Thoughts on our immigration problem and language

This post has its origin in an incident that occurred to me somewhat recently riding the bus home from a recent event. Without giving too many details, the dispute stemmed from the fact someone who I really didn’t have any intent of talking to, who insisted on asking me questions in Spanish. Funny thing is, he had no issue speaking to someone else in English, and had he just spoken to me in English (the only language he spoke that I understand) to begin with, there would have been no issues…

Anyway, this got me thinking about a lot of immigration issues. I’m not going to cite a specific news story or event. Instead I’m going to merely cite Government Code 2054.116:

Sec. 2054.116. SPANISH LANGUAGE CONTENT ON AGENCY WEBSITES. (a) In this section, “person of limited English proficiency” means a person whose primary language is other than English and whose English language skills are such that the person has difficulty interacting effectively with a state agency.
(b) Each state agency shall make a reasonable effort to ensure that Spanish-speaking persons of limited English proficiency can meaningfully access state agency information online.
(c) In determining whether a state agency is providing meaningful access, an agency shall consider:
(1) the number or proportion of Spanish-speaking persons of limited English proficiency in the agency’s eligible service population;
(2) the frequency with which Spanish-speaking persons of limited English proficiency seek information regarding the agency’s programs;
(3) the importance of the services provided by the agency’s programs; and
(4) the resources available to the agency.
(d) In making a reasonable effort to provide meaningful access, the state agency must avoid:
(1) providing information in Spanish that is limited in scope;
(2) unreasonably delaying the provision of information in Spanish; and
(3) providing program information, including forms, notices, and correspondence, in English only.
(e) This section does not apply to interactive applications provided through the state electronic Internet portal.

Added by Acts 2005, 79th Leg., Ch. 683 (S.B. 213), Sec. 1, eff. September 1, 2005.
Amended by:
Acts 2011, 82nd Leg., R.S., Ch. 973 (H.B. 1504), Sec. 16, eff. June 17, 2011.

There are at least three important things to notice about this law, and a couple that relate to the issue in general:

  1. It has only been around since 2005. In other words, we have gotten by for about 160 years as a state (in the US) without it. Why it was suddenly necessary to make a law in 2005 is a mystery to me, and probably to most Texas residents.
  2. The intent of the law is to help people who do not understand English, by catering to them in a foreign language (Spanish) at significant additional (taxpayer) expense.
  3. However, in spite of this, the practical effect of the law is to provide a massive impediment to declaring English the official language of the state, and is the first step down a potentially slippery slope towards just the opposite.
  4. Outside of a couple of specific waivers, the exam for US Citizenship is only issued in one language, which is English. The intent of this is that most residents of the US speak English, but that only works when most of them are here legally or care about becoming a citizen. The masses who have come here by whatever unlawful means (swimming across the river, hiking across the desert, etc) have no real intentions of becoming citizens, and when state governments like Texas give them no incentive, we have the issue where asking someone a question in English gets a blank look.

A brief Texas history lesson for those who grew up outside the state: In 1836, Texas fought for, and won, its independence from Mexico. In 2016 March, just a few short months from now, Texas will celebrate the 180th anniversary of its independence from Mexico. The war with Mexico was a bloody conflict with a lot of lives lost, and I would like to think that war was not fought in vain. However, it is difficult to tell how successful we were, when Mexico’s current population finds whatever (usually illegal) methods to cross the border and refuses to learn our language (English), our laws (failure to yield right of way is frighteningly common on the roads in areas of town with a heavily Hispanic population, as is complete confusion on whose turn it is to go at an all-way stop), and our culture, including our manners and customs (some of my worst encounters with rude people, have almost invariably been with someone of either Hispanic descent or Mexican nationals who were illegal aliens in the US at the time).

(Incdentially, as best I can find, “quasequinquecentennial” would be the word for 180th anniversary. It’s not going to be in the dictionary just yet. And definitely don’t try playing it in a Scrabble game; I think it won’t even fit on the board.)

The Power Hour posted this information that the Mexican government gives its expatriating citizens (translated to English, thankfully) and a lot of it is surprising. Of course they say the safest way across is legally: with a passport and visa. That’s on the first two pages… of a 32 page booklet. Officially, of course, the Mexican government says again on the last page they do not condone the illegal crossing of the border; the reality is though, most of the translated booklet is a “how to” on how to cross the border illegally and the risks involved in doing so.

In fact, to me, the 28 or so pages in between completely belie this statement that they don’t in fact condone illegal immigration into the US. If most of the 28 pages were an explanation of the immigration laws of other countries including the US, and placed the emphasis on how to immigrate to the US legally, it would be a different story. The fact is, that’s not the case.

