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Showing posts from 2018

On Immigration: Understanding open borders

Open borders do not represent anarchy or a step to anarchy, nor do they represent an absence of borders. The previous post in this series on immigration explained those misconceptions. This post offers some basic definitions of open borders, with some concluding reflections.

What Are Open Borders?
As indicated by the collocation "open borders," it is a situation in which few if any restrictions exist on the movement of humans, labor, capital, and goods across borders. An example would be the borders between states in the U.S., or states or provinces or regions in numerous countries. On the international level, the most obvious example might be the Schengen Area of the European Union.

An important point is that even with such open borders, some restrictions exist. Unless the entire world had a universal open borders policy, restrictions will always exist in one direction or another. Furthermore, even with open borders, restrictions will always exist as long as nation-states do. …

Immigration Misconception #1: Open borders are anarchic.

A misconception is a misunderstanding, one that probably leads to a misuse of language. We finally come to a misconception about immigration in this series on myths, fallacies, and misconceptions about immigration.

As a term, open borders is misused in two main ways, both of which come from the dishonesty inherent in our nature and in our political discourse. As this blog likes to emphasize, everything eventually comes down to language. Most people simply do not understand what the term open borders means, or they abuse it. Although it is fine for us all to use terms according to common usage, it is ethically suspect to turn them into rhetorical weapons and twist what others mean by them. Open borders, as well as words like evangelical and socialism, is one of those unfortunate linguistic constructions that we could call Frequently Abused Terms (FATs). How is the term open borders misused?

Open borders ≠ anarchy
Contrary to most conservative popular opinion, open borders do not equal ana…

On Immigration: Understanding border walls

If border walls actually do not work, then what about...

So goes the argument that will be made against the previous post in this series on immigration myths, fallacies, and misconceptions. Are there not examples of border barriers that are actually effective in keeping out certain people or problems?

Not Mere Border Walls
In the U.S.-Mexico context, proponents of more border walls argue that they would indeed work. They point in particular to the Israeli-Palestinian border wall. The Israeli prime minister himself has offered it to the U.S. president as a model of what could be done with the country's southern neighbor. The actual name of that wall, however, is instructive. It is the “Israeli West Bank Barrier.” It is not a border wall; it is a heavily fortified and militarized obstruction over a relatively short distance that Israel controls with an iron fist. Parts of it have been ruled illegal according to international law. So proponents are right when they say that border walls …

Immigration Myth #1: Border walls work.

As opposed to the previous two posts that focused on a fallacy about immigrants, we now take on an actual myth. It is not just a fallacy. It is a myth that border walls work. They are a categorically bad geopolitical idea. It may be possible to find some example in history where a border wall actually achieved its purpose, but as a geopolitical construct, border walls simply do not work. (There is one very obvious objection to this assertion, to which I will respond in an addendum post.)
Why do border walls not work? Presumably a wall is to keep out the unwanted (drugs, crime, undocumented immigrants). Borders walls and fences, however, have almost without exception failed spectacularly at doing so. (This is true even where the border obstruction is not a literal wall but rather a body of water or some other obstacle.) The reason is simple. As long as the motivation to go through, around, over, or under a wall is strong enough, people will do so. Newer walls, designed by brilliant engin…

Immigration Fallacy #1: Immigrants are dangerous. (Part 2)

Following on the previous post in this series on immigration myths, fallacies, and misconceptions, this brief essay continues to explain why immigrants should not be portrayed as dangerous. Consider three specific areas of threat or danger:

Immigrants do not generally present a physical danger.
Clearly many people who advocate stricter immigration controls do not harbor xenophobia. Some of them just cannot see past the threat of terrorism or gang violence. This is a very real concern and should be treated seriously. But as the previous post explains, this fear is unfounded in regard to immigrants. If it is a fear that you experience, I understand. I have family members that live under the constant threat and danger of the most barbaric cartel violence you can imagine. But if you have been led to believe that tighter immigration restrictions, more deportations, or higher border walls will make you safe, then you have been misled. That violence spreads regardless of those apparent solutio…

Immigration Fallacy #1: Immigrants are dangerous (Part 1)

Immigrants are not dangerous, in any general sense.

An argument for stricter immigration policy invariably depends on the explicit statement that the immigrants in question are dangerous. They may be depicted as criminals, terrorists, invaders, or simply uncouth. And the statement is simply wrong. It is not that immigrants are categorically un-dangerous, because any human could be dangerous. But generally speaking, immigrants do not present any significant danger or threat, just like most random people you pass on the road or sidewalk are not dangerous.

