-favour residences, chauffeur-driven jaguar and many other perks. As Prescott was a corrosively destructive force in politics, this is all to the good, though the evil he has done so far will, undoubtedly, live after him. Still, Ruth Kelly, his successor in the department, will not have the clout to carry through all the plans.

Given that Prescott is supposed to have enough support in the Labour Party to make it impossible for Blair to get rid of him, it is quite clever to put him in a position where he becomes the most hated and despised man in the country. As the Sun headline said this morning: “Now we are all screwed by Prescott”. The Daily Express had his grinning visage with the words: “No wonder he looks smug.”

Interestingly, Blair used the opportunity to get rid of Jack Straw, one of the few ministers who had kept out of trouble in the last few weeks. His successor, the charmless and talentless Margaret Beckett has been a failure in every one of her positions. Presumably, Blair will continue to be in charge of foreign policy and her role will be to take the flak when things go wrong. This will make a nice change as she has made a habit in her previous job, Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs of being absent whenever problems, such as the foot-and-mouth epidemic, mounted.

The one to watch is John Reid, the new Home Secretary. For some time now, as it became more and more clear that Blair was very reluctant to hand over to Gordon Brown, the name that kept cropping up in reply to the question of who else is there, has been Reid’s. His promotion to one of the great offices of state is, therefore, very significant.

Of course, Home Secretaries are rarely successful and the last two, Blunkett and Clarke, retired to the backbenches under thunderous clouds. But if Blair and Reid move fast, Brown may well find himself once again outmanoeuvred

There are many problems with Brown, not least the fact that he is a loser electorally. His failure in Dumfermline, the constituency he lives in, was spectacular a couple of months ago. His campaign in East London has not helped and may well have contributed to the disaster. Despite media assertions about his premiership, many in the Labour Party know that he could not win an egg-and-spoon race.

And when the dust dies down, what shall we see? Blair still in power and not in a hurry to leave; a Labour Party ever less sure of itself with ever less support in the country; a Conservative Party still looking for a role with a leader about whom many remain doubtful; and a country where the people’s disenchantment with the political establishment has reached monumental proportions.

Posted by Helen Szamuely at 03:36 PM | Comments (3) | TrackBack

May 01, 2006

A Place for MexAmerica: Between the Border and the Wall

In my previous posts on the border and immigration issues, I concentrated not on what I might like to see happen in the best of all possible worlds, but very much on what I thought was actually feasible in today's political climate. There I came down in pretty much the same place as Michael Barone and Hugh Hewitt: "A High Wall and a Big Gate". I still think that's about the best compromise that can be achieved, and perhaps the compromise that will ultimately, once the dust has settled, be put into place.

However, the following proposal is more of something I think would be good, but is novel enough that its chances of implementation are hard to estimate. That is, build the Wall -- a physical border barrier large enough to deter all but the most ninja-like of border-crossers -- but build it substantially north of the actual legal border -- pehaps fifty to a hundred miles north, except in aras like San Diego where there are already major cities. In the space between the wall and the border (let's call it "the Zone"), permit an orderly inflow of Mexican citizens, who would be photographed, fingerprinted, and checked for criminal records in both the US and Mexico, but otherwise permitted to pass between the Zone and Mexico at will. Passage between the Zone and the interior of the US would be subject to the same regulations as the border today, except that with a wall those regulations might actually be enforced. Within the Zone US and state law would be enforced as usual, and US and state courts would function as normal. A local police force would be supported by local taxation; local social services would be supported by local taxation entirely, including a border-pass fee.

The idea would be that the Zone would be the laboratory for the mixing of Mexican labor and American capital, managerial skill, and American law and administration. Glenn Reynolds call recently for "annexing" Mexico -- essentially, reforming Mexico to bring it up to US levels of transparency. A good idea -- but the barriers to reform in Mexcio are huge and very deep-seated. The blogosphere has been dumping on Vicente Fox a great deal in the past few months, but the fact is that Fox has been substantially better than any previous Mexican president in this century; possibly, he has been the best Mexican president since Benito Juarez. The fact that so little has been done is more an indication of the size of the swamp rather than Fox's good intentions in wanting to drain it.

In short, if we want a reformed Mexico, perhaps the best way to get it is to let it be built on our own soil -- or at least a Zone that would have an extremely powerful demonstration effect for Mexico proper. We have seen that Mexicans working within Anglo-American legal systems, and in the American economy, have worked hard and enjoyed substantial success. Those who say we need a large supply of Mexican workers can move to the Zone and enjoy an almost unlimited supply thereof. Labor-intensive facilities such as nursing homes might find it a good place to locate -- lots of sunshine, too. Want affordable domestic help? Move to the Zone. In the meantime, Mexicans working in the Zone have the full protection of American employment and labor law, which would apply in the Zone just as anywhere else.

This proposal has obvious unresolved issues. The largest one would be that children born to non-Americans in the Zone would retain the citizenship of their parents -- if at least one were not American, they would not be entittled to American citizenship. This is a big change, but it is clearly within Congress's power to makee that change.

MexAmerica -- a zone of mixing between American and Mexican culture and people -- has been a reality ever since the first gringos moved to Texas. There's nothing wrong or unnatural about it -- it's a natural consequence of the mixing of two dissimilar cultures. It's just that there has been a clear expression of the great majority of Americans that we do not want all of America to turn into MexAmerica, at least without a chance to vote on it. Perhaps while assuring that the atter does not happen, we should spend some energy trying to find the appropriate legal and structural forms to accommodate the natural MexAmerica that has already arisen on both sides of the border.

Posted by James C. Bennett at 06:36 PM | Comments (20)