I am left with the rather unfortunate impression that the more people the Mexican government can convince to swim, hike, or sneak across the border, the better, and that they honestly don’t give a shit that they are in effect openly advocating the violation of US law. It’s a wonder that the US has relatively good relations with Mexico given that the Mexican government has no issue basically thumbing its nose at US immigration laws.

Let’s put the shoe on the other foot. It’s illegal to bring a gun into Mexico. How well would it be received, by the Mexican government, if the US government were to put out a 32-page booklet with only short disclaimers at the beginning and end regarding Mexico’s gun laws, yet devote the 28 pages in between on how to smuggle guns and ammunition across the border illegally? I would not expect it to be well received at all. I would in fact expect Mexico to retaliate against the US for this sort of thing, possibly even including some form of trade sanctions. Yet this is exactly the kind of thing the Mexican government is (so far) basically getting away with here.

What the hell can we, the US residents, do about this? The first thing I would recommend: cancel the vacation to CancĂșn, Acapulco, Mexico City, etc in favor of just about anywhere else. Miami and other cities in the US have beaches too and you don’t need a passport. (If you aren’t insistent on crystal clear water, Galveston will do in a pinch if you’re closest to it.) If the beach isn’t your thing, there are plenty of places in the US to see that are interesting, such as one of our many national parks (the Grand Canyon and Yellowstone among others). Parts of Canada are also quite picturesque. If you don’t mind flying and can afford to go, Hawaii is also worth a visit.

Once you do that, of course, it’s important to let people know why, particularly the appropriate people in Mexico’s government and tourism industry who will no longer be profiting from your desire to travel. If enough people do this, eventually Mexico’s tourism industry and government will get the message.

Cleaning up dirty hockey play: in re Raffi Torres

I realize this one’s a little late, but I had to do some research to make sure all my facts were correct. (I’d rather be late with no or minor inaccuracies, than on time or early with a major goof.)

Among many other media outlets, ESPN and SportsNet both reported on the suspension of San Jose Sharks Raffi Torres. For those of you who do not follow hockey, here is a partial history of Torres and his hits like the one he was most recently disciplined for (name of team Torres was playing for at the time of each incident in parentheses after the date):

  • 2007-10-20 (Edmonton Oilers) – Illegal hit on David Moss of the Calgary Flames. Torres fined maximum allowed under the CBA, $2,500.
  • 2009-03-29 (Columbus Blue Jackets) – Illegal hit on Patrik Berglund of the St. Louis Blues. Torres penalized two minutes for interference, no fine or suspension.
  • 2011-04-05 (Vancouver Canucks) – Illegal hit on Jordan Eberle of the Edmonton Oilers. Torres supended for four games, two of which wound up being playoff games.
  • 2011-12-31 (Phoenix Coyotes) – Illegal hit on Nate Prosser of the Minnesota Wild. No penalty during game, Torres suspended for two games after league review.
  • 2012-04-17 (Phoenix Coyotes) – Illegal hit on Marian Hossa during a playoff series against the Chicago Blackhawks. No penalty called during game but Torres receives what is at first an indefinite suspension later set at 25 games, then reduced to 21 games on appeal.
  • 2013-??-?? (San Jose Sharks) – Illegal hit on Jarret Stoll during a playoff series against the Los Angeles Kings. During the game, Torres only received a minor penalty for charging, but would be suspended for the remainder of the series after a review by the league.

(There were also two other incidents where Torres was fined but not suspended; I was unable to locate details of those at the time of this writing. There are also three similar incidents where Torres was only warned, probably before the first incident in this list on 2007-10-20.)

Torres will lose $440,860.29 in salary for those 41 games. About the only way the NHL’s Department of Player Safety may have screwed up here is by not making the suspension long enough. Personally, I’d like to think 41 games is plenty, but then again 21 games should have been enough the time before.

Were I making the decision I would have also have stated that due to his history, Torres is subject to a probationary period when his suspension is over, for a minimum of the remainder of this season (2015-2016) and the entirety of the two seasons following (2016-2017 and 2017-2018), or possibly even the rest of his career. During that time, if Torres were to commit any egregious violation of NHL rules which jeopardize player safety (not limited to a charge or illegal check to the head), it would be cause for an immediate lifetime ban from the NHL and the onus would be on Torres to show cause why he should not be banned from the NHL for life.

There’s just no place for this kind of reckless garbage hit in professional hockey. Targeting the head is dangerous and can injure players (as we saw with Marian Hossa). I realize the NHL has only ever banned one other player for life, that being Billy Coutu (pronounced “Kouchee” according to the Wikipedia article) and he was eventually reinstated some years later (after he was too old to actually play in the NHL again).

Seriously, how many times does the NHL have to tell a player not to do something because it’s against the rules and a danger to the other players? If Torres can’t change his ways (and apparently he can’t), he shouldn’t be allowed to keep playing professional hockey. Maybe he should switch over to MMA or kickboxing.