One objection, of course, is that some immigrants actually are dangerous. Terrorists, drug traffickers, gang members, felons, and human traffickers present a threat wherever they are. But it is illegitimate to argue for stricter immigration controls based on those highly specific categories. It is illegitimate, first, because those groups already exist everywhere, whether they come as immigrants or not. (By way of example, the vast major…

(Fairly Universal) Myths About Immigration and Immigrants

Myths, Fallacies, Misconceptions
Whichever term one prefers for its nuances (or lack thereof), myths, fallacies and misconceptions plague discussion of any major policy issue, particularly personal ones. Immigration is an especially personal and therefore emotional topic because it deals directly with human bodies and lives. Even other hotly debated topics such as privacy, health care, and policing are not as immediately personal as immigration because they do not necessarily have an immediate impact on the entirety of a person’s life. Immigration relates directly to who one is, where one is from, what one does, and even what language(s) one speaks.

The difficulty in addressing immigration rights can be observed around the world. The misconceptions that I want to address come up regularly and provoke heated debate in and between the following regions and countries, to name a few of the most prominent. I have tried to indicate in which direction immigration primarily occurs by putting th…

Today in Language: Jean de la Fontaine

The world fabulist of French origins Jean de la Fontaine died on April 13, 1695. His childrens fables have been translated or at least recast in most major cultural and linguistic traditions, which is not to say they did not already come to some extent from a variety of cultural and linguistic traditions.

La Fontaine is known today for his children’s fables, but in his own day he was known for his racier and morally transgressive “adult” fables. La Fontaine was a powerful storyteller, well worthy of his appointment to the Académie Française.

His tomb can be visited in the Père-Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

The Game of Life: DACA Edition - SNL

Communication: Definition 5

My favorite definition of communication actually comes from Wikipedia, a great source which I will not allow my students to cite but which I urge them to make good use of. And I will cite it myself here:

Communication (from Latin commūnicāre, meaning “to share”) is the act of conveying intended meanings from one entity or group to another through the use of mutually understood signs and semiotic rules.”

1. This definition, unlike all of the others shared here, references both intention and meaning. These are essential aspects of communication to which any definition must refer directly or indirectly. This definition gets a bonus for combining the two concepts into one, intended meanings!
2. With the words “mutually understood,” this definition recognizes the personal nature of communication, as opposed to the frequently used mechanical terminology (process, code).
3. In short, this is one of the simplest and best definitions of communication that I have seen.

Language News Update: Languge, History, and Identity

This final Language News Update of the week looks at an assortment of topics beyond bilingualism and language acquisition.
A study just out has quite interestingly determined that the Dravidian language appears to be about 4,500 years old.Want to learn a language? Drink alcohol! Okay, it is not that simplistic (nor would we here at this blog recommend you actually do so), but a study in the Journal of Psychopharmacology did find some interesting correlations between language acquisition and alcohol.In somewhat more serious news, more Americans really, really do need to start learning more languages. If you do not buy into the neurological and social benefits, than at least recognize the sociopolitical and economic benefits of developing a multilingual population. Language says much, much more even than nuclear weapons or the size of a nation's military.The largely discredited Sapir-Whorf hypothesis may actually have some validity, at least in relation to time (and our perception of…

Language News Update: Language Acquisition

Beyond bilingualism, much research continues to reinforce what we know about language acquisition and pedagogy, and the brain science in particular is always impressive and vital to what language teachers do. Repetition does aid learning!And repetition aids learning because, well, that is just how the brain science works.One should not, however, overstate the knowledge that we have from brain science, because even though language acquisition is largely a science, it is also an art. And even in the scientific realm, we still have a lot to learn. And so the debate will go on as to just how we learn language (consciously or unconsciously), and therefore just how we should teach languages. Steve Kaufmann is a businessman and language learned who popularizes Steve Krashen's hypotheses about language learning, particularly the acquisition-learning hypothesis. This is a great hypothesis, and Krashen and Bill VanPatten et al. have done great research, but one must remember that these remai…

Language News Update: Bilingualism

So much has happened in Language News since 2012/2013 that this week will have several posts, divided by main topics. Today the topic is bilingualism:
We will start out with an unexpected subversion: The benefits of bilingualism, it turns out, can be overstated. The fact that bilingualism is good for the brain is as obvious as the fact that the Earth is round. And yet its effects on the brain can be overstated (to follow our absurd analogy, the Earth is round, yes, but not a perfect sphere). I am not totally on board with all of the study's conclusions, but it is an impressive meta-analysis, and so we need to give heed.Be that as it may, bilingualism is still far better for the brain than monolingualism.And since we need our brains even in the age of Google, why not continue to learn languages as long as you can?

