I can has lolnews?

What you see here is a screen shot from the online version of the economist. It’s a replication of a story from the print edition about the effects of the recent hurricanes on Cuba. Note the caption on the picture. Is there some Briticism I’m missing here in which woz translates to were? Yeah, I didn’t think so.

Gustav and Ike wuz here

Don’t get me wrong, I throw around lolspeak* among my friends as much as the next 30-something geeky girl. But there’s a time and place for everything. Somehow this doesn’t strike me as quite the right tone to take when discussing Cuba’s ability to recover from a natural disaster without the help of outside aid. For the moment let’s leave aside whether this kind of light-hearted non-grammatical play with the English language is ever really appropriate in a serious news publication (that isn’t covering something related to the language phenomenon itself). This caption seems inappropriately light and cheerful for a story about destruction. It’s like approaching someone you’re about to take off life-support and saying “Oh hai, I is pulling the plug.” Well, maybe that’s a bad example. But think of a morbid situation and caption it appropriately. Ok, I’ll admit it. I’m just irked because I was holding out for a story on the current U.S. economic situation with the caption “I can has government bailout.”

*If you have no idea what I’m going on about here, get thee to the lolcats page and don’t forget to check out the cat that started it all (well, presumably).

Who to blame when the butler didn't do it (or band-aids on amputations)

Today’s LA Times has an article about a brewing backlash against the homeless in downtown Madison, WI. Years ago I wrote my senior thesis about the young people (my primary focus, anyway) that spent time in a small park just off State Street, the pedestrian thoroughfare that connects the University of Wisconsin campus to the capital. Shortly after finishing my thesis I interned at the YWCA’s family homeless shelter. Having had those experiences, I take somewhat more interest in news about homelessness in Madison than I do that in LA. I also feel that I’m qualified to say at least a little about what the issue looked like there in the late 1990s and early 2000s.

The article starts with a nice idyllic view of Madison, where residents knew panhandlers by name and interacted with them amicably. It contrasts that picture with a current fear of the homeless resulting from two unsolved murders in the downtown area. In both cases the victims were killed in their homes, in the middle of the day, presumably by strangers. The police have focused some of their investigation on homeless in the area. This has, apparently, included taking DNA samples. This resulted in some arrests on other charges, but no break in the murder cases. The LA Times article suggests that some of the services Madison does provide for the homeless (including some shelters downtown as well as meals) are coming under popular attack. Continue reading “Who to blame when the butler didn't do it (or band-aids on amputations)”

What's the Matter with Picking on Kansas

Last week’s Economist has a book review of Philip Legrain’s Immigrants: Your Country Needs Them. As I understand it Legrain argues that immigration does not do economic harm to receiving countries and is highly economically beneficial for sending countries. The reviewer jumps off from Legrain’s economic analysis to talk about the intersection of anti-immigrant sentiments and racism. In the U.S. most low-skilled immigrants (and I think this is the relevant group to be thinking about since it seems that most of the anti-immigrant sentiment focuses on this group) are non-white. The same is not true in the U.K. where the addition of poorer countries to the EU has lead to an influx of lesser skilled immigrants from Poland and elsewhere. The reviewer contrasts the lack of protest about the incorporation of European immigrants to the reception of muslim immigrants.

In the U.S. the rhetoric around immigration (particularly undocumented immigration) focuses heavily on the effect that they have on our economy and society. They take our jobs. They lower our wages. They leach off our social services that our tax dollars pay for. The evidence suggests that these effects are either entirely non-existent or at the least significantly less strong effects than lots of immigration opponents seem to think. Still, these sorts of images are used to reinforce exclusionary politics. And as The Economist points, racism will likely continue to drive immigration policy in rich countries for the foreseeable future.

So I could take a stand here and rail against the racist hate-mongers who drive these policies of anti-immigrant-who-is-other but the problem of bigotry is an interesting one because eventually you realize that there are a lot of people living in glass houses. A few days ago I pulled into the parking structure at UCLA and noticed a truck with a bumper sticker that displayed the word Kansas in big letters and then in smaller ones underneath “as bigoted as you think.” This strikes me as a pretty typical liberal holier than thou attitude. I have a number of acquaintances all too ready to hold court on what’s the matter with not just Kansas, but the entirety of the midwest. Apparently bigotry is just fine as long as it’s aimed toward “red-necks.” I’m not sure that I have an erudite commentary that would coherently link these two threads of thought. But I am quite convinced that they are linked, that unchallenged denigration of “other” is no more acceptable from the urban coastal elite than it is from the middle of the country. Moreover I remain unconvinced that Kansas (by which I mean any of the “red” states) is particularly more bigoted than anywhere else. Southern California isn’t precisely a uniform tableau of tolerance. There is, perhaps, a more heterogeneous set of hatred here than elsewhere but I’m not quite sure that I’m confident enough in the material my house is constructed of to be throwing stones at others.