Data security and the FBI’s attempts to screw it up

I can’t believe we’re even having this discussion in the USA.

This recent article in National Journal reports on a recent discussion hosted by Christian Science Monitor with Amy Hess, the executive assistant director of the FBI’s science and technology branch. The crux of this discussion was that encryption with “back doors” in it is an acceptable tradeoff for law enforcement.

The problem with Ms. Hess’s (and I would assume also the FBI’s) view is that when it comes down to it, computers are stupid. Example: when I type in my login ID “skquinn” and my password into a computer I have an account on, the computer gives me access based on that password. It’s going to give anyone access who has that password matching up with that login ID, it doesn’t matter whether it’s really me, my mom, a friend of mine, or some bozo that just stole my computer (for all values of “stole” whether it’s basic theft, burglary, or a cop with a warrant). There are ways around that password check, though, and this is why I keep my home directories encrypted (in my case, with eCryptfs).

Ms. Hess’s proposal would ask encryption software developers (such as the developers of eCryptfs) to include alternate ways of accessing the keys to decode my home directory, assumably for law enforcement use pursuant to a valid search warrant. The problem with that is that, again, computers are stupid, and the computer won’t be able to tell if it’s legitimate or not. The key can still be used to compromise my privacy; it’s bad enough if it’s a legitimate law enforcement use, but let’s say it’s some rogue cops who would like to see this blog disappear off the face of the Internet for good?

Real data security, whether the government likes it or not, means it is secure against even law enforcement access without the consent of the owner. Perhaps it could be said, especially against law enforcement access. While I would like to think the government acts in our best interests, there are quite a few instances from around the world past and present where this has not been the case. Present-day China, Nazi-era Germany, and recent governments in the Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Afghanistan) all come to mind. I’m certain that if computing technology like this had existed in the 1940s, Adolf Hitler would have loved to have backdoors like that for surveillance purposes.

It’s not our problem if the FBI or any other law enforcement agency can’t spy on us. I concur with the quote of John Basil Barnhill (mis-attributed to Thomas Jefferson): “When government fears the people, there is liberty. When the people fear the government, there is tyranny.”

I don’t want tyranny. And last I checked, that’s not the Statue of Tyranny standing in New York Harbor, either.

That thing in New Braunfels

There are things that make me proud to be a Texan. To say the least, this isn’t one of them.

PoliceOne recently published this story (linking to the original article in the San Antonio Express-News) about the New Braunfels PD’s seizure of a 2007 Chevrolet Corvette Z06, which they repainted and gave it a really lame name inspired by a certain toy and cartoon franchise recently turned movie franchise, which I will not reprint here because I believe it to be in poor taste.

My biggest objection is:

The conspicuous vehicle will be mostly used during community outreach events to excite youth about law enforcement, [New Braunfels Police Department spokesperson David] Ferguson said to [the San Antonio Express-News].

The drug problem would have been solved long ago by decriminalization. The only reason there is money in the drug trade is that it is illicit. The law is simply the wrong tool used to solve the drug problem. Not only are we losing the War on Some Drugs (as it has been called), I think it’s safe to say this war is in its endgame. In fact, if we are going to call it a war, I’d say it’s the law enforcement equivalent of Vietnam: not only is it lost, but our law enforcement agencies are still fighting it even though it’s been lost and there’s no hope of winning it this way.

Let’s look at an alternative reality where drug usage was decriminalized, and treated strictly as a social problem. The street price of most narcotics would drop back a lot closer to the cost of manufacture. The dealers would be doing good to afford something like an old station wagon or minivan to move their goods across town; a Corvette would be out of the question. The law enforcement agencies would no longer be able to rob drug dealers of their cars (and yes, were it not for the fact this was the government using means of legal process, the taking of this Corvette would qualify as robbery). Even if they somehow were still able to take the drug dealers’ vehicles, somehow painting up an old station wagon and sending it around town does not strike me as the kind of thing that will get kids saying they want to grow up to be cops.

So in essence, this is about a car thief showing off his ill-gotten ride to the world. Except, in this case, the car thief wears blue, carries a badge and gun, and worst of all gets paid for with our tax dollars.

Look, I get that kids will read about Darren Goforth and have second thoughts about a career in law enforcement, the same way they will likely read about Eric Cropp and reconsider becoming a pharmacist. (I draw the parallel here, because while Eric is a free man today, his career as a practicing pharmacist has likely ended.) But the kids have the right to know that from a certain perspective, that car is stolen property and the cops are no better than the drug dealers and drug users who will steal what they want.

Finally, I suggest a new name for this sports-car-turned-police-recruiting-tool: The New Braunfels Phallus-mobile. Because when it comes down to it, that’s really what it is: New Braunfels PD waving the equivalent of a huge dick at the world. Really, I think they should just put it back in their pants.