Today in Language: Johann Sebastian Bach

Johann Sebastian Bach was born on March 21, 1685. Regardless of one's criteria, Bach must be considered one of the greatest composers of all time. What he did for music would be difficult ever to rival or to undo.

My personal Bach favorite, other than just anything he composed, is probably “Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring.” It is not, of course, strictly “his,” as he neither scored the basic melody nor wrote the lyrics. And yet Bachian brilliance infuses any orchestration of it. It is one of those glorious pieces, like Handel’s Messiah, that seem to require that the composer have known God. My favorite philosophical point about the piece is the absolute necessity of the “Jesu” of the title, without which it becomes nonsense, as in the title of a novel by Jean Giono.

Communication: Definition 4

In From Input to Output: A Teachers Guide to Second Language Acquisition, Bill VanPatten gives a definition of communication particularly adapted to language teaching: “the expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning in a given social and situational context” (115).


1a. This definition is much more person-oriented and much less mechanical than many definitions of communication.
1b. The "expression, interpretation, and negotiation of meaning" are processes involved in communication, and expressing them in this non-mechanical way seems important at least in regard to linguistic communication.
2. Unlike many definitions, this one references meaning, which has to be crucial to any understanding of communication.
3. This definition does not explicitly reference intention, although it could certainly be inferred from terms such as “expression” and “negotiation.”

Book Review: Crucifixion of the Warrior God

Crucifixion of the Warrior God Vol. 1 and 2, The: Volumes 1 and 2 by Gregory A. Boyd
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

Boyd exposits the utter centrality of Christ and the cross to all biblical theology, particularly the problem texts of the OT. This is quite simply the best (and the only good) book I have read about the problem of texts such as the Canaanite genocide.

Not many theologians get to write a book like this in their career -- a 10-year project written in community with many other theologians and Christians and based on an impressively comprehensive corpus. The length of the two-volume work is definitely warranted. Boyd belabors over chapters and chapters the indispensable nature of a Christocentric, crucicentric hermeneutic, and he also points out how many, many theologians who have promoted such a hermeneutic have failed to live up to it when it comes to Yahweh-sanctioned OT violence.

After the hermeneutical groundwork, Boyd establishes his apparently unique Cruciform Thesis, comprised…

Consumerist Spirituality vs. Ordinary Christianity

“In consumerist spirituality, the new stuff on offer is mostly new experiences, ‘transformative’ experiences that you’re supposed to get if you don’t want to miss out on something special in your spiritual life. [...] You'll also be told that without it you’re just an ordinary, plain Christian, lacking the extraordinary power and blessing that God wants you to have in your life.”

So writes Phillip Cary in Good News for Anxious Christians: 10 Practical Things You Dont Have to Do. I have not quite finished the book, but it has to be one of the best popular-level, Christian-living books I have read in a long time. Recognizing the vacuity of consumerist spirituality is not terribly difficult for most of us. But what is the alternative? Well, I’m glad you asked, because Cary goes on:

“Think about what’s wrong with this kind of sales pitch [see previous quotation]. What makes you an ordinary Christian, after all? Isn’t the answer faith in Christ? And what power and blessing do ordinary C…

Communication: Definition 3

In Relevance: Communication and Cognition, Dan Sperber and Deirdre Wilson define communication as “a process involving two information-processing devices. One device modifies the physical environment of the other. As a result, the second device constructs representations similar to representations already stored in the first device” (1).


1. Like most definitions, this one appears somewhat mechanical, although Sperber and Wilson do avoid the use of the word “code” in their definition.
2. Also like many definitions, this one does not reference either meaning or intention.
3. Unlike many definitions, this one is not limited to language or even to human communication.
4. Sperber and Wilson actually go on to make similar observations. They also distinguish between two dominant models of communication, a code model and an inferential model: “According to the code model, communication is achieved by encoding and decoding messages. [...] According to the inferential model, communicati…

An Idiosyncratic Reading List: Signed Copies

It is said that living former U.S. presidents form one of the most exclusive clubs in the world. On my shelves, an equally exclusive club of books sits and beckons, smugly and urgently. It is the Shelf of the Signed Copies.

Though elite, the Shelf of the Signed Copies is not an impenetrable fortress of exclusivity. Many, though not just any, other books could potentially enter its coveted ranks. (Indeed, the asterisked volumes in the list below indicate anticipated autographs.) Books written by the now deceased, alas, cannot join the club. Many other books, though written by living authors, have my priorities working against them -- I simply am not looking for autographs for every last one of my books. But when I get an autograph, it is a heady experience, not just because one is a book nerd but because one actually meets a personal hero.

As things currently stand, here is the list of signed copies that I own, in order of when I got them signed:

How the Garcia Girls Lost Their Acccents (…